A Prehistory of the Cloud

A Prehistory of the Cloud

Tung-Hui Hu

ISBN 9780262330091
240 pp.
September 2015

Content Publisher
The MIT Press

A Prehistory of the Cloud

We may imagine the digital cloud as placeless, mute, ethereal, and unmediated. Yet the reality of the cloud is embodied in thousands of massive data centers, any one of which can use as much electricity as a midsized town. Even all these data centers are only one small part of the cloud. Behind that cloud-shaped icon on our screens is a whole universe of technologies and cultural norms, all working to keep us from noticing their existence. In this book, Tung-Hui Hu examines the gap between the real and the virtual in our understanding of the cloud.

Hu shows that the cloud grew out of such older networks as railroad tracks, sewer lines, and television circuits. He describes key moments in the prehistory of the cloud, from the game “Spacewar” as exemplar of time-sharing computers to Cold War bunkers that were later reused as data centers. Countering the popular perception of a new “cloudlike” political power that is dispersed and immaterial, Hu argues that the cloud grafts digital technologies onto older ways of exerting power over a population. But because we invest the cloud with cultural fantasies about security and participation, we fail to recognize its militarized origins and ideology. Moving between the materiality of the technology itself and its cultural rhetoric, Hu’s account offers a set of new tools for rethinking the contemporary digital environment.


  1. Acknowledgments
  2. Introduction
  3. 1. The Shape of the Network
  4. 2. Time-Sharing and Virtualization
  5. Interlude: Learning from Santa Clara
  6. 3. Data Centers and Data Bunkers
  7. 4. Seeing the Cloud of Data
  8. Conclusion
  9. Notes
  10. Bibliography
  11. Index