Archive | Clean living under difficult circumstances RSS for this section

What I’m consuming of late, roughly 1H18

It’s always healthy, I think, to have a considered look at what it is I’m taking in. This is what I’ve been reading, watching, listening to and thinking about lately.

First and last

I’ve spent a truly inordinate amount of time reading the MetaFilter megathreads documenting the ongoing Trump travesty in real time. In all honesty, these threads have been far and away my primary intake of content by volume since the time of the Brexit referendum just about two years ago now (!), and my inability to tear myself away from this transatlantic (shitshow, trainwreck, dumpster fire, act of civilizational suicide — choose your metaphor, they all amount to the same thing) over this entire period has put a major dent in my ability to think, write or get any meaningful work done.

Books

Nonfiction
– James Bridle: New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future
– Owen Coggins: Mysticism, Ritual and Religion in Drone Metal
– Peter Godfrey-Smith: Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea and the Deep Origins of Consciousness
– Graham Harman: Object-Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything
– N. Katherine Hayles: Unthought: The Power of the Cognitive Unconscious (Among the best of its type.)
– Humphrey Jennings: Pandæmonium (Simply wonderful.)
– Mateo Kries, Mathias Müller et al., eds.: Together! The New Architecture of the Collective
– Caroline Maniaque-Benton with Meredith Gaglio: Whole Earth Field Guide
– Mauvaise Troupe Collective, tr. Kristin Ross: The ZAD and NoTAV: Territorial Struggles and the Making of a New Political Intelligence
– Elaine Mokhtefi: Algiers, Third World Capital: Black Panthers, Freedom Fighters, Revolutionaries
– Norman Ohler: Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany (Wildly entertaining.)
– Moshe Safdie: Beyond Habitat
– Elizabeth Sandifer: Neoreaction A Basilisk (Essential to understanding the shape of our moment.)
– Lynne Segal: Radical Happiness
– Richard Vinen: The Long ’68: Radical Protest and Its Enemies
– Matthew W. Wilson: New Lines: Critical GIS and the Trouble of the Map
– and finally, got over my aversion to TED-style popthink and picked up
Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow

Fiction
– Anna Kavan: Ice
– Viet Thanh Nguyen: The Sympathizer
– Kim Stanley Robinson: New York 2140 (Contains an incidental, paragraph-length ode to the place of “Heroin” in the consciousness of true New Yorkers that no lie brought me to tears, though I was admittedly at 38,000 feet at the time.)

Poetry
– Bejan Matur: If This Is A Lament

Film

– (hush) Black Panther
Funeral Parade of Roses
Homo Sapiens
– (cheating a little bit, actually saw it toward the end of last year) Gulistan, Land of Roses
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
– The usual, compulsive rewatches of, like, , Bande à part, Day of the Jackal, The Italian Job, etc.
– I’m sure there are other films I’ve gone to see in the cinema, but they’re slipping my mind. I’ll make another cup of coffee (see below) and see if I can’t remember.

TV

Oh, OK…I watch Westworld, I Love Dick, The Handmaid’s Tale and Love. Don’t @ me. (The casting for Westworld, in particular, is dialed in. Gorgeous Thandie Newton, Tessa Thompson, Jeffrey Wright, Jimmi Simpson, Giancarlo Esposito, Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris and Peter Fucken Mullan? Sold American. I even like those dudes what play the bickering nerdling technicians. And the costuming, set design, etc., is [smacks fingers].)

Music

Listening to a lot of Bong, Eluvium, Dopelord, Windhand, Electric Wizard, and so on, in addition to the usualcrew in permanent heavy rotation (Nancy & Lee, Staple Singers, Magazine, Minutemen, Velvets, James Cleveland, etc.); the best live acts I’ve caught in the past six months were Nadja and Taman Shud. Suuuuper looking forward to Zeal & Ardor in just a few weeks.

Exhibits, etc.

Haven’t been getting out as much as I should. I did see the comprehensive Forensic Architecture show now on at the ICA — huge congrats to Eyal and crew on your Turner Prize nom — as well as “The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945” and “Another Kind of Life: Photography on the Margins,” both at the Barbican and both great. (The 1:1-scale recreation of Moriyama House at the former was one of the most wisely considered and squeeful things I’ve ever experienced in a gallery space.)

Drug of choice

…remains caffeine, delivered in the form of high-test black coffee, brewed in a Chemex. (Yeah. All it took was a single cup of pourover brewed for me at the Reserve counter in the Starbucks above Gangnam Station — instant conversion experience. I went down to longtime favorite D&Department in Itaewon and picked up a three-cup version and some filters to take home with me. When I got back to London, of course, I had to futz around with acquiring the various pieces of twee hipster kit you need to rock pourover in the Chemex — the precision grinder, the Hario scale, the gooseneck kettle and so on, all in matte black, as well as a little shibari-inspired black leather thong to customize the Chemex itself, ’cause it was like two quid and I’m a total dork. Thank god Nurri already had the digital kitchen thermometer. You can see why Buy Nothing 2018 was dead before it left the table.)

Unshakable lust object

I keep slinking back to Velorution to gaze slackly upon this exquisite Moulton AM GT Mk III, and thereupon to dream and plot — first how to afford such a recockulous expenditure on a bike, then how to justify it. (NB: I understand full well that even should I sell a kidney to gin up the necessary dosh/consign myself to penury for some extended term thereafter, it is almost certainly beyond any conceivable justification. Nevertheless, there are worse midlife crises.)

Happy May Day, beloved

Atélier Populaire poster from the struggle of May 1968, "Mai 68 — Début D'Une Lutte Prolongée"

On an International Workers’ Day that’s dawned fine and clear here in London, I want to take a moment to celebrate the pivotal events of May on the occasion of their fiftieth anniversary.

Let’s be crystal-clear that the struggles of May left us with a legacy that is by no means uncomplicated. More than a few of those who threw their bodies on the barricades then and in the months that followed shamefully spearheaded the turn to neoliberalism just a few years down the road, as the intellectual winds started to blow from a different quarter. The language and symbols of the moment have often been coöpted in the decades since, used to advance political and commercial agendas that would surely have struck the demonstrators at the Sorbonne (and their counterparts in Chicago, Prague, Mexico City and elsewhere) as obscene. Adding insult to injury, images of May are more than occasionally invoked by sentimental veterans of the left as a stick to beat younger activists with — taking them to task for not somehow bringing society to its knees in a matter of weeks every time there’s a new wave of dissent, as though the entire economic/sociotechnical/media milieu hadn’t changed a whit in the half-century since Danny the Red leapt the CRS fences.

And yet, and yet. We (OK: I) return time and again to those indelible, iconic Atelier Populaire posters, and the images of Paris ripped up, barricaded, shrouded in a fog of war gas they so reliably conjure, for the pure hit of Situationist verve and sheer insurgent insouciance they offer, even at such a long remove. If there’s a task before us, it’s to ensure that those images live as channels of power from their moment to ours: that we avoid turning them into fetish, shrine for a dead and irretrievable vector of possibility, or worst of all, decor. If we use them properly, in fact, they’re a goad, a potent reminder that the impossible is still a thing that lays before us to demand, and to achieve.

Happy May Day, beloved.

CGT-organized demonstration, Place de la République, Paris, France, May 29, 1968. © Fondation Gilles Caron/Contact Press Images.

CGT-organized demonstration, Place de la République, Paris, France, May 29, 1968. © Fondation Gilles Caron/Contact Press Images.

On the received aesthetic of the urban commons, and transcending it

Edmund Sumner's lovely picture of Ryue Nishizawa's Moriyama House

Edmund Sumner’s lovely picture of Ryue Nishizawa’s Moriyama House: What the commons could look like, but generally does not

A few days back, my friend and colleague John Bingham-Hall gave a great talk at the Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design, as part of a series on the urban commons organized by the wonderful Torange Khonsari. John’s talk was called “Common(s) Materials,” and it took up a question that’s central to many of my own concerns: is there some necessary relationship between the social or political qualities of a space claimed for the commons, and the materials used in articulating and furnishing that space?

