The data centre industrial complex


"The Data Centre Industrial Complex" outlines three key moments in the scholarly study of data centers as a new site of political, social and environmental significance. As a site of inquiry in media and communication studies, I argue that the data center was first analysed for its materiality; secondly for its impacts; and thirdly, as I focus on in this paper, for its surplus. This third moment, I argue, is of particular importance as we consider that data may now in fact be overproduced to feed the many and globally connected servers labouring for capitalism, rather than simply storing big data for communication. The main point of this presentation is to demonstrate how the huge scale of the industry that facilitates online transactions is now required to stay on, with data surplus at its service. The "Data Centre Industrial Complex" idea stems from similar byproducts of capitalist society, from mass incarceration to the overproduction of corn (in the US). Each case suggests that because the investment in the infrastructure (as means of production) is so large it must be upheld so that the investment remains profitable. Prisons are built to contain prisoners, and then prisoners are created to maintain those prisons. Corn and its byproducts are re-injected into foods because the industry forces its overproduction and then needs a way to discard of it without losing profits. Data centers store data, and then data needs to be created to match and maintain their rate of expansion. The "Data Centre Industrial Complex" concept helps us explore and unpack this disturbing logic and the regimes of data power that undergird it.
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