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What we discover when we sift through digital refuse.

By **Rebecca Bates**

rsz_bates.jpgWe are a species of voyeurs. We people watch, scavenge, Facebook stalk in the hopes that we might steal a glimpse into the private lives of our peers.

To satisfy this urge, recent Parsons grad Justin Blinder has created Dumpster Drive, a file sharing application that mimics the act of digging through someone’s trash. While the software is still in rudimentary stages, the process is quite clear. Let’s say you’re in possession of Beirut’s new single “East Harlem” and absolutely hate it (shame on you), and you wish to purge your hard drive of the song forever. Rather than dragging the file to your computer’s trashcan, you might instead choose to “dump” it into your Dumpster Drive folder. While this will delete the song on your computer, it will then become available for download by other Dumpster Drive users. Unlike other modes of file sharing, where files can be downloaded an infinite number of times by an infinite number of people, once one person has downloaded your dumped item, it disappears from the application altogether. Dumpster Drive therefore turns your electronic refuse into a limited commodity. You relinquish and claim ownership over digital files as you would trash in a dumpster, thereby rendering them a kind of material object.

The philosophy behind the project is not really so different from, say, trolling a friend of a friend’s photos on Facebook. Again, we are all voyeurs. Dumpster Drive embraces this nosy curiosity in an honest and ostensibly harmless way—there are no user names, which means all files are dumped and downloaded anonymously. Eventually, you begin to learn about the tastes of your faceless digital neighbors based on what they’ve discarded. A recent foray into the dumpster revealed Lady Gaga’s new album, several episodes of Nurse Jackie, and a collection of photographs of Paris Hilton. Some of the available material is actually worth salvaging, however. I’m currently listening to Springfactory’s timely and charming song “As Winter Gives Way to Spring,” something I’d never heard before randomly downloading it from the dumpster. I also just dumped one of my more terrible poems, so feel free to scour Blinder’s application for that (hint: it’s called “Rebecca Bates, A Piece of Shit”).

Essentially, you’ll either find this software pointless or strangely enchanting…or completely inaccessible to you if you’re a PC user.

(Readers should note that I made it through this entire post without saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”)

Copyright 2011 Rebecca Bates


Rebecca Bates is the blog editor at Guernica. She’s on Twitter.

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