Circuits of Capital

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

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

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

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

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


[1] Sean Cubitt, “Ecologies of Fabrication,” in Sustainable Media: Critical Approaches to Media and Environment, eds. Nicole Starosielski and Janet Walker, NY and London, Routledge, 2016: p.168
[2] ibid 173
[3] https://www.commonobjective.co/article/child-labour-in-the-fashion-industry
[4] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/21/such-brutality-tricked-into-slavery-in-the-thai-fishing-industry
[5] https://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/menschenrechte-ueruemqi-vw-haelt-an-werk-in-chinesischer-provinz-xinjiang-fest-dpa.urn-newsml-dpa-com-20090101-200108-99-391133
[6] Sean Cubitt 2016, p. 164

 

 

Outsourcing and Offshoring of Fabrication in the 21st Century

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

[1] Sean Cubitt, “Ecologies of Fabrication,” in Sustainable Media: Critical Approaches to Media and Environment, eds. Nicole Starosielski and Janet Walker, New York and London, Routledge, 2016: 163-179.

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

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

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

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

The Early Submarine Cables

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anze Bratus

References:

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

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

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

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

Thermocultures of Geological Media – A summary

The article by Nicole Starosielski examines thermal manipulation in transforming the earth’s raw materials into media and maintaining those materials as media. Examinations include the extraction and refining of Earth’s raw materials into pure materials for media usages, the utilization of air conditioner for even temperature for media productions, and thermal infrared imaging.

Purity of elements: One set of thermal practices is transforming geological matter into the circulation of mass media. Especially refining raw minerals into media materials, where the temperature is used to ensure purity and consistency of materials across media objects. However, it is impossible to reach an entirely pure state of minerals. Mary Douglas defines purity as the designation of one set of phenomena as clean (specifically copper and silicon communication circuits in Nicole’s article) which integrally tied to pollution as a result of a systematic order of elements while rejecting inappropriate ones.

Even temperature: The invention of the air conditioner (1902 by Willis Carrier) was with the intention of standardizing media rather than cooling humans. The reason being the dynamic relationship of pure elements with their surroundings despite an attempt to control their internal composition and limitation of interactions. Nicole takes a look at the fluctuated temperature issues with the printing and lithography industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, which are external climate and excess heat produced during press productions. Air conditioning systems since then has been used in ensuring the precision and efficiency in many other forms of media productions. Eventually, after the standardization of temperature regulation, the thermosensitivities of media persisted. Some examples mentioned are the preservation of analog media like magazines, films, microchips, libraries and archives, architectures, factories; as well as digital media like ensuring the operation of large data centers and computational devices.

Productive variation: In this part, Nicole argues that environmental control is incomplete as the temperature remains a force that affects all thermosensitive bodies despite expansive thermal infrastructures. Temperature variations in the productive ends for the expansion of media and capital, for example, the extractive industry with the increasing use of fiber-optic and thermal infrared image technique in the mining industry.

Thermocultures: The study of thermocultures set light to how matters take shape and circulate through the world and offer a branching path to the geology of media. Thermal control and manipulation are underlying operations of differentiation and homogeneity of contemporary media, and the process of controlling the environment in which materials are reactive or stable and in which transformations can occur.


In this course, we aim to investigate media culture under the belief that there is no nature, but the Earth has already been transformed into a mass body of media. The geology of media investigates the state that makes it possible to transform the Earth into media. This perspective leads to a more important question: What can we change in our system to save the planet Earth?

Reference:
Douglas, Mary. (1996) 1984. Purity and Danger: An analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. NewYork: Routledge.
Parikka, Jussi. 2015. A Geology of Media. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Starosielski, Nicole. 2016. Thermocultures of Geological Media. Cultural Politics, Volume 12, Issue 3. Duke University Press.

On the borderline

Standing in the borderline of land and the water with salt water splashing on my face, the words that were discussed during the first Media&Environment -lecture are echoing in my head: ”THERE IS NO NATURE.” There is no nature because everything is mediated -ocean, forest, nature is mediated.  To me who love the sea and feel like home in the forest  it´s quite a provocative line. But what is the behind the line?

