Lecture 8 – Hardware: Silicon and Political Spaces

Originally silicon referred only to a specific element on the periodic table. It’s used to create a wide variety of products – including many of the modern technologies we take for granted. Silicon Valley is a renowned location in the United States, it was first named due to the number of innovators and manufacturers in the region using the silicon chip and is now home to a number of the wolds largest technological corporations. Companies such as Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube and more have there head offices in the area, there are also thousands of start-ups in Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley is evidence that there are geographical centres for technology and innovation. Specific spaces and how they are used are not chosen at random, but rather appear and evolve over time due to political, economic and social developments. The evolution and control of these spaces effects us all and is most certainly a specific political issue – one that most of us do not typically consider.

As well as geographical centres for technological development, there are also centres for internet networks – areas where servers, companies etc. are based. For example, the recent DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks were focused on specific companies and networks, interactive maps of the attacks show the areas where network activity and usage is highest, as well as key points and locations where businesses and their servers are based. As you can see on the image below, areas in America, the UK and East Asia are the busiest in terms of traffic and clear centres for internet usage are evident.

Image result for ddos attacks map

When we think of the technological giants and where they are based, this map makes sense. It’s understandable that the economic and political powers of the world are hubs for internet usage. However, where does that leave the citizens of these areas? Do they benefit from the arrangement? And what about those in countries with no servers, limited access to internet and very few technology companies? We have to remember that the geography of the internet has real implications and that inequalities can effect people and places on a day-to-day basis.

As well as what is physically around us, the politics of the technological age we live in, also concerns what we cannot see. The internet and the information contained within it is something that is non-tangible and therefore hard to control. This means that those who do manage to have control over significant data and/or large amounts of information are firstly powerful, influential and financially well-off enough to get hold of the information and are also capable of making large amounts of profit from this data.

Saving our information on cloud servers is becoming ever more popular. We backup our whole lives to these mystical clouds that we cannot see or understand without asking who has access to the information. Our photos, documents, videos etc. are uploading, we back-up our mobile phones, music, contacts and more without a second thought. And then there’s our e-mails. We send them for business or pleasure and we assume their contents are private since we send them to specific people but, they aren’t letters. They aren’t something physical we can seal between here and there.

The personal data of millions of users is connected through the internet, using cloud servers, e-mails, social media accounts and more. But what do the companies who run these cloud servers get from our data? What do they stand to gain from knowing these things about us? To make a long story short, they sell this data. To those who are willing to pay for it. Those willing to pay for it are usually those who will gain the most from having it. You guessed it. Advertisers.

If they know what programmes we watch, what bars we visit, which actors we have a thing for, what books we read, what technologies we use and buy etc. they can target us in knew ways and be more specific about what products are advertised to us. Thus saving them money in the long run as they can narrow their margins and making them money in the long run by ensuring the products that are marketed directly to us, actually appeal to us in the first place based on our user history.

These issues and arguments are something we all need to consider, technology and the information we share will only become more and more powerful from here and it’s definitely within our interests to be careful with it and protect it.

I’m gonna leave this blog post here for now. I’ve covered the main points raised in the lecture and, hopefully, given you something to think about. The seminar will look in more detail at Silicon Valley and the physical aspects of technology rather than the abstract and magical data of the cloud. It’ll be interesting to discuss the social and political effects of producing the technologies we so rely on, as opposed to the social and political effects of the internet and the information on it.

 

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