The Aesthetics of Destruction

During the last decades, the concern on the health of the ocean has grown. We have been using it as the global dumpster, filling it with trash and plastics, and now we know that the water contains micro-plastics that will never disappear. 

However, why are we so concerned about the ocean if it is not the human habitat? There are many forests logged and many landscapes destroyed by mining activities every day. It seems to be more accepted, maybe because the images we get from land are not that shocking, since we are used to its destruction. Moreover, the imagery around the ocean has been very poeticized and mysterious, so we feel more guilty when hurting it. 

Photo by Ed Kashi, National Geographic Image Collection.

The fact is that all the planet is connected, so whatever concerns us will affect the rest of it. As Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler explain in the text Analysis of an AI System, the first transcontinental cables that served as communication bridges from land to land were recovered in rubber so they could function [1]. This rubber was known as gutta-percha, and it was obtained from the Palaquium Guttatree (nowadays extinct) by native workers in dangerous conditions.

Landing of an Italy-USA cable, January 1925.

In this case, transcontinental communication damaged both the seafloor and the forests, affecting both the marine and the land ecosystems. The cables that connect two continents also connect two worlds: the marine with the terrestrial. We, as humans, perceive these changes as images that change the aesthetic perceptions that we have in the different environments. 

Ossi Naukkarinen defines Aesthetic Footprint as the aesthetic impact of any object or action on the environment [2]. The concept is subject to the cultural and evaluative values of each individual. Depending on that, the aesthetic experience can be positive or negative for the self. 

In the text Environmental Aesthetics in the Age of Climate Change, Matthew R. Auer writes about how people’s appreciation of the environment change, at the same time that climate change is altering the environment [3]. There are different theories relating to that. Some defend that the adaptability of the human will help societies to appreciate the new forms of the surroundings. But, others maintain that the world will become full of ugliness and negative aesthetic experiences. Moreover, he talks about the moral pressures and how the people will have an increasing feeling of guilt for the changes in the environment.

References:

[1] Crawford, Kate;  Joler, Vladan. Anatomy of an AI System (2018).

[2] Naukkarinen, Ossi. Aesthetic Footprint (2011).

[3] Auer, Matthew R. Environmental Aesthetics in the Age of Climate Change (2019).

 

~ Alicia Romero

Simply Opaque

Minimalism

In the last years, minimalistic design has been facing a great decline in its appeal to both designers and consumers. The shift from this 50-year-old trend has philosophical roots and it is related to the way designed objects mediate and filter reality.
Minimalistic design is often the result of a functionalist approach. Every finalized element has been passing through a series of selecting processes and all the rest has been cleared away for it has been labeled as irrelevant. In other words, to make the object interface or surface as simple as possible, the designer reduces reality into a metaphor with limited prescribed ways of interpretation and action. As a result, the sometimes over-simplified external layer has no clues of the technological complexity hidden behind and within itself. The simplicity of contemporary design is a property of the surface or, using Tommaso Labranca’s words, only a lie. [1]

Veil of Maya

The reason why maximalism is on the rise is to be found in the fact that it respects the complexity of reality, whereas minimalism acts as a filter where accessibility is obtained through opacity. When the general user interacts with an object, he does not need to know what is behind and within it: consequently, a veil of Maya is put on these aspects for the sake of simplicity. Indeed, Mattew Fuller and Andrew Goffey quote Jean Baudrillard’s The System of Objects while asserting that certain recessiveness is often a crucial aspect of the efficacy of certain design objects. [2]

Camouflage

This argumentation can be applied to the entire mediasphere. As the computer scientist Bran Ferren defined it, “technology is stuff that doesn’t work yet,” [3] and the remaining, what is smoothly working and it does not need to be understood by the general user, is consequently infrastructure. [4] Indeed, media infrastructure is deeply characterized by dynamics of obscureness and difficulty of accessibility: as Bruno Latour suggests, any technology that is taken for granted for its near impossibility of failure becomes opaque, [5] since the user is not supposed to understand the mechanisms behind and within the object anymore.
However, this opacity can take shape in different ways. As Fuller and Goffey point out, “black boxing is perhaps too clear a term, for boxes are rather too sharply edged to describe all kinds of operations or practices of mediation.” Sometimes, it is more of a grey “cognitive camouflage” that marks everything that is intended to be uniformly dull and uninteresting, making the process of knowing boring. [2] In other cases, secrecy is deliberately the modus operandi of companies such as Google or Amazon, whose “data centers are information infrastructures hiding in plain sight.” [6]

Maximalism

The more a technology works, the more complex it becomes due to both its intrinsic developments and to the eco-socio-relational implications, since more people are adopting it in their daily life, evolving into infrastructure. The combination of growing complexity and the need for general accessibility generates the necessity of minimalism: reassuring (but not realistic) simple surfaces and interfaces let the users focusing on other issues. Maximalism is then the aesthetic reaction that denounces the limits of this mechanism; whereas media archaeology has the task of discerning structures of power through technological and industrial analysis behind the metaphors and the imaginaries that media companies provide. [6]


Notes:

[1] Tommaso Labranca, Andy Warhol era un coatto. Vivere e capire il trash, Roma, Castelvecchi (1994)

[2] Mattew Fuller and Andrew Goffey, Evil Media, MIT Press (2012)

[3] Douglas Adams, How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet, The Sunday Times (29th August 1999)

[4] Jamie Allen, Critical Infrastructure, Aprja (28th February 2014)

[5] Bruno Latour, On Technical Mediation, Common Knowledge, #2 (1994)

[6] Jennifer Holt and Patrick Vonderai, Where the Internet Lives from Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski, Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures, University of Illinois Press (2015)

The Gods must be crazy

The film ´The Gods must be crazy´ tells about San tribe living in Kalahari desert,  away from industrial civilisation. One day, a glass Coca-Cola bottle is thrown out of an airplane by a pilot and falls to the ground unbroken. Initially, San people assume the bottle to be a gift from their gods, just as they believe plants and animals are, and find many uses for it. Unlike other bounties, however, there is only one glass bottle, which causes unforeseen conflict within the tribe. As a result, Xi, a member of the tribe,  decides to make a pilgrimage to the edge of the world and dispose of the divisive object. (1)

The film criticizes the features of Western culture, the lack of community, and the culture of matter. While it ridicules Western culture through comedy, it raises us ethical as well as practical questions: how legitimate is it to take our own internet or culture to other cultural areas, what are the motives for cultural export and digitalization, and what are its implications?

  • San
    Bushmen

GLOBALIZATION

Globalization has accelerated since the 18th century thanks to advances in transportation and communications technology. Globalization is generally divided into three main areas: economic, cultural, and political globalization. Building the Internet in developing countries affects all three sectors. The Internet and mobile phones have been significant factors in globalization and have continued to create interdependence and economic and cultural activity around the globe. (2)

Globalization means taking on the positive sides of the world, but globalization is also sparking a debate about Westernisation. Democracy, fast food, and American pop culture can all be examples that are considered Western in the world. According to the publication “Theory of the Globe scrambled by Social network: a new Sphere of Influence 2.0” published by Jura Gentium (University of Florence), social media dominates the growing role in Westernization. A comparison to Eastern realities that decided to ban American social media (such as Iran and China with Facebook, Twitter) signifies a political will to avoid the Westernization of their own population and the way they communicate. 

Globalization also involves challenges such as global warming, water and air pollution, overfishing and the unequal distribution of raw materials and resources, as well as the mindsets created by colonialist thinking.

In his book The Great Convergence: Asia, the West, and the Logic of One World, Kishore Mahbubani calls for national interests to be balanced with global interests and power to be shared. (3)

 

EQUALITY

The gender gap is global. In several European countries, two thirds of Internet users are men. In Brazil, men control the Internet with 75 percent of users, in China with 93 percent, and in Arab countries with 96 percent.

The linguistic and cultural gap is also significant. Although English is spoken by only six percent of the world’s population, 80 percent of websites are in English. Thus, for the majority of the world’s population, the majority of the Internet is completely inaccessible or only partially comprehensible. (4)

In some places, only the rich have access to the Internet in developing countries.

Illiteracy is one of the challenges. More than 75% of the world’s 781 million illiterate adults are found in South Asia, West Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, and women represent nearly two-thirds of all illiterate adults worldwide. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 64% of the illiterate (2015). (5)

Whether the spread of the internet will increase or eliminate inequality in society remains to be seen.

 

ECOLOGY

Data centers consume more than 400 terawatt hours of electricity globally, accounting for about two percent of the world’s energy consumption. Emissions are now at the same level as aviation, but by 2025, data center electricity consumption is predicted to double and emissions to be generated more than from aviation.

In addition to energy-efficient data centers, cleaning up digital waste also has an impact on data emissions. In the digital age, less paper may be generated, but even more useless bits are produced. Each of them has a carbon footprint. Files stored in cloud services accumulate the amount of data stored in data centers and increase the carbon footprint. One email with attachments can produce up to 50 grams of carbon dioxide. (6)

The ICT sector has an important role to play in enabling a more climate- and environment- friendly society. (7) It should be possible to build carbon-neutral data centers in developing countries. It is problematic in countries where environmental protection and governance are not even close to European standards.

 

DIGITAL COLONIALISM

Data centers are currently without a doubt one of the fastest growing industries in the world

Africa has a population of over 1 billion and is expected to grow by more than 2.5% annually, according to UN forecasts. A large portion of the population is young people who have grown up in the digital age but live in one of the least utilized areas of data centers and telecommunications companies in the world. The Asian continent is expected to be the largest data center market by 2021. (8)

Sociologist Michael Kwet (9) warns of the dangers of Silicon Valley’s plans for Africa – in a scenario he calls digital colonialism. According to Kwet, the problem is this: U.S. technology companies are working to control the digital ecosystem and thus the entire transfer of information to the continent. Within a short period of time, it changed into a technological system controlled by a handful of companies

The race to control Africa’s digital market is dominated by US tech giants: Amazon, Google and Facebook, as well as China’s Huawei. (10).
Facebook plans to install a submarine fiber optic cable around the entire African continent. The cable is three times the connectivity capacity of existing submarine cables serving the continent.
(11)

 

 

DIGITAL DEVIDE

More than one and a half billion people do not have access to the internet, and at least 300 million of them live in Africa. (12)

Africa itself exhibits an inner digital divide, with most Internet activity and infrastructure concentrated in South Africa, Morocco, Egypt as well as smaller economies like Mauritius and Seychelles.

In 2000, Subsaharan Africa as a whole had fewer fixed telephone lines than Manhattan, and in 2006 Africa contributed to only 2% of the world’s overall telephone lines in the world. (13)

As a consequence of the scarce overall bandwidth provided by cable connections, a large section of Internet traffic in Africa goes through expensive satellite links.  In general, thus, the cost of Internet access (and even more so Broadband access) is unaffordable by most of the population.  According to the Kenyan ISPs association, high costs are also a consequence of the subjection of African ISPs to European ISPs and the lack of a clear international regulation of inter-ISP cost partition.The total bandwidth available to Africa was less than that available to Norway alone (49,000 Mbit / s).

 

The International Telecommunication Union has held the first Connect the World meeting in Kigali, Rwanda (in October 2007) as a demonstration that the development of telecommunications in Africa is considered a key intermediate objective for the fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals (14)

A new report calling for urgent action to close the internet access gap suggests that around $ 100 billion would be needed to achieve universal access to Broadband connectivity in Africa by 2030. This is a formidable challenge, as about a third of the population remains out of reach of mobile Broadband signal in Sub-Saharan Africa. The report estimates that nearly 250,000 new 4G base stations and at least 250,000 kilometers of new fiber across the region would be required to achieve the goal. (15)

Bill Gates has stated that the poor do not need computers but basic security such as food, water and health care. For the price of one computer, 2,000 children could be vaccinated against six killer diseases. If developing countries’ debts are not canceled, the G8’s actions will remain empty gestures,” commented Ann Pettifor on the decisions of last summer’s  Okinawa meeting on the Jubilee 2000 campaign, under which the DOT Force working group leaves its proposals to leaders of rich countries in Genoa to close the digital divide. (16)

 

CULTURAL GAP

While there are many benefits to expanding the network, there are also problems to be solved on different continents, with infrastructure and quality standards at the forefront. However, the shortage of skilled labor and ignorance of the need for data center security solutions is expected to be a significant challenge.

  The location of data centers on different continents and in different countries poses new challenges, as safety-related legislation and applicable building standards can differ significantly.

The conversion of existing buildings into functioning data centers is a particular trend in developing countries, which from a security perspective, this poses new challenges as well. (8)

 

OFF-LINE

Shutting down the Internet has been used as a policy instrument. Governments in Tanzania, Chad, Ethiopia and Uganda have used internet switch-offs and social media blackouts as a weapon against a rising opposition, to ensure they restrict the flow of information thereby getting re-elected against the will of voters. The Internet shutdown caused huge losses for example as businesses, government agencies, organizations and web-based operations such as banking, electronic file transfers, e-tax payments were disrupted.

From Caracas to Khartoum, Protesters are leveraging the internet to organize online and stand up for their rights offline. In response, in the past year governments in Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Myanmar and Zimbabwe shut down the internet in all or some parts of their countries, perhaps with the hope that doing so would shut off their problems. Governments are increasingly using closures in crisis situations, claiming that they are necessary for public security or curbing the spread of misinformation.

When the internet is off, People’s ability to express themselves freely is limited, the economy suffers, journalists struggle to upload photos and videos documenting government overreach and abuse, students are cut off from their Lessons, taxes can’t be paid on time, and those needing health care cannot get consistent access.

Long internet shutdowns and social media blackouts between January 2020 and February 2021 have been termed “counterintuitive and a violation of human rights” in the digital age, according to social media giant Facebook’s East Africa spokesperson, Janet Kemboi. (17)

 

 

references:

(1)   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gods_Must_Be_Crazy

(2)  https://en.qaz.wiki/wiki/Globalization

(3) https://en.qaz.wiki/wiki/Westernization

(4) https://www.maailmankuvalehti.fi/2001/3/yleinen/digitaalinen-kuilu-kasvaa/

(5) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_count_to_literacy_by

(6) https://www.telia.fi/yritysille/artikkelit/artikkeli/datakeskukset-ovat-unohdettu-paastojen-lahde

(7) https://puheenvuoro.uusisuomi.fi/rikureinikka/173841-sivilisaation-evoluutio-a-history-of-the-world-in-our-time

(8) https://www.stanleysecurity.fi/siteassets/finland/meista/data-center/tulevaisuus-datakeskus-raportti.pdf

(9) Michael Kwet is a Visiting Fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. He is the author of Digital colonialism: US empire and the new imperialism in the Global South, and hosts the Tech Empire podcast. His work has been published at The New York Times, VICE News, Al Jazeera, Wired, BBC World News Radio, Mail & Guardian, Counterpunch, and other outlets. He received his PhD in Sociology from Rhodes University, South Africa.

(10) /https://www.dw.com/en/digital-colonialism-cheap-internet-access-for-africa-but-at-what-cost/a-48966770

(11) https://www.tivi.fi/uutiset/facebook-ymparoi-koko-afrikan-kuitukaapeli

(12) https://unric.org/fi/afrikkalaiset-maalaiskylaet-paeaesemaessae-internetis/

(13) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_in_Africa

(14) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_in_Africa

(15) // https://blogs.worldbank.org/digital-development/africas-connectivity-gap-can-map-tell-story

(16) /https://www.maailmankuvalehti.fi/2001/3/yleinen/digitaalinen-kuilu-kasvaa/

(17) /https://allafrica.com/view/group/main/main/id/00076816.html

 

PHOTO & ILLUSTRATION CREDITS

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_people
  2. Nairobi Business Monthly
  3. http://echosante.info/environmental-protection-a-strong-regulatory-framework/
  4. https://bluetown.com/
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_in_Africa
  6. Empower Africa

afrikka nettikaapeli : https://web.asn.com/en/

The odds of digital inclusion

Jillian Weise, a poet and disability rights activist, has a refreshingly acute view on the human body and technology – approaching the celebrated movement of biohacking and the discussion on human cyborgs from a perspective of a person with disability, Weise has come up with a term tryborg to distinguish the optional, even hobbyist use of technology from necessary [1]. What Weise brings forward is the truth and reality of people with various disabilities, and the reliance on technology in everyday lives without a chance to opt-out from the latest tech gone out of fashion. “When my leg suddenly beeps and buzzes and goes into “dead mode” — the knee stiffens; I walk like a penguin — the tryborg is alive without batteries” [2]. It cannot be more stressed and obvious – there are people who rely and depend on technology for functions non-disabled people rarely consciously think about.

Between the endless data stream on the Internet cables and the pixels of media content, there are layers of technology and code, seemingly transparent and only becoming visible when something glitches, breaks off, fails. And the odds are that they will fail more often if you are a person with a disability. Those technologies are not only the ever-changing devices used for accessing the Web but also interfaces that come into endless forms and colors, following the newest trends or submitting to lack of money and time in coding and development.

3 screens with simulation of visual impairment

View of Aalto University website with SeeNow visual impairment simulator. Simulation of macular degeneration (1), diabetic retinopathy (2), cataract (3).

To challenge the prevailing notion of the ideal media audience as being non-disabled, Jillian Weise recently held an online event specifically crafted for an audience of deaf members [3]. It’s an act of looking beyond an imaginary of a monogamous mass of entities and online presence, and into more humane realities. But can such a performance fuel a conscious attitude for designers, businesses, and governments to take into account the invisible, but obviously diverse audience?

