Lit 80, Fall 2013

Tag: media archaeology

Grey Ecology and Dust Matter

Collection of Interest

The recent collection of essays compiled in the book Depletion Design, available as a free download here, contains an essay on Grey Ecology by our recent visitor Drew Burk and an essay on Dust Matter by our Media Archaeology author Jussi Parikka. A double shot of more Media Archaeology.

Media Archaeology Chat Reflection

After reading Chapter One on the book of Media Archaeology [1], written by Jussi Parikka and subsequently attending a symposium with the same person on Friday, I gained a more comprehensive understanding about media effects in our society, specifically, how the nature of a medium influences us as well as our environment.

One element that Dr. Parikka was talking about during the symposium which I especially liked was the impact, both deleterious and benign, of the physical essence of media in our lives. In terms of ourselves, our habits are concretely shaped by repeated utilization of the same form, or physical essence, as Parikka dubs it, of media. For example, having read more hard-copied books back during childhood, we simultaneously grew more accustomed to the presence of written media that we could touch and hold. Thus it is not surprising that most of us find it more comfortable and maybe even more reasonable to obtain a hard-copy of specific media, whether that be a newspaper, manual, textbook etc., rather than perusing said media on digital devices, such as PCs, laptops, and tablets.

Additionally, detrimental effects of the physical essence of media can be seen by environmental influence, specifically the creation of “dirty energy”, some mediums create in our world. Dr. Parikka talked about how an old watermill in his hometown in Finland got converted into a Google Data storage, and how the storage used hydroelectric energy as well as other forms of power sources to operate on a full scale, possibly polluting the ecosystem at the expense of creating more digital data “clouds” for Google users. Thus, we can see that the transmission of media, often considered invisible, often has an apparent physical essence to it. This physicality of media is also expressed in Neuromancer, where both hardware and software are abundant in the cyberpunk world.

Another very interesting aspect brought up by the authors during our discussion session was that whether a medium would become well-known or obsolete in mostly dependent on accident, which means that the fate of a medium customarily happens by accident, and cannot be physically manipulated into any direction. A classic example is the introduction of SMS text messaging in Europe, with phone companies at that time advertising the many advantages of text messaging. What the companies didn’t realize, however, was that the rapid proliferation of texting was not due to people’s recognition of it as a more advantageous method of remote communication than phone calls or other media, but that texting was simply cheaper and a better way to save money for households. This piece of history strongly demonstrated that how well-known a media can really become happens mostly accidentally.

The graphic-novel Daytripper that we will read and discuss this week in class presents some additional insights into media archaeology by furnishing different accounts of alternate history.


[1] Parikka, Jussi, Media Archaeology Accessed Oct. 16, 2013

Chat about media archaeology

Last Friday we had a chat with two scholars about media archaeology. This chat was really inspiring and was also the first chat I had with scholars who do not have major in natural sciences. In the chat, the two scholars showed some examples about media archaeology, explained the research methods used in media archaeology and the relations between media archaeology and culture. What really impressed me was the discussion about whether the carriers should be treated as a part of media.

Just as the theme of the article “Geology of Media” in The Atlantic, these two scholars believe that media is not only data. The media is made of the combination of data and the carriers. They gave us some examples such as the study of book design and research the location of factory to show how to study media archaeology by the study of the information carriers. I agree with them that the carriers were the part of  media in old age before the coming of digital age. Of course the material of a book shows the information a author want to tell the readers. But the situation is not the same as digital age is converting everything into digital numbers. When we are reading digital books, the materials are always the computer screen. As for the information carriers, it does not matter whether data were stored in CDs or in hard drives or in clouds. Because data are just 1’s and 0’s. It is meaningless now to study media while caring about the carriers in digital age because you are not computer scientists or physicists who are working to develop better information carriers. However, I am not denying that it is very useful to study the media before digital age by study of information carriers. I am just believing that the carriers is becoming less and less important with everything being digitalized.

In the end, I would like to share a interesting video Garbage doesn’t lie ( which has some similarity with  the geology of media. I think that should be called “garbage archaeology”.

