Summary

  • Program Earth pursues two parallel projects: first, a theoretical response to the concept of planetary-scale computation through engagement w/ philosophical work; and second, accounting for various sensor technologies and their use in citizen sensing projects, and the concurrent formation of the “environmental citizen” as a techno-social formation. (This is a space where Gabrys’ work shades into the sociological approach to digital studies.)

Keywords

  • “programmability”: “‘Programmability,’ as I employ the term, has a somewhat wider use than just software or code. Instead, this expanded engagement with programmability considers how code is not a discursive structure or rule that acts on things, but rather is an embodied and embedded set of operations that are articulated across devices, environments, practices, and imaginations” (11).
  • “environment”: “My use of the term ‘environment’ is perhaps closest to Simondon’s exterior milieu, which is one milieu of several that designate spaces in communication. I also draw connections across these discussions of milieu to engage with Whitehead’s designation of environment as the processual condition and datum influencing the formation of feeling subjects” (12).
  • “becoming environmental of computation”: “The becoming environmental of computation then signals that environments are not fixed backdrops for the implementation of sensor devices, but rather are involved in processes of becoming along with these technologies. Environment is not the ground or fundamental condition against which sensor technologies form, but rather develops with and through sensor technologies as they take hold and concresce in these contexts” (9).
  • “However, Program Earth is situated somewhat obliquely to studies of participatory and social media, in that while it is focused on the political and participatory enablement of environmental sensing, it is primarily oriented toward more-than-human, environmental, and distributed analyses of how citizens and citizen-based engagements are expressed through this distinct set of technologies” (21); participation as a more-than-human undertaking.
  • Affect beyond phenomenology: “Program Earth works to develop new theories of sensing that do not rely on an a priori human-centric subject or mediated subject–object relationship. Sensing here is not primarily or exclusively about human modalities of sensing, but rather has to do with distributed formations and conjunctions of experience across human and nonhuman sensing subjects, in and through environments. Sensing, in this respect, is understood as a multifaceted process of participating, individuating, and concrescing” (22–23).

Notes

0. Introduction

  • Starts w/ discussion of McLuhan
  • “[I] consider instead how programmability might signal a quite different and distributed way of remaking environments. Programmability, the programming of Earth, yields processes for making new environments not necessarily as extensions of humans, but rather as new configurations or ‘techno-geographies’ that concretize across technologies, people, practices, and nonhuman entities” (4).
  • Program Earth addresses the programmability of the planet by focusing on the becoming environmental of computation. . . . I ask how sensor technologies are generating distinct ways of programming and concretizing environments and environmental relations. I further consider how sensors inform our engagements with environmental processes and politics, and in what ways we might engage with the ‘technicity’ of environmental sensors to consider the possibility for other types of relations with these technologies” (4).
  • Core insight here: the environment isn’t a backdrop for stable bodies but rather an unfolding process of becoming wherein things are constantly individuating and re-individuating (i.e., Simondonian ontogenesis) (11); computing is vital as the engine of this generative process.
  • “The planetary then describes processes of individuation and concrescence that in-form the potential of this entity, Earth, to take hold and be experienced in particular ways. Programmability is one way of characterizing a particular process of individuation and concrescence that activates the planet and its entities as an operation space” (14). Note also the focus on the multiplicity of earths, each generated w/i specific technical conditions.
  • Gabrys both marshals insights from the computational transformation of scientific ecology into a cybernetic, logistic, and programmable enterprise (15); and also ecology in the sense of “media ecologies”: “material-spatial conditions of media as part of an extended way of understanding . . .” (16).
  • Distinguishes environmental analysis from environmentalist analysis: environmentalist politics being a specific formation and not innate to material grounds, cf. Nixon; also pushes beyond the “green media” turn of representation or environmentalist topics (16).

Part 1. Wild Sensing

Part 2. Pollution Sensing

Part 3. Urban Sensing

Archive and Impact

  • Gabrys teaches at Goldsmiths and is one of the most important scholars working today at the intersection of computation and the environment. I really enjoy her work (including her earlier book, Digital Rubbish) because it sutures the ecological approach to media studies, i.e. the one concerned w/ pollution and circulations of waste, with the more theoretical and philosophical approach promulgated by folks like Parikka in A Geology of Media.
  • Given the exigencies of the British university system, Gabrys also runs a prominent experimental lab adjacent to this book project; its focus is more on citizen sensing tech, which shades into STS, citizen science, crowdsourcing, and some of the political issues re: governmentality that Bratton addresses. (Also a great ex. of joining together academic and more hands-on practices.)
  • Major theoretical interlocutors are Simondon and Whitehead, which are popular theorists in the European media studies sets right now, and links also to the speculative realist / OOO lineage. Also cites Guattari prominently.
  • Also situate this study w/i work on ubicomp and design, which has resonances w/ Kraus and Rosner.
  • Methods: both philosophical/theory and a bunch of fieldwork (23).
  • The response to this book was surprisingly muted; a number of reviews (all written by men, natch) were more concerned w/ Gabrys not citing all of the philosophers (also men) that they wished she would have; others were miffed at the approach not being fully empirical. To be honest, I think this book is quite important and a useful mapping of a terrain that otherwise gets subsumed into empiricism or high theory. These shitty reviews definitely point to a masculinist culture of theory circlejerking, something I want to very much avoid in my work.