Digital divide is relevant not only on a global scale but also within local societies, with uneven opportunities, access to and accessibility of the technology. More than 18% of the world’s population suffer from a variety of disabilities, and the general level of Internet access for persons with disabilities is much lower than for the rest of society [4]. And while the Internet possesses a possibility of inclusion and opportunities for the community, the most widely-used hardware, software, and Web content vary considerably in their accessibility to people with a range of disabilities [5]. The Internet can pose opportunities for people with hearing and walking impairments to ease their daily tasks or induce socializing but exclude and marginalize those with visual or cognitive impairments.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has developed Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to help remove the barriers and create services and technology that are broadly accessible [6]. Accessibility, in this case, means that websites, digital products, and technologies are built in a way to be accessed and used by persons with various disabilities – visual, auditory, physical, and cognitive disabilities, that often means giving up the latest hype and visual trends for deliberate accessibility, clear affordances, and an extra time and precision for coding. While the guidelines are not mandatory for the private sector, the EU has developed a Web Accessibility Directive to improve public sector websites and digital products. Recent research in Sweden shows that the focus on visual and sensory impairments in policies and standards for accessibility has improved the experience and use of interfaces for the respective groups, but there are no clear methods or understandings on the design process for accessibility for those with cognitive impairments [7].

Dependence on online services and media is now ever-increasing in business, entertainment and governance, and digital products make way for easier and more dynamic daily lives. Internet access is linked to income, mental health, and social capital [5], therefore the lack of it can lead to socioeconomic disadvantage. And at the same time Internet technologies and products hold a huge potential for reducing the inequalities of people with disabilities, if only they are kept in regard when designing the services and products. If only the devices, digital services, and digital products are usable and worthwhile regardless of who is the person using them. Or as Jillian Weiss’s online performance suggests, designed for people with disabilities in the first place, because those without disabilities will still have the odds on their side.

[1] Jillian Weise, Common Cyborg, In: Disability Visibility, ed. Alice Wong, 2020, p.63-74

[2] Jillian Weise, The Dawn of the Tryborg, 30.11.2016. URL: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/30/opinion/the-dawn-of-the-tryborg.html

[3] The Cyborg Jillian Weise Hosts A Different Kind of Internet Event, 18.09.2020. URL: https://occhimagazine.com/the-cyborg-jillian-weise-hosts-a-different-kind-of-internet-event/

[4] Vicente, María Rosalía, López, Ana Jesús, A Multidimensional Analysis of the Disability Digital Divide: Some Evidence for Internet Use, In: Information Society. Jan/Feb2010, Vol. 26 Issue 1, p48-64.

[5] Kerry Dobranskya, Eszter Hargittai, Unrealized potential: Exploring the digital disability divide. URL: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.poetic.2016.08.003

[6] WCAG 2.1. at a Glance, URL: https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/glance/

[7] Stefan Johansson, Jan Gulliksen, Catharina Gustavsson, Disability digital divide: the use of the internet, smartphones, computers and tablets among people with disabilities in Sweden, In: Universal Access in the Information Society, 7.03.2020, URL: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10209-020-00714-x

Notes on labor and inequality in infrastructures

Much perspectives come in place while writing this note that comes as a reflexive and self-awareness text on many issues such as my cognitive sovereignty, my perception and understanding of time in a present scale also in its multiplicity and implications, the understanding that my every decision or action is, undeniably, tied to my context and agency society gives me, and comes with consequences whether I can witness them or not which talks about certain privileges I came to have at this stage of my life, but could easily not have if having not taken certain actions that I know sums into the chain of negative footprints, like getting two flights to get here, plus the amount of clicking those tickets implied since plenty other flights were canceled before due to the ongoing pandemic.

As a South-American woman in my early 30s being a student in Helsinki, it is inevitable to compare infrastructure and systems and their affect on the non-standard citizens. The first obvious contrast with my previous infrastructure reality is the facilitating presence of proper, digitally connected, public transportation – that I came to discover that as in any other place has its spotless functionality grounded on location, more on that later. Second, and almost on an overwhelming side, I came to experience the huge reliance on digitalization which goes from mundane tasks, such as getting the metro on time to more important matters as bank services access. Everything is profoundly connected to the ID authentification system, which not only implies a matter of public control but also a powerful border setter. [1]

Digital infrastructures, such as those, hold the power to create huge class gaps; frame as a simple understanding of differentiation between those who are part of the digital systems and those who are not. The reality is that there is a more complex creation of classes based on the accessibility to the digital infrastructure and requirements of certain devices that fit the system. As a result, there are different sorts of citizens: lawful citizens, temporal citizens, outcast citizens, non-citizens, international students – which somehow belong to their own gray area, temporal international students, unlawful citizens, illegal subjects, and so on.

By exploring this phenomenon we understand that the infrastructure itself is labeling us, restricting our relational identities and agency in the society frame, fitting us in specific spheres of action. This naming affects the capacity of access to certain services and benefits, such as banking loans or housing leases, affecting also the quality of services provided like public transportation or verified phone lines. Therefore affecting the daily ways of reaching and communicating, distorting physically the perception of time, creating a significant difference between the time of the digital lawful citizens and those, us, on the outside or gray areas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Consequently, we can discuss that the infrastructure builds upon cognitive capitalism, particularly, on certain types of individuals if we take into account that those out of the system tend to live further from work and city centers, constantly expending more time waiting for their transport, moreover, out of lack of infrastructure, many have to live in remote areas to be close to work in Helsinki, there are just two railway corridors from the core area along the main railway line and the coastal line [2]. Another key aspect of the affects on the cognitive state of digital infrastructure and infrastructure on individuals is the impossibility to access online services and have to invest more time on phone ques or presential meetings for any required matter, there is no time to rest, no infrastructure to make it possible neither.

Time is scarce and the limited that some can access is manly to be able to cover for already invested time -say returning for those borrowed waiting hours. We are again in an industrial-ish era working around the clock, not even being able to make the most out of the minute, minutes feels like seconds, but at the same time can feel like days in a restless laboring routine [3], and big companies are taking advantage of this digital class gaps turning the demand of the digitalized ones into the restless routine of the outsiders by turning overnight their lives into a 24/7 shifts. We can see for example the case of the “megacycles” of Amazon which runs on unthinkable hours, not considering traveling times, other living responsibilities nor resting times, coming to be a maximum degree of digital labor and for that matter “boiproduction” [4].

On a final thought from the gray side, as a student of new media, I came to realize certain inequalities in opportunities, perception and navigation of today’s society. There is a bigger breach among individuals that have been surrounded by technology from childhood and understand its limits and possibilities oppositely to those just coming to know it, but this understanding of the gap may be also a fake understanding of our social reality, based on the illusion of the “creation of power” with this digital skills [3].

Being educated as a kid on computer skills, and software manipulation, even basic coding nowadays, comes with the promise of giving a range of abstract understanding and deconstruction and of course, a set of tools most likely required in our context. When facing the question of “skills” and experience there is a huge difference regarding the early accessibility to digital infrastructure; that doesn’t correspond to the individuals own interests and practices but to the social contexts and its limitations, giving some individuals advantages and putting others in specific action spheres that could be carried on in time, limiting their access to digital infrastructures out of fear, embarrassment, or just being uncomfortable to face something so familiar “so late”, under the eye of the capitalist society that kept them to the margin in the first place.

There are some cases, where the question is raised, whether this division is made by the capitalist itself and if everyone does, really, need these infrastructures to be part of this global system [5], but as long as the world is functioning on certain parameters there is no doubt that it should be a right for everyone to have the same access and understanding of how things are developing, and to be up to the individual to decide whether or not to be part of it, but in terms of voluntary action not in terms of lack of information, illiteracy or inaccessibility the same applies for government policies on digitalizing identities if its not possible for everyone it shouldn’t restrict and affect those who cannot be part of it.

 

References:

1. Governing ID: Principles for Evaluation. Bhandari, V. Trikanad, S. Since, A. 2020. A project of the Centre for Internet and Society, India Supported by Omidyar Network

2.Urban Form in the Helsinkiand Stockholm City RegionsDevelopment of Pedestrian, Public Transport and Car Zones. Söderström, P. Schulman, H. Ristimäki, M. 2015. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/33735222.pdf

3. Cultural Techniques of Cognitive Capitalism: Metaprograming and the Labor of Code in Cultural Studies Review. Parikka, J. 2014, University of South Hampton. pp 30 – 52

4. Amazon Is Forcing Its Warehouse Workers Into Brutal ‘Megacycle’ Shifts. Kaori Gurley, L. 2021 https://www.vice.com/en/article/y3gk3w/amazon-is-forcing-its-warehouse-workers-into-brutal-megacycle-shifts

5. Water, Energy, Access: Materializing the Internet in Rural Zambia, in Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures,Parks, L. Starosielski, N. 2015 Urbana, Chicago And Springfield: University Of Illinois Press. pp 115-136.

 

Agbogbloscene

 

 

The ever-increasing amount of electronic waste is a major global problem. Based on international studies, it has been calculated that a total of about 5,000 tonnes of electronic waste would leave Finland for developing countries each year, i.e almost a kilo per capita. The amount corresponds to less than five percent of the electronic waste generated annually in Finland. (1) The ‘recycling’ of e-waste in developing countries is much cheaper. The largest recipients of e-waste in Africa are Ghana and Nigeria, in Asia China, India and Pakistan. (2) It is estimated that more than half of the world’s electronic waste passes through official channels to developing countries, where only precious metals are collected from equipment, regardless of the health of workers. (3)

The interest of mining companies is based on the fact that recycling metals is cheaper than digging from the ground./(4)

It is not always so easy to separate used equipment from scrap. Many devices considered waste in Finland still get a new life in the hands of a West African repairman. Along with Nigeria, Ghana is Africa’s largest recipient of European used electronics. (1)

Ghana’s economy has grown rapidly, but living standards are still so low that there is a huge demand for used televisions and computers in homes, offices and internet cafes. Computers and other equipment are also repaired in small workshops.

Cows with open wounds graze on the site

The Agbogbloshie Scrap Yard is located a stone’s throw from the center of Accra, the capital of West African Ghana. There are several similar waste treatment sites on the outskirts of the city, but Agbogbloshie is Ghana’s largest and most researched – and has received the most negative publicity. “Sometimes we inhale toxic gases, and that filth accumulates in the body. But this work is the only way for us to survive, ”says scrap sorter Baba Adi. No one seems to have a respiratory protection. In Agbogbloshie and similar waste treatment areas, Finnish equipment will almost certainly also be disposed of. This is despite the fact that the export of electronic waste from Finland to developing countries is prohibited. Many working in the area are poor people who have moved from northern Ghana to the capital.

Adjoa, nine, sells small water bags to the workers. They drink it and use it to extinguish fires

They are attracted there by big earners. Sorters like Baba Ad can earn between € 150 and € 250 a month, about four times the Ghanaian minimum wage. The electronics waste business in Ghana generates an estimated € 200 million a year and directly or indirectly supports 200,000 people.

Cough and chest pain are common problems in Agbogbloshie. High levels of heavy metals such as lead and iron have been found in workers ’blood and urine samples. They end up in the body from air, water and food purchased from the waste area.

 

Kwabena Labobe, 10, plays on the site. His parents are not able to send him to school and forbid him to burn e-waste

Heavy metals are especially dangerous for toddlers living in the surrounding slums, who play in the scrap yard. Heavy metals end up in babies through breast milk. High levels of heavy metals have been linked in studies to nervous system damage in children and fetuses. There is no use for worthless parts of electronic waste. They are being dumped in informal landfills in Ghana. (1)

In Finland, the value minerals of equipment are collected mainly in industrial plants. Shipping goods to China is cheaper than a truck ride from Jyväskylä to Helsinki. According to one study, it is 13 times cheaper to separate gold, aluminum and other precious metals from electronic waste in China than to dig minerals underground. (1)

Most of the environmental impact of a smartphone, for example, comes from production. Digging metals and making components, or mobile phone parts, requires a lot of energy. (4) Even if you think of a basic cell phone or laptop, they may contain about 30 different metals. These metals come from all over the world. After the metals have been excavated, they go to a smelter or refinery, they may be made into various chemicals, then they go to a component plant and from there to an assembly plant where the equipment is assembled. There may be a real number of factories and operators before the metal ends up in the finished device and from there to the consumer. This is perhaps the main reason why it is really difficult to know where all the particles come from and under what conditions they are made.There can be dozens, hundreds or, for example, Samsung has 2,500 suppliers. (5)

According to a new study, if Europeans used their mobile phones  a year longer than now, it would save two million tonnes of emissions, or about a million cars emissions, a year. The average lifespan of mobile phones in Europe is three years.
In the United States, 400 million electronic devices are rejected each year, an estimated 2/3 of which are operational. (5)

Europe generated 15.6 kilograms of electronic waste per capita. In Africa, the corresponding figure was only 1.7 pounds per capita. (6) And yet, more Africans have access to mobile phones than to clean drinking water. (7)

A total of 50 million tonnes of electronic waste is generated worldwide each year, of which only 20% is recycled. (5)

 

 

References:

(1)  //https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-10472211

(2)  /https://www.kansanuutiset.fi/artikkeli/3093042-eurooppalaisen-elektroniikkajatteen-paatepysakki-on-ghanassa

(3)  / https://www.kuusakoski.com/fi/finland/yritys/yritys/uutiset/2019/elektroniikkaromu-vaarissa-kasissa-on-tietoturvariski/

(4)  https://www.fingo.fi/ajankohtaista/uutiset/suomi-vie-elektroniikkajatetta-kehitysmaihin

(5)  / https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-11141662

(6)  YK:n yliopiston (UNU) raportti  [vuodelta 2016] / https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-9296700

(7)  THEORY BEYOND THE CODES Dust and Exhaustion The Labor of Media Materialism Jussi Parikka

 

Photos:

  1. https://news.itu.int/ewaste-growing-challenge/
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2014/feb/27/agbogbloshie-worlds-largest-e-waste-dump-in-pictures / Cows with open wounds graze on the site
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2014/feb/27/agbogbloshie-worlds-largest-e-waste-dump-in-pictures /Adjoa, nine, sells small water bags to the workers. They drink it and use it to extinguish fires.
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2014/feb/27/agbogbloshie-worlds-largest-e-waste-dump-in-pictures / Kwabena Labobe, 10, plays on the site. His parents are not able to send him to school and forbid him to burn e-waste
  5. https://venturebeat.com/2017/06/13/5-billion-people-now-have-a-mobile-phone-connection-according-to-gsma-data/ Image Credit: Maxx-Studio

 

i(Don’t)*Fixit

Glossy black-boxed

Only once things fail, then we start thinking about their complexity and become aware of how much the tech objects that surround you are glossy black boxes, designed to appear simple and hide the enormous system that lies behind the object and stays far from our eyes. [1]
The whole world of media wants us to see its LED-luminescent and metal-polished side, but it is obscure in every other direction: the management of data signals arriving at our devices is a secreted activity; the production of the hardware is a story never told by the very firms, but only by journalists fighting for human and environmental causes; electronic waste is more of a taboo that both the big tech companies and the developed society do not want to deal with.
However. as Jussi Parikka argues, all these activities are not theoretical, but material [2]: data centers, data cables, coltan mines causing natural depletion in Central Africa, tech industries based on labor exploitation in China, e-waste landfills, and processing plants in Eastern Europe [3], they are all physical realities that shape entires societies. Taking all this dirt into account and using this as perspective, privilege is the possibility of looking at the result, but not the process.

Will to repair

If the single contemporary citizen has long-lived an imbalanced relation of power with companies, about their production methods and ethics, that could only be won through political pressure, he or she has always been able to take a little revenge through maintenance and mending. However, during the last twenty years, this has been made impossible or inconvenient by tech companies.
The activity of repairing has always been an important task throughout the history of humanity: resources have always been limited and the process of mending could be learned. In the last decades, we, the western privileged who have not seen the natural damages and the human exploitation, have been living in the illusion that resources were illimited and overall cheap, and we never learned how to repair our smartphones, computers, or whatsoever.
This has not happened for pure idleness, but a series of reasons [4]:

  1. Companies do not provide customers with software or adequate information for maintenance or repairing. If people start autonomously to deliver self-taught technical information, companies usually try to oppose, like Apple with iFixit. [5]
  2. Often companies do not sell the components either to companies or to non-official repair centers.
  3. Official repair centers are often so expensive that it is more convenient to buy the new version of the product.

Furthermore, if the life-guaranteed product would give a proper reason for the mending, programmed obsolescence conveys a renunciative attitude. In the era of e-waste, nobody would repair something that is made to break.

Right to repair

However, times are changing. People are now meeting in repair cafés [6]: there is awareness around these themes and organizations like The Repair Association (TRA) have been fighting for the electronics right to repair, obtaining some successes [7], even though big-techs try to remain black-boxed since people could hurt themselves while repairing their smartphones or hacker could have easier access to key information. [8] Of course, both of these argumentations have been found inconsistent, a façade for economic interests that is not working so well anymore. Indeed, knowledge is a form of power and, since tech firms have become important actors within the geopolitical system, the democratic citizen must ask for his right of knowledge, in order to be able to work out alternatives from the bottom.


Notes:

[1] Bruno Latour, Where Are the Missing Masses? The Sociology of a Few Mundane Artifacts, in Shaping Technology-Building Society. Studies in Sociotechnical Change, Wiebe Bijker and John Law, MIT Press (1992)

[2] Jussi Parikka, Dust and Exhaustion: The Labor of Media Materialism, Arthur and Marilouise Kroker (2013)

[3] Bulgaria Opens Largest WEEE Recycling Factory in Eastern Europe, Ask-eu.com (12th July 2010)

[4] Karen Turner, Apple wants to kill a bill that could make it easier for you to fix your iPhone, The Washington Post (17th June 2016)

[5] Kyle Wiens, iFixit App Pulled from Apple’s App Store, iFixit (29th September 2015)

[6] Sally McGrane, An Effort to Bury a Throwaway Culture One Repair at a Time, The New York Times (8th May 2012)

[7] Jason Koebler, Internal Documents Show Apple Is Capable of Implementing Right to Repair Legislation, Vice (28th March 2019)

[8] Jason Koebler, Apple Is Telling Lawmakers People Will Hurt Themselves if They Try to Fix iPhones, Vice (30th April 2019)

The Globalization of the Landscape

When companies sell us the cloud, it seems that they are talking about something magical and fantastic. Its imagery is futuristic looking, filled with shiny lights, and coming from a science-fiction movie. However, we are not concerned about what the cloud is. They are black-boxed and top-secret places, where all our information takes live.

