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  5. Heavy Clouds: Towards A Material Analysis of Computing

Heavy Clouds: Towards A Material Analysis of Computing

Dr. Jean-François Blanchette
Associate Professor, UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies (GSEIS)

Thursday, November 15, 2012
3:30PM - 5:00PM

NWQB 1st Floor Student Lounge
2025 E Newport Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53211

Please RSVP Online: sois.uwm.edu/heavyclouds

As a label for the most significant infrastructural works of our time, the "Cloud" is sheer marketing genius. An industrial process of massive concentration of processors, network wires, and storage media is subsumed under an ethereal image of wispy vapors. The shift to the Cloud is further wrapped in revolutionary narratives whereby data centers are poised to liberate us from the desktop computers that had themselves liberated us from an earlier version of the computing infrastructure, mainframes. Finally, the Cloud's appeal rides on a promise of infinite (and infinitely cheap) computing capacity, the necessary condition for Big Data to fulfill its mandate of an "intelligent planet."

While compelling in their own right, these narratives provide few conceptual tools with which to analyze the mechanics, significance, and consequence of this important shift. In this talk, I propose that a useful framework for analyzing the cloud and the future evolution of the computing infrastructure proceeds, perhaps surprisingly, from the material basis of digital information. From such a framework, a different set of potential cloud narratives emerge, that foreground rather than obscure essential infrastructural dynamics: design trade-offs, the dialectics of abstraction and implementation, the long-term persistence of infrastructures, and the politics of scarce computational resources.

Jean-François Blanchette is an Associate Professor in the Department of Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. His is the author of Burdens of Proof: Cryptographic Culture and Evidence Law in the Age of Electronic Documents (MIT Press, 2012), and "A Material History of Bits," JASIT 62 no. 6 (2011).

You are also invited to join Jean-François in an informal discussion on the relationship between Science and Technology Studies and Information Studies.

Friday November 16, 12:00-1:00, Room NWQB 1405
Please bring your own ideas for research areas or teaching approaches.

This talk is co-hosted by:
UW-Milwaukee, School of Information Studies (SOIS)
SOIS Social Studies of Information Research Group
UW-Milwaukee Communications Department
UW-Milwaukee Computer Science Department
Milwaukee School of Engineering
Milwaukee Institute

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