Document Type

Conference Paper


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence

Publication Details

Paper presented at the EARN conference 2018


Alexa, turn on the hall lights.’ Words taken from a 2017 promotional video for the Amazon Echo —‘a disembodied voice’, and ‘interface for an extraordinarily complex set of information processing layers.’ ‘Alexa, do x’. The discounted toilet-roll is ordered or the house lights come on, but before they do, travelling at the speed of light, a small packet of data arrives at a banal warehouse in the middle of somewhere where needs, wants and desires are farmed in a repository of disembodied voices. From the mining of tantalum, used in the manufacturing of the Echo, from the geological strata of the Democratic Republic of Congo where the profits helped fund the deadliest civil war since WWll; to cavernous, so-called ‘fulfilment centres’ where an invisible workforce are called into action by our buy-now-1-click interface commands; moving robotically down seemingly endless isles of algorithmically organised products arranged according to purchase preferences the like of which we never knew we had — someone who buys a Foucault book is likely to go on and and buy cat food; a computer monitor; underwear a hammer and a John Grisham novel; objects juxtaposed together, a strange kind of architecture of consumer desires — a new production of space: abstract space. Products primed and ready to move across a more than military grade infrastructure to arrive as a banal, innocent looking brown box through the domestic front-door letterbox-come-retail destination