The Street as Platform (and the World as ‘Human Network’)

When as now I’m struggling with the agony of trying to write for publication, which means attempting to communicate carefully and clearly, and not unattractively (as opposed to ranting inadvisedly), encountering one of Dan Hill’s longer blog entries is without exception guaranteed to make me ever so slightly envious.

The way the street feels may soon be defined by what cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Imagine film of a normal street right now, a relatively busy crossroads at 9AM taken from a vantage point high above the street, looking down at an angle as if from a CCTV camera. We can see several buildings, a dozen cars, and quite a few people, pavements
dotted with street furniture.

Freeze the frame, and scrub the film backwards and forwards a little, observing the physical activity on the street. But what can’t we see?


We can’t see how the street is immersed in a twitching, pulsing cloud of data. This is over and above the well-established electromagnetic radiation, crackles of static, radio waves conveying radio and television broadcasts in digital and analogue forms, police voice traffic. This is a new kind of data, collective and individual, aggregated and discrete, open and closed, constantly logging impossibly detailed patterns of behaviour. The behaviour of the street.

This is a lovely essay (with great images) that asks us to imagine the now-future city, and to mentally re-assemble what we already knew was there so that the street is (I think literally) understood as a platform. Dan then asks some good questions about the implications of that re-envisioning for governance and regulation. Even if it’s a metaphor, it’s an effective one.

Although the “yes, but” question about who is connected and the unevenness of agency of course comes to mind, along with the slightly panicky one, “But how do you turn it all off?”

Worth a read.

Update: Not two minutes after I finished this post, Luca twittered the new Cisco ad.

Wow, kind of contrasting invitations to imagine the future, there.

I guess if we don’t want to deal with the micro-politics of our everyday relationships to technology, as Dan describes, there’s always techno-utopias that manage to render technologies all-powerful, endlessly imprintable with benign human desires, and invisible, all at once. Magic.