What I want to do here is expand on some of John’s thoughts, and perhaps develop them further. What follows is more of a free association than anything else, and certainly not a well-formed argument; while I apologize if it’s not particularly structured, hopefully you’ll find some utility in it regardless.

What do you mean when you talk about “the commons”?

Let me first clarify what I mean by “the commons,” which, for present purposes, we can simply define as territory not governed by either the market or the state, and that is in principle available and accessible to all. (I’ve previously written about why I prefer the gerund form commoning, but we can set that to the side for now.)

Sites organized as commons have been in short supply in conurbations of the developed world ever since the so-called “urban renaissance,” or rediscovery and revalorization of the central city by the middle class, which started gathering steam around 1990. This reversal in the outward flow of population that had characterized the previous few decades sent land value in urban cores worldwide to vertiginous heights, and guaranteed that the worth of such parcels would henceforth be determined by their speculative exchange value, rather than any utility they might have as a dwelling-place for human beings. At the culmination of this process, a clear consensus regarding “the highest and best use” for land emerged worldwide, in the form of luxury condominiums whose units are traded as “sky bullion” among the members of a fairly shady global investor class consisting of oligarchs, autocrats, hedge-fund traders, private-equity managers and their children.

Under such circumstances, the only sites that were by and large left to popular control were waste and interstitial spaces, sacrifice zones too steep, difficult or prone to subsidence to develop profitably, or tracts where the projects of finance capital had failed, gone into receivership or otherwise been abandoned.

In the global South, for the most part, any such site is impossible to distinguish from the broader and thoroughly informal built fabric that may constitute the absolute majority of a city’s developed land area. It’s only in the metropolitan core of the developed world that sites occupied and maintained as commons tend to stand apart, not simply in terms of their political organizing principles but of their visual identity as well.

Is there any such thing as a “commons aesthetic”?

So can we establish that there is a coherent aesthetic associated with such spaces?

As I’ve noted here before, there is a distinct mode in which urban sites claimed for the commons present themselves to their users and the world. It’s present in most of the participatory spaces I’ve been so interested in over the past decade: you can see it deployed at Grand Voisins in Paris, el Campo de Cebada in Madrid, perhaps to a lesser extent at Prinzessinnengarten in Berlin, and it’s all over the projects of collective practices like Campo designer-builders Zuloark or the intriguing spatial provocateurs raumlabor Berlin. These spaces are characterized by the use of ultra-low-cost, widely accessible commodity materials readily manipulable by the untrained: shipping pallets and the wood reclaimed from them, CMUs of various types, construction tarps and rebar.

Cheap, lightweight components of this sort emphasize the mobile, participatory and rapidly reconfigurable qualities of common space — though perhaps at the cost of inadvertently underlining just how contingent such space generally is in the global North, just how vulnerable it is to clearance by the state and recuperation by the market. As John pointed out, there is a certain invitational character to them as well. You don’t require much in the way of training or prior experience to build surprisingly durable structures with these materials, which is the same reason you’ll find them at the heart of various self-build schemes of the past half-century. (Ken Isaacs’ visionary 1974 How To Build Your Own Living Structures is exemplary in this regard, though Walter Segal’s method has to be singled out for the longevity of its influence on actually-existing lifeways.)

Together, these elements comprise what I think of as the Received Commons Aesthetic, and as the name implies, it’s fair to say that it has by now become something of a mannerism. Further, its achievement on a given site may require outlays of capital or labor that the community claiming it for the commons cannot well tolerate. For example, raumlabor Berlin’s rather clever chairs, albeit using salvaged wood, are nevertheless purpose-built and labor-intensive. (Despite my own long-nurtured hopes for an eventual alignment of the informational commons with the spatial commons, at present I think it’s clear that the use of digitally-fabricated furniture in this context, like the designs licensed by Opendesk, can only be understood as hopelessly fetishistic, and the same thing probably goes for most appearances of open hardware.)

By contrast, the overwhelming majority of actual squats and social centers I’ve ever spent time in were furnished in an eclectic style that could best be described as “adaptive reuse,” with much of the interior furnishing either inherited from the building’s former occupants, or trashpicked and therefore freegan. In my experience, anyway, such avowedly anarchist spaces tend to be cozy with rugs, spavined La-Z-Boys and thick, insulating wall-hangings, if not outright gemütlich; the idea that their inhabitants would dedicate any effort at all to the design and construction of new furniture, especially amid the profound global surplus of manufactured objects available more or less for the taking, strikes me as, uh, questionable. (John ended his talk with the provocation that the most appropriate seating for spaces of participatory democracy would be the £5 folding chair from Ikea, rather than anything intended to function as a visual signifier of the commons; the equivalent, for most of the emerging world, would of course be the ubiquitous knockoff Monobloc.)

Why does any of this matter?

In his comments, John raised the question of performative transparency, as epitomized by Norman Foster’s Reichstag dome. At the Reichstag, glass is both denotative and connotative. You can literally see through it, of course, from the observer galleries to the workings of the chamber below, and it’s therefore supposed not merely to signify but actually enact the idea that democracy is something that takes place in public: the implication is that in present-day Germany, the deliberative process itself is as accessible, available and accountable as its image.

We can certainly wonder whether this is now the case, or ever has been. But as John pointed out, these performative qualities of glass do raise the question of what is implied when we choose to use other materials in our constructions of democratic space. In particular, he asked, “Does wood symbolically trap politics in the realm of the intimate?” In other words, does the very humility of the materials that together comprise the Received Commons Aesthetic consign the active practice of democracy to the strictly local, or suggest that there are no larger scales at which participatory praxis is appropriate?

In my own flavor of politics (which, as you may have noticed here and elsewhere, I’m increasingly comfortable characterizing as “neo-Bookchinian”), this may not matter so much. My feeling is that participatory deliberative processes work best in assemblies of about the Dunbar number — not at all coincidentally, the size of a New England-style town meeting — and that effective governance in both municipalities and larger territories can be achieved by networked federations thereof. Nevertheless, it’s a question worth taking seriously.

But there’s a more troubling implication raised by the Received Commons Aesthetic, which is that is so easily recognizable, so straightforwardly characterizable and so readily replicable that it can not merely stand for participatory politics but replace it entirely. If we see the RCA in admittedly interesting hybrid spaces like the Institut for (x) in Aarhus or the R-Urban project just northwest of Paris, there is however no suggestion that these sites are owned and managed collectively, for the benefit of all. And needless to say, anything so readily reducible to pastiche can also be encountered in watered-down form, at commercial sites like Seoul’s Ssamziegil — the latter places that do not remotely constitute a commons in any way, but clearly wish to convey the sense of openness, adaptivity, porosity and invitationality we associate with liberated spaces. What such sites imply is that the presence of architecture based on pallets, CMUs, tarps and other mobile elements may perform radical inclusion and participation where they do happen to be present, but also suggest them where they are not.

Indeed, at places like Boxpark and the truly vile Artworks, the aesthetic isn’t merely emptied of meaning but actually inverted: Boxpark is nothing more than a way of turning an otherwise marginal interstitial site into a buzz- and revenue-generating minimall, while the similar Artworks is deployed where the Heygate Estate housing complex once stood, camouflaging developer Lend Lease’s deep complicity in the council’s own program of social cleansing. (Apartments at the new Elephant Park were marketed, and evidently sold, exclusively to overseas investors, while the developers failed to actually provide any of the notionally affordable units they’d committed to.)

What all this says to me is that there is great value in establishing radically participatory spatial situations that do not greatly resemble the Received Commons Aesthetic, or at the very least pushing outward our notions of what common space can look like. Here my model has always been the microurbanism of Ryue Nishizawa’s Moriyama House, a gorgeously-conceived and carefully detailed cluster of dwelling units surrounding shared service, conviviality and circulation spaces. As private property owned by a single individual, the thicket of buildings that constitutes Moriyama House is clearly in no way a commons as we’ve defined it. But in edging away from the atomized nature of life in discrete apart-ments, it points toward what it might mean to dwell in common, and perhaps suggests something about the ways in which space can help individual tenants modulate public and private as need be.

