netlab dispatches

Announcing the New City Reader

I am delighted to announce the New City Reader, a newspaper on architecture, public space and the city, published as part of the Last Newspaper, an exhibit running at the New Museum from 6 October 2010‒9 January 2011. Editorial work for the New City Reader will take place in the Museum gallery, starting at 11 tomorrow, October 5.

at linco

Produced as a collaboration between myself/the Netlab and Joseph Grima, the New City Reader will consist of one edition, published over the course of the project with a new section produced weekly by alternating guest editorial teams within the museum’s gallery space. These sections will be available free at the New Museum and—in emulation of a practice common in the nineteenth-century American city and still popular in parts of the world today—will be posted in public throughout the city for collective reading.

The New City Reader kicks off today with the City section, a massively detailed graphic produced by the Netlab recounting the 1977 New York City blackout and its effects on the failing city to reveal the interdependence of infrastructure, information, and social stability. If the challenges of that era map to the difficulties facing both the country and the city today, the New City Reader will inquire into these parallels.

Each issue of the New City Reader will be guest edited by a contributing network of architects, theorists, and research groups who will bring their particular expertise to bear on the sections.

You can also follow our tumbelog at newcityreader.tumblr.com

Staff: 

EXECUTIVE EDITORS

- Joseph Grima

- Kazys Varnelis

MANAGING EDITOR

- Alan Rapp

ASSOCIATE MANAGING EDITOR

- John Cantwell

ASSOCIATE EDITORS

- Brigette Borders

- Daniel Payne

EDITORIAL ASSISTANT

- Pantea Tehrani

ART DIRECTOR

- Neil Donnelly

DESIGNER

- Chris Rypkema

EDITORIAL CARTOONIST

- Klaus

BLACKOUT! CARTOONISTS

- Momo Araki

- Alexis Burson

- Leigha Dennis

- Kyle Hovenkotter

WEB DEVELOPER

- Jochen Hartmann

CONTRIBUTING EDITORS

- David Benjamin & Livia Corona

- C-Lab/Jeffrey Inaba

- Program for Media & Modernity

- common room

- DJ N-RON & DJ/rupture

- Jeannie Kim & Hunter Tura

- Leagues and Legions

- Michael Meredith, MOS

- Network Architecture Lab

- Frank Pasquale & Kevin Slavin

- School of Visual Arts D-Crit

- Robert Sumrell & Andrea Ching

- Geminidas & Nomeda Urbonas, Nugu with Saskia Sassen

- Eyal Weizman, Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths College, University of London

 

 

The Immediated Now on Networked: A Networked Book

Networked: A Networked Book on Networked Art is now live.

Produced by Turbulence.org and supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, Networked includes a chapter that I wrote entitled The Immediated Now. Network Culture and the Poetics of Reality.

In this chapter, I suggest that network culture is not limited to digital technology or to the Internet but rather is a broad sociocultural shift. Much more than under postmodernism, which was still transitional, in network culture both art and everyday life take mediation as a given. The result is that life becomes performance. We live in a culture of exposure, seeking affirmation from the net. My chapter explores the resulting poetics of the real from YouTube to the art gallery. To be clear, the new poetics of reality is different from established models of realism, replacing earlier codes with immediacy, self-exposure, performance, and remix.

One distinctive feature of this book is that it is open for comments, revisions, and translations and you may submit a chapter for consideration by the editors. I hope my readers not only read the entire book, but contribute. Many thanks to Jo-Anne Green and Helen Thorington of Turbulence.org for putting up this project. It's been in the works for a while and is sorely needed. 

I'm excited that the research that I did for this chapter is now taking on another form as it feeds my book on Network Culture. I've been writing 1,000 words a day and its moving at a good clip. I hope you enjoy the chapter as a preview, and if you haven't read the introduction yet, you can do so here.   

Finally, I'll also confess to another role in the project, which is that the CommentPress system, developed at the Institute for the Future of the Book came in part out of a discussion that members of the Institute and I had after one of my courses three years back. That said, Wordpress isn't the best system for this. I'm dying for it to be ported to Drupal.

 

Against Situationism

A prefatory note: I blog sporadically; sometimes it's a matter of how much free time I have, sometimes it's a matter of how much I have to say in the format of the blog. What started as a Tumblr post turned into something bigger. In the end, I decided that I would use this post to revive the Netlab Dispatches. Here's to more blogging, even if it is slow. Now, on to my missive for le quatorze juillet.   