Media Arch Response

The point that intrigued me most during our discussion with Jussi Parrika was the idea of analyzing media by understanding the processes through which they were created. The particular example given during the discussion was recreating the printing of an old journal with a long outdated printing press. The process of assembling raw materials and physically producing the journal was naturally much more difficult than it would be in modern times. I believe that understanding the way in which something was created can help us understand it more completely. Of course the end result, having a copy of the journal assembled from comparable materials, is not significantly different from a scan of the document stored on a Google server. But by taking part in the process of creating it, these scholars now better understand the mindset of its original creators. It is very rare for creators to have full autonomy to create whatever they wish. They are restricted by the means of production and distribution. Modern recording artists release albums short enough to be contained on a single CD. Painters decide what to create as much according to what hues and brushstrokes are available to them as they do out of self-expression. For having investigated the constraints that the original creators worked within, these scholars are more aware of how important the information within the document was to its creators, or what might have been included out of pragmatism or convention. Although this is a more low-tech example than most of what we discuss in this class, I would argue that this process of understanding through re-creation is a form of augmenting reality.

I think this, in conjunction with the field’s focus on the margins of society rather than the mainstream, is one of the most interesting sides of media archaeology. Historians have given a good deal of attention to the advantages and limitations of past technologies, but sometimes in broad strokes and often focused on the most prominent media of the era. It is very valuable to give more detailed consideration to the less studied pieces of history. Even technologies that are well-understood by historians may offer some interesting implications about specific works or creators which are not as well-studied. Also, using these methods of creation offers scholars a more intimate understanding of the technologies limiting creators than merely studying the theory could.


Media Archaeology Chat Reflection

Following our in-class discussion of Jussi Parikka’s Media Archeology excerpt and his article “The Geology of Media” in The Atlantic, our class attended a symposium during which Mr. Parikka discussed the study of Media Archaeology, as well as fielded our questions regarding the nature of different media and mediums. An important theme that accompanied the majority of our discussion of Media Archaeology is that the informational content is not the only important feature when studying different works – the context and medium through which the media is communicated is arguably equally important.

One of the scholars discussed his current project at his publishing press. They are working on reverse engineering a facsimile of a work from many years ago. To do so, they are utilizing the same material and machinery used at the time of the journal’s original production (in lieu of modern printing technologies). This raises the idea that the experience of consuming a work has an important value in understanding the work fully. I want to know what this value is in regards to his current project. I understand the importance of distinguishing different media when it comes to music, video games, and other multidimensional mediums, but I do not know what new information they aim to discover from creating a tactile replica of the original work when they already have copies of the journal scanned that contain the informational content. Nonetheless, the process of gathering the materials and the research involved in operating dated printing technologies is both interesting and exciting. Our class discussion had many connections to this part of the symposium. Most notably, the disparity between digital and print media is an example of distinct experiences of consuming works (such as the tactile and visual sensations of looking at a physical book versus a computer/LCD screen). This will probably be a very relevant idea during our analysis of the comic book, Daytripper.

Recreating this journal could provide insight regarding the environmental impact of older printing methods, which may in turn predict said impact’s development. Towards the end of the symposium Parikka discussed the environmental repercussions of creating new media. With contemporary digital media, these repercussions include energy expenditure, electronic and chemical wastes associated with production and distribution, and a carbon footprint. The so-called “dirty energy” used to power our major electronic mediatic structures (such as the cloud) is noticeably damaging our environment. He at one point even referred to this concept as the “pathology of media.” I thought this was an interesting way to describe the problem; it is almost as if the excesses of information and pollution are a disease that needs to be treated. This issue has been brought up in class in our discussion of The Difference Engine, specifically the rampant pollution that was a byproduct of technological innovation in London. Parikka continued this discussion by bringing up the idea of progress being accompanied by destruction. The destruction is not just of our physical world either; the creation of factories and technology is accompanied by many ethical issues, such as the acquisition of labor resources (workers who are often outsourced and underpaid). Parikka refers to the sum of these issues as “gray ecology.” This could be one of many benefits of studying media archaeology – finding alternative methods of setting up production of new mediums that are less detrimental ethically and environmentally.

