20-Nov-2019 09:00

In the 1990s, both HIV and the Internet were primary sources of social anxiety around information-management, rights to privacy, and public pedagogy, yet they are rarely thought of together in either media history, or the histories of AIDS.

What if the most telling product of blockbuster, Hollywood AIDS cinema from the 1990s was not ?

Thinking about adjustment also orients us to the ways in which new media adoption is rarely revolutionary, but rather caught up in slow processes of adapting existing activist information tactics developed using ‘older’ media, like newsletters.

Following feminist scholars like Lauren Berlant and Sarah Sharma, I am interested in the kind of affective work that happens as we adjust, or get-by, within conditions not necessarily of our own making.[7] How do technologies remember?

While a computer cannot remember AIDS, the ways that we understand and put networked computing to use can.

The suggestion that ‘memory is an active process, not static,’ that memory must be ‘held’ rather than filed away, is one I extend to AIDS Internet history via archival work.

Both films follow a privileged, white protagonist ‘fighting the system,’ but Bennett navigates big data and the decade’s emerging network cultures.

Irwin Winkler, networked computing, but it appropriates the North American AIDS crisis—in particular its tropes of stigma and risk—to explain why data ought to matter to the public.She becomes an anonymous AIDS activist if only for a moment, but does so in order save the Internet.Irwin Winkler, (still depicting Angela Bennett disappearing into an ACT UP protest, taking place outside a tech conference), 1995.Hard drives store, potentially for access but just as often for redundant backup, while archives are characterized by their orientation toward access.[12] Archival access is particularly vital in the context of HIV/AIDS archives, which have struggled to exist in the first place due to the consequences of AIDS-related death and the compulsory heterosexuality of archival logics.[13] Archives preserve and offer access to records in ways that computers cannot—it is widely known that hard drives fail and obsolete machines become inoperable.


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Any archive is, of course, a technology of power.[14] As archival logics order cultural memory, they render certain ‘AIDS of the past’ intelligible, often at the expense of others.[15] Mining documents that speak to AIDS activism’s entanglement with emerging internet and computing practices is a material and embodied process—of sifting, sorting, squinting—that attempts to hold onto technological memories of HIV/AIDS, and to activate another kind of AIDS archive.Thrown into, or already living in precarious conditions, this future worker is constructed as adaptable and uniquely suited to wrangling the new technology that no one else in the office could understand.