I am alarmed by how Situationism is more popular than ever today, particularly with the Soft Urbanism/Urban Informatics/Emergent Urbanism crowd for whom it, together with Jane Jacobs, serves as the fundamental precedent. 

In Beyond Locative Media, I took pains to explain how locative media (soft urbanism/urban informatics/emergent urbanism's predecessor) was influenced by Situationism. My goal was to expose the narrowness of the theoretical base in locative media, not to support that position. Little has changed in the years since. This is unfortunate. 

psychogeography today

Situationism's fatal flaw is that although one of its sources is Leftist thought (admittedly, Communism was hard to avoid in postwar France), its goal was always to valorize individual experience over the collective. Situationism was not alone in this. Marrying the collective and the individual was the signal problem for the academic and counter-cultural Left throughout the latter half of the twentieth century (see one of the unsung classics of the last twenty years, Nietzche's Corps/e: Aesthetics, Politics, Prophecy or the Spectacular Technoculture of Everyday Life by Geoffrey Waite, a member of my Ph.D. committee, for more on the debilitating effects of this turn). Situationism was the worst exacerbation of this marriage of Nietzscheanism and Leftism, leaving no positive program for collectivity.

Situationism may have started out as an anti-bourgeois movement, but since it was fundamentally bourgeois in its advocacy of individual experience, when it was through with its critique all that was left was melancholy. Ultimately even the idea of the Situationist International was foreign to the ideology. Organization, even its own, was unacceptable. The end of Situationism says everything: a lonely alcoholic shot himself through the heart. Raoul Vaneigem once wrote "the glut of conveniences and elements of survival reduces life to a single choice: suicide or revolution." By the time the Situationist movement had played itself out, it was clear that revolution required too much effort.     

As Debord put a gun to his chest in the Upper Loire, the Situationist industry, led by Griel Marcus, was cranking up in high gear. As Steven Shaviro writes in his excellent commentary on Marcus's misguided take on Michael Jackson:

'Situationism itself — not in spite of, but precisely on account of, its virulent critique of all forms of commodity culture — became one of the most commercially successful “memes” or “brands” of the late twentieth century.'

Deliberately obscure, Situationism was cool, and thus the perfect ideology for the knowledge-work generation. What could be better to provoke conversation at the local Starbucks or the company cantina, especially once Marcus's, which traced a dubious red thread between Debord and Malcolm McLaren, hit the presses? Rock and roll plus neoliberal politics masquerading as leftism: a perfect mix. For the generation that came of age with Situationism-via-Marcus and the dot.com era, work at offices like Razorfish or Chiat/Day was the highest form of play. Enough pop-tarts for middle of the night charettes and a bit of colorful design ensured that work and life had finally merged in the dot.com workplace. Or so it was in theory. The reality was Office Space

Today, Situationism seems to be more popular than ever, serving as the latest justification for the neoliberal city. Instead of a broader idea of a collective, Situationism advocates for the right not to work (but just how will we survive? will amazon make free shipments after the revolution?).

Instead of tired calls for social justice, Situationism demands the right to drunken play, for the spilling of semen on the cobblestones. All this sounds less like Utopia and more like Amsterdam, Dublin, Prague, or any European city overrun by drunken American college students in the summer, taking in the urban fabric late at night with pub crawls.

If a drunken Debord might have approved, I'm afraid that this doesn't seems like liberation to me, it seems like hell.     

Trajects pendant un an d'une jeune fille du XVIe arrondissement

In fairness to Situationism, remember that it was wrought in the depths of the Fordist cultural conformity of the 1950s. The above map by researchers working with Paul-Henry Chombart de Lauwe depicts the spatial meanderings of a young student vividly demonstrating how her experience of the city consisted of nothing more than regular trips to familiar destinations. 

Such a map would be vastly different today. According to Dopplr, one student I know has already logged over 200,000km in the past year, visiting three continents. But even at home, our own experience of the city is motivated by a fascination with dislocation that didn't exist for Debord. Imagine him sitting down to a plate of Thai food (is this exotic to anyone anymore?), let alone an ice cream and insect concoction in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  

Our challenges are different. The conformity of the spectacle is gone. If we still seek liberation in consumption, today we chase our phantom individuality down the long tail. If this can be more fun than Fordism, it also deludes us if we think it is enough for self-realization or that such behavior is open the majority of the world's population. Situationism encourages this aestheticized consumption of the city, only it does so in the guise of political progress.