Like raumlabor’s chairs, such proposals certainly run afoul of that tendency Kurt Vonnegut once perceptively identified as one of the primary flaws in the human character: that “everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.” There’s no doubt a great deal of justice in the idea that by the metric of sustainability, at least, the most radical thing one could possibly do is to reclaim existing spaces, leverage the material-energetic investments already sunk in them, and perhaps retrain them if necessary. By this ethic, the grandeur comes to live with the otherwise unglamorous practices of maintenance and long-term stewardship.

But there’s also something to be said for the idea that beauty, craft and rigor in design ought to be reclaimed from the market — that spaces by, of and for the people need not read as or be ad-hoc, that they might instead be marked by certain aesthetics we more often associate with luxury and the commercial high end. Dating back at least as far as Ruskin, Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement, this is not, of course, a novel suggestion. It acquires new relevance, though, in a period of increasingly democratic and high-resolution control over the distribution of matter.

Organized as housing cooperatives or community land trusts or their equivalents, there’s no reason emergent spaces in common need to partake of the Received Commons Aesthetic — especially if it is more than occasionally dishonest in what it implies about the nature of the sites marked by it. With new digital design and construction techniques becoming relatively accessible, and powerful ways of building and dwelling together becoming available to learn from, it would be disappointing if the participatory and collectively managed spaces of the future failed to transcend the visual language of those few examples that exist at present.

I personally enjoy the Received Commons Aesthetic, just as I kinda dig the funky Ken Isaacs/early Whole Earth Catalog vibe of the various, deeply clever mobile assemblies Zuloark and their collaborators have built at el Campo. But what I enjoy more is the sense I have whenever I’m lucky enough to be on that parcel of land, which at that is not so different from what I remember about Kunsthaus Tacheles, or the various squats in which I’ve ever laid my head for the night: that here is freedom, and what’s more, freedom of a kind the market cannot offer at any rate or price. And because freedom is only another word for privilege unless it’s truly shared by all, it feels necessary, now, to begin peeling away that experience of freedom from the material undercarriage that implies but only occasionally actually supports its becoming.

My sense is that the Aesthetic, and the use of the materials it’s based on to construct and articulate spaces in common, will persist for some time yet to come, for all the reasons of low cost, accessibility and invitationality we’ve discussed. I hope, though, that we can imagine a time when such spaces aren’t limited to those that can be established on the scraps from late capitalism’s table, using offcuts from its voracious machinery. We should be thinking about what the urban commons might look like in triumph, when it can truly leverage all of the organizing, funding and building capabilities this moment in history offers us — when we dare to demand something reaching beyond a minimum viable utopia, and settle for nothing less than the entire city held in common, for the use and enjoyment of all who dwell in it and bring it to life.

My thanks to John Bingham-Hall, to his co-panelists Adam Kaasa and Nicolas Fonty for their insightful presentations, and to Torange Khonsari for her generosity in putting it all together.

For the defense of Rojava: Democratic confederalism and the undying dream of freedom

To paraphrase Sartre’s famous comments about Che Guevara, the autonomous citizens of Rojava, or the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria — and especially those fighting in the ranks of its militia, the YPG/YPJ — are the most fully realized human beings of our time. Their understanding of kyriarchy and what it requires of those of us who would unwind it is direct, complete, unclouded.

Officially branded as terrorist sympathizers, alternately supported, disregarded and threatened by the US, in this era of incoherent strategic policy and smash-and-grab opportunism, the men and women of Rojava have been forced to do it all on their own. They’ve had to learn how to do anarchism, how to do feminism, how to do horizontalism and federation, in practice, in real time, in what certainly appears to be some of the least propitious soil imaginable, in the face of a world that seems to want nothing so much as for them to disappear.

I believe we ought to be doing everything possible to support them, and defend them against those who would destroy them.

The emergence of a vital resistance in Rojava is weirdly personal for me. For decades, nurtured on more-or-less annual rereadings of Homage to Catalonia, I harbored the fantasy that had I lived during the time of the Spanish Civil War, I would naturally have run off and enlisted in a militia like that of the POUM Orwell was affiliated with, and put my body on the line in the struggle against fascism.

And not just to fight against something, either, but for something as well — for the total vision of emancipated life that emerged during the years of struggle in Spain. The POUM, of course, was committed to a fiercely egalitarian politics, even under the pressures of the front line; in the militia that fought beneath their banner, “[t]here were no visible differences between ranks, no saluting and no differentials in pay,” while combat tactics and plans of action were often debated among the fighters expected to enact them. (And they weren’t even anarchists!) Meanwhile, behind the lines, in the cities and lands under revolutionary control, entirely new forms of collective life were emerging.

For most of my adult life, this was one of the precious few examples of actually-existing anarchism any of us could point to. We could celebrate the real improvements in status and condition won by revolutionary Spanish women, in the “double struggle” against gender and class oppression. We could emphasize, with almost equal pride, the fact that material production and even technology-intensive urban infrastructure like tramways or the telephone network prospered in the sectors under democratic management. And we could further argue, with a good deal of justice, that this experiment in popular control ended not because it collapsed beneath the weight of its own accumulated contradictions, but because it was destroyed from the outside — directly by the Nazi-armed and -supported Nationalists, and indirectly via the perfidy of the parties aligned with Moscow.

Nevertheless, destroyed it was. And curiously, that made the Spanish experience of revolution safe for those of us who took inspiration from it so many years down the line. For one thing, whatever difficult realities, compromises or oppressions emerged during the months of popular control, they were interred in glorious defeat along with the insurgents themselves. Neither those brave souls nor their overseas admirers ever had to reckon with the unresolved tensions of large-scale governance and self-management over the longer term. But also, however those tales of heroism on the barricades and in the trenches may have quickened our blood, with no real way to act on them, it became cheap and easy to imagine oneself into the narrative. You could puff out your chest and say, “Oh, yeah, I would have shipped out, signed on with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, and killed me some Fascists,” with nobody and nothing to stand in the way of your self-righteous posturing.

With another experiment in popular control really unfolding in our time, though, Rojava has put such fantasies to the test, and me along with them. The question isn’t, what are “we” going to do for Rojava? It’s what am I going to do for Rojava, for this land that never was, where the people are somehow, miraculously, against every certainty of geopolitics, both putting Murray Bookchin’s beautiful thought into practice, and setting Daesh to flight at the same time?

Without hyperbole, there is literally no question in our lives more important, nor likely to be, at least for those of us moved by currents of the antiauthoritarian or horizontalist left. For us, especially, the way we answer it will determine whether we really mean our politics, and intend to see them through — with all the risks and pitfalls that entails — or prefer to see them safely, gloriously dead and in the ground, where we can haul them out a few times a year to mourn what could have been.

“Against the smart city”: Impact metric

I’m fairly sure that I share with most other writers the uneasy sense that every word issuing from my keyboard ultimately flies off into the great void. I go to sleep at night safe in what is surely the statistically reasonable belief that the things I write are at best parsed quickly, in a state of distraction, and never really land in any meaningful way. This isn’t occasion for bitterness or resentment, mind you. It’s just the inevitable consequence of living in a time of massive informational overload. There’s such fierce competition for each precious increment of attention, and the kind of things I write about, by their very nature, have a hard time crowding out other claims. It’s something you learn to accept if you hope to face the world with anything like equanimity, let alone cheer.

Maybe this is why I felt such a gut-deep thrill at learning that some Minnesota activists opposed to the testing of a new autonomous shuttle hung this banner from an overpass last night. If nothing else, it suggests that at least some of what I tried to express in “Against the smart city” escaped the abyss, and managed to register somehow. I’m sure this is laughably small potatoes from the perspective of anyone whose contributions actually do shift the global discourse, but for a decidedly non-A-list writer, such evidence of impact is supremely gratifying.

