Monthly Archives: February 2021

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:

[3] The Cyborg Jillian Weise Hosts A Different Kind of Internet Event, 18.09.2020. URL:

[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:

[6] WCAG 2.1. at a Glance, URL:

[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:

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.



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.

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

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.





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)




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(6)  YK:n yliopiston (UNU) raportti  [vuodelta 2016] /

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



  2. / Cows with open wounds graze on the site
  3. /Adjoa, nine, sells small water bags to the workers. They drink it and use it to extinguish fires.
  4. / 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. Image Credit: Maxx-Studio



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.


[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, (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.


[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