A while ago the Architectural League of New York put out one of their Situated Technologies pamphlets exploring the concept of Micropublic Places, in which the intersection of ambient intelligence, human computing, architecture, social engineering, and urbanism act as sites for re-imagining the public realm (in this reading the idea of public realm is taken from Arendt and Latour as, “a contested space ruled by antagonism rather than conformism”).
Some of this reminds me of Dan Hill’s explorations into neuroscience and cultures of decision-making and the Helsinki Design Lab’s work in understanding local decision-making cultures, but the really interesting part is the consideration and inclusion of things in the dialogue.
One only has to take a closer look to realize that technical objects have always been things in the original sense of the word, merely concealing their complicated networks of relationships under smooth and perfect surfaces. Confronted with things like cars, nuclear reactors, baby milk, mobile phones, etc., we are forced to acknowledge “external”” forces that exist within things. So Latour writes with good reason, “What the etymology of the word thing … had conserved for us mysteriously as a sort of fabulous and mythical past has now become, for all to see, our most ordinary present”“. Moreover, in a globalized world, things—including the accidents they cause and their potential misuse—connect us more than kinship, identity, or territory. We have become cosmopolitans gathered together by things rather than by nationalities.
This is important to consider as we attempt to solve the wicked problems confronting us. How do we make visible what is hidden, how do we give representation to things that have never been afforded such? And when we do, how does this impact cultures of decision-making?
Contemporary cities don’t resemble the Greek polis. Rather, they are gigantic households in which private matters take on public relevance. Under such circumstances it is hard to find a place to represent Greenland’s glaciers or the migration flows from the South, or, for that matter, any form of the avant-garde. But we know for sure that the local problems can’t be solved without taking into consideration global warming, global migration, and time battering the earth. How do we give them a voice?
Indeed, how do we give them a voice?