Film

The New Technological Cold War Runs Through a Cable on the Ocean Floor

Hyperallergic has the exclusive premiere of Meredith Lackey’s Cablestreet, a surreal documentary short about Chinese tech giant Huawei.

Huawei Technologies is one of the major focal points of the ongoing trade impasse between the United States and China. The world’s largest telecommunications company, its ties to the Chinese government have been  under heavy scrutiny, and the US and some other countries have banned the use of its equipment, citing fears of spying. In the current era, the battleground of economic war is the information and communication web connecting us all, and we now see a stalemate as colossal as any Cold War conflict. No short could hope to capture the immense complexity of the US–China trade war, but Cablestreet vividly delves into the psychic underpinning of the conflict. We’re exclusively hosting the full film.

Cablestreet, a new Field of Vision short film, looks at Huawei through an almost surrealistic lens. Directed by Meredith Lackey, the documentary observes the process of laying down a seabed data cable designed by the tech giant. In voiceover, two disembodied voices — one speaking English and the other Mandarin (both accompanied by subtitles written in the opposite language) — muse on the nature of technology and its overlaps with business, war, politics, and society. The lines are read robotically, as if in imitation of speech-to-text programs. The voices are given no explicit identity, leaving things open to interpretation. Maybe they’re artificial intelligences engaged in conversation, or even the collective unconscious of the United States and China at odds with one another.

Lackey explains to Hyperallergic via email: “The global consumer internet has made humans feel insecure in a way we’d never felt before. Unlike the Industrial Revolution that occurred 100 years prior and powered the physical world, the Information Revolution held the potential to expand the thing about us that was most difficult to name and touch: the capacity of the mind. Before the internet, an auto factory machinist could repair an assembly line while mentally traveling in time and space to Vladivostok, the Easter Islands, or the year 2063. This activity — thinking — could be done in bed, prison, or an open field. And other than losing time that could have been spent making money, thinking didn’t cost anything. But when the internet came about, our capacity to think was fundamentally changed. Individuals and societies figured out how to leverage networks and large-scale thinking for big financial and geopolitical payouts. As fiber optic cables were strung across land and through seas, our societies changed, but the very thing that changed them was hidden from view. Those in power started to tell stories about the internet and its potential, and it became increasingly difficult to say if these stories were true. Looking at the internet is a visual ‘year zero’ that lets us talk about how it’s changed our lives, how and if we should govern it, and who’s in control.”

(image courtesy Field of Vision)
comments (0)