When I wrote my PhD about the Swedish internet consultancy Framfab (during the dot com boom), the business rhetoric of these young companies were characterized by a disassociation from earlier heavy manufacturing industries. The new economy based on buzzwords like networks and knowledge were to be very different from the businesses and structures of old paper and steel industries.
This was past of an aestheticization of the (past) industrial society). Heavy industry were supposed to be history. During the last decades we have seen a widespread movement, through which earlier dirty heavy industry has been approached as aesthetic objects. Refurbished old factories were turned into lofts, new offices, art museums, restaurants etc. This is a process that is still ongoing. Rusty steel, dirty bricks and concrete structures has become backdrop for a number of new “softer” endeavors.
But of course we still live in a very industrial society. The difference is that today heavy industrial production has become more or less invisible in large parts of the Western world (and also in parts of countries like China, where the dirty industry has left the centers of cities like Shanghai to reappear in other places). This process is what I call the rise of Industrial Cool. Heavy industry is aestheticized and associated with the past. I have dealt with this in a book, some articles and an art project.
During the last years the notion of Industrial Cool has transformed in a fascinating way. I’m tempted to call this a move to Industrial Cool 2.0. When large corporations like Google started to buy paper mills in Finland, when they (together with a number of other new Internet giants) started to build huge data centers, a new kind of very obvious industrial structures appeared. And here is the really nice twist to it all… In year 2000, when companies like Framfab spoke about their businesses, the ephemerality and almost non-physical character of new electronic networks and speedy slows were stressed. The new economy was supposed to happen on the other side of the glass of monitors and screens. But of course, there were always a very physical structure of Internet, that made it all happen.However, that structure was seldom made visible. Today, a new kind of visualization of heavy large scale hardware is happening. The industrial structures of the Internet are today aestheticized, and we can start talking about Industrial Cool 2.0. Google has started to present evocative images from their huge data centers. They want to show “where the internet lives”. Using suggestive lighting and bright colors the industrial structures of Internet are made visible.
Jussi Parikka has written a great post about this phenomenon, and about the visualization of data centers. He stresses how much of the imagery that is based on pipes and systems of cooling. It is all about the cooling of systems, about keeping circuitry at a cool temperature in which data can flow. The now made visible structures of Internet are based on huge industrial structures of cooling, now presented in a very aestheticized way… Industrial Cool 2.0.
These processes are happening at the same time that ideas and concepts of Steampunk, with its “back to the future aesthetics” which once appeared during the 199ies is now spreading in a viral way. The physicality, the combinations of old patinized structures with new glowing hi-tech is appearing in everything from museum exhibitions to children programs on TV.