In 2000, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Paul Crutzen noted that the Earth has moved into a new geological era, the anthropocene, or human time. In 2016, naturalists defined the starting point of anthropocene as 1950, when the effects of nuclear experiments are visible in the soil. the beginning of the anthropocene era depends on who is asked. If it is considered to have started in the 1950s, the effects of industrialisation on the environment are ignored. From human kinds impact to the planet there`s no turning back. The footprint of humankind on the planet is far smaller compared to the impact of Ice Eras or asteroids. 

Jussi Parikka is describing the current state of Anthropocene: ´The anthrobscene, referring to the obscenities of the ecocrises.  [1] The impact of humankind is divided into five categories: climate change, mass extinctions, ecosystem loss, pollution, and population growth and overconsumption.

There is no such thing as wild nature. Pollution – including marine plastic waste rafts, microplastic particles, the deposition of composites in the soil and changes in the atmosphere – extends to the point where man does not physically reach himself. Wildlife makes up only three percent of the planet’s megafauna biomass. Everything else is people and cattle.  The wireless network is present almost everywhere, internet cables and gas pipes slice through the seabed,  the atmosphere is full of harmful small particles and microfibers are everywhere; natural resources are used ruthlessly all over the planet.  If the latest geological strata of the country were ever studied, the bones of production animals — broilers, cattle, pigs — would be found en masse among concrete, asphalt, glass, and plastics.

Historian Tero Toivanen points out that: ´Wild nature  exists only in advertisements where the car is sold with the impression that the car enters the wild nature.´ [2].

Reference

[1] The Anthrobscene Jussi Parikka University of Minnesota Press Minneapolis

[2]  Kansanuutiset, Villiä luontoa ei enää ole, Tero Toivanen, interview Katri Simonen

Demand of raw materials in advanced technologies

In her paper “Thermocultures” Nicole Starosielski [1] talks about raw materials needed for media technologies. In order to grasp and understand the paper deeper, I tried to give my own version of the meaning what the compound term “thermocultures” could be. Prefix “thermo” corresponds to something relating to heat, whether “cultures”, in this instance, could correspond the the social behaviour and customs of society.

“Thermocultures” paper gave quite a big overview of how we are treating and transforming the earth’s raw materials currently. “For each ton of ore removed, only ten pounds of pure copper will be produced”. So when the valuable materials are produced, what becomes with the rest of excavated materials. Do they become waste? And where does this culture of pure materials originally come from?

In Cecilia Jamasmie paper “Copper supply crunch earlier than predicted – experts” [2] mentions that “increased consumption from new technologies, including electric vehicles, will drive demand for the metal and its by-products” and that sooner or later the deficit of copper will become visible and evident, as the demand is becoming higher. Copper is one of the main metal of transition and it is an essential component in electronic product manufacture, it is also one of the best electrical conductors. In Cecilia Jamasmie paper [2] a very fascinating chart was presented about the supply gap of copper:

Copper supply crunch earlier than predicted — experts

Without a doubt, raw materials play an important role to the success of the economy of the country and society, however, raw materials could soon be in short supply, as a direct result of them being in high demand. Perhaps, the purification process needs to be re-thought and certain predictions are required to be understood, which raw materials are needed for resource-sensitive future technologies.

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

[2] Jamasmie, Cecilia, 2018. Copper supply crunch earlier than predicted – experts. https://www.mining.com/copper-supply-crunch-earlier-predicted-experts/ (Accessed: 20 September 2020)

Thoughts and trembling while reading Thermocultures of Geological Media by Niclole Starosielski

Media runs on perfection. One of those perfect pillars needed for communication and power transmission is copper. After copper sulfide is mined, crushed and grinded a compound containing 25% copper is left. Useless in the eyes of technology. Only after heavy treatment with thermal techniques a 99% copper substance will remain. Still pathetic in the realm of purity. Another stage of electrolytic refining is needed to generate 99.99 % pure copper. Perfection at last. All that was needed for the blessing of ten pounds of pure copper is the vanity of a single ton of ore and a trail of pollution guarding every step of the way.