We have seen attempts from the companies to make those spaces more transparent. They open the doors to the cameras and display all the machines. Yet, this hypervisibility of the infrastructure and this pure image that they give of the cloud allows them to keep the people naive.

The truth is that the cloud relies on data-centers that stock all that information that we generate every day. One of its effects is the need for infrastructure around the planet. These buildings are environments designed from humans to robots, and for that reason, their design is a copy-paste around the world. Data-centers are structures designed for machines, which means that no human is working in that environment, so there is no need to follow cultural necessities. 

Images from data centers around the globe.

In the same manner during industrialization, the landscape was also affected by the construction of new buildings. Hilla and Bernd Becher, two german photographers, recorded these changes in the landscape from the late 1950s [1]. In their work, we can see collections of images depicting industrial buildings. Even if the buildings have very similar shapes because they have the same finality, there are subtle differences probably because of the construction methods and the cultural necessities from each place.

Pictures from Hilla and Bernd Becher’s work.

In the future, we will need more infrastructure to support all the data that we generate. Jennifer Holt and Patrick Vonderau write about one of the upcoming “technological dramas” that the technology in data storage is not as developed as the amount of information to store [2]. In conclusion, the landscape is going to be even more exploited in the future, overcrowded with the same buildings all over the surface.

References:

[1] Biro, M. (2012). From analog to digital photography: Bernd and Hilla Becher and Andreas Gursky. History of Photography.

[2] Holt, J. and Vonderau, P. Where the Internet Lives. Data centers as cloud infrastructure. Signal Traffic.

 

~ Alicia Romero

The Truth behind Pixels

Loop

At first glance, the development of the present media infrastructure, made by an articulated system of data centers, routers, cloud off-ramps, cables, satellites, and so on, seems unstoppable. Nicole Starosielski argues that we are in a feedback loop wherein data cables can be considered resources for audiovisual media and the very media are projected as resources for cables, allowing “the speculative development of large-scale infrastructural projects in the absence of any actual circulation.” [1]
Although media history is often characterized as a progression toward greater definition, fidelity, and truthfulness, is humanity going to rely more and more on those data-expensive media-rich contents?

Compression

Contemporary art, indeed, has already a long story of experimentations with a certain aesthetic of compression, described by Jonathan Sterne describes as a form of “proper management of content for the transmission lines” through the reduction of signal size for fitting in the media infrastructure. [2] As Hito Steyerls explains, the “poor image” is the copy made for movement: the more it accelerates, the more it deteriorates. [3]
Valentina Tanni explains that since xerox art to glitch art “pixels, primary elements of the computerized image, have been exhibited and exalted, […] low-definition is taken as one of the multiple possibilities of the image.” [4]
Simonetta Fadda argues that we have given to the HD image the task of replacing the reality that it reproduces, though this process inevitably “sanitize and sweeten” the contradictions of the very reality. [5] Consequently, lo-fi is a political choice that wants to ignore mainstream aesthetic and copyright culture, transforming quality into accessibility. [3]

Fidelity

As also Tanni points out, smartphones and webcams, far exceeding professional equipment, combined with lack of graphic education, generate a visual landscape where lo-fi images are the most frequent and authentic occurrence. Indeed, while looking at a “poor” image we would not doubt of manipulation, since, if it was, it would have been evident. On the contrary, a high-quality image is black-boxed: it does not reveal how far it has been manipulated.

While high-quality images are better at immersing us into a realistic representation of our visual existence, but keeping undisclosed their processual complexity, lo-fi images are democratically produced by the average digital citizen and “testify to the violent dislocation, transferrals, and displacement of images — their acceleration and circulation within the vicious cycles of audiovisual capitalism.” [3] Realism is not that realistic anymore.

Hyper-reality

Since this rising appreciation of the aesthetic of compression, the fact the humanity is heading directly towards a massive usage of media-rich contents can be put into discussion. Maybe the global mediatic infrastructure will not be overloaded and consequently overpowered (the usage makes the infrastructure!) just for a refusal to hyperreality.
After all, we sometimes prefer calling to video-calling, texting to audio, photographing to recording a video.


Notes:

[1] Nicole Starosielski, Fixed Flow, from Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski, Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures, University of Illinois Press (2015)

[2] Jonathan Sterne, MP3: The Meaning of a Format, Duke University Press (2012)

[3] Hito Steyerl, In Defense of Poor Image, E-Flux (9th December 2009)

[4] Valentina Tanni, Memestetica: Il Settembre Eterno dell’Arte, Nero (2020)

[5] Simonetta Fadda, Definizione Zero, Costa & Nolan (1999)

Tears of Joy

 

The forerunner of the writing can be considered numerous paintings and engravings that have survived from the Late Paleolithic period from roughly 35,000 to 15,000 years before the beginning of time. The birth of the actual writing took place in Sumer, ancient Mesopotamia, in what is now Iraq, about 3,200 years before the beginning of our era.(1)

In the 21st century, we are returning to the origins of written language, the world of symbols and signs. For the first time, in 2015, a picture was chosen as the word of the year in the Oxford Dictionary – a face laughing with tears in his eyes, called ´Tears of joy´. (2)

Our increasing use of smart devices and media has led to the simplification of language, the decline of literacy, and the replacement of traditional written language with partly different character and symbol systems, memes, and emojis. Iconic characters have begun to be used in writing alongside the old symbolic character set. They differ from iconic writing systems in that they have no sound value. (1) The popularity of audiobooks, the replacement of words by emojis and the increase in video call into question the importance of traditional literacy.

However, there is already talk of a post-text period, although it is difficult to think of replacing a scientific text, for example. Literacy will still be needed. Replacing long texts with a single meme image leads to an ambiguous visuality that requires different reading skills than a traditional text. Instead of literacy, we are talking about multi-literacy. At the same time, people’s literacy is declining.

-Bible as emojis

Do you recognize the verses below?

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy might.” The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’. There is no commandment greater than these. ” The Double Commandment of Love, Mark. 12: 30

There are about half a million adults in Finland who do not have sufficient literacy skills to cope in today’s society (3) The decline in literacy leads to inequality in society. The danger is the polarization of society and the intensification of extremism.

The impact of political memes has been relatively little studied. Memes can be harmless entertainment that invigorates everyday life, but also a gateway to harmful extremism. Meme simplifies the worldview. Memes and humor are the most effective forms of influencing in social media. There is no direct evidence of planned political influence. However, that does not mean that it will not happen. In the future, trolling can be done with artificial intelligence and algorithms and can be controlled by states, among others. (4) The speed of communication and the lack of source criticism easily lead to the spread of belief information and the fragmentation of the field of knowledge. The content of search engines and the Internet is over-relied on, and at the same time search engine companies have infinite power over the dissemination of information. The governance of search engine companies is a huge political controversy.

On the other hand, the problem is the decline in human brain capacity globally. Professor Gerald Grabtree puts it this way: “I would even bet that if the average citizen from Athens now came to us thousands of years ago, he would be the smartest and most intellectually capable of our party. He would have a good memory, wide-ranging ideas and sharp perspectives on important things. ” The rationale for the hypothesis is that man no longer needs his intellectual abilities to survive in modern modern society. And when intelligence is no longer needed, the genes that support it begin to decay as a legacy for future generations. (5)

Evan Horowitz also writes in an article published by NBC: Humanity is becoming more stupid. That is not an estimate. That is a global fact. IQ results have begun to deteriorate in some of the leading countries, (2). One explanation for this, according to Horowitz, has been that food no longer receives as many nutrients due to global warming. The information society has also been blamed for the flood of information, which is seen as undermining people’s ability to concentrate. It can also undermine humanity’s ability to respond to massive problems such as climate change and the challenges posed by artificial intelligence. (6)

 

 

(1)  Kuvakirjoituksen jälleensyntymä – tunneikonit kirjoitetussa puhekielisessä keskustelussa ^__^  /  / Pro gradu -tutkielma Suomen kieli Turun yliopisto Toukokuu 2006,  Ilmari Vauras /  https://www.jammi.net/tunneikonit/ilmari_vauras_pro_gradu.pdf

(2)  https://www.is.fi/digitoday/art-2000001037217.html

(3)  Meemien tulkitseminenkin vaatii lukutaitoa – Mitä käy niille, jotka eivät opi lukemaan?/Salla Rajala, 27.9.2019

https://moreenimedia.uta.fi/2019/09/27/mita-kay-niille-jotka-eivat-opi-lukemaan/

(4)  Viihdettä vai aivopesua? Meemit vaikuttavat ajatuksiisi, etkä välttämättä edes huomaa sitä

, 20.9.2019, https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-10941826

(5)  https://www.iltalehti.fi/terveys/a/2012111316323790?fbclid=IwAR1dY8mmOTaSmcWCxnqsvjX5v7s0NpDAUjrX_Ab4ipB3rdzU33Oi34z4VQI

(6)  Ihmiskunta muuttuu tyhmemmäksi. ”Se ei ole arvio”.

SIINA EKBERG | 23.05.2019 | 23:55- päivitetty 23.05.2019 | 19:10

/https://www.verkkouutiset.fi/ihmiset-tyhmenevat-ja-silla-voi-olla-kohtalokkaat-seuraukset/#6628a248

 

Thanks for the inspiration to Alicia Romero Fernandez 🙂

 

 

Pictures:

1. https://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuolenp%C3%A4%C3%A4kirjoitus

2. https://www.is.fi/digitoday/art-2000001037217.html

3.https://www.wycliffe.fi/emojit/

-Bible as emojis

Do you recognize the verses below?

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy might.” The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’. There is no commandment greater than these. ” The Double Commandment of Love, Mark. 12: 30

4. picture manipulation: Tuula Vehanen

Cable Innocence

In 2020 the submarine cables take up a length of approximately 1.2 million kilometers [1] which is an impressive number, too large to comprehend and thus as unreal as the ceaseless wireless data connection itself. But the cables are physical, of course, and require not only manufacturing, but also installation and maintenance. And presumably – lots of money for lots of power in return. But for a commercial, artificial and physical entity spanning across oceans, cables seem to have gained more sympathy (or more sympathetic vocabulary) than I would have expected.

There is a history of submarine cables starting with telegraphy traffic in the 1850s, but these days submarine telecommunication cables are fiber optic cables that operate by shooting pulses of light through transparent fibers usually made of glass or plastics; cables laid under the seabed are wrapped in protective layers made of steel, copper, and polyethylene, and are equipped with repeaters that are additionally powered by a power cable [2]. When possible, these cables are buried under the seabed in the sand, but when impossible (or sometimes not legally required) they are laid on the seabed and covered up with concrete mattresses, rocks or cast-iron shells for protective reasons [2].

Invasive and alien as they are in the submarine environment, cables and cable laying seemingly does not have an alarming impact on the environment and underwater fauna. Related environmental impacts include underwater noise, heat dissipation, electromagnetic fields, contamination, and disturbance [2], but they are largely seen as minor, temporal, and transient. And strange as it seems, according to biologist Brian Bett, old and unused cables could even be abandoned in the ocean, as “there could be a carbon footprint assessment of the diesel fuel used to recover them”, and very often that is the case and cables, as well as repeaters, are left in the ground [3]. But this somehow seems to oversee the fact that fiber, metal, and plastics are still waste buried deep into the oceans, disrupting nature.

There is a reported incident of a humpback whale entangled in a data cable near the coast of Norway, which is rescued by the coastal guard in two days time after accidental spotting by a nature photographer [4], but for as much as we can see (and given the depth of the ocean – it’s not much) modern cables have also spared the large marine mammals. Rest aside the environmental impact of roaring data centers and power usage of ever-increasing multimedia content and data consumption, cables are starting to seem truly innocent.

And interestingly, as such, they are also depicted in the public discourse – vulnerable and in a need of defense. Cables as such are subject to various faults – accidental human activity and occasional earthquakes and underwater slides, but at this point, cables are laid across different routes and customers are rarely aware of disruptions, with main losses being for the telco industry [5]. In 1958 The International Cable Protection Committee was founded [6]; CNN depicts cables as being vulnerable, BBC asks Could Russian submarines cut off the Internet?, and various UK government officials seek attention for the insecure [7] cables and their defense [8]. The overall depiction in media also seems to follow the line of magnificent, but vulnerable network, without posing questions of ownership and thus, power relations.

Without a deep knowledge of the secretive cable industry and large tech companies, this discourse can seem alarming, inviting the public to hope for the protection of the cables, as if the cables were a part of our private selves. Fearing the Russians, fearing a communications cutout, fearing a disruption of our Internet-dependent private realities, fearing a moment in a dystopian future when all the cables crash and we are left out of reach. For the most part, the world has grown dependent on submarine data cables and companies planting, maintaining, and owning those cables, so a general public vouching for the cables (thus, vouching for the companies, no questions asked) seems like a logical if not fearful attitude, for the power is too enormous to challenge. And even one step further, if I may – public fear in itself is quite a resource.

 

Resources:

[1] Submarine Cable 101. URL: https://www2.telegeography.com/submarine-cable-faqs-frequently-asked-questions

[2] Institute of Applied Ecology. Impacts of submarine cables on the marine environment – A literature review. URL: http://www.naturathlon.eu/fileadmin/BfN/meeresundkuestenschutz/Dokumente/BfN_Literaturstudie_Effekte_marine_Kabel_2007-02_01.pdf

[3] Boztas, S. Buried at sea: the companies cashing in on abandoned cables, 14.12.2016. URL: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/dec/14/ocean-pollution-cable-waste-technology-reuse-recycling-circular-economy-crs-holland

[4] Coghlan, A. Hacker, the humpback whale who got tangled in an internet cable, 16.11.2016. URL: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23231000-400-hacker-the-humpback-whale-who-got-tangled-in-an-internet-cable/

[5] Griffiths, J. The global internet is powered by vast undersea cables. But they’re vulnerable. 26.07.2019. URL: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/07/25/asia/internet-undersea-cables-intl-hnk/index.html

[6] About the ICPC. URL: https://www.iscpc.org/about-the-icpc/

[7] Sunak, R. Undersea Cables: Indispensable, insecure. 1.12.2017. URL: https://policyexchange.org.uk/publication/undersea-cables-indispensable-insecure/

[8] Barker, P. The Challenge of Defending Subsea Cables. 20.3.2018. URL: https://www.maritime-executive.com/editorials/the-challenge-of-defending-subsea-cables

No/humanness in the Immediate

We are becoming ever more impatient, and waiting which will always be part of any process [1], seems more like an inadequacy in the human code, there’s this old fixation with utility and efficiency which is slowly killing all that is organic within ourselves and surrounding us. From the days of industrialization, and the beginning of the engine era, our pace has constantly been stepping up affected by new technologies [1]. Being modern is being fast and productive, our wireless context allows and so many other times demands us to be in many different places at many different times, we are living the future, the same future that, as years ago, relies on the cultural obsession with immediateness and the well-developed infrastructure illiteracy.

Our cultural geography and temporality are ruled by capital systems, who, more than ever, are putting a value on time, we’ve come from having tangible benefits in reducing time on communication systems to making immediateness a final product itself. Another phenomenon is the overgrowing invisibility of infrastructures and with these a lack of understanding of who controls those services we rely so much on upon; by these means, we might live under the impression that investments to obtain better accessibility may be part of our nation’s interest in the common well and better social development but the reality is that nearly all, if not all, internet infrastructure belongs to private companies [2] and such investments have as final ends the creation of more need rather than providing solutions.

 

 

These private owners are in constant search of investors and expansion grounded on probabilities of data consumption [3], an interesting approach on this matter is to analyze the extent of services these private companies own and how they use user data for developing still unneeded infrastructure base on, the already capitalized, searches, screen time, and clicks, to name a few. It is no wonder that their main interest is to keep providing quick and borderless access to such services as they plan to expand and create more apps and services that will demand broader data access, creating an ever-accelerating cultural imaginary [4].

The idea of services beyond geography and borders may seem utopic but in practice, they come with rather problematic issues. The fact that most of these infrastructures rely on private entities who are not engaged in national matters such as, territory or natural resources affairs, or national privacy policies are some practical problems, but on a cultural imaginary scale, we have to understand the power we are giving to such entities, especially, in the social understanding of time and immediateness, and how these perceptions are being translated into other spheres such as education and culture.

As an effect, time is, more and more, being perceived as less useful on critical and investigating spaces because of the lack of practical utility [5] but especially because they are not at the same pace with the cultural imaginary pace that telecommunication infrastructures have created. While being obsessed with immediateness we are pushing ourselves towards a practical conception of reality, where our attention is shifting from being analytical and explorative to producing and consuming cyclicly at a fast speed. This phobia of waiting is affecting the way we understand information and also how it is being taught; nowadays education institutions rush students to get their degrees done quickly, courses cut studying hours by half, and there is a tendency for more self-studies. By assimilating the accelerating pace of infrastructures we are putting at risk capacities to generate ideas, instead of quickly searching for pre-solved answers.

Nowadays it is almost a revolutionary act not to follow what some app says and choose to be consciously slow on our way to our next meeting, or that inevitable metro trip, adding some non-efficient gap in our routine and it is even more revolutionary to go through one specific topic all over until words lack sense. We are expected to know things or search them immediately if not the case. Exploration and mistakes are permitted but there are limits and deadlines. Time is ticking constantly and on the other side of it, are the communication networks making it go even faster.

Knowledge isn’t immediate, isn’t invisible, these big entities are looking for blind and illiterate users, to keep on growing at an accelerated pace. We have to question what’s the limit of our unstable ethics and start visualizing the physicality and social effects of this unrestricted massive political private control before there’s only left generations of systematic consumers with no further soul or purpose.

