I went skiing at Hunter Mountain in upstate New York for two days this week. It was a long-needed break for my wife and myself. We had a great ski instructor, Peter Dunh,am, and after just a couple of hours instruction, were skiing the advanced slopes with confidence. And, just to prove that the Infrastructural City is relevant anywhere, the top of the mountain was marked by a cell phone tree.
Warren Techentin’s essay on our new relationship with trees changed my view of cell phone trees. I’ve stopped thinking of them as cop-outs or disguises. After all, they rarely hide. Inadvertently, perhaps, the cell phone tower has turned from a disguise into something else: whereas the antennas of old symbolized the specialized nature of telecommunications in our lives, cell phone trees celebrate the augmented nature of our reality.
I noted two interesting stories about technology gone awry in the last week.
The first is about the misuse of GPS technology in Europe. Looking for shortcuts, truck drivers use GPS devices with maps that don’t adequately show just how small streets in older towns really are. The results are dangerous conditions and traffic jams as giant trucks wander into historic villages. See here.
The second explores the consequences of mobile phone use in automobiles and how a study now prove it makes traffic worse, which of course creates a feedback loop. See here.
Derek Lindner points out that Levitt & Sons is bankrupt. See here and the IHT.
Thanks to the intelligent comments we’ve received from Enrique and Javier (and Mark) with regard to Mark Jarzombek’s guest post. As something of a response to that post, I’d like to submit the following article: Where r u? Cell phones keep tabs. Over 50% of the mobile phones today have geolocation features built in. Enable them and you can track your kids or Big Brother can track you. Another article notes how automobiles can also be fitted with GPS devices that allow for concerned parents (and others) to track where their teenagers (or whoever…) drive.
What does this have to do with Mark’s post? Well, transparency is a driving force of architecture culture today, maybe even more so than it was in the days when Hannes Meyer proposed his 1927 competition entry for the League of Nations (below).
In Meyer’s view, the transparency of the building would prevent diplomats from making back room deals. In the 1950s, transparency would be adopted by American corporations looking to associate themselves with a new, technocratic postwar order and like Meyer hoping to align themselves with a Protestant image of rational action and morality. During the 1970s transparency fell out of favor, in part due to energy crisis and the rising cost of HVAC and in part because after Watergate (which itself took place in a glass hotel) nobody believed in the transparency of glass anyway.
In the 1990s, however, driven in part by fashion, and in part by new technology that allowed glass facades to be more energy efficient while ever-thinner, transparency returned with a vengeance. And as in Meyer’s day, this transparency was associated with ideology.
As New York’s 5th Avenue Apple Store demonstrates, transparency is strongly linked to the Californian Ideology, the myth that our new culture makes information available to everyone and that the Internet is a libertarian playground of self-expression. Raised on Ayn Rand and a love of technology, many architects have adopted this ideology wholesale, arguing that architecture itself should be transparent, sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively. The latter position argues that architecture should go with the flow and (somehow following Deleuze) celebrate capital and the glorious new, networked age.
But the Apple Store makes visible nothing—the real business is conducted underground, out of site to the passerby.
So, too, the articles that I started off with demonstrate that our culture is far from one of visibility. We live in a world dominated by invisible forces: by the shadowy military-industrial complex that Mark Lombardi sought to expose, by the secret room from which the NSA monitors network traffic at the AT&T complex in San Francisco, by a government outside the Constitution’s system of checks and balances that can put you on a no-fly list or detain you in Guantanamo without ever telling you why.
So my first response to Mark’s post then, is to ask if the questions about contemporary architecture culture that he raises are disciplinary in nature or if they are also not symptomatic of a widespread ideology that has overtaken our culture. Never before have we been so willing to give ourselves up to others, be they credit bureaus, our employers (urine, please, and some hair too), or the government. But if the cells at Camp X-Ray are transparent, remember that the prisoners within them are deprived of their sight and hearing. Our situation may be less dire, but isn’t all that dissimilar. Strangely, projects about tracking and surveillance that architects did in the days of "theory" suddenly seem so relevant… Above all, not however being critical today (indeed, not being critically utopian…which also includes critically dystopian of course!) seems like the worst position we can take.
The New York Times has a story today about two voice recognition systems that take voice mail from your mobile phone and send it to you as a text message or email. But as David Pogue enumerated the ways this could change your use of cell phones (live blogging via audio, phones as mobile transcription devices) this seemingly modest (does it really seem modest? usable voice recognition?) technology began to seem transformative to me. What sort of changes will this create?
Imagine, at the very least, the ability to give out your mobile phone number much more promiscuously than ever before. It would be child's play to have unknown numbers go straight to a voice-to-text system while previously-vetted numbers ring.
Even further, if many computers such as the new Mac Books and Mac Book Pros have built in microphones, this could mean that people will craft emails with voice.