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Signal Traffic

Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures

Edited by LISA PARKS
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Signal Traffic
    Book Description:

    The contributors to Signal Traffic investigate how the material artifacts of media infrastructure--transoceanic cables, mobile telephone towers, Internet data centers, and the like--intersect with everyday life. Essayists confront the multiple and hybrid forms networks take, the different ways networks are imagined and engaged with by publics around the world, their local effects, and what human beings experience when a network fails. Some contributors explore the physical objects and industrial relations that make up an infrastructure. Others venture into the marginalized communities orphaned from the knowledge economies, technological literacies, and epistemological questions linked to infrastructural formation and use. The wide-ranging insights delineate the oft-ignored contrasts between industrialized and developing regions, rich and poor areas, and urban and rural settings, bringing technological differences into focus. Contributors include Charles R. Acland, Paul Dourish, Sarah Harris, Jennifer Holt and Patrick Vonderau, Shannon Mattern, Toby Miller, Lisa Parks, Christian Sandvig, Nicole Starosielski, Jonathan Sterne, and Helga Tawil-Souri.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09741-6
    Subjects: Technology, Language & Literature, Business

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-28)

    Signal traffic refers to the movement of electronic media across various parts of the planet. It is the aggregate result of a global culture of continuous electronic transmissions. Though electronic signal trafficking can be dated to the rise of telegraphy during the nineteenth century, this book focuses on the contemporary era of media globalization-an era characterized by contradictory global mediascapes and multiple media infrastructures.¹ Today, broadcasting, cable, satellite, Internet, and mobile telephone systems are used simultaneously, and sometimes in coordinated ways, to route signal traffic to and from sites around the world. The content and form of contemporary media-whether television...


    • CHAPTER 1 Compression: A Loose History
      (pp. 31-52)

      The use of the wordcompressionto describe a communication technology process comes rather late in its history. According to theOxford English Dictionary, the termcompressionis at least six hundred years old. Its use to describe the “condensation of thought and language” dates to the eighteenth century. The term was first applied to machinery—steam engines—in the mid-nineteenth century. Compression as a description of representation thus predates its use to describe a technical operation by about one hundred years.¹

      Today, compression in communication engineering refers to one of two things: data compression or dynamic range compression. People...

    • CHAPTER 2 Fixed Flow: Undersea Cables as Media Infrastructure
      (pp. 53-70)

      With each wave of technological development, the media landscape appears less wired. Mobile phones, tablets, and laptops enable users to access content in an array of environments, appearing to connect only intermittently to an electric or communications grid. Wireless devices are used to control media technologies at a distance, whether radios, television screens, or video games. Contact with digital systems today is marked by what Adrian Mackenzie describes as “wirelessness,” an experience of being entangled with wireless technologies and services at many different places and times, along with the indistinct sensations of interference and weak connection they generate.¹ This experience...

    • CHAPTER 3 “Where the Internet Lives”: Data Centers as Cloud Infrastructure
      (pp. 71-93)

      Emblazoned with the headline “Transparency,” Google released dozens of interior and exterior glossy images of their data centers on the company’s website in 2012. Inviting the public to “come inside” and “see where the Internet lives,” Google proudly announced they would reveal “what we’re made of—inside and out” by offering virtual tours through photo galleries of the technology, the people, and the places making up their data centers.¹ Google’s tours showed the world a glimpse of these structures with a series of photographs showcasing “the physical Internet,” as the site characterized it. The pictures consisted mainly of slick, artful...

    • CHAPTER 4 Deep Time of Media Infrastructure
      (pp. 94-112)

      When it first appeared in English usage in the mid-1920s, “infrastructure” referred to roads, tunnels, other public works, and permanent military structures. Google’s Ngram viewer, which displays the frequency with which words appear in Google’s corpora of books, shows that the term was rather obscure until around 1960—roughly the same time that “media” began to take off and “telecommunications” came into widespread use. Thus it is no coincidence that infrastructure—a word whose Latin roots, denoting any form of substructure, would seem to lend it to liberal use—is commonly associated with modern electronic communications and the trafficking of...