 

Resources:

[1] Invisible and Instantaneous: Geographies of Media Infrastructure from Pneumatic Tubes to Fiber Optics. Farman, J. 2018. Geospatial Memory, 2 (1), pp.134-154.

[2] Submarine Cable Map. https://www.submarinecablemap.com/#/submarine-cable/sweden-estonia-ee-s-1

[3] “Fixed Flow: Undersea Cables as Media Infrastructure,” in Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures. Starosielski, N., Urbana, Chicago, And Springfield: University Of Illinois Press, 2015, 53-70.

[4] The Tech Giant’s Invisible Helpers. Ovide, S. 2020 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/08/technology/internet-infrastructure.html

[5] In defense of the useless. Ordine N. 2016. https://www.cccb.org/en/multimedia/videos/nuccio-ordine/223112

Greening Google

In the mediatic sphere, there is a strong association between the imaginaries of digitization, electricity, and environmentalism. We do think that an electric car is “greener” than a diesel-fueled one. We do imagine smart cities fully digitized, electric, and merged with the natural ecosystem, like the projects by Studio Stefano Boeri [1]. However, there is a growing perception that this could be a big misunderstanding.

For example, in 2019 OVO Energy has calculated the carbon footprint of emails and asserted that in the United Kingdom “if every email user in the country were to send one less unnecessary email per day, that would reduce carbon emissions by 16,433 tonnes,” [2] and then gave a metaphor to “contain the messy reality of infrastructure” [3]: 81,152 flights from London to Madrid.

The unexpectedness of these data makes this question is then immediate: are we in front of a case of greenwashing operated by the media industry? Formerly known as “eco-pornography” thanks to former advertising executive Jerry Mander, “greenwashing” is a concept born in 1986 by biologist and environmental activist Jay Westerveld, but with still no univocal definition. Riccardo Torelli, Federica Balluchi, and Arianna Lazzini then agree to trace the vague borders of this practice calling it “a misleading communication practice concerning environmental issues.” [4]

According to Greenpeace reports examining the energy consumption of data centers and cloud infrastructures, “if the cloud were a country, it would have the fifth-largest electricity demand in the world,” mostly used for keeping “servers idling and ready in case of a surge in activity” [5]. And at the same time, various companies like Google, Facebook, or Apple send messages about their effort in the construction of more energy-efficient structures and green energy plants that partially cover the enormous energy demand.

However, while looking at this oxymoron, the wisest question is then to ask: can these companies do otherwise? What is the budget percentage spent by GAFAM in researching less consuming infrastructures? And by our governments? If we are judgemental about Google building hydroelectric plants, how should we behave with those who are not even doing this?
And provoking finally: can we accept to have a more mediocre cloud service for a greener planet?


Notes:

[1] Stefano Boeri, Tirana Riverside, Tirana, Albania (2020)

[2] Martin Armstrong, The Carbon Footprint of ‘Thank you’ Emails, Statista (2019) https://www.statista.com/chart/20189/the-carbon-footprint-of-thank-you-emails/#:~:text=The%20sending%20of%20one%20email,at%20on%20a%20national%20scale.

[3] Star and Lampland, Standards and Their Stories, 11.

[4] Riccardo Torelli, Federica Balluchi and Arianna Lazzini, Greenwashing and Environmental Communication: Effects on Stakeholders’ Perceptions, from Richard Welford, Business Strategy and the Environment (2020) https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/bse.2373

[5] Jennifer Holt and Patrick VonDerau, Where the Internet Lives: Data Centers as Cloud Infrastructure, from Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski, Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures, University of Illinois Press (2015)

Fe Simeoni

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DIGITAL WASTESLAND

We come from mentioning the physicality of some infrastructures, they really on land, minerals, material resources to function, the same applies to our data, software access information, contacts, events, preset alarms, passwords, overall everything we want to keep somewhere within our multi-dimensional and for that matter multi-temporal reach.

The cloud provides a solution to storage and accessibility not to just one type of data but to overall our entire functionality, with connectivity we gain the possibility to access our information from everywhere, we also gain unawareness and inability to filter what to hold on to and what to dispose of, we lost track of what we’ve kept dragging and even worst what we’ve been keeping somewhere around the data landscape – which is in a grey zone of the private and public domain [1].

With the lack of awareness of the physicality of data as compared to the weight of ten books or the space a thousand photos would take of our intimate spaces, it is hard to understand data accumulation as an issue, especially since digitalization provided certain relief from waste and space overload. How much are we storing and for what purposes? And where does this data goes? As before mention digitalization may have solved some waste and storage issues but it’s not ethereal it is as physical as it gets, as any other infrastructure, and in this one, in particular, there’s an accelerated growing directly link with our production and consumption of data. So then again I raise the question, is it really everything essential?

We are directly accountable for the creation of exponential data centers, massive physical infrastructures with over the top energy consumption whose sole purpose is to store data that could be otherwise kept somewhere unidimensional with limited access rather than the cloud or moreover don’t exist at all, it’s important to take into account also data accumulated into what is known as Big Data. Companies profit from our detachment of data physicality and keep on magnifying such alienation by offering more abstract space in the cloud to storage a lifetime of pure digital waste. [2]

Therefore, we are part of a capital cycle where we keep on expanding limits and accepting terms and conditions while paying monthly fees for this “space” with no understanding of what this implies or where the actual space is located, even worst, who does it really belong to [3]- such type of contracts is unthinkable outside this sphere. They keep on pushing us to fill those new limits with false pretenses of “the unlimited” but there is a limit to our resources and to how many data centers our lands can hold before they turn natural landscapes into ghost-cities with more electricity consumption of those of proper habited countries, this matters especially having in consideration that there are still cities that don’t have this resource at all, is it then worth thinking of such investments while others still live on total darkness? [3]

Some of us as individuals try our best to reduce our footprint by buying local, eating vegan, even buying second-handed but then again we are not aware of the implications of our lack of memory, our inability to recollect phone numbers, addresses, authors, or even appointments, not to mention the countless pictures and videos just to pick one for the day’s post. At what cost, are we accumulating there in the “ethereal” causing the exhaustion of resources, populating the world with shallow electrified buildings.

We are at a point were data accumulation is as serious as material waste, data centers are the starting point of our digital wastelands but we as individuals can not change the damage we can and must raise consciousness about digital waste and try to avoid unnecessary accumulation of data and try to make the companies change their policies and agendas because it is up to them to limit the data landscapes and put restrictions within their own policies because there is no such thing as “unlimited” not when it comes to our land or resources.

– Francesca Bogani Amadori

References :

[1] Cloud Power. Dulin,O. 2016. https://www.infoworld.com/article/3115779/dont-trust-your-cloud-service-until-youve-read-the-terms.html

[2] Volume of big data in data center storage worldwide from 2015 to 2021. https://www.statista.com/statistics/638621/worldwide-data-center-storage-used-by-big-data/

[3] Apple confirms it uses Google’s cloud for iCloud. Novet, J. 2018. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/26/apple-confirms-it-uses-google-cloud-for-icloud.html

[4 ]1.3 billion are living in the dark. Lindeman, T. 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/world/world-without-power/

Sabotage the Saboteur

Approximately one year ago, when Covid-19 spread around the World, I had a fascinating conversation with one of my friends from China. She was very confused because her social media got full of posts with random emojis, ancient Chinese calligraphy, and what seemed to be Morse code. However, after reading some more posts, she understood what was going on. People came up with elaborated codes to spread a censored interview from Ai Fen, a doctor in Wuhan’s Hospital who talked about the coronavirus outbreak [1, 2].

Font: Abacus, South China Morning Post

I found it so witty how people could come up with new codes, and even rescue and integrate old communication methods to fight the censorship. Precisely, I think that this phenomenon is what Shannon Mattern is talking about when she writes about informal or shadow development in the article Deep Time of Media Infrastructure [3]When institutions are not providing, or — like in this case — are sabotaging the information, people need to improvise. 

That is not the first time we can see new codes emerging to confuse the algorithms and avoid censorship. One example is women using Photoshop to protest against Instagram’s restrictions by displaying male nipples over their own [4].

Font: Instagram

Another example is the use of makeup to avoid the facial recognition to go unnoticed in front of the cameras. In the project CV Dazzle, they use fashion as camouflage [5]. They claim that it is a concept and a strategy tailored to each face and technology, which I believe is related to the fact that only human labor can “sabotage” the infrastructure. Only people will be able to confront the structures and make a change.

Font: CV Dazzle

In conclusion, the fact is that every message, image, or video that we want to display nowadays is going through the filter of giant companies that are governed by arbitrary restrictions. However, it does not matter if a bot is using the latest technology such as facial recognition, or keyword detection, that people are going to find new codes to spread their message.

After all, knowledge is power.

 

References:

[1] Abacus, South China Morning Post. Censored coronavirus news shows up again as emoji, Morse code and ancient Chinese. https://www.scmp.com/abacus

[2] .coda. Chinese citizens fight coronavirus censorship with emojis and ancient languages. https://www.codastory.com/disinformation/chinese-internet-users-fight-coronavirus-censorship/

[3] Shannon Mattern, Deep Time of Media infrastructure.

[4] The Daily Edge. Women are Photoshopping male nipples over their own to protest against Instagram censorship. https://www.dailyedge.ie/free-the-nipple-photoshopping-male-nipples-2206654-Jul2015/

[5] CV Dazzle. Computer Vision Dazzle Camouflage. https://cvdazzle.com

 

~ Alicia Romero

The Kitsch of Wi-fi Culture

Neatness
One of the principles of the aesthetics of contemporary houses and offices is the hiding of wires. We cannot stand the sight of such technical ugliness: an unpleasant black spot in the plastic clear neatness. [1] The inhabitants of these houses or the workers of these offices live surrounded by all the objects they need in order to survive in nowadays society. Since they manage to do anything through well-designed interfaces put on stylish plastic covers, they never have to think about cables, magnetic fields, chips, and pipelines. And for this very reason, technicalities are carelessly perceived as unessential and can be out of sight. After all, using Mies van der Rohe’s words, “less is more”.

Kitsch
However, the hiding of the media infrastructure that pervades our environments is a false and short-sighted liberation. Quoting from Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, “kitsch is the absolute denial of shit, in both the literal and figurative sense of the word; kitsch excludes everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable in human existence.” [2] Indeed, there will be always a moment when those magical objects stop working and need some maintenance or repairing. As Bruno Latour argues, we become aware of the information infrastructure when the device does not function and we are forced to tear that veil of Maya, facing the materiality of the problem. [3]

Aqueducts
If we give a quick glance through history, the refusal of the aesthetics of infrastructure seems more a recent fact. Roman aqueducts are considered beautiful, but nobody will be happy to live nearby a water tower or a trellis. Houses and villages were built along the streets and at the trivia, but nowadays few people would like to have a room with a view on a motorway, a railway or an airport. Watermills and windmills make us dream of idyllic landscapes; power plants devalue the prices of houses of the neighborhood. Print houses and newsies were at the very core of Renaissance cities; whereas data centers and antennas are located aside.

– Roman aqueduct, Segovia, Spain

Pompidou
If mainstream architecture and design can be considered kitsch in Kundera’s terms, it must be said that not all the professionals of these fields behave in the same way. Indeed, there are many examples of deliberately exhibited technicalities in architecture, such as Centre Pompidou by Renzo Piano [4] (defined as a “love at second sight” by the National Geographic) or the Tōkyō Tower by Tachū Naitō [5]. Aren’t those examples of infrastructural honesty, provoking all the non-engineers that the materiality of information is not complicated, but complex and fascinating? Aren’t they revealing us that this is what our society is made of and that we should understand?

– Centre Pompidou, Paris, France

– Tōkyō Tower, Tōkyō, Japan

Zen
The novel by US philosopher Robert Maynard Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is about that. Differently from a Romantic approach, Illuministic beauty lays on the rational comprehension of and unmediated astonishment for the relations between parts of a multiplicity. Through knowledge, the observer can appreciate the object on a more profound level, whereas “romantic” people are condemned to a life of incomprehension and irritation. [6]

Fetish
Indeed, the average human is illiterate about the materiality of media infrastructure: he prefers to ignore such irrelevant details and gets annoyed when he has to deal with this matters. In his “romantic” perspective, the media he interacts with are magical objects that work due to some reasons beyond the possibilities of his comprehension. He feels much more secure in the plastic-covered illusion that there is nothing more to understand but the interface on the surface.

We do not want to see cables and wires because we do not want to see our ignorance.

Notes

[1] Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski, Introduction, in Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures, University of Illinois Press (2015)

[2] Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 68 Publishers (1984)

[3] Bruno Latour, Where Are the Missing Masses? The Sociology of a Few Mundane Artifacts, in Shaping Technology-Building Society. Studies in Sociotechnical Change, Wiebe Bijker and John Law, MIT Press (1992)

[4] Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers and Gianfranco Franchini, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France (1977)

[5] Tachū Naitō, Tōkyō Tower, Tōkyō, Japan (1958)

[6] Robert Maynard Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, William Morrow and Company (1974)

Fe Simeoni

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The Medium (Infrastructure) is the Message

Infrastructures have been in multiple forms even before the term was ever used, and that the concept itself has ever since became super broad – coming from printing to highways- but for this matter, it is important to mention that now more than ever many present themselves as being “discursive” base constructions but in reality, they are quite physical and rely on the poor awareness of its physicality and its implications to keep as they are.

It is also important to note that infrastructures come with capacities of distorting political realms and therefore affecting physical borders, people’s realities and navigation, and capability to be part of their society, we can think of the first postal service in Rome up to the delimitation of data usage in some countries. Not only the presence of these infrastructures in our daily life and their underparts, such as daily life devices, model our accessibility, communication reach, but our possibilities of motion and displacement around certain areas. Also being users of these devices, and therefore infrastructures, we become essential pieces of their functionality.

In the case of daily devices, such as smartphones, which are power-tools that have the illusion of progress and freedom but come with a certain non-monetary cost attached, when we become dependant on them we first agree to conditions we aren’t even aware of, and are tie to policies we are not familiar with. We delegate more and more mundane also primal tasks and become dependant on many functions, we can not rely on our own without them and also need the extension functions they provide, like the capacity of being simultaneously at more than one place or having access to information otherwise inaccessible, therefore we are vicious consumers of data, apps, more devices, most likely always persecuting the latest models for better and efficient results.

The real cost behind this is not only individual and doesn’t rely only upon the terms of agreement we as users sign on every service we decide to acquire, the real cost, unfortunately, relies on the physicality of these discursive based infrastructures that depend on land, natural resource, energy and by incrementing the consumption the political power increments and the mediums and ways are not necessarily the most conscious but most likely always the most profitable and by not being mindful consumers or users of these infrastructures, which are definitely hard to avoid and almost unrealistic to imagine ourselves out of them, we contribute to this power chain.

Francesca Bogani Amadori

Regarding the Face of Media Infrastructures

In Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures Shannon Mattern introduces the history of media infrastructures, challenging the prevailing view on media technologies being associated with electricity and industrialization. Mattern argues that communication, media technologies, and infrastructures have been crucially embedded in the formation of cities regardless of the period of time, and that the shaping of cities is not only affected by transportation or topology but also communication and it’s technologies (Mattern, 96–97). Looking back at times prior to electricity, telegraph, and other rather modern inventions, the notion of media infrastructures is being widened and is taking into account earlier technologies of writing, and also voice as a medium.

I cannot help, but notice that the density of keywords such as technology, infrastructuregovernance, lead me into a trap of my own thinking, determining the primary association with this deep time as having a face of men and masculinity. And it seems that I am not alone – looking into technology and gender, Wajcman argues that the notion of technology being associated with men and manliness is deeply rooted in technology being associated with white male-dominated spheres of industrial machinery, military, mechanical and civil engineering since the late nineteenth century (Wajcman, 2009). Thus the deep time of media infrastructures and technologies, cannot help but be primarily associated with one gender of the humanity.

In the deep time of media, writing has been distinguished as being an integral urban political-economic infrastructure, driving trade, accountancy, and governance of the cities (Mattern, 101). But given the trap I have fallen into, it has to be taken into account that the political and economic spheres in historical perspective were dominated by men, and thus, there are some curious questions raising – what new knowledge can be gained when media infrastructures are viewed from a certain socio-historic perspective? Were women simply late-comers to the existing and ever-changing media technologies? What technologies and infrastructures did women create, alter, use, or maintain?

A quick answer would be of one obvious technology largely associated with women – the commercial typewriter. As simple as it seems, the typewriter did induce a social change (at least, in the USA) and became a symbol of independent women. Olwell states that even though female typewriters were largely an extension of a machine and received low wages, typewriting jobs were hailed as a route to economic independence and social dignity for masses of women (Olwell, 2003). She goes on to argue that the typewriter and the notion of an independent woman can also be linked to the women voter, and suffrage.

With no ready-made answers, I believe this is an important notion also in media archaeology – to view the issue at hand keeping in mind the socio-historical perspective and power relations.

 

References:

1. Shannon Mattern, Deep Time of Media Infrastructure, in: Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures, ed. Lisa Parks, Nicole Starosielski. University of Illinois Press: 2015, p.94–112.

2. Victoria Olwell, Typewriters and the Vote, https://doi.org/10.1086/375676

3. Judy Wajcman, Feminist theories of technology, Cambridge Journal of Economics, Volume 34, Issue 1, January 2010, Pages 143–152, https://doi.org/10.1093/cje/ben057

INFRAGRAPHY Vol. IV. Fall 2020 [Published]

Infragraphy is a compilation of critical student artworks and short essays dealing with the materialities of media technologies and their environmental implications. The volume presents artworks and texts from the course ‘Media and the Environment’ in the Fall of 2020 at the Department of Media, Aalto University. The course is a series of scholarly readings about and around the themes of media including media’s relations and impacts on the so-called Anthropocene, thermocultures of media, ecologies of fabrication, media and plastics, Internet of Things, Planned Obsolescence, e-waste, and media’s energetic landscapes. A key approach of the course is to introduce artistic methods and practices that could address emerging media materialities. The student artistic outputs are presented in a final exhibition.

