- HSSB 4020
Media under Water: Cultural Conflict and Strategies of Insulation at Transpacific Cable Landing Points
Submarine cables are one of the least expensive and most durable forms of transoceanic communication. From the telegraph lines laid in the 1860s to the fiber-optic infrastructure that carries almost all transoceanic internet traffic, cables have formed a critical foundation for global information systems and supported the interconnection of economic, cultural, and political networks around bodies of water.
While communication networks are typically examined for the ways that they support immaterial exchanges and facilitate the flow of data from continent to continent, flattening out space and compressing time, this presentation maps how undersea cables have been produced in the unique social ecologies of aquatic and coastal environments. Drawing from on-site research along the original trans-pacific cable route in California, Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines, it focuses on interactions at the cable landing point, where cables emerge from the deep ocean and intersect public spaces such as beaches, highways, and coastal waters. Here they become entangled with the trajectories of previous inhabitants, such as fishermen, environmentalists, and local communities. These conflicts produce friction in the operation of global networks and have resulted in the development of extensive strategies of insulation: social, architectural, and geographic formations that reduce the impacts of material environments on cable infrastructure. This project documents and visualizes the traces of these “invisible” geographies in an effort to make submerged media technologies more intelligible both within the academic field of media studies and within the public sphere.
The presentation will also include a demo of “Surfacing,” an interactive visualization of cabled environments.