Myriads: transgression in the Post City

This year, Art is Open Source, Human Ecosystems and Ubiquitous Commons will be featured at Ars Electronica, as part of the Post City Kit exhibition, with the Myriads project (part of the wider Ubiquitous Infoscapes project).

From Ars Electronica’s website:

Post City Kit is a toolkit of ideas, strategies, devices and prototypes for the city of the future. The city is – and will remain – a scene of a permanent human life and survival experiment. In condensed form here culture(s), social systems and economic and political policies of their time are coming to light. The Post City Kit Exhibition shows with numerous prototypes and project presentations possible development directions towards the urban habitats for the upcoming human generations.


The Myriads project will be composed of:

  • an exhibit;
  • some Info-dealers;
  • a series of 15 micro-workshops (aka the Workshop Pills).

Let’s see what the project is about, and what you’ll see in Ars Electronica.

The project concept

Big Data is a concept in continuous mutation. The exponential rise of the quantity and quality of data and information which individuals generate every day is the single most important driver of the evolution of the concept of Big Data.

Each of our gestures, movements, relations, transactions, expressions tend to become occasions for the generation of digital data and information.

This happens whether we realize it or not, consciously or unconsciously, in direct, indirect, transparent or completely opaque ways. At the present time, most individuals generate data in ways in which they don’t realize or understand, and which they cannot understand, due to the opacity of collection processes, algorithms, classifications, parameters. They don’t (can’t) know how this information is used: unaccessible profiles are used to generate personalized interfaces, services, advertisements, content. We are constantly becoming the unknowing subjects of social experiments, communication campaigns, national security scrutiny, dots in dashboards and information visualizations.

Individuals are, currently, the only ones who cannot fully benefit from Big Data: to organize themselves; to create meaningful, shared initiatives; to understand more about themselves and about the world around them.

On top of that, when data becomes so detailed that the sample can be as large as the actual population, and it is possible to use complex algorithms to process it, we experience a growing rise in the perception of the possibility to eliminate all risks. Which, of course, has its impacts, in terms of the elimination of the possibility to comprehend and value what is different, unexpected, transgressive, adventurous, possible. This may lead to the deterministic, data-biopolitical scenario which is what we confront with with our projects.

We aim at describing an ubiquitous infoscape, in which data becomes an accessible, usable part of the landscape, just as buildings, trees, roads, and in which it is clear and transparent (although complex and fluid) what is public, private, intimate. In which people are able to express how they wish their data to be used, and can actually use it to construct meaningful actions. We aim to create a participatory, inclusive, performative space, in which people – as individuals and members of society – can express themselves and do things, defining new forms of public/private/intimate spaces which are agible, accessible, usable.

Myriads visualization

Myriads visualization


What is the role of transgression in the Post City?

Myriads of micro-histories in the city massively recombine, interfere, interact, interconnect, forming the life of the city in its continuous mutation, innovation and transgression.

People constantly transgress, reprogramming spaces, time and relations, creating a level of tactical cultural biodiversity which can happen only in the dense urban environments, and which constitutes the wealth and richness of the city.

Elizabeth Grosz defines this process as spatial excess, a new dimension which is able to go beyond preconceptions, prejudices and worries about utility, “beyond the relevance for the present, looking towards the future.” The revelation and discovery of this excess depends on the possibility for transgression.

Excess is in the “problematic”, which is full of potential. The clandestine, the unacknowledged, the unofficial find their survival – beyond crime – in the transgression of social norms and limits. Those same limits which have excluded them in the first place. The recycle trash, appropriate spaces, invent communication channels, create styles, fashions and trends.

They don’t cross borders: they move on them. Moving, they innovate.

Using a term from Massimo Canevacci Ribeiro: innovation is the possibility for methodological indiscipline.

The Myriads project created for Ars Electronica by Human Ecosystems and Ubiquitous Commons establishes a peer-to-peer ethnography of the city: a diffused participatory observation in which the myriads of public micro-histories of the daily life of the city will be captured, transformed into a commons, and performed through art, education, citizen engagement and tactical usage.

The Exhibit

The Myriads exhibit will come under the form of a small real-time museum of the city, in which people will be able to learn more about the city (it will be instanced to observe the city of Linz), and to ask questions to the city, obtaining participatory, polyphonic, emergent answers.

A series of interactive information visualizations will be on show, describing only some of the ways in which people can use this information.

Some will show where data and information are more dense.

Myriads at Ars Electronica, the density of information

Myriads at Ars Electronica, the density of information

Some will show emotional expressions which can be inferred from the ways in which people communicate, or act.

Myriads at Ars Electronica: emotions

Myriads at Ars Electronica: emotions

Some will show the relations running between people, as they emerge from digital interactions.

Myriads at Ars Electronica: the relational ecosystem

Myriads at Ars Electronica: the relational ecosystem

Some will show how topics of discussion or interest are interrelated with one another.

Myriads at Ars Electronica: topics relate to each other

Myriads at Ars Electronica: topics relate to each other

Some will show the languages used, and how they relate with each other, through the ways in which people use and interweave them, with words, sentences, speaking to someone in one language and to someone else in another.

Myriads at Ars Electronica: words and languages

Myriads at Ars Electronica: words and languages

A series of other visualizations will be shown, and some will be created on location, together with workshops participants.

All the information is obtained through social networks, smartphones, network connected devices disseminated in the city and on people’s bodies, and through the fantastic collaboration with Linz’s Open Commons, and Linz Open Data.

To learn more how we collect data and information, and how we confront with the enormous critical implications of these practices, you may want to look at the Human Ecosystems and Ubiquitous Commons websites.

The Info-dealers

In the Myriads space, there will be Info-dealers.

The Info-dealer is a new form of urban dweller, emerging in the ubiquitous public sphere: a thug, a lowlife, a transgressor who lives on the border of society. The Info-dealer is a dealer, he/she knows things; knows what’s going on in the city; knows what “they” don’t, and that’s his/her advantage: the Info-dealer knows the micro-histories of the city. He/she knows how to use them, to do things, to organize people, to make things happen, to know where to get things, who are the best people for a certain topic, who to call, who to engage, what people desire and expect.

Info-dealers stop people and tell them “do you need something?” They operate on people’s desires, imaginations, expectations, wishes, frustrations; they listen and understand what people want, establishing a complicity, an intimate relation with them, to know their desires.

By visiting Myriads you may have the chance to meet one.

Myriads of workshops

Myriads of workshops

Myriads of Knowledge Pills

How is it possible to capture the real-time life of the city, using social networks, sensors, data, wearable devices, Internet of Things, domotics, and other sources of digital information?

How can this process represent the myriads of micro-histories in the city, and their potential for generating diffused knowledge and imaginaries?

How is it possible to use this knowledge, transforming it into the inclusive participatory performance of the co-creation of the city?

