Society as Cloud

Stéphane Degoutin

Doctoral thesis


Chinese landscape painting

This book unfolds, like a Chinese landscape painting through which the viewer’s gaze wanders slowly.

I describe a panorama. It is not made of mountains in the mist or bushes swept by the wind, but of data centers, automated warehouses, social networks feeds...

I explore the hypothesis that the Internet is part of a general process that reduces society and materials to small-scale components, which allow its mechanisms to become more fluid. A chemist’s idea – the decomposition of matter into powder, before to proceed to its recomposition – is also applied to social relations, memory and humans in general.

Just as the reduction of matter accelerates chemical reactions, the reduction of society to powder allows for an accelerated decomposition and recomposition of all from which humans are made. It allows to multiply the reactions within society, to accelerate the productions of humanity and the social chemistry : combination of human passions (Charles Fourier), hyperfragmentation of work (Mechanical Turk), decomposition of knowledge (Paul Otlet), Internet of neurons (Michael Chorost), agregation of affects (Facebook).

This is what I call the « society as cloud ».

Painting by Zhang Youxian
First transatlantic cable on a beach in Valentia Island, Ireland
Simplex Cable Recovered in 2009 at Cape Cod, Massachusetts (
Buried fiber optic intrusion detection system, RBTEC
"Many Cambodians who survived the genocide are employed to lay fiber optic cables." Rithy Panh, The Land of the Wandering Souls , 2000
The supercomputer in Joseph Sargent's film Colossus, 1970
Excavation of an abandoned ant colony in Brazil, in which concrete was poured (Bilfinger Magazine)
The atomic shelter house built under the ground in Las Vegas by Jay Swayze for millionaire Girard B. Henderson in the 1960s.
AutoStore robotic storage system
Paul Otlet, International Collective Library Project, Mundaneum
Stock image showing a social network
A drug is implanted directly into the brain of mice to remotely modify their stress level (Washington University)


On the Internet, you are always at the center (Kevin Kelly, Internet Mapping project, 2009)
On the Internet, you are always at the center
Schematic representation of filter bubbles
Google StreetView bubbles (as seen from the outside)
A Google StreetView bubble (inside view)
Fantasy representation of life in bubbles ("Playboy's ultimate electronic pad" Playboy magazine, 1980)
You are also at the center of the marketing target (stock image)


Bertold the Black (Berthold Schwarz, 1318-1384) "is considered by popular legend as the one who rediscovered the secrets of black powder in the West" (Wikipedia)
Black powder
Meat and bone meal
Neural booster
Edward Ruscha, Pico and Sepulveda, screenprint, 2001
Melvin M. Webber (ed.), Explorations into Urban Structures, 1964. Contains Melvim M. Webber's essay "The Urban Place and the Nonplace Urban Realm".
Diagram by Paul Otlet in 1944 showing the "cycle of operations" of documentation - or how to distill and filter information
Diagram by Paul Otlet showing "Man before the world".
Schematic representation of the continuum of dissociative disorders
Mathematical expression of the powder principle
Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527–1593), "Terra" (Earth), 1566