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Locating the Cloud in Sweden‘s North

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In the metaphoric imagery commonly used to describe the Internet, the world wide web has been pictured as being immaterial and fluid, like an ocean to be navigated. The complex infrastructures and heavy industry securing the functionality of web services ‚backstage’ are seldomly part of popular imagination and remain, as technical infrastructures generally, part of an invisible deeper ecology. My presentation is based on ethnographic research conducted in the Swedish city of Luleå where Facebook opened its largest and first European data center in 2013, providing server cooling and storage facilities for user data from Europe, Africa, and the Near East. Spreading rapidly across the globe, data centers are understood to become “factories of the 21st century”, signalling the advent of a new industrial era that comes with social and environmental changes. And indeed, it is mostly thanks to Facebook that Luleå has lately been globally in the news as a center of IT competence and data storage introducing the brand name, “The Node Pole”. Ever since, the Facebook project has become key to this city’s self image and a generator of collective and individual future visions. My presentation asks: How is „the cloud“ imagined in terms of its cultural meanings and future expectations which emerge in relation to the data center industry? How is the cloud socially negotiated when it comes to the relations between the nation state, its regions, and border-crossing IT infrastructures? How does the cloud materialize in terms of local social and environmental change?

Dr. Asta Vonderau is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Social Anthropology at Stockholm University. Her current research project, Farming Data, Forming the Cloud: The Environmental Impact and Cultural Production of Information Technology is funded by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, The Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences.

This talk is part of the Ethics of Big Data series.

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