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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

Thesis and Soulless city development

Pictures from Luca Picardi’s research

My thesis project is about creating a space that would be easily approachable and offer a blank canvas for the local population to create something that represents themselves in a real way, not an interpretation of what their cultural identity is.

I think it has to do with what Richard Sennet talks about when he says that over- zoned and rationalized cities are actually not good for its inhabitants and that the real development happens in the cracks of what’s allowed. So I would say that my thesis project is a vision of a created space that makes this human, natural and anarchistic way of living possible. Would it be a controlled crack?

Helsinki has had these wet dreams about becoming a metropolis for the last ten years. That means that the construction hasn’t really gone I waves, the areas that have been developed are huge (eg. Jätkäsaari) and the result is soulless neighborhoods. They’re just some city planners vision of what the area should be. In Eeva Berglund’s and Cindy Kohtalas book, Changing Helsinki they state that the city and companies, who’re financing the development of the city have no interest in the local everyday life nor the history of the city. It can be seen in the kind of international buildings constructed, the fairly new concert hall for example. They even had a quote from Italo Calvino’s book, Invisible Cities. According to Berglund and Kohtala, the direction where the city is going is ending up reminding all the other cities with Starbucks, branded neighborhoods and financial districts.

Luca Picardi has compared newly developed areas from different cities and found out that they remind each other a lot. https://www.lucapicardi.com/FAMILIAR Jätkäsaari is one of the areas that was compared.

The way Romans used their architecture as a surface for written media was fascinating. Would they see the commercials that can be seen in our current cityscape as rubbish? I find the video screens that are starting to replace the old paper rolling ones as something that should be illegal. There should be laws for(maybe there are) when commercials are invading peoples personal space too much.

Deep Time – Infrastructure surrounding speech and voice.

Infrastructure for oration and speech in cities has played an important role in communication and mediation of the urban space. However, when talking about ‘voice’, it is important to also look at infrastructure surrounding the oppression of certain voices. With every amphitheater, Forum and town hall built, one has to question who had access to these spaces. Often, infrastructure surrounding public discourse has sub-structures embedded in it that deliberately leave out voices considered unimportant or unworthy by the powerful. Even with print publications, newspapers and books, the same questions of access and opportunity are valid.

For example, the caste system in India is a kind of social infrastructure which codifies the ‘value’ of individuals –  and thus, their voices – according to the hierarchical spot they occupy within the structure. The conscious, systemic and insidious social structures enforced for 4000 + years is essentially a form of infrastructure used to control whose voices are heard, read or watched. Ancient Indian scientific and theological knowledge was created by and for the Brahmins (priests, upper caste). Dalits (lower castes) were – and to a certain extent, are – not allowed to access to public spaces or public knowledge and have been ghettoized as a result of conscious infrastructural decisions made by the upper castes.

Furthermore, the caste system resulted in silos, where people were confined to their own social groups and had access to only their group.For example, there are many newspapers for Dalits and by Dalits, but they are systematically kept away from integration into the mainstream.

Another example of social structures extending themselves to physical infrastructures can be seen in the lack of disability access to public spaces across the world. In terms of urban planning, ghettos and slums tend to be far away from central places and communication services like the internet or the postal service vary in quality within a city as much as they do across countries.

Socio-economically weaker people would be hired or enslaved to carry the water.

People as infrastructure –

Not only do people naturally tend to fill up infrastructural gaps, but the history of oppression shows us that certain groups of people are viewed as infrastructure by other people. Slaves were a form of infrastructure for the landowners, Dalits are infrastructure as sanitation workers and in some places, women are still considered as mere infrastructure to further the male line. In fact, oppressed people groups only get liberated when they stop being viewed as infrastructure and are given ‘personhood’ by the mainstream. Today, animals are basically treated as industrial infrastructure producing milk and meat.

The residues of these older infrastructural elements have leaked into the present in the form of racism, patriarchy and the continuous exploitation of Dalits.

Given more time, I would like to research deeper into the infrastructures surrounding oppression,  I’m sure there are examples from all over the world.

Talking Walls

In the chapter “Deep time of media infrastructure” in the book “Signal Traffic”, while talking about the Roman Empire is mentioned that “The Romans seemed to inscribe into everything”, commuting every suitable surfaces in meanings of communication. This concept is quite evident walking around Rome and watching the surfaces of monuments filled with every kind of inscription, symbols and low reliefs. Thinking about roman monuments there’s maybe one of them which is particularly impressive for the amount of informations “stored” in a single artefact: The Trajan Column.

The column was erected to commemorates Roman emperor Trajan’s victory in the Dacian Wars and built between 107 CE and 113 CE. The continuous helical frieze of the column winds twenty-three times from base to capital for a total of 200 mt length, portraying Trajan’s two victorious military campaigns against the Dacians, split in 114 “scenes”.

It’s still not completely clear which was the final purpose of the column, surely the “commemorative” and “celebrative” function were the main ones, but also the communicative impact is outstanding and unprecedented in this kind of monuments. It’s impressive still today the huge amount of work put in the realisation of this monument and the number of information that a single “piece” of architecture is able to communicate.

