Digital Matters

Save the date Digital Matters ConferenceIn popular discussion digitality is increasingly equated with networked immateriality: disembodied algorithms float rhetorically in an ethereal cloud of big data. Think, for example, of the “digital edition” of the PlayStation 5 console, so called because it has no optical drive to read games, which must instead be downloaded. The implication is that the regular PS5 console is somehow not digital because its storage medium is visible to the unaided human eye. This presupposition of digital immateriality is not just a misconception to be corrected, but a productive site for interdisciplinary scholarly inquiry into media and data practices. In Digital Matters, historians, media theorists and information scholars come together for three days to examine the socio-material constituents of digital systems and artifacts. How and why did people come to deny the materiality of the digital? What can we learn by recovering it? What if we rethink digital materialities as ongoing cooperative accomplishments?

The Digital Matters conference is going to take place December 1 – 3, 2021 at Siegen University’s Collaborative Research Center Media of Cooperation. Given the swift change in pandemic circumstances it will primarily be an online event.

Please check for the most up to date information on the program, and how to participate.

The conference is organized by Thomas Haigh (University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee & Siegen University), Valérie Schafer (University of Luxembourg), Axel Volmar (Siegen University) & Sebastian Giessmann (Siegen University).

December 1:

13:45: Conference introduction and welcome

Moderator:  Valérie Schafer (C2DH, University of Luxembourg)
14:00-14:50: “Travelling machines,” Camille Paloque-Bergès (CNAM, Paris).
15:00-15:50: “Dimensions of Materiality,” Kyle Stine (Johns Hopkins University).

15:50-16:30: Break for virtual coffee.

Moderator: Miglè Bareikytè (Siegen University)
16:30-17:20: “Dance Notation: Grammars for Understanding and Controlling the Body,” Quinn DuPont (University College, Dublin).
17:30-18:20: “Modularity, Materiality, and the Political Order of the Stacks,” Jean-François Blanchette (University of California at Los Angeles).

December 2: 

Moderator: Susanne Förster (Siegen University)
13:30-14:20. “Looking for Oil (and Finding It) in the History of Computing,” Cyrus Mody (Maastricht University).
14:30-15:20. “Digitality and Nature in the Anthropocene,” Felix Stalder (Zurich University of the Arts).

15:20-16:00: Break for virtual coffee.

Moderator: Sebastian Giessmann (Siegen University)
16:00-16:50: “The Great eBook Conspiracy: eReaders, Publishers, and Price Competition in the Early 2000s,” Gerardo Con Diaz (University of California at Davis).
17:00-17:50: “Rematerializing Money: Payment as Palimpsest,” Lana Swartz (University of Virginia) 17:50-18:30.

Break for virtual coffee or, for the adventurous, virtual cocktails.

18:30: Keynote lecture, “Some Species of Materiality.” Jonathan Sterne (McGill University). Moderated by Axel Volmar (Siegen University).

December 3:

Moderator: Thomas Haigh (University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee & Siegen University)
13:00-13:50. “The Politics of Technical Systems,” Bernhard Rieder (University of Amsterdam).
14:00-14:50. “Digital Materiality and Historical Innovation,” Ulf Hashagen (Deutsches Museum).

 14:50-15:15. Break for virtual coffee.

Moderator: Tatjana Seitz (Siegen University)
15:15-16:15. “Web Materialities,” Valérie Schafer (C2DH, University of Luxembourg).
16:20-17:00. Closing roundtable featuring the organizers pondering lessons learned.

Digital Network Technologies between Specialization and Generalization

Tim Berners-Lee demonstrates the World Wide Web to delegates at the Hypertext 1991 conference in San Antonio, Texas [CERN-IT-9112021-01]
Tim Berners-Lee demonstrates the World Wide Web to delegates at the Hypertext 1991 conference in San Antonio, Texas [CERN-IT-9112021-01]

Based on historical case studies focused on media and data practices, the project reconstructs the co-operative creation of networked media since 1989. From a media-historical perspective, it aims to provide a contribution to the European and transatlantic history of the Internet and the World Wide Web. From a media-theoretical perspective, the project aims to develop and specify a concept of digitality that takes into account its cooperative emergence, its infrastructural maintenance, universalization, and its specific publics. 

We thereby focus on the constitutive role of a) interchangeability of representations and the growth of digital systems, b) cooperative production of interoperability and modularity, and c) elementary practices of reading, writing and algorithmic control. The three work packages of the project explore

  1. the constitution of the World Wide Web via its situated work constitution (Gießmann, Schüttpelz, Taha, Volmar),
  2. the development of intranets using the example of German corporate networks (Taha) and
  3. the emergence and spread of IP-based real-time communication via instant messaging (Volmar).

We assume that the establishment of the Internet and especially the World Wide Web as a public general-purpose infrastructure has lead to a remediation of cooperative practices of local working contexts. The project therefore therefore reconstructs the emergence and proliferation of web applications as a software- and data-oriented infrastructural history of cooperative media. We focus on the mutual production of cooperative conditions from collective, locally limited as well as translocally distributed work contexts and the corresponding situated data practices and arrangements (such as format usage, user administration, file sharing, collaborative processing of files, programming, error correction, patenting, standardization, etc.). 

We are particularly interested in the interactions between work practices and the specific requirements for cooperation they produce, and in the materializations and affordances of digital micro-practices, through which cooperative conditions are ultimately realized in the form of digitally networked applications. We analyze these dynamics before the background of a longue durée of bureaucratic and administrative processes. These form the underlying socio-technical conditions that determine the materiality of cooperative computing, networking and data processing.

This research project is a part of the Collaborative Research Center „Media of Cooperation“ at Siegen University. Feel free to contact us anytime! Up to date publications can be found at our Media of Cooperation homepage.

Principal Investigators: Dr. Sebastian Gießmann | Prof. Dr. Erhard Schüttpelz
Researchers: Dipl. Medienwirtin Nadine Taha | Dr. Axel Volmar
Comenius Visiting Professor: Thomas Haigh
Mercator Fellow: Valérie Schafer