Mining limit reached!
A computer chip contains more than 60 elements, out of 83 stable (nonradioactive) elements (Rohrig, 2015). Each information and communications technology (ICT) device concentrates outputs from a myriad of of mines, and it is itself a mine of gold, copper, aluminium, platinum, and many other valuable elements (911 Metallurgist, 2013). Most of the materials intensely used by ICTare irreplaceable, at least on this planet (Graedel et al., 2013). These constitutent elements had beenforged through nuclear reactions of stars and supernovae, millions of years of inter- and intra-planetary history, assembled through crystallisations, to be then compressed into chips that run calculations in nanosecond velocities.
The astonishing processing power of the digital is premised on a series of supply chains embeddedin what Jason Moore called ‘Cheap Natures’ (2015); lowly or unpaid work of a multitude of humans, and of other-than-human bodies and processes that were never considered labouring subjects at all. Extractivism is not concerned with reproduction of life or nonlife, it is about accumulation. Supply of the whole periodic table demands tentacular regimes of extraction that run from open pits to smelters to growing piles of the Waste Electric or Electronic Equipment (WEEE), or ‘e-waste’. Recycling is one of new frontiers of this mode of accumulation, however, in 2016, globally only 20% of e-waste was “documented to be collected and recycled” properly (Baldé et al.: 2017).
Extractivist interests do not concern themselves with earths only. The workings of many ICT companies are very close to those of the mining sector. Not only digital technology is materially dependent on extractivist industries, IT juggernauts mine data, ‘big data’. Internet users’ activity is a resource, to be extracted, smelted (into datasets), sold, moulded into services, resold to the same or different users. Web activity of human users is thus aligned in a similar fashion to Cheap Natures. Yet, this is not the only point of contact and affinity between humans and inorganic others. Human bodies can be considered as “walking, talking minerals” (Margulis & Sagan, 2000).
The age of Earth is estimated to be around four point five billion years. Minerals have been evolving throughout this timespan. According to the ‘mineral evolution’ hypothesis proposed by Robert Hazen and a group of experts in 2008, about two-thirds of the currently known 4,500 mineral species have evolved after the advent of life. Biotic and abiotic processes have been entangled at least since the since the Eoarchean Era (~3.85-3.6 billion years ago) (ibid.). “Multispecies alliances beyond the biological” (Bakke, 2017) are possible. “Earth is transitioning” (Preciado, 2018), so must earthlings, in symbiogenesis with ‘earth others’ (Plumwood, 1993).
This website gives a glimpse into the affective interactions between internet users and the material strata―bodies of ‘earth others’―that facilitate their agency. It displays near-live the most recent five minutes of Twitter activity that mentions what the European Commission classifies as ‘critical raw materials’: classes of other-than-human bodies that are “crucial to Europe’s economy” and are considered to present high risk associated to their supply. Five minutes is the duration of the trading sessions at the Ring in London Metals Exchange, a floor where prices are determined through face-to-face trading, “highly liquid five-minute Ring sessions … are themselves representative of global supply and demand”. Upon landing on the web page, the visitor of earth others heart earth starts the script, and the posts are temporarily embedded here. As a visitor you can observe and participate in a small-scale data mining operation. The ownership of the posts remains in the hands of the users and their Twitter agreement. We are not saving any data, and we are not drawing any equations from these posts, we are not mining you.
In the current techno-social constellation, each act of using this website is contributing forcings on the earth.
The ‘critical raw material’ earth others observed here are: antimony, baryte, beryllium, bismuth, borate, cobalt, coking coal, fluorspar, gallium, germanium, hafnium, helium, heavy rare earth elements (gadolinium, terbium, dsyprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, lutetium), light rare earth elements (cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, samarium, promethium), magnesium, natural graphite, natural rubber, niobium, platinum-group metals (ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium, platinum), phosphate rock, phosphorus, scandium, silicon metal, tantalum, tungsten, vanadium. [some elements have been excluded due to the volume of traffic associated with them]
earth others heart earth is a collaboration of mirko nikolić with Romulus Studio, it is an outcome of research project into the extractivist dynamics in Finland and European Union, developed during a Frontiers in Retreat residency at Mustarinda Association in 2017. The website is sequel to we ♥copper ♥ us, developed by the same team as part of the Frontiers in Retreat residency with Helsinki International Artist Programme in 2015.
mirko nikolić. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA. 2018-2020.