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Circuit bending – Giving a new purpose to the forgotten devices

Creating sound instruments by adding and manipulating the electronic “brains” could be traced back to the middle of the 18th century when a Czech theologian Václav Prokop Diviš invented the Golden Dionysus (Denis d’Or) that is considered to be the first electrified musical instrument. Unfortunately, the instrument was sold in Vienna after his death in 1765, and soon after it vanished without a trace, therefore many are skeptical if the instrument was the first electrophone or not. It was mentioned that the instrument produced sounds when the iron strings charged with electricity were struck. The circuit behind it could imitate the sounds of a whole variety of other instruments, including chordophones such as harpsichords, harps and lutes, and even wind instruments.[4][5]

(Figure 1: Denis d’Or – the first electrophone)

In regards to circuit bending as we know it today, Reed Ghazala is the father of the technique that is widely popular even today. He pioneered and named the technique in 1966, when he accidentally discovered it by leaving the circuit of a small amplifier exposed, causing the short-circuited that started to produce oscillating, synthesizer like sounds. He later created instruments for many prominent musicians and media companies. Circuit bending started to become increasingly popular in the late 90s between the sound art/design communities and many interesting circuit bend instruments/projects are being reborn every day from the long-forgotten devices.[1][3]

Interesting interview with Reed Ghazala: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHDL9iGxDPM

(Figure 2: One of Reed Ghazala’s circuit-bent instruments)

But why circuit bend? We could consider circuit bending as the art of creating an output the was not originally intended by the creators of the object. That means that with a little knowledge about electrical components and circuits one can revitalize a long-forgotten device and give it a new purpose. Either it’s a kids toy or an audio bible, picked at a market fare or found in an attic, a sound designer can achieve pretty impressive results just by changing a couple of capacitors or resistors, adding a couple of potentiometers, or just a jack so he can connect the modified device to the rest of his equipment. That creates a personalized instrument and of course, prevents the pile of forgotten circuits from ending up in a garbage dump, or a recycle center, slowly decomposing and impacting the effect on our environment long after it was disposed of.[2]

References:

[1]Ghazala, Reed (2005), Build Your Own Alien Instruments, Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

[2]Hodgson, Jason. (2017). Circuit-Bending: A Micro History Introduction to the topic of discussion.

[3]Wikipedia, 2020, Reed Ghazala, Last modified June 11, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reed_Ghazala

[4] 1753 Denis d’Or, 2020, http://www.electrospectivemusic.com/denis-dor/

[5] World’s First Electronic Instrument — From 1748, 2016, Last modified March 3, 2016, https://mmmmaven.com/tag/denis-dor/

Figure 1: https://mmmmaven.com/tag/denis-dor/

Figure 2: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/b4/1f/6e/b41f6e37ec2d43e1108b7c5a2bf2804e.jpg

Unnecessary digitalization of household appliances

The digitalization of our everyday life in the past couple of decades is a consequence of the massive technological development. While many “gadgets” that humanity invented make sense and do benefit our daily tasks, the desire to make every possible household item “smarter” is in my opinion completely unnecessary.

The Internet of things or “Smart household items” as the industry likes to call them started to appear at the break of the 20th and 21st century when internet technology was slowly getting more accessible to the wider public. The first internet-connected appliance was invented at Carnegie Mellon University, where they made a smart Coca Cola vending machine. It was able to report its inventory and whether newly loaded drinks were cold or not. The idea was born, improved, and spread around in the following decades. [3]

The Internet of things could be divided into consumer, commercial, industrial, and infrastructure technology. While I can understand the reason and the benefit of the internet of things in said categories, the consumer part presents more problems than benefits. But for some reason, the consumers would like to use the interconnectivity with every single thing that surrounds them, even if it doesn’t make any sense. And of course, where there’s demand there’s money and therefore more and more standard household items started to become “smarter”. The research shows that the number of household items that could be connected to the internet will drastically increase in the following years. [1]

(Figure 1: Each second 127 new devices connect to the internet) [2]

We have to realize that circuits/parts that enable connectivity include precious materials that and being excavated deep beneath the earth’s soil and are for the past couple of decades impacting our environment in the worst way possible.

We also have to ask ourselves if we really need all that, especially from the consumer perspective? Does your coffee machine need to have a built-in clock with timer functions? Does it have to be connected with your oven that can access hundreds of different recipes online? Do all of the shutters and lights in your house have to be connected in an app that enables you to control them wirelessly? The technology made us lazy and spoiled and it seems like we are prepared to sacrifice our planet for our own desire of ultimate comfort. [4]

References:

[1] 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.

[2] & Figure 1.: CPA Canada – Mathieu De Lajartre, 2019, Infographic: The Internet of Things (IoT) is a booming business, Last modified February 13, 2019, https://www.cpacanada.ca/en/news/world/2019-02-13-internet-of-things-infographic

[3] Wikipedia, 2020, Internet of Things, Last modified October 4, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_of_things

[4] PCMag, 2020, The Best Smart Home Devices for 2020, Last modified August 27, 2020, https://uk.pcmag.com/smart-home/85/the-best-smart-home-devices-for-2020

 

Plastiglomerate – The molten plastic cores of the anthropocene.

Plastiglomerate sample/ready-made collected by geologist Patricia Corcoran and sculptor Kelly Jazvac at Kamilo Beach, Hawai’i, 2012. Photo: Kelly Wood. Courtesy of the artist.  | SOURCE: https://www.e-flux.com/journal/78/82878/plastiglomerate/

Plastic is the material that is probably most representative of our single-use-throw-away culture. When we considering the amount of time that we actively use plastic (as an essential part of electronic devices or as something more simple like a plastic cup) compared to the hundreds of years it takes to decompose plastic, it becomes quite evident what is fundamentally wrong with the way we consume.

In his work Technofossils of the Athnorpocene Dr. Sy Taffel, senior lecturer at Massey University in New Zealand emphasizes: ” …the urgent need for a dramatic reorientation of the material infrastructures and practices of consumption that underpin twenty-first-century digital cultures.” [1]

How much plastic is becoming part of our future geology is visible in Plastiglomerates. Plastiglomerate, a term just recently coined, refers to polymers that are combined with other materials creating fragments with much greater density. Basically it is a stone made out of a mixture of natural stuff like sand or wood that is held together by a molten and hardened plastic core.

Patricia Corcoran, Charles Moore, and Kelly Jazvac, who discovered and named Plastiglomerates present a striking reminder of the long-lasting and damaging influence of human existence on our environment and a new symbol of the Anthropocene: “…this anthropogenically influenced material has great potential to form a marker horizon of human pollution, signaling the occurrence of the informal Anthropocene epoch.” [2]

————————————
[1] Sy Taffel: Technofossile of The Anthropocene. Cultural Politics, Volume 12, Issue 3, © 2016 Duke University Press, p.358
[2] Patricia L. Corcoran, Charles J. Moore, Kelly Jazvac: An anthropogenic marker horizon in the future rock record, https://www.geosociety.org/gsatoday/archive/24/6/article/i1052-5173-24-6-4.htm

The flip side of the media

The flip side of the media

Digital media is often thought to be that environmentally friendly option. After all, it saves huge amounts of information on paper, messages sent via the Internet, remote meetings, information in the web is fast, effortless and energy-saving. However, there is a huge production process behind digital media that is by no means unproblematic.

THE ORIGIN OF MEDIA

In the soil rests the seed of digital media from which it is converted into media in its many forms, global media networks and sophisticated media equipment through mining, chemical processes and a highly refined thermal control system.

The rock is removed by blasting and drilling metals and minerals that, as a result of numerous thermological and chemical processes, reach sufficient concentration, sufficient purity to guarantee media performance, speed of networks and equipment, and a more streamlined appearance of equipment. The functionality of data transmission and cloud services are maintained by means of advanced thermal regulation. A small deviation in temperature can lead to overheating and a network crash.

On our home computers, we look forward to the connection being restored. The blackout of the screen and the interruption of communications may seem like greater adversity and personal punishment. We are accustomed to seeing effective data transfer and access as a right around which much of our lives revolve. However, little has been discussed about the geological and thermodynamic system behind and maintaining seamless data transfer or its climate or social implications.

Both the history of communication and the present have been entirely dependent on metals, of which copper and silica are the most important. Copper and silicon are part of almost all modern media. All metal is bound to the aggregate from which it must be separated. The process requires huge amounts of heat, and only a small fraction of the huge amount of aggregate is clean enough to be used for media needs. Ten kilograms of copper are obtained from a ton of aggregate. The rest of the aggregate is rock waste. Contamination is a by-product of such a process. Surplus rock material is only one part of the waste generated by the process, in addition to the chemicals used, the rock dust generated in mining, the by-products of processing and the used electronic waste. [5]

Many of the raw materials used in electronic equipment come from mines in countries where it is difficult to safeguard fundamental human rights. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, mines owned by insurgents and various paramilitary forces have funded and fed wars that have killed more people than in any conflict since World War II.

Congo and its neighbouring countries account for a large proportion of the tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold used in electronic components. Without them, computers, tablets and cell phones would not work.

Larger-scale mining in particular has also led to significant environmental damage. [1]

Most of our electronic equipment are manufactured in factories whose working conditions do not meet internationally agreed minimum standards. Salaries are not enough to live on, trade unions are banned and many workers live in conditions comparable to slavery. [1]

The biggest environmental impacts of electronic equipment are energy consumption and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions, electronic waste, and the toxic chemicals and heavy metals used in the equipment.

The energy efficiency of the devices has improved but the need for energy is still on the rise as more and more energy is needed for digital media storage and data processing.

Tens of millions of tonnes of electronic waste are generated every year. From Europe, e.g. Nigeria and Ghana leave Europe with a lot of “reusable” equipment that ends up directly in a landfill. An estimated 5-13% of e-waste in the EU is exported illegally.

