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Useless junk and how to use it

[Junkpiles at an industrial zone near which I live]

The world is full of junk, and the amount of junk increases exponentially. The sooner a gadget breaks up the better; the more difficult it is to repair it the better. Some manufacturers may talk about the "greenness" of their production process, but this is just a distraction. They mention ecological issues only because they want consumers to keep buying new stuff instead of considering less insane consumption habits instead.

Personally, I've challenged myself to avoid buying new stuff, especially in computing and other electronics. I nearly always buy second-hand instead of first-hand, and whenever possible, I use abandoned and dumpster-dived stuff instead of buying anything. This has actually worked quite well because the world happens to be so full of useful abandoned hardware. I'm writing this with a dumpster-dived peecee, and even some of my 8-bit and console hardware has been dumpster-dived. The only programmable device I've ever bought in a factory condition is my 7-year-old Psion 5mx clone.

I'd like to see more promotion of forms of culture that make use of old and abandoned stuff. Especially old computers and electronics, which are still often regarded as useless and obsolete junk. Some other things, such as cars, clothes and furniture, already have quite popular and well-established recycle-and-do-it-yourself cultures around them, so it is perhaps appropriate to make the general public more aware of similar possibilities around old computers and electronics.

Retrocomputing, demoscene and chiptunes make use of classic computers and consoles in ways that emphasize the in-depth understanding how the hardware works, especially when hacked on the software level. However, these cultures usually concentrate on specific pieces of classic hardware.

Circuit-benders, in contrast, take a nearly opposite approach, doing hardware modifications to quite a lot of electronics, often without even caring about how and why their hacks work. The Finnish Association of Experimental Electronics (Kokeellisen Elektroniikan Seura, Koelse) seems to accept nearly any electronics junk as source material, but they also do some more advanced constructions in addition to "pure" circuit-bending.

[A Koelse sound device] [Another Koelse sound device]

I'd actually like to see a "junk-hacking" culture that spans the whole area between these two "polarities": from software to hardware, from deep understanding to random experimentation. I'd particularly like to see unique "hi-tech" gadgets based on random junk; beautiful do-it-yourself devices that show an immense talent in both hardware- and software-oriented crafts and hacking. The above pictures are from Koelse's Flickr gallery and I find them particularly inspiring to look at.

In my opinion, it is important to maintain the disappearing do-it-yourself skills in a world where everything becomes increasingly complex and specialized. Consumers are more and more tied with pre-designed consumption patterns where they are required to buy new things every now and then, and the easy possibilities for deviating from these patterns have been minimized. This increasing level of challenge calls for an increasing number of junk-hackers who want to confront the challenge.

I'd like to finish my entry with a quote from an interview with the Koelse guys (in Finnish, the translation is mine): "We practice the utilization of materials thrown away by others right now, because we like them. The rest will have to do the same once there are no more natural resources left to maintain the current way of living."