    • CHAPTER 5 Water, Energy, Access: Materializing the Internet in Rural Zambia
      (pp. 115-136)

      Infrastructure is both the thing and the story. It is the transparent and the spectacular. It is seamless in its operation and can be disastrous in its failure. It is something we do not know whether we should want and something we think we cannot live without. It is what tethers us together and what sets us apart. This chapter explores the material conditions of Internet infrastructure in the rural community of Macha, Zambia. Located in the country’s southern province, Macha is home to 135,000 Tonga people, many of whom speak Chitonga and English, the country’s national language since 1964....

    • CHAPTER 6 The Art of Waste: Contemporary Culture and Unsustainable Energy Use
      (pp. 137-156)

      The fundamental message of this chapter is that contemporary culture hinges upon unsustainable energy use. Whether the topic is fine art or reality TV, each one is complicit with our global environmental crisis. This development also articulates to a new form of diminished worker power—the cognitariat. Together, these tendencies present artists with serious ethical, political, and economic questions. Many of them are responding to those challenges in constructive, reflective ways that can stimulate the rest of us to join the dots and appreciate just how dangerous digital culture is to our world, even as we rely so much on...

    • CHAPTER 7 Cellular Borders: Dis/Connecting Phone Calls in Israel-Palestine
      (pp. 157-180)

      Contradictory conceptions of borders, frontiers, buffer zones, and divisions have particular salience in the landscape of Israel/Palestine.¹ Depending on one’s position and political status, a settler outpost, a Palestinian city, or a checkpoint can be easy for some to pass through or impossible for others.² These different territorial and political spaces (illegal towns, open-air prisons, strict border crossings nowhere near a border) mean that flows in, out, and around them are politically constructed to be uneven, depending on one’s position.

      This chapter deals with two issues. First it takes something as benign as a telephone call—its underlying infrastructure, its...


    • CHAPTER 8 Protocols, Packets, and Proximity: The Materiality of Internet Routing
      (pp. 183-204)

      On the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and South Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles stands a stark, imposing, white office tower, thirty-five stories tall, named simply “One Wilshire.” It looks much like any other downtown office building, although a careful listener might notice that the muted rumble of its air conditioning, audible even over noise of the downtown traffic, seems to go beyond what might normally be expected. The building directory at the security desk in the marbled lobby begins to hint, though, at what might be unusual about this building, as the companies it lists are uniformly telecommunications providers—...

    • CHAPTER 9 Service Providers as Digital Media Infrastructure: Turkey’s Cybercafé Operators
      (pp. 205-224)

      While conducting field research at a cybercafé in Erzurum, Turkey, in 2010, my attention shifted from the computer to the garbled sounds of walkie-talkie static. A stern voice interrupted the hum of mouse clicks, keyboard tapping, and hushed online conversations. Through a narrow opening in the curtain dividing the male section in the front of the café from the female section in the back, I could see a police officer checking each customer’s ID to confirm that he met the minimum age requirement of eighteen. I wondered if the cybercafé operator, who was required by law to filter and monitor...

    • CHAPTER 10 The Internet as the Anti-Television: Distribution Infrastructure as Culture and Power
      (pp. 225-245)

      In a prank circulating on the Internet in 2015, the victim is presented with a link to a video with an attention-grabbing title. When clicked, the screen shows the familiar rotating circular pattern of dots that convey the video is loading: a “wait indicator” in the jargon of human-computer interaction. The text “Buffering Video…” also appears. This video is actually a looped shot of the wait indicator itself. There is nothing but the wait indicator. In one YouTube version of this prank, a commenter wrote: “This must be the most watched thing on all of YouTube.”¹

      If the reader feels...

    • CHAPTER 11 Consumer Electronics and the Building of an Entertainment Infrastructure
      (pp. 246-278)

      Contrary to all the “long tail” talk of micro-audiences and narrow-band taste formations, blockbuster entertainment remains a dominant strategy for media industries. WhenWiredmagazine editor Chris Anderson identified the “long tail” of niche markets—a product of the distribution and consumertracking precision of new computer technologies—he gave validation to entrepreneurs and social activists alike who had faith in the potential of digital diversity.¹ The concept even provoked some prognostications about the end of mass culture, which envisioned a digital economy driven by niche marketing. But mass-market hits persist, they are dispersed across devices and platforms, and they remain...

  8. Contributors
    (pp. 279-282)
  9. Index
    (pp. 283-292)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 293-294)