As private, corporate infrastructures slowly encroach on the public realm, they may enable privacy breaches through user data extraction, or determine the agency of the user, or may perpetuate systemic inequalities through their very design. Paying attention to the harms they produce is paramount.
Digital infrapuncture is a term that draws attention to what could be defined as stress points in infrastructures and stimulates thinking about how to intervene. In a talk she presented in 2016 called Identifying the point of it all: Towards a Model of "Digital Infrapuncture"1, Deb Verhoeven develops this concept in relation to the field of digital humanities. In her talk she gives the example of the Greek and Italian cinemas that appeared in Melbourne before the invention of the video tape and the influence they have had over the influx and self-organisation of the Italian and Greek immigrants living in Australia at the time. Her research concluded that these small cinemas that only screened subtitled Italian and Greek movies led to an increase in migrant population from those areas. Similarly, the shutting down of a cinema coincided with the dispersion of the immigrant community in the neighbourhood. She uses this example to illustrate the importance of alterations in infrastructures for social and cultural exchange.
Informed by the work of scholar Bethany Nowviskie2, Verhoeven asks for a rethinking of digital infrastructures in terms of capacity and care, by "developing an appreciation for where it hurts, where the sense of pain is in the worlds that we inhabit and study" and creating small scale interventions which can enkindle transformation on a larger scale.
In her presentation, she describes digital infrastructures according to their:
- capacity to create the conditions of possibility for connection
- their capacity for repair3
- and their capacity to bring things (back) together
This definition of digital infrastructures favours their community-making capacities. It centers the desire for an infrastructure to recover from moments of stress and continue existing for the benefit of the community who participates in it. If we understand an infrastructure as a relational structure - or in other words - as a technology that brings things (back) together, we can start to critically enquire where infrastructures fail to do so.
How does an infrastructure connect? And how are these connections constructed and formatted?
Who is an infrastructure bringing together? And who is excluded from this process? What are the conditions and possibilities for connection they provide?
And, most importantly, who has the access and agency to actually intervene in the design of infrastructures? And how?
Verhoeven, Deb. "Opening Keynote: Identifying the point of it all: Towards a Model of 'Digital Infrapuncture'" Digital Humanities at Oxford Summer School (2016) https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/opening-keynote-identifying-point-it-all-towards-model-digital-infrapuncture ↩
Jackson, Steven J. "Rethinking Repair" Media Technologies: Essays on Communication, Materiality, and Society (2014): 221-239. https://sjackson.infosci.cornell.edu/Jackson_RethinkingRepair(MITPress2014).pdf ↩