The New Ethereality

On February 18, 2021, I joined Marisa Duarte, Rahul Mukherjee, and Tyler Morgenstern, at the Carsey Wolf Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, for “The New Ethereality.” We discussed the “contemporary politics of wireless communication, with special attention paid to the cultural and governmental imaginaries that accrue to emerging wireless infrastructures like 5G. Wirelessness has long been embedded in a range of divergent cultural, political, and social narratives. Today, it is as central to the enduring promise of untrammeled global connectivity as it is to the paranoid divinations of conspiracy theorists. What is at stake in this volatile mix of epistemologies? How might historical debates regarding the possibilities, the substance, and indeed the very existence of the ether help us to grapple with a new era of ethereal speculation?

Image via Rodrigo Cámara-Leret, Miguel A. Fortuna, and Jordi Bascompte @ PNAS

CWC Roundtable: The New Ethereality from Carsey-Wolf Center on Vimeo.


Networked Dream Worlds (on 5G)

Networked Dream Worlds,” Real Life Magazine (July 8, 2019).

I wasn’t able to include acknowledgments in this piece, but lots of folks deserve thanks:


Anthropology of Networks

Undergraduate Studio, with Greta Byrum

While we imagine an Internet that blankets the earth, providing even its most remote and marginalized inhabitants with seamless connectivity, the reality is that a sizable portion of the world’s population lacks reliable access. Here in New York, as across most of the US — especially in rural and poorer urban areas — roughly 30% of households still lack access to broadband. New York City’s just-released Internet Master Plan calls for updated next-generation digital infrastructure, with a promise to afford universal, equitable access to this 21st-century utility: the network.

Building on existing anthropological, media studies, and urban studies research about infrastructures, networks, and digital technologies, this seminar-workshop will engage with NYC’s forthcoming plan to help us better understand the interplay between technical and social network infrastructures. The laying of wires and installation of antennae involve the embodiment of politics and values, just like the buildout of telephone wires, cable systems, and even highway and postal networks. We’ll examine the evolution of networks, and use NYC’s digital master plan as a practical case to understand the equity implications of network design, suggesting ways to build on the existing work of practitioners, activists, scholars, planners, and designers to create healthier sociotechnical ecosystems. We’ll also speak with researchers and activists who’ve practiced media and network ethnography; meet with city officials and local community leaders; embark on field trips around the city; design our own speculative networks; and work with NYC’s digital equity community to formulate a response to the Plan, including proposed community benefits and impact indicators.

Spring 2020 Website


Ear to the Wire: Listening to Historic Urban Infrastructures

Ear to the Wire: Listening to Historic Urban Infrastructures,” Amodern 2, “Network Archaeologies” Special Issue (October 2013)


Alliterative Accomplishments: Ben’s Buried, Bundled Behind Closed Doors

My fantastic thesis student Ben Mendelsohn has a new websiteand a final cut of his video on internet infrastructure in Manhattan.This work began in Spring 2009, while Ben was taking my “Media & Architecture” graduate seminar; he drew inspiration from the work of Stephen Graham & Simon Marvin, Kazys Varnelis, and Andrew Blum, who took my Fall 2010 “Urban Media Archaeology” class (which Ben audited) on a walking tour of Lower Manhattan’s physical telecom networks and nodes.

Ben won the Distinguished Thesis Award and the Dean’s Commendation, and he was named our Spring 2011 commencement speaker. In short, he’s awesome.

Bundled, Buried & Behind Closed Doors from Alex + Ben on Vimeo.


Bad Signal

with Joseph Gessert, “Bad Signal  The New Republic (December 6, 1999) on the local politics of FCC radio regulation