The Landscapes of Gadgets

Stat­ing that mod­ern giz­mos (in this example, the iPhone) are no longer just depend­ent on highly integ­rated and developed sys­tems for their pro­duc­tion, but now also depend upon “a vast array of infra­struc­tures, data eco­lo­gies, and device net­works” for their oper­a­tion, Rob Holmes’ “mind-bog­gling update to I, Pen­cil”* looks at the land­scapes of extrac­tion, assembly and oper­a­tion mod­ern gad­gets cre­ate.

As Google is, like Apple, quite secret­ive about the details of the phys­ic­al loci of its imma­ter­i­al product, the loc­a­tions of less than half of Google’s Amer­ic­an data cen­ters are known, with those known cen­ters spread between Cali­for­nia (five cen­ters), Ore­gon (two), Geor­gia (two), Vir­gin­ia (three), Wash­ing­ton, Illinois, Texas, Flor­ida, North Car­o­lina, South Car­o­lina, Oklahoma, and Iowa.

The first of these data cen­ters to be con­struc­ted is in The Dalles, Ore­gon, and “includes three 68,680 square foot data cen­ter build­ings, a 20,000 square foot admin­is­tra­tion build­ing, a 16,000 square foot ‘transient employ­ee dorm­it­ory’ and an 18,000 square foot facil­ity for cool­ing tower­s”. Like Google’s oth­er data cen­ters, the Dalles facil­ity con­sumes enorm­ous quant­it­ies of elec­tri­city (estim­ates range from 50 to 100 mega­watts — some­where between a tenth and a twen­ti­eth of the capa­city of an aver­age Amer­ic­an coal-fired power plant), gen­er­at­ing sim­il­arly large quant­it­ies of heat, which neces­sit­ates loc­at­ing the cen­ters by sig­ni­fic­ant water sources for the chillers and water towers which cool the serv­ers.

Inside, the data cen­ters are filled with stand­ard ship­ping con­tain­ers, each con­tain­er packed with over a thou­sand indi­vidu­al serv­ers run­ning cheap x86 pro­cessors: anonym­ous, mod­u­lar data land­scapes, the nerve cen­ters of America’s con­urba­tions, their stand­ard­iz­a­tion and dull rec­ti­lin­ear­ity indic­at­ing extreme place­less­ness, but con­tra­dicted by the logist­ic­al logic of water bod­ies, energy sources, and trans­mis­sion dis­tances which gov­erns their place­ment.

* As Simon Bostock called it (via).