North Carolina State University
United States of America

Daniel M. Sutko is a Teaching Fellow at Rutgers’ School of Communication and Information. He may have just completed his Ph.D. in Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media at North Carolina State University. His research interests include cultural approaches to media-technologies, mobilities studies, and critical theory. His dissertation considers sea and media piracy together as struggles over reorientations of power prompted by new technologies of transportation and transmission. Recent publications focus on mobile media, ICTs, and the social production of spaces and mobilities. He co-edited, with Adriana de Souza e Silva, “Digital Cityscapes: Merging Digital and Urban Playspaces.”

Containing boxes and bytes: new media and enfolded mobilities

New media are partly defined by how they change the pace, scale, and organization of bodies at personal, local, and global scales. The modern, metal box shipping container significantly changed contemporary communications and mobilities by connecting ship, truck, and train technologies into an integrated system. I do not mean to dichotomize space/mobility and stasis/movement. Rather, containers are considered as active and contested processes of subjectivation. Beginning with Deleuze’s observation that ships are subjectivations of the sea, I make a different map of new media, mobility, and subjectivity by beginning with shipping containers and extending the inquiry through audio cassettes, Nintendo cartridges, MP3s, and mobile phones.

The rationality for the box container is homologous to the rationality of contemporary digital media. The box is an excellent protocological technology because it accepts any contents (bulk, parcel, liquid) and interfaces with most media (ship, truck, railroad). Where traditional ‘break-bulk’ shipping is analog, box shipping is digital. The protocological rationality of modern shipping is McLuhanesque and Kittleresque in its emphasis of form over contents. I continue my inquiry in the remainder of the paper to show how different technologies of transportation and transmission contain, connect, constrain, and produce differential mobilities and subjects at local, national, and global scales. Cassettes brought audio reproduction (and reproducers) home. Nintendo used form to govern contents and distinguish producers from consumers through its cartridges’ hardware and software design. The final two case studies consider file formats and mobile phones as containers. My analysis revitalizes ‘containers’ as a potentially useful way to think about media and communication technologies that is neither fully Foucauldian nor contradictory to the commitments of mobilities scholarship and contemporary geography.