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. In addition, many of these substances, as well as the chemicals used in e-waste treatment, are very hazardous

and health, and respiratory diseases, for example, are common among waste 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. [1]

COPPER & CRIMES

According to Goldman Sachs, copper and nickel will be found in the soil for another 40 years. [2] The depletion of natural resources is changing the integrated culture, practices, economy, geopolitics and climate conditions of the digital age. [3] An extensive criminal network has already been built around copper. There are motorcycle gangs, individual criminals and organisations like the Italian mafia involved. Thieves, for example, can take church roofs and grounded copper cable along railways and cause considerable damage. The origin of copper is being eradicated and it is often exported to Europe, e.g. For melting in the Baltic countries or chartering e.g. To China. China is the world’s largest producer of copper, and due to China’s high demand for copper, the market price of copper has risen sharply. In Finland, thefts have taken place at construction sites and the roofs of buildings have been stolen. [4]

NUMBER OF COPPER THEFT FROM RAILWAYS IN 2010

Belgium ………… .717 cases

Germany ……… .over 1000 (Jan-Oct 2010). PRICE LABEL: 12-15 million

France ……… 300. Price tag: approx. 35 million euro

Italy …………… ..1341. PRICE LABEL: approx. 4 million euro.

Great Britain …… 2000 (2006-2010) PRICE LABEL: 42 million euro [4]

Italian anti-mafia prosecutor Aldo de Chiara specialices in environmental crimes. He has been investigating an illegal waste management business in Italy in the hands of the mafia. . The most famous and widespread case is called Operazione Nerone where criminals burned waste to get copper.

Aldo de Chiara: These people are reckless and unscrupulous because they know that the criminal activity they are doing is a danger to public health. It is therefore important to point out that burning wires does not just release substances that are harmful to health into the atmosphere, which can cause respiratory symptoms. Combustible landfills also contaminate agricultural land, causing significant damage to the environment. [4]

HEAT AND ENERGY MANAGEMENT

Heat management plays a key role throughout the media production process. The need for temperature control begins already in mining and aggregate processing. The aggregate undergoes innumerable thermological processes before it is a usable metal. A suitable temperature is essential in the manufacture of the devices. Data transfer and data archiving will not work if the temperature is not correct. The wrong temperature in the print media process causes problems with printing papers, printing plates, and printing inks. Preservation of photographs, prints, films, and paintings requires an appropriate temperature. Libraries, archives and digital storage facilities need a suitable temperature. The stock market will collapse if the digital network overheats. [5]

According to several sources, one google consumes as much electricity as a 60-watt light bulb that is on for 17 seconds. The servers are assembled into large data centres whose electricity consumption has been compared to small states, just to mention few examples of energy consumption.

The carbon footprint of digital media is an issue we need to focus on in the future.

[ 1 ]  https://eetti.fi/vastuullinentekniikka/

[ 2 ]  https://www.is.fi/taloussanomat/art-2000001870184.html

[ 3 ] https://www.sitra.fi/artikkelit/trendit-kamppailu-luonnonvaroista-kiihtyy/

[4]  Minna Knus-Galan /Punaisen kullan metsästäjät käsikirjoitus, YLE, MOT

[5] Nicole Starosielski, “Thermocultures of Geological Media,” Cultural Politics, Vol. 12 (3), Duke University Press, 2016: 293-309.

[ 6 ] https://www.karhuhelsinki.fi/blogi/internetin-ilmastouhkat-miten-kayttaa-nettia-ymparistoystavallisesti

“Digital Media” is All Material

The last paragraph of the article mentioned an example: “Exploring these entanglements reveals that we carry with us microelectronics devices that are not only hewn from African tungsten, South American copper, and Chinese rare earth elements but that contain the refined remnants of prehistoric life.[1]”

A study collects the information about where does 62 elecments of our phone come from. Top3 iron producers: China (44%), Australia (20%), Brazil (12%); Top3 Copper producers: Chile (30%), China (9%), Peru (8.5%); Top 3 Aluminum producers: China (50%), Russia (7%), Canada (5%); Top 3 Nickel producers: Philippines (21%), Russia (9.5%), Canada (9.5%); Top 3 rare earth producers: China (90-95%), Australia (3-9%), United States (~1-4%).[2]

fig.1 Where do rare earths come from? ( Image from https://www.maketecheasier.com/where-does-phone-come-from/)

It makes me think that when we use our cellphones; we are not simply using an object; we are using resources all around the world, which means that we are connected to globalized space. It also means that we are consuming resources generated in the past, which refers to our current life to geological time. All these happen physically, not digitally. We also need to think that if we are using resources generated in the past, the future generation also needs to use resources that are generated today. So potentially, what we are doing is influencing future life. In short, no one is isolated in time and space.

But considering we cannot change history and what we or our society already did, It is worth making more people realize. As a student who studies New Media, which is regarded as “digital media”, we must give up thinking that media is virtuality or immateriality. Instead, We must critically think about material culture in a globalized spatial scales and geological time scales.

About the final project of this course, I would like to make a project that demonstrates to people how material our “digital” media is, and also, how new “New Media” could be in the future context.

 

Reference

[1] Sy Taffel, Technofossile of The Anthropocene.

[2] Where does phone come from? https://www.maketecheasier.com/where-does-phone-come-from/

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

 

 

Outsourcing and Offshoring of Fabrication in the 21st Century

The terms outsourcing and offshoring are considered a thing of the modern era of humanity. They were introduced and put into practice together in the 20th century, due to the process of the globalisation. By the early 1980s, both terms are featured in a business lexicon and they become a very common practice in the fabrication of goods.

In the post WW2 era, a lot of companies started experiencing massive growth and the demand for their goods increased for a big percentage. While external providers were often able to provide the service quicker and more efficient, the heavy use of that practice only started towards the end of the 20th century, due to the massive communication, shipment and technology development. Working in other geographic locations, especially in developed countries where wages are lower, has become increasingly effective. This became known as offshoring. The practice called outsourcing however moves a part of the production into a foreign country – contracting work out to an external organization. [2]

Both practices have benefits and risks. Offshoring is useful as the production costs are usually much lower and done faster, while still retaining the quality of the products. Many criticise offshoring for transferring jobs to other countries, rather than employing the local people. That also introduces a geopolitical risk as the cultural and language differences are present.

Outsourcing on the other hand takes the advantage of specialized skills of foreign workers, lower costs and labour flexibility. But relying on third parties can for example introduce misaligned interests of clients and vendors, therefore the collaboration is not that efficient and beneficial.[3]

Many times both practices are combined and put to use together. This way the companies get the advantages of both of them. Sadly, often the environmental and fair labour issues are ignored, even though they are present. A big factor is a fact, that the third party managers don’t want to risk alienating their clients by raising issues of environmental responsibility and fair labour practices offshore.

The biggest environmental issue is of course pollution that is caused by fabrication. Outsourcing/offshoring transfers the problem to countries that already have a big pollution rate. The fabrication of outsourced goods and services contaminate the air, water, and soil, trigger deforestation and increases concerns about global warming. It also depletes labour and material pools and as a consequence endangers public health. [4]

Sadly, lower costs of fabrication lead to a higher, less regulated level of pollution. There are attempts from major companies to limit the effect that the two practices have on the environment, but it often takes them more than a decade to reach the desired level. But for many companies the profit is the most important thing, therefore they will pursue the most efficient way to increase their profits even if that goes against their true values. As George Bernard Shaw once said: “Lack of money is the root of all evil.” [1][5]

References:

[1] 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.

[2] Strange, Roger & Magnani, Giovanna. (2017). Outsourcing, Offshoring And The Global Factory. 10.4324/9781315667379-4.

[3] Diffen, Offshoring vs. Outsourcing, Last accessed September 27, 2020, https://www.diffen.com/difference/Offshoring_vs_Outsourcing

[4] Ecommerce Times, 2004, Environmental Impacts of Outsourcing, Last modified October 19, 2004, https://www.ecommercetimes.com/story/37421.html

[5] Xiaoyang Li & Yue M. Zhou, Strategic Management Journal, 2017, Offshoring Pollution while Offshoring Production?, 2310–2329

The Early Submarine Cables

After the first working telegraph was invented by William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone in 1839, the idea to connect North America and Europe with a transatlantic submarine cable was born. The desire to connect continents was always present, and after a decade of experiments and testings, the idea became reality.

The first successful attempt in the early 1850s connected Great Britain to the mainland Europe and laid the foundation for the first transatlantic telegraph cable in 1858 that connected Valentia Island in western Ireland to Heart’s Content in eastern Newfoundland, successfully reducing the communication time from 10 days to a matter of minutes. The first cable didn’t last very long but it was the first successful attempt of a long-distance communication cable. Until the 1870s a couple more cables were laid. The mentioned cables were much more durable and they allowed much quicker transmission than the first one. [1][2]

(Fig. 1: Laying the cables in the early 20th century)

Even though the first cables were laid in the middle of the 19th century, the environmental concern of the potential impact of cables on the marine environment is a much more recent question. During installation, maintenance and decommissioning phases many potential environmental effects can occur. Habitat disturbances, sediment resuspension, chemical pollution and underwater noise emission, while during the operation phase the changes in electromagnetic fields, heat emission, risk of entanglement, chemical pollution, and creation of artificial reef and reserve effects can all harm the environment.[3]

(Fig 2: Corals growing on one of the old cables)

In my opinion, we must acknowledge the potential environmental effects and try to avoid interfering with nature. I believe that we should try and leave the marine environment intact as much as we possibly can. Even though some of the old submarine cables are still working and could be used, they were abandoned because of their small capacity that wouldn’t be enough for heavy commercial use. The abandonment of said cables and the decision to just leave them at the bottom of the ocean possesses a threat to the environment and present irreversible damage to our environment.

Anze Bratus

References:

[1] Cookson, Gillian. (2006). Submarine Cables: Novelty and Innovation, 1850–1870. Transactions of the Newcomen Society. 76. 207-219.

[2] Wikipedia, 2020, Submarine Communications Cable, Last modified November 8, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Submarine_communications_cable

[3] & [Fig. 2] Bastien Taormina, Juan Bald, Andrew Want, Gérard Thouzeau, Morgane Lejart, Nicolas Desroy, Antoine Carlier (2018), A review of potential impacts of submarine power cables on the marine environment: Knowledge gaps, recommendations and future directions

[Fig. 1] LTE Magazine, 2018, Submarine cables from 1850 to present days, Last modified November 5, 2018, https://ltemagazine.com/submarine-cables-from-1850-to-present-days

Digital Media Exists Materially

Thermal manipulation is essential in transforming raw material into media and maintaining media work regularly[1]. When I saw the term “thermal manipulation” for the first time, I was at home with my air conditioner on, and I always appreciate the inventor of air conditioners. After reading the article, I realize that instead of designing for humans who are afraid of heat, it was designed to cool media printers and lithographers in the first place.