It disturbs me, then, to hear a largely unmediated version of Situationism touted today as the basis for new urban interventions, particularly the kind that propose augmenting the city. This is a dangerous misstep. 

Alas, thus far I'm more Adorno than Brecht or Benjamin in all this. The problems here are huge and I'm only beginning to chip away at them. That said, I simply can't offer a pro-active alternative yet. Not everything can be found so easily in an old French revolutionary tract. But Situationism is thinking mythically and instead of thinking mythically, we need to learn to think critically again.

The days of hip stupidity (e.g. post-criticism) are long gone now, distant memories of the real estate boom. With le quatorze juillet upon us, the call to arms now is to forge new conceptual tools appropriate to our condition. We need to think again, to forge new critiques, new plans, even new revolutions. 

 

new radical architecture

For the immediately foreseeable future (a way of saying, I'd like to imagine this would last a year, but I'm expecting I will be done with it sooner), I'm setting out a series of projects by architects that embody a radical spirit in architecture at a rate of about one a week.

Two friends (whose work will appear here in that series) recently recounted how Jeff Kipnis told them that the rising generation of architects needed a critic to theorize their position and suggested that perhaps I should take on that role. My response was, well, yes, I would like to, but the amount of time I've committed to my own projects makes it unlikely that I'd be able to do that. But they did have a point and just maybe, through this project I can help nudge criticism in a better direction. Surely a decade from now we can't possibly be talking about cool form, right? 

So this research project is not only for me, but for a broader constituency of architects as well as for the readers of this blog who are not in the field. By all means please make suggestions. Your help in finding projects I may have missed or not looked at carefully enough is critical for me. At the scale of the blog rather than at the scale of a museum exihibit (which is more influential today anyway?), I'm intending this to be something like the collection that Amelio Ambasz put together in his Italy: A New Domestic Landscape, a book that should be in every designer's library.

In the broadest terms, my invocation of radical architecture refers to the neo-avant-garde work of the late 1960s and early 1970s that sought to reconfigure the individual's relationship with the world. Often this work, by groups like Archizoom, Superstudio, Utopie, or UFO employed technology but was critical of its use in the existing order. New radical architecture, then, refers to contemporary work that embodies that quality. 

Of course there are differences too. A key difference is that the work of the previous era was concerned with a critique of industrial culture and advocated, above all else, the process of individual liberation. See for example, this statement that curators Francisco Jarauta, Jean Louis Maubant and Frederic Migayrou put together for the CAAM's show Arquitectura Radical. 

Andrea Branzi, a member of Archizoom Associati first defined it thus - "Radical architecture is part of a bigger movement that liberates mankind from the trends of modern culture. This is an individual liberation that is understood to be a rejection of all formal and moral parameters that act as inhibiting structures making it difficult to fulfil oneself as an individual. In this sense, the term "Radical architecture" refers more to a "cultural place", an energetic tendency than to a unitary movement.

But today that historical struggle of the liberation of the individual is over (notice I say that, not the), revealed as a process inherent in the deveolpment of flexible consumption out of mass society. In network culture, the myth of the individual is itself something we must struggle to overcome.

So what is today's radical architecture? My sense is that Iain Borden gets at the heart of the matter in this statement in the book Urban Futures when he explains that radical architecture is "not simply the novel, but is to do with something more substantive and transformative…"

I'll be posting projects to the blog, but for reference they will also be available in one spot at http://varnelis.net/topics/new_radical_architecture. An RSS feed for the topic can be found at http://varnelis.net/topics/new_radical_architecture/feed 

seven for 2007

It's time to take one last look back at 2007. For AUDC, the Netlab, and myself it was a great year, as AUDC's Blue Monday hit the bookstores and as the Netlab brought two books—the Infrastructural City: Networked Ecologies in Los Angeles and Networked Publics—to press. The latter contains my conclusion on the Rise of Network Culture, a text that I ambitiously crafted as being one of the first attempts to periodize this moment. The reaction to it has been incredibly favorable and I look forward to seeing what people have to say when it hits print this fall. In other news, the Netlab began working at Columbia's Studio-X space in Soho as I spent more time blogging on this site than I have in a while.

But what about the wider world? What were the trends that struck me as significant this year in architecture and network culture? This list may strike someone who isn't familiar with varnelis.net as Borgesian, but remember that the Netlab's mission is to study the impact of digital technologies together with electronic and social networks on architecture and the city. These developments have a critical impact on the field: how (or whether) we choose to understand them is key.