I am — naturally, because this is me — ambivalent about the idea that my work can be mobilized in the context of this specific protest. I think it’s far from clear that autonomous mobility will necessarily drive the oppressive métro, boulot, dodo cycle of late capitalism, as this particular protest assumes, and that there’s a decent argument to be made that if properly designed, it will physically concretize the right to the city in a way few other modes of getting around have ever been able to — particularly for citydwellers of limited personal mobility.

Nevertheless, that “if properly designed” is a major stumbling block, it’s far too late in the day to place any stock in the good will or benevolent intentions of would-be technological disruptors, and in any event, intent isn’t magic. People are right to question every aspect of the propositions they’re confronted with by smart-city advocates — to question, ascertain whether what is to be installed accords at any point with their needs and desires, and protest, disrupt and prevent the deployment of anything that does not. And that very much includes mobility systems whose designers cannot adequately justify the thing they have conceived, either to their intended audience, or to the communities through which their infrastructure runs.

At present, I don’t know enough about the Hennepin County autonomous-mobility test to determine whether or not I personally would oppose it. But then, I don’t live there. It’s enough for me to know that at least some of the people who do have yet to be convinced that it’s anything but a harbinger of exploitation and oppression yet to come. I’m delighted, and deeply gratified, to see my words invoked in their struggle.

PS If anyone responsible for this banner should happen to see this, please do get in touch — anonymously, if you prefer. I’d love to hear from you.

The extended Acknowledgments

With Radical Technologies finally out and — to my amazement and deep satisfaction — receiving the most extraordinarily generous notices, I think it’s a good moment to pause, take a breath, and take stock of how it is that I’ve rolled up on these shores.

In the course of a life, if you’re very lucky, you run into people who through their words and deeds launch you on a completely new and better trajectory than the one you arrived on. There’s actually quite a bit more than luck involved, of course; one of my favorite definitions of “privilege” glosses it as a state in which your personal networks tend to help you achieve your ambitions, rather than suppressing or undermining them. But there’s unquestionably room in all of this for the operations of chance.

Looking back now, I can see a few clear and obvious inflection points in the journey that resulted in me being able to write and publish Radical Technologies, and without exception they were moments at which a specific individual human being intervened in my life in a conscious attempt to change my fortunes for the better. And what strikes me with particular force is how contingent all of these encounters were. They so easily could have gone another way — any other way. And had that been the case, it is overwhelmingly likely that my life as I know it wouldn’t exist.

What follows, then, is my (no doubt flawed and incomplete) attempt to name and thank these human beings for making the decisions they did. I want them, and you, to know that wonderful things happened in the aftermath of those choices.

Juliana Uruburu, Dwight Jackson, Dave Dunn, Tori Orr, Anne Galloway, Christina Wodtke, Jeffrey Zeldman, Andrew Otwell and Chris Heathcote: thank you for seeing what nobody else could, and for acting on what you thought you saw. You all have my profound and permanent gratitude. Adriana Young and Leo Hollis, of course, I’ve already thanked in the book itself. Maya Lin extended to me, at a critical moment, a gesture of big-sisterly kindness that she will have long ago forgotten, but which meant everything to me. And a few other people along the way, sadly no longer with us, who said or did things that changed the entire course of my existence. (Here I’m thinking primarily of Herbert Muschamp, who I miss all the time, and the great Red Burns at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, who took a gamble on letting me teach there when there was no obvious reason to do so. May their memory be a blessing.)

An index, 2017

I thought you might enjoy seeing the draft index I compiled for Radical Technologies, now available for pre-order on Amazon. If nothing else, it’ll give you an idea of the book’s main concerns, and maybe even a sense of its arguments.

Radical Technologies launches worldwide on May 30th, 2017.
 
#
15M movement (110, 169)
3arabizi (311)
3D printing (8, 85-86, 88, 93-96, 98, 100-104, 107-108, 110, 281, 295-296, 302, 312)
The 5 Point (Seattle dive bar) (84)
51% attack (139)

A
Accenture (198, 231)
accuracy (machine learning) (217)
acrylonitrile butadiene styrene plastic filament (ABS) (94-95)
Aetna (36)
aerogel (95)
AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) (167)
Air America (CIA front organization) (228)
Airbnb (41, 156)
Alcoholics Anonymous (167)
Aldiss, Brian (291)
Alibaba (106, 286)
Alphabet (company) (275-279, 284)
AlphaGo (264-266, 278, 270)
Amazon (36-39, 46-47, 193, 195, 211, 275, 277-282, 284, 286, 314)
– acquisitions of (280-281)
– Alexa virtual assistant (39)
– Dash Button (36-37, 42, 46-48, 279)
– Echo (38, 279)
– Echo Dot (38)
– Flex (278)
– labor conditions at, blue-collar (47, 195)
– labor conditions at, white-collar (195n)
Amnesia, Anne (181)
Android operating system (18, 44, 275, 278)
Annapurna Labs (281)
“anticipatory surveillance” (242)
AntPool mining pool (139)
Apple (15, 18, 33, 36-39, 85, 197, 275, 277, 279, 283-285)
– App Store (18)
– iOS (18)
– iPad (277)
– iPhone (15, 64-65, 277)
– iTunes (277)
– Macintosh, first-generation (85)
– Siri virtual assistant (39)
– TV (277)
– Watch (33, 36, 197)
application programming interface (API) (26, 39, 60, 196, 248, 274)
application-specific integrated circuits (ASIC) (128, 138, 141)
AR-15 assault rifle (108)
Arlington National Cemetery (65)
Armadillo police vehicle (29)
artificial intelligence (259-271)
Asawa, Ruth (261)
Atelier Populaire (269)
augmented reality (AR) (63-84)
Auschwitz death camp (61, 65, 71)
automated teller machines (ATM) (1, 3, 7, 52, 135)
automation (8, 153, 183-207, 226, 236, 255-257, 260, 275, 280, 311)
– economic implications of (192-206)
– “four D’s of” (184, 202)
– motivations behind (186-191)
autonomous organizations (115, 147, 175, 302)
autonomous trucking (193, 255, 278)

B
Bach, J.S. (261)
Back, Adam (121)
Baidu (243)
Baihe (286)
Balochistan (179)
Bank of America (120)
Bank of England (194)
baseband processors (15)
beacons (49, 51)
becoming-cyborg (80)
Beer, Stafford (155, 302)
Bennett, Jane (307)
Bergen-Belsen concentration camp (61)
BetterWorks (199)
Bezos, Jeff (193, 278)
bias (human prejudice) (188-189, 234)
bias (machine learning) (218)
big data (211, 221)
Bitcoin (115-117, 119-126, 128-129, 131-143, 145-151, 153, 155, 157, 159-163, 165-166, 179)
– as infrastructure for micropayments (133)
– mining of (126-128, 130-131, 135, 138-141, 145)
– putative anonymity of (137)
Bitcoin Magazine (148)
“black boxes” (244, 253)
Black Lives Matter movement (177, 236, 244)
blockchain (8, 115-181, 207, 209-210, 288, 290, 293, 295-296, 303, 307, 318)
Bois de Boulogne (2)
Borges, Jorge Luis (244)
Boston Dynamics see Google
Bowyer, Adrian (86, 303, 306)
Branch (startup) (246-247, 254)
Brandes, Jeff (256)
Brantingham,
– Jeffrey (231)
– Patricia (232)
– Paul (232)
Braungart, Michael (96)
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) (177)
Brown, Henry T. (103)
Brown, Joshua (223-224, 254)
Brown, Michael (231)
“buddy punching” (198)
bullshit jobs (203, 205)
Bui, Quoctrung (192-193)
bushido (266-267)
Bushido Project, the (266)
Business Microscope (197)
Buterin, Vitalik (147-150, 152, 154, 162-164, 167, 169, 172, 175, 177, 179, 303, 311)
Byzantium (69)