I feel surprised how complicated it can be only to maintain the media stable. When I use digital devices on a daily basis, I did not realize the complicated process behind them. Although those screens and devices seem harmless and green, digital media exists materially. It produces heat and makes up of a lot of materials. My former company has a sign next to a printer and papers: If you can send a document digitally, please do not use paper. But is digital documentation more environmentally friendly? We know that using too many papers can harm our forests, but digital communication, documentation, storage, also cause heat produce, waste of earth’s raw material. Which one is a more harmless way for us to do? From fig 1., we can see that electric consumption is increasing[2], so is it a worse way to use digital paper instead of physical?

If we print out a brunch of paper, we feel guilty because we can easily realize that we are wasting energy. But When we post on social media or send something to the “cloud”, we might not feel guilty at all, because what we did just clicking mouse or touch screen. But we actually transform the guilt or responsibility to other people who deal with the engineering, cables, and thermal manipulation[3].

[1]Starosielski, N., 2016. Thermocultures of Geological Media. Cultural Politics, 12(3), pp.293-309.

[2] Francisco Velásquez, Energy & The Internet – How Much Energy Does The Web Consume?https://www.dexma.com/blog-en/how-much-energy-does-the-web-consume/

[3]Andrew Blum, What Is The Internet, Really?

Sandpapering and viruses

Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method by Garnet Hertz and Jussi Parikka made me wonder, what if one doesn’t have a clue how to bend circuits, but still wants to meaningfully manipulate consumer electronics. How to do it without touching wires and boards?

I have two examples in mind that are surely not part of the circuit bending culture and also not converting waste into something usable. Their method is more destructive than constructive, yet they have similar reverse engineering and critical attitude to consumerism than circuit benders.

The Persistence of Chaos is an art project by Guo O Dong and cybersecurity company Deep Instinct. The object they created is a normal Samsung laptop where they installed six computer viruses: ILOVEYOU, MyDoom, SoBig, WannaCry, DarkTequila and BlackEnergy. These malwares have got a lot of media attention, because of the damage they have cost to different instances. Also Dong’s project got notified in media earlier this year, because it was sold in auction for $1.35 million. The virus laptop is now unusable non-functional object and as a sculpture serves different purpose than originally. One could say Dong destroyed it but on the other hand the laptop was from 2008, so in our current cycle it was already expired = waste.

An image of Dong's malwared laptop.

An image of Dong’s malwared laptop. (Taken from: https://thepersistenceofchaos.com/)

The second thing in my mind is perhaps on-going and untitled project by Ingrid Burrington. In her essay last year, Burrington describes that she is sandpapering and grinding an old iPhone at her studio. Slowly, meditatively. When Dong manipulated the software of the computer, Burrington focuses on the physicality. The images of her process show that the phone has partly transformed to dust and small pieces.

She explains:

“I’m slowly sanding this iPhone down into a pile of black and gray and glass fragments because I want to see if I can make it look more like the materials it’s actually made of.”

These projects are not circuit bending, but still an interesting way to convert waste electronics into something meaningful. Would be nice to find more like these.

Burrington's grinder and iPhone.

Burrington’s grinder and iPhone. (Taken from: https://thecreativeindependent.com/people/sand-in-the-gears/)

Dusted iPhone.

Dusted iPhone. (Taken from: https://thecreativeindependent.com/people/sand-in-the-gears/)

the (w)holi(e)ness of aesthetics

Sean Cubitts comment on aesthetics have been haunting me and it raised a lot of questions. Why did he want to turn to aesthetics and what is its relation to media and environment? He said that an aesthetics approach must consider both, the sustainability of material practice of media and a movement through communication as a means towards communication as goal. Also he mentioned that engineering and design in media industry are in demanding spiral of neoliberal growth.

Aesthetics are entangled in every scope of spectrum in human life. Markets in media industry are definitely aesthetics-driven.  In media the content and majority of media devices are filled with aesthetic experiences and are created as a response to the need of them. Aesthetics is a value which we all quite blindly follow. Our need to aesthetics is so valued that it seems like a human right. Commercial trends are based on aesthetics and can anyone honestly say that have made a decision based only, purely on sustainability in any case? That the aesthetics wouldnt affect at all to the choice of consume? Is good conscience an aesthetic experience? Can we forgo of our need to value aesthetics? And does it always mean ugliness of another?

climate change and reductions in biodiversity arise from industrial rhythms that are out of alignment with those of the earth, a media geology of plastic thus forms a critique of the unsustainable, and ultimately self-destructive, speeds of contemporary capitalism

Obviously we value efficiency and speed in practical way but could we think of rhythm and speed aesthetically? Is efficiency an aesthetic choice? What is ugly when it comes to speed? Can you affect on the aesthetics with art or design or is it subjectively unchangeable?

What are we willing to sacrifice in the altar of aesthetics as an artist, a designer or a consumer?

In search of the golden materiality coefficient…

Inside Nest Saturated

It is needless to say that we are a species obsessed with numbers. From school grades to business ROI, everything needs to measured then optimised. ”Data driven” mantras are everywhere as we are recorded every little mouse movement on any app or website. Using metrics and numbers is not inherently a bad thing but just focusing on one metric while missing the entire picture or having a bias in recording mechanics or not taking the time to actually analyse what numbers mean are the dangers to be watched out for. To be data informed not driven.

Internet of things or IoT exists in multiple forms going from absolutely ridiculous like a toothbrush with a high end live camera to the relatively successful IoT device: Nest Learning Thermostat created by the same person who created the iPod, who then sold Nest to Google for a very high amount of money. This thermostat markets itself as an energy saving device- ”Saving energy is a beautiful thing.” It can learn from how you use it and can program itself, not only that, it even encourages and shows you how to save more electricity. It also promises to reduce your electricity bill while saving the environment, sounds like a win win!

Apart from its expensive price of of around €220, we have to stop and ask about its own materiality, energy usage and cumulative carbon footprint. We have to start with the plastic casing then add up all the rare minerals needed to build the ICs to enable the smartness and on top of that it must consume some energy itself. So if we make a ratio of its own materiality to the amount of energy it can save from getting consumed, we can start have a good measure of things and can compare it with regular thermostats. But what about its life cycle and recyclability and how much will be end up as e-waste, how do we account for that? What is the impact on lives in the Global South? And as it is owned by Google, we have to talk about privacy or the lack of it, which the consumer is willing to sacrifice.

For the curious here are the numbers/stats I found about Nest Thermostat in USA[1]-

  • 99% paper and fiber-based packaging
  • PVC-free
  • Total GHG emissions over ten-year life cycle: 15 kg CO2e (74% in production, 2% in distribution, 23% customer use, 1% recycling)
  • Annual energy use estimate: 1 kWh/y
  • Materials used: 61g plastic, 15g steel, 11g battery, 11g electronics, 4g other metals (’electronics’ and ’other metals’ seems vague)
  • It says they use ”Ethical Sourcing” whatever that means [2]
  • Recycling is available but we know how that goes in reality

These numbers start giving us a better picture behind the magic energy saving marketing and start a better conversation. I understand it is hard to create metrics and coefficients which capture the full story but we need start somewhere. More research is needed here to move the IoT field in the right direction to use it for climate saving benefit and not just lazy human convenience. While on the subject, there are other numbers which need to be analysed in the equation like a possible carbon tax and ongoing carbon offsets, do they really help? If yes, how much?

References and further reads-

Title picture from- https://learn.sparkfun.com/tutorials/nest-thermostat-teardown-/all

[1] http://services.google.com/fh/files/misc/nestthermostatenorthamerica_productenvironmentreport.pdf?hl=en-US

[2] https://abc.xyz/investor/conflictminerals/

Detailed read about Nest thermostat- https://downloads.nest.com/press/documents/energy-savings-white-paper.pdf

The paradox of e-waste

As we dive further in to explore the obsolete media tech, the mass of the electronic waste is appalling. My first thoughts about the topic is questioning why we don’t have more efficient recycling methods for these items. Why haven’t we developed ways to utilize the rare minerals and valuable metals on circuit boards so that the polluting waste disposal wouldn’t have to take place? Turns out that there is plenty of advanced methods for re-using the materials. Not only is there usable methods, these methods may even be more profitable than traditional mining of these minerals – a new industry “e-waste mining” may emerge [1].

So why is the recycling of e-waste still so minimal? Even in Finland, that is among the best recyclers in Europe, only half of the waste is recycled and globally the estimations of the percentage of waste that ends up being recycled is about 20%  [2] [3]. In Finland the legal responsibility of the recycling is pinned to the manufacturers and importers of the electronics, which was somewhat surprising for me – I always thought recycling is organized by the cities or the state. Seems like this model of waste responsibility only applies to few industries – vehicles, newspapers and electronics [3]. This goes to explain why presumably the waste from Finland also ends up in places such as Ghana and India, smuggled in labelled as second hand electronics, to go around the local and EU implemented waste disposal legislations – the companies don’t have the same incentive of rectitude as public sector.

In India, one of the graveyards of e-waste, the e-waste recycling seems to be mostly in the hands if informal workers who extract the minerals by crude methods in primitive conditions [4]. The informal recycling is not supported by the state of India – the workers often operate at night to avoid police raids and recycling units often operate illegally due to the environmental impacts of informal extraction methods. Many of the workers are afraid of losing their income and participate in hiding the underground recycling industry from authorities. It seems like the whole e-waste chain operates mostly in darkness and is difficult to monitor by the state.

Initially I thought that the problem of e-waste disposal was technical – that we produced electronics that can’t be recycled. After reading more about the topic, it seems that the problem is mostly societal – the tech for recycling already exists. However it seems that for the companies responsible for the waste management it is cheaper to illegally dump electronics to third world countries and these countries are unable to control or monitor the actions of the companies. If the companies responsible of the recycling are in the industry of producing the tech product i doubt that they would have much interest in more advanced recycling methods. And as long as there are people living in extreme poverty there will always be workers willing to participate in keeping the e-dumping in secret and extract the valuable mineral in primitive methods with cheap labour costs harming both themselves and the environment, locally and globally. The topic of sustainability therefore can not be separated from discourse of human rights, poverty and global equality. 

