Author Archives: Samir

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.