C
CAD-Coin (157)
Californian Ideology, the (283)
Carmack, John (82)
cartography (20)
cats (214)
cellular automata (86)
Champs-Élysées (Paris street) (1)
Chaum, David (121)
Checkpoint Charlie (70)
chess (263)
Chevrolet Camaro (216-218)
Chicago Police Department (230-231)
China (87, 102, 190, 194, 278-279, 286, 290, 306)
Chinese yuan (135)
Churchill, Winston (28)
circular economy (92, 96, 99, 288)
Ciutat Meridiana (Barcelona neighborhood) (109)
climax community (289)
closed-circuit television (CCTV) (49-50, 54, 241)
Cockney rhyming slang (311)
code library (274-275)
commons, the (171-173)
computer numerical control (CNC) milling (86, 93, 95, 97, 108, 110, 273)
Container Store, The (196)
cooperatives (171)
cooperative motility (80)
Copenhagen (31, 51)
Cornell Law School (151)
Cortana virtual assistant (39)
CostCo (45)
cozy catastrophe (291)
cradle-to-cradle industrial ecosystem see circular economy
The Craftsman (111)
Creative Commons (102-103)
CRISPR technique (298)
Crossmatch (startup) (198)
Crown Heights (Brooklyn neighborhood) (136)
cryptocurrency (8, 115-144, 145, 148-149, 153, 156, 164-165, 177-178, 248, 273, 279, 290, 293, 318)
cryptofinance (180)
cryptography (116, 118-119, 121-123, 129, 146-147, 176, 178-179)
“Custom Notifications” (Chicago Police Department program) (235)
cybernetic socialism (191)

D
DAO, The (distributed autonomous organization) (161-181)
data subject (251)
Davao City, Philippines (31, 43, 46)
Day, Jeffrey (63)
distributed denial-of-service attacks (45)
“The Dead” (short story) (261)
Deep Blue (263-265)
Deep Dream see Google
Deep Lab (314)
deep learning see machine learning
DeepMind see Google
de Certeau, Michel (311)
Deleuze, Gilles (148, 211)
dematerialization (11)
Demnig, Gunter (72)
de Monchaux, Nicholas (101)
Demos (246)
Deutsche Bank (278-279)
The Dialectic of Sex (191)
El Diario newspaper (109)
Dick, Philip K. (83, 244)
digital fabrication (85-114)
digital rights management software  (DRM) (292, 295)
DiscusFish/F2 Pool mining pools (139)
distributed applications (115, 147, 149, 163)
distributed autonomous organizations (161-181, 288, 302)
distributed consensus (126)
distributed ledgers (117, 137, 160, 293)
Department of Motor Vehicles (generically) (158)
Dodge Charger (216-217, 221)
döner (71)
“Double Bubble Trouble” (MIA song) (295)
drones (103, 188, 220, 277-278, 283, 295)
DropCam (281)
Dubner, Stephen J. (237)
dugnad (170)
Dunning-Kruger syndrome (260)
Dutch East India Company, the (165)

E
Easterbrook, Steve (195)
Edo (69)
Elemental Technologies (281)
Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre (110)
Eisenman, Peter (70)
Embassy of the United States, Beijing (51)
Eno, Brian (238)
Equal Credit Opportunity Rights (248)
Ethereum/Ether (148-150, 152-154, 162-163, 168, 175-177, 179)
Ethical Filament Foundation (99)
Ethiopia (194)
Euro (currency) (100, 131, 136)
“eventual consistency” (134)
Existenzminimum (111)
Expedia (134)
EZPass (59)

F
fablabs (95, 100, 109-110)
faceblindness (67)
Facebook (69, 220-221, 227, 229, 232, 252, 275-279, 281, 284)
– Aquila autonomous aircraft (278)
– Free Basics (278)
– Instagram (278)
– opacity of Trending News algorithm (212, 252-253)
Fadell, Tony (276)
false positive (truth value) (217, 235, 249)
Family Assistance Plan (FAP) (204)
Fan Hui (268)
feature engineering (218)
Federal Trade Commission (248)
FedEx (278)
Filabot (98)
Fillod, Odile (107)
Financial Times (177)
FindFace software (240-242)
Firestone, Shulamith (191)
Fitbit Charge wearable device (197)
Five Hundred and Seven Mechanical Movements (103)
Flaxman, Seth (250-251)
foamed aluminum (95)
Ford Mustang (216-217)
Forrester, Jay (56)
Fortune Magazine (257)
Foucault, Michel (35, 70, 160)
Freakonomics (237)
Frey, Carl Benedikt (194)
Fully Automated Luxury Communism (90, 111, 190, 289)

G
gallium arsenide (47)
Galloway, Anne (82)
gambiarra (291)
Garrett, Matthew (43)
General Data Protection Regulation (249)
General Public License (103)
Genesis Block (125, 139)
genetic algorithms (239, 253)
gender
– of pedestrians, as determined by algorithm (239)
– as performance (239-240)
– of virtual assistants (39)
geofencing (27)
Gershenfeld, Neil (95)
Ghost Gunner (108)
Giger, H.R. (219)
GitHub code repository (242, 274, 281)
“glassholes” (84, 276)
Global Village Construction Set (103)
go (game) (263-266)
Goodhart’s Law (247)
Goodman, Bryce (250-251)
Google (18, 24, 37-40, 46, 66, 69, 73-74, 76-78, 80, 84, 193, 212, 218-220, 247, 254, 264, 275, 276, 278, 281, 284)
– Boston Dynamics robotics division (276)
– Chrome browser (275)
– Daydream virtual reality headset (275)
– Deep Dream (80, 219)
– DeepMind artificial intelligence division (264-265, 270, 276, 281)
– driverless cars (193, 220)
– Glass augmented reality headset (66, 73-74, 76-78, 80, 275)
– Home interface device (38-40)
– Image Search (218)
– Mail (275)
– Maps (24)
– Nest home automation division (275-276)
– Nest thermostat (275-276)
– Play (18)
– Plus social network (276)
– search results (212)
– Sidewalk Labs division (276)
Gladwell, Malcolm (237)
Glaser, Will (220)
Global Positioning System (4, 16, 21, 26, 51, 67)
Graeber, David (205)
Guangdong (179)
The Guardian (276)
Guattari, Félix (148)
Gu Li (265)

H
Hagakure (267)
Haldane, Andy (194)
Halo (game) (39)
Hannah-Arendt-Strasse (Berlin street) (70)
haptics (16)
Harman, Graham (48)
hash value (123-124, 128-130)
Hashcash (121)
hashing algorithm (123)
head-up displays (66-67)
Hearn, Mike (179)
“Heat List” (Chicago Police Department program) (230-231, 233, 235-236, 244)
heroin (228)
heterotopias (70)
high-density polyethylene plastic filament (HDPE) (99)
Hitachi Corporation (197)
Hollerith machines (61)
hooks, bell (311)
HR analytics (199)
Hungarian pengő (120, 122)

I
iaido (266)
iaijutsu (266)
IBM (263)
ideology of ease (42)
infrapolitics (311)
ING (bank) (262)
input neurons (215)
Instagram see Facebook
Institute of Advanced Architecture Catalunya (IAAC) (109)
intellectual property (IP) (104, 106, 281, 284)
intent recognition (227)
The Intercept (252)
International Harvester Scout (158)
International Labor Organization (ILO) (133)
International Mobile Equipment Identity number (IMEI) (4, 137)
International Monetary Fund (IMF) (122)
internet of things (31-62, 155-156, 209, 277, 285, 312)
– at the scale of the body (33-36)
– at the scale of the city (48-59)
– at the scale of the room (36-48)
– business models for (46)
– security vulnerabilities of (42-45)
Inventing the Future (88, 203)

J
Johnson, Eddie (235)
Jollibee fast-food chain (43)
Joyce, James (261)
jugaad (291)

