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"Where the Internet lives" – performing the material spaces of the "immaterial" production

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"Where the Internet lives" – performing the material spaces of the "immaterial" production

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In this presentation, I will examine the discursive space where the underlying materialities of data centers are performed. Since large-scale data centers are typically not accessible to the public, images of what happens "under the hood" are mostly based on eyewitness accounts and photographs by few privileged visitors. The different performances of materiality have manifold ethico-political implications: they can do justice to the formidable agency of the technologies sustaining our digital landscape, but they might as well raise concerns of the deepening dependence of ICT on scarce natural resources. Presented at New Materialism Conference 2016: "Performing Situated Knowledges: Space, Time, Vulnerability", Warsaw, Poland, Sept 21-23 2016.

In this presentation, I will examine the discursive space where the underlying materialities of data centers are performed. Since large-scale data centers are typically not accessible to the public, images of what happens "under the hood" are mostly based on eyewitness accounts and photographs by few privileged visitors. The different performances of materiality have manifold ethico-political implications: they can do justice to the formidable agency of the technologies sustaining our digital landscape, but they might as well raise concerns of the deepening dependence of ICT on scarce natural resources. Presented at New Materialism Conference 2016: "Performing Situated Knowledges: Space, Time, Vulnerability", Warsaw, Poland, Sept 21-23 2016.

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"Where the Internet lives" – performing the material spaces of the "immaterial" production

