Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Architecture and Situated Technologies

Techno-social devices of everyday life: after modern primitivism and dystopian urbanism

"Control is not discipline. You do not confine people with a highway. But by making highways, you multiply the means of control. I am not saying this is the only aim of highways, but people can travel infinitely and ‘freely’ without being confined while being perfectly controlled. That is our future." - Gilles Deleuze, Two Regimes of Madness

In the grand narratives of technological change it can be difficult to locate our lived experiences--those mundane and ordinary practices and forces that actually make, un-make and re-make the world of subjects and objects.Researchers and designers continue to recruit science fiction and conjure magic, with little consideration given to these metaphors at the level of the everyday, or to our actual experiences of space, time and bodies. This is most troublesome when we consider the sometimes fine line between the liberating potential of the carnivalesque and the oppressive tactics of the spectacular—to name just two recurring themes in our myths of pervasive computing. In the popular imagination and in practices of everyday life, the emerging world of networked people, places and objects is permeated with both security and terror. Beyond implicating current global and street-level politics, these interests play out in the types of control embedded in new techno-social devices. Together, I would like to begin to question how these techno-social controls play out in our everyday lives. What role do new technologies play in the people, places, ideas and things we regularly encounter and avoid? How do new technologies create and express new fears? How do we use technologies to make ourselves feel safe? And last, but certainly not least, how can public dialogue--and the concerns of the everyday--intervene in the development of new technologies?

I'm honoured to be joining some extraordinary thinkers and makers in NYC from 19-21 October, 2006 to talk Architecture and Situated Technologies. My contribution is outlined in the abstract above and I'm looking forward to discussing this and more. If you're there, please come say hello.

(Thanks to Glen Fuller for reminding me of that sweet Deleuze quote - it made me dig out the book again and see how it relates to critiques of everyday life.)


Anonymous Leah Ingrid MacLennan said...

In the narrative about techno-change much is made of the control aspects, the attempted regimentation of us all. We need to begin to take seriously the ideas of Michel de Certeau (and Lefebvre too) about the everyday as a site of resistances to controls and regimentations. We need to develop a sophisticated and fluid theory/practise of resistances. It should be a praxological theory that is robust and teachable, and fluid and adaptable to meta- and meta-meta-regimentations that will surely follow any successful resistance strategies. (John Galt was ok for his time, but the regimentations are more sophisticated now!) I suspect we can learn a lot from Sun Tzu and the Taoists. Cheerfully yours, Leah

Anonymous glen said...

thanks anne!

your post reminded me of Slack & Wise's _Technology + Culture: A Primer_ for which I just finished writing a (very late) review (for RCCS). One of the things I highlight is the connection they make between technologies of control and relations of trust. I am not sure if they meant 'control' in the D sense, regardless it fits. The immaterial bits of ourselves that circulate in everyday life (c/c numbers, pin numbers, passwords, email and url addresses, etc) all rely on an implicit relation of trust in the technological and social mechanics of the relevant systems.

The moral panics around identity theft that raged in the mid-1990s could perhaps be read as less about actual fears regarding identity and more of a hegemonic discourse attempting to incorporate resistance to social-technologies of control. If resistance was understood as purely a self-interested desire to maintain the integrity of one's identity it could be dismissed as paranoia and more easily than if it was a general critique of the manipulative 'protocols' of action and relation that are built into the systems of control. My favourite is the utter lack of direct contact for large companies and government organs, yet consumer/citizens are meant to just hand over means of direct contact (address, phone, etc) to these very entities.

The Deleuze quote on highways is of course extremely relevant here, because when we drive we implicitly trust other road users and the control mechanisms of the system of automobility (traffic lights, etc) to not go crazy or breakdown.

At least in popular culture 'desire' is the terrain for a politics of the will, in control societies I don't think there is such a terrain. Or is there? I am not sure. I can't think of anything.

Blogger Phil said...

How do we use technologies to make ourselves feel safe?

That's a big question, which it'd be worth unpacking a bit. For instance, how does 'feeling safe' relate to safety? If the answer to that is 'distantly at best' (which is what British 'fear of crime' surveys suggest, to take a source I'm familiar with) can we go one further and identify a gap between wanting safety and wanting to feel safe? And if so, what is feeling safe - what kinds of desire and dream are invested in it, and what happens to society when they're encouraged?

I don't see anything odd about wanting to be safe, he asserted controversially. But if a guaranteed freedom from risk is unattainable (which it is, pretty much by definition) then yearning for a feeling of complete safety - and investing time, effort and technology in producing the feeling - must surely be dysfunctional. (Perhaps something also about the panics created by technology...)

Anonymous anne said...

Leah, agreed about the critiques of everyday life - and that's exactly what I'm trying to do, albeit in a less structuralist fashion :)

Glen, re: At least in popular culture 'desire' is the terrain for a politics of the will, in control societies I don't think there is such a terrain.

Hmmm. I think you're probably right, but I refuse to be bound to only one theoretical position. I think there are ways of talking about desire here - we just need to start trying ;)

Phil, the questions of risk and safety come up again and again, dont they? I used to wonder if *anyone* preferred feeling threatened to feeling safe, but since then I've met people that seem, for example, to need to take academic critique as personally threatening just so that they can launch an offensive attack and regain a sense of safety in their position. And surely that behaviour must occur in other contexts as well. I imagine it like some sort of personal gated community or something... ;)


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