Dr Alexander R.E. Taylor

alexander taylor

Marconi Fellow in the History and Science of Wireless Communication

A.R.E Taylor is a social anthropologist working at the intersection of media archaeology, communication studies and the history of technology.

His current project is based with the Bodleian Library and The History of Science Museum. He is working with the Marconi Collection and the Marconi Archives to investigate early understandings of the impact of solar-terrestrial processes on radio communications. Early radio telegraphy transmissions frequently experienced disruptions from geomagnetic fluctuations and ionospheric disturbances arising from solar radiation. By cross-referencing archival accounts of atmospheric disruption to radio reception with historical records of geomagnetic storms and sunspot observations, this project examines the role that early wireless communications played in developing knowledge of what is today known as ‘space weather’ - an umbrella term that refers to the changing environmental conditions in near-Earth space that can affect human technologies, from ground-based communications and electrical grid infrastructure to space-based systems.

Dr Taylor’s research primarily focuses on the work that goes into ensuring the uninterrupted continuity of the infrastructures that underpin industrialised societies. Prior to this project he conducted research on security practices in the data centre industry. His PhD was undertaken with the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge and offered an ethnographic description of how the data centre industry is responding to the space weather threat. He conducted fieldwork in data centres throughout the UK and Europe, primarily working inside nuclear bunkers that have been repurposed as ‘disaster-proof’ data storage sites for cloud computing companies. You can see some photos from his fieldwork here.

Dr Taylor is interested in how ethnography can help to better understand infrastructure resilience as it is experienced, enacted and debated on the ground. He is also interested in the ethical, legal and security implications of cloud storage in relation to ethnographic practice and has written about this for Anthrodendum.

His work has featured in various exhibitions and podcasts and has been funded by the Royal Anthropological Institute, the Royal Geographical Society, the ESRC, and the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at Cambridge, among others. His articles have been published in journals such as The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Ephemera, Culture Machine and Roadsides. Beyond academia, he has also written for Failed Architecture, The Conversation, Weather Matters and The Resilience Shift.

He has served as an advisor and consultant on the social and environmental impact of the data centre industry for a range of organisations, including the United Nations, Mozilla, the BBC and ABC News. An episode of Channel 4’s Dispatches, titled ‘Is Your Online Habit Killing the Planet?’, was initiated by his 2020 Corona Times article on the carbon footprint of internet usage during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Taylor is an Editorial Assistant for the Journal of Extreme Anthropology and is a founding member of the Social Studies of Outer Space (SSOS) Network, a research network joining social scientists working on topics related to Outer Space. He is also a founder of the Cambridge Infrastructure Resilience Group, a cross-disciplinary research network that brings scholars together with industry leaders, security practitioners and policymakers to explore critical infrastructure protection in relation to emerging global catastrophic risks.

His research interests include: data, technology, futures, outer space, techno-apocalyptic narratives, digital preservation, pre-digital nostalgia, critical infrastructure protection and existential risk.

Further information is available at his website: digitalruins.net

He also tweets @alexretaylor

Email: aret2@cantab.ac.uk

Publications:

Taylor, A.R.E. 2021. Future-proof: Bunkered Data Centres and the Selling of Ultra-secure Cloud Storage. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 26(S1): 76-94.

Taylor, A.R.E. 2021. Standing by for Data Loss: Failure, Preparedness and the Cloud. Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organisation, 21(1).

Taylor, A.R.E. 2020. Space Weather as Threat to Critical Infrastructure. Roadsides, 3.

Taylor, A.R.E. 2019. The Data Centre as Technological Wilderness. Culture Machine, 18.

Taylor, A.R.E. 2018. Cloud Security for AnthropologistsAnthro{dendum}. 19 June.

Taylor, A.R.E. 2018. The Technoaesthetics of Data Centre ‘White Space’. Imaginations: Journal of Cross-Cultural Image Studies, 3 (8-2): 42-54.

Taylor, A.R.E. 2018. Failover Architectures: The Infrastructural Excess of the Data Centre IndustryFailed Architecture. 19 May.

Taylor, A.R.E. 2018. Google and Facebook won’t rule the world if we don’t buy their fantasies about Big DataThe Conversation. 3 May.

Taylor, A.R.E. 2017. A Beginner’s Guide to CloudbustingData Centre Dynamics. 10 November.