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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.