I may not be green, or furry, or a monster for that matter, but I did spend the last week living in the garbage. This isn’t everybody’s idea of a good time, but if Oscar can embrace it, so can I.
In brief, my task was to look at a week’s worth of garbage from an anonymous individual and interpret it to try to get a look into this person’s life- what types of information can you learn from what someone has thrown away? Yes, this is legal- even if it hadn’t been voluntary (California v. Greenwood).
To be honest, there wasn’t that much that I felt I could accurately interpret from the trash that wasn’t immediately evident. It was obviously someone who ate meat, as there were chicken and bacon among the objects in the garbage. Yet, as this exercise would have been pointless if no one made any bold assumptions, I pushed myself to use a little imagination- I started small: this person probably has a car… I mean, they shop at multiple different grocery stores and visit different arts and crafts places- this would be a hell of a lot easier if you weren’t dependent on bus schedules. Next, I assume this person has long hair because as a short haired person, I have never had a need to throw away my hair. It conveniently flows down the drain never to be seen again. Growing up in a household with sisters and a mother, there was ALWAYS long hair in the trash- pulled from combs, brushes and the shower drain. The long hair was my first and only real epiphany. I’m sure for others the trash spoke volumes, sang even, but for me the trash mumbled and whispered. Could I assume this person’s gender based on what was in their garbage? Not really… there were no targeted ads that were thrown away, there were no diagnostic artifacts of sex or gender, and if the garbage isn’t going to tell me, I’m not going to assume.
One of the more striking outcomes of this study was the difference between my expectations of what one would throw away versus the reality of the assemblage I was given. My discard habits definitely influenced my ideas of what people throw away. The things I expected to see were the things I throw away on a weekly basis, but the things I saw reminded me that individuality is apparent in the garbage record- everyone throws away things unique to their identity, whether or not it tells who they are.