Tung-Hui Hu

Tung-Hui Hu is Associate Professor of English at the University of Michigan. A former network engineer and a published poet, he is the author of A Prehistory of the Cloud (MIT Press), praised by the New Yorker as “mesmerizing” and by the Guardian as “witty, sharp and theoretically aware.”

  • Digital Lethargy

    Tung-Hui Hu

    The exhaustion, disappointment, and listlessness experienced under digital capitalism, explored through works by contemporary artists, writers, and performers.

    Sometimes, interacting with digital platforms, we want to be passive—in those moments of dissociation when we scroll mindlessly rather than connecting with anyone, for example, or when our only response is a shrugging “lol.” Despite encouragement by these platforms to “be yourself,” we want to be anyone but ourselves. Tung-Hui Hu calls this state of exhaustion, disappointment, and listlessness digital lethargy. This condition permeates our lives under digital capitalism, whether we are “users,” who are what they click, or racialized workers in Asia and the Global South. Far from being a state of apathy, however, lethargy may hold the potential for social change.

    Hu explores digital lethargy through a series of works by contemporary artists, writers, and performers. These dispatches from the bleeding edge of digital culture include a fictional dystopia where low-wage Mexican workers laugh and emote for white audiences; a group that invites lazy viewers to strap their Fitbits to a swinging metronome, faking fitness and earning a discount on their health insurance premiums; and a memoir of burnout in an Amazon warehouse. These works dwell within the ordinariness and even banality of digital life, redirecting our attention toward moments of thwarted agency, waiting and passing time. Lethargy, writes Hu, is a drag: it weighs down our ability to rush to solutions, and forces us to talk about the unresolved present.

    • Hardcover $24.95
  • A Prehistory of the Cloud

    A Prehistory of the Cloud

    Tung-Hui Hu

    The militarized legacy of the digital cloud: how the cloud grew out of older network technologies and politics.

    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.

    • Hardcover $18.00
    • Paperback $19.95