Bratton H. B. (2016). The Stack, On Software and Sovereignty


(…). In an account that is both theoretical and technical, drawing on political philosophy, architectural theory, and software studies, Bratton explores six layers of The Stack: Earth, Cloud, City, Address, Interface, User.

Each is mapped on its own terms and understood as a component within the larger whole built from hard and soft systems intermingling — not only computational forms but also social, human and physical forces. This model, informed by the logic of the multilayered structure of protocol “stacks”, in which network technologies operate within a modular and vertical order, offers a comprehensive image of our emerging infrastructure and a platform for its ongoing reinvention. (…).


Note: recently published by the MIT Press — as well as quoted as a work in progress by Lucien Langton in a post back in 2015 — comes this book by Prof. Benjamin H. Bratton.

It consists in a comprehensive analysis, both technical and phylosophical of what we could call “The Cloud”, yet what Bratton describes as a world scale “stack” consisting in 6 layers: Earth, Cloud, City, Address, Interface, User (and which interestingly is not so distant to our own approach considering the user, the interface, the infrastructure and the territory).

Hu T.-H. (2015). A Prehistory of The Cloud


We may imagine the digital cloud as placeless, mute, ethereal, and unmediated. Yet the reality of the cloud is embodied in thousands of data centers, any one of which can use as much electricity as a midsized town. Even all these data centers are only one small part of the cloud. Behind that cloud-shaped icon on our screens is a whole universe of technologies and cultural norms, all working to keep us from noticing their existence. In this book, Tung-Hui Hu examines the gap between the real and the virtual (sic) in our understanding of the cloud. (…)


Note: while we do not necessarily follow Mr. Hu in all is assertions, we found it very interesting to digg into the potential past of this physical and digital construct (the cloud), even so it obviously mingles its own past with the one of the Internet, and previously with telegraph/telephone lines and railways that served as the initial paths for these “lines”.

Very interesting is also the part that presents the invention of the “user”, coming from an initial idea of sharing a common resource. It indeed seems that the “user” emerged from the ideas and technologies of “time-sharing”, then “multiprocessing”, when a single mainframe computer could remain stuck by a single user’s computations for hours or even days, sometimes for no results (error in the code).

Mejias, U. A. (2013). Off the Network, The University of Minnesota Press.



Note: Off the Network, a book by Ulises Ali Mejias that is interesting to read when it comes to objectify and question the network paradigm. Beyond the praise about participation and inclusiveness that was widely used by network advocates and now also by marketing companies, Off the Network brings a critical voice and addresses the centralization, or in some other cases the “nodocentrism” that is at work through many global online services, so as the commodification of many aspects of our lives that comes with them.

While we are looking for alternative “architectures” for cloud infrastructure, nodes and services, this is a “dissonant” point of view to take into account and a book that we are integrating into the I&IC bibliography.

“Botcaves” on #algopop

Matthew Plummer-Fernandez just took the occasion to publish the results of the workshop he led at ECAL on #algopop (“studying the appearance of algorithms in popular culture and everyday life”)!

Data Hotel

By Wednesday, November 26, 2014 Tags: 0075, Clouds, Infrastructure, Internet, observation Permalink 0


(Reblogged from Pasta and Vinegar)

A billboard encountered at Haneda Airport in Tokyo this week. I find it interesting to observe the criteria chosen by the cloud company: we understand here that the service should be easy and that a reliable support might exist (24 hours). This looks quite common in the tech industry. However, I find the two others characteristics quite intriguing: “public cloud” and “system architect” sounds a bit abstract and strange. Perhaps the latter corresponds to the idea of a well-designed system, but I wonder about the notion of “public cloud” itself: what does that mean? Although it might suggest a public access to data, it may consist in something else (perhaps there’s a Japanese thing I’m missing here) as it’s difficult to sell people a service where all your data are made public.

I&IC Workshop #2 with James Auger at HEAD, brief: “Cloudy”

At HEAD – Genève today, we started the first workshop of the research project with James Auger (from Auger-Loizeau design studio and the Royal College of Arts in London). We’re going to spend this week with the first year students of the Media Design MA exploring cloud computing, personal cloud systems, objects and user interfaces.

In order to address this, the workshop started with a background description of the project’s purposes, the evolution of computers and network infrastructures, as well as an introduction to the current state of design objects and architectures related to cloud Computing: NAS systems, servers combined with heater, speculative projects related to such technologies. From this broad list of material we wondered about the lack of artefacts that go beyond purely functionalists goals. Cloud computing systems, especially in the context of people’s context is generally a commodity… hence a need for design interventions to re-open this black box.

Following Eames’ quote “A plan for arranging elements to accomplish a particular purpose” (as a definition of design), we asked students to start with a basic activity: to create a map of “elements” related to cloud computing. They had to choose a domain of everyday life (cooking, communication, etc.), begin by compiling “their” elements (material scale, cultural, historical, list people’s motivations, objects used to achieve it, situations, behaviors, etc.), sub-themes.

From this we discussed this ecology of elements and what aspects or user contexts they could focus on. Interestingly, students chose very broad topics: religion, communication, cooking, art performances, animal-computer relationships or music-making.   Based on this map, we then asked students to explore the role of cloud computing into these elements by looking at these questions:

  • How elements of the diagram might work with the cloud? How the cloud may influence each of these elements/the relationships between two of these elements?
  • How relationships between the elements on these maps may evolve with cloud computing?
  • What are the new situations/problems that may arise with the cloud? Implications?
  • What kind of objects will be linked to the cloud? Why? (From products to the role of the product and situations that arise)

The (many) answers to these questions led the groups to highlighting design opportunities to be discussed tomorrow.

Reblog > Internet machine

Note: an interesting “documentary” project/resource for our project is this recent work by designer and researcher Timo Arnall. It was published last May on his website and on different blogs. The focus is obviously here on the data center as a (fascinating?) contemporary artifact, in which the search for technical efficiency, rationality, security, redundancy, clean air, modularity, etc. leads to a specific spatial aesthetic. It is this aesthetic that seems to become the “main character” for this movie that mixes techniques, even so the idea is to reveal/desacralize the “hidden materiality of our data”. This project is planned to be displayed as a multi-screen installation.

While I didn’t have the occasion to see the movie yet, we should keep it in mind and try to display it in the frame of our own research, in particular to the students that will take part to the different I&IC workshops.


Via elasticspace


Internet machine is a multi-screen film about the invisible infrastructures of the internet. The film reveals the hidden materiality of our data by exploring some of the machines through which ‘the cloud’ is transmitted and transformed.


Film: 6 min 40 sec, digital 4K, 25fps, stereo.
Installation: Digital projection, 3 x 16:10 screens, each 4.85m x 2.8m.
Medium: Digital photography, photogrammetry and 3D animation.