The Materiality of the Digital: Petro-Enlightenment and the Aesthetics of Invisibility


This essay interprets digital petroculture’s aesthetic of invisibility in two ways. First, the ubiquitous intangibility of software simulation in everyday life is framed in terms of the Marxist concept of “realization” in circulation. Second, the “cloud’s” remote storage and processing of data is understood as a system of rents. These two processes reinforce the invisibility of the vast material resources consumed in order to perpetuate digital culture. After discussing the roots of this invisibility in enlightenment techno-science and its perpetuation through education, the essay argues that attempts to address social inequalities through cultural design should also engage with environmental issues.