Many of these are end-game scenarios, but this shouldn't be surprising if the rise of network culture obsoletes earlier sociocultural forms.

1. The Decline of the City, the Rise of the City

So let's start with a condition of closure. Nearly every time I go into the city, I lament its passing. In its stead rises a fabulous machine for consumption, a playground for the global élite. Banish any thought that this city is still the place to meet others unlike yourself—Louis Wirth's great insight that urbanism was first and foremost a way of life. The result is that the global city is, more and more, a metropolitan version of American girl town. But if a lament is necessary, its also the symptom of an aging cultural critic. So let's not go there. Closure brings new opportunities.

After all, Jean Gottmann re-mapped the city as megalopolis for us back in 1961. Today the suburb, not the inner city, is increasingly the first stopping point for immigrants, a new mixing-ground, the place where a new urbanism is emerging. What new cultural forms will this new city, writ large, produce? France seems ahead of us in this with le Parkour and French Democracy, What else might be out there?

2. The End of Privacy

Speaking of end-game scenarios, how about the utter and complete decline of privacy in our lives? We live in a world worthy of Orwell, in which every action in our lives is increasingly transparent while the government operates in a state of exception, shrouded in mystery, operating a war without end. Nor is this only a question of the individual's relationship to the state. With the rise of social networking sites and blogs, the boundaries between public and the private are blurred. Make no mistake, this transition is as great as that from the bourgeois public sphere to the age of mass media and will have similar architectural implications. If transparency was one of the foundational principles of modernism and if it remains so in our own architecture, what of it when, like modernization, it is no longer a goal but a default condition?

3. The Return of Big Computing

How is all that information that we are leaving behind being processed? What does it mean that social networking sites pull our attention away from PCs and onto massive, centralized sites? How about the rise of networked applications such as Google docs together with online mail storage? Key software publishers such as such as Adobe suggest that in the near future they will be switching, at least in part, to an on-demand model of software in which users rent applications from on-line sources. One of the hottest trends in web browser development in 2007 was the rise of Site-Specific Browsers.

The result is the emergence of vast server farms and the erosion of the decentralized model of networked computation. Late Fordist computing was big and centralized around mainframes while digital culture focussed on the discreet PC. In its first phase, network culture promised a peer-to-peer model even if it never delivered that, but now this is giving way to big computing.

If so, what are the implications for urbanism? Remember that the growth of the global city has in many ways been the product of its role as a command-and-control center in flows of information and capital. This has been made possible by the decentralized model of large telecom hotels located near key financial centers. But if more centralized than the distributed model that the Californian ideology promised—and thereby ideal platforms for surveillance—telecom hotels still consisted of a multiplicity of individual servers. These too are likely to be replaced by cloud computing, in which virtual servers will be rented from the big players like Amazon or Google. The result is the impending end of the telecom hotel and the rise of utility computing in its stead. Utility computing isn't a bad name for what this new model will be like. Demanding vast amounts of space and power of these server farms will likely be located far from city cores in places like the Dalles, Oregon.

Coupled with new technologies for bringing the net to the home or office—for example, Verizon FiOS—that are being deployed first in suburbs instead of in cities, the computational drive toward urban centralization may be fading.

One consequence could be that we'll see a lot of the "creative industries" going suburban to take advantage of faster online speeds, lower rents, and a less exhausted urban condition over the next half decade.

4. Systems not Sites

2008 is the Web's fifteenth anniversary. But the old Web is dead. We just don't build Web sites from HTML anymore. If you have a site, it's run by a content management system. Now some backwards sites still rely on Flash, but they're easy to identify: they haven't been updated in two years. Instead, most sites that people I know operate or own are either built on Open Source database-driven systems based on modularity and interoperability or hosted on server farms.

Could there be any connection here at all to architecture? Well, if our virtual spaces operate on such principles, why are our real spaces still based on handicraft, low-quality labor, and thoroughly proprietary (the more so, the more "advanced" they purport to be)?

Sure, scripting is all the rage now (having taken over from parametrics), but for the most part this has aimed at producing "cool" design without taking any responsibility for it. Nothing new about that since Eisenman's House series in the early 1970s. Is there any chance that architecture can figure out network culture before its shown the door?

5. Goodbye, Bilbao

On a related note, one of the most pernicious influences in architecture over the last decade has been the Bilbao-effect, the idea that architecture could effect urban change simply by looking cool.

