Saturday, June 13, 2009

Heavy Data

Hands down the best thing on the materiality of digital infrastructure I've read since Neil Stephenson's magisterial "Mother Earth Mother Board": Tom Vanderbilt's "Data Overload" looks at the architecture of data centers (and the geography of "the cloud") for the New York Times Magazine.
Much of the daily material of our lives is now dematerialized and outsourced to a far-flung, unseen network. The stack of letters becomes the e-mail database on the computer, which gives way to Hotmail or Gmail. The clipping sent to a friend becomes the attached PDF file, which becomes a set of shared bookmarks, hosted offsite. The photos in a box are replaced by JPEGs on a hard drive, then a hosted sharing service like Snapfish. The tilting CD tower gives way to the MP3-laden hard drive which itself yields to a service like Pandora, music that is always “there,” waiting to be heard.

But where is “there,” and what does it look like?

In the spirit of Mechanisms' "following the bits all the way to the metal," Vanderbilt goes and finds out.