Wed. Feb 19th, 2020

Plastics and bits: waste and pollution | Trends

The powerful flow of chemical science from the sources of the nineteenth century spilled in the twentieth century and produced amazing transformations in the lives of humans. And the science of computing that sprouts in the XX spills into the XXI with the world's first extraordinarily disruptive effects, to the point of Talk about a life in digital.

A technological expression of this expansive chemical science has been plastics. His arrival in everyday life produced from the beginning the estimates found between an enthusiastic welcome and a contempt for that material and its products. They did not break like the glass bottle, the earthenware dish or the clay pot; it was not necessary to resent them like the metal bowl, they did not dent, weighed so much, nor squeaked. Welcome! But another contrary assessment also arose: they were falsifiers; they reproduced objects that were not made with their original materials, and what about plastic flowers, the fake sumun!

With plastics, for falsifiers, a suspicion was opened in the middle of the 20th century that today we project on objects made no longer with polymers, but with strings of zeros and ones, that is, virtual. Today digital virtuality disrupts and faces what we consider real. It has more plasticity and deceit capacity than the alchemy of plastic. And if the plastic already surrounds us, and is embedded everywhere, the virtual also inhabits each other until we make a real-virtual, specular dual world, a world that manifests itself on one side and another of the mirror.

So, for example, the paper book seems to us of more entity and source of other sensations than the one shown, with pages, but without leaves, in the screen mirror; However, this virtuality allows to have, and not just a text, a world of impossible objects and experiences if they are, with volume and mass, in their corresponding place.

Plastics also brought another relationship with objects: we became more detached; we abandoned them without resisting when they had fulfilled their first function. However, initially even a small plastic cup made anyone who had eaten the yogurt doubt whether to save the container for another possible use. But we were preparing for the global phenomenon of obsolescence that characterizes our relationship with things in this society: a growing detachment from objects, a lack of interest in keeping them, an abandonment long before their deterioration. Well, with virtual objects this indifference is sharpened; They are so abundant, reproducible, we must not give them place in our environment … that their possession and maintenance are not desirable.

Who was going to tell us that a photograph, a fragment of time oozing emotions, which was given in an album, a box, between the pages of a book, or framed, ceasing to be the result of a chemical process and He has made digital, zeros and ones, brief flashes of pixels, we change our taste and do many, to keep few in inconsistent electronic albums.

Countless small, trivial, local actions are poured into the Web, and powerful currents collect and concentrate them to feed immense platforms

Abundance has degenerated excessively, and the detachment, because of being able to dispose of so much, produces waste, and this waste causes pollution. Plastics have choked us. Literally. Nature is not able to digest the artificial at the rate that we produce it: it is the advance of a general challenge about the symbiosis that must be sought between the natural that evolution has bequeathed us and evolution by trying another accelerated path in us (indefatigable doers ), and what we call artificial. A challenge of survival for humans, which we have before us.

Now sea monsters are others. But just as scary. At least five gigantic jellyfish have been sighted, two in the Atlantic, two in the Pacific and one in the Indian Ocean. The most impressive thing is that they have been generated as a result of millions and millions of personal actions across the planet: the abandonment of a plastic object. Like seminal clouds floating in the waters, carried by the currents, they have engendered these monsters. This generation of the immense from the small and innumerable, the generating power of gigantic phenomena from millions of individual actions, also occurs in that Panthalassa (that initial, enveloping sea, which is all seas) of the Network. Countless small, trivial, local actions are poured into the Network, and powerful currents collect and concentrate them to feed immense platforms, as watery and slippery as jellyfish.

And also plastics are becoming invisible when degraded: microplastics. Minimum particles, which penetrate all the interstices of life. And they awaken the ancestral fear of the human being before the invisible, like the miasmas of the plague. Because if the giant has produced fear and shrink, more, much more, the invisible threat for which there are no walls. There are clouds of plastic particles and clouds of zeros and some in our lives; both so ethereal that we do not perceive them. The digital fog is so pervasive that we talk about the internet of things: objects of all types and sizes impregnated with zeros and ones. And attached to the first also travel, outside their ecological niche, microorganisms, such as viruses in the strings of zeros and ones.

It is not strange, therefore, that new fears vibrate today with the old strings of human fears in the face of a world that does not control, before by the whims of the gods, today by the accelerated transformations of technology. Menacing gods, but to those who must beg their protection. Incomprehensible artifacts, which may turn against us, but which we cannot do without. And if before the gods and their designs we have responded moved by the emotion of guilt, before the dominating technology it does not have to be this way, but we must respond with our intelligence (ability to adapt to the new), another gift of evolution .

Antonio Rodríguez de las Heras He is Professor Carlos III University of Madrid

Life in digital It is an imagined scenario that serves for reflection, it is not a prediction. For him move the alephites, prosthetic beings, in continuous connection with the digital Aleph, since the Network is a phenomenal contraction of space and time, like the Borgian Aleph, and not a mesh.

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