Author Archives: Samir

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

fesimeoni.it Ig

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

fesimeoni.it Ig

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

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

Infragraphy Volume III – Spring 2020

Graphic Design: Ameya Chikramane

DOWNLOAD PDF: http://blogs.aalto.fi/mediainfrastructures/files/2020/05/Infragraphies_vol3_web.pdf

CONTRIBUTORS: Ameya Chikramane, Boeun Kim, Lassi Häkkinen, Samir Bhowmik and Shambhavi Singh

INTRODUCTION
The world moved online in 2020. The global spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 with the resulting quarantine and lockdowns forced a significant portion of humanity to accept a virtual life. Global Internet traffic soared to over 30 percent in March and online transactions to over 42 percent in April [1]. The internet has done well during the coronavirus pandemic. Its infrastructure has held up. It allowed a transition to remote work, learning, socializing and entertainment. Netflix, the video streaming service added more than 16 million new subscribers [2], and online shopping giant Amazon hired 100000 workers in March, and reported massive earnings [3]. In between streaming and online shopping, the perfect combination of the so-called late capitalism, one thing remains unconsidered. At what cost? What is the impact of such rampant connectivity and consumerism to our society, to our environment? It is a big mistake to think we will be saving the environment by lockdowns, when all we have been doing for the past few months is streaming and shopping. Connectivity is material and resource-based, supported by a global infrastructure of data centers, power plants and submarine cables. The internet consumes energy. A whole lot of it. Global data centers recently consumed around 205 billion kWh [4]. As the massive pressure on the ‘Cloud’ intensifies and energy use goes through the roof, we need to again re-consider how we design and implement such infrastructure, or change how we live.

This third volume of Infragraphy is short but rich in its range and contents addressing internet  infrastructures. Boeun Kim’s ‘The Paradox of Online Society’ attempts to unbox the hidden cost behind the digital transition by discussing how the quarantine affects the socially disadvantaged, the energy cost and air pollution, and the silver lining during the pandemic. Lassi Häkkinen’s ‘Vulnerability of Technology and Data in the Physical World’ looks at physical world vulnerabilities of our information and data, and the impossibility to separate infrastructural materialities from the the digital. By illustration, Shambhavi Singh examines the ‘Infrastructures of Isolation’, and finally, Ameya Chikramane explores new approaches to the post-digital. All these critical student texts and artworks deal with the materialities of media technologies and their societal and environmental implications, as outcomes of the course ‘Archaeology of Media Infrastructures’ in the Spring of 2020 at the Department of Media, Aalto University. 

Samir Bhowmik
25 May 2020, Helsinki

1 Yevgeniy Sverdlik, Will the Coronavirus Break the Internet? Datacenter Knowledge, 13 March 2020 <https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/uptime/will-coronavirus-break-internet-highly-unlikely-says-cloudflare>

2 Trefis Team, Netflix Subscriber Growth 2x Expectations; Good News Or Peak? Forbes, 28 April, 2020 <https://www.forbes.com/sites/greatspeculations/2020/04/28/netflix-subscriber-growth-2x-expectations-good-news-or-peak/#5d046ad53ea1>

3 Alina Seyukh, Amazon To Hire 100,000 Workers To Meet ‘Surge In Demand’, NPR, 16 March 2020 <https://www.npr.org/2020/03/16/816704442/amazon-to-hire-100-000-workers-to-meet-surge-in-demand?t=1590396613400>

4 How Much Energy Do Data Centers Really Use? Energy & Innovation, 17 March 2020 <https://energyinnovation.org/2020/03/17/how-much-energy-do-data-centers-really-use/>

Clouds or Grids?

The Internet Cloud seems like a palatable, abstract concept that somehow holds data, or bits, much like how real clouds hold molecules of water. The clouds then precipitate data to our devices, pretty much the same way that real clouds precipitate rain.

In the early 1990s, Ian Foster and Carl Kesselman came up with a new concept of “The Grid”. The analogy used was of the electricity grid where users could plug into the grid and use a metered utility service. If companies don’t have their own power stations, but rather access a third party electricity supply, why can’t the same apply to computing resources? Plug into a grid of computers and pay for what you use.