Download PDF:http://blogs.aalto.fi/mediainfrastructures/files/2020/12/Infragraphy_Fall2020.pdf

This fourth volume of Infragraphy compiles a series of artworks and companion essays as a response to the contemporary discourse of political economy of media and related environmental implications. The volume begins with Lassi Häkkinen’s Screen of Death that plunges us through the computer interface and web browser to a distant cobalt mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His accompanying essay meditates on the disjunction between the digital, mining and labor, as a way to reflect on extractive practices. Phuong Nguyen’s De-Terraforming Impacts of Humans on Earth takes us on a virtual tour of damaged landscapes as a result of the digital starting from the environs of Silicon Valley, Bayan Obo mining district in China, to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Cloud Materialities by Qianyu (Sienna) Fang sets up a game-like low-tech alternative computer interface to examine critical themes related to the various materialities of digital media. Oskar Koli’s provocative kinetic sculpture installation makes us ponder on deep time, automation, and fossil fuels. The installation sets up the recursive stroke of a programmed and automated feather that brushes off grains from a piece of coal. Koli insists on calling it ‘Untitled’ since the viewer could very well have a multitude of interpretations.

Addressing environmental damage, Anze Bratus uses pollution datasets along with urban images from around the world to create generative soundscapes. His installation Acoustics of Pollution highlights how pollution levels as a result of a legacy of industrial activities and fossil fuels exponentially increase and damage the environment. Studies on Invisibilityby Tuula Vehanen examines urban radiation, especially with regard to 5G networks in Helsinki. Vehanen’s photography attempts to render radio frequency visible and provokes us to consider the impacts of exposure to humans and ecosystems. By poetry and painting, Dominik Fleischmann’s Restless Bodies reflects on technology and purity. His work makes us think of where technological necessity of perfection and extraction might eventually lead us. Finally, Mirya Nezvitskaya presents a performance installation Collecting Your Waste that combines her research in materiality, posthumanist philosophy, performance and artistic practice. Her work challenges us on many levels by threading together colonization, extraction, plastic waste and performance.

Samir Bhowmik
9 December 2020
Helsinki

Virtual Exhibition: https://www.aalto.fi/en/news/the-anthrobscene-media-and-the-environment-course-exhibition

Solar System as Waste

Benjamin Bratton’s “Terraforming” collection of essays comprises of theoretical ideas, that read like a manifesto and an experimentation of ideas about how the Earth could develop. In my humble opinion, the essays sound as radical utopias in a way, even though it does answer many questions. When thinking about climate crisis and environmental disasters, I couldn’t help but wonder, do we require a more practical approach? Do we even have enough resources to terraform our planet Earth? Is it a realistic approach? And how can we clean all of our planet?

As an experiment, I have created a small art project of our Solar system from the everyday waste around me.

 

Landscapes, infrascapes, greenscapes

The landscape and what our image of the landscape is like is due to a long tradition that includes traditional landscape painting, traditions of aesthetics, place of residence and a landscape catalog conveyed by the media. A landscape is often thought to be beautiful when it does not directly show the human handprint. “In Finland, it is customary to talk about ‘untouched nature’. Few proverbs are so untrue and downright false, ”writes Ismo Tuormaa [1] Pure or untouched nature as a concept is misleading. According to research, old, natural or nature-like forests make up well below 5 per cent of Finland’s forest area. It may take a hundred years to a thousand years to return to a perfect natural state, depending on the tree species in the forest. In the United States, for example, it has been estimated that the restoration of felled deciduous forests to virgin forests will usually take one or two complete tree generations, ie 150 to 500 years. [2]

Åland archipelago

 

Infrascapes

Urban landscapes rest on built infrastructure. The infrastructure is visible and invisible at the same time. As long as it works, it is not thought of. And yet the urban landscape is very strongly shaped by infrastructure. Media exists increasingly as the true landscape forming force. [3] Infrastructures as pipes, power plants, highways, sewers, pylons carrying the high voltage, cables, transmission Towers, data centers, wasteland and power lines are central to shaping our cityscape. Ports and power plants are monuments of our time. There is a certain beauty in manufactured landscapes, says Samir Bhowmik.

 

The disadvantages of the built infrastructure are pollution, radiation and the removal of living space from other organisms, as well as the energy, natural resources and the resulting pollution used to create the infrastructure.

According to research, the urban environment affects our well-being in many ways, for example by increasing stress, raising blood pressure and disturbing concentration, while nature calms down. Positive effects on, among other things, heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension can be seen after just a few minutes spent in nature.

According to biophilia theory, innate attachment to all living things is the foundation through which we have been able to achieve sustainable forms of life in general. Literally, “biophilia” means love of life and living systems. [4]

Man has made a decisive contribution to the reduction of species diversity. In order for nature to sustain life, its diversity must be safeguarded. Indeed, species interactions play a key role in diversity. No species thrives or functions in isolation, but in conjunction with other species

Roughly speaking, it can be said that we have found and named about 20 percent of the Earth’s species. This means that species that we do not yet know and that could be potentially useful are constantly disappearing from the world. We may lose species that could have been the origin of a new drug or a new food source. While the situation seems inconsolable in many ways, researchers firmly believe there is still hope. One reason for optimism is that, compared to previous generations, we have much more information and tools to solve problems. [5]

Greenscapes

Green infrastructure is a design approach whose key principles include a holistic approach, cross-sectoral systems thinking, the pursuit of multiple benefits (ecosystem services, but also public health and economic benefits, for example) and a long-term strategic perspective on urban habitat management.

A dense urban structure is beneficial for mitigation measures, but the urban environment is vulnerable to the changes brought about by climate change. Mitigation and adaptation should therefore be seen as parallel goals that must both be taken into account in the development of the urban environment. It should be possible to take the next step past mitigation measures towards adaptation. Resilience is a new key concept in sustainable development. [6]

In England, a London Green Grid has been created which seems to be a very interesting and comprehensive green infrastructure program. The main goals for green infrastructure planning in London are climate change mitigation and adaptation. In this context, flooding and heat island are seen as key threats. Other key goals include increasing green infrastructure in the metropolitan area, for example by planting 10,000 new trees in the metropolitan area. In Finnish cities, compaction and thus the shrinking of the green sector in cities is still ongoing. [7]

Various innovations have been and are being developed to build a greener infrastructure. The most radical green infrastructure solution is Bosco Verticale in Italy. Bosco Verticale is a residential building consisting of two buildings, in which dizzying tree plantings and other vegetation have been planted in the building. Recycled water and energy produced by solar panels are used for irrigation.

The Bosco Verticale (“Vertical Forest”) in Milan has hundreds of trees and more than 2,000 plants embedded into its façade

 

Nature-based solutions currently seem to be the key word for EU environmental funding. [8] Biomimetics is an activity that seeks to understand innovations produced by nature and then transfer them to human activities. Identified benefits include e.g. energy efficiency, utilization of photosynthesis, durable and lightweight structures, and resilient solutions for different situations. [9]

Since 2007, the Baubotanik research team at the University of Stuttgart has been developing structures that combine living trees and steel structures. The idea is therefore to develop and test living load-bearing structures. [10] Baubotanik describes a construction method in which structures are created by the interaction of a technical joint and plant growth. For this purpose, living and non-living building blocks are interconnected so that they grow together to form a plant-technical composite structure: The individual plants merge to form a new, larger overall organism and the technical elements grow into the plant structure. For this approach, the term building botany was established in 2007 at the Institute of Fundamentals of Modern Architecture (IGMA) at the University of Stuttgart.

The Baubotanik research team is developing structures based on living trees.

 

Living root bridges in Northeast India are grown, functional structures from the antenna roots of the Indian rubber tree (ficus elastica). The khasi and jainti peoples of southern Meghalaya have developed various techniques to take advantage of the growth stages of the rubber tree. Increased bridges connect houses, fields, villages and markets. [10]

Green roofs and green walls are essential building blocks of green infrastructure in a densely built big city. Productive roofs will be the thing of the future. One of the test roofs also had a combined green roof and solar panels. This solution also has its own name “biosolar roof”. [7]

Oslo is a good example of the innovative nature of small town landscaping. Green walls and roofs have expanded into grass fields with tram rails, natural meadows in the urban area and biogas-heated  benches. Oslo won the European Green Capital 2019 designation.

CityTree Project

 

A green city like Helsinki is admired elsewhere. The challenges in greening cities and building green infrastructure are in a really dense urban structure at a completely different level compared to Finnish cities, many of the implemented projects are expensive and still remain in the degree of green frosting. It is much easier to take green infrastructure into account during design and construction. [7]

Perhaps green infrastructure can act as a bridge between industrial infrastructure and the natural environment.

 

reference:

  1. Samir Bhowmik and Jussi Parikka, “Infrascapes for Media Archaeographers,” Archaeographies: Aspects of Radical Media Archaeology, eds. Moritz Hiller and Stefan Höltgen, Berlin: Schwabe Verlage, 2019: 183-194.

 

photos:

  1. © tuula vehanen

2. Image: Joe Mud,CC BY-SA 2.0, via IFPRI Flicker

3. The Bosco Verticale (“Vertical Forest”) in Milan has hundreds of trees and more than 2,000 plants embedded into its facade, Courtesy of Luca Nebuloni/Flickr

4.  Courtesy of Paolo Rosselli/Stefano Boeri Architetti

5.  The Baubotanik research team is developing structures based on living trees.(http://www.baubotanik.org/en/)

6. https://www.ar.tum.de/en/gtla/research/living-root-bridges/

7. Monica Thorud Olsen, retrieved 08/24/2018

 

 

1]  https://suomenluonto.fi/uutiset/koskemattoman-luonnon-myytti/

[2]  /https://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aarniomets%C3%A4

[3]  Infrascapes for Media Archaeographers  /Samir Bhowmik & Jussi Parikka

[4]  https://www.vihreaveraja.fi/@Bin/220277/luonnon+vaikutukset+hyvinvointiin.pdf

[5]  https://www.auroralehti.fi/lajien-tuho/

[6]/ https://blogs.aalto.fi/virma/2015/03/25/ilmastonmuutos-hillinnasta-eteenpain-kohti-sopeutumista/

[7]  /https://blogs.aalto.fi/virma/2015/08/04/vihreaa-infraa-lontoolaisittain/

[8]  / https://blogs.aalto.fi/virma/2015/11/29/bosco-verticale-ja-baubotanik-marraskuisia-unelmia-wienissa/

[9]  /https://www.muoviyhdistys.fi/2019/12/13/kummajaiset-biomimiikka-ja-strateginen-innovaatio/

[10] / https://blogs.aalto.fi/virma/2015/11/29/bosco-verticale-ja-baubotanik-marraskuisia-unelmia-wienissa/

[11]  /https://www.ar.tum.de/gtla/forschung/baubotanik/

Media in the Space

In this article, we do not refer to the environment as in the atmosphere, but to extend beyond the atmosphere at a distance where the earth’s gravitational pull acts on the object at a lighter degree (Low Earth Orbit). Objects in low-Earth orbit are at an altitude of between 160 to 2,000 km (99 to 1200 mi) above the Earth’s surface (Williams, 2017).

The layers of our atmosphere showing the altitude of the most common auroras. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Credit: ESA

Along with the development of space science and technology, the universe gradually becomes an infrastructure of communication technology. Satellites, spacecraft, missiles, and spacecraft are launched every year. Much of the space infrastructure is located in the Low Earth Orbit. On one hand, media infrastructure in space surely led to human development, enabling possibilities of technology, such as global communication, the internet of things, GPS, thermal imaging, and so on. On another hand, environmental issues are also raised, as space debris has become a prominent issue that is in constant discussion. The European space agency estimates the number of space debris as of February 2020: 34000 objects bigger than 10cm, 900 000 objects greater than 1cm to 10 cm, 128 million objects greater than 1mm to 1cm. Some methods have been discussed to clean up space debris but we are uncertain about the effectiveness of them.

I propose we think critically about the impacts of our innovations, wherever humans can reach, to minimize negative future effects while at the same time soliciting development for humanity.

References:

Williams, 2017. What is Low Earth Orbit? URL: https://www.universetoday.com/85322/what-is-low-earth-orbit/ Accessed 26th Oct 2020.

The European space agency. Space debris by the numbers URL https://www.esa.int/Safety_Security/Space_Debris/Space_debris_by_the_numbers Accessed 26th Oct 2020.

Terrain textures of infrascapes: photo-essay.

In order to understand media-nature interactions, it is quite important to understand that “media analysis starts in landscapes, which themselves include both historical and ecological aspects”. [1] So why is it still, nowadays, that media and nature have a disconnected relationship? Our landscapes are forever changed with the magnificence of power plant chimneys, electrical lines, oil ports, to name a few. The structures and the influence of them are visible from a distance and are there for us to notice without even realising. However, what about the ground and terrain of Earth these majestic structures are built on? What about the close-up view of these terrains that infrastructure stands on?

This photo-essay is exploring the terrain textures of Kruunuvuorenranta, where one of the oil silos of Helsinki is located. The oil silo, nowadays, is mainly used as an event venue for exhibiting art installations and organising events; however, the nature and terrain around it is changed, forever, due to toxic spillage. How these textures differ from pure terrains in nature? Is there “purity” in nature even, nowadays? The discourse in nature purity.

(All photography is by the author, 25 October, 2020, Kruunuvuorenranta)

References:

[1] Bhowmik, Samir and Parikka, Jussi.. (2019).Infrascapes for Media Archaeographers. Schwabe Verlag Berlin GmbH. pp 183-193.

Internet of Things (IOT)

Internet of Things (IOT)

An increasing number of devices are electronic and networked with each other and connected to the Internet. Radio transmitters connected to the devices collect, identify data via compatible networks, and communicate with each other. These devices are called IoT, or Internet of Things. According to a broader definition, cyber systems are also called IoTs. It can be defined as a dynamic, i.e. constantly changing and evolving, global network infrastructure, i.e., a network infrastructure in which physical and virtual “objects” have an identity, i.e., identity, physical characteristics, and a virtual personality. Intelligent interfaces, ie user interfaces that can, for example, adapt to the needs of different users or anticipate user activity, transmit information seamlessly between objects and the data network. The goal of development is for IoT to enable people and devices to connect anytime, anywhere, anytime. IoT increases everyday comfort and ease of use and can be used by both society and individual citizens. [1]

photo 1

The devices are characterized by the fact that they can be used to combine anything, such as smart watches, security systems, activity bracelets, smart homes, remote heating devices, airplanes, gates and doors, home appliances, consumer electronics, just to name a few. The Internet of Things consist of a growing list of Intelligent devices that would augment, optimize, and interconnect every aspect of our daily lives. An object, such as a car, electrical appliance, or grocery, can connect directly to the Internet through a computer component that has an IP address. The component can be, for example, a sensor, an RFID chip or a WLAN chip. Sometimes it is sufficient for the object to have an identifier, such as a parcel delivery code or a unique identifier modified from the registration number of the vehicle to enable the object to be identified on the Internet. The object does not then need to be connected  directly to the internet. Energy companies have provided consumers with smart meters that provide consumers with real-time information on consumption and energy companies can remotely read meters. The Internet of Things can also be utilized in logistics, in which case, for example, food can be measured ambient temperature in the supply chain, and alerts you if the temperature exceeds or falls below a certain limit. [2]

In recent years, digitalisation has also raised its head in the most traditional fields, and drones, for example, are already used in reindeer husbandry to detect reindeer herds from the air. In Oulu, reindeer herding is being developed under the auspices of IOT technology, and as a result, a Rudolf device was created, which can be used to monitor the health status and location of reindeer through a mobile application. In the future, the technology could even be used to prevent animal diseases and traffic accidents. With Rudolf, tracking even a single reindeer is effortless. [3]

photo 2

Digital applications extend their tentacles everywhere in society. Electronic warfare is also present on the battlefield with ubiquitous armored vehicles at the forefront of the attack, in support of the air operation and as part of the reconnaissance system on land, sea and air. Electronic warfare inquires and disrupts enemy systems and protects its own forces from the effects of enemy electronic warfare. [4]

In 2020, the number of connected devices per person was 6.58 and the total number of devices was 50 billion. Smart home appliances in households is highest in China, second highest in the US and third highest in the EU8. [5] Every second 127 new devices are added connected to the internet.

The Internet of Things as a concept is often dated to Mark Weiser’s work on ubiquitous computing at Xerox Parc in the 1980s and 1990s, 9 and as an actual term is dated to 1999, another pivotal  moment in the concept’s  elaboration  is 2008, the year when Internet-based machine-to-machine connectivity surpassed  that of human-to-human connectivity.

Behind the screen

Household objects that are currently being transformed into electronic technologies is not only lengthening, but also beginning to constitute a categorically different media “ecosystem.” How might an attention to these material and environmental effects provide an opportunity for generating new areas of environmental intervention in relation to sustainable media? We can no longer just stare at our own equipment but we must also try to see it from a broader perspective. What lies beyond the screen, of how hardware unfolds (avautua)  into wider ecologies of media devices, and of how electronic waste may evidence the complex ways in which media are material and environmental?

Energy meters are one  example of how recurring access to data about energy consumption is meant to influence behaviour and bring about a reduction in energy use. Attempts have been made to study the routes of how waste is travelling across United States by adding electronic tags into the trash items and tracking their journey.