Sure, it worked for Bilbao—maybe everybody was just so shocked by Gehry's only decent building in thirty years—but 2007 was the year in which it became clear that this idea was thoroughly played out. Just who is going to go to Toledo to see SANAA's Glass Pavilion, let alone Roanoke to see Randall Stout's Art Museum of Western Virginia?

There's no question that the Bilbao-Effect has been bad for architecture, validating long-obsolete practices and putting the focus on visibility precisely at a moment when invisibility should have been the focus. Take scripting again, its painfully retardataire, obsessing with form rather than program.

Remember the 1960s, when Philip Johnson museums sprouted everywhere from Utica to Lincoln, Nebraska? Or the 1980s, when every city thought it needed a stadium and convention center to attract businesses until Richard Florida encouraged them to think what that they really needed was an art museum and a gay district?

So too, this fad will pass. Watch the Bilbao-Effect take on water as the real estate bust continues into the next year and begins to negatively affect tax rolls. Architects better make sure they're not so thoroughly identified with cool form that the discipline suffers heavy damage. After all, the alliance of big architecture, big business, and big government has gone awry once twice—in 1929 and 1968—and it nearly meant the end of the discipline the second time.

[Interesting historical note: 1968 - 1929 = 38. 2007 - 1968 = 38. Meaningless no doubt, unless perhaps you believe in Kondratieff waves but interesting to think about how when we refer to 1968 as our formative cultural moment, we are referring to something as distant in time from us as Black Friday was from 68.]

6. The Bust

Which bring us to... the bust in residential real estate. Like the Economist, I have been predicting this for a while and it's finally here. And like anything that's been around too long, the boom bred all sorts of badness as it lasted too long. As a consequence, it may well be harder to pull out of this one than it was to pull out of the great recession of the early 1990s.

It's going to be tricky for the profession not to take on heavy damage in the next year, even with China and Dubai (themselves not very stable propositions) offering work to many. I hope everyone has their paper architecture skills honed. For a short time, at least, paper architecture could be a good thing. The boom has been going for so long that its exhausted the profession thoroughly.

Take Rem, for example, I suppose it's nice that he's building the CCTV tower and all, but during the 1990s he was one of the great thinkers in the field. He hasn't had anything interesting to say since Junkspace and that was pre-9/11 and while Porto was certainly a great building to visit, what happened to immensely intelligent urban plans like Melun-Senart or Yokohama? I was talking to one colleague. In his view, this was no surprise. Rem is going to be able to collect social security a year from now and he's said everything he would ever say. Could be. But there are plenty of thinkers who do great works in their sixties, unless of course they're off chasing their retirement dollars in China and Dubai. And Rem is only one example. Architecture needs practice from time to time to thrive, remember when Praxis (a journal I greatly admire) was founded as a counter to the world of paper architecture and bad theory? But architecture needs down time too and its state of continuous partial attention is, well, increasingly irritating and pointless. The same can be said of culture as a whole. Let's have a good recession and get some good music and art out of it for a change, ok?

7. The iPhone

It's hard to deny the impact of the iPhone. Even with all of its faults—the most awful network in the country, a locked-down interface, and an interface that has its quirks, such as no cut and paste—its a remarkable achievement. For now it unites the iPod and the cell phone, but what's more interesting is that the iPhone is roughly as powerful as a 2002 vintage iMac.

Nor is it unimportant that even as Apple and AT&T proved themselves to be part of the old economy, locking down the platform not just once but repeatedly, a guerilla army of developers successfully broke Apple's code. Among the programs already available for the iPhone are a Last.FM scrobbler, Navzon's simulated-GPS locator that works by triangulating your distance from cell phone towers, and a program that uploads photographs you take immediately to Flickr.

Hundreds of thousands (and just possibly over a million) users have jailbroken their phones, downloading programs onto them and something like one in six went a step further to unlock them to use non-AT&T SIMs. For comparison's sake, Apple only sold 4 million iPhones. This means that hacking firmware is no longer only for the elite anymore. If you haven't done so yet, it's easy… just click this naughty link. Whether Apple gave in or whether this was their canny intention all along, they are releasing a developer kit and opening the iPhone for third-party applications in February.

If Apple opens up the iPhone enough and if Navizon allows hooks into their system from other applications, then the era of mass locative media will be upon us very rapidly in 2008. And if that doesn't happen, then the upcoming Google Phone likely will do that too.