The purity that is needed for technology to function is both fascinating and scary. But in this ever-changing world perfection is never lasting. Humankind doesn’t run on perfection, we strive on defects and diversity just like every ecosystem we so desperately try to destroy.

J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, once wrote: “You can have anything in life if you will sacrifice everything else for it.” When we look at such a feeble and imperfect species such as ourself, the desire for purity is understandable. I just don’t think it’s worth everything.

Digital Media Exists Materially

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

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

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

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

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

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

Computation Under Uncertainty

Nicole Starosielski’s text “Thermocultures of Geological Media” [1] talks about a “culture of purity”, where our cultural imperatives have resulted in us choosing to only use pure metals and other materials in our electronics. Her main critique of this is that the purification process of metals such as copper and quartz is very energy intensive, and that developing technologies which would utilize metals of a lesser purity would result in media with a lower environmental impact. She also says that this kind of technologies, which probably would have to compromise speed and accuracy, would “…significantly alter the form of existing media texts and technologies”. I find the idea interesting but at the same time I finding it very difficult imagining how computation would work in such an inaccurate system seeped with uncertainty.

Our current models of computation rely heavily on reproducibility and stability: bits will not flip randomly (except in extreme cases) and code will always be executed in the same way. Given the same inputs, a set of commands will always result in the same outputs. Introducing uncertainty into this system would not only cause “subtle variations across media objects”, but result in bugs, crashes, corruption and loss of data. Maybe some new computational models could be developed which could better deal with randomness (quantum computation comes to mind), but currently one of our only methods of dealing with uncertainty in computation is by verifying the validity of data and performing recalculations as needed. Already a small amount of uncertainty could cause huge numbers of unnecessary CPU cycles, which across the millions of computers in use today might very well negate any environmental benefits gained from the use of impure metals. And with a high enough level of randomness, even these methods would no longer work and the system would come crashing down under the pressures of uncertainty.

The word “uncertainty” has a negative connotations, even though it is non-partial in the quality of the future it describes. Uncertain events might as well lead to unexpected successes as to devastating failure, but our negativity bias makes us focus and lay greater importance to the latter and makes us uncomfortable in situations where we have too little control of the future. Seen through this lens, the strive to control our future is a very natural trait. In fact, I believe one way to look at the evolution of organisms is as a struggle for control over uncertainty. Existence is an extremely complex system which humans and animals alike have evolved to navigate as best they can in the fight for survival. Excessive uncontrolled futures results in accidents, broken bones, death and the extinction of species.

Ultimately, I enjoyed this thermal perspective on media that Starosielski’s text gave, but question the validity of her thoughts on purity of metals and the possibility of moving away from them in our electronics.

1. Starosielski, Nicole. Thermocultures of Geological Media. Cultural Politics (2016) 12 (3): 293–309.

Terminology in the Anthropocene

The world feels overwhelming at times.

We relate everything to everything and problematize without limit. Murder and theft of land can through Adam Smith’s invisible hand, global trade networks and under sea cables be traced to me not recycling thoroughly enough. Not to say that we shouldn’t see the truth of this, just that it’s exhausting. The world is so complex. There is always another angle to everything, always new terminology to comprehend. There are no Simple Truths™.

In the spirit of this mood, while reading Jussi Parikka’s The Anthrobscene [1], I wondered what the point of coining new terminology is. Specifically, why do we need a term like “the anthopocene”, or any of its’ contenders like Parikka’s “anthrobscene”?

