The spinning beach ball of death, as it is colloquially known, is an indicator of background work by the processor of an Apple computer. It asks us to wait while the computer works behind the scenes for our benefit. The routines that tie up a computer are hidden from us, we take it on faith that the work is beneficial for the system. Little thought is given to what happens in these unseen tasks, as long as the work is completed satisfactorily.
Computers are produced through a massive workforce, though scant attention is been paid to the lower level processes of fabrication, the ones that get ‘close to the metal’. Materials like tin, tantalum, and tungsten are used in the fabrication of almost all electronic devices, but it is hard to trace where these materials come from. Many of these are mined in the Eastern Congo in poor labor conditions, where the funds from the metal sales go to support ongoing warfare and conflict in the country.
Spinning Beach Ball of Death (2016) takes this iconic symbol of the background work of a modern operating system, and ties its rate of rotation to the price of tin, one of the most commonly traded conflict metals. As we are asked to wait for work to be completed in the background it is a reminder that we are intricately linked to a large ecosystem when using these tools. As consumers of these items, and producers of content that rely on computers for presentation and creation, we should question if the use of the tool justifies the means through which it is created. The networks we operate in when engaging with these machines are both physical and virtual.