The glass around you shatters as you glide through this infinite space, like a drone ready to exert a pre-emptive strike.Inhabiting plazas of chrome and marble, clinical, anemic trees shift in a cruel air-conditioned breeze.
A space that formerly represented to us cleanliness. Vast anesthetic vistas of self, you were a protagonist in an infinitelylooping trailer; like an avatar, you became immaterial.
Now this space, supposedly user friendly, intuitive, ever navigable, is a cacophonous maze of wrong-turns. Its girdersbent beneath the weight of its own implications. A capitalist cathedral brought to its knees.
Is this the reality beneath our glossy user interface of identity performance, our plazas of falsified wealth – militancy,destruction and fear?
Rendered clean, crisp and placeless, providing us with a blank slate, a pristine palette through which we enact our mostvital sense of self, individualized through consumption, content curation. Deeply moved by the motion of a scroll bar, ourphysical spaces become increasingly virtual, designed on digital rendering software and augmented with surveillanceapparati. Like a screen, these architectures appeal to our eyes alone, silencing the other senses. With ubiquitous heatingand air-conditioning units, they lull us into a consistent state of bodily ease.
As if someone used a clone stamp across an entire landscape. Stretching before you is an endless matrix of plazas, datacenters, telecommunications networks, highways. Like an entire landscape has been selected and deleted, replaced by acontent-aware fill, relying on that which already existed to be reassembled into perpetuity.
But what logics lie behind these aesthetic choices? these placeless parallels that create an endless continuum between amall plaza, a social media feed, and a 3D rendering interface?
“it is self-evident that the tabula rasa tendency of modernization favors the optimum use of earth-moving equipmentinasmuch as a totally flat datum is regarded as the most economic matrix upon which to predicate the rationalization ofconstruction...The bulldozing of an irregular typography into a flat site is clearly a technocratic gesture which aspires to acondition of absolute placelessness” (Frampton 28/29).
Simultaneously, our digital spaces too mirror these aesthetics of distance
A feedback loop exists between capitalist architectures in digital and physical space; applying to our utopian ideals ofmodernity and our conditioned humanist tendencies.
A new iteration of manifest destiny articulates itself across the planet in a form of church-like purity; the vaulted, sky litceiling of a shopping center, the hygienic vertical scroll of a social media interface, a white wall.
“surveillance capitalists deftly employed the entire arsenal of the declaration to insert their authority and legitimacy in anew and undefended digital world...they camouflaged their purpose with illegible machine operations...purposefullymisappropriated cultural signs and symbols associated with the themes of the second modernity; empowerment,participation, voice, individualization, collaboration and baldly appealed to the frustrations of second modernity individuals,thwarted in the collision between psychological yearning and institutional indifference” (Zuboff Track 7, 50:00).
The tenants of modernist design are used because they come with assumptions of emancipation and empowerment, themodernist white cube eases the desire for supposed purity ingrained in the western subject; an internalized Christiandesire for confession and erasure
A new, quieter iteration of capitalist imperialism exists in digital environments; fibre-optic cables are run along colonialtrade-routes, privileging prosperous cities in the Global North, enabling surveillance, behavioral conditioning and datamining, all while relying on exploitative labor practices and the unsustainable extraction of resources.
“Rather than a democratic and horizontal net of equal nodes unfolding around the globe, communication networks havedeveloped on the foundations” and reproduction of “unequal nodes and routes of communication, commerce and militaryrule laid down over 500 years of European-American imperialism” (Tully).
The body of the computer is a pristine monolith, devoid of sharp edges. A tangle of wires skillfully hidden within a defusewhite cube. The desktop design leverages the supposedly “universal” experience of working at a white-collar desk job byemploying a visual vocabulary of file folders, postage stamps, clip boards and writing utensils. The early Macintoshdesktop computer was made by and for the middle and upper classes in its purposeful designing out the signifiers ofprecarious labour. An interface many of us now navigate was designed by predominantly white, middle-class cis maleswho ....“mistake (the) ‘European’ and ‘North American’ for ‘universal” (Austin 113)—an assumption that is “strengthenedby their rhetorical moves and visual structures utilized on websites... it is an aspect of humanity that is taken for grantedas ordinary and that, in functioning as such, it solidifies and perpetuates hegemonic structures, power inequalities, anddiscrimination” (Austin 113).
Website organization is very humanist; by upholding linear order, left-to-right reading strategies, hierarchical structure andsingular, linear perspectives, web dynamics implicitly reinforce hegemonic power.
“In reality, the ways in which certain visual designs are privileged, constructed, and maintained are identical to the ways inwhich US society creates media that reflect race and gender norms that are perpetuated and systematized throughhistorical acts of discrimination and hierarchical decision-making” (Austin 117).
This is only compounded by the consistent use of hygienic motifs; clean my macbook and virus scans, all reminiscent ofthe modernist correlation between cleanliness and morality, and the parallels between dirt and “otherness” in the whitecolonial imagination. Le Corbusier’s whitewashed frontier extends through cyberspace into unperceivable limits.
This placelessness is an anesthetic. “It numbs us to the huge changes in our world. The cell phone tries to be as thin as itcan be, but actually there is nothing light or immaterial about this object. It Is densely packed with high technology andintegrated into global networks sustained by vast infrastructures and economic systems” (Colomina 247). “Theexpansiveness of a mall, a food court, a tangle of highways prevents us from perceiving limits, “disorientation by anymeans” (Koolhaas 175). Slick and pure, monotonous in its ability to disappear, to facilitate a-political identity performance;vague, symbolic gestures that lose their form the moment they are uttered.
