One of my ongoing interests is the intersection of storage and memory from the labor perspective, and between 2011 and 2013 I worked with Mark Williams and the Journal of e-Media Studies to produce a special issue on “the cloud.”
The issue ultimately expanded from a collection about the labor and cultural politics of cloud storage to also include interviews, reviews, and “working theory” related to digital media, activism, and transformative critique, with compelling essays by Alexis Lothian and Amanda Phillips, Nick Marx, and Anne Cong-Huyen. Adeline Koh, Mark Marino, and Jonathan Kahana interviewed Wendy Chun, Matthew Fuller, and Zoe Beloff, respectively, while Alyssa McLeod reviewed Old Maps Online, and Eric Freedman and Hollis Griffin reported back on the 2010 Flow media studies conference. Eric Hoyt, Wendy Hagenmaier, and Carl Hagenmaier wrapped up the issue with a reflection on developing the Media History Digital Library and the Lantern search tool.
Links to the issue, my introduction, Mark’s preface, each contribution, and a related talk I gave at the University of Michigan in 2014 are all below. I’ve also included the table of contents and abstracts for all ten contributions. Many thanks to Mark for editing this issue with me, to Dartmouth College Library for supporting it, and to all the contributors for their time, generosity, and thoughtfulness.
Computational Cultures after the Cloud
Published in the Journal of e-Media Studies 3.1 (Sayers and Williams, eds.) in 2013 | with contributions from Alexis Lothian and Amanda Phillips, Nick Marx, Anne Cong-Huyen, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun and Adeline Koh, Matthew Fuller and Mark Marino, Zoe Beloff and Jonathan Kahana, Alyssa McLeod, Eric Freedman and Hollis Griffin, and Eric Hoyt, Wendy Hagenmaier, and Carl Hagenmaier | 48,378 words plus image and video files | open access
An introduction to “Computational Cultures after the Cloud” (a special issue of the Journal of e-Media Studies), this essay unpacks some stress points across the issue’s various pieces, with an emphasis on how new forms of scholarly communication and activism are engaging emerging digital economies and digital labor practices. Instead of reading computation deterministically, the introduction highlights critically affirmative approaches to the perceived immateriality of computational work, its processing, storage, and circulation included. Throughout the essay, there is an emphasis on the convergences between online and off-line activities (especially forms of organization) as well as various media types. As the essay ultimately demonstrates, the cloud is historically unique because it is simultaneously immersive and at a remove, inviting frequent and seemingly effortless participation while fostering alienation, individuation, and exploitation. Echoing work by Jonathan Beller, Wendy Chun, Alexander Galloway, Matthew Kirschenbaum, Tara McPherson, Lisa Nakamura, and Trebor Scholz (among others), this perceived effortlessness tends to mask the material conditions and technical particulars that are often sites for political, aesthetic, and performative intervention. DOI: 10.1349/PS1.1938-6060.A.434
What would digital scholarship and the humanities disciplines be like if they centered around processes and possibilities of social and cultural transformation as well as institutional preservation? If they centered around questions of labor, race, and gender and justice at personal, local, and global scales? If their practitioners considered not only how the academy might reach out to underserved communities, but also how the kinds of knowledge production nurtured elsewhere could transform the academy itself? Exploring the conversations that have centered around the Twitter hashtag #transformDH in the past two years, this essay argues that such questions are not hypothetical and that these digital humanities already exist. With the intention of inspiring further work in a similar vein, we offer a curated list of projects, people, and collaborations that suggest the possibilities of a transformative digital humanities. DOI: 10.1349/PS1.1938-6060.A.425
This essay examines the role of online media piracy in the shift away from acquisition- and ownership-based models of consumption in favor of access-based models. In this media industry climate, cloud technologies have played an increasingly important role in providing audiences with content on their own terms. Piracy has long served a similar function, but it is taking on aspects of cloud services as well. I investigate how cloud technologies are changing media piracy activities by examining cyberlockers, web-based services that afford consumers both ubiquitous access and ownership of media content. Cyberlocker use for the illegal trade of copyrighted content, I argue, complicates conventional technological, legal, and cultural discourses about media piracy. DOI: 10.1349/PS1.1938-6060.A.426
