The nature of archival landscapes has undergone major changes, causing the propagation of industrial models through digital technology, memory and collectivity.1 What is now called a global crisis is the result of the uneven dynamics inherent to digital capitalism, a set of extractive and financial operations that fracture spatial hierarchies generating a new territory of accumulation that invests space, social relations, living and non-living subjects alike.2 Data usage is increasing worldwide, and processes like the mining of rare earth elements, seizing land, and consequences such as growing energy demands, electronic waste and carbon footprint, are all traceable aspects of how significant storing data is to environmental transformation.

Data centres consume 30 billion watts of electricity worldwide – the same output of 30 nuclear power plants.3 Blown out of proportion, the impact of digital archiving on earth’s resources expands well beyond the surface area of data centres, affecting the planet’s geology, human politics and society, along with non-human life and non-life forms. As outlined by Allison Carruth, online archiving has become a cultural value that relies on server farms, power plants and cooling systems to maintain itself. Since zettabytes of data are now stored on the cloud, the issue with digital energy and information use also concerns how individual actions, wants and access influence the industry’s profit and ecological footprint.4 The physical reality of the cloud may seem partly indecipherable despite its ubiquitousness, or maybe precisely because of it.

However, what might still look like a weightless and autonomous entity is a centrally managed corporation located within a specific geography of information that transforms the idea of connection into a global standard.5 Cloud storage facilities are indeed industrial infrastructures, hardware made into architecture: a “global project”6 of enormous scale and scope. Trust in digital storage derives from the apparent seamlessness of computation and its reassuring endurance. To this day, saved data seem to be actually safe in the enclosure of the archive, which behaves not merely like an external, but an “exteriorized” memory, as it works as a supplement to the limited human capacities of retention.7 This terrene cloud reveals its legacy in its nebulous margins and ever-evolving limits, embodying the illusion of potentially boundless duration and expansion.

Archiving is a phenomenon that affects our perception of the world, bringing what we already know about the planet closer to something to be managed or owned. It is an effort to defeat both human transience and the universe’s unfathomable essence through what looks like a simple, indisputable act: storing information. However, human awareness is finite. By awakening an ancestral realization (that a total, cosmic comprehension is unattainable), archiving demands us to confront one of our absolute limits, which is our lacking ability to “adequately understand the world at all.”8 To perceive the extent of the spatial and temporal phases we inhabit means recognizing human life as determinate. “There would indeed be no archive desire without the radical finitude, without the possibility of a forgetfulness,” Derrida originally argued.

Archives have been structuring reality by selection and exclusion since centuries, drawing alternative maps and reshuffling cartographies; they are both “institutive” and “conservative”,9 supporting humanist conceptions by portraying humanity as a dominant force, the fundament of life on earth. But the act of archiving has perhaps come closest to its literal sense via computation, which also remarkably reiterates the absence of stability in the world by being eternally recommencing, constantly searching for order by preventing disorder, trying to contain chance in the pursuit of certainty, and finally becoming habit.10 Archival practices are an attempt to pace the void left by an indeterminacy which we can only perturb, denying the status of history as a “perpetual invention”11 by eternalising human authority.


1 Y. Hui, ‘Archives of the Future: Remarks on the Concept of Tertiary Protention,’ 2018, p. 151.
2 S. Mezzadra and B. Neilson, ‘Extraction, logistics, finance: Global crisis and the politics of operations,’ Radical Philosophy no. 178, 2013, pp. 9-17.
3 J. Glanz, ‘Power, Pollution and the Internet,’ The New York Times, 2012.
4 A. Carruth, ‘The Digital Cloud and the Micropolitics of Energy,’ 2014, pp. 4-13.
5 Metahaven, ‘Captives of the Cloud: Part III,’ e-flux journal no.50, 2013, pp. 2-10.
6 B. H. Bratton, ‘The Cloud, the State, and the Stack: Metahaven in Conversation with Benjamin Bratton,’ metahaven, 2012.
7 Y. Hui, ‘Archives of the Future,’ p. 138.
8 E. Thacker, In the Dust of This Planet, London, Zero Books, 2011, p. 7.
9 J. Derrida, ‘Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression’, Diacritics, vol.25 no.2, 1995, pp. 12, 19.
10 B. Massumi, A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 1992, p. 56.
11 Ibid, p. 66.