Conspicuous Technological Consumption

Hogan & Zeffiro (2015) argue:

As media scholars, practitioners, and consumers we should share the responsibility of digging into the numerous layers in which our personal technologies and media practices contribute to a mode of technological affect best described as the trauma and drama of disembodied techno trash. However, in practice, the waste generated from our media habits and behaviors remain largely invisible to us. Are there ways in which we can come to know the material and immaterial residues that we are responsible for generating and perpetuating?

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This research assignment seeks to rise to this challenge and make the invisible more visible. You’ll learn about the different processes and practices that shape your technological and digital purchases, and the implications of these purchases on the environment. We’re politicizing our ewaste as ‘Techno Trash’ in this assignment, and students will be selecting one of their mobile devices (Smartphone, Laptop, Tablet) to research, analyze, and reflect on for this assignment.

Background Terminology & Concepts:

What is E-waste?
“E-waste, “electronic waste”, “e-scrap” and “end-of-life electronics” are terms often used to describe used electronics that are nearing the end of their useful life, and are discarded, donated or given to a recycler.”

What is Techno Trash?
“The term techno trash […], evokes the environmental brutality of planned technological obsolescence and conspicuous technological consumption. How can we become attentive to the ethical dimensions and challenges in our contemporary digital media environment, as imbricated with “the environment” writ large?”

What Is Planned Obsolescence?
“Planned obsolescence describes a strategy of deliberately ensuring that the current version of a given product will become out of date or useless within a known time period.”

What is Conspicuous Technological Consumption?
Conspicuous consumption is term coined by Thorstein Veblen. “It is the purchase of goods or services for the specific purpose of displaying one’s wealth. Conspicuous consumption is a means to show one’s social status, especially when publicly displayed goods and services are too expensive for other members of a person’s class.” Conspicuous Technological Consumption means that we are referring to technological gadgets specifically (for this assignment –
Smartphones, tablets, laptops etc).

Background Reading:
News Release October 21, 2020: “Ontario Takes Action to Reduce Electronic Waste”

Hogan, M. & Zeffiro, A. (2015). “Out of Site & Out of Mind: Speculative Historiographies of
Techno-trash.” New American Notes Online.

Small, T. (2019) “The Real Environmental Toll Of Your Smartphone.” Chatelaine.

This research assignment asks you to do the following:
• Choose a mobile technological device (either Smartphone, Laptop, or Tablet) that you use most frequently
• Think about your history of ownership, use, and disposal of this type of gadget
• Research the environmental concerns about your gadget
• Decide which three issues/concerns to discuss about your gadget
• Find six sources that help you build your argument and analysis effectively:
o Three sources can any assigned module reading or links/sources provided in this assignment document;
o Three sources must be outside sources (sources that have not been provided to you in this course – you need to do some research. Peer reviewed journal articles are better than media articles)
• Examine and critically reflect upon how your research has impacted you.
• Think about how your research analysis and your own experience intersect
• Provides some context for the discussion; cites source
• Tells the reader what device/gadget you chosen & briefly why
• Gives a short overview of your history of using a device like this
• Gives a short commentary about how you’ve disposed of, recycled, or stored the generations of this device
• Present the research question: What are the environmental issues or concerns surrounding your device?
• Answers the question and provide three points/issues to make an argument; provides clear thesis statement and outlines the significance of this discussion.
• Connects each discussion point to argument being made/thesis statement
• Provides three issues/discussion points that answer the question/build an argument
• Each discussion point is supported by a source (your choice – module reading, assignment source, or outside source); sources used are pertinent to discussion
• Critically analyzes and moves beyond descriptive commentary Reflection
• Connects the analysis of the issues to personal device experience; reflects on personal impact of this research assignment on you, and addresses these questions:
o How has this analysis impacted how you will shop for and dispose of your device?
o How can our personal choices inform a collective mindset?
o What kinds of choices can we make at a personal level that might have repercussions
on global e-waste & techno-trash flows?
• Includes two sources in support of reflections (your choice – module reading, assignment source, or outside source)
• Recaps the research question, argument and supporting points
• Offers some bigger picture insights (the so-what?) and thoughts about significance and social implications: how is Techno-trash both a personal and collective problem? Referencing
• In-text citations follow APA or MLA format (or something similar)
• Reference List is provided and in APA or MLA format (or something similar)

Writing Style
• Submission falls within the required word count; is double spaced, includes title page, pages are numbered
• Flows well organizationally with clear writing style
• Provides an appropriate tone and effective voice throughout submission
• There is an appropriate percentage of direct quotes (not more than 10%) that enhance the submission rather than act as ‘filler’
• Presents discussion free of typos, and free of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and paragraph structure errors.

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