Deeper Underground: Data anxieties and the subterranean data centre

Authors: Nicholas Robinson*, Royal Holloway, University of London
Topics: Political Geography
Keywords: Data Centre, Cloud, Bunker, Bodies, Anxiety
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Endymion, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Recent scholarship has paid close attention to the materiality of both the cloud and data centre, as they mysteriously inhabit our landscapes with varying degrees of (in)visibility (Amoore, 2016; Vonderau, 2017). The cloud, in many ways, has “induced” us (as individuals, businesses, governments) to start placing our data there with the simple (and perhaps misleading) promise of greater security (Hu, 2015). The data centre has thus been rendered the remedy for many of our modern data anxieties - from the threat of increasingly complex cyberattacks, or fragility of vital state services. Beyond this, we are now witnessing a growing trend whereby the data centre is being relocated underground with what Hu (2015) refers to as the ‘data bunker’. Taking the form of purpose-built server-farms nestled beneath bustling mega-cities, or retrofitted former nuclear bunkers in the English countryside, the bunker’s fortified subterranean structure provides the optimal location for supposedly vast, secure and reliable data storage. This paper seeks to address the recent phenomenon of the ‘data bunker’ and underground data storage. Do these ‘subsurface sanctuaries’ (Graham, 2016) alleviate anxieties surrounding data security? How might we reconsider the role of the body in the bunker? Spaces that were originally associated with human survival in the aftermath of disaster/apocalypse, are now repurposed to protect representations of bodies - the digital traces and representations of ourselves, or ‘data bodies’, extended into the volumetric spaces of subterranea. How, too, might governments look to revive the bunker, in search of greater data sovereignty and security?

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