One of the first milestones for cloud computing was the arrival of Salesforce.com in 1999, which pioneered the concept of delivering enterprise applications via a simple website. The services firm paved a way for both specialist and mainstream software firms to deliver applications over the internet.

The next development was Amazon Web Services in 2002, which provided a suite of cloud-based services including storage, computation and even human intelligence through the Amazon Mechanical Turk.

According to Rebecca J. Rosen’s article Clouds: The Most Useful Metaphor of All Time?” . . . when engineers would map out all the various components of their networks, but then loosely sketch the unknown networks (like the Internet) theirs was hooked into. What does a rough blob of undefined nodes look like? A cloud. And, helpfully, clouds are something that takes little skill to draw. It’s a squiggly line formed into a rough ellipse. Over time, clouds were adopted as the stand-in image for the part of a computer or telephone network outside one’s own.”

Clouds get traction as a metaphor because they are shape-shifters, literally. As a result, they can stand in for many varied cultural tropes. Want something to represent the one thing marring your otherwise perfect situation? Done. Want to evoke the nostalgic feeling of childhood games of the imagination? Done. Maybe you want to draw a picture of heaven? You’re in luck. Clouds as metaphors pepper our language: every cloud has a silver lining, I’m on cloud nine, his head is in the clouds, there are dark clouds on the horizon. Clouds are the lazy man’s metaphor, a one-image-fits-all solution for your metaphor needs.

So there is a shift, not only in terminology but also in perception. The problem with using the word “Cloud” is that it is perceived as a harmless, abstract repository that effectively hides massive physical infrastructures and the associated thermo-cultures, energy expenses, and waste management practices. The materiality and physicality of cloud systems are manifested in the form of data centers that eat up to 200 terawatt-hours (TWh) each year. Further aggravating this trend is the fact that these data centers actually utilize only 6-12% of the total power consumption, the rest being reserved for traffic surges, crashes and redundancy ie. to make services faster, reduce errors and improve consistency.

Considering these points, one has to wonder what would today’s energy and data consumption scenario looks like if we had stuck to the term ‘Grid’ to denote modern data storage and distribution.

Ameya Chikramane, 4.3.2020

Archaeology of Media Infrastructures – Spring 2020

Course Summary: The course provides a framework of archaeological exploration of media infrastructures. It allows students to think beyond a single media device and design for broader media ecologies. Tracing the emergence of contemporary media infrastructures from early instances in human and media history, it examines both hard infrastructure (architecture, mechanical and computing systems) and soft infrastructure (software, APIs and operating systems). What are the breaks, the discontinuities and ruptures in media-infrastructural history? What has been remediated, in what form, in what characteristics? The course prepares students for the follow-up course: ‘Media and the Environment’ in Fall 2020.

Wednesdays 13.15 – 15.00 / Starting 5.2.2020 / until 1.4.2020

The course is filed under Media Art and Culture / https://into.aalto.fi/display/enmlab/2020-2022+Advanced+studies

Register: weboodi.aalto.fi  

Infragraphy Volume 2, Fall 2019

INFRAGRAPHY Volume 2. is a compilation of critical student artworks and short essays dealing with the materialities of media technologies and their environmental implications.

These works and texts are the outcomes from the course ‘Media and the Environment’ in the Fall of 2019 at the Department of Media, Aalto University. The course was 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 was also introducing artistic methods and practices that could address emerging media materialities. The final exhibition of the course was a collection of student artworks as a response to the contemporary discourse of political economy of media and related environmental implications.

DOWNLOAD PDF: http://blogs.aalto.fi/mediainfrastructures/files/2020/01/Infragraphy_Fall2019_WEB.pdf

The Anthrobscene – Course Exhibition 22.11 – 9.12.2019

Artists: Reishabh Kailey, Gurden Batra & Serpil Oğuz. Discarded electronics and wood, 2019

The Anthrobscene – Media and the Environment Course Exhibition
Department of Media
22 November – 9 December

The Anthropocene is nothing but the Anthrobscene. This obscenity according to media philosopher Jussi Parikka (2015) is— “because of the unsustainable, politically dubious, and ethically suspicious practices that maintain technological culture and its corporate networks. Obscene because this age marks the environmentally disastrous consequences of planned obsolescence of electronic media, the energy costs of digital culture and furthermore the neo-colonial arrangements of material and energy extraction across the globe. To call it anthrobscene is just to emphasize what we knew but perhaps we were shielded away from acting on—that is the horrific human-caused drive toward a 6th mass extinction.” 

