Nicole StarosielskiAug 25, 2015
The Undersea Network
Duke University Press 2015
Nicole Starosielski's new book brings an environmental and ecological consciousness to the study of digital media and digital systems, and it is a must-read. The Undersea Network (Duke University Press, 2015) looks carefully and imaginatively at the geography of undersea cable networks, paying special attention to the materiality of network infrastructure and its relationships with the histories of the Pacific. The book revises what we think we know about the infrastructure of global networks: they are not "wireless," but wired; not rhizomatic and distributed, but semicentralized; not deterritorialized, but "territorially entrenched"; not resilient, but precarious and vulnerable; and not urban, but rural and aquatic. After providing a broad overview of three major eras of cable development - the copper cables of the 1850s-1950s, the coaxial cables of the 1950s-1980s, and the fiber-optic cables of the 1990s on, in each case focusing on the importance of security, insulation, and interconnection - Starosielski analyzes how cables have become embedded into existing natural and cultural environments in a number of specific sites in Hawai'i, California, New Zealand, British Columbia, Tahiti, Guam, Fiji, Yap, and beyond. Countering the rhetorical pull of terms like "flow" that tend to provoke an approach to media that is deterritorializing and dematerializing, Starosielski instead turns readers' attention to the ecological dimension of media and the fixed, material investments grounding today's communication networks. It is a brilliant book that deserves a wide readership. Don't miss the website that is woven together with the book: www.surfacing.in.