“Thingification” is an overtly material approach to the previously “virtual” concerns of digital media, and is an industry strategy that is meant to expand the reach, capacities, and economic growth of the Internet. Thingification may make any number of activities and practices within our everyday lives more efficient, sustainable, and safe

Rethingification does not simply involve mapping out the static stuff that constitutes any particular media technology, but rather requires attending to the ways in which things attract, infect, and propagate mediatized relations, practices, imaginaries, and environments. A critical and material media studies might then begin to develop methods and modes of practice that adopt an experimental set of approaches to re-thingification.

Re-thingification of things

IoT has a lot of potential, but its information security is weak or almost non-existent, as systems and devices have been developed for the market quickly and often without compromising on information security requirements. Another challenge is the lack of concrete preparedness for the potential threats to social systems posed by the IoT. For example, in industrial, transport and energy production sites, poorly protected IoT activities can cause significant damage, the effects of which can extend to society at large. [1]

A society built on a large sector of digital information networks is vulnerable in many ways. We have got a taste of the lack of information security in an extensive data breach that targeted patient data in Finland. Cyber ​​hacking can do great damage to the lives of individuals and damage the structures of society. Examples include ensuring the security of power plants, electricity networks and water distribution.

Computer hackers, organized crime, and various fanatics form their own war front, with a front line everywhere. Organized crime can afford to buy the best computers and encryption software on the market. This allows drug offenders to exchange information under the noses of authorities with their 128-bit encryption. Breaking such encryption, according to Adams, will take 40 billion years from a Cray supercomputer. So figuring out the code is laborious even for the U.S. security agency NSA, which is said to have a nearly three-acre cave full of supercomputers. In his book “The Next World War” (1998), James Adams says that high technology means not only superior military power but also a very high degree of vulnerability. For example, a touring man managed to black out four U.S. air control centers while burning a dead cattle in a pit they dug. Below happened to be an important fiber optic cable. [6]

photo 3

As one text collected in The Crystal World Reader, and drawn from the US National Mining Association, remarks, there are at least sixty-six individual Minerals that contribute to a typical computer, and “it should be evident that without many Minerals, there would be no computers, or Televisions for that matter. The minerals needed to build computer networks are not an inexhaustible natural resource. Digital waste is also something that cannot be ignored in the debate on digital information networks.

What do these distributed arrangements and materialities of computation enable, what processes and relations do they set in play and require, and what new environmental effects do they generate? The actual and anticipated debris of electronics might provide one way that we could tune into these material processes to develop practices that speculate about material politics and relations in order to be less extractive and harmful. But this approach would require a re-thingification of things, particularly the Internet of Things.

Reference:

Jennifer Gabrys, “Re-thingifying the Internet of Things,” Sustainable Media: Critical Approaches to Media and Environment, eds. Nicole Starosielski and Janet Walker, New York and London, Routledge, 2016: 180 – 195

[1] https://peda.net/jyu/it/do/kkv/6kvjvtt/6tth/iotieei2

[2]  https://www.ficom.fi/ict-ala/tilastot/iot-esineiden-internet

[3]  https://www.dna.fi/yrityksille/blogi/-/blogs/oulussa-porotaloutta-kehitetaan-nb-iot-teknologian-siivittamana

[4]  7https://upseeriksi.fi/koulutusohjelmat/maavoimienko

[5 ]  The Mobile Economy 2020, GSMA

[6]  https://www.oulu.fi/blogs/seuraava-sota-on-digitaalinen

photos:

1. https://peda.net/jyu/it/do/kkv/6kvjvtt/6tth/iotieei2/iotieei2/e

2. https://www.dna.fi/yrityksille/blogi/-/blogs/oulussa-porotaloutta-kehitetaan-nb-iot-teknologian-siivittamana

3. https://www.digital-war.org/blog

Circuit bending – Giving a new purpose to the forgotten devices

Creating sound instruments by adding and manipulating the electronic “brains” could be traced back to the middle of the 18th century when a Czech theologian Václav Prokop Diviš invented the Golden Dionysus (Denis d’Or) that is considered to be the first electrified musical instrument. Unfortunately, the instrument was sold in Vienna after his death in 1765, and soon after it vanished without a trace, therefore many are skeptical if the instrument was the first electrophone or not. It was mentioned that the instrument produced sounds when the iron strings charged with electricity were struck. The circuit behind it could imitate the sounds of a whole variety of other instruments, including chordophones such as harpsichords, harps and lutes, and even wind instruments.[4][5]

(Figure 1: Denis d’Or – the first electrophone)

In regards to circuit bending as we know it today, Reed Ghazala is the father of the technique that is widely popular even today. He pioneered and named the technique in 1966, when he accidentally discovered it by leaving the circuit of a small amplifier exposed, causing the short-circuited that started to produce oscillating, synthesizer like sounds. He later created instruments for many prominent musicians and media companies. Circuit bending started to become increasingly popular in the late 90s between the sound art/design communities and many interesting circuit bend instruments/projects are being reborn every day from the long-forgotten devices.[1][3]

Interesting interview with Reed Ghazala: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHDL9iGxDPM

(Figure 2: One of Reed Ghazala’s circuit-bent instruments)

But why circuit bend? We could consider circuit bending as the art of creating an output the was not originally intended by the creators of the object. That means that with a little knowledge about electrical components and circuits one can revitalize a long-forgotten device and give it a new purpose. Either it’s a kids toy or an audio bible, picked at a market fare or found in an attic, a sound designer can achieve pretty impressive results just by changing a couple of capacitors or resistors, adding a couple of potentiometers, or just a jack so he can connect the modified device to the rest of his equipment. That creates a personalized instrument and of course, prevents the pile of forgotten circuits from ending up in a garbage dump, or a recycle center, slowly decomposing and impacting the effect on our environment long after it was disposed of.[2]

References:

[1]Ghazala, Reed (2005), Build Your Own Alien Instruments, Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

[2]Hodgson, Jason. (2017). Circuit-Bending: A Micro History Introduction to the topic of discussion.

[3]Wikipedia, 2020, Reed Ghazala, Last modified June 11, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reed_Ghazala

[4] 1753 Denis d’Or, 2020, http://www.electrospectivemusic.com/denis-dor/

[5] World’s First Electronic Instrument — From 1748, 2016, Last modified March 3, 2016, https://mmmmaven.com/tag/denis-dor/

Figure 1: https://mmmmaven.com/tag/denis-dor/

Figure 2: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/b4/1f/6e/b41f6e37ec2d43e1108b7c5a2bf2804e.jpg

The Right to Repair

In their article “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method”[1], Garnet Hertz and Jussi Parikka propose repurposing media and electronics that are past their prime as a method of media archeology and an artistic practice. Reading this, I wondered how the practice will be affected by the miniaturisation of electronic components. Gone are the days of easily modifiable circuits with through-hole electrical components; modern circuits use surface-mounted components and multilayered PCB boards. Most examples of circuit bent electronics are old for a reason: modern electronics are difficult to modify.

Through-hole resistors

Surface-mounted resistor

Related to the difficulty of modification is the challenges in repairing electronics. Modern electronics are notoriously difficult to fix once broken. This difficulty is in part caused by their complexity and the aforementioned modern construction methods, but crucially it is also because of purposeful obstruction by the companies that produce the electronics. Not only do companies by design make the electronics difficult to repair, for example by using proprietary screw heads to make the cases difficult to open, but many, such as Apple Inc, make it contractually illegal to even open the device. No wonder that 57% of Europeans report not fixing their phones because of expensive or unavailable repair options[2].

In reaction to this, a movement has emerged in the past decade calling for the right to repair. It advocates for legislation which would make repairing easier, by making contractual repair restrictions illegal and by compelling companies to release documentation for how to repair their devices. Having originally gained traction in the US in cases such as automobile repair and farmers not being allowed to repair their tractors, the movement has now caught root in the European Union. A “Circular Economy Action Plan” draft in 2020 calls for the standardization of parts, such as charge cables for phones, and for making it easier for consumers to have their electronics repaired[3].

[1] “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method”, Garnet Hertz & Jussi Parikka

[2] “Identifying the Impact of the Circular Economy on the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) industry: Opportunities and challenges for businesses, workers and consumers – mobile phones as an example”, European Economic and Social Committee, 2019,  https://www.eesc.europa.eu/en/our-work/publications-other-work/publications/identifying-impact-circular-economy-fast-moving-consumer-goods-fmcg-industry-opportunities-and-challenges-businesses 

[3] “Europe Wants a ‘Right to Repair’ Smartphones and Gadgets”, New York Times, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/12/world/europe/eu-right-to-repair-smartphones.html

Plastopocene [*]

We are used to take plastic for granted as part of our lives. Plastic is everywhere. More than 300 million tonnes of plastic is produced each year, and according to a UN report, more than 9 billion tonnes of plastic is produced worldwide [1]. By the early 20th century, plastics were used in electric lighting, telephones, wireless telegrams, photography, and sound recordings. In fact, when we look at media devices commonly used over the last century, we find that plastics were crucial to a number of popular media technologies. In 1948, Columbia records introduced a vinyl record. Lightweight polycarbonate plastic is also used in c-cassettes, MiniC´Discs, DVD and Blu-Ray.

Plastic is present in the food packaging, clothing, electronics and pharmaceutical industries, as coatings, in the photographic and film industries, in consumer goods, in childcare – almost everything around us. The electronics industry in Europe uses an estimated 6% of plastics [11] and15-25% of the microelectronics in use (eg smartphones, data computers, tablets) is plastic. Plastic is an ideal insulator because it has poor electrical and thermal conductivity, good formability and is lightweight.

Plastics can be divided into thermoplastics, which do not change when heated and can be reshaped, and disposable plastics, which are used in circuit boards, for example, due to their plasticity and good heat resistance. It usually ends up in a landfill.

In addition, there are bio-based plastics, which refer to plastics processed from renewable raw materials of biological origin. Biodegradable plastics are materials that degrade through a biological process into carbon dioxide and water. Contrary to popular belief, bio-basedness is not a prerequisite for biodegradability or vice versa. [2]

A 1956 world oil production distribution, showing historical data and future production, proposed by M. King Hubbert – it had a peak of 12.5 billion barrels per year in about the year 2000. As of 2016, the world’s oil production was 29.4 billion barrels per year

 

From deep time to the 6th massextinctions

Over more than two hundred years, technocultural systems have transformed significant shares of the Earth’s fossil fuels into heat and plastic. The formation of fossil fuels takes thousands of years, the culture of the plastics industry – extraction, transport, trade, fractionation and conversion into monomers and then polymers and then products that are sold, used and disposed of – takes place within a few months (Marriott and Minio-Paluello 2014) [12]

The overall impact of human societies on earth has led to the anthropocene, a new geological era.

A huge number of living systems are not keeping pace with the ecological changes caused by anthropogenic industrial activities. While some species thrive in these changed conditions, there is an ongoing sixth wave of mass extinction that will be of immense importance to our planet and habitats. This is despite the fact that more than 99 percent of the species that have occurred on Earth have already become extinct (McKinney 1997: 110).

An estimated 5.25 trillion plastic particles floating in the oceans with an estimated total weight of 270,000 kilos. Plastic debris accumulates into large spins that only collect more debris with them.

By 2050, it is estimated that there will be more plastic in the seas than fish.

-Plastics are known to release chemicals that are harmful to the environment, but according to a new study, they also release the greenhouse gases methylene and ethane into the atmosphere. Polyethylene, which is also the most common type of plastic, proved to be the worst producer of greenhouse gas emissions. Polyethylene is used in plastic bags, among other things, and accounts for more than a third of all plastic produced in the world. [3]

Certain forms of bacteria have evolved to inhabit the plastic vortices of the oceans and use it for food. Bacteria are responsible for the most significant changes in the biosphere, the atmospheric oxidation event that occurred 2.3 billion years ago. Microbes also live in the digestive tract of all vertebrates and are responsible for digestion. This raises the question of what we should protect. Aesthetic differences are crucial here; is an easier to feel compassion for a penguin than a micro-organism that requires an electron microscope to examine.

E-waste management, recycling,  environmental pollution and health risks

Since 2015, the global rapidly growing amount of e-waste has exceeded 42 million tons. This poses an ecological, health, ethical and colonialist problem. The global north supplies enormous amounts of waste for recycling and storage in the global south. In the words of geographer David Harvey, “the capitalist economy does not solve its problems, it only moves them from one state to another” **. [4]

Electronic waste mountains are a serious environmental and health risk. Equipment often contains mercury, lead and other heavy metals, various fluorescent and flame retardants, and plastics that, if improperly handled, can contaminate soil, air, and water.  [4] The primary problem of incineration arises from the presence of halogenated flame retardants which release toxic gases. Metals are separated from circuit boards by heating and dissolving in acid. When soaking, wastewater enters rivers as well as soil. In addition, the chemicals used in e-waste treatment are very dangerous to health, and respiratory diseases, for example, are common among scrap collectors in developing countries. Many of them are minor children. E-waste toxins can also cause a variety of birth defects, nerve damage, cancer, and many other health hazards [4]

In the words of geographer David Harvey, “the capitalist economy does not solve its problems, it only moves them from one state to another” **. [5]

Photo: IMPEL-EU European Union Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law

Chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system

Many chemicals are used in the processing of plastics and plastic compounds, which have been found to interfere with the human endocrine system, which is the body’s hormonal function responsible for regulating metabolism, growth, development, reproduction and mood. More common endocrine diseases include diabetes, bone loss, obesity, and various thyroid diseases. [6] How important are the chemicals in plastic compounds in the pathogenesis of these living standards diseases.

The greatest concern about the presence of BPA and phthalates has been raised in food and beverage packaging where chemicals can where chemicals can dissolve and be ingested. In particular, the use of BPA-based polycarbonate in baby bottles has been a concern and in many countries their sale is prohibited by law. BPA and phthalates can be found on computers, CDs and DVDs, and, surprisingly, also on thermal papers, commercial receipts, and ATM printouts. It has been found that BPA is absorbed more efficiently if the skin is wet or oily, whether it has been in contact with e.g. moisturizer or sweaty.

Life after plastic

Modern industrial societies are based on the idea of ​​continuous economic growth. Full employment and welfare services are dependent on economic growth, as are debt and growth-based financing and investment systems. A halt in economic growth would mean the dismantling of services and support systems, debt restructuring, bank failures, high unemployment and the downsizing of the entire welfare state. [7]. Growth and development are largely based on the oil industry, the production of plastics and thus the media at the heart of cultures. Communication, transport, stock exchanges and logistics are built on digital media.

In discussions about the collapse of industrial society, the most topical issue is most often the peak of world oil production defined by M. King Hubbert, followed by the inevitable decline in total production. As oil is the world’s main source of energy and its importance is further emphasized in key areas of society’s infrastructure, the oil peak is considered to be an insurmountable problem and the cause of the collapse. What makes the issue topical is the fact that many people assume that the oil peak was passed between 2005 and 2011, when the world economy would have already reached its peak and would soon go into recession. For example, the financial crisis of 2007-2009 is considered to be the result of an oil peak. [8]

Heinberg does not believe that the oil peak can be solved by technical solutions, as the world economy and technological development are far behind the current problem, oil is also crucial for the production of other forms of energy, and a viable form of energy would only delay rather than prevent a collapse. In his book Powerdown; Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World, he puts forward as a primary solution a cultural change of direction in which the world abandons the pursuit of growth and high consumption. [8]

Jonathan Huebner, for his part, defined the innovation peak of technological development by comparing the list of major inventions from the Middle Ages to the present with the world’s current population. He found that the peak of innovation was reached as early as 1873 and that the average innovativeness of the world’s population declined throughout the 20th century, despite the fact that the population was more educated and more funds were devoted to research. Based on the innovation curve he has formed, he estimates that in 2005, 85% of all innovations had already been made. According to him, technological development is limited not only by what is physically possible to invent, but also by what is economically possible or sensible to invent. [9]

The collapse of industrial society is seen as a dramatic chain of events that would result in famine, epidemics, the collapse of democratic systems, population displacement, the collapse of safety nets and chaos. As a significant difference from historical collapses, the collapse of industrial societies is seen for the first time in world history as a purely global phenomenon. On the other hand, if humanity is able to renew its culture and values, according to Thom Hartmann, it is possible to build a new society after the collapse that is not based on private property, growth, subjugation and destruction and could therefore be more permanent in structure. [10]

Alternatives are being sought for oil and substitutes are being developed for plastics, such as sunflower oil, seaweed, cellulose and milk. The production of biodiesel, which takes land away from food production, has already been criticized. What about when you want to make more bio-based plastics on the market. It therefore makes sense to focus on the development and production of bio-based plastics in raw material sources that do not compete with food production, [11]

Of the substitutes being developed as a sustainable solution, there are hardly any. They do not solve the problems of continued growth and over-consumption or acquisition. The only solution on a sustainable basis is to seek out the structure of society, worlds of values ​​and material-centredness from society and to look for alternative models of action.

