This page, which details my Master's thesis project, is currently being updated with images. You can read about the project below, and in the mean time, feel free to watch the above documentary (25 mins), which follows a non-linear timeline to show the historic entanglements of industry, technology, and ecology in the Columbia River Basin.
If you want to know more, shoot me a message!
While we often imagine our digital world in terms of lightweight devices, magic invisible WiFi, and ethereal notions such as “the cloud”, in reality digital communication is supported by an intensive material network of mineral extraction, server farms, submarine cables, energy grids, and e-waste dumps. This project tracks the recent proliferation of data centers built along the Columbia River in Washington and Oregon; owned by tech giants like Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon. In search of the energy and water needed to power and cool their massive facilities, these companies are moving swiftly to take advantage of the region’s cool climate and abundant hydroelectric power. Part mapping, part documentary, part investigative journalism—this project tracks Big Tech’s ever expanding land grabs, juxtaposing it with historic practices of industry and expropriation in order to reveal the unsettling landscapes of corporate power quickly emerging in the region.
While there has been a rapid acceleration in digital infrastructure construction in regions like the Pacific Northwest, these landscapes are marked by sensitive and contentious socioecological contexts. The Columbia River Basin carries with it a storied history of salmon migrations, indigenous dispossession, wartime industries, and hydrological reconfiguration—the confluence of which still crackles and sparks to this day. The future battle for hydroelectricity in the region rests within a complicated network of dams, migratory routes, impaired ecologies, tribal treaties, industrial brownfields, and irrigation canals. As today’s major tech companies begin to colonize the region, their public-facing campaigns of corporate and environmental responsibility may disguise more insidious, monopolistic intentions. This projects leverages the landscape as a powerful tool for technological critique, grounding (literally) the digital world within the earth in order to point toward the physical localities and cultural geographies that underly our digital networks. By doing so, the project reasserts the power and importance of place amid our globalized, virtualized daily lives. To be online remains an entirely terrestrial endeavor.