“‘Dark Mass,’ or the Problems with Creative Cloud Labor,” by Anne Cong-Huyen (open access HTML)
Crowdsourcing has been praised as a means of distributing work and lowering the costs of production for a variety of contexts: commercial, creative, not-for-profit, academic, and so on. This article examines the problematics of creative crowdsourcing, with an emphasis on labor, both as a subject of representation and as a process that involves the work of volunteers, laborers, writers, and artists. The projects examined, Flight Paths and Mobile Voices (VozMob), offer two contrasting examples of such work that take migrant workers as their focus, thus providing ideal texts as a site of examination at the level of narrative, medium, context, and process. The readings offered situate the projects within the urban environments that inform them—Dubai and Los Angeles—and examine the politics of authorship and voice that must be reevaluated when studying born-digital literature. DOI: 10.1349/PS1.1938-6060.A.427
Adeline Koh speaks with Wendy Chun concerning her thoughts on a new form of interdisciplinarity in higher education. Chun discusses topics such as the tolerance of failure, and comments on the changing status of the digital humanities. She also recommends some specific skills for the 21st-century humanist. DOI: 10.1349/PS1.1938-6060.A.428
Mark Marino interviews Matthew Fuller about developments in software studies and critical code studies over the past five years, as well as future directions for these approaches. In their conversation, the two discuss ways of creating discourse spaces for engineering, artistic, and interpretive disciplines to meet. Fuller describes ways to avoid the peril of science and technology studies (STS) becoming a kind of documentarian or attendant scribe to scientific research and commercial technological development. Fuller also offers examples of critical projects applying cultural studies to the nexus of these academic realms. DOI: 10.1349/PS1.1938-6060.A.428
Jonathan Kahana conducted this conversation with Zoe Beloff in conjunction with installations of Beloff’s The Days of the Commune, a multimedia project based on Bertolt Brecht’s 1956 play of the same name. Consisting of video shot during weekend rehearsals in public spaces around New York City; a performance of the play serialized to take as long as the 1871 Paris Commune; and drawings, broadsheets, and a website, Beloff’s The Days of the Commune was mounted in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, and often coincided with the spaces and movements of the occupation in Manhattan. In this extended version of a dialog to be published with the Slought Foundation Blu-ray Disc of The Days of the Commune, Beloff and Kahana discuss the origins and sources of the project, its relation to Beloff’s previous work, and its place in contemporary anticapitalist art, media, and activism. DOI: 10.1349/PS1.1938-6060.A.433
A Google Maps powered interface that allows users to search for digitized historical maps, Old Maps Online provides a uniquely spatial means of exploring online archival repositories. Although the project has been set back by funding limitations, it proves an important tool for researchers and teachers alike. DOI: 10.1349/PS1.1938-6060.A.431
Eric Freedman and Hollis Griffin review the 2010 Flow media studies conference. With its amalgam of roundtables and protracted yet hyperlocalized social media debates, the Flow conference demonstrates some of the growing pains of an evolving, dispersed, interdisciplinary area of study. These cracks in the foundation of disciplinary logic showcase the dialogic nature of the biennial gathering, and the relative success of its varied sessions. As a transmedia enterprise that engages with complex issues, the Flow conference refuses to reify formal and ideological rifts, and remains dialogic to avoid some of the pitfalls of rigidly linear approaches to scholarly inquiry. As equal parts scholarly event and hyperactive academic performance, Flow provides some key insights into the contested nature of conference space itself. DOI: 10.1349/PS1.1938-6060.A.432
The Media History Digital Library (MHDL) digitizes out-of-copyright periodicals relating to the histories of film, broadcasting, and recorded sound, and makes them widely available for public use. In this essay, the creators of the MHDL website and its new search tool, Lantern, reflect on the development process. Three goals-access, usability, and impact-drive their work, and they discuss each goal in depth. They find that a synthesis of different communities, collections, skill sets, and open source software frameworks is key to achieving these goals. DOI: 10.1349/PS1.1938-6060.A.430
Featured image, edited in Photoshop, and main image both care of the Journal of e-Media Studies, for which I’ve been an editorial board member since 2014. This page was created on 2 August 2019 and last updated on 20 July 2021.