What are peer-to-peer ethnography and Digital Urban Acupuncture?

What is the Relational Ecosystem of the city?

How is it possible to define and use new types of identity in these types of processes? Individual, anonymous, collective, nomadic and temporary identities?

What are the implications of these kinds of processes on privacy, surveillance, people’s fundamental rights for assembly, expression, opinion? And how can we turn these issues upside-down, and inside-out, to use this wealth of data in constructive, shared, inclusive ways, to transform the city?

The Myriads of Knowledge Pills workshop series will answer some of these questions.

15 workshop pills.

20 minutes each.

Each micro-workshop deals one “knowledge pill”, delivered by Myriad’s info-dealers, which participants will be able to take with them.

No technical or technological pre-requisite needed. All can (and should) participate.

Everyone can attend just 1 workshop, 2, 3, all of them. They can be experienced singularly, but the more you attend, the more you understand.

This is the list of workshops:

  1. Harvesting data in the city
  2. Humans and Non-Humans living, expressing and performing in the city
  3. Citizens’ micro-histories captured through the devices in their pockets, homes, offices
  4. An introduction to the Third Infoscape
  5. The Relational Ecosystem of cities
  6. Peer-to-Peer Ethnography
  7. Digital Urban Acupuncture for dummies
  8. Identities in the city: individual, collective, anonymous, nomadic, temporary
  9. Human Ecosystems: the real-time life of the city becomes a commons
  10. Ubiquitous Commons: the commons in the age of ubiquitous technologies
  11. Stakhanov: a Big Data oracle to predict your lives, and its implications on privacy and ingenuity
  12. Generating artworks with the data of the real-time life of the city
  13. An Emotional Compass
  14. The Industrialization of the Mind
  15. Zombies. Zombies everywhere. Each age has its “Monsters”. Transgression in the city.

Please look at the program to know times and locations.

See you there! (or back here to know how it went)

The Third Infoscape Data, Information and Knowledge in the city. New paradigms for urban interaction.

This article is the translation of our contribution to the book: ” I Media Digitali e l’Interazione Uomo-Macchina” edited by Simone Arcagni, and published by Aracne Editore.

You can download it here on Art is Open Source: The Third Infoscape

The Third Infoscape

Data, Information and Knowledge in the city. New paradigms for urban interaction.

Salvatore Iaconesi, Oriana Persico

ISIA Design Florence

i Media Digitali e l'Interazione Uomo Macchina

i Media Digitali e l’Interazione Uomo Macchina

This article appeared in:

Iaconesi, S.; Persico, O. (2015) “Il Terzo Infoscape. Dati, informazioni e saperi nella città e nuovi paradigmi di interazione urbana” in Arcagni, S. (ed.) I Media Digitali e l’Interazione Uomo-Macchina (p. 139-168). Roma: Aracne Editore.

It is a translation of the original article (from Italian to English).

Running in the city

A park, a few hundred meters away from the smells and sounds of the city. From atop the back of the gentle hills which span the green stretch of the this seventeenth century villa, urban reality seems far away, only slightly glimpsed.

Sweat, tensed muscles. The ground quickly flows below our feet, in the rapid succession of tensions and distensions of the run. That phase in which breathing breaks has arrived, abandoning the sequence of wheezy and syncopated breaths, to arrive at the condition in which breathing becomes fluid and continuous, when running becomes, in a way, automatic, free.

This modality allows for thinking, getting rid of preoccupations, fatigue, perception of effort, and to dive into the rhythm, the scanning of time and pace, as in a mantra.

And, in fact, we thing, and look around.

Far away, along the main walkway of the villa, we can see the park’s café, which has just been renewed. We remember it as it was before, a residue of the 50s, with paint coming off the walls, the metal counter, the uncomfortable chairs and the small, round tables. We have never been there since it was renewed. Before that, prices were just too high and the quality too low. The only interesting thing there was Mario, who used to be an informal institution of the place: he knew every detail of the villa, and he was an mushroom expert, too, as we had the chance of discovering the many times we brought him a porcine or an honey mushroom for inspection; the ones we found close by to some tree root or in the middle of the grass fields, a little distance from there, proud to have been able to find such precious jewels freely available, instead of paying dozens of euros to purchase them at the market.

Now, Mario has retired. The management of the café has been given to a company, which has also performed the renewal. From the outside, the place looks very nice: they have augmented the glass surfaces; tables are now large and the seating more comfortable; there is free wi-fi; the industrial cornettis and the lousy orange juices have been replaced by butter croissants, organic fruit juices and classy finger food.

Or, at least, that’s what we know from the many reviews we found on social networks. People have widely expressed themselves by taking carefully manipulated and filtered pictures of the dishes and of the fashionable cutlery, while lamenting the steep prices. Someone also complained about the frigidness of the service: precarious workers, led by a store manager, rapidly ending their contracts and not really getting in human contact with the place. Some of these reviewers possibly knew Mario. With him, it was not necessary to purchase anything. You could just go there, chat and, maybe, get some advice on the whereabouts of mushrooms, sage or other spices in the villa. Mario claimed that it was possible to create entire gourmet dinners for several people just by relying on the resources found in the park, including wild asparagus, mushrooms, wild vegetables, herbs, spices and fruit. You just need to know where to look for them.

One of the online comments reported how many of the employees of the new venue did not even know in which years this wonderful villa was built, or what was its purpose. The reviewer told a story in which a tourist asked for information about the park as an indolent employee answered in roman dialect «I don’t know, miss! I’ve been working here for 10 days, and at the end of the month my contract expires. But there’s free wi-fi here: if you have a computer you can look it up on Wikipedia.»1 Mario, instead, would have taken the tourist by the arm, whether she liked it or not, and start telling, and indicating, and remembering, with the other people at the counter, waiting for their cappuccino.

Who knows, maybe the reviewer made the whole episode up. Or maybe not: it seemed like a sincere contribution, and not an isolated one: the same person demonstrated a systematic effort in reviewing multiple places across the city, among bars, restaurants, museums and art galleries. Eventually, we will go to the new bar in the villa. And, maybe, we will also review it online, including the story of Mario and of his knowledge of mushrooms. Or, maybe, we will keep that part of the story for ourselves, to avoid hordes of improvised mushroom gatherers to start collecting anything that even vaguely resembles a mushroom, or even that someone might get sick with them: not everyone is as good as Mario in recognizing their edibility. Given this, it would be nice if all of Mario’s knowledge could, somehow, have remained in the park, accessible and available. Someone could have made an app for it: even Mario himself, to continue to be present, with all of his knowledge, in the seventeenth century villa which has welcomed him for all of these years.

Here, a steep climb is next. Beyond that is the valley where the small lake at the center of the villa lays, rich in ducks, swans, crows, turtles and many other animal species.