While looking for answers to this question I found an interview [2] of Erle Ellis, an environmental scientist who is a part of the Anthropocene Working Group. In the interview he explained his stance on why formally defining and accepting the term is important:
What’s at stake here, outside the domains of geology and stratigraphy, is a new story of human social relations with Earth. The Anthropocene changes the story from one in which human and natural history play out in separate theaters, to one in which humans shape Earth’s past, present and future. In the Anthropocene, it really matters what humans do to Earth. By placing humanity firmly in the role of an Earth-changing force, with all of its complexities, the Anthropocene demands answers to some hard questions – what are we doing with Earth? Are we doing the right things? What can we do better? And the most challenging question of all: Who is or are “we”?

This is the explanation I’d been looking for. Obviously it doesn’t give me any simple truths, but it seems like a good enough reason to add another complex term into this already complex world.

1. Parikka, Jussi. The Anthrobscene. University of Minnesota Press, 2014.
2. futureearth.org: Why efforts to define the Anthropocene must be more inclusive and transparent

Not Seeing

The idea behind Jussi Parikka’s essay The Anthrobscene is a natural continuation of the overall obscenity of human beings. Parikka’s comment, “To call it “anthrobscene” is just to emphasize what we knew but perhaps shied away from acting on: a horrific human-caused drive toward a sixth mass extinction of species”,[1] made me think of the general discussions about climate change and how immediately seeing (or in this case especially not seeing) the consequences of one’s actions affects the behaviour.

Piling up all the space junk we as humankind have left to float around space on your own yard could help give some perspective. Also making your important calls with your smart phone while looking out from your window and seeing for example all the miners (possibly children) working to provide the materials for your devices could help in at least not taking everything for granted. Maybe you could ask Siri, Alexa or who/whatever to play some music from Spotify on the yard too to keep the workers entertained?

This quote also reminded me of one example where even seeing the truth wasn’t enough. People seem to be pretty nostalgic and driven by their feelings when it comes to their own living environment. While doing my photography BA thesis work in 2015 I ran into Ton Lemaire’s philosophical writings of landscape and through him also a research from 1980’s France conducted by DATAR, the Delegation for Planning and Regional Action, where the participants were asked about the landscapes of their living environments.

Cultural anthropologist Ton Lemaire wrote about the 20th century urbanisation and its affects to landscape and how in 1970’s and 80’s people were already aware and discussing about the “environmental crisis” and the spreading of urban infrastructure but despite of that the answers DATAR got for its survey were far from the truth. People seemed to ignore the growing urbanism around them and were describing (very natural) landscapes that no longer really existed around them.[2] Those visual ideas of natural landscapes had not exited people’s minds even though the world around them had changed. If the urban infrastructure didn’t match the dream image of the living environment, its existence seemed to be surprisingly easy to just forget. 

From the human rights perspective I could easily claim that urbanism in the form of motorways, bus stops, apartment buildings etc. is a lot smaller problem and source of anxiety than the non-human working conditions that many people are forced to cope with in their daily lives. But for most of the westerners enjoying the global infrastructure built with human right violations the latter one is nearly invisible. And if the visible urban landscape was so easy to crop out from people’s thoughts, how easy is it with something nearly invisible? 

Not seeing, just feeling whatever we want to, ignoring the truth, re-imagining the natural, forgetting the work done for us by so many others are all too easily done. How to make it harder? That should be asked more often and hopefully somehow answered too.

 

1. Parikka, Jussi. The Anthrobscene. University of Minnesota Press, 2014.

2. Druckrey T., Gierstberg F., de Graaf J., Lemaire T. & Vroege B. Wasteland: Landscape From Now On. Haag: Fotografie Biennale Rotterdam & Uitgeverij 010 Publishers, 1992.

The Anthrobscene

The beginning of Anthropocene epoch could date back as far as the beginning of the agricultural revolution to as recent as the start of the big technology development in the 1960s. It is connected with the effects of humans on the well being of our planet/the environment and they are getting more and more evident as years pass by.

Back in the 18th century, in the era of colonialism, the raw/unspoiled nature was seen as something that needs improvement, something that doesn’t contribute to the enhancement of our daily lives. Humans fanatically tried to redesign the environment to give it a different, unnatural purpose. Hence began the irreversible influence of mankind on the environment or the era of mankind.

