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<nettime> drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry
Rob van Kranenburg on Fri, 9 Apr 2004 19:55:55 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry


I don't know how to say this really, as I never do, but I got this song in
my head 'Bye, bye, Miss American Pie, drove my Chevy to the levy but the
levy was dry' and it is a few days now, and tonight finally I figure out
why. Let me tell you.

We're in a dead end.

This the we.

That's us: the people who make and consume both. The people who have been
busy doing technology in the proper sense of the word, as in techn=E9 -
messing with the specs of mediation, visualizing/experientalizing until
then unknown connectivity.

This is the dead end.

If you take a look at the mobile industries wonderful 3G 4G powerpoint
presentations you see pictures of a person in the middle surrounded by
powerstations that connect all kinds of nodes that would somehow give this
person more agency, then you notice that the pictures of the security
industries are exactly the same but in their case the agency lies in the
nodes, not in the person.

Now for both the systems logic is the same: to distribute yourself, your
data- into the environment.

This is the key element in the digital revolution.

Which will therefore inevitably never happen.

Ambient Intelligence should have happened in the sixties! Where love,
peace and trust were the key themes that could move emotions on a deep
level for a while.

Now the key themes, the cultural and political views that shape the
environment - are insecurity, unsafety, and fear.

Who is going to distribute themselves into an environment that they are
being constantly told of that they cannot trust it?

Take RFID:

For five years now I have been following it and I realized that it was
inevitable pretty soon but could hardly convince anyone as the very idea
of tagging every f.....thing is pretty unbelievable. We postmodern, so
called fragmented 'I's cannot believe that you can actually organize this
on such a scale, that you could not find the driving need to convince all
parties.

Well, they need no convincing!

As RFID works on all levels of implementation scenarios:

code: distributed computing
node: individuated logistics
link: amI
network: safety issues

So it inevitable as technology, and you can do nothing about it.

Or can we? Hmm.

Where is the challenge?

The challenge is at policy level, it lies in recognizing the dangers of
this cultural/political axiom to highlight safety/insecurity as if there
could ever be A SAFE DEFAULT position. This only leads to more fear, more
distrust, more anger as things and explosions will inevitably happen and
you will take the blame for not having been able to prevent it.

The challenge lies in marketing from a high level downwards the idea of
distributing insecurity, realizing there is no safe default, but that
uncertainty is the default position.

This is also necessary because the fear policy goes directly against the
call for more and more innovation, innovation needs a risk friendly
environment. If you scare your population, very few risks will be taken.

Allow me to bother you for a second with the current Dutch situation.  I
love it. I love it because never in my entire life had I thought to be
able to witness such delibarate transformation.

With my students at St Joost, CMD and Willem de Kooning, all designers of
all kinds we witness the process of disciplining and wonder if we can
actually claim this most nono of lines: They are doing it. As if we can
identify a 'they' anywhere as opposed to a 'we'. So we sit and discuss and
realize that coming up with imaginary 'they's that do this or that, is a
bit too simple. Still, we do witness a tremendous sameness in the visual
and textual rhetoric that deals with unease, uncertainty, unsafety, and
watch the hell out for rucksacks on trains and pickpockets as well mind
you. Mind the gap, too.

Now we know that this process is not committee run, nor committee driven,
but how come us noticing that all institutions are reinventing themselves,
redesigning themselves in two basic keywords:  transparency and control?
What does a planning department of a city do if it wants to put these
keywords into action? It cleans out the station of Amsterdam of all the
bikes that have been standing there for over twenty years, re-disciplining
the public square into the private merchants dream. What does a library do
if it wants to put these keywords into action? The new library in
Rotterdam simple cuts her bookshelves in halves, transferring the old
serene experience of wandering among books hoping for this serendipitous
moment into a full contact zone of wandering bodies, their backs aching.
What does a department of health do if it wants to put these keywords into
action? It scripts the notion of longing for a cigarette into the
humiliating experience of having to walk to a 'smoking pole', not indoors,
no, at the train station, in open air. What does the department of
education do if it wants to put these keywords into action? It bans
'apekooien', this most wonderful of experiences when you are six or seven
or eight and get to use all the stuff, yeah all the stuff that lay hidden
in the vaults of the gym. You might trip over something and fall. Yeah!
What do you do when you are another part of the department of health if
you want to put these keywords into action? You launch a huge campaign
against the dangers of fire and your clothes, are they synthetic? Do they
burn easily? How long before you are on fire with your outfit on Tuesday?
And with that lovely white top? Are you sure? Walking up to the smoking
pole -all them bodies cuddly together - in that white tope drastically
fires up your getburnedifyouare in the wrong place statistics. Better
watch out.

Better spent some time thinking about these things. Thinking about you.

Thinking about you. You.

Which is much more interesting from a disciplinary point of view, because
if you spent all your time thinking of you, how would you organize? How
would you even be able to experience any other kind of agency, but
narcism? Would you be able to even begin to believe that things need not
be like this? That things are designed at converging levels and can be
designed otherwise? That revolutions do happen, can happen and must
happen. And that you are the cause of one? Do you want to?

So, one fine afternoon, me and students from St Joost, Breda set off for
Oisterwijck, a lovely quiet provincial town. As we had only ten suits, I
could not wear one. The suits made the students look like some weird
medics, the kind of people who come to clean out your chicken farm after
some horrible disease has killed them all. Exactly not the kind of people
you would trust. Hmm. At least that is what we thought. They were ten. Six
had sticks you could point at things with; dangerous things. Dangerous
things such as the sky. Don't you trust it with all that satellite debris.
Better watch out. Two had stickers that told of, and made icons of,
dangerous things. In a red triangle the dangerous object was represented
in words: watch out umbrella, watch out window, watch out tree. You can
bump into these things, you know. You better watch out. Be careful. Hey!
The idea of this performance like intervention was to draw feedback of the
kind that would get the joke, that would be aimed at the experienced top
down disciplining process going on. What happened instead was far more
interesting but also far more disturbing. Whenever they were approached
with a question like what kind of organization are you from, they'd reply:
the government. We are the Watch Out Team, a new government sponsored
initiative. At the market where they dished out watch out umbrella
stickers to grateful umbrella holders I overheard a daughter telling her
mother:  "They should have done this much sooner!"

We never had realized until then how utterly deep the ravine between this
huge longing, this ocean of belief and the utter lack of credibility. As
De Certeau argued a while ago; there is so much belief and so little
credibility. We now saw it played out in front of us. We did not look like
clinical scary government spooks, no we were potential saviours,
safeguarding the people, the public - from harm in every which way.

This is not so much a Dutch, as it is a current European, or global why
not- situation.

It calls for a new vanguard, a swarmy small group of networked people who
are able to design grand sweeping kitschy scenarios that will draw the
frightened majority into embracing the Creole reality that will be ours in
the 21th century.

Yes, this means building the Matrix.
If we don't.
They will.
-- 


web: http://simsim.rug.ac.be/staff/rob
mail: kranenbu {AT} xs4all.nl
mobile:
++32 (0) 472 40 63 72
Call home first 0032 9 2333 853




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