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PhD project | ongoing

Head in the Cloud: Tracing the Internet as Embodied Media in the Swiss and Austrian Alps

The PhD project Head in the Cloud [working title] addresses cultural narratives of the immateriality of digital infrastructures (especially the Internet) and the material realities that confront them. The gap between these two facets of digitality serves as the starting point for the investigation, which asks about the interaction between language, imagination, and infrastructural reality: To what extent do globally dominant narratives such as that of the Cloud influence local infrastructure projects? And in what way do local realities, concepts, metaphors, and stories in turn determine the development of computer networks?

The Alpine region of Switzerland and Austria serves as the geographical framework. Here, the myths of a disembodied Internet are confronted in a particularly complex way with the reality of infrastructures and their far-reaching effects on society and the environment: The Alps are simultaneously an ecosystem worth protecting, a significant energy producer, a geological and thus infrastructural hurdle and challenge, a place of tourism, transport, value creation and pollution.

At the same time, the materiality of the digital often seems distant here, with value chains, manufacturing, and major Internet hubs hundreds of miles away. Here, the oft-cited "digital revolution" is confronted with some of its greatest challenges, but perhaps also opportunities. Through a series of interviews and artistic/scholarly field notes, this project illuminates this confrontation and inquires into the stories, imaginaries, and fantasies that emerge in the process.

The research project operates within media studies and, in doing so, within the field of media ecology. It draws on approaches and sources from art, anthropology, literature, social science, and information technology, and contributes to the topic of the relationship between language and reality, as well as the role of art in science.

This project is supervised by → Prof Dr Karin Harrasser and → Dr Prof Dorothée King. The project is funded by the SNF DOC.CH research grant for the period 2022-25.

You can read more about this research project in → this short portrait, written by Miguel de la Riva, or → this guest article, written by Vanessa Graf, for derstandard.at (both articles available in German language only).