Category Archives: MEDIA INEQUALITY

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