Tung-hui Hu – A Prehistory of the Cloud


MIT Press, ISBN: 978-0262029513, English, 240 pages, 2015, USA

One of the major problems with perceiving digital content comes with negotiating the gap between the invisible virtual space and the physical infrastructures we move through. Think of the bewildering feeling of looking at a blinking server and trying to envision the amount of data and processes physically going on inside. This experience also harshly contrasts with the material scale of information we have been used to for centuries. This is a starting point for Hu, who doesn’t stop at exploring the materiality of data centres (the involuntary aesthetics of which are poetically illustrated in Timo Arnall’s Internet Machine), but effectively explaining the metaphorical power of the ‘cloud’: being light, floating, always available somewhere else despite its “amorphous form”, as Tiziana Terranova describes it. Hu is able to coalesce the multiple and different aspects of this concept that has pervaded network infrastructure and our daily technological imaginary so powerfully. Hu insightfully speculates about data-centres, derived from old technologies and protected as military structures, dislocated even in bunker, and consuming an outrageous amount of electricity. He points out an important argument against data centres: “there’s only one way you can see it: from a distance”. From Hu’s descriptions, the whole digital infrastructure, meant to duplicate and dislocate in order to preserve, looks then like a giant beast, which will last while we continue to feed it, but not later than that.