Processing: Ecologies of Information (Week 2)

This week we read three different metaphors of digital information systems: 1) infrastructure; 2) the stack; 3) the commons. Starr, for example, is concerned with the design of information systems through standards, protocols, categories that may be biased but becomes deeply entrenched and embedded in the network once adopted. Bratton wrestles with emerging governmentalities that transcend physical and sovereign boundaries, and its actors include both private corporations as well as states. Bratton proposes the idea of the Black Stack—an “image of a totality” that directly contrasts with Starr’s metaphor of information as infrastructure.

While Starr uses the metaphor of infrastructure to map out potential sites of research into information systems, it’s not clear what action items can be taken from the metaphor of the “Stack,” or even from just the idea of the “Cloud platforms.” The specific referents are companies like Google and Amazon, which provide services that are very much grounded in and powered, literally, by very physical infrastructure and human labor. Their sheer wealth and influence do distort traditional geopolitics, for example see Amazon’s enormous leverage over the city of choice for their new headquarter. But the Stack-like verticality of relationships doesn’t appear to be useful in terms of visualizing its components (so to identify sites of research/potential intervention). As Chris Watterston’s famous sticker says:

There is no cloud, it's just someone else's computer.

One Reply

  • Thanks, Leila! I appreciate your comments regarding the transparency and generativity of these models. There certainly is a degree of opacity of Bratton’s Stack — but as we’ll see in tomorrow’s class, *others* have also used the stack as a rubric for analyzing the myriad concrete and abstract components of a computational system.

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