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The Data Centre as Technological Wilderness? Locating the Human in the Cloud

Date & Time:
16:30 - 18:00,
Wednesday 20 February, 2019


A recurring feature in images and imaginations of the data centre is the complete absence of human beings. The photographs and videos of data centre interiors that circulate in the mass media persistently focus on the futuristic furnishings and high-tech IT equipment they contain, rather than the people that work in these buildings. Data centre workers have not only been erased through the industry’s imaging practices, but also by new materialist theoretical perspectives that have dominated scholarship on cloud computing infrastructure. This talk will bring a visual anthropological analysis of data centre imagery into dialogue with ethnographic fieldwork conducted in UK data centres. In doing so it seeks to explore how an ethnographic approach might critically place the human within the analytical frame of these high-tech worlds. In the course of this discussion, the visual form of the depopulated data centre will be approached through the analytic of ‘wilderness’. Often connoting a domain of ‘pure nature’ uncorrupted by human presence, the concept of wilderness productively resonates with the representational strategies of the data centre industry, where the visual elimination of human workers optically configures the data centre as a posthuman ‘pure machine’. Through the experimental juxtaposition of ‘natural’ and ‘technological’ wildernesses, this talk will examine how the infrastructural fiction of the data centre as a pure machine intersects with emic futures of technological progress, posthuman security, automation and data objectivity.

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  • Name: Alexander Taylor
  • Affiliation: University of Cambridge
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  • Bio: Alexander Taylor is a PhD student at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge.