Feigelfeld, Paul (2015) Media Archaeology Out of Nature: An Interview with Jussi Parikka, e-flux.com [Online] Available: http://www.e-flux.com/journal/media-archaeology-out-of-nature-an-interview-with-jussi-parikka/ (28.05.2015)
I’m referring here to the historical contexts in which knowledge about animals and ecology gets turned into discursive strategies for technological constructs. [...]This sort of historical work should remind us not to naturalize technological development even if technologies are so embedded in the natural.
They embody a media history of the earth, and also what will later become a sort of future fossil layer of technological waste. In other words, before and after media, we already have a significant amount of material things that are part and parcel of technological culture. Even dysfunctional technology merits its own place in the history of media—a history we are also writing in the future tense.
If you want one concrete object to illuminate this idea, think of the monstrous Cohen van Balen object H/AlCuTaAu (2014). Mined from existing technological objects, it’s a sort of reverse alchemy that brands the “magic” of technological culture in high-tech relation to the earth. The gold, copper, aluminum, tantalum, and wheatstone that make up the structure are not merely traces of technology. They also represent the persistence of the elemental across various transformations. Despite the merits of McLuhan’s proposal, then, media are less about extensions of man and more about transformations of the elements.
When you start to look at how we talk about our technologies and also how they are designed, we are confronted with various expressions about nature—a fascination with nature, animals, and ecology as processes from which we can somehow learn. Despite promises of connection and economy or a culture of “human” sharing, networked media technologies are also described in terms that make us sound like insect colonies: distributed intelligence, swarms, hive mind, and so forth.
some of the more naïve hypotheses of the self-regulating planet over the past century have always implicitly imagined the planet as something made for us: the underlying belief being that whatever we do to it, the planet will restore a suitable balance for us humans. If the planet is a self-regulating system, it does not necessarily mean that the time-scale is at all adjusted for the human species—Lynn Margulis already reminded us that “Gaia is a tough bitch” who works happily without any humans around.
Already in 1952, Ross Ashby introduced his Homeostat Machine in the Macy conferences on cybernetics, and today we are still in the midst of producing—and sometimes even fetishizing—cultural techniques of optimization.
One key feature of the recent enthusiasm for using “swarming” to describe emergent forms of organization is that it’s no longer necessary to design a central intelligence; instead, one can build reflective, interactive, and developing systems that bootstrap “intelligence” into their behavior. In other words, the beauty of a bird flock that seems to move with a mind of its own is the perfect visual conceptualization for an era that thinks in terms of emergent systems.
The swarm is behind everything, from the banal to the cruel, from the networked smart house to the military-technology complex. The swarm is an infrastructural constitution of relations of sensing, data processing, and feedback structures, and it increasingly constitutes what we as so-called humans are able to perceive.
PF: How does all of this apply to the notion of the “cloud”? I am concerned that this metaphor of the ephemeral and celestial, puffy and angelic, conceals—in a rather smoke-and-mirrors way—the massive campaign of data centralization that it actually encompasses. JP: I am tempted to say that it is as simple as this: the shop window is the cloud, and behind it is the brand—the massive, planetary-level political economy of infrastructural arrangements. It’s in this sense that the Snowden leaks are as much about the wrongdoings of the NSA and the GCHQ as they are about the software and hardware that allow data to flow and be intercepted. It’s not merely about the specific techniques developed for interception, but about the whole arrangement in which data is stored, processed, and transmitted in ways that follow geopolitical preferences.
In 1961, the British science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke suggested that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Sure, but perhaps we could now rephrase that to say that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from nature,” not merely because it is “inspired” by natural processes, but also because it disappears into its surroundings.
I write about fossils and their imagined futures in the forthcoming book, A Geology of Media, by addressing the idea of future landscapes of waste that will be the synthetic remainders of our scientific-technological culture. I move the focus from synthetic intelligence to synthetic rubbish. But in terms of the posthuman, the question is complex.
It was Sean Cubitt again who nailed it: the hostile cyborg-entity that’s out to get us is not sent from the future in the form of a killer robot, but rather exists now as the distributed “intelligence” of corporations that feed on the natural resources of the planet and the living energies of humans.