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The Node Pole as the Archive's Underbelly?

by Ethan Tussey

by Mél Hogan for IN MEDIA RES

Facebook no longer requires an introduction; its user-base is currently estimated at 1 billion active monthly profiles. On the front end, it’s become the epitome of the user-generated content platform and the postmodern living archive. Its underbelly, however, remains much less explored or theorized. What kinds of servers are required to host such large amounts of ‘free’ information, offering up data so rapidly? How do they function? How many? Where? Taken together, these pragmatic questions inform an important theoretical intervention: these dislocated servers–existing in “enterprise zones” and arctic hideaways–not only effectively blind us to the potential environmental costs of our everyday obsession with self-archiving, but also demand a serious revision of the preservation ideals that underpin it. 

Everything we do on Facebook - said to consume 1 of every 7 minutes spent online - triggers servers as a means to locate and return data. These perpetual demands, doubling globally every 18 months, require a lot of energy, which generate a lot of heat. To avoid a meltdown, cool down is required. Enter: the Node Pole. Luleå, Sweden, is home to the 3rd and most recent storage center built by Facebook; prototype for the Node Pole. It's in itself 3 complexes, each equal to one in Forest City (NC), which is itself double the size of the Prineville center (OR). Like data, storage centers are proliferating at exponential rates, in size and speed. These dislocated centers heighten the distance between users and the data they generate as necessary to maintain the archival illusions of continuous uninterrupted access. While the ecological impact of these transactions is at the heart of any critical analysis of Facebook, it's the justifications themselves (for the energy spent) that offer the richest theoretical terrain to explore.

The video presented veils any critical engagement with these large-scale developments. If we imagine Facebook as an archive in the face of mass data creation and circulation - as our billion plus participation indicates - we are faced with the always on, always available, connections it enables through us, and our own desire to always be on. We come to understand the material space of the archive and the electricity that powers its machines, as a virtual ethersphere that produces bigger records than the lived realities it records. This In Media Res piece offers a series of provocations reconnecting Facebook to the bodies and machines that enable it, and the ideals that inform it.

The Node Pole - The Swedish King visits the Facebook data center in Luleå

The Node Pole - The Swedish King visits the Facebook data center in Luleå

from The Node Pole (2013)
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey