05 April 2011

Invisible Infrastructure: Hertzian Space and Digital Flows of Philadelphia

AT&T Communication's Building at 500 South 27th St., from the South Street Bridge.
For those of you in or nearby Philadelphia, the Grid/Flow conference at Temple University takes place this Thursday and Friday, April 7 and 8 (schedule here). Admission is free; the organizers have culled a diverse group of scholars together for conference and it will be an interesting, worthwhile event. I feel it is also important to support these sort of interdisciplinary conferences at Temple University--they bring a dynamism to the campus that is not often present. I will be giving a talk in the 2:30 to 5:00 session on Friday on the infrastructure of mobile communication; below is the abstract I submitted, Invisible Infrastructure: Hertzian Space and Digital Flows of Philadelphia:

The transformation of nature into culture that is continuously producing the contemporary urban landscape occurs through infrastructure.  Modern infrastructural networks—water, electricity, transportation, and communication—course below and above the street-level grid of a city such as Philadelphia, providing the support structures for urban life.  A conceptualization of Philadelphia is not complete without considering these metabolic systems that transform the natural environment into the urban.  While not as vital to everyday urban life as water or electricity networks, telecommunication systems are a vital component of the urban environment. As telecommunication has become untethered to place via mobile, digital technologies such as the cellular phone and the Internet, a new layer of privatized infrastructure has spread throughout the city. These globally networked infrastructural systems of the information society are engaged with via the devices that the end-user holds, such as a mobile phone, while the physical infrastructure remains in the background, effectively invisible.  Bringing these digital communication infrastructures forward, and situating them within the larger, networked urban infrastructure systems of Philadelphia, is a way to ground the material and immaterial flows of digitized information that are central to our networked society.  This presentation will utilize photography and mapping techniques to illustrate the place of digital communication infrastructure within the larger context of Philadelphia's urban environment.  It will highlight the connection this digital communication infrastructure has with earlier forms of transportation infrastructure, seen in, for instance the running of fiber-optic cables along railroad track right-of-ways, putting the digital flows of the information economy in the same location as the material flows of the industrial city.  These digital flows create a hertzian space that effectively commodifies the ether surrounding the air we breathe, transforming a basic component of urban nature into a vessel for a privatized telecommunication network.

AT&T's building at 500 S. 27th St. through an iPhone on the AT&T network. The Grid/Flow presentation will include a case study on this facility.

No comments:

Post a Comment