Category Archives: MEDIA INEQUALITY

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

Circuits of Capital

A system of high-risk, low-paid work in offshore factories, where human and environmental rights are casually ignored is an essential part of the global success story of electronic companies, the automobile, and the fashion industry, among others. [1]

The fact that components for virtually all technological products are manufactured in different locations around the globe is disconnecting us from the reality of human and environmental suffering. This system allows companies to distance themselves from the supply chains they’ve build-up themself. Transparency is claimed impossible and responsibilities are conveniently shifted.
“lt is clear, however, that corporations resist taking responsibility, spending instead vast sums on legal actions blocking charges against them and on public relations campaigns (including the expensive scientists whose reports they commission).”  [2]

Some companies even have the audacity to claim that it wouldn’t be possible for them to demand their suppliers to comply with human rights. This system allows us to maintain our privileged, wasteful, and unsustainable lifestyle without realizing that this way of living is supporting child-labor (e.g. in fashion production) [3] , modern slavery as seen in the fish industry in Thailand [4], and the brutal suppression of minorities supported (e.g. by VW in China. [5]

In what world do we live in where companies feel like human-rights are negotiable?

Among the things that really stayed with me in Sean Cubitt’s Ecologies Fabrication is that when you fight for the environment you also have to fight for human rights: “Environmentalists need to expand their political horizons to include human victims of anti-ecological practices, (…) these include not only workers and those living in the immediate vicinity, but everyone involved in the circuits of neoliberal capital.” [6]


[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: p.168
[2] ibid 173
[3] https://www.commonobjective.co/article/child-labour-in-the-fashion-industry
[4] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/21/such-brutality-tricked-into-slavery-in-the-thai-fishing-industry
[5] https://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/menschenrechte-ueruemqi-vw-haelt-an-werk-in-chinesischer-provinz-xinjiang-fest-dpa.urn-newsml-dpa-com-20090101-200108-99-391133
[6] Sean Cubitt 2016, p. 164

 

 

Anthrobscene and the Neocolonial

The author of Anthrobscene mentions China as an essential part of the global chains of production and abandonment of media technologies and gives multiple examples. In my opinion, using China as an example is not only because China is a typical country that exists in the Anthropocene, but also due to neocolonial issues caused by Anthrobscene.

Anthropocene, was first defined as relating to the current geological period, also denoting the age in which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment. While Anthropocene, is marked by the human ability to move vast quantities of geologic material. Anthrobscene, is another name to describe Anthropocene, but emphasize its obscene part. As Peter mentioned, the environment is always related to media studies. Anthrobscene relates to Issues of energy, which are caused by heavy reliance on polluting forms of nonrenewable energy production and through the various chemicals, metals, media cultural aftereffects of the geological strata.

To conclude how china contributes Anthrobscene is rather easy: China itself lacks raw materials to support industrial development, so importing scrap metals is inevitable. To support the infrastructure of modernizing society, China becomes the largest scrap importer of recycled metal, although the profit margin is less than 1%. However, China has a new restriction policy about reducing the import of scrap metal. Given is a line graph that shows the trend of The recovery of waste nonferrous metals in china between 2014-2018. It is obvious that the quantity of recycling has increased, even reach 111 million tons in 2018. Nevertheless, the trend of import scrap metal has decreased by 36%.

It comes to the worry of neocolonialism: Instead of the previous colonial methods of direct military control, developed countries now use economics and conditional aid to influence a developing country. Shipping their electronic waste to developing countries can be regarded as an example. If not China, there must be some other countries or some other area to pay for electronic garbage.

 

Reference:

https://www.spglobal.com/platts/en/market-insights/latest-news/metals/070920-china-boosts-metal-scrap-imports-after-policy-change-bir

https://www.theatlantic.com/china/archive/2013/11/how-china-profits-from-our-junk/281044/

https://www.metalsinfo.com/news/display_pid_9-cid_18-news_id_216082.html

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/>

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

Fictional screams and other assaults

This post includes mentions of sexual assault.

When reading Parikka’s The Anthrobscene, I was particularly appalled by the chapter And the Earth screamed, Alive. There’s something about non-animals, or even non-humans, screaming in fiction that scares the heck out of me but also fascinates me. Humans have always had a thing for humanizing objects and animals, through fables and other stories. This chapter immediately made my think of a scene from the old YouTube phenomena Annoying orange, where a speaking apple is suddenly chopped into pieces by a human, something that’s quickly forgotten by the other fruits witnessing the slaughter.

