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Clouds Deep in the Sea: The Infrastructural Inquiry of the Internet

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    • Publication Information:
      National Chengchi University, 2020.
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    • Abstract:
      Society as an organic system has taken root in the spatial expansion of transportation and communication media. In the light of this materialistic epistemology, the article presents the infrastructural dimensions of the Internet as a communication system, unfolding a discussion with the affinity of the system as a concept with the development of modern transportation and communication networks. From canals, to railways, to radio masts and submarine cable lines, the physical layout of modern transportation and communication infrastructure has, at different times, inspired various thoughts of society as an organic system. The article proposes to use infrastructure as a conceptual entry point to explore the Internet as a communication system. By way of Geoffrey Bowker and Leigh Star’s characterization of infrastructure, the article singles out cable as a crucial boundary object with social and geo-political implications: Socially, the Internet as a technology of connectivity has been a work of collaboration since its incubation stage. Via wired computers under a unified communication protocol, this network technology at the seminal stage underwent a process of social integration, linking diverse communities of practice with heterogeneous interests in national defense, science, and business. Therefore, the Internet fully manifested itself as a socio-technical system. The boundary character of the Internet is also apparent in the transoceanic connection of the submarine cable. Geo-politically, this cable has been, and still is, the acting agent of surveillance systems on a global scale. The risk of disconnection reflects the ongoing conflict and struggle among international political power blocs. In addition, high-tech corridors and zones benefitting from the transoceanic cable linkage substantiate the logic of accumulation through the dispossession characteristic of digital capitalism.
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