Heart beats mad, we’re breathless again. It’s been a couple of weeks since we have last been running.

We check our smartphone. A map shows the path of the run. An information visualization indicates the state of our heartbeats and breathing, as captured thanks to the biometric sensor positioned into our watch, and shows us the comparison with the trends from last weeks’ runs, together with counts of burned calories and the juxtaposition with our friends’ performances (oh, there is one of our friends in this same part, right now, we notice, right behind the next hill… maybe we can catch up with him).

Climb. Heartbeat. Breath.

A notification arrives.

It’s our partner.

The message is funny and goliardic: «Put on some weight? A slight hill and you already can’t take it anymore? ;)»

We’re not used to it, yet. The app was a peculiar anniversary gift, together with the smart-watch to which it is connected. Real-time heartbeats, visualized on your partner’s smartphone. It looked like a romantic idea and, in practice, you don’t even remember about it, in your daily routine. But when notifications arrive, as in this case, a weird sensation emerges, ranging from strange sinister to magical.

The map alerts us: our friend is right behind the turn. We have almost caught up with him. We step beside him and exchange a quick chat while running. We cheer each other up, and decide to embrace the climb, which will take us at the top of the highest hill in the park, where we will enjoy a beautiful view of the city.

Reaching the top, we pause to look at the scenery, and to stretch a bit. Then we separate: we have our car on the other side of the park, our friend has it on the exact opposite side, and it’s getting time to go back home.

The descent is exhilarating: trees flow by fast on our sides, while our legs almost fail to keep up the pace with the sloping ground, sliding like a crazed tapis-roulant below us. We slip into a green tunnel, a spot where trees and plants interlocked themselves from both sides, forming a complex architecture above us.

The declivity is almost over when our smartphone, fixed with a strap to our arm vibrates again: another notification.

We slow down and reduce the pace, obtaining a better balance which allows us to check the origin of the notification: a message from the office; it’s urgent.

We stop, take breath, and call, with the small towel on our neck avoiding us catching a cold through the cooling sweat.

When they answer, we’re still partially breathless: «What’s going on?»

An agitated dialogue: there is a problem on a project, and fast decisions must be made. We find ourselves in a conference call with all the rest of the office: connected simultaneously from three cities and, from what it looks like, from only one park. During the discussion the park disappears. For those few moments we feel in another, different place. Only our shorts and t-shirt there to remind us that we’ve been running in the seventeenth century villa, amidst nature, which also remains at the border of our perception. We are in another place now, somewhere between/across the multiple places of the conference call. We’re, momentarily, in an office, not in a villa, that’s for sure.

An ubiquitous office.

The conference call ends, and we start running again and, slowly, the park starts reappearing. While our running commences once again, we manage to progressively abandon our ubiquitous office, with only the last few thoughts diverting our attention from the nature around ourselves, the trees, plants, sounds and shapes of the woods and hills, which powerfully claim back our consciousness.

We arrive at the gate of the villa. Our car is parked just outside. We check our smart-watch: twelve kilometers. Not bad. We touch a dial on the interface. Done. Our run gets automatically published on social networks, together with maps, times and calories, ready to be shared and commented.

Reading the city

There are many informational elements which we experience when we interact with cities.

Traditionally, they were physical: architectures, visuals, signage, sounds, smells.

In his Concise Townscape2, Gordon Cullen provided a seminal description of the modalities which can be used to plan and design the shape of the city in order to stimulate emotional and interactive responses. The book emphasizes the role of personal experience in urban landscapes. This concept is remarked by highlighting the many ways in which we actually create places, under the form of mind maps: serial vision, juxtaposition and immediateness. The analysis of the visual elements which allow us to comprehend public space and to understand its usages and rules brings us to the exploration in which city dwellers spatially perceive information in the continuous dialogue between the actual visual composition of the environment and the one which emerges as they traverse the city. In this kind of analysis, juxtaposition and immediateness (then declined as legibility or accessibility) of the elements of spatial information become emotional and operational actuators of the interactions between the city and its users3.

Kevin Lynch, in The Image of the City4, started from a few case studies to explore the legibility of the city, formulating the hypothesis according to which people construct mental maps used to traverse, interact and relate with urban spaces and the population. The possibility to collect and compare these mental maps enables to comprehend how visual, perceptive, cognitive and psychological information in urban territories contribute to forming models of people’s interactions and relations.

These and other texts – and in the practices connected to them – tend to account for physical elements of reality, and include the symbolic and cultural dimensions.

In Learning from Las Vegas5 Robert Venturi, moved beyond that. By observing the surreal and suggestive visions of the city of casinos in Nevada, he built an image of cities as expression of a society which progresses towards a reality constructed not only through symbols, but also through reproductions and representations.

This information comes under the form of iconographic instances, and constitute a series of stratifications – of layers – on the territory: an immaterial geography which contributes to the modeling of citizens’ mental maps and, thus, to the ways in which they act and react, just as the physical shapes, the sounds, smells and tactilities.

Aldo Rossi, in conflict with Venturi’s Complexity and Contraddiction in Architecture6, merged a value and time based analysis to the symbolic and post-modern perspective, alluding to the possibility of imagining the city as something which could be constructed with the flowing of time and the superimposition of the stories of its inhabitants, referring to the opportunity to build the place of the dynamic preservation of the collective memory7.

These considerations may be added to the ones by Lefebvre8,De Certeau9 and Soja10, among others, according to whom the construction of space and, thus, its communication and interaction, is composed by a performative aspect which is polyphonic, and in which the micro-histories of people (according to the definitions by Levi11 e di Iggers12) dynamically and generatively interweave in the continuous recomposition of urban space.

In Walking in the City, De Certeau writes:

«The ordinary practitioners of the city live “down below”, below the thresholds at which visibility begins. They walk – an elementary form of this experience of the city; They are walkers, Wandersmänner, whose bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban “text” they write without being able to read it. These practitioners make use of spaces that cannot be seen; their knowledge of them is as blind as that of lovers in each other’s arms. The paths that correspond in this interweaving, unrecognized poems in which each body is an element signed by many others, elude legibility. It is as though the practices organizing a bustling city were characterized by their blindness. The networks of these moving, intersecting writings compose a manifold story that has neither author nor spectator, shaped out of fragments of trajectories and alterations of spaces: in relation to representations, it remains daily and indefinitely Other.»

Then continues:

«Their story begins on ground level, with footsteps. They are myriad, but do not compose a series. They cannot be counted because each unit has a qualitative character: a style of tactile apprehension and kinesthetic appropriation. Their swarming mass is an innumerable collection of singularities. Their interwined paths give their shape to spaces. They weave places together. In that respect, pedestrian movements form one of those “real systems whose existence in fact makes up the city”. They are not localized; it is rather that they spatialize. They are no more inserted whithin a container than those Chinese characters speakers sketch out on their hands with their fingertips.»