But in this interesting post, Chris Messina suggests that there's something disappointing about this situation. Messina, an advocate of web-based applications, suggests that the iPhone could have been the first real web-driven platform. Now I think there is something interesting here since web apps are in many ways easier to code for (at least for me). There are rumors that the next iPhone update will allow Safari bookmarks to be saved as icons on the iPhone, something that relegated web apps to second-class citizens thus far. If, I differ with Messina in thinking that a forced march into web apps was a bad idea and if I've suggested that there are problems with the web apps model (see #3 above), there is potential here that could be exploited. Of course, I've also said things about web apps in item #3, so exercise some degree of caution as you throw away the CDs for your software.

Alright, enough of 2007. More than half of its last day has passed. Time to pay my final bills of the year, grade my final essays of the year and hope that the former will be smaller, the latter much better in 2008. Stay tuned tomorrow for a surprise or two on the blog.

No doubt there's much more to say about this past year. As always, I'd love to hear about it. Comment away.

looking back at 2007 on varnelis.net

Last summer, I set out to rethink the blog (by that I mean both this blog and the concept of the blog) and set up the Netlab Dispatches, a series of periodic e-mails that would push the meatier content on this site to readers who had chosen to subscribe. Although I've wound up posting on the site more regularly this year than I had for some time, the dispatches wound up left behind. What was supposed to be episodic instead proved to be spasmodic as I questioned just what was important enough to be sent out to my readership. 

 

With the end of the year upon us, I thought that I should look back to see what the most widely-read articles and blog entries on varnelis.net in 2007 were. In doing so, I realized this would make a good entry point back into the dispatches. So, in terms of the most readership, here are the top ten. I hope to have an opportunity to compile the most significant posts—as I see them—soon.  

1. That Wasn't Very Del.Icio.us 

My tale of Web 2.0 woe as I lost all of my social bookmarks and there was no way to retrieve them. Not much theory here, but real life horror that reminds us of the fragility of network culture

2. Prada and the Pleasure Principle 

In which I look at OMA's Prada Beverly Hills, reflecting on the dangers and opportunities of the information age for architecture.

3. The Rise of Network Culture 

Probably my most important article on the varnelis.net to date, this is my effort to periodize contemporary culture. I've been surprised and delighted that many of my colleagues have responded so positively to it and am looking forward to seeing it in print as part of Networked Publics this fall. More in this vein along the way.

4. An Anti-Pragmatic Manifesto 

Guest blogger Mark Jarzombek's incisive piece on the state of architecture theory attracted the most well-thought out comments I've had so far. This reminds me that I owe Mark a response on the role of history today.

5. Transparency, Literal or Embedded? 

I examine the relationship between the lack of privacy in network culture and architecture.  

6. Goodbye Supermodernism 

In this article I look at the changes in our sense of place since Marc Augé's Non-Places and Hans Ibelings' Supermodernism.

7. Blog-Loser 

In which I reflect on my own irrelevance to corporate drones, but more importantly, on the future of blogging. Watch this blog for more on this in the next week. 

8. Suburbs vs. Cities 

On the changing relationship between suburbs and cities today. Things may not be what they seem, especially to people who live in the entity formerly known as the city.

9. Network Culture and Periodization 

This reflection on how we think about time is not included in the final version of the Network Culture article due to a few reader's comments that it was too esoteric. Not to a historian! And, I'm delighted to see, not to my readership either.

10. The Return of Big Computing

The first of the dispatches, this article explores the return of the big computing paradigm. Together with the disappearance of privacy, this is one of the biggest emerging trends this year. 

That concludes this list, but sets up for a post coming later in the week that will look at the key issues for 2007.

more on gibson and the networked book

While waiting for the bookstore down the street from my Montclair home base to open its doors so I can pick up my copy of William Gibson's latest novel, Spook Country, I decided to read another interview with the cyberpunk author, this time at silicon.com. Here, Gibson discusses how he came to write about the recent past instead of the future and the relationship of his latest work with the Internet.

Here is a brief excerpt:

How has technology changed writing?

The thing that has affected me most directly during Pattern Recognition, and subsequently, is the really strange new sense I have of the Google-ability of the text. It's as though there is a sort of invisible hyperlink theoretical text that extends out of the narrative of my novel in every direction.

Someone has a website going where every single thing mentioned in Spook Country has a blog entry and usually an illustration so, every reference, someone has taken it, researched it and written a sort of little Wikipedia entry for it and all in the format of a website [my note: http://www.spookcountry.co.uk/] that pretends to be from a magazine called Node, which is an imaginary magazine, within Spook Country, and which turns out to be imaginary in the context of the narrative.