To have some hope, I found an interesting initiative called “Sofies” that works on creating legal recycling sector in developing countries. On their site they say that by cooperating with the local authorities and introducing proper recycling tech among other methods “The environmental impact resulting from rudimentary practices has disappeared entirely.”  [5] As a joint study from Beijing’s Tsinghua University and Macquarie University, in Sydney [6] found that e-waste mining is 13 times less expensive than traditional mining, maybe the countries afflicted by e-waste can turn it into profit with the right resources. 

[1]https://www.bbc.com/news/business-44642176

[2]https://goodelectronics.org/e-waste-a-big-problem-needing-bigger-solutions/

[3] https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-9296700

[4] https://www.ymparisto.fi/fi-FI/Kulutus_ja_tuotanto/Jatteet_ja_jatehuolto/Jatehuollon_vastuut_ja_jarjestaminen

[5] http://theconversation.com/electronic-waste-is-recycled-in-appalling-conditions-in-india-110363

[6] https://sofiesgroup.com/en/projects/managing-e-waste-in-developing-countries-considered-a-global-issue-the-question-of-decent-and-responsible-recycling-of-electronic-waste-requires-filed-answers-to-integrate-an-informal-economy-in-a-f/ 

[7] https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.7b04909

The evolution of tech

Gabry’s text Rethinking sustainability, she highlights observing the internet of things thought its relationships to all other existing things “Relations necessarily give rise to things… “ “..how relations and things emerge together”.  This made me think about the similarities that evolution, animals and food chains have in common with tech “ecosystem”.

Tech and technical devices are all interconnected and evolve through paths of surprising clashes of different technologies such as computer, camera and phone coming together to a smartphone, and then creating a platform for something like Instagram that wouldn’t have not come to be unless all that tech was in one device. Or in a more linear way, single purpose tech is getting better and better at doing the original job – such as cameras that have served the same purpose for centuries now, but have evolved to the modern digital cameras with superior powers compared to the original ones. This could in evolutionary terms to be a metaphor for an organism that has specialized very well to a tight ecological niche, such as a tropical bird that has a beak shaped to be compatible with a specific flower. There is also these symbiotic tech evolution relationships – for example tech of memory cards evolving alongside the tech of camera. Or film, that became “extinct” when new digital cameras overtook the ecological niche of film cameras. 

The ecosystem of organism is a complex network of beings, all dependent on one another – closely or linked through several organisms. So is tech. Tech ecosystem consists of people, needs and tech living in this constant interaction changing each participant.  For example – without smartphone’s, Instagram might not have come to be, without Instagram the selfie culture would not have arisen, without the selfie culture the algorithms for all new weird image filters would not have been invented. So the evolution of tech is kind of chaotic and takes arbitrary paths. Usually the presumption has always been that tech evolves forward  taking humanity to the next level, but have we really defined what forward or this next level is, what are the end goals of the linear tech evolution? Faster tech, more sustainable tech? Or just tech that will suit the whatever needs people currently have, that may not be relevant at all a few decades later?  

Sewall Wright and other researchers in genetics and mathematics have used a model of evolution that presents organisms as a dot in a three dimensional scenery with hills of different heights. The different hills represent different evolutionary strategies, and higher the hill the dot representing an organism is, the better it’s changes of survival is. Hills are evolutionary “attractors”, that the current conditions favours the organism to evolve towards. Generation by generation the dots of the same species adapt better to their surroundings, their change of survival increases and they move higher up a hill until they reach the top and are as fully evolved to their surroundings as they can with this evolutionary strategy. Sometimes the hill that the dots have started “climbing” is lower than the other hills – in this case the organism is stuck with it’s evolutionary progress, as it can’t de-evolve and therefore can’t go back to a more neutral evolutionary state represented by a valley. In a valley the organism could start its’ progress to another evolutionary direction that might take it to a higher hill, making it more adapted to its surroundings than a lower one. As the environment keeps constantly changing and interconnectedness of the beings creates chaotic changes in the network, this scenery of hills and valleys is actually in a constant move, where hills and valleys keep emerging and collapsing. The evolutionary strategies that worked before may become obsolete and nothing ensures that the evolutionary strategy of today still works tomorrow. Although, the constantly changing scenery also gives the organisms more flexibility to change strategies, and adapt towards an alternative evolutionary strategy hill as new changes open up to the organisms stuck in hilltops. 

I feel this non-linear progress with constantly changing goals also represent the evolution of tech better that linear model of evolution. Before we competed of the best TV antenna solutions, now the needs have shifted towards the best internet connections for Netflix use. Best film has changed to best memory cards. List goes on. The chaotic aspect of the system is very much linked to the amount of connections and relations between the parts of it – when thinking of tech the IoT definitely adds on a layer of chaos linking the parts in completely new ways. The ecosystem of devices, people and needs is not just connected from a device to a person, there is now also a lot more parallel relations from device to device. With my play of thoughts comparing tech to evolution of organisms, the evolutionary scenery would change even more chaotically, as IoT would create completely new hills to the model. Completely new, unseen needs guiding the evolution of tech may emerge – and the needs that tech sets to tech may have a way bigger role than the needs people have for tech.  

More: Deep Simplicity, Chaos Complexity and the Emergence of Life, John Grippin (published 2004)

Collapse OS and other speculative scenarios

We are now aware of the environmental materialism behind our media. From rare earth material mining to plastics, from growing e-waste to warming data centres. But what now?

Let’s use some speculative fiction to try and paint future scenarios.

Scenario 1: We take drastic collective action NOW and stop mass production and development of technology and media. That means no new models of iPhone or Mac, we make best of what we already have and try to create new devices only through a better developed recycle process which minimises polluting in the process. This will have major economic impact on businesses like Samsung, Apple, also players which create semiconductors i.e. all fabs and factories and many more. Even other big tech media companies like Facebook, Amazon etc. will be heavily impacted and be slowly scaled down. But there can be some sort of government bail out and re-use of these companies and factories for other purposes like recycling centres. And also assuming this will be backed up with more creation and reliance on renewable energy. Then again, what happens to the consumer culture? Can people make peace with this for the greater good right now? Can we start going back to slower internet and not being ”connected” all times? All the engineers, designers and researchers working on the future tech, AI, blockchain, mars rovers and such immediately stop all their work. A lot jobs will fade away and will need to find a new direction. Media artists, musicians will have to redefine the future of their work. Sounds like a bit hard to swallow, doesn’t it?

Scenario 2: We keep going as we are, and make ”great progress”. Smarter internet of things, blockchain based everything, Bitcoin adoption, AI smarter than ever, sensors, AR, VR… you get the point. Some of these solutions can even help the case of improving environmental impact. But then again, earth’s resources are only limited and going to run out eventually. So around 2030-2050 the global supply chain collapses. It is impossible to produce new electronics and our systems which are heavily dependent on tech, also collapse. A Mad Max type of scenario begins and we start creating low tech devices from scavenged electronics. A lot of inspiration for this scenario comes from this project I found called Collapse OS. It is basically an operating system written for low end electronics which can work with all sorts of different input output and storage devices. ”…the goal of this project is to be as self-contained as possible. With a copy of this project, a capable and creative person should be able to manage to build and install Collapse OS without external resources (i.e. internet) on a machine of her design, built from scavenged parts with low-tech tools.” The project also has a why section which is definitely worth reading- https://collapseos.org/why.html

Scenario 3: Technology manages to save the environment and humankind. Lol, just kidding.

There a lot of details which I did not sketch out in these scenarios. What other scenarios can you think of?

The modern form of human

How Taffel in his text Technofossils of the Anthropocene describes the effects of the plastics in human body made me think of us as recording devices of our environmental conditions. In the same way that Parikka’s essay Anthopocene describes a new perspective to earth as a recording medium of human activity, the same can be applied to us. The story of our surroundings can then be read through medical examination of our bodies. 

The recording of minerals and plastics used in synthetic processes and items doesn’t just tell us about the information of the current health state of the person, but it can possibly even tell us a lot about where the person is from. For example, in this study it was found that Taiwanese had higher more mercury and cadmium levels than western populations (1). The heavy metals can also tell us if the person lives in an urban area or not (2). As shocking it is to think how much we are just part of the environment that we live in and therefore just as full of the agents causing problems in it, it is also fascinating thought that exposure can possibly leave us with a unique mix of chemicals that can be traced back to the events of our personal history. It is kind of like a constantly changing molecular fingerprint. 

Thinking of us as being that are mixed with our surrounding in this microscopic level, it could be interesting to lead this line of thought to even further, to our identity. Many of these chemicals affect to our mood, our thought processes and to how we experience ourselves as people. For example teflon has correlation to childhood obesity (3). Body image and the reactions that obesity has from the environment has a deep impact on one’s identity, how other people see them and who they grow to be as adults. Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs), Perchlorate, Bisphenol-A and phthalates contribute to the development of thyroid diseases (4), that have deep links to psychological well being and mood. Exposure to heavy metals has meen linked to autism, ADHD and ASD. All these illnesses and health problems may change vastly all aspects to imagine of one’s life – for example social life, social status, profession, education or political views. Illnesses are just the most visible and well documented cases of the effects that environmental chemicals have on us – who knows how much there might be undetected links to behaviour on us that aren’t severe enough to be classified as diseases? 

The exposure to chemicals may change our identity, how we act in the world and how we respond to the world around us. As we live in this constant interaction of the environmental effects of the use of technologies in all the industries needed for modern society, can we categorically be separated of the tech and it’s material outcomings? Or are we all, on some level “cyborgs”, as the technology used around us is in constant contact with us changing our bodies and therefore us on molecular level? 

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5435846/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4599656/.
  3. https://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2015/11/study-teflon-chemical-linked-childhood-obesity
  4. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/special-reports/introduction-update-psychiatric-effects-toxic-exposures.

What does “Made in Japan” mean?

In general, the meaning of Made in Japan is thought as very high quality. But Im wondering about what defines Made in Japan”. For example, TOYOTA, it is famous in all over the world as Made in Japan”, but these materials, technologies, labors who made it and something involved are maybe not only Japanese.

Toyota became a global company after started to export to the United States In 1957. This map shows that Toyota has 51 manufacturing entities around the world in  over 170 countries in December 2017. In the case of Europe, a general management company was set up in Belgium in 2005. More than 280,000 cars are produced in Turkey and more than 230,000 are produced in France.