K
Kabakov, Alexander (241)
Kaczynski, Theodore (310)
Kafka, Franz (160, 244)
Kanjoya (startup) (198)
Kasparov, Garry (263)
Kay, Alan (305)
Keikyu Corporation (198)
Kelly, Kevin (34)
Keynes, John Maynard (184)
Kickstarter (155)
Kuniavsky, Mike (31)
Kurgan, Laura (53)
kyriarchy (111)

L
Landless Workers’ Movement (Brazil) (169)
Lee Sedol (264-265, 268, 270)
lethal autonomous robotics (226)
Levitt, Steven D. (237)
Liberator 3D-printed pistol (108)
lidar (23)
Liss, Jo (268)
Lofland, Lyn (79)
logical positivism (52)
Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) (229)
Lovecraft, H.P. (269)

M
Machii, Isao (266-267)
machine learning (8, 16, 60, 185, 192, 194, 209-257, 308)
maker spaces (93)
MakerBot (85, 88, 101, 104-105, 107)
mapping (22-25, 275, 278)
Mann, Steve (77-78)
Marx, Karl (70, 305)
MasterCard (120)
Mason, Paul (88)
Mauthausen concentration camp (61)
McDonald’s restaurant chain (194-195)
McDonough, William (96)
McNamara, Robert (57)
Merkle roots (123)
Metropolitan Police Service (London) (231)
Microsoft (38-39, 262, 275)
minimal techno (music genre) (221)
Minority Report (227, 230)
MIT Technology Review (243)
Mitte (Berlin neighborhood) (71-72)
Monobloc chair (106)
Monroe, Rodney (230)
Morris, David (256-257)
Moore’s Law (88, 93)
Mountain View, California (284)
M-Pesa digital currency (117)
Music Genome Project (220)
Musk, Elon (222)

N
National Institute of Justice (233)
National Public Radio (41, 192)
National September 11th Memorial (65)
National Technical University of Athens (173)
NAVSTAR Global Positioning System (21)
NBC Universal (220)
neural networks (214-216, 219, 264, 266)
Nevada (192)
New York City (51, 56-58, 136, 238)
The New York Times (177)
Next Rembrandt project (262-263, 265)
near-field communication standard (NFC) (17, 117)
Niantic Labs (65)
Niemeyer, Oscar (261)
Nieuwenhuys, Constant (190)
Niigata, Japan (301-302)
niqab (295)
Nixon Administration (204)
nonvolatile memory (15)
North Dakota (192)
Norwegian black metal (music genre) (221)
Nuit Debout protests (3)

O
Occupy movement (167, 169)
Oculus Rift virtual reality headset (82)
O’Neil, Cathy (249)
open source hardware (102)
OpenTable (39-40, 46)
Osborne, Michael A. (195)
Ostrom, Elinor (171)
output neuron (215)
overtransparency (240-241, 243)

P
Pai, Sidhant (98)
Pandora music service (220)
Panmunjom Truce Village (65)
Pareto optimality (55, 59)
Paris (1–6, 292)
Pasquale, Frank (244, 253)
path dependence (232, 299)
PayPal (120, 136, 220)
PCWorld (45)
People Analytics (198, 226, 232)
perceptron (214)
Père Lachaise cemetery (2, 5, 26)
persoonskaart (Dutch identity card) (60)
Pew Research Center (41, 193)
Pinellas County, Florida (256)
Placemeter (51)
polylactic acid plastic filament (PLA) (94, 98, 101)
Pokémon Go (63-65, 76, 79)
Polari (311)
policy network (264)
Pollock, Jackson (261)
Pony Express (256)
porosity (28, 173)
POSIWID (155, 302)
Postcapitalism (88)
power/knowledge (62)
predictive policing (227, 230, 232, 235)
PredPol (229, 231, 236, 244, 254)
proof-of-work (128-130, 140-141, 143, 290)
prosopagnosia see faceblindness
Protoprint (99-100, 102)
provisioning of mobile phone service (17, 56)
Průša, Josef (105)
psychogeography (40, 51)

Q
Quantified Self movement (33-36, 40)

R
Radical Networks conference (314)
radio frequency identification (RFID) (200, 296)
Radiohead (35)
RAND Corporation (56-58)
RATP (5)
recall (machine learning) (217, 234-235)
redboxing (229-230)
regtech (157)
Reich, Robert (196)
Relentless (265)
Rensi, Ed (195)
RepRap 3D printer (86-87, 93, 104-105, 306)
RER (2, 5)
Richelieu (62)
Rifkin, Jeremy (88, 205, 312)
RiteAid (197)
Riverton, Wyoming (63)
Royal Dutch Shell Long-Term Studies Group (287)

S
Samsung (285-286)
Sandvig, Christian (252)
“Satoshi Nakamoto” (115, 118, 147, 303)
scenario planning (287)
Schneier, Bruce (45, 243)
Scott, James C. (311)
SCUM Manifesto (191)
Seoul (6, 18, 54, 264-265, 284)
– Metro (54)
Sennett, Richard (111)
sentiment analysis (198)
Serra, Richard (70)
SHA-256 hashing algorithm (123)
Shenzhen Special Economic Zone (18-19, 43)
Shodan search engine (43)
Shoreditch (London neighborhood) (136)
Shteyngart, Gary (246)
Sidewalk Labs see Google
Siemens (52-54, 56)
Silk Road exchange (131)
Silver, David (265)
Simone, Nina (261)
Sipilä, Juha (204)
Sirer, Emin Gün (178)
Siri virtual assistant (39)
Situationism (64, 190)
Slock.it (156, 170, 175-176)
slow jam (music genre) (221)
Slum- and Shackdwellers International (169)
smart city (33, 48, 52, 52, 55, 59)
smart contracts (115, 147, 150, 153-157, 163, 166, 168, 170, 172, 306)
smart home (33, 36, 38, 46, 48)
smartphone (3, 8-33, 38, 49, 64, 67, 72, 77, 133, 137, 273, 285-286, 313)
– as “network organ” (27-29)
– as platform for augmented reality (67, 72)
– as platform for financial transactions (133, 137)
– environmental implications of (18-19)
– incompleteness at time of purchase (17)
– teardown of (14-16)
– ubiquity of (313)
smart property (149-153)
Smith, Zachary (103, 105)
Snæfellsjökull glacier (83)
Snaptrends (227-228, 231, 254)
Sobibor death camp (61)
“social credit” (China) (285, 311)
social dividend (204)
social media (26, 192, 227-228, 276, 286)
Sociometric Solutions (197)
Solanas, Valerie (191)
South Sea Company, the (165)
Soylent nutrient slurry (35)
SpatialKey (227)
Spielberg, Steven (227)
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty (311)
Srnicek, Nick (88, 90-91, 111, 190, 203, 205, 303)
“Stacks” (275, 277, 280-281, 283-286, 292-295, 299, 313-314)
Stanford Dogs Dataset (219)
Stanford University (283)
startups (13, 118, 137, 145-146, 280-282, 286)
Stavrides, Stavros (173)
Sterling, Bruce (275)
Stolpersteine (72, 74)
Stratasys (103-104, 108)
Summers, Larry (201)
Super Sad True Love Story (246)
Superstudio (191)
supervised learning (216)
SWaCH wastepickers’ collective (98-99)
Swedish death metal (music genre) (221)
SweepTheStreets (170)
Szabo, Nick (150, 303, 306)

T
Target (retail chain) (196)
Taylor,
– Frederick (35)
– Simon (160)
technolibertarians (140, 150, 283)
Tencent (285)
Tešanović, Jasmina (62)
Tesla (166, 193, 222-225, 243, 254, 264, 270, 285)
– Autopilot feature (222-225, 243, 254, 256, 270)
– Model S (222-224)
– Model X (222)
– operating system 7.0 (222)
tetrapods (301-307)
Theatro (196-197)
Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata (86)
“Theses on Feuerbach” (305)
Thiel, Peter (148)
Thingiverse (103, 105)
Tide laundry detergent (46-47)
Topography of Terror (Berlin museum) (70)
touchscreen (15-16, 38, 43, 194)
travel-to-crime (231)
Tual, Stephan (170)
Twitter (51, 137, 268)

