Seminar #6. ‘Inside the data furnace: thinking with data materialities’.

WhenTuesday 31 March 2021, 14:00–15:30 CEST on Zoom.
PresentersJulia Velkova ( Assistant professor | Linköping University, Sweden)
Gylfi Magnússon (Professor | University of Iceland)
AbstractCloud computing is hot, literally” wrote concerned researchers at Microsoft (Liu et all, 2011) a decade ago, alluding not to the popularity of the digital “cloud”, but to the scale of heat emitted by servers computing data and stationed in data centers across the world. Seen as a threat that endangers the digital cloud from dissolving, server heat has increasingly become an object of concern for engineers, data center managers, energy utilities and politicians who hatched the idea of “the data furnace” – a techno-economic fix that sees data centers and computation-intense  infrastructure as an important thermal infrastructure to fulfil diverse visions of urban and planetary futures.

This talk makes a journey through one version of the “data furnace” implemented in the form of “smart” heaters in social accommodations in France with the aim to offer a novel vantage point into the politics of value of digital data. Attending to the social life of neglected data materialities – such as heat – allows us to see, first, how beneath a digital economy that thrives upon automation and calculation of data and symbolic exchanges flourishes a growing thermal economy of data that works through human bodies and spaces of everyday life, reproducing social difference in the “cloud” through the thermal regulation of digital exchanges. Second, recognizing that such a thermal politics of data are an integral part of digital cultures and economies invites us to rethink dominant understandings of digital media and our relation to it. 
QuestionsWhat would it mean for our understanding of digital cultures and computational media if we rethink them through the social life of computer heat, rather than through that of information/symbolic exchanges?

What would a history of computation and information look like, if rewritten with the focus on the politics of heat? 
Recommended textsStarosielski N (2016). Thermocultures of Geological Media. Cultural Politics 12(3): 293–309.

Velkova J (2016). Data that warms: Waste heat, infrastructural convergence and the computation traffic commodity. Big Data & Society 3(2): 1–10.