An important, lyrical, critical book about the future of "Smart Cities"

Adam Greenfield's new book Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life (previously) has scored an outstanding review from The Guardian's Steven Poole, who calls it "a landmark primer and spur to more informed and effective opposition" to "the pitiless libertarianism towards which all [Smart Cities] developments seem to lean."

Not surprising, given Greenfield's decade-plus career as one of the earliest and most consistently right thinkers about embedded systems, Smart Cities and the Internet of Things.

By paying intense and critical attention, Greenfield suggests. His book melds close readings of the small experiences of normal life as mediated by new technologies (how, for example, “time has been diced into the segments between notifications”) with techno-political-economic philosophical analyses of the global clash between Silicon Valley culture and the way the world currently works. It’s about what Greenfield calls “the colonisation of everyday life by information processing”, and this new colonialism, in the author’s view, is so far no better than past versions. He gives excellently sceptical accounts of wearable technologies, augmented reality like Pokémon Go (now an inbuilt feature of the iPhone’s operating system), the human biases that are always baked into the ostensibly neutral operation of algorithms; or the world of increasingly networked objects, about which he waxes humanistically poetic: “The overriding emotion of the internet of things is a melancholy that rolls off of it in waves and sheets. The entire pretext on which it depends is a milieu of continuously shattered attention.”

What seem to be potentially anarchic, liberating technologies are highly vulnerable to capture and recuperation by existing power structures – just as were dissident pop-culture movements such as punk. Greenfield makes this point with particular force when discussing automated “smart contracts” and the technology of the blockchain, a kind of distributed ledger that underlies the bitcoin currency but could be used for many more things besides. “Despite the insurgent glamour that clings to it still,” he points out, “blockchain technology enables the realisation of some very long-standing desires on the part of very powerful institutions.” Much as he scorns the authoritarian uses of new technology, he also wants to warn progressives against technological utopianism. “Activists on the participatory left are just as easily captivated by technological hype as anyone else, especially when that hype is couched in superficially appealing language.”

Radical Technologies by Adam Greenfield review – luxury communism, anyone? [Stephen Poole/The Guardian]

(via Beyond the Beyond)