  1. 1. Juhana Venäläinen PhD, post-doc researcher University of Eastern Finland juhana.venalainen@uef.fi New Materialism Conference 2016 / Stream 4 / Panel 3: Earthy objects as companions / Warsaw, 22 Sep 2016
  2. 2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCSt5kerv1k
  3. 3. ”I have always believed that technology should do the hard work […] so users can do what makes them happiest: living and loving, not messing with annoying computers!” GOOGLE’S CEO AND CO-FOUNDED LARRY PAGE, IN GOOGLE’S ANNUAL REPORT 2011
  4. 4. After the long hype of ”immaterial” production the ”digitalized” economy, and the ”weightless” world (Coyle 1998) why are the materialities of data now being foregrounded?
  5. 5. “Data centers are the factories of the 21st century.” AXELLE LEMAIRE, FRENCH MINISTER FOR DIGITAL AFFAIRS, IN WSJDLIVE, 2014 https://www.google.com/about/datacenters/gallery/#/places/19
  6. 6. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/03/19/finnish_data_center_start/ ”Mayorof Hamina, Finland: Google creates confidence in the future”
  7. 7. Cook, Gary (2012) How Clean is Your Cloud? Greenpeace International, Amsterdam, p. 5. ”The growth and scale of investment in the cloud is truly mind-blowing, with estimates of a 50-fold increase in the amount of digital information by 2020 and nearly half a trillion in investment in the coming year […] [D]espite the tremendous innovation they contain and the clean-energy potential they possess, most IT companies are rapidly expanding without considering how their choice of energy could impact society."
  8. 8. Cook, Gary (2014) Clicking Clean: How Companies are Creating the Green Internet. Greenpeace International, Amsterdam, p. 5. ”Unfortunately, despite the leadership and innovation demonstrated by green internet pioneers [e.g. Google, Facebook and Apple], other companies lag far behind, with little sense of urgency, choosing to paper over their growing dirty energy footprints […]”
  9. 9. — Composed of servers, storage and network devices; supported by power and cooling equipment — The backbone, or the ”central nervous system”, of the networked ICT infrastructure — Varying in scale from single server ”closets” to huge ”farms” with floor areas of 150,000 m2 — Fastest growing CO2 footprint across the whole ICT sector (Whitehead et al. 2014)
  10. 10. B. Whitehead et al. / Building and Environment 82 (2014), p. 155, based on Koomey 2011 (370 TWh/y = 110 % UK’s annual energy consumption = 2 % of global consumption)
  11. 11. Growing concern on the environmental impacts of the global ICT infrastructure à Growing efforts from the industry to prove its environmental friendliness
  12. 12. https://www.google.com/green/bigpicture/#/ ”1 Google search= driving a Prius for 56 meters” ”1 Google Search= using a 11W energy- saving lamp forone hour” ”2 Google searches = boiling a cup of water in a kettle” …
  13. 13. — Environmental entanglements of the digitally networked economy (2016–) — Purpose: to study the transforming bond between “the economic” and “the ecological” by analyzing the environmental underpinnings of digitally networked production
  14. 14. Data centers as “emblems” / paradigmatic figures of the digital economy: 1) interfaces between the binary oppositions of the immaterial/material, natural/cultural, and economic/ecological 2) intermediaries that link together the three pivotal aspects of the post-industrial production process: data, energy, and economic value
  15. 15. How are the materialities of data centers voiced and “performed” in technology journalism?
  16. 16. — Google hired the photographer Connie Zhou to shoot eight of their data centers in 2012 — Photos were published on Google’s dedicated data center website (”Where the internet lives”) — … as well as featured throughout the technology- oriented online & print media http://www.popphoto.com/photos/2012/10/interview-connie-zhou -being -first-p hotographer-i nside-goog les-massive-data-ce nters
  17. 17. How does the materiality of data “vibrate” through photography and photojournalism?
  18. 18. https://www.google.com/about/datacenters/gallery/#/places/4
  19. 19. https://www.google.com/about/datacenters/gallery/#/places/4 “It's not surprising that so many of the images released by Google would highlight efficiency and environmental friendliness--water vapor means "our cooling towers are at their most efficient […]” (Lecher 2012)
  20. 20. https://www.google.com/about/datacenters/gallery/#/places/4 “Hundreds of fans can be seen taking hot air up and away from the racks, cooling it, and recycling the air back through.” (Storm 2014)
  21. 21. https://www.google.com/about/datacenters/gallery/#/places/4 • Unveiling the materiality of data for making an argumentin the debate about the ICT’s environmental footprint • Data center photography harnessed for giving a positive image of the industry; or criticized as a ”PR push” • Materialities voiced in terms of CO2 (carbon reductionism)
  22. 22. https://www.google.com/about/datacenters/gallery/#/tech/12
  23. 23. https://www.google.com/about/datacenters/gallery/#/tech/12 "But now we enter the floor. Big doesn’t begin to describe it. Row after row of server racks seem to stretch to eternity. Joe Montana in his prime could not throw a football the length of it.” (Levy 2012)
  24. 24. https://www.google.com/about/datacenters/gallery/#/tech/12 "Google says when you're on its website, you're accessing one of the most powerful server networks in the known universe. Looking at these images, it's hard to disagree.” (Storm 2014)
  25. 25. https://www.google.com/about/datacenters/gallery/#/tech/12 • Unveiling the materiality of data for demonstrating the huge scale of physical infrastructures behind ”the cloud” • Celebrates technological progress • Materialities voiced in terms of rapidly transforming, machine- mediated human experience (technological reductionism)
  26. 26. https://www.google.com/about/datacenters/gallery/#/tech/10
  27. 27. https://www.google.com/about/datacenters/gallery/#/tech/10 "It would have been disappointing if Google’s tech centres had been grey and uninspiring.But fortunately for us all they are actually multi-coloured data wonderlands with a carefully created sense of fun and whimsy which reflects the company’s values.” (Alderson 2012)
  28. 28. https://www.google.com/about/datacenters/gallery/#/tech/10 ”Data centres have to be efficient. That doesn’t stop them being beautiful.” (TechWeekEurope Staff 2014)
  29. 29. https://www.google.com/about/datacenters/gallery/#/tech/10 • Unveiling the materiality of data for aesthetic celebration • Serves to highlight the beauty of huge human-made structures, but also to depoliticize them and dampen the critical voices • Materialities voiced in terms of aesthetic play (aesthetic reductionism)
  30. 30. — How does the matter of data come to matter in Google’s data centre photography and its mediations through technology journalism? 1. As matters of fact in the environmental debate 2. As matters of grandeur illustrating the technological infrastructures that are intensivelyreshaping the human experience 3. As matters of art where the ”geekiness of the kingdom of bits” (Levy 2012) gets an aesthetic manifestation
  31. 31. — Could the visual accounts of data centers serve to release more ”thing-power” (Bennett 2010) of their materialities – to open up their agentic capacities (Coole 2013) – , or are they more likely to narrow down the understandings of the data’s vibrant materialities, leading to over-simplified reductions? — à not either/or but both/and? — data center photojournalism as ”performances” that can be turned into platforms of politicization/ depoliticization — unresolved ambiguityabout whether the ”stuff” behind data is ”only” a backdrop (an INFRA-structure) or somethingmore/else
  32. 32. Thank you! juhana.venalainen@uef.fi http://juhanavenalainen.net Twitter: @juhana_
  33. 33. — Sources — Alderson, Rob (2012) Connie Zhou’s photos of the Google data centres are satisfyingly Wonka-ish. It’s Nice That. http://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/connie-zhou-where-the- internet-lives (Accessed 18 Sep 2016). — Bridgwater, Adrian (2015) Forget Nokia: Finland’s promising future is to be server central. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/03/19/finnish_data_center_start/ (Accessed 21 January 2016) — Lecher, Colin (2012) 12 Beautiful Photos Of Google’s (Problematic) Data Centers. Popular Science. http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2012-10/12-beautiful-photos-googles- problematic-data-centers (Accessed 13 Jan 2016) — Levy, Steven (2012) Google Throws Open Doors to Its Top-Secret Data Center | WIRED. Wired. https://www.wired.com/2012/10/ff-inside-google-data-center/ (Accessed 18 Sep 2016). — Storm, Christian (2014) Take a Rare Peek Inside the Massive Data Centers That Power Google. Slate. http://www.slate.com/blogs/business_insider/2014/10/23/behind_the_scenes_look_at_google_data_centers.html (Accessed 13 Jan 2016) — TechWeekEurope Staff (2014) Inside The World’s Most Interesting Data Centres. TechWeekEurope UK. http://www.techweekeurope.co.uk/workspace/google-facebook-equinix- data-centres-135238 (Accessed 22 Jan 2016). — Images: Connie Zhou / Google (https://www.google.com/about/datacenters/gallery/); Wikimedia Commons — Literature: — Bennett, Jane (2010) Vibrant matter: a political ecology of things. Duke University Press, Durham. — Cook, Gary (2012) How Clean is Your Cloud? Greenpeace International, Amsterdam. — Cook, Gary (2014) Clicking Clean: How Companies are Creating the Green Internet. April 2014. Greenpeace International, Washington, D.C. — Coole, Diana (2013) Agentic Capacities and Capacious Historical Materialism: Thinking with New Materialisms in the Political Sciences. Millennium - Journal of International Studies 41:3, 451–469. — Coyle, Diane (1997) The weightless world: strategies for managing the digital economy. Capstone, Oxford. — Koomey, Jonathan G. (2011) Growth in data center electricity use 2005 to 2010. Analytics Press, Oakland, CA. — Whitehead, Beth, Andrews, Deborah, Shah, Amip & Maidment, Graeme (2014) Assessing the environmental impact of data centres part 1: background, energy use and metrics. Building and Environment 82, 151–159.

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