I have this sense when I write now that the text doesn't stop at the end of the page and I suppose I could create web pages somewhere and lead people to them through the text which is an interesting concept. I actually played with doing that in Spook Country but I didn't know enough about it. Everything is bending towards hypertext now.

As a collaborator on two networked books (Blue Monday and Networked Publics), this part of the interview interests me greatly. These two books were networked in that they were collaboratively written on-line. I have long dreamed of key sections books being linkable, Wikipedia-style, like this passage here and we began doing that with Blue Monday although it was too time consuming to complete. Sadly, publishers are still not keen on having the entire text of books on the Web so giving networked versions of books something that print copies by definition can't support would be very troubling for them.

In the end, I have only one essay with the degree of links that I feel I'd like my texts to have—Beyond Locative Media*—and it took a long time to manually add the links. Maybe the problem is my markup: I'm using TinyMCE, a WYSIWYG editor with Drupal, and that requires me to open a new window for every link I want to add. Wikitext might be a better strategy, allowing me to cite URLs inline.

But what happens in fifty years, or even five years, when Web pages have changed and the links become obsolete? What then? The networked book, it would seem, is inextricable from its context. Historians who will want to work on such books will be caught exploring only the very recent past.

*Curiously enough, this text was finished in December 2005, the novel is set in February 2006, and, after reading a few chapters, I was suprised to see that locative media artist hackers appear to be featured prominently… Rather than thinking that Gibson might be reading my texts, I think this is evidence of the sort of delirious intertextuality that he is talking about.

(this post draws on my earlier post at http://varnelis.net/blog/william_gibson_interview_amazon)

Archinect Special Feature

A brief note will suffice since better reading is elsewhere this morning.

As a special feature today, Archinect is carrying Bryan Boyer's interview with me about AUDC and our recent book Blue Monday. See

archinect special feature

http://archinect.com/features/article.php?id=60873_0_23_0_M

the return of big computing

This may be an appropriate article to begin a new feature on varnelis.net. A few times a month (if that), I'll be sending out more lengthy or provocative posts via email in hopes of stimulating more discussion and to avoid the perennial emails to my colleagues suggesting that they go read my blog. If you're reading this post that way, it's because you're a member of my "inner circle." If not, and you want to be, try signing up in the block on the right of the page. Contact me if it doesn't work.

In any event…

Vijay Patel sent me a link to this article by Nick Carr in the Guardian: Software Companies are Building Their Way to a Very Material Future. In the article, Carr points to a new building boom among computing firms such as Google or Microsoft. Remember Manuel de Landa's thesis that meshworks lead to hierarchies and hierarchies lead to meshworks? This is perfect evidence of the case, as these large corporations require ever bigger data centers for their massive server farms.

microsoft data center under construction

From the 1970s onward, the paradigm of big computing broke down as more and more computational power came to reside in personal computers. Many readers of this blog are probably too young to remember those pre-web days when you would go to a lab to connect up to a mainframe via like a DEC PDP-11 over a dumb terminal; my first experience computing, in fact, was over an ASR-33 teletype. Eventually, as the story of joyous liberation goes, power was distributed to the PC.

But it's a myth to think that the Net is distributed, either physically or somehow inherently, in its ideology.

Don't mistake network culture for distributed culture. Far from it.*

The migration of the means of production back up to the web and the growth of social networking sites is generating a mass wave of consolidation and aggregation. As the Internet has grown, so has the share of Internet traffic dominated by the top ten web sites (see this article by Richard McManus). We may be seeing a thousand flowers bloom at the level of content production, but control is in the hands of the few.

And now, with Web 2.0 taking hold, we have software applications migrating to the Web. This is attractive for individuals since licenses are often free in exchange for precious demographic data that would otherwise be unavailable—hence no more need to pirate—and to corporations since annual leases can be more conveniently written off than outright purchases.

But it also suggests that after three decades of the means of production drifting downward into our hands, they are beginning to slip away from us again. The meshworks are breeding new hierarchies.

I don't see this as a positive step. I also don't hold much faith that agitation on the part of the anarcho-libertarian streak on the Internet is going to change matters much. Rather, as network culture develops, we find the coils of the serpent that is capital tightening again. Indeed, this seems to be a salient feature of network culture: that if big computing 1.0 was Fordist, and the PC was post-Fordist, then big computing 2.0 is a hallmark of network culture. In future posts, I hope to explore what this means.

