Mack Hagood’s conversation with Shannon Mattern on her most recent book Code and Clay, Data and Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media is the first audio interview to appear on Mediapolis. It is also a preview of the podcast Phantom Power: Sounds about Sound, which Hagood will co-host with poet and media artist cris cheek in 2018. This episode was written, edited and musically scored by Hagood. Special thanks to Orfeas Skutelis at the New School for his production assistance. [Disclosure: Mattern serves on the Mediapolis advisory board]
Media archeology is a field that attempts to understand new and emerging media by examining old and often dead media technologies. Shannon Mattern takes inspiration from the field but notes that most of its “digging in the past” is metaphorical. “What if we took media archeology literally,” she writes, “and borrowed a few tricks from archeologists of the stones-and-bones variety?” Her book Code and Clay, Data and Dirt, released in November 2017 by University of Minnesota Press, pushes us in that direction.
Each chapter moves us farther back in time in an examination of old urban media infrastructures, starting with the sonic technologies of the telegraph and radio, then moving to the urban emplacement of the printing press, followed by an examination of the earliest surfaces for writing—clay and stone—and finally, perhaps the oldest medium of them all, the human voice. Each of these media reorganized the city around itself and each of them is still with us today, as past and future media co-mingle in the present. –Mack Hagood, www.phantompod.org
Shannon Mattern is a Professor of Anthropology at The New School for Social Research. Her writing and teaching focus on archives, libraries, and other media spaces; media infrastructures; spatial epistemologies; and mediated sensation and exhibition. She is the author of The New Downtown Library: Designing with Communities, Deep Mapping the Media City, and Code and Clay, Data and Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media, all published by University of Minnesota Press. In addition to writing dozens of articles and book chapters, she also contributes a regular long-form column about urban data and mediated infrastructures to Places, a journal focusing on architecture, urbanism, and landscape, and she collaborates on public design and interactive projects and exhibitions.