The desire of human beings to express themselves or testify something on “public surfaces” such as walls and monuments has not decreased since the times of ancient Romans. Nowadays our cities are filled with symbols, scripts, printings and drawing on walls, from the “official” ones such as advertisements to the most “subversive” ones, also known as “mural paintings” or “graffiti”.

Blu – via delle Conce, via del Porto Fluviale

Graffitis are an interesting form of expression to confront to pieces such as romans monuments, If we think about it the purpose has remained the same, the celebration, the testimony and the communication. This kind of “public” form of expression appeals to the inner desire of human beings to be remembered, so from the smallest “tag” on a wall made with a marker to the biggest, complicated and “artistic” works, graffiti are the modern answer to this personal and a maybe too much selfish human “need”.

 

 

The many shapes of Olivetti company

When we have started talking about the ways in which, old media infrastructures meets new technologies, and how they begins to shape each other, suddenly a pretty fitting example came to my mind. If we think about the recent years, Italy is not a country often mentioned in the environment of digital and technological innovation, nowadays the U.S. and the asian countries incarnate the “north star” in the field of technology development.

But, if we go back a few years, there was a time, between the 30s and the 60s, when a small company in the north of Italy was leading the progress of media technologies and communication: Olivetti.

When, in 1908, the company was founded, it was identified as “The first national typewriter manufacturer” and the production of typewriters remained the “core-business” of the company for many years, mostly until the 60s. Besides the production of the “traditional” typewriters, the company had several “top-selling” products such as calculators and accountant machines, sold both in the internal and on the international market.

During the years, and thanks to the the innovations in the electronic field, the Olivetti products started to become less mechanical and more electronic to keep the pace with the booming progress, and there was when the problems started to arise.

    

During the second half of the sixties the company tried to compete, without success, with the Japanese production of electronic calculators and also tried to release on the market a new innovative product: the first personal computer.

The “Programma 101” was presented at the New York’s BEMA exhibition in 1965 and was a huge “public success”, the machine it was a desk automatic calculator, non nearly similar to modern computers but it was a big leap forward both for the technological innovation as for the revenues of the company.

During the next years the company struggled to keep the pace of the U.S. and Japanese companies but still managing to put on the market some “top-selling” products such as the “Olivetti ET101” the world’s first electronic typewriter in 1978, in 1979 the “Olivetti Advanced technology center” was opened in Cupertino, CA, just two blocks away from the Apple headquarter, and during te 80s the company knew a new period of success also thanks to the collaboration with the American company AT&T, becoming one of the most important European manufacturers of personal computers.

During the 90s and with the beginning of the rise of mobile communications the lack of funding and the crisis of European and Italian markets prevented the company to keep the pace with the spreading of this new technologies starting a quick decline, but the company contribution to the world of technology development was not yet at his end.

At the beginning of the new century the Olivetti Company together with the telecommunication company “Telecom Italia” founded and opened the “Interaction Design Institute Ivrea”, a graduate design program in the field of Interaction Design, The school operated from 2001 to 2005 and was involved in many projects that became relevant later in the design world: among them, the prototyping boards “Wiring” and “Arduino”, the graphics software prototyping environment “Processing”.

   

Besides the iconic design of their products, Olivetti always managed to maintain a clear and recognisable “corporate image” both in their products as in their infrastructures. Starting from the first iconic “red brick factory” to the realisation of their retail stores, a design on which Apple has based the one of their “Apple Stores”. And again their production plants all over the world and also the “Blue House”, home of the Interaction Design Institute and build for Adriano Olivetti in order to open a research center.

   

The Olivetti story is one, amongst many other, “forgotten” stories of the world of media, from the printed paper since the invention of the personal computer, a small player in a world of gigantic companies, but that has managed, here and here, to influence forever the world of technology, design and media.

About captchas and trackers

I was excited about the large scale of media infrastructures mentioned in the introduction chapter and how things are connected but hard to see. The connection between web and biophysical world is easy to forget. Where does all the small pieces of regular websites like cookies and such come from? Who provides them and why they exist? Are they hyper-objects?

In Autumn, I studied CAPTCHA systems for a project, especially Google’s reCAPTCHA, which is commonly used captcha program on the internet. Recaptcha is a fully automated web security program that developers can use for free to protect their sites. Recaptcha’s primary function is to determine whether a visitor of the page is a human (good) or a “robot” such as spamming bot (bad).

But Recaptcha – unlike captchas before – creates secondary value too.

Recaptcha challenges are made so that they employ visitors to create useful data for Google. Recaptcha has provided useful information to digitize old books, improve Google Maps and develop machine learning algorithms.

Different captchas. (Source: back40design.com.)

Some critics have seen a connection between Recaptcha and Google’s deal with U.S. Department of Defense to analyze drone footage. Manuel Beltran thinks that while solving Google’s captcha challenges, clueless people become labour to create data that helps the U.S. Army.

Another example of blind spot in the web for humans are trackers that collect information of users. Probably most commonly used web service that uses trackers is Google Analytics. When its tracker is placed within a website, the site sends data to Google’s server. That server is located somewhere – maybe in Hamina or maybe in the United States.

