Usernomics 1.0

Usernomics 1.0 is a hacktivist workshop employing models of waste reclamation, recycling and reuse. This user-friendly workshop begins with discussion about the consequences (social, ecological) of the computer industry, and a discussion about how to reuse, recycle discarded keyboards, household goods and toys. Participants engage in hacking (taking apart and repurposing) the keyboards and reprogram them to make one-of-a-kind external computer controllers.

The workshop provides participants with basic information about how to solder wires to the main circuitry and how to use them as extensions to create the external controllers. Pushing mouse and keyboard aside, these unique creations require users to engage with the computer in unusual physical ways. For example, the “up” arrow key could be activated by bouncing a ball through a hoop. At the conclusion of the workshop is a performance-competition with participants working collaboratively to operate the controllers in order to move onscreen avatars in a computer video game. In the game The Great Race For Ewaste a migrant worker competes against a World of Warcraft character to collect the most ewaste from a huge pile of old electronics.

Specific workshop context will vary depending on location and participants.

Issues addressed in the workshop include:

  • the exportation of massive quantities of e-waste to Asia and its impact on migrant and unskilled labor
  • our consumer relationship to technological obsolescence
  • hacking, circuit bending and open source as platforms for demystifying consumer technologies and generating space for creative reuse
  • physical labor for virtual gain – the economist Edward Castronova writes that as virtual economies continue to emerge their gross domestic product (GDP) is larger than some developing countries (gold farming and virtual sweatshops within games such as World of Warcraft, Ultima Online and now Second Life) and the journalist Julian Dibbell lived off virtual loot acquired from Ultima for almost a year
  • work under the guise of play – current game narratives that romanticize unskilled labor such as Cooking Mama and Eyetoy’s window washer and fast food chef


Past workshops:

2008 Zer01 San Jose Festival’s Global Youth Exhibition (images>>)
with San Francisco Art Institute City Studio Program
Banff New Media Institute, 2008 Interactive Screen
Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center, Buffalo, NY
Designed Play class, Department of Visual Studies, University at Buffalo
2007 ConFlux Festival, Change You Want to See, Brooklyn, NY
2007 Bent Festival, Eyebeam, NYC

Support for previous workshops through an Eyebeam Resident Artist program and a University of Buffalo 2020 Scholars Award.

Further information including videos:

Images from 2008 Zer01 San Jose Festival’s Global Youth Exhibition at the San Jose Tech Museum