- Andréa Savard-Beaudoin
The pervasiveness of technology and the assemblage of all material objects, wires, minerals, devices, agents, algorithms and processes is creating an accidental megastructure, which exists above and below ground, saturating the whole planet – both physically and cybernetically. -Benjamin Bratton calls this accidental megastructure THE STACK; that is both a computational apparatus and a new governing architecture.
We are inside THE STACK and it is inside of us.
Different genres of computation—smart grids, cloud platforms, mobile apps, smart cities, the Internet of Things, automation—can be seen not as so many species evolving on their own, but as forming a coherent whole. Everything is linked.
“From mining coal to rare earth to bitcoins, THE STACK wrangles the resources to fuel itself—and hence ourselves—even if at the price of planetary autophagia; From daily gestures such as asking a smartphone for the fastest route home, to the modelling of the appropriate response to the next expectable hurricane, through the fluctuation of a city’s housing market or the execution of a signature drone strike; From the first Sino-Google War of 2009 to the perpetually pending Marketplace Fairness Act, The Stack gives birth to new sovereignties even as it strangles others in their sleep; From earth to Cloud to City to Address to Interface to User, Your Permanent Record is enacted, assembled, stored, distributed, accessed, and made into meaning by means of THE STACK.”
“There is no such thing as a particular scale at which the defining events and processes of our time are taking place and can be optimally confronted – no more than there is a local realm distinct from a global one.” All we have is the planetary interweaving of localised occurrences, describing increasingly nonlinear causal patterns – everything is GLOCAL.
The distributed processing of data is often claimed to be a pervasive or ubiquitous computing environment: a world of ambient intelligence. “Ubiquitous computation links algorithmic calculation from molecular to landscape scale and seeds communication to and from objects at, below or above a normal human scale of encounter”, challenging traditional anthropocentric frames of reference. Abandoning the dichotomy between humans and non-humans, “User is understood solely as an empty position in a platform that any addressable entity can (temporarily) step into at any given moment of time. An Airbnb-using tourist, an Uber driver, a self-driving car or a Facebook API are all Users; the occupation is often nested and simultaneous.” Urban spaces, that used to be organized based on human modes of perception and scaled according to the measurements of the body, are now designed to be inhabited by an array of new non-human users. Even though it still remains largely outside the practices of urban planners and designers, which remain trapped in the humanistic precepts of modern urbanism, “to think and design in other ways and at other scales is now a practical necessity. Design needs to be scaled to the scope of the real, not reality downsampled toward the digestible.”