shannon mattern


[ny ny]

intro’d to Shannon here:


This is so important…

a city is not a computer

Our current paradigm, the city as computer, appeals because it frames the messiness of urban life as programmable and subject to rational order.

sounds like wild city of ants ness… ie: ants may appear to be playing follow the leader.. but in truth.. no single ant is calling the shots.. 

Anthropologist Hannah Knox explains, “As technical solutions to social problems, information and communications technologies encapsulate the promise of order over disarray … as a path to an emancipatory politics of modernity.” And there are echoes of the pre-modern, too. The computational city draws power from an urban imaginary that goes back millennia, to the city as an apparatus for record-keeping and information management.


“The repetitions and regimentations of the bureaucratic system” — the work of data processing, formatting, and storage — left a “deep mark,” as Mumford put it, on the early modern city.


Lewis Mumford described the city as a fundamentally communicative space, rich in information. He would reject the creeping notion that the city is simply the internet writ large.


He would remind us that the processes of city-making are more complicated than writing parameters for rapid spatial optimization. He would inject history and happenstance. The city is not a computer. This seems an obvious truth, but it is being challenged now (again) by technologists (and political actors) who speak as if they could reduce urban planning to algorithms.


When we treat data as a “given” (which is, in fact, the etymology of the word), we see it in the abstract, as an urban fixture like traffic or crowds. We need to shift our gaze and look at data in context, at the lifecycle of urban information, distributed within a varied ecology of urban sites and subjects who interact with it in multiple ways. We need to see data’s human, institutional, and technological creators, its curators, its preservers, its owners and brokers, its “users,” its hackers and critics. As Mumford understood, there is more than information processing going on here. Urban information is made, commodified, accessed, secreted, politicized, and operationalized

self-talk as data.. as the day [aka: not part\ial.. for (blank)’s sake…]


We need to ask: What place-based “information” doesn’t fit on a shelf or in a database? What are the non-textual, un-recordable forms of cultural memory? These questions are especially relevant for marginalized populations, indigenous cultures, and developing nations. Performance studies scholar Diana Taylor urges us to acknowledge ephemeral, performative forms of knowledge, such as dance, ritual, cooking, sports, and speech. These forms cannot be reduced to “information,” nor can they be “processed,” stored, or transmitted via fiber-optic cable. Yet they are vital urban intelligences that live within bodies, minds, and communities.



monetization decreases access

perhaps because a lot of rhetoric is coming from those on the privileged side of the digital divide.. there’s not really any recognition that the systems we are building with these digital cultures are often much less democratic/open than we think


find/follow Shannon:

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Faculty, The New School. Architecture, archives, cities, infrastructure, libraries, maps, sound +++. Tend to reserve party politics for other platforms.