On an outing having just parked our car, I spotted a flat-screen TV by the roadside for rubbish collection. I instantly knew I needed to take it home. The unit was surprisingly heavy and together with my very tolerant mum, we loaded the TV into the car. This experiment explores digital materiality through the deconstruction of the screen.

Deconstructing old screens

I was driven by curiosity to see the internal contents and was hoping that the TV would provide large panels that have the same visual effects as those found inside a computer screen. Unfortunately, it did not. It took me over two hours to disassemble the unit - it is not designed to be taken apart. Most of the time was spent taking screws out.

Inside the unit are the logic boards, chips, circuits, capacitors, the plastic casing and glass screen panels. The screen component consists of three glass layers. The outermost layer is a thin layer of tinted glass. The two layers underneath are glued together. This glass panel was attached to the metal panel with a black foamy adhesive. One piece bears a pattern of horizontal lines, and the other is painted with a white substance. 

Digital Materiality

The tv is filled with a lot of stuff. I will be referencing Matthew Kirschenbaum and Johanna Drucker who are vital thinkers in this field. To different extents, their research attempts to reveal the complex material qualities of digital texts, images, hardware, software and archives. Drucker argues that the replacing of literal understandings of materiality (that materials have innate properties and meaning is autonomously produced) with understandings of forensic, formal, distributed and performative materiality will increase our capacity to engage and interact with electronic textuality. In the digital space, expanding our knowledge of digital materiality may help designers work more consciously and knowingly with their digital screens.


Forensic materiality refers to the evidence and physical traces; in this instance, the plastic casing and fingerprints are examples.

a shard of the screen
A shard of the screen.


Formal materiality refers to the codes and structures of human expressions such as the design of the hardware or layout of the program.

The studs on this metal frame are positioned at specific positions that are most optimal for human use.

Distributed materiality

Drucker, informed by Jean-François Blanchette, describes distributed materiality as the multi-layered contingencies on which functions rely to operate (2013). This concept is an event-based model.

The TV cannot function without all of its constituent parts.


Performative materiality refers to the interpretive events such as individual viewing information on a screen or the processing of code. In each instantiation, the digital is performing a task. As a display, the content is an authoritative source of new knowledge for the individual, but as a tool, the screen can become an agent in the design process.

Deconstructing the screen becomes a family affair. Although not the intended purpose, the screen is being interpreted as an object for dissembling.
Deconstructing the screen becomes a family affair. Although not the intended purpose, the screen is being interpreted as an object for dissembling.


Our current digital technology is constantly updating. Phones and computers go out of date at rapid rates, contributing to more and more e-waste. Rapid replacement rates pose ecological concerns, and there does not seem to be any indication of such trends slowing down.

Tags: deconstructing, meta, physical, theory