According to Soja this modality constitutes a Third Space in which

« everything comes together… subjectivity and objectivity, the abstract and the concrete, the real and the imagined, the knowable and the unimaginable, the repetitive and the differential, structure and agency, mind and body, consciousness and the unconscious, the disciplined and the transdisciplinary, everyday life and unending history.»

The Third Space is a radically inclusive concept, in which strategies and tactics coexist polyphonically and, thus, where the latter achieve visibility and legibility, allowing for the liberation, contestation and re-negotiation of boundaries and of cultural identities.

Ubiquitous Information

Data, information and knowledge are ubiquitous.

They are in the shapes of buildings, in streets and urban furniture. In the forms chosen by city dwellers to traverse spaces and places. In signs, symbols, images and icons. In colors. In the smells and sound we feel while we’re in the city. In the skyline. In objects which are near, and in those we see at the horizon. In the memories which we associate to places, objects and contexts, and in those memories which other people described to us, as we remember them, in precise ways, or not.

All of these – and more – elements – whether they are physical, immaterial, ephemeral –, all of these sources of data, information and knowledge, contribute to the shapes of our actions, to our performance of the city.

Ubiquitous technologies and digital networks largely augment our possibility to generate data, information and knowledge and to experience them, everywhere and at all times. And, thus, to shape our urban performance.

Smartphones, sensors, services of all kinds, interactive screens, urban screens, media facades, augmented realities, social networks, natural interaction systems activated by gesture, voice and movement. These and other devices, interfaces and services add up to other one – already more common and diffused – wich allow us to transform each action in data and information, wheter we realize it or not, consciously or unconsciously. It is the flipping on or off of a light switch; the passage within the field of view of a security camera; the querying for some train information using an interactive billboard; the purchase using a credit card; the usage of an app on our smartphone to find a restaurant we like; the notification on the health condition of one of our loved ones, generated through a biometric sensor; or the many other available possibilities through which any gesture action can be transformed into data and information.

The life of these data and information is complex.

Some of them are archived, according to various modalities and degrees of persistence, until they are needed.

Other are directly used, to execute services and processes.

For example, if person A desired to execute a purchase using a payment system on their mobile phone (maybe using Bitcoins13) a few clicks or touches on the device would be sufficient to execute the necessary data checks to authorize the transaction (generating more data).

Even in this apparently simple case, many interesting questions could arise.

For example, a friend of A could find himself in the shop and, realizing that he left home without cash or credit cards, could have asked A to execute the purchase for him, promising to give back as soon as possible. The A subject could be thousands of miles away from the store and, nonetheless, execute a physical purchase in that location.

Other modalities are possible, ranging from the more simple and legible ones (such as swiping an RFID14 card in the immediate proximity of a reader to access the subway or to pass a toll booth), to the more complex and opaque.

We could choose to analyze these last ones.

Figure 1, restaurants and cities

Figure 1, restaurants and cities

As shown in figure 1, the A subject is a constant visitor to website K, which he uses to purchase books and other objects. The website records A’s preferences and tastes, by observing the characteristics of the product pages he visits online, his purchases and other parameters (for example the time A spends on each product’s page). The service is able to build a profile for A whose quality is proportional to the quantity of time and interactions spent on the website.

Another service, X, executes similar profiling processes, for travel and tourism.

To access services K and X, subject A has accepted their terms of services15 of both websites, which attest that the profiling information can be shared with third parties.

A certain company, Y, is one of these third parties. Both K and X share (sell) profiling information to Y. Y integrates the data, obtaining new data, maybe discovering that subject A loves oriental cultures, and that he frequently visits Japanese restaurants.

Y, maybe, manages a social media site dedicated to food and restaurants, and massively uses this kind of data to decide its advertising strategies, providing its advertisers (restaurants, which probably advertise their commercial venue using Y) a premium service in which they are granted that their ads will be highlighted for the users whose profiles clearly indicate that they have a preference for the type of food or style of the advertiser’s venue, and that, thus, they may have a higher probability of ending up actually eating at their restaurant.

Y also has a smartphone application, installed on subject A’s device.

A finds himself in a new city, which he knows little about. Dinner time comes up, and A wishes to select a restaurant. To do it, he uses application Y. On his mobile phone’s screen he will see a map, on which the Japanese restaurants which have purchased Y’s premium service are highlighted and, with all probability, will choose one of them to spend his evening.

This is a very complex (and very frequent) modality for interaction. For example we can imagine replacing X with Amazon16, K with TripAdvisor17 and Y with Yelp18.

A user’s interaction with social networks and online websites generates data and information which is algorithmically recombined in complex ways and used by other services and websites which (in this case) generate maps and lists of commercial services in personalized ways which are completely opaque to users.

The user has no way in which he can learn which information he produced have been used as a source of information to generate the map in the Y application. Furthermore, these sources may vary each day, according to the evolution of the commercial agreements running between companies.

The result is that subject A sees a map which provides a complex vision of the reality of his surrounding territory, in which the highlighting of the restaurants is the result of a complex elaboration of his tastes and desires, and of how X’s and K’s algorithms (both invisible for A) have been able to identify them.

The map provided by Y represents a complex geography. It is, in part, physical (it effectively represents the position of buildings, streets and restaurants), emotional and psychological (it derives from the interpretation of A’s tastes), partly economic and financial (being determined by the fact that some restaurants have purchased Y’s premium service or not), and we could go on in detailing the list of its technological, algorithmic, statistical, anthropological characters, and more.

This complex scenario generates a multitude of different ways in which these types of information can be transformed into opportunities for interaction with citizens and other human beings.

Furthermore, the information can be recombined in infinite different ways, to produce infinite different geographies, opportunities for interaction, services, games, artworks and more.

We find ourselves well beyond Mitchell’s City of Bits19, or of Zook’s and Graham’s description of DigiPlace20. Just as we’re well beyond the idea of geo-referenced data backing these two visions, and also of the ones expressed by Aurigi21, and in their articulation of space in its digital and physical character.

We find ourselves in a digital Third Space, more inclusive, in which information is not only attached to places, spaces, bodies and objects, but constantly recombines, remixes, recontextualizes, creating constantly new geographies which are emotional, linguistic, semantic, relational, or relative to the many patterns which non-human algorithms can glimpse in the ways in which layers emerge from data, information and knowledge, correlating different spaces, times and human networks.

