The Weekest Links : #stacktivism

You can't hit what you can't see, you can't grab what you can't touch. You can't critically engage with technoculture and its infrastructure if you're unable to unravel its threads, run your fingers through the seams, visualize its jurisdiction and weigh its influence on everyday life. #stacktivism is a conversation about those hidden technological and social infrastructures and the conventional metaphors that mask them: the cloud, the smooth and playful industrial design, the invisible interface. It has already spawned a conference earlier this year and on this week's show we'll have a quick look at some of the important texts being circulated about these vital backstage elements of our contemporary lives. Welcome back.

The coolest thing is now to proclaim that whatever you're selling has a "disappearing interface", that things in your thing "just get out of the way" and let you experience the pure, unfiltered and uncluttered digital whatever. There are a few problems with that particular trope as it became the dominant ideology in everything from futuristic corporate design fictions to supposedly alternative cultural hacks.

Timo Arnall, of BERG and Immaterials fame, lists a few of the troubling issues with this invisibility trend as it applies to much of the current talk around smart cities and ubiquitous networking capacity: the myth of digital immateriality is one of the most striking to me, as it perpetuates the idea of the angelical cloud that feeds our every computing need and desire, without ever referencing the dirty, gritty, power-hungry metabolism that supports global communications.

Arnall is masterful in unpacking the assumptions and consequences of the invisible interface kool-aid. From the specificity of each cultural setting where technology is embedded to the very history of design practices, this text is a rich and well-referenced call against the kind of delighted passivity that informs most of the conventional contemporary visions of digital everyday life. A must-read.

The "networked state" used to be the how we imagined the way governments would adapt to the emergence and influence of the internet. The state as a network, not only digitally-fueled in its services and dialogue with civil society, but also in its relations to other political entities. Benjamin Bratton, in this talk with MetaHaven, proposes a different typology to understand how current and future geopolitics looks like, with the advent of "planetary-scale computation" and The Cloud as its most emblematic structure. A world of juxtapositions and open-ended conflict between State and Non-State organizations is how this political process unfolds, as seen in the China vs. Google or USA vs. WikiLeaks examples, or in the more recent Snowden case of rogue-agent vs. surveillance apparatus kind of clash.

It's not only that the communications networks have erased national borders and topologies as we once knew them: as cloud-based platforms eat up  more and more of the sovereignty pie, things like identity, citizenship, mobility, and civil rights become a contested site for competing and overlapping authorities and agencies, a fuzzy area without clearly defined jurisdictions, a kind of schizophrenic assemblage where subversion and status quo partake of the same globally-distributed computing resources, "cannibalizing each other’s accidental accomplishments and affordances".

This text is part of an essay series called Captives of the Cloud, an essential inquiry into the origins and current developments of the next stage of advanced networked computing. Don't miss it.

Although not part of the "official" stacktivist conversation, this text is important because it also questions the ways in which the digital universe has been shaped by the siren servers of the big internet conglomerates, because it interrogates the absence of a common ground and even a common language with which to protest against injustice within the realm of digital politics.

The idea of technology as territory presented here feels, at the same time, strangely old-fashioned and innovative. Tobias Revell points to examples like the Athens Metropolitan Network as a case of these emerging designed territories, a return to the idea of the digital as a place we go to, instead of a feature of the world we inhabit. I'm not sure if I agree with this notion, even as GTA V has clearly brought that skeleton back out into the open. Software architectures can now be so extensive and complex that they effectively become new territories, capable of housing and hosting real-life dynamics and providing that common space for other foundational principles to be enacted.

The main virtue of these new software places might then be not only their visibility, but also their legibility, their intention to be read as attempts to replace old habits with appropriate and actual dilemmas, their genuine ambition to turn the cybernetic space inside out, and wear it proudly.


Lots to think about and read, if you're out there looking for good conversations and interesting groups of people. That's it for this week's show, hope you've enjoyed it, this is (also a pretty interesting conversation in itself), live from the fair city of Lisbon. See you next week, and take good care.

Alice Politics