The Environmental History of Computing

December 30, 2018     #publication

I have a new article in the latest issue of the journal Technology & Culture on “The Environmental History of Computing. T&C is the premier journal in the history of technology, and so this is a wonderful opportunity to get this material out in front of the broader scholarly community.

Graduate Seminar on Computing & Environment

August 07, 2018     #teaching

This semester I am offering for the first time a graduate seminar on computing and the environment. The syllabus and reading list can be found here.

Currently Reading (summer 2018)

June 12, 2018     #readings

Here is what I am currently reading. You can find the complete archive here.


One of my goals this summer is to catch up on the long list of reading that I had to defer this past semester because of other responsibilities.

Little, P. C. (2014). Toxic Town. NYU Press.

Gabrys, J. (2013). Digital Rubbish. University of Michigan Press.

Carruth, A. (2014). The Digital Cloud and the Micropolitics of Energy. Public Culture, 26(2 73), 339–364.

Dourish, P. (2017). The Stuff of Bits: An Essay on the Materialities of Information. The MIT Press.

Abraham, D. S. (2016). The Elements of Power: Gadgets, Guns, and the Struggle for a Sustainable Future in the Rare Metal Age.

Ingulstad, M., Perchard, A., & Storli, E. (2014). Tin and Global Capitalism, 1850-2000: A History of "the Devil’s Metal". Routledge.

Müller, S. (2016). Wiring the World. Columbia University Press.

Amoore, L. (2016). Cloud Geographies: Computing, Data, Sovereignty. Progress in Human Geography, 030913251666214.

Golumbia, D. (2016). The Politics of Bitcoin. University of Minnesota Press.

The Environmental Cost of Internet Porn,

December 14, 2017     #publication

Matt Kessler just published a piece on the The Environmental Cost of Internet Porn in the latest issue of the Atlantic. I helped him work out some of the estimates on how much electricity is used by Pornhub to provide online streaming video. The short answer: Vermont.

Special Issue on Computing and the Environment

September 10, 2017     #publication

Rebecca Slayton and I recently edited a special issue on computing and the environment for the journal Information & Culture.

Here is the a brief blurb from our introduction:

In much of the literature on the information society, its defining characteristic is assumed to be its immateriality. That is to say, as our interactions and activities become less dependent on the movement of atoms and more focused on the manipulation of bits, they seem less limited by the constraints of physical reality. But when we look closely at the material underpinnings of the information economy—from the minerals that make up digital devices to the massive amounts of energy and water required to power data centers—it becomes clear that information technologies are firmly grounded in the physical environment. In fact, information technologies continuously shape not only the physical environment but also representations of the relationship between natural and built worlds.

The issue includes three absolutely stellar articles:

Avron, Lisa. “‘Governmentalities’ of Conservation Science at the Advent of Drones: Situating an Emerging Technology.” Information & Culture: A Journal of History 52, no. 3 (2017): 362–83. https://doi.org/10.1353/lac.2017.0014.

Cohn, Julie. “Data, Power, and Conservation: The Early Turn to Information Technologies to Manage Energy Resources.” Information & Culture: A Journal of History 52, no. 3 (2017): 334–61. https://doi.org/10.1353/lac.2017.0013.

Lécuyer, Christophe. “From Clean Rooms to Dirty Water: Labor, Semiconductor Firms, and the Struggle over Pollution and Workplace Hazards in Silicon Valley.” Information & Culture: A Journal of History 52, no. 3 (2017): 304–33. https://doi.org/10.1353/lac.2017.0012.

Currently Reading

February 20, 2017     #readings

Here is what I am currently reading. You can find the complete archive here.


Bernstein, A., DeGrasse, B., Grossman, R., Paine, C., & Siegel, L. (1980). Silicon Valley: Paradise or Paradox. In Mexican Women in the United States. Chicano Studies Research Center Publications.

Chiu, H.-M. (2011). The Dark Side of Silicon Island: High-Tech Pollution and the Environmental Movement in Taiwan. Capitalism Nature Socialism, 22(1), 40–57.

Pellow, D. N., & Park, L. S.-H. (2002). The Silicon Valley of Dreams: Environmental Injustice, Immigrant Workers, and the High-Tech Global Economy. NYU Press.

Matthews, G. (2003). Silicon Valley, Women, and the California Dream: Gender, Class, and Opportunity in the Twentieth Century. Stanford University Press.

As you might be able to tell, I am currently interested in questions of labor, gender, and the environment as they play out in Silicon Valley. As the Pellow & Park book reminds us:

Next to the nuclear industry, the largest producer of contaminants in the air, land, and water is the electronics industry. Silicon Valley hosts the highest density of Superfund sites anywhere in the nation and leads the country in the number of temporary workers per capita and in workforce gender inequities.
As part of the special issue on computing and the environment for Information & Culture that Rebecca Slayton and I are working on, Christophe Lecuyer has a piece on the toxics movement in late 1970s Silicon Valley that is just stellar. That issue should be out in the late summer/early fall.


© 2015 Nathan Ensmenger