The Third Infoscape

Gilles Clément describes the Third Landscape22 as an uncoded space, the space of biodiversity which is able to host the genetic reservoir of the planet. The Planetary Garden it a space for the future, for the emergence of possibility23. It is also a connective tissue composed by the unison of residual spaces which assume fluid forms, which are able to escape form and governance. They are places which cannot be preserved through administrative dimensions, which would destroy their characteristics. Barrell’s Dark Side of the Landscape24 comes up to mind, and his description of the ways in which the natural landscape of cities derives from the imposition of the point of view of a single social class. Clément, instead, speaks about a light side, as the Third Landscape does not represent an exclusive model, but an inclusive one, a shared fragment of a collective consciousness. It is a multiplication of narratives, a planetary remix (brassage) in which perennial mutating spaces incorporate the presence of multiple representations: syncretic maps which describe the geographies of the mutation of the city.

Clément also tells us about the need to educate our gaze to recognize the Third Landscape, to recognize emergence and to transform it into shared knowledge.

This is similar to the concept of ruin expressed by Marco Casagrande.

A ruin represents the progressive reunion of objects and architectures with nature: nature and human beings ruin buildings and objects, transforming them into ruins.

From a different point of view, these actions bring objects and buildings in a different state. A ruin is also the evidence of the history of human and natural action, of the daily usage patterns. From this point of view ruins expose everyday life, in all of its complex manifestations.

Therefore, ruins can be considered as the progressive layering of stories, as a source of information and knowledge.

Casagrande uses the concept of the ruin to define the Third Generation City as the «ruin of the industrial city»25 and as the «industrial city ruined by people – human nature as part of nature.»26

The concept of Open Source infiltrates in the text:

«Like a weed creeping into an air-conditioning machine the industrial city will be ruined by rumors and by stories. The common subconscious will surface to the street level and architecture will start constructing for the stories – for the urban narrative. This will be soft, organic and as an open source based media, the copyrights will be violated. The author will no longer be an architect or an urban planner, but somehow a bigger mind of people. In this sense the architects will be like design shamans merely interpreting what the bigger nature of the shared mind is transmitting.»

In this vision the city assumes the shape of a body in perennial mutation, including both architectures and the constant and emergent layering of stories and knowledge which originate from the daily lives of citizens and nature.

At this point, it is possible to go back to our original narrative, to the concept of ubiquitous and emergent knowledge, and to connect it to this vision, to Clément’s and Casagrande’s vision.

The new types of information, the ones which converge in our perception of the city and, thus, into our interaction with human beings, architectures, spaces, places and organizations, be them emotional, semantic, linguistic, relational, relative to the possibility to identify multi-modal and multi-layered patterns which can be localized anywhere in space-time, whether they are generative or algorithmic, whether they derive from sensors or other interactions… all of these instances of data, information and knowledge, today, often have digital form and ubiquitous manifestations.

We experience them through smartphones, applications, social networks, interactive services and systems which are disseminated, distributed or even pulverized through space and time. Through them we can interact with the world, express ourselves, collaborate, work, express emotions, consume, study, entertain ourselves.

Following the previous examples it is, thus, possible to attempt the definition of the Third Informational Landscape: the Third Infoscape.

The First Infoscape refers to the information and knowledge generated through the modalities of the pre-industrial city. The Second Infoscape refers to the information and knowledge generated in the industrial city (the Second Generation City, the city of infrastructures, transactions, sensors…).

The Third Infoscape refers to the information and knowledge generated through the myriads of micro-histories, through the progressive, emergent and polyphonic sedimentation of the expressions of the daily lives of city dwellers.

The vision of the new paradigms of interaction with the city are centered on the Third Infoscape.

A walk in a new city


I still did not get used to this new App. It is facinating and disorienting, at the same time.

It is a form of telepathy. That’s the most effective way in which I can describe it. Telepathy with things, people, environments and systems of any kind.

I am here, in this bar, anonymous, waiting, sitting at a small table.

As soon as I arrived a waiter, after freezing for a bit – assuming the typical absent expression of when you are accessing Empathy –, smiled and started talking to me: «There is a Japanese noise music concert on Friday.»


In the public relational graph of the city, I am one of the main nodes for topics related to music of this kind. I can still remember the time when, at a business meeting, the clients started to giggle: «Do you really like that crap music?»

Maybe I should reconsider what to express publicly on Empathy.

Positioning myself on a series of interests, topics and flows of information seemed like an intelligent thing to do, at first. But the more I go on, the more I understand how it could be better to select and filter, and to construct my personal relational graph more slowly, with care, only after having understood people and organizations more profoundly.

Now, for example, I really don’t want to talk with this guy. Now that we interacted and, thus, that we’re connected, I can perceive his positioning on the network.

While I wait, with a smoking tea in my hands, I empathize with the place.

I perceive a peak of joy in German, on Wednesday afternoons. I investigate: according to social networks every week, on that day, a community of Germans meets here. It is a recurring pattern, and they expose it in public to enlarge the community, to be able to have a moment in the week to be able to speak with people of the same nationality, here, so far away from home.

While I analyze the other trends in this place (but, where is my appointment?), I loose myself a bit in the ubiquitous empathy.

I navigate filters and perspectives.

I get to know that temperature has lowered, and that the level of fine dusts suspended in the air of this neighborhood is very high (just perfect for my soar throat). I know that a just a few blocks away a citizen meeting has just taken place, to decide the placement of an urban vegetable garden in that park, two further blocks away, which has been at the center of recent critiques for its state of abandon.

I visualize their human network, and I see it energetic and healthy, with emotions, opinions, information and knowledge continuously flowing from one node to the other. They are understanding how to implement the project: someone is analysing administrative requirements; someone the technical specifications (irrigation, tools, similar experiences…); someone figuring out how the production of the garden, with its fruit and vegetables, would be split among citizens; someone figuring out the economic aspects of the operation. There is also a raging discussion going on about the fact that the sudden free availability of food in the garden could cause the presence in the neighborhood of undesirable people – that’s the term they use most, according to the natural language analysis algorithms –, like clochards, homeless, people of the street.

A city councilor also entered the discussion, ready to support the initiative and to measure its effects (always through Empathy) in terms of social relations, inclusiveness, accessibility and emotions (does this type of initiative generate more well-being, anxiety, stress, or what?).

While I wait, I share a web link with one of their influencers, about an existing experience about urban edible woods: beautiful place to see, used to regenerate interstitial and marginal areas of the city, and which produce vegetables, fruit and citizen social activation. They create communities and feed people.

I observe my watch. The time of my appointment has long passed. I finish up my tea, pay, get up and leave.

I consult the map and the calendar. I could go to another meeting using the subway, or go back home. I use Empathy to take a look at the urban dashboard. Along the subway line, in the part of the journey which I would be on to go to the meeting, lots of people are expressing stress and indignation: for some reason trains have slowed down and, thus, wagons fill up excessively, with people crushed and angry. Traffic is not reassuring, either.

I decide to walk.

I go up to the street light, to cross to the other side of the road, while I keep looking around.

