We have already discussed the importance of paying attention to how media technologies are powerful when they are ordinary and relatively invisible. When they work like ‘appliances’ in daily life. This was the key message of McLuhan’s ‘medium theory’ as well as theories of media domestication. These perspectives are limited, however, in that they tend to imagine media technologies individually: the television, the radio, the smart home assistant. They rely on an image of artefacts showing up in our home or office; user-friendly things which extend our contact with others or provide us with certain experiences. We sometimes ignore these domesticated artefacts and things. But we almost always ignore what lies below, or beyond: the vast, dispersed infrastructures on which these media technologies depend. In this episode, we consider media technologies as large-scale infrastructures. If we were to push the boundaries, we could point to all kinds of infrastructural dependencies related about by media: electrical power; water networks; or the mining or rare metals. We will focus however on the internet, as itself a technological infrastructure. This is perhaps the only case where it might make sense to refer to ‘the Internet’ as a proper noun, with the capitalised ‘I’. Thinking of the internet as an infrastructure takes on obvious importance when we look at its history, from its inception as ARPANET, a cold war project in the wake of the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik in 1957, to its more complicated interweaving with other technologies and ideas in subsequent years. While many still tend to describe the internet as an intangible or ‘virtual’ space, we will show that it in fact material, physical, subject to political manipulation and contestation, and increasingly acknowledged as rather fragile.
Thinkers Discussed: Lisa Parks (‘Stuff You Can Kick’: Towards a Theory of Media Infrastructures); James Carey (The Telegraph and Ideology); Nicole Starosielski (The Undersea Network); Jean-Christophe Plantin, Carl Lagoze, Paul N Edwards and Christian Sandvig (Infrastructure Studies meet Platform Studies in the Age of Google and Facebook); John Durham Peters (The Marvelous Clouds: Towards a Philosophy of Elemental Media); Michel Callon (Some Elements of a Sociology of Translation: Domestication of the Scallops and the Fishermen of St Brieuc Bay); Susan Leigh-Star (The Ethnography of Infrastructure); Paul Dourish and Genevieve Bell (Divining a Digital Future: Mess and Mythology in Ubiquitous Computing); Manuel Castells (The Internet Galaxy); Lori Emerson (Other Networks); Laura DeNardis (The Internet in Everything: Freedom and Security in a World with No Off Switch / Hidden Levers of Internet Control: An Infrastructure-Based Theory of Internet Governance); Mercedes Bunz and Graham Meikle (The Internet of Things); Joana Moll (CO2GLE); Alexander Galloway (Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization); Gilles Deleuze (Postscript on Societies of Control).