In addition, as shown in the graph above, recently the number of production overseas has increased more than the domestic sales. (black box… overseas production, stripe box… domestic salesInterestingly, these manufacturing entities do not make the whole car, but only produce parts at a specific factory and assemble them at the production factory. For example, in Poland, engines and transmissions and in Canada, aluminum wheels are the main production.

There are over 360,000 Toyota employees worldwide, and about half of them are said to be foreign employees. In other words, nearly half of the workers are not in Japan. Ishii(2017) also proposed the need to ask the meaning of localizing workers at overseas bases. He think that the relationship with overseas workers is also problematic due to the high retire rate of local employees and dissatisfaction with promotion.

In this way, TOYOTA has been called Made in Japan”, but considering the production process, labors and other some aspects, we should rethink what is the  definition of Made in Japan. Is it a design? brand? or location of the head office?

 

References ;

Toyota Homepage; https://global.toyota/jp/detail/4063440 (9.10.2019 accessed)

Shinichi Ishii(2017) /Evolution of Toyota’s export and overseas production/ Management Research Vol. 64, No. 1 / http://dlisv03.media.osaka-cu.ac.jp/contents/osakacu/kiyo/DBa0640105.pdf(9.10.2019 accessed)

Shinichi Ishii(2017) /Product development and human localization in overseas development—A case analysis of Toyota Motor’s US development bases—/Journal of Japan Management Association Vol.38, pp.64-75, 2017/ https://www-jstage-jst-go-jp.anywhere.lib.kyushu-u.ac.jp/article/keieijournal/38/0/38_64/_pdf/-char/ja(9.10.2019 accessed)

 

Aesthetics of Human Life

Sean Cubitt ends the chapter ’Ecologies of Fabrication’ with saying ”It is not only because both economics and politics have failed to create sustainable ways of life, or even to address them, that we need to turn to aesthetics.”

Us humans lust over money, it somehow correlates to power and happiness. Basically since birth we are brainwashed towards running after ”success”, have the best phones, cars, homes, yachts and what not. Movies, TV shows, advertisements and all mass media are a cultural brainwash to what are the best aesthetics of human life and we reward the ”celebrities” and billionaires with god status. The global north is good aesthetics while global south is bad and similarly cognition labor good aesthetics while physical labor bad. The latter in both cases strives to rise to the former while former makes sure they stay at the top. Politicians are the gatekeepers, trying to please them both through corruption and lies. And in this power battle, the strive towards sustainable media gets lost…

Are these systems of aesthetics, call it capitalism if you will, in grain to humans? Are we as a species bound to colonise the ”weaker” society? Of course throughout history there have been voices of resistance be it individual or a collective. How do we go about changing the aesthetics of human life?

Will reading on your screen save the planet?

Lately, when I’ve suggested to others that we should print posters to promote an event or for spreading information, they have replied “but should we really waste paper and ink like that? Can’t we just market this via social media channels?”  This question baffles me for several reasons. Here’s a few:

1. Information and marketing through social media is only accessed by people who use those channels. Algorithms used by e.g. Facebook or Instagram will limit the spreading even further, since the content will only be shown to people who the algorithm “believes” have an interest in that particular post.

2. If all political/artistic/activist/non-commercial content is moved to social media and the internet, commercial forces will dominate the physical visual space through advertisement. This shift has already taken place, to a large extent. Public art is, once more, questioned by politicians and twitter celebrities. An example is Swedish municipality Sölvesborg, where nationalist party Sweden Democrats, in coalition with two conservative parties, are in power. They have now made an official statement that they will “cut down on the purchases of “challenging contemporary art” in favour of timeless, classical art that “will appeal to the vast majority of citizens”, according to municipal commisioner Louise Erixon (my translation). The example they use for unwanted, challenging art is graphic artist Liv Strömqvist’s drawings of menstruating women, that were showcased as public art in the Stockholm metro system [2]. This statement has sparked a huge, nation wide debate about public art and its purpose, but the debate about advertisement in public space is still missing. If the “menstruation art” had been exchanged for a screen with commercial messages, no politician or citizen would have written lengthy texts about it, because it has been normalised.

Photo of Liv Strömqvists “menstrual art” in the metro station Slussen, Stockholm. Credit: argaclara.com

3. Is reading on a screen instead of paper really better for the environment?  Sean Cubitt urges us in Ecologies of Fabrication to use the term ecomedia, writing: ‘the study of the intermediation of everything, cannot rest on individuality but must work on the level of community, communication and communion’ (p.166). This poses an interesting challenge on evaluating the use of screens – assessments on reading on a screen vs paper on an individual level have been done and points partly in favour of the screen, but does that mean it’s sustainable for everyone to have their own personal smart device in order to look at art, find events to go to, look at maps, talk to friends, read the newspaper, etc? Ecomedia isn’t part of the tool kit when a life cycle assessment is done for a product*.

The discussion on print vs screen needs to take into account the wider scope of production and energy usage on a global scale, the use of public space and the physical vs the virtual.

* https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eiar.2009.07.001

Purity

While reading Thermocultures of Geological Media, I was attracted towards how Starosielski approached the subject of purity, using it as a reflection or metaphor for the concept of purity in human culture, and how human culture often desires that which is pure: “In the case of copper and quartz extraction, strategies of thermal manipulation are governed by a cultural imperative to achieve ‘purity.’” [1]

Starosielski continues on the subject of purity and its relation to pollution: “the definition of purity—the designation of one set of phenomena as clean (in this case, the copper or silicon communications circuit)—is integrally tied to the production of pollution.”[1]

These sections made me think about our cultural relationship with pollution. Pollution is often characterised as a concept in which humans have dirtied a clean, pure, green and natural world. Is it that the concept of pollution ties into the human cultural concept of purity? 

It seems that as the population becomes increasingly urban and separated from the natural world, we further lose cultural ties to the earth. Nostalgia for times of simplicity, agrarian tranquility, and  being at one with the nature is common. Is it that we see the earth as having human-like qualities? Do we miss our human connection with “mother earth”?  

There are many anthropomorphic representations of earth in mythology, with many earth goddesses existing throughout history suggesting a long and fruitful relationship between humans and the earth. These goddesses are commonly represented as a female, (as the suffix suggests), and as motherly figures. The fact that earth is commonly represented as female, and a mother is an interesting one, and joins with feminine tropes such as purity and innocence, and of care-giving as seen for example in the virgin mother, Mary, of christian tradition, a figure with a large influence on western culture. 

A painting of Gaia, the greek earth goddess [2]

“The passionate moral principles of the 1960s were turned in the 1970s to attack monstrous technological developments which endangered us. We became afraid of contamination of the air, water, oceans and food… …We showed that risk perception depends on shared culture, not on individual psychology. Dangers are manifold and omnipresent… …Arguments about risk are highly charged, morally and politically. Naming a risk amounts to an accusation. “[3]

The last part of that quote, about risk being an accusation, is something I think quite relevant in modern discourse on the topic of climate change and pollution and so on. The risk associated with it for our species, when raised, does often amount to an accusation, and that is an uncomfortable feeling to deal with. I wonder if the uncomfortable feeling not only comes from the feeling of risking the lives of others, but also towards the cultural vision of permanently hurting, or changing, the innocence and purity of our “mother”.

[1] Thermocultures of Geological Media – Nicole Starosielski

[2] Gaea (1875) – Anselm Feuerbach

[3] Purity and Danger –  Mary Douglas

”We imagine going to the moon and planting a flag, going to an asteroid and mining, going to Mars and setting up a colony. And I think that expansionist mentality is very self-destructive, especially given the kind of precarious relationship we now have to the ecosystem here on Earth, because it allows us to imagine that Earth is disposable.”
– Trevor Paglen

Original painting ‘Freedom from want’ by Norman Rockwell.

Data centers as heaters

(…) in large data centers, enormous cooling mechanisms are required to maintain the optimal temperature and ensure the stability of the computer’s operation.

Because data centers needs cooling, as Nicole Starosielski mentions in the text, colder Nordic countries are good places to build data centers. Google just announced recently that it will invest a lot more to its data center in Hamina. This is good news for Finland who desires new data centers. Finland is not only looking for jobs that major investments create, but also wants the heat data centers inherently produce.

Finland has decided to stop burning coal by the year 2030. That’s why cities are in a hurry to renovate their heat and power generation.

Espoo is a good example. It has a large combined heat and power plant in Suomenoja that still burns coal. Last week Espoo announced that it will close its coal burning units entirely in five years. Here is the road map they have planned to become coal neutral Espoo.

Espoo district heating transformation plan

You can see that coal units are planned to close in 2020 and 2025 and data centers to open in 2022 and 2024. Using data centers as heat sources in cities’ district heating is not a new thing, but the plan is to build and connect more in the future. This works in a way that the hot air from data centers is channeled into underground pipes of district heating to warm water that then warms the city.

In September, City Board of Espoo decided to reserve a lot in Northern Espoo for energy company Fortum that wants to build a big data center there. All the excess heat from that data center would go into Espoo’s district heating. Many homes that now is heated by coal would then be warmed by data usage. It’s interesting how media infrastructure (data center) would be strictly connected to our basic infrastructure (heating homes). Data in this scenario is almost like a piece of firewood that keeps our flats warm.

I find this plan also interesting, because data centers use a lot of energy, but are still seen as green choice. I suppose the idea behind this is that getting green heat is harder than green power, so data centers could run entirely with renowable and nuclear power and then produce clean excess heat.

The Equality of the Internet Access

It’s very clear that the environmental and human costs of manufacturing infrastructure, electronics and other tangible material needed for producing media are not fairly distributed between the countries and the people from different income levels. However the current unfair situation is ironically maintained by the limited access that the workers on the beginning of the production chains have to the very thing that they help to produce – media, especially the internet. 

Limited access to to internet doesn’t just cause inequality in developing countries, but also in the poorer areas in western countries such as US. And as so often with societal problems, the limited internet access seem to be a problem especially to minority groups and women. The issues that prevent people from getting online are caused by bad infrastructure such as unreliable or unaccessible electricity or internet connection, expensive devices and data costs (often to do with service providers being able to operate with no much competition) and inability to use the devices. There is also issues with language skills and illiteracy. 

