Recovering Value and Growth through Design and Infrastructure

Our readings on design and infrastructure, especially the interventions of Bethany Nowviskie regarding a DH feminist ethic and praxis care and of Steven Jackson regarding broken world repair, carry far-reaching and hopeful (if not therapeutic and exhilarating) implications for the necessity and possibility of an ongoing recovery from Walter Benjamin’s “wreckages” of “progress”. In highlighting these two interventions, one could consider Susan Star’s ethnography of infrastructure, Miriam Posner’s archeology of supply chain management, and Ernesto Oroza’s technologies of disobedience as clear and concrete applications of an enveloping theory and practice of care and repair. They also offer the solid grounding needed to address the increasingly urgent need to contextualize the untenable implications of the Anthropocene. In re-appropriating design and infrastructure through a theory and practice of care and repair, might one possible outcome be a radical reconceptualization of value and growth, whose spectacular commodifications have long fueled the cosmologies and cults of the entrepreneur, the tech innovator, and the securities speculator?

Instead of representing the instrumentalising product of extraction and exhaustion, value becomes a measure of “context, interdependence, and vulnerability”. Instead of representing an unsustainable increase in the output of waste, goods, and services, growth becomes a measure of the recuperative homeostasis relative to biospheric metabolisis. In just twenty-six years Amazon, Inc.’s revenue has gone from $0.00 to $88.912 billion and its gross profits in the last ten years have gone from $6.0 billion to $129.6 billion. Even more astounding is the growth of Amazon’s information technology and computing infrastructure services, Amazon Web Services (AWS), which since launching a mere 14 years ago in 2006, have reached $35.0 billion in revenue. The infrastructure powering this so-called “growth” can only be compared to industrialization itself, with the profound difference being that never-ending growth has now exhausted the capacity to absorb the consequences of older notions value and growth.

In reflecting on Maggi’s comments on the benefit and importance of transparency, perhaps now is as good a time as ever to extend Marx’s call for a “ruthless criticism of everything existing” to a “ruthless transparency of everything existing”. Technology and infrastructure can become disobediently “smart” and “transparent” when they are fully backwards compatible and adaptive. (Instead of innovating for planned obsolescence, “smart” technology works on the oldest devices, with the oldest infrastructures, in the least technological environments, and with the availability of all of its versioned interfaces and affordances.)