Author Archives: alicia

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

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