To illustrate the problem, here are some interesting numbers about the internet access: 

  • 4.2 billion people globally don’t have full access to internet (half of these people are in India and China
  • Number of Americans who don’t ever use internet: black 20% white 13%, hispanic 17%,
  • Men are on average 33.5% more likely to have internet access than women

Limited access to online hampers people’s access to education and information. This among other obvious problems prevents people from understanding of the political and societal system they live within and affects their abilities to join the political discourse or have political influence. Inability to get online limits people’s ability to organise and create coalitions – such as worker’s unions. As the societal conversations and unofficial political influence happens largely on digital platforms the voice and viewpoint of people with no online access is not presented. 

The enterprises operating globally often change their whole manufacturing lines to a completely different country when facing demands from the workers. As the developing countries often are very dependent on the money and work the huge corporations offer the corporations have immense power over these countries and their legislation. Even hypothetically thinking it seems impossible that the act to improve the working conditions would succeed without global movement and coalition between workers across borders in developing countries. And for international communication and organisation internet is crucial.   

Access to internet also supports local business. Many traditionally “white collar” jobs can now be done completely online and people from all over the world can now compete from the corporate jobs in the fields of developing, social media marketing and design to name a few. Everyone can access the jobs in western countries with higher income levels. Local businesses in developing world also benefit from the ability to reach global markets with low costs using eCommerence. Internet enables developing countries to grow the well needed small and medium size local businesses that gives sovereignty from the demands of global corporations. Internet offers pathways to transfer wealth back to the countries whose cheap labour costs have enabled the accumulation of capita in the west. 

More:

Floating Clouds

We have gone from AFK/BRB culture to being always online. Being in privileged places, we are getting used to high quality fast streaming of video and music, uploading and viewing content on the phone as we go and getting annoyed with even a 3 seconds of delay or lag. The gaming industry is also moving towards being stream based. And all workspaces are also moving all their work databases and documents to live on the cloud. Which means our banking, health and all big sectors depend on it. Underprivileged countries are also getting rapid access to 4G and cheaper smartphones. 5G is just around the corner and ”some experts predict that 5G will offer up to 600x times faster internet speeds compared to 4G.”[1] That will have insane repercussions on how we consume digital services.

The word ’cloud’ has a light connotation to it, it puts a picture of a breeze in our heads and it seems all this data is just calmly floating around. But these floating clouds are really big data centres with giant wires and computers connected together running on extremely high amounts of electricity, which need a lot of cooling and air-conditioned to not get overheated. ”Data centres globally consume more than 400 terawatt hours of electricity each year, which equals approximately two percent of the worldwide energy consumption.”[2] Why this is really important to think about is that these numbers are only going to increase with time. Our phones and devices get more and more high definition, there are new apps which are set into youth culture like TikTok and Fortnite, Bitcoin itself is using up more electricity than some countries combined, I already mentioned 5G… seems there is no going back.

But there is some hope as well. Since 2016, there has been a positive trend in some of these data centres(for example the ones by Google and Facebook) to reduce the carbon footprint. Strategies include using 100% renewable energy to power the centre, using piped water instead of air-conditioning to prevent heating, coming up with innovative hardware and software strategies for power usage optimisations(these optimisations have already found techniques reducing emissions by 25%[3]). There is also a trend to move data centres to cold countries like Finland. And more interesting strategies in cold countries to capture this heat and use it to heat neighbourhood area houses. Yet these green data centres are still in minority, new centres are being planned in Asia which do not take these into accounts, there is room for a lot for optimisations and efficiency increase. We desperately need shared knowledge and strict regulation for these data centres worldwide and try to curb their thermaculture as much and as soon as possible!

Consumers need to start thinking and discussing about their personal data storage and usage hygiene as well.

References and further reads-

[1] https://thenextweb.com/podium/2019/09/28/5g-sounds-great-but-we-must-ensure-it-wont-ruin-internet-equality/

[2] https://www.telia.fi/business/article/data-centres-are-a-forgotten-source-of-emissions

[3] https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-06610-y

https://e360.yale.edu/features/energy-hogs-can-huge-data-centers-be-made-more-efficient

 

Heating the outdoors for a cooler indoors

In Thermocultures, Nicole Stariosielski mentions that engineer Willis Carrier invented the air conditioner in 1902 to solve a production problem at a printing plant in New York, which paved the way for dramatic changes in temperature regulation in all industries and many homes world wide.

This made me think of the times I’ve been in the USA and how insane their air conditioning culture is to me. Every home seems to have AC and it is, with almost no exception, put to a very low indoor temperature in relation to the outdoor one – the average indoor temperature in the US is (according to a few dictionaries) 20-22 degrees Celsius, which would make sense in winter and in Northern states, but demands extensive air conditioning in summer and in Southern states. The US consumes more energy each year for AC than the rest of the world combined. The total amount of electricity used by this one nation is more than the entire continent of Africa consumes for all purposes.
When I spent a few weeks on the East coast, most of the time I had to turn the indoor temperature up to prevent developing a cold or freezing during the night. The abrupt change in temperature when walking on a street and into a store felt extremely uncomfortable – especially when cold air was blown directly at you at the entrance, apparently to attract customers who want to escape the heat. I rarely found it unbearably hot outside, with temperatures in Florida ranging from 23-33 degrees C in August. To me this cold indoor climate seemed to be enforced by culture rather than necessity – I would love it if it was 25 degrees indoors and not 18 as is often the case during Nordic winters. This cultural phenomenon, born out of a need to stabilise production of printed media, is reinforced by the construction of the healthy indoor environment – clean, hygienic and cool. It corresponds well with Stariosielski’s explanation of “pure” materials and the quest to keep computer systems in a binary state through the right amount of impurification of silicon. Outdoor and indoor environments are to be kept in the same binary divisions – nothing from the outdoors is to come inside. I can hear my father’s voice when I stumbled in to the hallway during summer with feet all sandy from the beach, shouting “out and get that dirt off you”. In the same sense, people find it funny if you want to sleep outside but in an urban environment. Why would you choose that when you can have the comforts of a bed, a kitchen and a bathroom? But if one goes on a hiking trip far from the city, it’s considered completely normal, since you are in the “outdoors”.

In that sense, the AC of American homes, stores and offices symbolise this change from being in the uncomfortable, dirty, wild outdoors to the clean, comfortable indoors where temperatures are always kept at a constant. I guess that AC also provokes me since I grew up in a cold country, where heat is celebrated for the few weeks that it actually arrives, but where we use up extensive amounts of energy to heat our houses during winter season, something I would never question. Cool indoor temperature is seen as a luxury to Americans and many others, but as a norm to me, although lately I’ve noticed a change in attitude in the Nordics. Perhaps due to hotter summers in recent years, many people have bought AC for their homes lately. The extreme heat in the summer of 2018 caused a consumer’s rush for fans, resulting in fans being completely sold out in stores and second hand prices going through the roof. Ironically, the search for cooler air will have the opposite effect long term. Researchers at Arizona State University found that the excess heat from air conditioners at night time resulted in higher outside temperatures in urban locations with changes up to 1 degree Celsius (almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit for our American readers). This, in turn, would cause people to turn their AC:s to even lower temperatures, creating even more excess heat, and so on in a vicious cycle.

Read more:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/oct/26/how-america-became-addicted-to-air-conditioning

https://asunow.asu.edu/content/excess-heat-air-conditioners-causes-higher-nighttime-temperatures

https://e360.yale.edu/features/cooling_a_warming_planet_a_global_air_conditioning_surge

gettin’ heated up here (a collection of links)

I want to first share this VICE piece on Apple’s AirPods. It not only analyses them from the Anthropocene perspective but also from design, cultural and social aspects- https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/neaz3d/airpods-are-a-tragedy

Next up is Ecograder, a service which takes any website URL and gives it a score of how the website is doing in terms of environmental  impact. I put that VICE link in there and got this-

Yeah lots of small dev tasks can help optimise the website’s footprint. But the most interesting  one to think about is Green Hosting- https://www.mightybytes.com/blog/green-web-hosting/

Then this little piece on Pitchfork, pointing out how music streaming is harmful to the environment than the old school plastic production practices for CDs and vinyls- https://pitchfork.com/news/emissions-from-music-consumption-reach-unprecedented-high-study-shows/ 

I wonder what’s the carbon footprint of one instagram story?

 

Thermocultures: The deification of man

The reason behind the design of processes and methods that use thermal conditioning may arise from the human collective and archetypes– which by themselves originate from the human aesthetic. The stories passed down by our grandmothers, churches, temples and fantasy books.

Our devices today let us do the very things that were considered miracles– speed, perfection, homogeneity are all deific properties, not necessary but “nice to have”. The human aesthetic towards achieving God-like capabilities may very well be the underpinnings of thermo-cultures.

Here is a comparison of a picture of a contemporary open mine next to Boticelli’s The Abyss of Hell painted in 1480 AD.

What’s really obscene?

A metaphysical approach to understanding the state of the Anthropocene would involve questioning how (and why) must one analyze or delve into earth’s epoch saga: What is the position that one assumes specifically while approaching an understanding of this subject? Is one the pawn in the game, or an observer? In the scale of deep time, the life of a human is but a little scintillation. It is the through media cultures (however rudimentary), collective knowledge and the altruistic (survivalist?) wisdom that this landscape of scintillations has turned into the big, bright and blinding mushroom cloud that we now term the Anthropocene.

Anthroposcope

A growing interest in the vestiges of media culture and its effects on our planet is indeed encouraging, but it is counterintuitive to approach it with an Anthroposcopic vision. Is a human being– the very basis of the etymology of the term Anthropo(obs)cene, an ideal candidate to analyze this condition? What are the affordances in the perception of time and scale that affect the human standpoint?

One can imagine how it is difficult (though not impossible) for a human to objectively observe the human condition. On the chessboard, a pawn sees immediate dangers to its survival and through simple mathematical induction, is able to anticipate the effect its situation will have on itself and its fellow pawns. Interestingly though, this is a decidedly narrow view that focuses on winning and survival of the species (or the side in the chess game analogy).

Anthropos – having to do with humans. Humans– an organism that has naturally evolved on the planet and undoubtedly, a part of nature (in a Deleuzian sense). The activity through which this organism has affected the earth is also a part of nature: the destruction of the green along with the construction of the grey goes hand-in-hand with the grey mass in the human brain and its consequential intellect. Is the excess of grey metaphors the Darwinian limiter of our species?

It is interesting to ponder where it will go, but rather anthropocentric to worry about it! What’s really amusing is our dependence on media infrastructure to even discuss, analyze and educate our opinions on it– all because of how much human survival depends upon it. To call the anthropocene the Anthrobscene then becomes almost a self-elevating exercise– knowing ones’ shortcomings somehow absolves the shortcoming itself.

The massive control system that is the planet earth runs multiple processes (climate, water, soil, etc.) and is in itself a part of an even bigger control system – the Solar system. These systems vary not only in terms of physical scale but also on the scale of time. At which point in these systems do we place ourselves such that the dreadful ontology of using media culture to talk about the affectations of media culture doesn’t contribute to the obscenity of the so-called Anthrobscene?

Is this an altruistic (but ultimately anthropocentric) exercise in redeeming our species or is it rather an outcome of the collective messianic tendencies of the enlightened (educated) cream?

The Toaster Project

In Anthrobscene, Jussi Parikka mentions financial analyst Jay Goldberg, who encountered tablets worth 45 dollars in his work trip to China and was shocked how cheap they were.

I thought the screen alone would cost more than $45.
No one can make money selling hardware anymore.

This reminded me of The Toaster Project by designer Thomas Thwaites. It started in a similar way, seeing a new electronic appliance that is so cheap that you get mesmerized, how manufacturing this is even possible.

In Thwaites’ case it was a basic toaster that cost £3.99 in Argos.

Argos Catalog

Argos catalog around the time when The Toaster Project started. (http://www.45spaces.com/catalogues/r.php?r=spring-summer-2009)

Thwaites decided to make one himself from the beginning. He wondered: How the hell do some rocks became a toaster?

Thwaites started a journey, “faintly ridiculous quest” as he describes it, to dig up and manufacture the materials he needed to build a toaster: copper, iron, mica, nickel and plastic. He ended up spending 9 months and more than 1000 pounds for building a crappy and ugly toaster that barely works.

The Toaster Project

A finished toaster by Thomas Thwaites. Photo by Daniel Alexander (thomasthwaites.com)

But making a good or functional or pretty toaster, of course, was not the point of the project. He explains he wanted to explore large processes hidden behind mundane everyday objects, and to connect these with the ground they’re made from. This is why I think it is a suitable project to mention in the context of Jussi Parikka’s Anthrobscene.

I’m interested in the economies of scale in modern industry, the incremental progression of science and technology, and exploring the ever-widening gulf between general knowledge and the specialisms that make the modern world possible. – Thwaites

Rebuilding a smart phone or other contemporary media device from scratch in the spirit of Thwaites would be an interesting critical new media design project. Though, it needs a bit more digging, traveling and studying as you can see from this recent infographics showing periodic table and how many elements are included in cellphones.

Businessweek graphics

Boomberg Businessweek mazagine 2.9.2019, screencapture from e-magazine. (aalto.finna.fi/Record/nelli32.954927526764)

References:

Thwaites, Thomas. Toaster Project : Or a Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance from Scratch, Princeton Architectural Press, 2011. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/aalto-ebooks/detail.action?docID=3387548.

Thwaites, Thomas. Homepage. 2019.
https://www.thomasthwaites.com/the-toaster-project/

Personal glance into the Anthropocene

Coming from an engineering and tech background, I saw Moore’s law in the community as a necessary direction forward. Always increasing the “performance” and making it work faster and doubling those transistors on the ICs. Even though we hold our phones tight in our hands, feeling the physical touch, yet what we gaze into are the lights creating interfaces in our minds. Oblivious to the processes behind creating these phones and all the ”groundbreaking” features- enabled by each little transistor. By the way, I googled “how many transistors in iPhone 11 pro” and a TechCrunch article told me there are 8.5 billion. We just get obsessed when the new one comes out with ”amazing” features and forget about what’s going to happen to the existing one. And also oblivious to the emissions made by these “cloud” data storages, which enable the interfaces and services to work.

I have studied basic geology in high school but never connected it with media or see earth as a recording instrument of our ages as well and not just the prehistoric. Anthrobscene made me rethink the relation of media to earth’s geology, forcing me to see beyond the outer surface and leaving behind the industrial design/engineer nerd love and the capitalist brainwashing. And also seeing the relation of art to geology in a new light. I have been well aware of pop design culture notions of Circular Economy but reading through the perspective of Anthropocene makes the topic more understandable in deeper sense with a reality check and poetry of feeling earth’s pain. Specially given the landscape right now in 2019.

Anthropocene connects our social structures with earth’s ecologies. Colonialism naturally makes a big impact. And so do we, with our old devices stashed away in drawers till disposed at the wrong place. But what do we do then? Accept the mass exaction as imminent doom? Enjoy while it lasts? Leave behind the Plasticene? Let the deep time and nonhuman earth time do its course? Or somehow find back the “alchemy” way of doing things.

I promise my next phone will be a Fairphone… so what does that mean for the Anthropocene?

 

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.

An Increasing Need of Electricity and a Decrease of Biodiversity

I got interested to study a bit more about the idea that birds’ magnetic compass orientation would get disrupted by electromagnetic noise. There has been a debate on does electric and magnetic fields affect biological processes and human health and when the article was written, in 2014 there hadn’t been any scientifically proven effects.

Svenja Engels, Nils-Lasse Schneider, Nele Lefeldt, Christine Maira Hein, Manuela Zapka, Andreas Michalik, Dana Elbers, Achim Kittel, P. J. Hore & Henrik Mouritsen performed controlled experiments in the University of Oldenburg and found out that European robins lose their ability to use the Earths’ magnetic field when exposed to low-level AM electromagnetic noise between around 20 kHz and 20 MHz, the kind of noise routinely generated by consumer electrical and electronic equipment. The birds gained the ability back to orient to the Earths’ magnetic field when they were shielded from electromagnetic noise in the frequency range from 2kHz to 5 MHz or tested in a rural setting.

I found a European Commissions’ Guidance for Energy Transmission Infrastructure from 2018. This is only a guidance in a sense that I am not sure if these are actually taken into account when making decisions about energy infrastructure. What I found interesting in this guidance is that they address that biodiversity is an important element and nature provides important socio-economic benefits to society. It seems that they have a very agricultural, anthropocentric view on nature even though this guidance is made to protect endangered species.

In the guidance for energy transmission infrastructure projects the listed impacts are through clearance of land and the removal of surface vegetation: the existing habitats may be altered, damaged, fragmented or destroyed and the indirect effects could be much more widespread especially when projects interfere with water and soil quality. Also when building the site there will be increased traffic, presence of people, noise, dust, pollution, artificial lighting and vibration and the risks of collision with power cables.

Electrocution can have a major impact on several bird species, and causing the death of thousands of birds annually.

source: https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/planning-can-help-prevent-renewable-energy-surge-harming-wildlife

There is a strong consensus that the risk posed to birds depends on the technical construction and detailed design of power facilities. In particular, electrocution risk is high with “badly engineered” medium voltage power poles (“killer poles”) (BirdLife International, 2007).

By acknowledging the loss of thousands of birds annually because of the energy infrastructure can we say that they are part of energy infrastructure?

source:http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/natura2000/management/docs/Energy%20guidance%20and%20EU%20Nature%20legislation.pdf

AI, a consumer product not free of the sins of capitalism

The article “Anatomy of an AI System” by Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler delves deeply in the more unknown, physical and resource hungry side of creating the AI products and services. They talk a lot about the labour and ecological costs that goes into creating a single product, like Amazon Echo.

It’s easy to agree with the most blatant exploitation in the mines and factories being unethical. However when we talk about the intellectual property it’s more difficult to see the exploitation as clearly. I’m sure we all feel uncomfortable of our personal info being collected. But harnessing the mass of online text and image output I’ve also contributed but what can’t be connected to me doesn’t make me feel exploited. Although I must admit, a relevant question is does this type of data exist at all or is all data collected in processes where it can be tracked back to me. I not feeling particularly exploited is also due to the fact that Google and Facebook offer their services free. As the process of the information harnessing is hidden I just tend to see a free and functional product as a representation of the company. Although the distribution of profits is clearly unfair and skewed and unfair I think the free services provided can operate as a type of distribution of wealth. Access to daily digital tools is definitely something that should be considered when we think about evening out the gap of possibilities in life.

When it comes to the profits only going to the hands of few the article, to my opinion, makes it seem like the phenomenon would be particularly connected to AI. I feel like the skewed distribution of wealth and exploitation of natural resources is more a problem caused by all businesses.  Having the fairly easy possibility to hid money in tax havens and operating in countries with weak workers rights and weak currencies is too tempting to any company that operates in global scale. Why would AI and tech industries be any different? Although in internet tech industries there is especially few global players and giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon have an upper hand in developing AI and therefore controlling its use. Whatever possibilities a normal consumer had for making a political impact by selecting ethical companies over unethical ones they lack in web tech. But would people really move to more ethical Facebook if one appeared to the markets?

Lost & Not Found

Technology is everywhere, existing even in remote locations—especially outdated, abandoned devices. Broken and forlorn in ditches, they can be observed while hiking or picking berries or mushrooms, computer cases and storage devices are trashed amidst heavy home appliances.
In Introduction: The Materiality of Media and Waste, Jussi Parikka writes “…media are of nature, and return to nature”. This describes the intertwining of the processes and dependecies of materials and meanings. But media, once digested, processed and abandoned by humans, does not return to the nature to be a part of the nitrogen cycle. The contents of a broken DVD do not nourish the shrubs and moss that surround it.

Depending on the materials, it will take anywhere between hundreds to thousands or even millions of years for objects to decompose in the nature. Recycling solutions that would break up the materials of an object and reassemble them into new objects are unrealistic in a cultural system that is peculiar about the material qualities of said objects. Even if such a recycling solution existed, there would still be a part of the materials that could not be re-used. Additionally, the machinery used to break up and rearrange the materials requires energy—and thus resources. Despite this, we are accustomed to welcome new objects into a world already filled with objects, and continue conjuring relatively useless objects into the world in the hopes of finding new meanings or marginal profits.

The information on a packaging of any food item informs the consumer the food’s country of origin. The information printed in the casing of a smartphone only tells us where it was assembled: there’s no telling where the oil or minerals or the energy used on the assembly line originated from, and we really don’t care as it seemingly doesn’t affect the qualities of said device. But the material plane and the media infrastructures aren’t separate—what were the effects of tsunamis in Thailand for the international hard drive availability and sales (and the decisions to invest or not to invest on new storage space)? What are the effects of discarding a bunch of new graphics cards (that have been used for mining cryptocurrencies requiring heavy processing power)?

