Unpacking Online Streams
Streaming services have often been associated with smoothness and steady supply. Drawing on metaphors of aquatic flows and currents, streaming evokes an imagery of data as a peaceful and precious natural resource. Yet below the seemingly calm interfaces of platforms, complex data arrangements reside—data arrangements that absorb users into circuits of capital and link together data infrastructures across vast geographic distances.This article reflects on the visible and invisible layers of data traffic that permeate streamed music distribution on Spotify. Drawing from studies of media infrastructures, it explores the kinds of data transmissions that a single play on Spotify can trigger. In doing so, it seeks to highlight the infrastructures that undergrid processes of mediation. A focus on data infrastructures—that is, digital environments that are built to handle data logistics — involves a move away from studying content and towards investigations of materiality, distribution and territoriality. How might we begin unpack and intervene in Spotify’s streamed data infrastructure? By what means can the nature of streamed network transmissions be explored?
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