ICM: Final Project Documentation

Over the course of the semester, I’ve been interested in investigating the ethereal language that we use to describe the internet, data, and other forms of technology and how this language masks the physical processes and material resources that construct said technology. From clouds to cyberspace, the way we talk about technology is misleading and potentially dangerous since it distracts us from the realities of environmental destruction and human labor.

I decided to tie together a couple of the sketches that I’ve been working on with some of these ideas in the form of an interactive, animated essay. Entitled, People are Real. Clouds are Not. the essay explores how the metaphorical terms we use hide important realities that need to be confronted and altered. The inspiration from the title comes from an article by GROUP in the e-flux publication, The Internet Does Not Exist, a collection of essays on the current state o technology and mythology of the internet. I was interested in this particular essay because they also mentioned data center water usage, particularly that of the NSA.

I used several sources, listed in the comments of my essay code as well as in specific endnotes that appear at the bottom of the page. I looked a lot into how data centers are built and are expanding as we increasingly consume data, as well as well-documented cases of labor-rights violations in the tech industry.

I did four animations/interactions, one for each section of the essay. The first looks at the idea of visualizing technology for what it is vs how we talk about it – wen you mouse over a landscape, clouds turn into servers and a stream becomes a data stream. The second shows a map of the world and the number of co-location data centers pops up when you hover over a continent. The third is a set of videos about different sets of tech workers who bring us the internet, from miners in the Congo to Google Data Center employees. The last visually imagines what it would be like to “grow” local community wifi networks, thinking about how community gardens revolutionized our relationship to food and wondering if such networks could do the same in our engagement and understanding of technology.

I used three different coding languages to put the essay together. All of the interactions were coded using p5.js and then uploaded online and embedded with iframe. The essay itself was coded in HTML/CSS.

I ran into some challenges when it came to each of the interactions. A lot had to do with sizing of images in relation to other aspects of the sketches and how they would appear in different online formats. With the data center map, I finally got a working json file after much re-writing, finagling and simplifying. The videos required a lot of DOM element research while the last one went from using complex image arrays to just repeated imagery and mousePressed functions.

I had to re-teach myself HTML and learn CSS for the project. Luckily I had started exploring Code Academy resources before the semester started, so I picked up where I left off and did some exercises and started delving into my own code. I also found the html and css book to be extremely helpful for quickly looking up topics and solutions. However I’m still struggling with getting that damn image in the header to be centered…

Overall, I’m pleased with the final result. I can’t escape the irony that I chose a program like ITP to make things instead of write about them but…this final showed me that I don’t need to forsake my interest in research and writing and that I can use my new skills to enhance my writing projects. I still want to further explore p5’s possibilities and have been intermittently following the kadenze course to give myself further practice.

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12. December 2015 by zoe.bachman.itp
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