Currently in Amos Rex, works by Amsterdam-based collective Studio Drift are being exhibited: the ongoing project Materialism presents dissections of various everyday objects—such as a plastic bottle, a car or a mobile phone—as cubic compositions or assortments. On their website, Studio Drift describes their project: “…civilization has introduced millions of new ‘artificial species’ through the ecosystems of commerce, objects that support our pleasant, contemporary existence and contain myriad materials forged together by design. Yet, we feel disconnected from this materiality today, blind to the inner workings and composition of all these artificial things, much as we might have looked at the night sky and felt ignorant about the moon and stars in the days before the Renaissance.”

 

Sources/further reading

http://www.livingbooksaboutlife.org/books/Electronic_waste/Introduction

https://ourworldindata.org/faq-on-plastics

https://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/07/business/global/07iht-floods07.html

https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/bitcoin-climate-change-global-warming-cryptocurrency-mining-electricity-a8607036.html

https://amosrex.fi/en/studio-drift-elemental/

http://www.studiodrift.com/work#/materialism/

(Photo: Auri Mäkelä, ca. 2008)

Link

FREIGHTENED – The Real Price of Shipping is a 2016 documentary, revealing an investigation about the many faces and contradictions of massive shipping and sheds light on the consequences of an all-but-visible industry.

Aerial shot of the Puelche container ship

9 out of 10 products consumed today in the Western world come from over seas. This has created a disturbing paradox: buying a product manufactured in a far-off country is often cheaper than purchasing goods made within reach of terrestrial transport. The true backbone of today’s globalised economy is the sea freight apparatus, an armada of gigantic vessels, that yet remains largely obscure to many. Due to their size, freight ships no longer fit into traditional city harbours and so, they have moved away, out of the public’s eye. Only few people are aware that this entire industry is owned by few magnates, having influence on the world’s economy and even on governments. The documentary investigates the mechanics and risks of world-wide freight shipping to discover how this industry has ended up holding the key to our economy, our environment and the very model of our civilisation. The revolutionary invention of the container boosted the freight shipping industry converting it into one of the most lucrative businesses in the world today with 60 thousands vessels constantly sailing seas.

Swimmers share the beach with a rusty container ship

In our consumer-based society, everything is attainable in a short time period. Most likely, the products that we purchase are assembled in different places across oceans. The whole world is seen as a single factory; different tasks can be completed in different places where manufacturing costs are low. One of the consequences of this model is the exploitation of labour forces in emerging countries beside being one of the most dangerous pollution sources of the planet. It is calculated that the 20 largest vessels pump more sulphur into the atmosphere than all the billions cars on the planet. Unfortunately neither the Kyoto Protocol, nor the COP 21 climate agreement, mention “shipping” in any way or form. The IMO (International Maritime Organisation) is slowly taking steps to limit pollution from ships in northern Europe and parts of North America. But enforcing the regulation is proving problematic for member states as, rather unusually for a United Nation organisation, the IMO is funded by its’ member governments. The highest contributor to the IMO budget is Panama, followed by Liberia and the Marshall Islands, the three biggest fleets in the world. These countries sell their national flag to shipping companies so they can maximise profits by escaping tax and home territory labour regulations. The illegal practices of the freight shipping industry have enabled subversive economies to exist, only 2% of the million containers transiting the world’s shipping lanes is scanned or inspected by customs, turning them into an ideal means of conveyance for arm traders, drug traffickers and illegal immigration networks.

Philippine recruiters on the streets of Manila

This industry is, on the other end, highly necessary to fulfill the ever-increasing demands of our society, as it has become the most efficient and cost-effective means of transporting goods. Changes in this sector would require fundamental shifts in the foundations of our economical and social model. The documentary show also some of the different initiatives that are proving to be effective and economically viable. Alternatives such as wind power, which combined with other existing innovations, can reduce a ship’s fuel consumption by 30 to 40%. Other initiatives such as the online platform “ShippingEfficiency.org” launched by the NGO, The Carbon War Room and RightShip helps to increase information flows and transparency around the efficiency of the international shipping fleet. The ability to access accurate, transparent and timely information helps to generate a more efficient shipping industry and engages the buyers in a better practice of consumption. Nevertheless there are still big improvements to be done and compromises to be taken; policy-makers and institutions should take a firm stand to reform this industry and guide it towards better practices, so that shipping can become a true driver of growth that does not leave anybody on the wayside.

Source: https://www.freightened.com/

The physical form on internet

How  Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski in their article “Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures” explain the need for the big server companies to present their data centers in a physical form shows something interesting of people. We need something to take a physical form in order to think that it is real. This has caused the companies that we may use daily to see less personal and part of a world that is not truly present.

Google and Facebook seem like very distant companies, whose presence only matter somewhere far away from Finland. I speculate that in many ways the invisibility of the actions and actual work by the big tech companies has saved them for the ethical reviewal and responsibility. You don’t really think of them as companies consisting of people, the people are rendered out of the picture (with the exception of single face Mark Zuckerberg maybe). Even now that we have started to talk about the social responsibility of the effects of algorithms, the fact that running a data center consumes ridiculous amount of power is not widely known or hardly ever brought up in ethical discussion of sustainability. Nobody also remembers how the new tech has changed how the whole country and it’s crucial infrastructure operates – we talk about more familiar topics everyone has experienced first hand, like school system, taxes or health care.

On top of the illusion of the internet living in a space that is not connected to the physical world around us, the technicality going into the internet infrastructure is intimidatingly complex. For many, seeing code causes an immediate adverse reaction, and talking about the complexity of the data politics and deals one gets so drawn into details that it’s difficult to see the bigger picture. It’s a scary thought, that maybe the world around us is turning too complex for people to make rational, well informed decisions in politics of the topics that truly make changes under the surface, especially when the political game is changing more emotionally provocative along with populism.

FIRST NOTES ON ANIMAL RELATIONS TO MEDIA INFRASTRUCTURE

When reading the introduction to Signal Traffic I got the most interested in the thoughts as “We cannot separate media from bio-physicality.” and Nadia Bozaks idea of “The Cinematic Footprint.” When doing a little bit of searching, I found a writer, a media theorist and professor Jussi Parikka and his Insect Media An Archaeology of Animals and Technology book where he analyzes the relations of insect forms of social organization and media technology. I would like to dive deeper into this book.

(photo: Jussi Parikka)

My interest is especially in encounters of media infrastructures and animals. Lisa Parks writes about ospreys on cell towers and a case where a zoo chimpanzee escapes, ends up on the power lines and gets viral and wildlife-crossing in an article called Mediating Animal-Infrastructure Relations from this year. There are interesting thoughts about how animals become infrastructural. If you think of birds, they naturally locate themselves when moving away during winter. How does media infrastructure, for example signal traffic affect on that instinct or is there an affect at all?

Lisa Parks claims in the article mentioned above that all infrastructures are media infrastructures. If we think of anthropocentric agriculture, where cattle, sheep, horses, hens and all the other species, it makes it quite obvious to think that they are mostly part of infrastructure. All this makes me wonder the affect on other species when used as a part of infrastructure, manipulated and how it affects them genetically? How does technical devices affect them as well, how for example milk production technological infrastructure affect on cattle evolution? How much can there be manipulated and what will become of it? How much AI affects to agricultural infrastructure? Also how we maintain this agricultural infrastructure indirectly and how are we part of it?

Hungry for bandwidth?

Based on the data reported in the 2018 edition of the “Sandvine Global Internet Phenomena Report” a statement is made clear and indisputable: “Video is bigger than ever”.

Sandvine, a networking equipment company based in California, put the spotlight on the consolidated phenomenon of “video streaming”, a practice that keep busy near the 58% of the global downstream internet traffic. The video streaming world does not include only the most known and mainstream services such as Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon Prime. Operator-based streaming and direct consumer streaming are also a big part of the scheme, many operators provide streaming of the content that they own the rights, as well as every network which streams their content in some way. Not to mention social network video sharing and direct video chat services.

Among this various environment of streaming services, one above all has managed to reach the apex in its category, and obviously this one is the more than notorious NETFLIX.
This streaming giant is available today worldwide basically in every country (except four), and with its average total amount of internet traffic near to the 15% (19% in the U.S.), has reached the position of “top video site in the world”.

The dominance of this “giant of streaming”, is even more impressive when the efficiency of its service is taken in analysis. Netflix deserves a lot of credit for reducing the throughput (the amount of data passing through the system) needed to stream its contents. This means that Netflix could easily be 3 times its current volume and at 40% of network traffic, all the time.

On the others positions of this ranking we can found other services with similar percentages to Netflix, but if considering that the categories “HTTP Media Stream – Raw MPEG-TS – QUIC”  are communication protocols, and not services and most of the YouTube contents are available for free, we can see that the only “player” similar to Netflix in this ranking is the Amazon Prime service.

The “newborn” streaming service provided by the global colossus Amazon, has made its voice be heard, not only in the US, but also in other 200 countries worldwide, increasing constantly its presence in the global traffic.
Still, being on the biggest commercial competitor for Netflix, its numbers are still far away from the “top positions” of this ranking.

Even with this abundance of “streaming platform”, another big (and mostly unofficial) player keeps its relevance on the internet traffic, the “BitTorrent” protocol. BitTorrent is the dominant file sharing protocol on the internet, its impact is interesting particularly in the EMEA (Europe – Middle East – Africa) region, where often, the delays or unavailability of “high quality” or “high demanded” content (especially from the U.S.) results, in a increasingly higher file sharing practice.

In the EMEA, with over the 30% of upstream traffic, BitTorrent dominates upstream with a higher ratio of traffic than in any other region. Content rights in EMEA can be complicated, and consumers are more and more cautious on which method or technology to use in the practice of “file transfering”. In the meantime the EU is attempting to block and obstruct these file sharing sites, resulting in what is very similar to a  “game of whack-a-mole”, where when one site gets taken down, another one (or more) pops up to replace it.

 

Link to the “”Sandvine Global Internet Phenomena Report” complete document:
https://www.sandvine.com/hubfs/downloads/phenomena/2018-phenomena-report.pdf