*Some day I should come up with a list of my key theses. This should be one of them.

on blogging, collaboration and the netlab dispatches

Often I think that the fatal flaw of blogs is that they lack an "away" setting. I regret not being able to post as often as I'd like, but there are frequently bigger projects on deck and spending the time to write for the blog would involve interrupting my workflow a little too much. Juggling the Netlab, being a dad for two kids, working on AUDC, teaching and blogging is a lot to do. Indeed, it's too much to do.

I noted with interest the Postopolis project at Storefront a few weeks ago, but alas, was, simply too busy to attend. Still it was interesting to see a new breed of bloggers come together. An Internet generation or two older, varnelis.net is the longest running single-person blog in architecture. I suppose my absence at Postopolis wasn't generational as much as evidence that over time, this blog and this site have led me away from the projective sense of architecture as it is configured in the blogosphere toward a focus on network culture. Still, I'm fascinated by the new archi-blog generation. I'd love to see what it might look like in five years. Will they be blogging? Will there be more blogs? Less? (the Gartner group suggests that blogging is peaking in 2007)? Some will die (recall that I killed this blog for a year after the birth of my daughter and before RSS revived the blogosphere)…but how will they die? What post will they end on? What will the living blogs be reporting on? Will they still be talking about architecture? Or will something else pull them in, as it did for me?

But back to this blog. Readers of blogs are merciless. Stay away for a while and you can watch your readership fall in the mercilessly objective graphs of your stats package. To keep things afloat, a quick note or a link suffices. But, addictive as they may be, rapid-fire posts are only so useful. Substantive posting means serious time. Sometimes an hour or two, sometimes an afternoon. Even this post has grown beyond its initial scope is taking considerable time to complete. My academic colleagues generally either maintain sites instead of blogs (e.g. Manovich.net) or update them sporadically (e.g. Mimi Ito's blog). I'm not sure if there's ever been an academic who has turned a blog into a book and I doubt that it would be easy to do.

And to be sure, there's been a lot to do lately. At the Netlab, my first big summer project is to get Networked Publics out the door for MIT. This book is going to be good, remarkably coherent, something that's quite a feat for a book with 16 authors. In fact, I'm not so sure than anyone's tried a book like this before—in which a large group would break into teams to write collaboratively-written essays—at least not of this scope and ambition and not without seeing the project devolve into the institutional voicelessness of the white paper. Moreover, the conclusion for the book is my first major solo stab at non-architectural theory in computation and I think it's some of my best work (nor am I alone in that, according to some readers). So I'm feeling good about Networked Publics and spending a huge amount of time on the project, which means that the blog gets a bit neglected. And as I hand off the texts to the various authors for one last round, it's time for me to turn to the Infrastructural City project with the LA Forum, so my plate is pretty full these days.

So as far as blogging goes, its solitary nature is at odds with the other things I do. Over the last few years my online production has centered around private Wikis and collaborative document building. Blue Monday was written on a Wiki and finished on writely (now Google docs) and most of the collaborative sections of Networked Publics were also written on writely. There's been a lot of attention to Wikis when they're open to anyone to edit, as at Wikipedia, but when Wikis are limited to a small community, they can be great tools for collaboration. The author-oriented blog doesn't offer that. When blogs interact (remember trackbacks before trackback spam killed them?), that interaction tends to be a contest of voices. I am not so interested in my voice anymore. I am more interested in the intertextual, intersubjective effects of voices getting subsumed within collaborative frameworks that produce new, hybrid voices. Blogs don't really do that for me.

But still, this site has a large and loyal following, so instead of ending with gloom, I'm starting a new feature!

Partly in hopes of getting more discussion going on the site, partly to reach out to a different audience, and partly to say that there are certain posts that aren't merely news or a quick thought or two but that reflect a bit of thought on my part, I am setting up a new series of posts which I'm calling the Netlab Dispatches. Think of these as slow blogging (isn't it great that you can coin a term and then find out that someone else already has written the manifesto for it?), a rejection of immediacy and pagerank in favor of consideration. Slow food for the gaping maw of Drupal.

In recognition of this, Netlab Dispatches will not only be posted to the blog, they will be sent out via e-mail to anyone who signs up for them (in the form on the right). There will be a few Netlab Dispatches a month, maybe one, no more than four (unless something comes over me). The first one comes out next week. I hope these more substantive and more provocative posts intrigue you. You will be able to read all of them here and even subscribe to this set of posts via a special RSS feed if it suits you.

Let's see how this experiment goes.

With that, it's time to sign off for the night.

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