They say good design is invisible, “it depends on the central removal of the critical faculty in the name of comfort andpleasure. Politics has become manifesto by Photoshop, seamless blueprints of the mutually exclusive, arbitrated byopaque NGOs” (Koolhaas 183). A population rendered ambivalent, borne into a total erasure of history, bodies driftinglistlessly through the endlessly scrolling white feeds of consumption.
“As repeatable phenomena engineered around logistics and the bottom line they constitute an infrastructural technologywith elaborate routines and schedules for organizing consumption. Ironically the more rationalized these spatial productsbecome the better suited they are to irrational fictions of branding” (Easterling 12).
Citizens become implicated in capitalist structures of reaffirmation, often unknowingly swayed by a logic of submissionunder the guise of emancipatory participation, self-expression and entrepreneurial initiative.
“The fact that immaterial labor produces subjectivity and economic value at the same time demonstrates how capitalistproduction has invaded our lives and has broken down all the oppositions among economy, power, and knowledge”(Lazzarato 141).
Each networked citizen then, can internalize and re-enact this power on to other nodes in the network. Capitalistadvertisement and branding is outsourced to each person connected to a smart device. We feel we do this work for ourown benefit and within our own power.
“Now, under the neoliberal regime of auto-exploitation, people are turning their aggression against themselves. This auto-aggressivity means that the exploited are not inclined to revolution so much as depression” (Han 7). Perplexed by ourconstant need to aestheticize and unable to articulate a vague, lingering sense of self-exploitation, we lull ourselves backinto the infinite loop in the virtual plaza
Meanwhile, our behavioral futures are predicted, monetized, and re-exerted, internalized and actualized. Surveillancecapitalism relies on the constant extraction of unpaid and low-wage human labour, whether it be in the form ofsurveillance and data extraction, or in the dangerous, often toxic manual labour that goes into the production, distributionand disposal of these products
If hostile architecture is built to design out a certain kind of behaviour that is deemed inappropriate or unseemly to those inpower, can the term also apply to digital landscapes that are designed to condition a behaviour that instead facilitateshegemonic power distributions? Are these anesthetic architectures and interfaces a kind of hostile architecture too, in an
inverse way? Rather than overtly punishing certain behaviour, they encourage and condition our participation in the flowof consumption
Surveillance capitalism relies on tenants of violent conquest, recreating architectures of power online to perpetuate logicsof capture, extraction, the advantageous misuse of behaviour surplus. “Infrastructure has often been groomed as either aninstrument of militarism, liberalism or universal rationalization... the pyrotechnics of war may distract from other moreinsidious forms of violence” (Easterling, 22).
Most of us are familiar with the rich military history of computing technology and decentralized networks. While itsprecursor dated back to second world war Brittan, the internet as we know it today originated in the United States duringthe cold war. ARPANET, created by an oligarchy of white western male scientists in the United states department ofdefense advanced research. “The reality of the web demonstrates that it is inextricably linked to the prison-military-industrial complex by its very inception (Fernandez 526)
“Another mobile marketing firm recommends “life pattern marketing” based on techniques derived from militaryintelligence known as patterns of life analysis. These involve gathering location and other data from phones, satellites,vehicles and sensors to assemble intelligence on the daily behavioural patterns of a person of interest in order to predictfuture behaviour” (Zuboff Track 9, 28:45)
It’s hard to articulate that which you have been trained not to see. Even as we explore the back end of social mediainterfaces we are presented with an aestheticized façade; our statistical data, flattened into a texture that reflects back atus, eluding critique in its personalization.
Power and information is spatialized – infrastructure space is recoded as software space. “The information resides ininvisible, powerful activities that determine how objects and content are organized and circulated. Infrastructure space,with the power and currency of software, is an operating system for shaping the city” (Easterling 13). “We might not thinkof space as an information technology unless it is embedded with sensors and digital media... Yet infrastructural space,even without media enhancement, behaves like spatial software” (Easterling 13).
I’ve stopped being able to distinguish things as separate, but rather as a multi-pronged nexus that narrativizes capitalistconsumption under the guise of individualization and the perfection of responsive design.
This is an extrusion of an Instagram news feed, a physicalization based on colour and contrast. The planes and valleysare the contours of your image; this landscape becomes a data visualization.
The physicalization of data is made formidable as tech Giants like Google and Sidewalk labs infiltrate city planning andinfrastructural development. In Toronto, Google has legitimated the concept of the city for profit, shaped by the predictionimperative.
“Toronto now stands first in line to become surveillance capitalism’s real-world petri dish. Sidewalk’s proposals reveal thefull arc of the new logic. With astonishing audacity, it claims the city as its laboratory and the lives of citizens as its freeraw material for data creation, ownership, computation and monetization. Sidewalk Labs celebrates the Toronto waterfrontas its ‘meaningful test bed and product/service trial venue...’ To this end, the company unilaterally declares that all publicand private experience occurring within this experimental zone would be deemed ‘urban data’ available for monitoring andactuation. In these endeavours, Sidewalk can be confident in its dominance as it rides the wave of Google’s leadingposition in machine intelligence” (Zuboff, Toronto).
As architectures of extraction become further ubiquitous, data collection is replicated into a physical space in the form ofSidewalk labs.
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