Jennifer Gabrys


On her book Program Earth: Environmental Sensing Technology and the Making of a Computational Planet

Cover Interview of December 28, 2016

A close-up

On one level, Program Earth covers a wide range of topics, from forests and webcams to migration and climate change, garbage patches in oceans and air pollution in urban areas, smart cities and digital participation, as well as urban development. A prospective reader could approach any one of these sections and find a unique trajectory through the material. For instance, an urbanist could focus only on the “Urban Sensing” section, while someone engaged with environmental science could focus on the “Wild Sensing” and “Pollution Sensing” sections. Monitoring station with Bird Box Cam at James Reserve. This CENS monitoring station included weather observation, and was a testbed that contributed data to the U.S. National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON).

On another level, the introduction does set out some of the thinking and practicing with sensors and environmental monitoring that I have been engaged with since the early 2000s. Ideally, a reader would encounter this section first to be able to scan the environmental sensing technologies included in the book, as well as to consider the particular way in which environments and environmental processes are foregrounded when working through the operations of sensor technologies.

With that said, often one of the first ways I encounter new books of interest is to skip quickly from the introduction to the bibliography. If prospective readers were to do the same with Program Earth, they might find a rather wide assortment of literatures, from philosophy and science and technology studies, to computational studies, environmental science texts and more. This study is necessarily transdisciplinary, but at the same time attempts to consolidate work around the core topic of environmental sensing technologies from a perspective that attempts to open up the often tech-centric approaches to these devices to consider their wider implications for our socio-political and cultural ways of life.