Painting

REFERENCES:

-TECHNOFOSSILS of the ANTHROPOCENE
Media, Geology, and Plastics / Sy Taffel

* ´Plastopocene´ -term copied from: https://ekokumppanit.fi/muoviopas/

[1]  /https://www.maailma.net/uutiset/tuore-tutkimus-muovi-luultua-vaarallisempaa-paastaa-ilmakehaan-kasvihuonekaasuja

[2] s/https://www.pakkaus.com/biopohjainen-ja-biohajoava-muovi-eivat-tarkoita-samaa/

[3]  /https://www.maailma.net/uutiset/tuore-tutkimus-muovi-luultua-vaarallisempaa-paastaa-ilmakehaan-kasvihuonekaasuja

[4]   /https://eetti.fi/vastuullinentekniikka/

/https://www.maailma.net/nakokulmat/muovigaten-jalkipyykki-mita-muovin-dumppaaminen-kehitysmaihin-kertoo-taloudellisesta; **citation  from David Harvey´s lecture ’The Enigma of Capital”, which was arranged in  London School of Economics 26.4.2010

[5] /https://www.maailma.net/nakokulmat/muovigaten-jalkipyykki-mita-muovin-dumppaaminen-kehitysmaihin-kertoo-taloudellisesta; **citation  from David Harvey´s lecture ’The Enigma of Capital”, which was arranged in  London School of Economics 26.4.2010

[6]  https://www.vaasankeskussairaala.fi/potilaille/hoito-ja-tutkimukset/erikoisalat/storningar-i-hormonbalansen-och-amnesomsattningen—endokrinologi/

[7] “Hyvinvointivaltio vaarassa”, Helsingin Sanomat 30.9.2010, s. A5

[8]  Grupp, Adam: Peak Oil Primer energybulletin.net. Energy Bulletin

[9]  Huebner, Jonathan: A possible declining trend for worldwide innovation

[10]  Hartmann, Thom: The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 1997

[11] /https://ekokumppanit.fi/muoviopas/

[12]  TECHNOFOSSILS of the ANTHROPOCENE
Media, Geology, and Plastics

Sy Taffel

Unnecessary digitalization of household appliances

The digitalization of our everyday life in the past couple of decades is a consequence of the massive technological development. While many “gadgets” that humanity invented make sense and do benefit our daily tasks, the desire to make every possible household item “smarter” is in my opinion completely unnecessary.

The Internet of things or “Smart household items” as the industry likes to call them started to appear at the break of the 20th and 21st century when internet technology was slowly getting more accessible to the wider public. The first internet-connected appliance was invented at Carnegie Mellon University, where they made a smart Coca Cola vending machine. It was able to report its inventory and whether newly loaded drinks were cold or not. The idea was born, improved, and spread around in the following decades. [3]

The Internet of things could be divided into consumer, commercial, industrial, and infrastructure technology. While I can understand the reason and the benefit of the internet of things in said categories, the consumer part presents more problems than benefits. But for some reason, the consumers would like to use the interconnectivity with every single thing that surrounds them, even if it doesn’t make any sense. And of course, where there’s demand there’s money and therefore more and more standard household items started to become “smarter”. The research shows that the number of household items that could be connected to the internet will drastically increase in the following years. [1]

(Figure 1: Each second 127 new devices connect to the internet) [2]

We have to realize that circuits/parts that enable connectivity include precious materials that and being excavated deep beneath the earth’s soil and are for the past couple of decades impacting our environment in the worst way possible.

We also have to ask ourselves if we really need all that, especially from the consumer perspective? Does your coffee machine need to have a built-in clock with timer functions? Does it have to be connected with your oven that can access hundreds of different recipes online? Do all of the shutters and lights in your house have to be connected in an app that enables you to control them wirelessly? The technology made us lazy and spoiled and it seems like we are prepared to sacrifice our planet for our own desire of ultimate comfort. [4]

References:

[1] Jennifer Gabrys, “Re-thingifying the Internet of Things,” Sustainable Media: Critical Approaches to Media and Environment, eds. Nicole Starosielski and Janet Walker, New York and London, Routledge, 2016: 180 – 195.

[2] & Figure 1.: CPA Canada – Mathieu De Lajartre, 2019, Infographic: The Internet of Things (IoT) is a booming business, Last modified February 13, 2019, https://www.cpacanada.ca/en/news/world/2019-02-13-internet-of-things-infographic

[3] Wikipedia, 2020, Internet of Things, Last modified October 4, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_of_things

[4] PCMag, 2020, The Best Smart Home Devices for 2020, Last modified August 27, 2020, https://uk.pcmag.com/smart-home/85/the-best-smart-home-devices-for-2020

 

The role of Internet of Things creators

The internet is not only about connecting people but also about connecting things. Technological developments have enabled things to sense and share their experience with other things, with or without human interference. (Hougland, 2014). Jennifer Gabrys (2016) takes a focus on the Internet of Things’ (IoT) environmental impacts, pointing out that the increase of IoT devices and applications or “Thingification ” also means the proliferation of digital artifacts and infrastructures. By 2025, it is estimated that there will be more than 21 billion IoT devices (Symanovich, n.d.). Below is a data visualization of the Top 10 IoT segments in 2018 based on 1600 real IoT projects (Scully, 2018). The explosion of IoTs innovations certainly leads to opportunities for both economical and societal developments, while raising critical questions concerning digital obsolescence and thus, its impact on the environment. 

In my opinion, important questions for IoT creators to ask when inventing new ideas are: How does the Internet of Things actually enhance our everyday lives? What are the environmental improvements that are meant to be achieved through these devices? and What ethical implications should be imposed on IoT designs? With the understanding that things are ongoing processes and always with a consequence (Gabrys, 2016). We should pay attention to the materials of our products, to understand their process, and their impacts. Besides, it is our responsibility to communicate with decision-makers on actions that not only minimize negative impacts but also create positive changes. In the end, the companies’ brand, once perceived as environment friendly, will increase its market value.

—-

Hougland, B., 2014. What Is The Internet Of Things? And Why Should You Care? | Benson Hougland | Tedxtemecula. Available at <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_AlcRoqS65E> [Accessed 11 October 2020].

Gabrys, J., 2016. RE-THINGIFYING THE INTERNET OF THINGS. In: N. Starosielski and J. Walker, ed., Sustainable Media: Critical Approaches to Media and Environment. Routledge.

Symanovich, S., n.d. The Future Of IoT: 10 Predictions About The Internet Of Things | Norton. [online] Us.norton.com. Available at: <https://us.norton.com/internetsecurity-iot-5-predictions-for-the-future-of-iot.html> [Accessed 11 October 2020].

Scully, P., 2018. The Top 10 IoT Segments In 2018 – Based On 1,600 Real IoT Projects – IoT Analytics. [online] Iot-analytics.com. Available at: <https://iot-analytics.com/top-10-iot-segments-2018-real-iot-projects/> [Accessed 11 October 2020].

The Thingification of Everything

What if everything was connected? What if all the information we need would be just one glance away? What if every single move we make could be translated into data, be documented, and evaluated. What if all our senseless actions and unsustainable behaviors would be visible to everyone. What if, instead of learning a new language, we create one that nobody understands.

Karen Brad wrote that thingification“ the turning of relations into “things,” “entities,” “relata”—infects much of the way we understand the world and our relationship to it.” [1]

it is once again possible to acknowledge nature, the body, and materiality in the fullness of their becoming without resorting to the optics of transparency or opacity, the geometries of absolute exteriority or interiority, and the theoretization of the human as either pure cause or pure effect while at the same time remaining resolutely accountable for the role “we” play in the intertwined practices of knowing and becoming. [2]

What if in our desperate attempts to control what was given to us for free, we cover the world in rubbish and data. What if everything is already connected and our dense species just fails to see it.

 


[1] Karen Barad: Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter [Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2003, vol. 28, no. 3] https://www.uio.no/studier/emner/sv/sai/SOSANT4400/v14/pensumliste/barad_posthumanist-performativity.pdf

[2] ibid

Plastiglomerate – The molten plastic cores of the anthropocene.

Plastiglomerate sample/ready-made collected by geologist Patricia Corcoran and sculptor Kelly Jazvac at Kamilo Beach, Hawai’i, 2012. Photo: Kelly Wood. Courtesy of the artist.  | SOURCE: https://www.e-flux.com/journal/78/82878/plastiglomerate/

Plastic is the material that is probably most representative of our single-use-throw-away culture. When we considering the amount of time that we actively use plastic (as an essential part of electronic devices or as something more simple like a plastic cup) compared to the hundreds of years it takes to decompose plastic, it becomes quite evident what is fundamentally wrong with the way we consume.

In his work Technofossils of the Athnorpocene Dr. Sy Taffel, senior lecturer at Massey University in New Zealand emphasizes: ” …the urgent need for a dramatic reorientation of the material infrastructures and practices of consumption that underpin twenty-first-century digital cultures.” [1]

How much plastic is becoming part of our future geology is visible in Plastiglomerates. Plastiglomerate, a term just recently coined, refers to polymers that are combined with other materials creating fragments with much greater density. Basically it is a stone made out of a mixture of natural stuff like sand or wood that is held together by a molten and hardened plastic core.

Patricia Corcoran, Charles Moore, and Kelly Jazvac, who discovered and named Plastiglomerates present a striking reminder of the long-lasting and damaging influence of human existence on our environment and a new symbol of the Anthropocene: “…this anthropogenically influenced material has great potential to form a marker horizon of human pollution, signaling the occurrence of the informal Anthropocene epoch.” [2]

————————————
[1] Sy Taffel: Technofossile of The Anthropocene. Cultural Politics, Volume 12, Issue 3, © 2016 Duke University Press, p.358
[2] Patricia L. Corcoran, Charles J. Moore, Kelly Jazvac: An anthropogenic marker horizon in the future rock record, https://www.geosociety.org/gsatoday/archive/24/6/article/i1052-5173-24-6-4.htm

The flip side of the media

The flip side of the media

Digital media is often thought to be that environmentally friendly option. After all, it saves huge amounts of information on paper, messages sent via the Internet, remote meetings, information in the web is fast, effortless and energy-saving. However, there is a huge production process behind digital media that is by no means unproblematic.

THE ORIGIN OF MEDIA

In the soil rests the seed of digital media from which it is converted into media in its many forms, global media networks and sophisticated media equipment through mining, chemical processes and a highly refined thermal control system.

The rock is removed by blasting and drilling metals and minerals that, as a result of numerous thermological and chemical processes, reach sufficient concentration, sufficient purity to guarantee media performance, speed of networks and equipment, and a more streamlined appearance of equipment. The functionality of data transmission and cloud services are maintained by means of advanced thermal regulation. A small deviation in temperature can lead to overheating and a network crash.

On our home computers, we look forward to the connection being restored. The blackout of the screen and the interruption of communications may seem like greater adversity and personal punishment. We are accustomed to seeing effective data transfer and access as a right around which much of our lives revolve. However, little has been discussed about the geological and thermodynamic system behind and maintaining seamless data transfer or its climate or social implications.

Both the history of communication and the present have been entirely dependent on metals, of which copper and silica are the most important. Copper and silicon are part of almost all modern media. All metal is bound to the aggregate from which it must be separated. The process requires huge amounts of heat, and only a small fraction of the huge amount of aggregate is clean enough to be used for media needs. Ten kilograms of copper are obtained from a ton of aggregate. The rest of the aggregate is rock waste. Contamination is a by-product of such a process. Surplus rock material is only one part of the waste generated by the process, in addition to the chemicals used, the rock dust generated in mining, the by-products of processing and the used electronic waste. [5]

Many of the raw materials used in electronic equipment come from mines in countries where it is difficult to safeguard fundamental human rights. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, mines owned by insurgents and various paramilitary forces have funded and fed wars that have killed more people than in any conflict since World War II.

Congo and its neighbouring countries account for a large proportion of the tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold used in electronic components. Without them, computers, tablets and cell phones would not work.

Larger-scale mining in particular has also led to significant environmental damage. [1]

Most of our electronic equipment are manufactured in factories whose working conditions do not meet internationally agreed minimum standards. Salaries are not enough to live on, trade unions are banned and many workers live in conditions comparable to slavery. [1]

The biggest environmental impacts of electronic equipment are energy consumption and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions, electronic waste, and the toxic chemicals and heavy metals used in the equipment.

The energy efficiency of the devices has improved but the need for energy is still on the rise as more and more energy is needed for digital media storage and data processing.

Tens of millions of tonnes of electronic waste are generated every year. From Europe, e.g. Nigeria and Ghana leave Europe with a lot of “reusable” equipment that ends up directly in a landfill. An estimated 5-13% of e-waste in the EU is exported illegally.

Electronic waste mountains are a serious environmental and health risk. Equipment often contains mercury, lead and other heavy metals, various fluorescent and flame retardants, and plastics that, if improperly handled, can contaminate soil, air, and water. In addition, many of these substances, as well as the chemicals used in e-waste treatment, are very hazardous

and health, and respiratory diseases, for example, are common among waste collectors in developing countries. Many of them are minor children. E-waste toxins can also cause a variety of birth defects, nerve damage, cancer, and many other health hazards. [1]

COPPER & CRIMES

According to Goldman Sachs, copper and nickel will be found in the soil for another 40 years. [2] The depletion of natural resources is changing the integrated culture, practices, economy, geopolitics and climate conditions of the digital age. [3] An extensive criminal network has already been built around copper. There are motorcycle gangs, individual criminals and organisations like the Italian mafia involved. Thieves, for example, can take church roofs and grounded copper cable along railways and cause considerable damage. The origin of copper is being eradicated and it is often exported to Europe, e.g. For melting in the Baltic countries or chartering e.g. To China. China is the world’s largest producer of copper, and due to China’s high demand for copper, the market price of copper has risen sharply. In Finland, thefts have taken place at construction sites and the roofs of buildings have been stolen. [4]

NUMBER OF COPPER THEFT FROM RAILWAYS IN 2010

Belgium ………… .717 cases

Germany ……… .over 1000 (Jan-Oct 2010). PRICE LABEL: 12-15 million

France ……… 300. Price tag: approx. 35 million euro

Italy …………… ..1341. PRICE LABEL: approx. 4 million euro.

Great Britain …… 2000 (2006-2010) PRICE LABEL: 42 million euro [4]

Italian anti-mafia prosecutor Aldo de Chiara specialices in environmental crimes. He has been investigating an illegal waste management business in Italy in the hands of the mafia. . The most famous and widespread case is called Operazione Nerone where criminals burned waste to get copper.

Aldo de Chiara: These people are reckless and unscrupulous because they know that the criminal activity they are doing is a danger to public health. It is therefore important to point out that burning wires does not just release substances that are harmful to health into the atmosphere, which can cause respiratory symptoms. Combustible landfills also contaminate agricultural land, causing significant damage to the environment. [4]

HEAT AND ENERGY MANAGEMENT

Heat management plays a key role throughout the media production process. The need for temperature control begins already in mining and aggregate processing. The aggregate undergoes innumerable thermological processes before it is a usable metal. A suitable temperature is essential in the manufacture of the devices. Data transfer and data archiving will not work if the temperature is not correct. The wrong temperature in the print media process causes problems with printing papers, printing plates, and printing inks. Preservation of photographs, prints, films, and paintings requires an appropriate temperature. Libraries, archives and digital storage facilities need a suitable temperature. The stock market will collapse if the digital network overheats. [5]

According to several sources, one google consumes as much electricity as a 60-watt light bulb that is on for 17 seconds. The servers are assembled into large data centres whose electricity consumption has been compared to small states, just to mention few examples of energy consumption.

The carbon footprint of digital media is an issue we need to focus on in the future.

[ 1 ]  https://eetti.fi/vastuullinentekniikka/

[ 2 ]  https://www.is.fi/taloussanomat/art-2000001870184.html

[ 3 ] https://www.sitra.fi/artikkelit/trendit-kamppailu-luonnonvaroista-kiihtyy/

[4]  Minna Knus-Galan /Punaisen kullan metsästäjät käsikirjoitus, YLE, MOT

[5] Nicole Starosielski, “Thermocultures of Geological Media,” Cultural Politics, Vol. 12 (3), Duke University Press, 2016: 293-309.

[ 6 ] https://www.karhuhelsinki.fi/blogi/internetin-ilmastouhkat-miten-kayttaa-nettia-ymparistoystavallisesti

Technosymbiosis of media, performance and plastics.

 

Performance art scene can date back to the primitive people in Paleolithic era creating sacred rituals to emulate the spirit world. It is quite burdensome to produce the exact date of birth of the performance art, as in its essence it is a pure transmission of energy between the artist and the audience at certain given time and space; it happens in present – once the piece is over, it is over forever, only the memory of it can stay. This changes, however, with the birth of media technology, in particular the first film camera.

Kodak created first film camera in the late 80s [1], the first transparent and flexible film base material was nitrocelluloid [2], which was discovered and then refined for the use in film. Now, with this first film camera the performances were possible to capture, store and document them for later use. The performance trace was no longer only in viewer’s memory, but also on a piece of paper.

 

(Photo 1: Original Kodak Camera, Serial No. 540, [3])

 

Nitrate film was used for both photographic and cinematic images from late 19th century until late 40s in 20th century [2]. During this time in performance history, quite a popular style was cabaret. With the birth of revolutionary cultural movements like DADA and Cubism, performance art started to shape its importance in the bourgeoisie fine art society. Performance art was considered and still is, nowadays, as one of the purest artistic expressions. Quite challenging to capture the time and space of a certain moment on film, yet quite revolutionary, provocative and important for the history and theory of performance art the photographs were in the beginning of 20th century.

 

Cabaret Voltaire: A night out at history's wildest nightclub - BBC Culture

(Photo 2: Cabaret Voltaire, [4])

 

However, photographs do not depict the movements, the feelings and expressions of the performer. They are just a still candid photograph of a certain time and moment in that given space. During the same era a new art form in media was born – motion pictures and the first synthetic plastic was produced and patented by Leo Baekeland in 1907 [2]. Polymers like cellulose nitrate, cellulose acetate and polyester play an important role in film history as well as in the making and documenting of the performance history. Many film rolls were used and discarded in the landfill, where most traditional plastics might not decompose.

With the creation of digital cameras in 70s and 80s the feeling of many wasteful materials discarded, like film rolls, seems to have disappeared. But is it really quite so? Inside the digital camera, there are many electronic equipments, sensors, detectors that capture the incoming rays and turn them into digital signals. Digital cameras use digital technology. “Plastics are often neglected within materialist accounts of media” as rightfully Sy Taffel said in their paper “Technofossils of the Anthropocene: Media, Geology, and Plastics. Cultural Politics” [2]. If we go beyond digital camera as a medium to document performance art, we can think of  the quite recent concept of the art of the future, for example mixed reality. Mixed reality can truly help the artist to caption their performance forever. The feeling and experience for the viewer is quite different and incomparable to viewing the performance piece, for example, in the form of photograph or a movie. In mixed reality the viewer can be present with the performer in space. It is no longer the documented trace of performance you are viewing, it is almost like a feeling that you are there together with an artist.