The sign of a Korean restaurant catches my eye: it is composed by an English writing (“The Red Dragon”) and from one written in Hangugŏ (나머지 산, which roughly translates into “The Refuge atop the Mountain”, as I see from the augmented reality translation which appears superimposed to it, in light transparency). Hundreds of people, before me, noticed it, as I can see through Empathy, with the profusion of photos and comments published by people of all kinds on social networks. I join the crowd: «How comes that “Red Dragon” translates into “Refuge atop the Mountain”?» A user clears up the issue: «It is a cultural reference: traditionally, many inns were found atop mountains, in which you would go to find tranquillity, good food and liquors. It has become a figured speech which is hard to render properly in English. That restaurant is very popular with Korean citizens who go there to…»

While I read the reply (interesting!), still asking myself how this reference translates into “Red Dragon”, Empathy does not rest, and continues proposing information to my attention.

Nearby is a bookstore which has in stock some publications which are in my Amazon wish-list.

Images from my apartment, where the plumber has just finished fixing a leak. Together with this, a visualization of the energetic efficiency and consumption levels of my home, raising to a better level.

A report from my office, together with the visualization of the emotional expression of my colleagues, progressively becoming more nervous for the arrival of a tough deadline.

One of the notifications is really fun: our block of homes, thanks to the leak I just fixed, has become the most hydrically efficient one in the Game of Energy in the City. On Empathy the entire block will shine brightly, literally.

I decide to cut through a park, within a beautiful seventeenth century villa, in the heart of the city. I remember when I used to go running here, a few years ago: the bar in the middle of the park had just been renewed from the previous management, of Mr. … how was he called… Mario. Mario, who knew so much about the villa, and abut mushrooms: you could feel his absence when he retired.

I start thinking about what Mario would have thought about Empathy, wether he would have considered a weird technology, or as an opportunity.

While I wander along the parkway, moving onto the grass, setting about to traverse the small wood which separates me from the other side of the villa, closer home, I decide to turn on the Third Infoscape, one of the most controversial extensions of Empathy.

On Third Infoscape there are no barriers of limitations: all the data, information and knowledge produced by services, people, sensors, algorithms and by anything which is able to generate data, information or knowledge, are available in real-time (almost… but they are making the system better), and they are accessible for you to remix, recombine, correlate with all the rest.

This modality always reminds me of the ways in which plants grow: it is like the grass that grows between the cracks in the wall, or amidst the train tracks, or wherever it is that it finds some space. It grows. Full stop.

Just like the Third Infoscape. It is like seeing data growing, and information, and knowledge, in the informational, relational, emotional and knowledge ecosystem in the city.

It is really interesting to see, just as interesting as when go to cities like Sao Paulo in Brazil and you see urban nature – pigeonholed within flowed beds, gardens, boundaries and confines – waiting, energetic like a compressed spring, for an opportunity to express, even for a day or two. When this happens, growth is immediate: the bricks surrounding the flower beds break; the concrete borders are invaded by roots and leaves; pavements grow holes in which new growths form.

Third Infoscape is like this: data, information and knowledge growing everywhere, just like in a crazed Sao Paulo, in which all the gardeners of the city administration simultaneously fired themselves.

It is a beautiful thing to see, as nature growing: data emerging from places, people, objects, spaces, buildings, everything. As roots, leaves, extensions, connections.

It seemed beautiful but useless, initially. They seemed like too much data, all together. But, progressively, people have started to understand it, and to use it. And, in doing that, they reminded me of Mario.

I turn on the EatNature filter on the Third Infoscape, collaboratively created by people from all over the world to highlight the parts of the natural environment (woods, bushes, shrubs, herbs…) which can actually be eaten, and which has multiple manifestations here, in the villa. For example, walking in this small wood where I am now, I could add this walnut tree to the filter, or, on this other side, this small bush of wild rocket salad.

People have progressively learned how to use it, and to bring up new types of economies. In ways which are similar to what happens in the physical environment. There is wood? I can build furniture. Marble? Produce statues. Artisans and merchants? Bring up a district.

These other materials are aboundant, infinite, recombinant. You don’t need to dig, cut or kill to use them. They do not consume or expire. They are the data coming from sensors, transactions, relations, emotions, opinions, movements, desires, people, non-people.

While I stroll, I am surrounded by trees, data, information and knowledge.

I am wearing my headphones, in which a generative music runs. It has been created by an artist who uses the data which is able to express the well-being (or not) of the natural environment, as it is captured through sensors and people observation, to create a continuous, infinite symphony: I can listen to the happiness (or sadness) of the natural environment around me. I see the names of the plants, in augmented reality; the places where people have been happiest, melancholic or amazed.

Mario would have plenty of information and knowledge to contribute.

I leave the small wood, and see the park’s exit.

I cross it, and find myself on the street, again.

To my left, a beautiful ex-industrial building. It seems as if it has been abandoned since a long time.

Using Empathy and Third Infoscape I learn that it is a building owned by the city administration, unused and decommissioned from multiple years. There are many citizens wodering what to do with it. The administration is using Third Infoscape to make people come together, creating relations and opportunities to understand what to do with it, by activating which citizens, on which themes and through which forms of economic sustainability.

I have an idea, and I publish it, in-between the network of proposals: a place which is a mix of an university, an agrarian research center and a citizen laboratory, in which the villa is used to discover the natural environment, food, how to produce it, using ancient seeds, to prouce it in sustainable and autonomous ways, to study, cook and eat together. Almost immediately, someone replies: they are two citizens and a nearby restaurant, whose owned is passionate about the issue of the ancient seeds and of biodynamic agriculture.

He would like to join in the idea.

I’m in the network.

A scenario for future cities

Graham27 wondered how it could be possible to imagine a real time city by taking in consideration the ways in which telecommunications reconfigure our notions of time and urban space. This goes in the direction of the definition of a communicational environment, a diffused cloud of sense and meaning which goes beyond the dynamics of screens, and which is not virtual anymore, but impalpable and mental.

This atmosphere is found in the spaces which are in-between, interstitial, ubiquitous. It is not an idealized representation, but a mobilization of imperceptible urban matter, manifesting itself through pervasive computation which is both automatic and relational.

To all effects, with the development of wireless sensors, of smart dust28, and with the possibility to engage human beings in urban sensing processes, the dimension of virtuality collapses. Heading towards a state which is basically comparable to the one of telepathy (among human beings, human beings and machines, machines and machines…), reconfiguring urban ecologies so that mapping virtuality or physicality would not be needed anymore, and replacing this need with the possibility to create recombinant inventories of the telepathic migration of dusts, of the myriads of pulverized sensors which are disseminated, diffused.

This telepathic form is, thus, a form of invisible communication which describes the ways in which the city talks to itself, circulating messages and reprogramming urban ecologies.

