Digital Waste

A conceptual illustration commissioned by Noema Magazine for the 'Reducing The Waste From Our Digital Lives' article by Steven Weber, Ann Cleaveland, Sekkar Sarukkai and Sundar Sarukkai.

I wanted to explore the concept of digital waste not just on a symbolic level but on a literal level as well. Since the work is produced and published digitally, the only thing that would create a perception of the work as not being another piece of digital waste is the artistic value. If we remove this intangible value from a digital artwork, all that remains is an image that takes up a calculable amount of space in the digital ecosystem. My goal was to include this idea as a statement in the work itself, which would eventually require me to control the amount of data that the final image will hold.

“THIS IMAGE ADDS 1380512 BYTES TO DIGITAL WASTE” is the statement that’s written by the horizontal and vertical lines merging on the dotted surface in the center of the illustration. The design connotes a stylized circuit board and wires or a data block on a network. If you download the original image and check the file properties, you will see that it is exactly 1380512 bytes. Naturally, this is how much space it holds on Noema’s server as well. Apart from the irony of being a self-condescending digital artwork, I also wanted it to be a truthful one. So my challenge expanded from designing a visual piece to also controlling the image data on the smallest level possible. Creating an artwork in an exact size in bytes was harder than I imagined since I had to achieve it by ‘brute force’. I needed to learn how the information on the XY plane of an image is processed by the .jpg compression algorithm, but that wasn’t enough to get the desired result when drawing. A lot of guesswork and improvisation was involved. Between repeatedly modifying the shapes of letters and the numbers at the start, then changing one pixel at a time during the final phases, it took over 200 exports to match the number stated in the illustration with the final file size.
In other words, while the design affected the file size, the file size also affected the design. This process enabled me to connect with the concept of digital waste and data control on a more performative level which I would never have thought about while designing a still image.
In the end, this is still just a 1380512 bytes of digital waste.

April 2021