Digital Energetics

Pasek, Anne; Lin, Cindy Kaiying; Cooper, Zane Griffin Talley; Kinder, Jordan B.

Energy and media are the entangled middles of social life—and also of each other. This volume traces the contours of both a media analytic of energy and an energy analytic of media across the cultural, environmental, and economic relations they undergird. Digital Energetics argues that media and energy require joint theorization—not only in their potential to universalize but also in the many contingent and intermeshed relations that they bind together across contemporary informational and fossil regimes. Focusing specifically on digital operations, the coauthors analyze how data and energy have jointly modulated the character of the materiality and labor of digital systems in a warming world.

Anne Pasek provides a brief energy history of the bit, tracing how the electrification and digitization of American computing propelled a turn toward efficiency as both a solution and instigator of parallel crises in the workforce and the climate. Zane Griffin Talley Cooper traces these concerns within cryptographic proof-of-work systems and the heat they necessarily produce and seek to manage. Following heat through the twinned histories of thermodynamics and information theory, he argues that such systems are best approached as a paradigmatic, rather than exceptional, example of computing infrastructures. Cindy Kaiying Lin focuses on the practical and political frictions created as database and management designs move from the Global North to South, illustrating how the energy constraints and software cultures of Indonesia open new spaces of autonomy within environmental governance. Finally, Jordan B. Kinder offers a theorization of “platform energetics,” demonstrating how public energy discourses and settler land claims are entangled in the digital infrastructures of data colonialism in Canada.