The exhibition is a collection of student artworks that deal with the materialities of media technologies. It is a response to the contemporary discourse of political economy of media and related environmental implications. It tackles the Anthropocene through the lens of media theory, culture and philosophy to understand the geological underpinnings of contemporary media. 

Artists: Gurden Batra, Ameya Chikramane, Punit Hiremath, Eerika Jalasaho, Julia Sand, Reishab Kailey, Kevan Murtagh, Hanna Arstrom, Leo Kosola, Takayuki Nakashima, Liisi Soroush, Surabhi Nadig Surendra. 

Artists: Reishabh Kailey, Gurden Batra & Serpil Oğuz. Discarded electronics and wood, 2019

Media and the Environment – Autumn 2019

Curie cable touched down in Valparaíso, Chile, on April 23, 2019 / Photo Credit: Google

SUMMARY: This Masters of Arts-level course is a response to the contemporary discourse of political economy of media and related environmental implications. It tackles the Anthropocene through the lens of media theory, culture and philosophy to understand the geological underpinnings of contemporary media. What are the planetary impacts of technological media? What are the various focuses, entanglements and materialities? The course investigates the topics of extraction, thermal practices, fabrication, labor, and waste as related to cultures of media. Finally, the course examines artistic approaches and methodologies that engage with these materialities, geographies and geologies. This course is a follow-up from the Archaeology of Media Infrastructures from Spring 2019, and consists of close readings of provided literature, class discussions and critical writings.

SYLLABUS: https://blogs.aalto.fi/mediainfrastructures/syllabus-autumn-2019/

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Jussi Parikka, The Anthrobscene, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.
  2. Nicole Starosielski, “Thermocultures of Geological Media,” Cultural Politics, Vol. 12 (3), Duke University Press, 2016: 293-309.
  3. Sean Cubitt, “Ecologies of Fabrication,” in Sustainable Media: Critical Approaches to Media and Environment, eds. Nicole Starosielski and Janet Walker, New York and London, Routledge, 2016: 163-179.
  4. Sy Taffel, “Technofossils of the Anthropocene: Media, Geology and Plastics,” Cultural Politics, Vol. 12 (3), Duke University Press, 2016: 355-375.
  5. 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.
  6. Garnet Hertz and Jussi Parikka, “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method,” Leonardo, Vol. 45, No. 5, 2012: 424–430.
  7. 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.
  8. Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen, “Take a Good Lamp,” Cultural Politics, Vol. 12 (3), Duke University Press, 2016: 332-338.
  9. Unknown Fields, “Rare Earthenware,” Cultural Politics, Vol. 12 (3), Duke University Press, 2016: 376-379.

Infragraphy Volume 1, Spring 2019

This first volume of Infragraphy is a compilation of critical student writings and photo essays about media, infrastructure and the environment. These texts are outcomes from the “Archaeology of Media Infrastructures” Master of Arts course in the Spring of 2019 at the Department of Media, Aalto University Finland. The course examined media infrastructures including the concept of deep time, the materialities of the Internet, Artificial Intelligence, digital labor, water, energy, and critical infrastructure.

Download PDF: Infragraphy_Vol1_Spring2019

SYLLABUS 2019 [Draft] Updated: 11.12.2018

Archaeology of  Media Infrastructures Winter-Spring 2019 DOM-E5006

Wednesdays 15.15 – 17.00

Dr. Samir Bhowmik
samir.bhowmik@aalto.fi
Media Lab / Department of Media
Aalto University School of Arts Design and Architecture

Course Summary

The course provides a framework of archaeological exploration of media infrastructures. It allows students to think beyond a single media device and design for broader media ecologies. Tracing the emergence of contemporary media infrastructures from early instances in human and media history, it examines both hard infrastructure (architecture, mechanical and computing systems) and soft infrastructure (software, APIs and operating systems). What are the breaks, the discontinuities and ruptures in media-infrastructural history? What has been remediated, in what form, in what characteristics? The course prepares students for the follow-up course: ‘Media and the Environment’ in Autumn 2019.

