Over 99% of transoceanic data traffic is carried across the oceans by undersea cables. This wired, submarine system has enabled the development of the Internet as an intercontinental phenomenon. Focusing on the conditions that give rise to cable systems, this talk exposes the unseen labor, economics, and politics that go into sustaining global cable connections. Through discussion of case studies spanning the Pacific, it reveals how the experience of mediated wirelessness is accompanied by an increasing investment in wires; intercontinental connections paradoxically require numerous forms of disconnection; and our experience of global fluidity is made possible by relatively stable distribution routes perpetuating conditions of uneven access along lines established a century ago. In doing so, it offers a new imagination of digital infrastructure: as semi-centralized, rather than distributed; territorially entrenched, rather than deterritorialized; precarious, rather than resilient; and rural and aquatic, rather than urban.

Nicole Starosielski’s research focuses on the global distribution of digital media, and the relationship between technology, society, and the aquatic environment. She is under contract with Duke University Press for a book that will examine the cultural and environmental dimensions of transoceanic cable systems, beginning with the telegraph cables that formed the first global communications network and extending to the fiber-optic infrastructure that carries almost international Internet traffic. Starosielski has recently published essays on how Fiji’s video stores serve as a nexus of digital media access (MediaFieldsJournal), on Guam’s critical role in transpacific digital exchange (Amerasia), on the cultural imbrications of cable systems in Hawaii and California (JournalofVisualCulture), and a photo essay on undersea cables (Octopus). She recently taught at Miami University (Ohio). She received her Ph.D. from UC-Santa Barbara.

Catered reception follows.

 

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