Technoscience / Ecomateriality / Literature
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Siren Servers Shying Away from the Material?

October 15th, 2014 | Posted by Diego Nogales in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Siren Servers Shying Away from the Material?)

When the “cloud” and Internet appeared into the world, there was great debate as to how to classify or label this medium for communication and information. Many individuals, like Barlow suggested that cyberspace was separate from the material world and that the typical “legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to [cyberspace]. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here” (Blanchette 4). This approach to network data from the tech industry and its leaders such as Amazon and Google promoted a divergence from the material, in the hope to place digital information and networking on a pedestal above all else. Of course these tech companies want to brand the cloud in this manner because it places their valuable digital information (revenue generator), into an “untouchable” land where typical regulations and laws are a blur. The interesting part is that the false advertisement of data on an immaterial level is not hard to achieve. As we discussed in our recent seminars, the idea of a cyberspace with digital data was something that was envisioned many years ago. This idea was portrayed in many sci-fi movies and futurist shows, such that when we look up cyberspace in Google, we find bizarre photos that do not resemble anything close to what data centers look like.

This means that the general public assumes that cloud space, to be an immaterial one. This implies that the reality of a material perspective of the Internet and networked digital systems is the alternate view rather than the principle one. In personal reflection, I knew that the cloud was not really in a “cloud”-like space, floating in the immaterial, but looking at the pictures of the Google Data Centers and looking at hardware components solidified that reality in a harsh way. For example, I did not know about the wired tunneled underneath the Atlantic Ocean, I just figured that they wired it some how, but I always kept it in the back of my mind and just thought of “Wi-Fi” when I would Skype with someone abroad. My natural instincts to simplify my view of digital networks overshadowed logical and reason. This is a common occurrence and to change the general perspective of the digital network to a material one would be extremely difficult.

Even though it is a challenge, after processing the readings for this week, I think that the material in the digital needs to be recognized. It is a necessity, not because a running imagination is a bad thing, but that grounding the digital space to the material will also link the digital to the same laws and regulations that other mediums face. This is absolutely necessary because the more we allow digital data to become “untouchable”, the more access siren servers, like Amazon and Facebook, have to power and money.

Blanchette, Jean-Francois. “A Material History of Bits.” Web. 10 Oct. 2014. http://polaris.gseis.ucla.edu/blanchette/papers/materiality.pdf

Information Transformations

October 10th, 2014 | Posted by Greg Lyons in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Information Transformations)

What does ancient oral storytelling have in common with cloud computing data centers?  The connection lies in the fact that information cannot exist without a medium to store and deliver it.  Before the invention of writing, human memory was the primary medium for storing information.  Stories were passed down through oral traditions, yet these stories were constantly modified and warped as they were passed down, as imperfections in the medium strongly influenced the information.  Information was lost whenever a story was told for the last time.  The invention and growth of writing revolutionized the way that information was stored, allowing people much greater access (writings of a long-dead author, letters from far away relatives, current events, etc.).  Writing increased the lifespan of information, although it was still very possible to lose data – history has seen far too many book burnings.

The advent of computing has brought about another information revolution, but it is important to remember that this data is still bound to physical media.  In “A Material History of Bits,” Jean Francois Blanchette argues that bits “cannot escape the material constraints of the physical devices that manipulate, store, and exchange them” (1).  Blanchette goes on to describe the mechanisms and processes that are used to store computer data.  These mechanisms have again increased the lifespan of information – when information is lost on one system, often it can be recovered through another system.  When most people log into Facebook or type in a Google search, they do not consider all of the physical computing systems that are involved in the process of bringing up the webpage on the screen.  But the truth is that computing data is very much anchored to physical materials.

Consider a data apocalypse, where every single computer storage system in the world was destroyed (all bits reset to zero).  It might seem intuitive that the information would still be floating around somewhere in vague immaterial space (as many people imagine the “cloud”), and that once the computer systems were rebuilt they would be able to dive back into the pool of information.  However, if every computer storage system were emptied, then there would be no backups or other way of reclaiming the information.  The reality is that once unanchored, the information would drift away like a balloon escaping from a child’s hand, never to be recovered.

Works Cited

Blanchette, Jean-Francois. “A Material History of Bits.” Web. 10 Oct. 2014.http://polaris.gseis.ucla.edu/blanchette/papers/materiality.pdf