Tiny Electronic Bugs Invade Our Homes

The house is quiet. Everyone has left for the day. Crumbs and bits of food litter the kitchen counters from breakfast and even from dinner the night before. With our hectic modern-day lifestyles of commuting, working and socializing, jobs like cleaning up aren’t always a high priority. Fortunately, the exterminators were here just last week, and this house is safe and vermin-free. Or is it?


Image: Luca di Filippo
Look who’s come out to play!

A few minutes after the last human occupant has locked the door on their way out, there’s a faint scratching noise from the kitchen. A tiny, quivering antenna peeps out from under a cabinet. There’s something strange about the little insect-like appendage, though. For a start, it’s metallic silver – not brown or black, as one would expect. And the creature that cautiously emerges to scrabble its way up onto the kitchen counter is even odder – yet somehow also vaguely familiar…


Image: Luca di Filippo
A mechanical-looking spider goes exploring…

Creative director and photographer Luca di Filippo imagined this very scenario. That’s right, these Lilliputian creatures aren’t some futuristic insect-bots developed by the government or some shadowy conspiracy group to infiltrate our homes. No, they’re little sculptures, put together using pieces of electronic waste for di Filippo’s series, “Daily Contaminations”, in which they have been posed with food and photographed. The creatures’ creator reassures us that “none of them were harmed during the shots.” That’s a relief!

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Image: Luca di Filippo
A lot of painstaking work must have gone into such intricate sculptures.

These itty-bitty bugs with their motherboard bodies and wiry legs are di Filippo’s statement on “the invisible electronic traces we leave in our daily activities.” Like the unseen insects that invade the darkest nooks and crannies of our houses and apartments, these traces surround us even while we remain oblivious to their presence. Of course, we’re occasionally reminded of their existence, but most of us prefer not to think about them. Out of sight, out of mind.


Image: Luca di Filippo
This one looks a bit surprised at all the food available.

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There’s more than one type of electronic trace we leave in our wake. Perhaps the most intangible – but also the most pervasive – is the trail we leave in cyberspace every time we log on to the Internet or perform a simple act like having our credit card swiped. Like creepy-crawlies in the walls, these minuscule traces of information about our lives lurk where they’re never really going to be exterminated. And they might give you a nasty bite if you’re not careful! This is especially true if the electronic trails fall into the hands of cyber-criminals, or even those of some government and law enforcement agencies.


Image: Luca di Filippo
They seem to be vegetarian.

Thinking about secret surveillance and account hacking is perhaps a little dark when looking at such adorable little creations. But the sinister aspects of the electronic age are not limited to data trails. Your favorite gadgets and time-saving appliances can leave harmful toxins in your food, on your skin, and even in the air you breathe – just like cockroaches or flies leaving germy little footprints in your jam.

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Image: Luca di Filippo
Definitely not the kind of bug you’d expect to find standing in your jam…

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It’s sometimes hard to tell if an insect is harmless just by looking at it. These ones certainly seem innocuous enough, but only if you don’t know about the toxic chemicals found in the electronic parts from which they’re made. Hazardous materials such as lead and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) are incorporated into appliances such as computers, televisions and even toasters. When these appliances are used, they heat up, and this releases tiny amounts of polluting chemicals into the air – and in the case of the toaster, onto your bread. Steps are being taken to eliminate these hazardous chemicals from electronics, but it will be a long time before we can breathe easy.


Image: Luca di Filippo
Who knew e-waste could look so cute?

If reading this makes you want to get rid of your gadgets, don’t be too hasty: you might just make the problem worse. As we’ve previously discussed on Tech Graffiti (http://www.techgraffiti.com/the-human-and-environmental-cost-of-an-e-waste-dump-in-ghana), incorrectly discarded electronics can cause untold damage to the environment by leaching polluting chemicals into the soil and air. A better idea is to exchange or donate electronic items, or to find a company that disposes of e-waste responsibly. Either that, or do what Luca di Filippo has done and create some thought-provoking art using electronic waste as your material.

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Image: Luca di Filippo
A delicate ‘butterfly’ perched on a banana skin…

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A key turns, a door opens, and with a scrabble of skinny metal legs and a flapping of plastic wings, our little friends disappear, back into the hidden dark places from which they came. They will wait and watch, patiently, until they can creep back out into the light. As di Filippo says, “Today there are no real annoying ants spoiling our picnics, infesting the kitchen or our bed. Everything is invisible. For us. But someone can see everything…”

Sources:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

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