Fragments On Machines reveals the physical framework and materiality of the Internet, a vast network often thought and spoken about solely in abstract terms.
Adopting the title from Marx’s Grundrisse, The Fragment On Machines, in which the material and immaterial are discussed in relation to labour and, I use it here to explore similar notions within this film.
Taking New York City as its central focus, the film observes the evolution of architecture in the city to accommodate the material nodes and connectors that comprise the physical manifestation of the “virtual” world.
New York is home to many of the great buildings that symbolise nineteenth and early twentieth century industrial capitalism. Today, it is significant that a number of these Art Deco skyscrapers—located predominantly in the Financial District—have become the containers for the infrastructure of the Internet and virtual capital. These grand monuments of brick and steel are now homes to the servers and computers that drive post-industrial finance capitalism.
This research elucidates how the Internet is connected to the wider economy via such phenomenon as high-frequency trading (HFT). HFT firms in NYC and elsewhere have physically moved to be as close as possible to the Internet’s infrastructure, filling high-rises in the surrounding area with mainframes and cooling systems. The physically closer these firms are, the faster their algorithms can trade—much faster than our human capabilities.
It is no coincidence that sites such as the Verizon Headquarters, adjacent to One World Trade Center, which is explored within Fragments On Machines, are located in the heart of New York’s financial district surrounded by international banks and close to the New York Stock Exchange. Highly elusive yet pervasive in their nature, data centres consist of room upon room of copper and fibre-optic cables, computer servers and ventilation systems. With direct links to the companies they serve, these Internet hubs become a kind of unofficial space for trade.
Narration by Barnaby Kay
Writing by Jen Calleja and Richard Phoenix