Parikka, on the other hand, draws a daunting image of Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional character Professor Challenger, in his short story When the World screamed*, piercing the Earth’s crust and making it scream. Parikka describes this as a rape-like scene and develops this further in the reference section, stating that:

The allusion of rape is made even more obvious when considering the long-term mythological articulation of the earth as female. The female interior is one of valuable riches.

I wanted to shape my own opinion of the matter, so I read the full short story. It can be debated whether Doyle intended this to be a rape scene or not. Professor Challenger himself refers to the drilling as a mosquito penetrating the skin of a human, or “vigorous stimulation of its sensory cortex”. This seems to reflect general assault rather than sexual assault. But then again there is certainly many references to the femaleness of the Earth, and even a sexual one, in conversation with driller Mr. Jones:


Professor Challenger, who is described on one hand as a madman and an abuser, and on the other as a genius and someone that it’s impossible not to admire, has obvious megalomania. He does not empathise with the creature he imagines Earth to be. It seems that it rather annoys or even threatens him that the Earth is so oblivious to humans and their makings. He wants her to acknowledge his existence and he can only come up with one way of doing this – by penetrating her nervous system and causing her pain.

So it’s not clear whether we should read this scene as rape, but if we do, it’s used in a manner that is depressingly common in pop culture. The female character Earth is only present in the story during the assault scene, she doesn’t have a story arc of her own and she doesn’t interact with any other characters than the rapists. She’s only mentioned in relation to the upcoming rape and there are no other female characters in the story. Surely she reacts very strongly to the assault by throwing out the perpetrators and the equipment they’ve used to penetrate her, but it’s also stated that there were no casualties from the event, which means that in the end no one suffered from her revenge act. The story ends on a high note, with Professor Challenger being applauded for his scientific “break-through” of proving that the Earth is alive. Mother Earth heals herself from within and nothing more is told about whatever mental trauma she now has to go through inside her safe womb within layers of metal and soil and beneath her outer surface of plants and water.

We have gotten so accustomed to reading and watching stories of rape this way that we can’t even imagine the alternatives**. The new Netflix series Unbelievable deals with rape in a new way and has been praised in reviews for this. Vulture uses the headline “How Unbelievable Tells a True Crime Story Without ‘Rape Porn’”*** and writes

The Netflix drama is less interested in the rapist and his horrific crimes than in another, more insidious villain: the criminal-justice system.

The series follows two female criminal detectives struggling to gain justice for several rape victims, depicting rape from the victim point of view and not putting much attention the male perpetrator or his psyche. I haven’t yet been able to watch the series myself, but I hope it will live up to its reputation. I can’t help but wonder how Doyle’s short story would have been written had it taken on the same perspective as Unbelievable – following the victim in her fight for justice after the assault, in a world completely uninterested in her version of the story. In the end it makes me question rape as an analogy for man’s destruction of the planet at all. The Earth is, contradictory to Professor Challenger’s ideas, not just one entity but many, and the environmental destruction is complex and takes different shapes in different parts of the world. Giving the planet emotional traits and a gender might make it more human to us but it’s none the less a false perception of reality, a romantic idea of “him” against “her”, with only one potential outcome – she succumbs to his wishes, or else he will take her by force. In this version there is no “us”, no life in harmony with the other, a complete lack of seeing humans as part of the ecosystem and the planet itself. It’s as problematic as the general depiction of women in pop culture, seen as “the other sex”, something exotic. In this version of women, there is a before and an after – once she’s had intercourse, whether consentual or not, she’s not pure anymore and will never be again. This image of the Earth is as damaging as the image of women: Why would we try to save something that we’ve already used and abused? If it doesn’t gain us, the perpetrator, why would we try to improve our actions and reverse some of the harm done?

* https://classic-literature.co.uk/scottish-authors/arthur-conan-doyle/when-the-world-screamed/

** The Black List website found that 2400 out of 45,000 scripts submitted to them included rape. https://blog.blcklst.com/sexual-violence-in-spec-screenplays-8f35268b689

*** https://www.vulture.com/2019/09/unbelievable-netflix-susannah-grant.html

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