Study Material: Recommended reading list. Readings as PDFs will be posted in the study materials folder in myCourses.aalto.fi

Assessment Methods and Criteria: Classes are spread over Winter-Spring 2019. 80% attendance and completed assignments are required to pass the course. Co-authored short paper based on selected themes as final assignment, and/or prototypes that demonstrate aspects of the subject.

Grading Weightage:

In-class Discussion: 30% / Documentation (blog): 40% / Final Project / Article: 30%

*Students who stay above 50% will Pass.

Documentation

– Course blog: https://blogs.aalto.fi/mediainfrastructures/  Login will be provided.

– Every student will contribute to the blog. You are expected to post every week before start of class a 1 page text (300 words).

– Read the assigned literature for each class. These can be found from the Syllabus, and as well from myCourses.aalto.fi.

– Annotate and write a 1 page text. This document may have images / video / links etc.

– The text can be your reflections, examples, projects, ideas etc. as related to the topic and literature of the week. This may also contain the building blocks of your own final project / article whether it may be a piece of writing, visualization or project.

– Final projects must also be posted on the course blog.

– Besides the required documentation, you are free to post anything else related to the subject, that could be useful to you or others.

– Documentation to the blog will hold a 40% weightage for a pass/fail grade. At least 5 posts out of max total of 8.

 

Schedule of Classes

Week 1 – February 27: Course Overview

We will discuss the various aspects of the course including themes, topics, analyses and documentation. Also, we will talk about choosing individual or group projects for the course.

Summary of Case Studies:

– Urban Media Infrastructures

– Memory Infrastructures

– Global Communications Infrastructures

– Artificial Intelligence (AI) Infrastructures

 

Week 2 – March 6: Media Infrastructure: Introduction

LECTURE

DISCUSSION IN-CLASS:

Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski, “Introduction,” in Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures, ed. Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski (Urbana, Chicago And Springfield: University Of Illinois Press, 2015), 1-27.

DEBATE (2-3 teams): Medium (single device) vs Infrastructural Approaches

Secondary Readings:

    1. Susan Leigh Star, The Ethnography of Infrastructure, American Behavioral Scientist 43 (3), 1999: 377-391.
    2. Brian Larkin, “The Politics and Poetics of Infrastructure,” Annual Review of Anthropology 42 (2013): 327-343.

 

Week 3 – March 13: Deep Time of Media / Infrastructure

LECTURE

DISCUSSION IN-CLASS:

Shannon Mattern, “Deep Time of Media Infrastructure,” in Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures, ed. Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski (Urbana, Chicago And Springfield: University Of Illinois Press, 2015): 95-102.

DEBATE (2-3 teams): Methods for Digging into Infrastructure

Secondary Reading:

    1. Benjamin Bratton, The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty, MIT Press, 2015.
    2. Friedrich Kittler, The History of Communication Media, in C-Theory, 1996: https://journals.uvic.ca/index.php/ctheory/article/view/14325/5101
    3. Siegfried Zielinski, “Introduction: The Idea of a Deep Time of Media,” in Deep Time Of The Media: Toward An Archaeology Of Hearing And Seeing By Technical Means (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006): 1-11.
    4. Shannon Mattern, Introduction: Ether/Ore, Code and Clay, Data and Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017).
    5. Jean-François Blanchette, “A Material History of Bits,” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 62, no. 6 (June 2011): 1042–1057.

 

Week 4 – March 20: Digital Media and Cloud Infrastructure

LECTURE

DISCUSSION IN-CLASS:

Jennifer Holt and Patrick Vonderau, “Where the Internet Lives”: Data Centers as Cloud Infrastructure,” in Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures, ed. Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski (Urbana, Chicago And Springfield: University Of Illinois Press, 2015), 71-93.

– Steven Levy, Where Servers Meet Saunas, WIRED, 2012: https://www.wired.com/2012/10/google-finland-data-center-2/

DEBATE (2-3 teams): Why the Infrastructure of the Internet remains invisible and how can this be remedied?

Secondary Reading:

    1. Sean Cubitt, Robert Hassan and Ingrid Volkmer, “Does Cloud Computing Have a Silver Lining?” Media Culture Society 33 (2011): 149-158
    2. Jason Farman, “Invisible and Instantaneous: Geographies of Media Infrastructure from Pneumatic Tubes to Fiber Optics,” Media Theory, May 18, 2018.
    3. Paul Dourish, Protocols, Packets, and Proximity: The Materiality of Internet Routing, in Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures, ed. Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski (Urbana, Chicago And Springfield: University Of Illinois Press, 2015), 183-204.

 

Week 5 – March 27: Materialities of Media Infrastructures

LECTURE

DISCUSSION IN-CLASS:

Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler, Anatomy of an AI System (2018), https://anatomyof.ai

DEBATE (2-3 teams): What is the Future of AI Infrastructure / AI assistants

Secondary Reading:

 

Week 6 – April 3: Labor, Repair, Maintenance of Media Infrastructures

**Presentations of Student Project proposals**

LECTURE

DISCUSSION IN-CLASS:

Jussi Parikka, Dust and Exhaustion: The Labor of Media Materialism, C-Theory, 2013: http://ctheory.net/ctheory_wp/dust-and-exhaustion-the-labor-of-media-materialism/

DEBATE (2-3 teams): People / Labor as Media Infrastructure

Secondary Reading:

—————Break————-NO CLASS on April 10———-Break———————

 

Week 7 – April 17: Infrastructural Inequality, Differences and Disruption

**Presentations of Student Project/Article proposals**

LECTURE

DISCUSSION IN-CLASS:

Lisa Parks, Water, Energy, Access: Materializing the Internet in Rural Zambia, in Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures, ed. Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski (Urbana, Chicago And Springfield: University Of Illinois Press, 2015), 115-136.

DEBATE (2-3 teams): Approaches to global media inequality.

Secondary Reading:

    1. Mark Warschauer, Economy, Society, and Technology: Analyzing the Shifting Terrains, in Technology and Social Inclusion: Rethinking the Digital Divide (MIT Press, 2003), 11-30.
    2. Pippa Norris, Digital Divide: Civic engagement, information poverty, and the Internet worldwide (Cambridge University Press, 2001).

 

Week 8 – April 24: Approaches to Media Infrastructure

**Presentations of Student Project/Article proposals**

***Sign-up for Spring Demo Day 2019***

LECTURE

DISCUSSION IN-CLASS:

Jamie Allen, Critical Infrastructure, APRJA 2014: http://www.aprja.net/critical-infrastructure/

DEBATE (2-3 teams): What approaches to study Media Infrastructure?

Secondary Reading:

    1. Matthew Kirschenbaum, Introduction: Awareness of the Mechanism, Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008):  Jussi Parikka, Geology of Media (University of Minnesota Press, 2015): 1-24.
    2. Wolfgang Ernst, Media Archaeography: Method and Machine versus History and Narrative of Media, in Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications and Implications (University of California Press, 2011): 239-255.
    3. Shannon Mattern, Deep Mapping the Media City (University of Minnesota Press, 2013).
    4. Jussi Parikka, “Operative Media Archaeology: Wolfgang Ernst’s Materialist Media Diagrammatics,” Theory, Culture & Society 28 (2011): 52–74

 

Week 9 – May 8: Final Student Project/Article Presentations

Final Article submissions: May 15. (To be posted on the Course blog)

ABOUT

The course provides a framework of archaeological exploration of media infrastructures. It allows students to think beyond a single media device and design for broader media ecologies. Tracing the emergence of contemporary media infrastructures from early instances in human and media history, it examines both hard infrastructure (architecture, mechanical and computing systems) and soft infrastructure (software, APIs and operating systems). What are the breaks, the discontinuities and ruptures in media-infrastructural history? What has been remediated, in what form, in what characteristics? The course prepares students for the follow-up course: ‘Media and the Environment’ in Autumn 2019.