As time passed the increasing numbers of the human population, the advance in technology and the needs of the consumers started to affect the environment and nature more and more heavily. We developed from society needing a pretty restricted list of materials (“wood, brick, iron, copper, gold, silver, and a few plastics”) into a society in which a computer chip is composed of “60 different elements.” [1]

The excavation of those materials presents a great danger to our planet, especially because we need to “dig deeper and deeper” to obtain the desired elements that are slowly running out. The discarded waste and scrap metals from the production of multimedia devices or the discarded devices that are ready for the afterlife are piling up because most of them are either not being recycled or not recyclable at all. That presents an even bigger threat to the environment than the process of obtaining the elements.

In my opinion, the biggest issue is the human’s tendency to adapt and avoid the problem instead of tackling it and changing the way we live to resolve the issue before it starts to haunt us. Technology spoiled us and in a way we keep on playing Russian roulette with our planet. We refuse to be the losers of the climate change issue, but many are just postponing the solutions, passing the problem on to the next generation. But where does it end? Are we able to go back and step out of the luxury of modernisation? Is there enough desire to change things for the better?

In conclusion, the media technologies present a big threat to our planet; consequently to humanity. Our ways of consumption will have to change to efficiently extend the life span of our planet. Instead of doing our best to find a different inhabitable planet, we should focus on preserving this one.

References:

1. Jussi Parikka, “The Anthrobscene”, University of Minnesota, 2015

2. Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, documentary, Canada, 2018

3. Sophie Yeo, 2016, “Anthropocene: The journey to a new geological epoch”, viewed 11 September 2020, https://www.carbonbrief.org/anthropocene-journey-to-new-geological-epoch

Anthrobscene and the Neocolonial

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

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

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

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

 

Reference:

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

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

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

Infragraphy Volume III – Spring 2020

Graphic Design: Ameya Chikramane

DOWNLOAD PDF: http://blogs.aalto.fi/mediainfrastructures/files/2020/05/Infragraphies_vol3_web.pdf

CONTRIBUTORS: Ameya Chikramane, Boeun Kim, Lassi Häkkinen, Samir Bhowmik and Shambhavi Singh

INTRODUCTION
The world moved online in 2020. The global spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 with the resulting quarantine and lockdowns forced a significant portion of humanity to accept a virtual life. Global Internet traffic soared to over 30 percent in March and online transactions to over 42 percent in April [1]. The internet has done well during the coronavirus pandemic. Its infrastructure has held up. It allowed a transition to remote work, learning, socializing and entertainment. Netflix, the video streaming service added more than 16 million new subscribers [2], and online shopping giant Amazon hired 100000 workers in March, and reported massive earnings [3]. In between streaming and online shopping, the perfect combination of the so-called late capitalism, one thing remains unconsidered. At what cost? What is the impact of such rampant connectivity and consumerism to our society, to our environment? It is a big mistake to think we will be saving the environment by lockdowns, when all we have been doing for the past few months is streaming and shopping. Connectivity is material and resource-based, supported by a global infrastructure of data centers, power plants and submarine cables. The internet consumes energy. A whole lot of it. Global data centers recently consumed around 205 billion kWh [4]. As the massive pressure on the ‘Cloud’ intensifies and energy use goes through the roof, we need to again re-consider how we design and implement such infrastructure, or change how we live.

This third volume of Infragraphy is short but rich in its range and contents addressing internet  infrastructures. Boeun Kim’s ‘The Paradox of Online Society’ attempts to unbox the hidden cost behind the digital transition by discussing how the quarantine affects the socially disadvantaged, the energy cost and air pollution, and the silver lining during the pandemic. Lassi Häkkinen’s ‘Vulnerability of Technology and Data in the Physical World’ looks at physical world vulnerabilities of our information and data, and the impossibility to separate infrastructural materialities from the the digital. By illustration, Shambhavi Singh examines the ‘Infrastructures of Isolation’, and finally, Ameya Chikramane explores new approaches to the post-digital. All these critical student texts and artworks deal with the materialities of media technologies and their societal and environmental implications, as outcomes of the course ‘Archaeology of Media Infrastructures’ in the Spring of 2020 at the Department of Media, Aalto University. 

Samir Bhowmik
25 May 2020, Helsinki

1 Yevgeniy Sverdlik, Will the Coronavirus Break the Internet? Datacenter Knowledge, 13 March 2020 <https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/uptime/will-coronavirus-break-internet-highly-unlikely-says-cloudflare>

2 Trefis Team, Netflix Subscriber Growth 2x Expectations; Good News Or Peak? Forbes, 28 April, 2020 <https://www.forbes.com/sites/greatspeculations/2020/04/28/netflix-subscriber-growth-2x-expectations-good-news-or-peak/#5d046ad53ea1>

3 Alina Seyukh, Amazon To Hire 100,000 Workers To Meet ‘Surge In Demand’, NPR, 16 March 2020 <https://www.npr.org/2020/03/16/816704442/amazon-to-hire-100-000-workers-to-meet-surge-in-demand?t=1590396613400>

4 How Much Energy Do Data Centers Really Use? Energy & Innovation, 17 March 2020 <https://energyinnovation.org/2020/03/17/how-much-energy-do-data-centers-really-use/>

Clouds or Grids?

The Internet Cloud seems like a palatable, abstract concept that somehow holds data, or bits, much like how real clouds hold molecules of water. The clouds then precipitate data to our devices, pretty much the same way that real clouds precipitate rain.

In the early 1990s, Ian Foster and Carl Kesselman came up with a new concept of “The Grid”. The analogy used was of the electricity grid where users could plug into the grid and use a metered utility service. If companies don’t have their own power stations, but rather access a third party electricity supply, why can’t the same apply to computing resources? Plug into a grid of computers and pay for what you use.

One of the first milestones for cloud computing was the arrival of Salesforce.com in 1999, which pioneered the concept of delivering enterprise applications via a simple website. The services firm paved a way for both specialist and mainstream software firms to deliver applications over the internet.

The next development was Amazon Web Services in 2002, which provided a suite of cloud-based services including storage, computation and even human intelligence through the Amazon Mechanical Turk.

According to Rebecca J. Rosen’s article Clouds: The Most Useful Metaphor of All Time?” . . . when engineers would map out all the various components of their networks, but then loosely sketch the unknown networks (like the Internet) theirs was hooked into. What does a rough blob of undefined nodes look like? A cloud. And, helpfully, clouds are something that takes little skill to draw. It’s a squiggly line formed into a rough ellipse. Over time, clouds were adopted as the stand-in image for the part of a computer or telephone network outside one’s own.”

Clouds get traction as a metaphor because they are shape-shifters, literally. As a result, they can stand in for many varied cultural tropes. Want something to represent the one thing marring your otherwise perfect situation? Done. Want to evoke the nostalgic feeling of childhood games of the imagination? Done. Maybe you want to draw a picture of heaven? You’re in luck. Clouds as metaphors pepper our language: every cloud has a silver lining, I’m on cloud nine, his head is in the clouds, there are dark clouds on the horizon. Clouds are the lazy man’s metaphor, a one-image-fits-all solution for your metaphor needs.

So there is a shift, not only in terminology but also in perception. The problem with using the word “Cloud” is that it is perceived as a harmless, abstract repository that effectively hides massive physical infrastructures and the associated thermo-cultures, energy expenses, and waste management practices. The materiality and physicality of cloud systems are manifested in the form of data centers that eat up to 200 terawatt-hours (TWh) each year. Further aggravating this trend is the fact that these data centers actually utilize only 6-12% of the total power consumption, the rest being reserved for traffic surges, crashes and redundancy ie. to make services faster, reduce errors and improve consistency.

Considering these points, one has to wonder what would today’s energy and data consumption scenario looks like if we had stuck to the term ‘Grid’ to denote modern data storage and distribution.

