Archiving for Extinction

Main Article Content

Mél Hogan
Sarah T. Roberts


Anjali Arondekar, Wendy H. K. Chun, Verne Harris, N. Katherine Hayles, Shannon Mattern, Saidiya Hartman, and Kate Eichhorn, among other scholars of the archives, have questioned the presumption of the archive as complete, whole, legitimate, authoritative, and ultimately in any way “total,” by looking beyond the contents that the physical repository hosts and guards, as well as how, what, and who goes under-, mis- and altogether unrepresented. In their tradition, we find that the contemporary moment provides exemplars of where an archival (re)making is being uncritically taken up, increasingly envisioned, and subsequently reliant upon present-day technological capacities and the technological imaginaries of the future near and far. Under the guise of scientifically vetted global betterment, and drawing on a long legacy of publicly funded innovation that is then recaptured and taken up by private industry, Big Tech takes profit and credit for these particular future-oriented deployments, but takes on little to none of the social, political, and environmental responsibility. In this article we explore specifically what users can do when their abstracted data production or consumption is based not only on deeply flawed science and technology that is pervasive, powerful, and compelling, but also invariably presented as the only solution to climate catastrophe and the end of human existence. The three archival projects explored in this article—ordered by scale—are Alphabet’s “The Selfish Ledger,” Big Tech’s “Genomics in the Cloud,” and Arch Mission’s launch of a “Solar, Earth, Lunar, and Mars Library.” By exploring the sociotechnological imaginaries of Big Tech, we reposition the archive in terms of its legitimation and framing of humanity’s past, present, and future. We demonstrate that the ledger is a political frame, cloud-based genomics is a biological and terrestrial fix, and the space library is a speculative implementation of the total—and final—archive for extinction.

Article Details

Author Biographies

Mél Hogan, University of Calgary

Dr. Mél Hogan is the host of The Data Fix podcast, Director of the Environmental Media Lab (EML) and Associate Professor of Communication, Media and Film, University of Calgary (Canada). Her research focuses on data centers, death in the cloud, and genomic media – each understood from within the contexts of planetary catastrophe and collective anxieties about the future. Dr. Hogan has published in journals like Work organisation, labour & globalisationEphemeraFirst Monday, and Big Data and Society, among others. / @mel_hogan

Sarah T. Roberts, University of California, Los Angeles

Dr. Sarah T. Roberts is Associate Professor in the Departments of Gender Studies, Information Studies and Labor Studies, Director, Center for Critical Internet Inquiry (C2i2) and Co-Director of the Minderoo Initiative on Technology & Power, all at UCLA. She is a researcher who specializes in content moderation of social media. Her expertise lies in the areas of internet culture, social media, digital labor, and the intersections of media, technology and society.

She is the author of the book Behind the Screen: Content Moderation in the Shadows of  Social Media (Yale University Press, 2019), describing the people, practices, and politics of commercial content moderation at scale in social media.