U
Uber (4, 40, 41, 193, 245, 270, 276, 285, 293)
– driverless cars (193, 270)
Ultimaker 3D printer (88, 101, 104, 295)
United States Constitution (230, 235)
universal basic income (UBI) (203-205, 288, 292, 294)
universal constructor (86)
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (91)
University College London (85)
unnecessariat (181, 206, 297)
unsupervised deep learning (220)
Urban Dynamics (56)
Utrecht (204)

V
value network (264)
van Rijn, Rembrandt Harmenszoon (262)
Vélib (2)
Velvet Underground, the (228)
Venezuelan bolívar (122)
Venmo (41)
Verlan (311)
Virginia Company, the (165)
virtual assistants (38, 41-42, 286)
virtual reality (65, 82-83, 275, 296)
Visa (120, 136, 159)
Vitality (36)
Vkontakte (241)
von Furstenberg, Diane (84)
von Neumann, John (86)

W
“wake word” (interface command) (41)
Washington State (192)
Waterloo University (148)
Watt, James (104)
Wendy’s (197)
Wernick, Miles (233)
Westegren, Tim (220)
Western Union (120)
WhatsApp (281)
Whole Earth Review (34)
WiFi (11, 17, 25, 46, 66)
Wiggins, Shayla (63-65)
WikiLeaks (120, 137)
Williams,
– Alex (190, 203)
– Raymond (315)
Wilson, Cody (108, 111)
Winograd Schema (270)
The Wire (54)
Wired magazine (34)
Wolf, Gary (34)
World Bank (133)
World Economic Forum (194)

Y
Yahoo (219)
yamato-damashii (267)
Yaskawa Motoman MH24 industrial robot (266)

Z
Zamfir, Vlad (177)
Zen Buddhism (34, 284)
ZeroBlock application (131)
The Zero Marginal Cost Society (88, 205)

Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, now available for pre-order

The other night I selected-all in a file on Google Docs and turned the entire text bright red. This was my signal to my editor Leo that I’d made the final round of edits on the last outstanding chapter I owed him. And this, in turn, means that after eight years and eleven months, I’m finally done with the project I started in this blog post. I’ve finished my book.

It is, in too many ways to count, a different book from the one I set out to write. I owe most of this to Leo, actually. Do you know the scene in Inception where Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy, as intruders in the virtual world of another man’s mind, are under assault by the ghostly brigades of their subject’s “militarized subconscious”? Gordon-Levitt’s character is standing at the door of a warehouse, plinking away ineffectually at the encroaching horde with an assault rifle, when Hardy shoulders him aside. With the words, “You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling,” he hoists a massive South African grenade launcher, lobs a round onto the opposite rooftop, and blows things up reeeeal good.

That was Leo. I came to him with a book about cities and technology — a book that had been dangling out in public for six years at that point, a book I’d already published a quarter of — and two chapters into our work on it, he pulled a Hardy on me, in the biggest possible way. “I don’t think you’re writing a book about cities anymore,” he told me, over stand-up espressos beneath the awning of the Algerian Coffee Stores, as drizzle dampened the greasy Soho asphalt. “I think you’re writing a book about Everyday Life.”

I could hear the capital letters, and knew immediately (as my bowels turned to ice) that he was invoking the whole tradition of thought that starts in Michel de Certeau and Henri Lefebvre. Which is to say that he wasn’t simply asking me to paint on a bigger canvas, though he was definitely doing that. He was demanding that I take myself and my work seriously, and understand that what I was writing might someday find its place on a shelf alongside people who had actually contributed to Western thought and culture. (In Lefebvre’s case, rather explosively, given his influence on the events of May ’68.)

It put the zap on my head so hard that I didn’t get any further work done on the book for a good six months.

I don’t know what it’s like for you. I won’t presume to say I understand anyone else’s interiority, or process, or approach to their work. I imagine that there are some creators who are safely armored by a transcendent belief in their own talent, who glide through pitches and contracts and reviews lubricated by a sense of inevitability and rightness. I’m not one of those people.

So in a way, what Leo did to me was cruel. But it also led directly to a change of title, a change of scope, and a much bigger and more ambitious book. What had started out as a rather constrained proposition turned into a sprawling survey of some of the major ways in which networked information technologies shape the choices arrayed before us. I should be clear that it probably misses as much as it gets right; I have a sustained history of focusing too much on the wrong aspects of a technology, or at least not the aspects that turn out to be most salient to our understanding of it, and I’m not sure it’s any different here.

I’m also a little gutted to have written a book that’s so obviously and prominently about information technology. As I’d originally envisioned it, this was supposed to be a decisive pivot away from all of that, and toward the thing I care more deeply about, which is the life of cities. But as Nurri always reminds me, there are any number of writers in the world who have deeper or more original insight into cities. It just isn’t what people seem to want from me. After awhile, if you’re smart, you listen to what the world tells you about what it wants from you, with intense gratitude that it appears to want anything at all.

So: Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, now available for pre-order.

In its ten chapters, I take up some of the recent and emerging technical developments that now condition the way we experience the everyday, just about everywhere on Earth. I start with the smartphone, ready-to-hand as it is, and continue on to augmented reality; the so-called internet of things; 3D printing, CNC milling and other digital fabrication technologies; cryptocurrency and the technology underlying it, the blockchain; and finally the constellation of practices and ideas that is dedicated to the eclipse of human discretion, and includes machine learning, the automation of work and artificial intelligence. I spend some time considering the ways in which these discrete techniques are brought together in particular ensembles and commercial value propositions — and by whom, and particularly toward what ends — and finish up by asking if there’s a space for tactics or even resistance available to us in any of this. All in all, I think it’s turned out rather well.

Most writers say something along these lines, but it’s really true and I really do mean it: though I take full responsibility for whatever infelicities and misapprehensions remain, just about all the good in this book arises from the conversations I’ve had with you. It’s not — and I’m not — Lefebvre, but that’s OK. It’s not half-bad. I don’t think I’ll ever stop being grateful.

I’m rather fond of the title, by the way. It’s ambitious, a title to conjure with. It has a certain amount of what the Rastafarians used to call Dread. I don’t know if the book I’ve written really deserves a title like that, but I guess you’ll let me know, won’t you?

Thanks to those of you who came along for the ride — especially those who’ve stuck with me all the way from that first blog post, when I was promising you a self-published book called The City Is Here For You To Use, and it was 90% a reaction to the incompetence of my first publisher. Thanks doubly to the 859 of you (!) who ponied up to pre-order that book, most of you in the weeks immediately following the project’s announcement, and who had to wait until the last quarter of 2013 to get your hands on anything resembling the thing you’d ordered. Thanks, eternal thanks, to Leo Hollis, for kicking out the jams. And thanks always to Nurri for sticking with me through all the chicanes and blind alleys of this endless, endless project. Let’s see what happens now.

On the Master Bullshit Matrix

The following is a very lightly edited version of something I wrote for the newsletter I published on a weekly basis all through 2015. I always understood these pieces as ephemera, and so my policy was that there would be no persistent archive of them, and no way for anyone to read a weekly entry they hadn’t received by virtue of being subscribed to the newsletter at the time it was published. They were strictly of and for the moment.

I still think that was a sound policy. But not a week goes by that someone doesn’t ask me to repost the following, and in the interest of saving everyone some time I figured I’d do so here. For reasons that I cannot fathom, it remains the single most-requested among the sixty-odd newsletters I published last year. Usual disclaimers apply, but I hope you enjoy it.

