Module 4: The Materiality of Media
“By now it is well understood that media compound and even generate disability, through…architectural prohibitions, toxic electronic waste, or technologies that establish bodily norms” –Elizabeth Ellcessor and Bill Kirkpatrick (2017), p. 365
In this section of this module we will:
- Identify the ways in which the production of technology is disabling to marginalized bodies.
- Move from a local/regional framework to a global/transnational view of the life cycle of a digital device—from creation to distribution to disposal.
- Situate ourselves in a series of relationships with other bodies, objects, by completing a mapping exercise that tracks the flow of materials, bodies, and affects around the globe.
- Use storytelling to challenge the myth that technology is inherently a social good, and that technology benefits and supports all disabled people.
We take up Jonathan Sterne and Mara Mills’ (2017) call to “think transnationally about disability as it results from global supply chains, war, and international laws or standards” (p. 373). Remember that when we talk about the digital, we are connected to large systems that span the entire world, some people might say that digital technologies reproduce and amplify global systems of power that are deeply rooted in white supremacy and ableism. This call reminds us that colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, and white supremacy are disability justice issues, and are deeply intertwined with technological development.
This section encourages us to explore our personal, intimate relationships with technology and digital media and to use this relationship as a way of interrogating culture, ideology, and power. It is crucial for us to put ourselves in the frame and recognize our own embeddedness in the objects and practices and institutions we study. This method requires that we recognize the places that we learn from—not just from our office or bedroom, but from our body, our identities, and our experiences. We start from this position of our bodies, identities, and experiences, and learn outward, like ripples on a pond, concentric circles taking us beyond the limits of what we know to be true, touching other ripples made by other bodies. We are always learning from each other. Let’s think critically about the ways that digital technologies bring us into contact with one another.
Screen technologies bring us into contact with other bodies, physical and digital, animate and inanimate, human and non-human. For example, through these technologies, we are brought into relationships with digital avatars that represent their real-world, physical human counterparts. Digital avatars are pictures or three-dimensional illustrations that a person creates to represent themselves in video games, virtual worlds, and on social media. Another example is how our bodies touch physical, inanimate screens, keys, and buttons that have already been touched by non-human machines and human labourers in other parts of the world.
Let’s start with creation: the story of how the device we are using right now came to exist and how it came to us. Along the way, we will uncover the values and power structures that underscore the production and circulation of digital devices around the globe. Will also think through the way we become intimate with a multitude of other bodies, as referenced in the previous paragraph, through these processes.
Choose one of the devices you use to access the course material. For example, you may choose your smartphone, tablet, or computer. We want to start by thinking about the physicality of our devices.
Using Google, Wikipedia, or school library databases, take 10 minutes to do some cursory research about your chosen device. Record your reflections below. Keep this information with you because we will be working with it in a mapping exercise later in this Module.
Questions to guide your research:
- What materials go into the creation of your device?
- Where are these materials mined? Who mines them?
- What is the impact of this labour on the miners?
- What is the impact of mineral extraction on the environment/land around these mines?
- Where are the devices manufactured? Who manufactures them?
- Who owns the company? How much does the owner make?
- What are the side effects on labourers of working with these materials?