The circulation of messages represents and moves physical shifts and transformations. The city itself moves, as phenomenon and meta-phenomenon. A feedback loop, thus, is created, in which we find ourselves simultaneously immersed and unaware of the – telepathic – exchanges which surround us.

We can imagine information mutating into landscape, delineating an urban space which is not determined by distance and time, but from the transformation of densities and presences.

Gabrys states that:

«The wireless city is a space for the production of dust in all its modalities. The city abounds with compressed and errant signals. Yet instead of dissolving urban space, as so many writers suggest, these communication and sensing technologies fill it with signals.»29

It is interesting to note, after all, how it is not important that messages arrive to destination and accurately assemble themselves, but that it possible to understand how these are filtered by noise and dust, and the ways in which the most relevant and valued composition come into being.

«This is the telepathic imperative. Data exists everywhere in excess. In the wireless city, it floats and settles in a hazy surround. Sifting through the modalities of dust to sense and communicate through the urban medium will ultimately require a well tuned telepathic sense.»30

In his Amusing Ourselves to Death31, Neil Postman hypothizes how the realization of these complex media ecologies would expose us to this type of issue: for the quantity and quality of information; for their structural configuration (in the sense of the type of media and, within it, of the architecture of information); for their shape (this hypothesis was even more strongly confirmed in Informing Ourselves to Death). The problem, according to Postman, is not in the availability of information, but in the possibility to extract meaning from information.

This type of problem has been highlighted multiple times, and defined as information overload, data smog, spam, or under the constructivist form of the attention economy described by Davenport and Beck32. The technological solutions at this level are also problematic, at least when they are not oriented towards providing usable, accessible and inclusive mechanisms for content classification, filter and for the expression of their relevance. And – also in these latter cases –, the algorithmic dimensions of these processes isolate us from the possibility to comprehend the meaning of information, however remixed. Google’s Filter Bubble33 is a classic example of this phenomenon, with enormous impacts on the reachability of information, on its accessibility, on the rights to expression and information, and on the dangers deriving from the creation of opaque zones in which the mechanisms according to which information are published, hidden or highlighted are not transparent.

Technical solution apart – and their corresponding algorithms, systems, interfaces, constantly more advanced to be able to enormous amounts of data, information and knowledge – the most interesting results come from the transmedia character of information, and from their participatory performability.

From the first point of view, following Jenkins34‘ definitions, transmediality allows us to simplify the extraction of meaning from enormous amounts of information, and making its access more immersive and accessible: content which is sharable; spreadable; which offer opportunities for mutual interconnection, across different media.

From the second point of vies – which becomes important also evaluating the first one –, the problem of overload and of the impossibility to extract meaning becomes easier to confront to when messages are freely accessible and performable, and when the ways in which they have been generated is transparent and also accessible, just as the way in which it should be possible to intervene in the flows of of their generation, processing – and remix/recombination –, and their propagation.

In synthesis, this equals to the need to create legibility for the relational graphs related to the generation, processing and propagation of data, information and knowledge, and to make accessible – in ways which are inclusive – the possibility to intervene, infiltrate and add in any stage of the process: enabling information to be performable.

Both mechanisms require intellectual property management techniques which are more refined, advanced and just, if compared to the ones we have available now, from legal and perceptive points of view.

In the discussion about the Planetary Garden35, Clément proposes specific questions regarding property which are of fundamental importance in all of this discussion. Ecological dynamics assume the restructuring of the applicability of private property, from the point of view of a mutation of the concept of value, and from the point of view of the emergence of what can be described as the dreaming economist, guarantor of a dynamic, mutating and mutant landscape, not a definitive one.

«Emergent ecosystems could be a source of wealth, but being misunderstood by the system, they are misunderstood by us, as well.»36

These dynamics attribute a central role to knowledge and to its free accessibility, recombination, remix, both in terms of usage and in the ones of imagination, education and sharing.

The redefinition processes for the concept of property (intellectual, in this case) – and on its implications on accessibility, inclusiveness and usability – become necessary when objects themselves undergo radical transformation.

Complex mutations have already happened to be able to confront with entire market disruptions brought on by the diffusion of mp3, videos, images and other simple media (simple, in the sense of mono-media). Thus, it can become intuitive how even more radical transitions and transformations will be needed to adapt these concepts to data, information and knowledge which, now, are of a completely different type.

Services like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple, produce data, information, knowledge, identities which are diffused across different and multiple devices and modalities, interacting in profound ways with the things we know – and that we can know – about the world, its inhabitants, and with the ways in which we experience places, events, monuments, schools, restaurants, workplaces and a lot more.

Messaging applications reach us ubiquitously.

Devices, sensors, gadgets, wearable technologies, prosthetics and, soon, entire body and neural extensions interconnect bodies, emotions, health information, movements, gestures, sensations, exhibiting them on social networks and sharing them – knowing or unknowing, whether we like it or not – with diverse types of services and processes, with human beings and machines.

Furthermore, algorithms create additional dimensions, in which each gesture, movement or action can be recombined with others, and transformed into information and knowledge.

These are territories for which there are no maps, yet. We find ourselves within a grey area in which laws, regulations and people’s perceptions are not defined.

In this scenario it could be desirable to actuate a shared, open and inclusive effort to define the Ubiquitous Commons37, the commons in the era of ubiquitous technologies.


Aurigi, Alessandro, and Fiorella De Cindio. Augmented Urban Spaces: articulating the physical and electronic city. Illustrated. Reading, UK: Ashgate Publishing, 2008.

Barrell, John. The Dark Side of the Landscape: The Rural Poor in English Painting, 1730-1840. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

Clément, Gilles. “The Third Landscape.” Accessed November 28, 2014.

Gabrys, Jennifer. “Telepathically Urban.” In Circulation and the City: Essays on Urban Culture, edited by Alexandra Boutros and Will Straw, 48–63. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010.

Graham, Stephen. “Cities in the Real-Time Age: The Paradigm Challenge of Telecommunications to the Conception and Planning or Urban Space.” Environment and Planning A 29, no. 1 (1997): 105–27.

Cullen, Gordon. The Concise Townscape. London: Architectural Press, 1971.

Cullen, Gordon. The Scanner. London: Alcan Industries Ltd, 1966.

Cullen, Gordon. Notation: The Observant Layman’s Guide to His Environment. London: Alcan Industries Ltd, 1968.

De Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: NYU Press, 2006.

Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Hoboken, NJ, USA: Wiley-Blackwell, 1991.

Levi, Giovanni. “On Microhistory.” In New Perspectives on Historical Writing, edited by Peter Burke. University Park: Pennsylvanya State Press, 1991.

Lynch, Kevin. The Image of the City. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1960.

Mitchell, William J. City of Bits: Space, Place, and the Infobahn (On Architecture). Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996.

Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. New York: Penguin, 1985.

