by Jussi Parikka
This text consists of slightly edited short excerpts from the longer essay Anthrobscene (University of Minnesota Press, 2014) and the book A Geology of Media (University of Minnesota Press, 2015). It follows a similar idea that design theorist Benjamin Bratton posed in a different context: consider the effect of the Anthropocene, the term for the massive geological impact advanced human science and technology, industrialisation and then the atomic age, on the planet as a design brief that spans over hundreds of years. How did we accidentally design the situation of planetary scale destruction of the environment and our living conditions? Here the concern is especially about the particular materials of design culture of digital media: the supposedly immaterial digital realities of screens and code, which exist only because of massive planetary infrastructures, energy production, data farm facilities and mineral extraction. A focus on materials such as coltan and tantalite has surfaced during the past years as an alternative way to understand design culture that starts not from the slick product on our laps, but from the processes of mining and refining that produce such materials essential for computers, gaming consoles, etc. The period table and rare earth elements become part and parcel of our vocabularies of technology. This is also something that comes out in the nomadic design studio Unknown Field Division’s works over the past years: mapping the planetary conveyor belt and the distant geographies of materials and resources that are connected to a production of the contemporary moment, from smart cities to digital entertainment gadgets. Also artists such as Revital Cohen and Tuur van Balen who are exhibiting in Istanbul at the Design Biennial, have imagined alternative temporal, chemical and geographic ways to see the world of material production.