Ameya Chikramane, 4.3.2020

Archaeology of Media Infrastructures – Spring 2020

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 Fall 2020.

Wednesdays 13.15 – 15.00 / Starting 5.2.2020 / until 1.4.2020

The course is filed under Media Art and Culture / https://into.aalto.fi/display/enmlab/2020-2022+Advanced+studies

Register: weboodi.aalto.fi  

Infragraphy Volume 2, Fall 2019

INFRAGRAPHY Volume 2. is a compilation of critical student artworks and short essays dealing with the materialities of media technologies and their environmental implications.

These works and texts are the outcomes from the course ‘Media and the Environment’ in the Fall of 2019 at the Department of Media, Aalto University. The course was a series of scholarly readings about and around the themes of media including media’s relations and impacts on the so-called Anthropocene, thermocultures of media, ecologies of fabrication, media and plastics, Internet of Things, Planned Obsolescence, e-waste, and media’s energetic landscapes. A key approach of the course was also introducing artistic methods and practices that could address emerging media materialities. The final exhibition of the course was a collection of student artworks as a response to the contemporary discourse of political economy of media and related environmental implications.

DOWNLOAD PDF: http://blogs.aalto.fi/mediainfrastructures/files/2020/01/Infragraphy_Fall2019_WEB.pdf

The Anthrobscene – Course Exhibition 22.11 – 9.12.2019

Artists: Reishabh Kailey, Gurden Batra & Serpil Oğuz. Discarded electronics and wood, 2019

The Anthrobscene – Media and the Environment Course Exhibition
Department of Media
22 November – 9 December

The Anthropocene is nothing but the Anthrobscene. This obscenity according to media philosopher Jussi Parikka (2015) is— “because of the unsustainable, politically dubious, and ethically suspicious practices that maintain technological culture and its corporate networks. Obscene because this age marks the environmentally disastrous consequences of planned obsolescence of electronic media, the energy costs of digital culture and furthermore the neo-colonial arrangements of material and energy extraction across the globe. To call it anthrobscene is just to emphasize what we knew but perhaps we were shielded away from acting on—that is the horrific human-caused drive toward a 6th mass extinction.” 

The exhibition is a collection of student artworks that deal with the materialities of media technologies. It 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. 

Artists: Gurden Batra, Ameya Chikramane, Punit Hiremath, Eerika Jalasaho, Julia Sand, Reishab Kailey, Kevan Murtagh, Hanna Arstrom, Leo Kosola, Takayuki Nakashima, Liisi Soroush, Surabhi Nadig Surendra. 

Artists: Reishabh Kailey, Gurden Batra & Serpil Oğuz. Discarded electronics and wood, 2019

Sandpapering and viruses

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

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

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

An image of Dong's malwared laptop.

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

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

She explains:

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

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

Burrington's grinder and iPhone.

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

Dusted iPhone.

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

the (w)holi(e)ness of aesthetics

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

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

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

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

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

In search of the golden materiality coefficient…

Inside Nest Saturated

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

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

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

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

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

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

References and further reads-

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

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

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

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

The paradox of e-waste

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The evolution of tech

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collapse OS and other speculative scenarios

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

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

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

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

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

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

The modern form of human

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

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

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

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

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

What does “Made in Japan” mean?

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

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

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

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

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

 

References ;

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

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

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

 

Aesthetics of Human Life

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

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

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

Will reading on your screen save the planet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] Thermocultures of Geological Media – Nicole Starosielski

[2] Gaea (1875) – Anselm Feuerbach

[3] Purity and Danger –  Mary Douglas

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

Original painting ‘Freedom from want’ by Norman Rockwell.

Data centers as heaters

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

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

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

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

Espoo district heating transformation plan

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

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

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

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIo_CM-L41c[/embedyt]

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.

Fictional screams and other assaults

This post includes mentions of sexual assault.

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

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cL_qGMfbtAk[/embedyt]

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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/