Collect Yourself: Data Storage Centers as the Archive’s Underbelly

Collect Yourself: Data Storage Centers as the Archive’s Underbelly

As the quintessential personal digital archive, Facebook no longer requires an introduction; its user-base is currently estimated at one billion active monthly profiles, give or take a few fake accounts. On the front end, it’s the epitome of the user-generated content platform and of the postmodern living archive. Its underbelly, however, remains much less explored and theorized (Miller, 2006; Bennet 2010). Academic research on Facebook has instead addressed: urgent policy, privacy, and surveillance concerns (Cohen 2008; Shepherd 2012); ownership of user-generated content and its commodification through “big data” (boyd and Crawford 2011); and identity and user behaviour analyses (Marshall 2012), to offer a few examples in a growing body of literature dedicated to Facebook. Within the scholarship, as within journalism and blogging, Facebook’s growth is rarely discussed in terms of the very machines used to manage perpetual user requests: the servers. Even Wikipedia fails to make mention of the site’s data centers.

In relation to Facebook’s material management of personal archive data, several questions remain: What kinds of servers are required to host such large amounts of ‘free’ information, offering up data so rapidly, across so many platforms? How does Facebook’s advertising strategy inform how power is pulled from the grid? How do these servers function? How are they powered? How many are there? Where are they located? 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 the archive.

In my presentation, I will offer up a series of provocations about data storage centers, as the archive’s underbelly, with the intent of reconnecting Facebook to the bodies and machines that enable it, and the ideals that inform it.

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