Technoscience / Ecomateriality / Literature
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Technology in the larger context

November 14th, 2014 | Posted by Cathy Li in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Technology in the larger context)

Information technology might strike us as something intangible and the theory of which only computer scientists and coders can grasp. However, neither the intangibility nor exclusive intelligibility is the case here. True that one must have some knowledge about computer science to construct and understand computer architecture, that is not the whole picture of the generation, transmission and reception of information. The physical reality of information science has been neglected by the public because of its complexity and, one might say, the inconvenient truth behind it.

The core of the physical make-up of information devices, i.e. computers and cellphones, comes from the earth. I may sound like Mr. Obvious right now but this piece of fact has been dismissed/ignored by the public because it is trivial compared to the awe that can be created out of the earth’s product. In other words, the short term gain of conveniency and impressionability outweighs the long term benefit of resource sustainability. Luckily silicon is the second most abundant elements on/in earth and it happens to be the semiconducting element that creates all the awes of information technology. Even though we are not close to depleting all the metals as to depleting crude oil and coal, Jussi Parikka was grave about the reality: “Too often, the extraction of Earth has simultaneously poisoned it, for example, the coltan (columbite-tantalite) mines in Congo, which have fueled bloody wars there.” Industrialization has done this – sucking all the resource out of the earth and turning them into disorganized energy form called heat – at an increasing speed for the past hundreds of years. So information reform, as a natural part of scientific revolution, requires the same process of extracting from the earth and produces the same result of poisoning the earth. Is it too late to stop?

Well, we won’t stop because we are humans who try to profit from everything. One way to look at the issue is that technology reformers have shrunk the size of our devices that require less resource to produce. Also, techno innovators like the Berlin-based artist Martin Howse seeks alternative ways to program computer such as utilizing the byproduct of the nature. “His latest project,” introduced by Motherboard, “Earthboo, boots computers from the naturally-occurring electricity from the earthm, which literally codes the computer. What appears on the screen is actually art.” (Sayej) Projects as such might seem like a freelancer’s recreational product that has no practical use whatsoever. But utilizing what is present, i.e. solar power, geothermal energy, magnetic field etc., will outlast the short-sighted way of consuming energy. The ideology of environmental sustainability should be applied in all subjects of study and industries including information technology. The question we face is not “to be, or not to be” (or is it?), but “to live harmoniously within the environment (and live long), or to have total control over the environment (and die young).”

Work cited:

Parikka, Jussi. “The Geology of Media.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 11 Oct. 2013. Web. 14 Nov. 2014. <http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/10/the-geology-of-media/280523/2/>.

Sayej, Nadja. “Programming Computers with Dirt: Earthboot Powers PCs with Geological Energy.” Motherboard. Web. 14 Nov. 2014. <http://motherboard.vice.com/en_uk/blog/programming-computers-with-dirt-earthboot-powers-pcs-with-geological-energy>.

Some words on data

October 10th, 2014 | Posted by Cathy Li in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Some words on data)

The internet should always be related to quantified data tracking. As for why the internet should be accounted for this, we need to examine why we are quantified tracked in the first place. Reading tracking and other types of tracking should date back to the first human who wrote/drew something down. However, the revolution that led to a significant amount of quantification of matter is the science/technology/information revolution that has been taking place for more than 200 years. Quantifying things enables human to better control the environment and reverse the advantage-disadvantage relation between us and the environment. For example, it is much more reliable for engineers to design in AutoCad instead of drawing on paper. Quantification is useful and that’s why we are doing it. So back to the topic of why we are being quantified tracked, we now clearly see that the companies like Google and Facebook can very well utilize the data that we put in and generate what they need in order to keep the company running. It is the internet that delivers our information to the “Siren Servers”. Hence, the quantified tracking must be related to the internet. Exceptions are in cases where the data generated by the person is also used by the person himself/herself (people who want to know how many words exactly he/she reads in an hour) but those cases don’t concern our privacy and reality alteration talks.

Using a personalized device is not completely culpable just from the stance that we have all used it and enjoyed it to some extent. The practice makes us happy and keep using the personalized product, which is a win-win situation from which any human-based project is expected. However, concerns are raised because people worry that their privacy are violated and their understanding of the world is altered by the internet. Well, true that Google delivers what we want to see and Facebook never tells us who just unfriended us, it is also true that it is not practical to ask for complete truth or all facts from the internet because it is afterall a human-based project. The internet only delivers truths reducible axiomatically and the axioms would still come from us. When answering questions like “What is the most popular icecream on earth?”, the internet is only able to deliver the answer that satisfies our intellectual curiosity and provides us with closure, because there is not even an answer outside interenet. If someone has conducted a global survey on such question and did not keep the result secret, then Google should be able to find that. That’s what Google does, it gathers data but it does not generates data from nothing.

And this brings back to the discussion of the materiality of data. Well, in fact, there is a huge problem of the “material versus immaterial” language but we can continue the discussion without overthrowing the theme. We consider data as ‘0’s and ‘1’s and if anyone asks further what ‘0’s and ‘1’s are, he/she doesn’t want an easy answer. The method of obtaining binaries is to set a boundary and say what’s on one side is ‘0’ and the other ‘1’. In computer systems, the boundary is usually a voltage reading; in “pass/fail” classes, the boundary is a score. Therefore, one can say that there must be some materiality there for us to set the boundary. And hence the computers, wires, pipes, and optical fibres all exist tangibly to generate and deliver the ‘0’s and ‘1’s. In a way, the ‘0’s and ‘1’s might as well be anything: apples and oranges, voltage above 5 volts and voltage below 5 volts, likes and dislikes. There is no meaning of data without asking what the data set is about.

Digital Materiality Blog Post

October 10th, 2014 | Posted by David Builes in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Digital Materiality Blog Post)

There is a very big mismatch between the public conception of data and what data truly is. As Blanchette writes in “A Material History of Bits”, many of us who do not know the nuts and bolts of the technologies used in our information age see information as immaterial; a misconception that businesses sometimes consciously promote. A very dramatic and easy way to demonstrate this mismatch, a method we used during our class, is by simply google searching “cyberspace” under images, here. These images no doubt come from various popular fictional universes, and one might think this is all just harmless fun. However, Blanchette argues persuasively that these misconceptions can have serious real world consequences. For example, when laws and policies about digital media begin to be formulated on the premise that digital media are somehow immaterial, then these laws and policies are simply based on errors (4-5). 

Adopting a material perspective on the internet and networked digital systems gives us a more realistic perspective on them. For example, having a conception of information systems as immaterial can make us draw false conclusions about its risks. The idea that the internet can simply “break” during a bad natural disaster that harms the physical buildings where the internet is maintained is unthinkable if the internet is wholly immaterial, but fairly obvious once one recognizes its materiality. Furthermore, we can better appreciate the consequences that the digital has on the environment when we recognize its materiality. Again, if the digital were immaterial, then it couldn’t possibly have environmental impacts, but given that it isn’t, we have to be mindful about the environmental impacts it does have instead of assuming that the digital is always more environmentally friendly than the analog. Moving forward into the future, there is much interesting work to be done by future engineers to minimize these environmental impacts. While information will never truly be immaterial, we can try our best to make it as seamless as possible. Human ingenuity, coupled with Moore’s law and the new breakthroughs promised by quantum computing, gives us some reasonable hope that we can make progress towards this goal.

Works Cited

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