Dirty Digital Environmental Humanities: From iPhones to eWaste *POSTPONED*

 >  > Amanda Starling Gould Digital Dialogue *POSTPONED*
Amanda Starling Gould

Amanda Starling Gould

Duke University
Speaker Website
MITH Conference Room
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
12:30 pm

This talk was originally scheduled for March 14, but the speaker has had to postpone her visit until Fall of 2017 due to unforeseen circumstances. MITH will post the new date for this talk along with the Fall 2017 Digital Dialogues schedule in late summer/early fall.

How do we seed digital media study – and the digitally-related humanities writ large – with the deep roots of active sustainability, environmental awareness, and eco action (or activism)?

In Greening the Media, Richard Maxwell and Toby Miller rightly note that “a deep ecological materiality has eluded the humanistic knowledge of media technology.” They point out that the majority of contemporary media studies thinking falls into one of two camps, either humanistic or mechanistic: the humanist focuses primarily on affective results of technologies while the mechanistic theorist looks at digital media’s codes and algorithms. Neither tend properly to the dirty environmental effects of our digital technologies, and I argue, by situating the digital as an affective (humanist) or algorithmic (machinic) artifact, both actually perform de-materializing abstractions that perpetuate the neglect of concrete environmental thinking in the field. Though digital thinking is punctuated by terms like ‘wirelessness,’ ‘the Cloud,’ and notions of immateriality, the truth of course is that our digital network has a very real physical footprint, and even our google searches and spam emails have a carbon output.

This presentation responds to Maxwell and Miller’s call for a deep ecological materiality by introducing a metabolic relational ontology that orients the digital network and digital media as constitutive parts of today’s bio- and geo-material metabolisms. The digital network of connected things and connective infrastructure—the technosphere, as so called by Environmental Engineer Peter Haff—is now profoundly entangled with Anthropogenic environmental concerns, and digital studies has a role to play in creating new narratives to capture these emerging relations. Indeed, the Anthropocene prompts us to re-story our digital theory so as to include its full implications—from mineral mining to e-waste and all the energy use, labor exploitation, and pollution in between—in the digital stories we tell.

This presentation proposes a method for moving media theory from a praxis grounded in computation to one fully rooted in the earth. It explores how we might infuse digital humanities practice, be it artistic or more research based, with a necessary environmental sensitivity in order to enact deeper engagements with our digital metabolic entanglements.

Amanda Starling Gould’s work combines literary, ecocritical, and media techniques with a mindfulness of the environment to broaden our access to the material realities behind our cultural objects and representations. It is informed by the premise that, in our present Anthropocenic age defined by humans acting as a geophysical force, human bodies, cultural technologies, and the earth are intersecting material practices. Aligned with the broad scope of my research program, my dissertation, “Digital Metabolisms: Mapping a Digital Environmental Humanities,” questions the absence of environmental thinking from digital theory. In tracing the material origins of our digital technologies and wireless connections, my research makes clear that the daily use of our weightless devices is ethically-charged with heavy issues of environmental health, social justice, and ecological sustainability. It shifts the media theoretical focus from one grounded in computation to one fully planted in the earth by dispensing with standard maps of cyberspace and the social network to replace them with a digital geography of wires, workers, warehouses, and waste. Her next research and pedagogical projects consider together contemporary environmental art and literature, digital environmental rhetoric, global environmental justice, the field-based environmental studies methods of scholars like Deborah Bird Rose and Thom van Dooren, and sustainable scholarly practice. The aim is to better understand how environmental communications narrate relationships and care-practices – or the lack thereof – between the human and the environment.

A continuously updated schedule of talks is also available on the Digital Dialogues webpage.

Unable to attend the events in person? Archived podcasts can be found on the MITH website, and you can follow our Digital Dialogues Twitter account @digdialog as well as the Twitter hashtag #mithdd to keep up with live tweets from our sessions. Viewers can watch the live stream as well.

All talks free and open to the public. Attendees are welcome to bring their own lunches.

Contact: MITH (mith.umd.edu, mith@umd.edu, 301.405.8927).