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Author's Forum Presents A Prehistory of the Cloud: A Conversation with Tung-Hui Hu and John Cheney-Lippold

Tuesday, October 13, 2015
12:00 AM
Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, 913 S. University, Library Gallery, #100

We may imagine the digital cloud as placeless, mute, ethereal, and unmediated. Yet the reality of the cloud is embodied in thousands of massive data centers, any one of which can use as much electricity as a midsized town. Even all these data centers are only one small part of the cloud. Behind that cloud-shaped icon on our screens is a whole universe of technologies and cultural norms, all working to keep us from noticing their existence. In this book, Tung-Hui Hu examines the gap between the real and the virtual in our understanding of the cloud.

Hu shows that the cloud grew out of such older networks as railroad tracks, sewer lines, and television circuits. He describes key moments in the prehistory of the cloud, from the game “Spacewar” as exemplar of time-sharing computers to Cold War bunkers that were later reused as data centers. Countering the popular perception of a new “cloudlike” political power that is dispersed and immaterial, Hu argues that the cloud grafts digital technologies onto older ways of exerting power over a population. But because we invest the cloud with cultural fantasies about security and participation, we fail to recognize its militarized origins and ideology. Moving between the materiality of the technology itself and its cultural rhetoric, Hu’s account offers a set of new tools for rethinking the contemporary digital environment. –MIT Press

Tung-Hui Hu, a former network engineer, is assistant professor of English at the University of Michigan and the recipient of a 2015 NEA literature fellowship. He is also the author of three books of poetry, most recently Greenhouses, Lighthouses.

John Cheney-Lippold is assistant professor of American Culture.

The Author's Forum is a collaboration between the U-M Institute for the Humanities, University Library, & Ann Arbor Book Festival.