Media Archaeology with Jussi Parikka

Media archaeology explores the components that make up various media elements and technologies and how the origins and interactions between these components have affected the way these medias have developed and established a role in our world. Jussi Parikka presents ideas and observations obtained through media archaeology in his article “The Geology of Media” and his book “Media Archaeology”, yet it was when our class met with the author that we were able to delve into the topic. One of the concepts associated with media archaeology that we discussed was reverse speculation—imagining what the world would have been like if things had gone differently, from a technology standpoint. I found it interesting to wonder, what would our world be like today if Bill Gates did not invent Microsoft? Where would computer programming be now? Would it have taken a completely different route in its design and function? And furthermore, how would that have affected other technologies—such as the development of Apple as a company, or computer software in general? Thinking in this way helps us to understand why our world is the way it is now, and thus we are able to trace the impacts the technology did have on our society and the development of other technologies based on the comparison between the path it took and the path it could’ve taken. This concept is related to William Gibson’s “The Difference Engine”, which explores what the 18th century would have been like if Charles Babbage had succeeded in the creation of the Babbage Engine. The speculative writing draws comparisons between what our world is like today and how it would have been (or how we imagine it would have been) in the past. By looking at the past in this light, we are able to see both how the computer plays a role in our society through the comparison between the known past and the speculative past.

Another component of media archaeology that I found interesting was the observation of technological effects and developments through their relation to Earth. It is easy to overlook that resources play a fundamental role in what is able to develop at what time. Media is more than just data, as it is the device that portrays the data that interprets it and has an effect on how it is perceived—the device gives the data meaning. Development of technology—specifically why certain technologies developed at certain times and how they became the way they are—can be analyzed based on the political economy of the time, particularly in relation to minerals and metals. Similarly, trends in wastes, energy usage, and exploitation of resources provide tracking sources for the development of media elements. The history of media can be traced through what it is made of—chemicals, the developmental processes, and subsequently the develop of technological processes necessary to create and produce the media element. Technology itself can be tied in to the destruction of the world as well, as it has just as much—if not more—of an impact on the world as it develops as the world has on its development. Media develops are thus correlated to pollution, changes in populations, and environmental factors such as storms, weather patterns, or events that affect availability of or accessibility to resources. And environmental pollution isn’t the only kind of pollution that can be traced through technological developments, but mental pollution as well. Though abstract, we are able to see how technology affects our everyday lives and the way we behave and interact. Essentially, geology affects our exposure to media, and our exposure to media affects how our reality is augmented—thus geology is the direct source from which our reality is augmented.

A Final Inspired: Reflecting on the Jussi Parikka & Drew Burk Discussion

Entering this chat I had one main question. Why is Zielinski so against the idea of media archaeology becoming mainstream? Before the question was asked, Parikka explained how the scope through which culture is examined will affect its interpretation. Therefore, it is important that media artifacts be looked at in different ways, so they can be properly and more thoroughly explained. As quickly as this was answered a comment was made by Drew Burk that sparked my interest. He referred to an old professor who suggested how a lot of what we consider as progress today is the other side of catastrophe. Immediately I knew that this idea could be tied into my final assignment. I plan to explore how science fiction continuously depicts worlds in which humanity’s reliance on technology becomes its downfall and how our timeline relates to those worlds. Burk’s brief discussion of this topic has provided ideas for aspects of these fictional worlds and our own world. He explained how today we tend to “turn a blind eye” to the more destructive sides of technology and how moderation and balance of technology is the best way to prevent society from being overwhelmed. More importantly, he made me realize that we do not have to look too far down the line to see this downfall in our own timeline. In St. Louis, local police are discussing using drones to help reduce crime. This suggests a reliance on technology in one of the most important aspects of our lives, our safety. Even if you look at the manufacturing of technology. A factory in China experienced a wave of workers committing suicide because conditions were so poor as a result of society’s demand for new technology. Although I thought interpreting today to understand our timeline was going to be difficult, it appears that it may not be so daunting. All in all, this talk provided me with much needed insight that will help me in developing my final assignment.






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