Miami's Dead Drop Art Project Failing Because Thieves Keep Stealing Public USB Drives

Categories: Flotsam

deaddrop.JPG
Can you spot the USB drive in the sidewalk? This one's in Wynwood, across the street from the NOW Gallery.
By the time Ronnie Pelham makes his third U-turn on North Kendall Drive, he's visibly frustrated. The directions to the Dead Drop are vague, and his GPS keeps telling him to retrace the same 300-foot stretch with his silver Hyundai. Finally, the 31-year-old notices a strip-mall alleyway lined with dumpsters and veers a quick right toward his target: a USB drive containing who knows what.

"Boom," Ronnie says, eyeballing a large transformer through his rectangular glasses. "This has to be it."

Ronnie isn't a spy on a reconnaissance mission for classified documents -- he's part of a geeky scavenger hunt for adults that reimagines Treasure Island as a commune. In 2010, German artist Aram Bartholl cemented five USB drives within parks, subway stations, and building façades in New York City. He called his project Dead Drops. The idea was that anyone could walk up, plug in a laptop, and take whatever other people had uploaded -- kind of like a glory hole for computer data. It has worked well in Europe and Canada, with people sharing photos, recipes, and creative projects on the drives.

The Magic City's OG Dead Drop was installed during the spring of last year, but Ronnie, a sound designer and jingle writer from Miami Gardens, expanded the network two months ago by taking a red Solo cup full of quick-dry cement to three additional spots.

Ideal locations get heavy foot traffic from creative types, Ronnie says. He knows all the nooks and crannies of downtown Miami from walking around stoned as a New World School of the Arts high school student, and he routinely notes sidewalk cracks and crevices as he traverses the Wynwood bar scene. He figured they'd make perfect neighborhoods to install USB drives and that he'd be able to start musical collaborations with those who discovered them. For good measure, he also stuck one near the University of Miami.

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A USB extension cord is necessary for plugging into certain Dead Drops.

There's been one persistent problem, though: The drives keep getting stolen. To date, two of them -- so half -- have been swiped within days of their installation. Que Miami.

But until now, Ronnie has never had a chance to check out his original Dead Drop to see if it's faring any better. It's supposedly across the street from Miami Dade College's Kendall campus, "right behind the food spot," according to anonymous instructions posted online at deaddrops.com.

On a recent rainy Wednesday, he bounds across a grassy patch toward a transformer. From referencing a photo map printed off the internet, he knows the USB drive is behind it. Ronnie is so excited he leaves the Hyundai's door ajar. But then, crestfallen, he points to a white patch of glue residue. Someone has absconded with the digital treasure chest.

Unbowed, he vows to continue reinstalling the drives until someone starts participating with more than sticky fingers. "In my mind it seems so cool, and I just need other people to make it happen," he says back inside his car. "So far I haven't gotten jack shit."

Follow Allie Conti on Twitter: @allie_conti

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11 comments
somejerk
somejerk

I think projects like Free Art Friday are a better way to spread art. This concept is just flawed. Aside from thieves, what happens if these get wet or damaged some other way? 

misterflorida2000
misterflorida2000

The only way I can see this working is if these are installed outside of businesses that would support the idea. That way, these businesses will help keep an eye on these drives.  

misterflorida2000
misterflorida2000

A lot of thieves aren't introspective enough to decide if something has cash value.

Clemente Morales
Clemente Morales

I think part of the problem might be that people have no idea what this concept is.

Dicky Bobby Perez
Dicky Bobby Perez

cant believe i wasted my time reading this. thanks again miami news time

YubiOre
YubiOre

Really? What value does a USB drive have?! It can't be scrappers, so who is it?

Mercy Mercy-Me
Mercy Mercy-Me

maybe he needs to make it more obvious what the purpose is. tag it with a note or something. people probably just don't get it. and with free art fridays purposely leaving art around for people to take on purpose, I doubt they're being stolen maliciously.

Quay Quayhaylaya
Quay Quayhaylaya

So rather than blame society, why not own the fact that this was a flawed idea from the start. I can't think of a single major city (and I've been to scores of them) where this would work. Foolish.

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