“to adequately understand contemporary media culture we must set out from material realities that precede media themselves – Earth’s history, geological formations, minerals, and energy”
* Book: The Geology of Media. Jussi Parikka. University of Minnesota Press, 2015
From the press release:
“The geological history of media comes under close scrutiny in a new book by Professor Jussi Parikka who contends that media history may be millions, even billions, of years old – especially when you revisit the full story of the raw materials that are used to make the countless media devices we’ve ‘consumed’ for centuries and increasingly rely upon in the 21st century.
In his new book ‘A Geology of Media’ (University of Minnesota Press, ISBN 978-0-8166-9552-2) Parikka, Professor in Technological Culture and Aesthetics at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton, argues that to adequately understand contemporary media culture by thinking about media and its past in geological terms, focusing on Earth’s history, geological formations, minerals, and energy. The book is the third part in the media ecology-trilogy following Digital Contagions (2007) and Insect Media (2010), which won the Anne Friedberg Award for Innovative Scholarship in 2012.
Exploring the resource depletion and material resourcing required for us to use our devices to live networked lives in today’s society, Professor Parikka grounds his analysis in Siegfried Zielinski’s widely discussed notion of deep time—but takes it back millennia. He argues that these raw materials are the physical origins of media technology and by understanding their transformation, eventually from useful tool to e-waste, can aid us all in having a better understanding of the implications that media has for society.
Not only are rare earth minerals and many other materials needed to make our digital media machines work, he observes, but used and obsolete media technologies return to the earth as residue of digital culture, contributing to growing layers of toxic waste for future archaeologists to ponder. Professor Parikka shows that these materials must be considered alongside the often dangerous and exploitative labor processes that refine them into the devices underlying our seemingly virtual or immaterial practices.
“One could call this approach a media history of matter: the different components, minerals, metals, chemicals and other things involved in media are considered essential to media history and archaeology,” says Professor Parikka. “Geology and various related disciplines and fields of knowledge such as chemistry and, indeed, ecology, frame the modern world and give it one possible scientific structure.
“Such disciplines are strongly implied in the emergence of the technological and scientific culture which feeds to our media cultural practice,” he continues. “It is in this sense that I am interested in finding strains of media materialism outside the usual definition of media; instead of radio, I prefer to think what components and materials enable such technologies; instead of networking, we need to remember the importance of copper or optical fiber for such forms of communication; instead of a blunt discussion of ‘the digital’, we need to pick it apart and remember that also mineral durations are essential to it being such a crucial feature that penetrates our academic, social and economic interests.”
“A Geology of Media demonstrates that the environment does not just surround our media cultural world—it runs through it, enables it, and hosts it in an era of unprecedented climate change,” Professor Parikka concludes. “While looking backward to Earth’s distant past, it also looks forward to a more expansive media theory—and, implicitly, media activism.”