Many of you will recall that for the two years before we moved to London, I was in the habit of convening drinks every Friday night at Temple Bar on Lafayette Street. This standing get-together, imaginatively dubbed FRIDAYS AT 7, remains one of the best things I’ve ever been involved with. I still derive an enormous amount of satisfaction out of having brought this particular assortment of people together, still glow from the memory of a great many great nights, and to this day try to arrange a FATSEVEN gathering whenever I happen to be in New York City for more than 48 hours or so.

But it also taught me something very deep about the nature of human socialization. You should know that I inherit from my mother a profound tendency to want to please everyone I’m interacting with, at least in certain contexts — even when there are more than two people involved, even when some of those people disagree with or outright dislike one another. Now, this can be a beautiful trait. Buried within it, I’m sure, are the seeds of some future generation’s ability to settle all invidious contentions, bring all parties to a common table and drape the world in universal harmony. But of all the troublesome tendencies in my psychological makeup (and there are a few), this one quality has perhaps caused more chaos in my various relationships and jobs than any other.

Because as it happens, you just can’t give everyone you know everything they want. I’m not necessarily saying that all relationships are brutally zero-sum games of resource management, but, y’know, they take place inside history. Like anything else that does, they’re subject to entropy, scarcity, the rules of physics. That I can see, there are no Pareto-optimal solutions for interpersonal relationships, any more than there are for any other system above a certain threshold of complexity. They’re like a three-body problem. (Sometimes they are a three-body problem.)

It turned out that my dearly beloved FRIDAYS AT 7 crew was like that. Now, I need to do a little bit of stage-setting, so you understand the particular dynamic at play here. Though to a one they were (and are) all fascinating, funny, talented and endearing, not everyone who came to drinks on a regular basis had necessarily tasted success as the world defines it. But there was a subset of folks there who had done so, and by any rational standard these were all accomplished people. They’d published well- and widely-reviewed books, or shown films at world-famous festivals, or played a part in the development of some piece of software you use on a daily basis.

I certainly don’t think any more highly of them because this happens to be the case, because god knows why any of our lives break the way they do. But naturally I admired them for their achievements, as well as for the other things that commended them to my friendship in the first place. And I had assumed that within the social universe of the particularly accomplished, there existed something like a consensus that anyone you might care to name more or less knows what they’re talking about.

And so I’ll confess that it floored me when late one night, on hearing me praise a mutual acquaintance who I myself did consider to be highly accomplished, one of these people said, “I can’t believe you rate that guy. He’s just such total bullshit.” Laboring under my maternal inheritance (which I eventually came to recognize as a mutant strain of Geek Social Fallacy #4, actively operating in both my mother and I decades before it was identified and named as such), it had never occurred to me that some objectively high-achieving people might regard one another in this way.

Yeah, I know. You’d think I would have figured this out on the dewy side of forty, come to some much earlier insight into how contingent and variable human reputation can be. I dunno — maybe I cut class that day. Either way, it wasn’t until that very moment that I realized how acutely uncomfortable my praise of this third party was making my friend. It was clear to me, in fact, that he would begin to question my own judgement if I insisted on proceeding too much further down this path. The conversation would get awkward, then actively difficult, and then who knows? maybe the friendship would too. Doors of perception blasted wide by my third Stolichnaya martini of the evening, I began to wonder how many other times over the years I had put someone in just this uncomfortable position.

I realized on the spot that what I needed was a Master Bullshit Matrix.

The Master Bullshit Matrix, as I saw it in that blinding flash of insight, would take the form of a very large (but mercifully finite) spreadsheet. In its cells would be recorded — would reside for all time — a complete accounting of just who considers whom to be Bullshit. Accomplished or not, celebrated or not, by definition there would be a place for everyone on the Master Bullshit Matrix, and then we’d all finally be able to reckon just where we stood.

On its face, compiling any such thing would certainly appear to be a spectacularly mean-spirited and juvenile thing to do: the kind of effort snotty fourth-graders set themselves to, when deciding who is and is not allowed to sit at their lunch table. But as I imagined it, the point of the Master Bullshit Matrix was letting everyone involved in one of these conflicts of appraisal save a little face.

Armed with the Master Bullshit Matrix, I wouldn’t embarrass myself (or anyone else) by continuing to insist on the quality of someone the person I was talking to considered Bullshit. Not unless I wanted to, anyway. In any given moment, I could decide whether or not I wanted to press the case for someone’s non-Bullshitness, teasingly needle someone by dropping the name of someone I knew full well they thought was Bullshit, or avoid the topic entirely. I could even cross-reference a particular intersection of personalities, and learn whether the Bullshit judgement ran one-way or two-way.

Please do not mistake me to be saying that good conversation requires agreement about everything — that you should ever be insincere yourself, or commit yourself to a position you do not in fact hold, just for the sake of someone’s momentary comfort. But there are clearly times when the greater good of social ease requires the deft avoidance of certain conversational minefields. And as I came to understand so late in life, you enter one of those minefields in arguing for someone’s transcendent genius…when your interlocutor believes that person to be Bullshit.

In an attempt to see what it might take to populate the Master Bullshit Matrix, I gently began to probe certain of my more forthright friends for their opinions. All of them understood the question immediately, offering their own personal Bullshit nominations without hesitation. What I found most interesting was that some of these nominations — many of them, in fact — came to me as a complete surprise. It reinforced my sense that there’s absolutely no predicting ahead of time who is going to strike someone else as Bullshit.

Broadly speaking, what seemed to make someone vulnerable to the charge that they were Bullshit? It’s hard to pin down precisely, but certain qualities seemed to crop up fairly often. The perception of insincerity, chiefly. Intellectual laziness, from someone my interlocutor believed that we can and should expect better of. Posturing. Ideology when it appeared to be deployed for craven professional, financial or sexual advantage.

There seemed to be some overlap with Dunning-Kruger syndrome, but not entirely so – it is broadly acknowledged that some people just can’t help being dumb, and while they may not be aware that they are dumb, this in itself doesn’t necessarily make them Bullshit. In other people, however, the behavior that constitutes reasonable ground for a Dunning-Kruger diagnosis is 100% the same thing that makes them Bullshit.

Note, too, that the quality of being Bullshit is something that mostly seems to reside at the professional or vocational level. Very importantly, there doesn’t seem to be anything preventing you from liking or enjoying the company of someone you believe to be Bullshit. Indeed, among the friends I talked to, some of their nominations were folks I know full well that they remained greatly fond of. These weren’t bad people. They were just Bullshit.

Of course the most interesting thing you could do with a Master Bullshit Matrix would be using it to discover who believes that you yourself are Bullshit. You could avoid wasting your time with those people; if you were particularly brave, you could even open up the question of your possible Bullshitness with them, and take steps to address the grounds for their belief, if any. Again, as I imagined it, anyway, the Master Bullshit Matrix would be a constructive tool for interpersonal growth and the avoidance of inadvertent offense, not a preteen’s nasty little cut-book. On this count I am probably being optimistic.

Is it possible to know that one is Bullshit? It’s hard to say. Perhaps, like the Dunning-Kruger effect itself, it’s a self-blinding condition: if you knew you had it, you wouldn’t have it. But it’s worth thinking about, isn’t it?

A brief note on “commoning”

I got taken to task the other day regarding my preference for the jargony-seeming construction “commoning” over the more usual “commons.” (The specific wording: “You say you hate bullshit, but ‘commoning’ seems like just so much bafflegab to me.”)

This brilliant 2010 interview with key thinker/doers Massimo de Angelis and Stavros Stavrides ought to go some distance toward explaining that preference; it’s lost none of its luster with the intervening years, despite everything that’s happened in the world over that period.

In the effort to define a space for living that is neither market nor state, De Angelis and Stavrides make it clear that the act of seizing and occupying it is the easy part. All the glamor and all the grandeur attend that first nervy moment when wirecutters meet chainlink. But precisely who gets saddled with the obligation of continuously remaking that space? Who’s left with the physical work of maintenance, the emotional labor of negotiation? It’s a process, not a reified thing, and that in turn seems to demand the gerund form, with its implication that this is something unfolding in time: commoning.

Yeah? No? Works for me.