Screenshot of the project website Algorithms Allowed.

Artist Joana Moll investigated the usage of trackers in websites of countries that US is enforcing embargoes and sanctions including Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, and the Ukrainian region of Crimea. She scraped websites with the fitting domains of these countries.

She found some interesting use cases of US-company-owned trackers: President of Iran official website uses Google Analytics, Ministry of Defense of Iran uses Google Analytics, Ministry of Finance of Syria uses Google Analytics, and so on.

It is amusing that webmasters of these governmental websites let US corporations read data of their visitors. I argue that it happens because it is hard for people to understand that few lines of code in a website may mean something in a physical world too.

Link to Joana Moll’s project Algorithms Allowed (2017).

Notes

I found the text as a nice and clear addition to what we learned in the previous lecture. The fact that media, internet and so on, does not exist without the physical framework is intriguing. You easily think about eg. the internet as this immaterial thing, without giving a thought on how and why it exists. The intercontinental cables, data centers and the politics that are involved are also fascinating. It is mentioned in the text that Rogers and O’Neil argue that infrastructure can often be the instrumental medium used for violence. One example that is mentioned is the cellular phone infrastructures in Israel-Palestine. Media and the structures behind it could be compared directly to water and the ways it has been used in the past to control people and used as a tool in warfare.

 

The cellular tower footprint part super interesting. In the past, people have settled close to rivers to have resources, food, and transportation. Nowadays it is essential to have an internet connection for staying connected in this world. I’m interested if there are urban areas being developed around areas that offer the necessary infrastructures. This can probably happen in areas where there has not been funding for the necessary infrastructures.

 

Somehow the physical dimension of media and immaterial infrastructure is in the other dimension than other physical objects. The reason is maybe that we cannot see what eg. the router is actually doing.  The material infrastructure is like the visible part of mycelium, the mushroom. The secondary value the water tower developed, reminded me of the gps pokemon game a couple years back. Suomenlinna, for example, got a new kind of value when a training center in the app was placed on the island.

 

After reading the article, I was fascinated with the idea of finding a way to make the physical and the immaterial side of infrastructures possible to experience in the same medium. I’ve seen some maps that show how internet traffic goes around the globe through the nodes. It could be cool to not use VR or other high-tech solutions to display the data. I would like having people trying to imagine the whole thing based on the information they get. It could be in form of a table game. Information + instructions on how to make the most use of it, making it a game could make it easier to learn or understand.

 

Low Tech Mag https://solar.lowtechmagazine.com/ is a website where alternative and more sustainable solutions are discussed. One of the articles is about how to make a solar powered server. The site behind the link is a proof of concept, a solar-powered version of the official website. Many of the articles are about super local networks, something that is maybe going to be mentioned later in this course.

Three notes on the Introduction of Signal Traffic

  1. Scholarship which is more intellectually accessible, and not just produced for other scholars to consume.

 

2. What is not media infrastructure?

 

3. Assuming infrastructure as something in the background or being invisible, the modernist design movement bases its aesthetic on the pretense that infrastructure doesn’t exist. Media devices and other products, architecture, etc need to look ‘effortless’ in order to be modern. Traditional minimalism opposes any reminder of messy infrastructural elements. It serves the capitalist agenda to make everything seem simpler than it really is. It also follows, that deliberately revealing infrastructural elements became a big part of postmodern design.

Deliberately hiding infrastructure 

Deliberately revealing infrastructure

SYLLABUS 2019 [Draft] Updated: 11.12.2018

Archaeology of  Media Infrastructures Winter-Spring 2019 DOM-E5006

Wednesdays 15.15 – 17.00

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

Course Summary

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

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

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

Grading Weightage:

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

*Students who stay above 50% will Pass.

Documentation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Schedule of Classes

Week 1 – February 27: Course Overview

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

Summary of Case Studies:

– Urban Media Infrastructures

– Memory Infrastructures

– Global Communications Infrastructures

– Artificial Intelligence (AI) Infrastructures

 

Week 2 – March 6: Media Infrastructure: Introduction

LECTURE

DISCUSSION IN-CLASS:

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

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

Secondary Readings:

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

 

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

LECTURE

DISCUSSION IN-CLASS:

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

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

Secondary Reading:

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

 

Week 4 – March 20: Digital Media and Cloud Infrastructure

LECTURE

DISCUSSION IN-CLASS:

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

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

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

Secondary Reading:

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

 

Week 5 – March 27: Materialities of Media Infrastructures

LECTURE

DISCUSSION IN-CLASS:

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

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

Secondary Reading:

 

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

**Presentations of Student Project proposals**

LECTURE

DISCUSSION IN-CLASS:

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

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

Secondary Reading:

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

 

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

**Presentations of Student Project/Article proposals**

LECTURE

DISCUSSION IN-CLASS:

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

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

Secondary Reading:

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

 

Week 8 – April 24: Approaches to Media Infrastructure

**Presentations of Student Project/Article proposals**

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

LECTURE

DISCUSSION IN-CLASS:

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

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

Secondary Reading:

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

 

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

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

ABOUT

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