Performance art is art quite often without objects that happen in given space and moment. In order to be present, the viewer needs to be physical in that space. But with the help of the media the viewer can experience partially or fully the artwork. Their symbiosis is strong and it plays an enormous role in the history, theory and development of performance as an art form. The symbiosis of media and plastics might not be as visible to the naked eye, however, it is daily there in our everyday lives capturing incoming rays, detecting the change in the environment and responding with the output. We cannot talk about one without the other, thus performance, media and plastics are tied together in the technosymbiosis of anthropocene.

As a final thought, here is a small performance and entertainment to compare thermoplastics and thermoset plastics.

 

(Video 1: Comparison of plastics in digital media 1, thermoplastics examples, by the author)

 

(Video 2: Comparison of plastics in digital media 2, thermoset plastics examples, by the author)

 

References:

[1] Ma, Jonathan. (2017). Film Photography History and Emergence of Digital Cameras. https://sleeklens.com/the-history-of-film-and-emergence-of-digital-cameras/ [Accessed 4 October 2020]

[2] Taffel, Sy. (2016). Technofossils of the Anthropocene: Media, Geology, and Plastics. Cultural Politics. 12. 355-375. 10.1215/17432197-3648906

[3] National Museum of American History. Original Kodak Camera, Serial No. 540. https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_760118 [Accessed 5 October 2020]

[4] Sooke, Alastair. (2016). Cabaret Voltaire: A Night out at History’s Wildest Nightclub. https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20160719-cabaret-voltaire-a-night-out-at-historys-wildest-nightclub [Accessed 5 October 2020]

 

 

“Digital Media” is All Material

The last paragraph of the article mentioned an example: “Exploring these entanglements reveals that we carry with us microelectronics devices that are not only hewn from African tungsten, South American copper, and Chinese rare earth elements but that contain the refined remnants of prehistoric life.[1]”

A study collects the information about where does 62 elecments of our phone come from. Top3 iron producers: China (44%), Australia (20%), Brazil (12%); Top3 Copper producers: Chile (30%), China (9%), Peru (8.5%); Top 3 Aluminum producers: China (50%), Russia (7%), Canada (5%); Top 3 Nickel producers: Philippines (21%), Russia (9.5%), Canada (9.5%); Top 3 rare earth producers: China (90-95%), Australia (3-9%), United States (~1-4%).[2]

fig.1 Where do rare earths come from? ( Image from https://www.maketecheasier.com/where-does-phone-come-from/)

It makes me think that when we use our cellphones; we are not simply using an object; we are using resources all around the world, which means that we are connected to globalized space. It also means that we are consuming resources generated in the past, which refers to our current life to geological time. All these happen physically, not digitally. We also need to think that if we are using resources generated in the past, the future generation also needs to use resources that are generated today. So potentially, what we are doing is influencing future life. In short, no one is isolated in time and space.

But considering we cannot change history and what we or our society already did, It is worth making more people realize. As a student who studies New Media, which is regarded as “digital media”, we must give up thinking that media is virtuality or immateriality. Instead, We must critically think about material culture in a globalized spatial scales and geological time scales.

About the final project of this course, I would like to make a project that demonstrates to people how material our “digital” media is, and also, how new “New Media” could be in the future context.

 

Reference

[1] Sy Taffel, Technofossile of The Anthropocene.

[2] Where does phone come from? https://www.maketecheasier.com/where-does-phone-come-from/

A cycle of plastic karma?

Today, we find plastic in almost everything, in our clothes, computers, phones, furniture, appliances, houses, and vehicles. Synthetic polymers are lightweight, durable, and can be molded in almost any shape. Some usage examples are Bakelite for mechanical parts, PVC for plumbing, electric gears and cases, nylon for packaging, and so on. Since synthetic polymers are durable, plastic takes 500-1000 years to break down. Hence, they often end up in landfills and oceans. More than 8.3 billion tons of plastic waste enter the oceans each year, according to a report by the World Economic Forum [1]. A study suggests that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean.

Concentrations of plastic debris in the world’s surface waters. Credit: Cozar et. al. 

A cycle of plastic karma? Any plastic that is smaller than 5mm can be considered “Microplastic”. Microplastics mainly come from plastic exposed to UV in the ocean and deteriorate into small pieces, then are swallowed by marine species. Following the food chain, microplastic ends up in fishes, shrimps, crabs, and into our bodies. There are at least 269,000 tons floating in the ocean according to a study by 5 Gyres Institute. Microplastics have been found in food and water that humans consume on a daily basis. Although we need more research before panicking, a sagacious person would not be blithe about the possibility of a cycle of plastic karma to future generations. 

In his paper “Technofossils of the Anthropocene”, Taffel asks a key question:

“The key question is not if, but how, we arrive at collective decisions to attempt the rewilding, dispersion, protection, conservation, thinning, or removal of particular types of living and nonliving entities from specific ecosystems, while recognizing that the dynamism of ecological systems means that any certitude surrounding the deep-time impact of such actions is illusory.”

To elaborate on this question, I propose a specific approach: “How might we separate, prevent, remove plastic from the oceans, thus saving marine and human lives?”

—-

Reference:

Taffel, Sy. (2016). Technofossils of the Anthropocene: Media, Geology, and Plastics. Cultural Politics. 12. 355-375. 10.1215/17432197-3648906. 

Ballerini, Tosca & Pen, Jean-Ronan & Andrady, Anthony & Cole, Matthew & Galgani, François & Kedzierski, Mikaël & Pedrotti, Maria Luiza & ter halle, Alexandra & van Arkel, Kim & Zettler, Erik & Amaral-Zettler, Linda & Bruzaud, Stéphane & Brandon, Jennifer & Durand, Gael & Enevoldsen, Enrik & Eriksen, Marcus & Fabre, Pascale & Fossi, Maria-Christina & Frère, Laura & Wong-Wah-Chung, Pascal. (2018). Plastic pollution in the ocean: what we know and what we don’t know about. 10.13140/RG.2.2.36720.92160. 

Www3.weforum.org. 2020. [online] Available at: <http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_New_Plastics_Economy.pdf> [Accessed 3 October 2020].


Further Readings:

David Barnes, “Biodiversity: Invasions by Marine Life on Plastic Debris.” Nature, 6883.1 (2002): 808-809. Print.

Derraik, Jose G. “The pollution of the marine environment by plastic debris: a review.” Marine Pollution Bulletin, 44.1 (2002): 842 – 852. Print.

Planned Obsolescence and the Lifespan of Electronics

Back in the 1920s the US automotive industry were faced with a problem. An industry which had long enjoyed explosive growth was now faced with falling numbers. It had taken less than twenty years, after the launch of Ford Model T in 1908, for car ownership to go from a luxury to an assumption. But now the market was hitting a saturation point: most everyone who wanted a car already had one.

As a solution to this, the head of General Motors Alfred P. Sloan Jr. suggested annual design changes to convince buyers that they needed to buy a new car even if the old one still worked fine. The strategy, which he’d borrowed from the bicycle manufacturers, was quickly branded as “planned obsolescence” by critics, though Sloan preferred the term “dynamic obsolescence”. Planned obsolescence has had far reaching consequences not only on the automotive industry, but on the whole field of product design and thus on all the market economies of the world. A shining example of this is modern electronics.

A recent report on ‘electronics and obsolescence in a circular economy’ from the EEA’s European Topic Centre on Waste and Materials in a Green Economy gives us good insights on this issue in the European context and its affects on the environment.

The report states that consumption of electronics has grown steadily over the past decades, mainly driven by information technology, namely smartphones. Today an average of 20 kg of electronics per EU citizen is put on the market every year. Much of this growth in demand can be attributed to falling costs of production: “purchasing a new washing machine, for example, cost 59 working hours work in 2004 but dropped to just 39 hours in 2014 (CECED, 2017)”.  Once discarded only around half of these electronics enter official recycling systems, leaving large amounts untreated. One of the main findings of the report is that the average real lifetime of products is at least 2.3 years shorter than the designers of the products estimate them to be.

Source: ETC/WMGE based on Cordella et al., 2019 and Wieser et al., 2015 for smartphones; Kalyani et al., 2017, King County, 2008 and Wieser et al., 2015 for televisions; Wieser et al., 2015 for washing machines; Rames et al., 2019, EC, 2019 and Wieser et al., 2015 for vacuum cleaners)

The report recommends the EU to pursue policies which enable and encourage circular business models which would extend the lifespans and delay obsolescence of electronics.

 

References

1. Europes consumption in a circular economy: the benefits of longer-lasting electronics https://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/waste/resource-efficiency/benefits-of-longer-lasting-electronics

Cancer Villages in Vietnam

Cancer village is the word used in Vietnamese to refer to villages in Vietnam, where many people have cancer because of water pollution. According to the Ministry of Health, as of 2007, there are about 51 villages and communes scattered in 25 provinces/cities nationwide recorded as “cancer villages”. Focusing mainly in the North and Central – where high-intensity handicraft and craft village activities take place (Ha Tay, Bac Ninh, Nam Dinh), near old industrial zones (such as Thai Nguyen, Phu Tho) or near old plant protection warehouses (Nghe An, Ha Tinh) … [1]

Water sources in cancer villages in Vietnam according to the investigation are polluted by pesticides at drug stores, war poisons, graveyards, craft villages, domestic and industrial wastes, and public works. The analysis results of water samples being used for drinking in the “cancer villages” show that most of them are contaminated with microorganisms, some samples have Content of phenol, arsenic or manganese exceeds the permissible standard many times. 

The people of Thong Nhat village (Hanoi) mainly use water from drilled wells.

Image: Contaminated Nhue River (Hanoi, Vietnam) [2]


Case Thach Son Cancer village: The village is contaminated, in both air and water. According to a survey by the Ministry of Natural Resources, the atmosphere here is seriously poisoned by industrial emissions, especially in the area around Lam Thao Supe phosphate factories, Phu Tho battery factory. Besides, the breathing air in Thach Son must receive smoke from 90 brick kilns and the bad smell at the outlet of the wastewater of the Bai Bang paper factory to the Red River. Regarding water sources, both surface water and groundwater in Thach Son are toxic. All lakes and wells are polluted. [3]

From 1991 to 2009, Thach Son commune had 106 people died of cancer, most commonly cancer of the liver, lung, stomach, throat. 19 families with at least 2 people die from this disease (husband and wife, or father and daughter, mother and child), of which more than 3 people have died from cancer. In the Mom Den area, 15 years ago, 200 households had moved to another place by themselves because they could not stand the heavily polluted air from the Lam Thao Supe Phosphate factory. 70% of these families have died of cancer. [4]

— 

I would like to propose three levels of responsibility: Change starts from a systemic level to corporate responsibility and consumerism. The government has the power to gives permission for fabrications’ manufacturing activities on their homeland, hence, takes major responsibility for environmental and social impacts. Corporations must make ethical decisions that impact both the environment and humans. Consumers contribute to the scene by being mindful of everyday consumption, raising environmental concerns, and pushing for systemic changes.


Three levels of responsibility

References:

[1] https://nongnghiep.vn/viet-nam-co-51-lang-ung-thu-d5069.html Nong Nghiep VN. Accessed Sept 28th, 2020.

[2] Image: http://suckhoenguoiviet.org/danh-sach-10-lang-ung-thu-o-viet-nam.html Suc khoe nguoi Viet. Accessed Sept 28th, 2020.

[3] https://vnexpress.net/lang-ung-thu-thach-son-tu-dat-den-troi-deu-doc-2261643.html Vnexpress, accessed Sept 28th, 2020.

[4] https://www.vietnamplus.vn/noi-dau-dai-dang-o-lang-ung-thu-thach-son/21061.vnp Vietnam Plus. Accessed Sept 28th, 2020.

 

I live in the land of a thousand lakes but not a single one of them is like Baotou lake in Inner Mongolia, China.

I have taken hundreds of images of the beautiful lake next to our summer cottage. Most often I’ve photographed it with my smart phone made of aluminium, carbon, oxygen, iron, silicon, copper, cobalt, hydrogen, chrome, nickel and 4.9 grams of other materials like gold, tin and zinc.[1][2] It is a small lake with good water quality. There are no fields nearby that would lay down fertilizers to the streams connected to the lake nor are there any mines nearby that could pollute the small lake in a blink of an eye. There’s just the awesome calmness of the forest, a pair of swans and a family of black-throated loons swimming on the lake and me with my smart phone, the end product of all the mining happening somewhere far away from this paradise.

The technology we nowadays use to work, to participate in social media and to consume entertainment looks shiny, pure and clean. Smooth parts made of glass, aluminium and chrome feel and look good and are actively trying to make us forget where they really come from. Designed in California, Assembled in China but mined where and at what expense?

When buying an iPhone we pay around 1000 dollars for it. The materials of an iPhone are calculated to be worth a bit over 1 dollar.[1] Then with the remaining 999 dollars we probably cover the assembling, design, software, logistics, sales and of course the profit for the huge corporation behind it all. That is a lot of money for an average consumer but you might still wonder who in the end pays the biggest price?

Have a look at this awesome sunset at the lake next to our summer cottage that I photographed with 1000 dollars less on my bank account than before buying the smart phone I took this with!

Then have a look at this video by BBC journalist Tim Maughan from the Baotou lake.

“You may not have heard of Baotou, but the mines and factories here help to keep our modern lives ticking. It is one of the world’s biggest suppliers of “rare earth” minerals. These elements can be found in everything from magnets in wind turbines and electric car motors, to the electronic guts of smartphones and flatscreen TVs. In 2009 China produced 95% of the world’s supply of these elements, and it’s estimated that the Bayan Obo mines just north of Baotou contain 70% of the world’s reserves.”[3]

So who after all is paying the biggest price for sustaining this technology filled modern life? And who collects the profit? Answer to one these questions lies in Baotou. Which one? That should be as obvious as is the whole content of this text. We all know this stuff, we are just so skilled in ignoring unpleasant facts as long as they don’t pollute our own lakes.

Finland does not yet have a toxic lake such as Baotou, the scale is luckily smaller, but already during the last 10 years people living or owning summer houses in Sotkamo, on the shores of the lakes near Talvivaara mine, have suffered from the mining company’s polluting. On 2014 the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland gave a statement that Talvivaara Sotkamo Oy has not been able to obey the rules given in their environmental permit during its whole time of existence. This has changed the way many people in Finland see the mining business and its negative effects on the environment. These mines create jobs but with too extreme consequences for the environment the positive effects get nullified in people’s minds.[4]

This way of thinking seems to work locally inside the Finnish borders but in a way this environmentalism has some nationalistic features. It is still “our lakes” that we are talking about here and even if we quit mining any materials from Finland, we don’t have to quit living the modern life with all the technology. There isn’t that big compromise we have to make. But even though we have seen what mines like Talvivaara can do to our nature I don’t see people wishing to stop this kind of environmentally hazardous mining everywhere outside our borders that strongly because that would have a lot more effects on our comfortable digital lives. And here I am too, using all these devices built from the materials digged from Baotou and contributing to the toxicity of the lake there. But is it individuals who have created this destructive system by wanting to buy new technology with cheaper and cheaper prices? That is how the corporations probably wan’t us to feel about it, but I would point my blaming finger more towards them instead.

References

  1. https://www.statista.com/chart/10719/materials-used-in-iphone-6/
  2. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/433wyq/everything-thats-inside-your-iphone?ex_cid=SigDig 
  3. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20150402-the-worst-place-on-earth
  4. https://www.apu.fi/artikkelit/talvivaara-pilatut-jarvivedet-nostivat-ymparistonsuojelun-koko-kansan-puheenaiheeksi-nain-kaikki-tapahtui (In Finnish)

The politics of mass production and fabrication

While reading Sean Cubitt’s “Ecologies of Fabrication” text [1], I couldn’t help but think about the mass production, mass selling and market domination in postcolonial capitalistic society. In the era since the ending of World War II new economy was established, where there is a large need for the creation, production and manufactures of the common goods. Being a designer myself, the text made me think about how large corporations influence and establish social, cultural and economic authority in globalism and mass market. Particular resonance with  a sociologist C.Wright Mills’s book “The Politics of Truth” [2] comes to my mind here; in his paper “The Man in the Middle”, Mills stated that “Continuous and expanding production requires continuous and expanding consumption, so consumption must be speeded up by all the techniques and frauds of marketing” (“Politics of Truth”, p. 177). In the paper Mills was talking about certain techniques designers in the mass market quite often rely onto and how “the waste of human labor and material become irrationally central to the performance of the capitalist mechanism” (“Politics of Truth”, p. 178).

Society is in itself a sales room. The common big lie in capitalist society is the classical phrase “We only give them what they want”. However, when we truly think about it, the skills of advertising, packaging products in a certain way and fake need for the products are the dogma of the mass production culture. Do we really need everything that we have and posses? When and why lifeless objects became so important in our everyday life? As a designer myself I couldn’t stop but question these important notions, as we, designers, can play and influence the market greatly. Even the model of the capitalist market structure is create yearly styles, make people become ashamed of not owning newest styles and trends and boost their self-esteem with the purchase of this year’s.

If the economy’s task is to sell, where do we stand in it and how can we help as designers, researchers, artists, writers, sociologists within the media field and beyond and how can we influence and establish new ways of producing and create new fundamental values in mass market and mass production. Perhaps, our society needs to be built and constructed around artisanal work and higher quality of products vs.capitalistic cultural apparatus of mass culture, mass society and mass production.

[1] Sean Cubitt, “Ecologies of Fabrication,” in Sustainable Media: Critical Approaches to Media and Environment, eds. Nicole Starosielski and Janet Walker, NY and London, Routledge, 2016

[2] C.Wright Mills , “The Man in the Middle”,  in The Politics of Truth, eds. John Summers, 2008: p. 173-183