Rossi, Aldo. L’Architettura Della Città. Padova: Marsilio, 1966.

Soja, Edward W. Thirdspace. Malden: Blackwell, 1996.

Venturi, Robert. Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form. Revised edition. Boston: MIT Press, 1977.

Venturi, Robert. Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. 2nd edition. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002.

Zook, Matthew A, and Mark Graham. “Mapping DigiPlace: Geocoded Internet Data and the Representation of Place.” Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 34, no. 3 (2007): 466–82. doi:10.1068/b3311.


1«Ecchenesò signò! Io lavoro qui da 10 giorni, e a fine mese mi scade il contratto. Ma qui c’è il wifi: se c’ha un computer lo può cercare su Wikipedia.»

2Cullen, Gordon. The Concise Townscape. London: Architectural Press, 1971.

3Then expanded through the creation of a complex checklist to determine the characteristics of urban space, in

Cullen, Gordon. The Scanner. London: Alcan Industries Ltd, 1966.

And, again, by describing a system of notations and graphic conventions to describe its characteristics, in

Cullen, Gordon. Notation: The Observant Layman’s Guide to His Environment. London: Alcan Industries Ltd, 1968.

4Lynch, Kevin. The Image of the City. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1960.

5Venturi, Robert. Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form. Revised edition. Boston: MIT Press, 1977.

6Venturi, Robert. Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. 2nd edition. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002.

7Rossi, Aldo. L’Architettura Della Città. Padova: Marsilio, 1966.

8Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Hoboken, NJ, USA: Wiley-Blackwell, 1991.

9De Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

10Soja, Edward W. Thirdspace. Malden: Blackwell, 1996.

11Levi, Giovanni. “On Microhistory.” In New Perspectives on Historical Writing, edited by Peter Burke. University Park: Pennsylvanya State Press, 1991.

12Iggers, George. “From Macro to Microhistory: The History of Everyday Life.” In Historiography of the 20th Century. Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, 1997.

13Bitcoin is a digital currency created in 2009, which allows to execute anonymous economic transactions. For more information it is possible to look at:

14RFID means Radio Frequency IDentification, and indicates a series of technologies which can mark objects with tags which can be read and updated automatically by dedicated readers in their immediate vicinity. The tags often come under the form of small stickers containing a passive radio frequency circuit. For more information it is possible to look at:

15Terms of Service Agreements are legal documents which users of online systems accept when using certain websites or services, and which regulate their characteristics, also in relation to the existing laws and regulations. The acceptance may be explicit (for example when users are forced to click on an “Accept” button as they are subscribing to the service) or implicit (for example when certain websites display messages like “By using this website the user declares that he/she has viewed and agreed to the Terms of Service agreement available at [link].”)




19Mitchell, William J. City of Bits: Space, Place, and the Infobahn (On Architecture). Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996.

20Zook, Matthew A, and Mark Graham. “Mapping DigiPlace: Geocoded Internet Data and the Representation of Place.” Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 34, no. 3 (2007): 466–82. doi:10.1068/b3311.

21Aurigi, Alessandro, and Fiorella De Cindio. Augmented Urban Spaces: articulating the physical and electronic city. Illustrated. Reading, UK: Ashgate Publishing, 2008.

22Clément, Gilles. “The Third Landscape.” Accessed November 28, 2014.

23Clément, Gilles. Le Jardin Planétaire. Reconcilier L’homme et La Nature. Paris: Albin Michel, 1999.

24Barrell, John. The Dark Side of the Landscape: The Rural Poor in English Painting, 1730-1840. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

25Casagrande, Marco. “Third Generation City.” Accessed November 28, 2014.

26Casagrande, Marco. “Cross-over Architecture.” Accessed November 28, 2014.

27Graham, Stephen. “Cities in the Real-Time Age: The Paradigm Challenge of Telecommunications to the Conception and Planning or Urban Space.” Environment and Planning A 29, no. 1 (1997): 105–27.

28Le smart dust sono nuvole di microscopici sensori, collegati da reti wireless, che possono essere diffusi nell’ambiente. Per saperne di più è possibile consultare:

29Gabrys, Jennifer. “Telepathically Urban.” In Circulation and the City: Essays on Urban Culture, edited by Alexandra Boutros and Will Straw, 48–63. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010.


31Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. New York: Penguin, 1985.

32Davenport, Thomas H., and John C. Beck. The Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Business. Cambridge: Harvard Business School Press, 2001.

33The concept of Filter Bubble, initiated by activist Eli Parser, indicates those algorithms which, by highlighting certain search results – for example on Google – on the basis of the interpretation of what could be more pertinent to us according to our user profile – and on how this is interpreted by online systems –, effectively block us from the possibility to access all of the available information, creating, thus, a bubble around us, and avoind us from leaving it. For more information:

34Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: NYU Press, 2006.


37For more information regarding the Ubiquitous Commons:

Conflict and Transgression

This post appeared in Italian on CheFare: Conflitto e trasgressione: Anonymous all’Unione Europea

Bruxelles, February 2015. NetFutures 2015

A series of interesting discussions are going on In the post industrial building of The Egg, the congress center few steps away from Gare Du Midi: smart cities, Internet of Things, social innovation, cloud and, in general, all those scenarios according to which the network – in all of its ubiquitous manifestations – will lead Europe into the future.

In a small room, hosting the CAPS (Collective Awareness Platforms for Sustainability) program’s plenary session, an unexpected collective laugh explodes, followed by a moment of slightly embarrassed silence.

The scenario: we have been invited to talk about Ubiquitous Commons, the research project with which we are creating a set of legal and technological tools that can be used to mitigate the enormous power imbalance which currently characterises the relations between data-subjects (those subjects who, consciously or unconsciously, produce data and information in their daily lives) and operators (Facebook, Google, cloud operators, large Big Data aggregators…): people don’t know (and can’t know) which data/information they generate and are harvested, and operators can substantially do whatever they want, buying and selling people thousands of times each second, transforming us into guinea pigs for social and cognitive experiments, and deciding with a few clicks the destiny of information and freedoms for a large part of the planet.

Fabrizio Sestini, CAPS creator and leader, a few minutes beforehand, while illustrating the program’s innovations for the next few years, highlighted an important fact: it appears evident how supporting and financing only large and well-known organisations and consortiums is not enough anymore. What is needed are ways in which to also support informality, emergence, the impermanent, and peer-to-peer. How is it possible? Mr. Sestini asks for the collaboration of the participants to discover solutions.

Fast forward: it’s presentation time. Right after Sestini’s statement – which, for us, is important, fundamental – we added a slide to our presentation, describing the partners of the Ubiquitous Commons initiative.

When we get there, we start the list: “… and thus these are the participants to the initiative: University X, Department Y, Research Center Z… and Anonymous.”



We throw in some humour, to make sure that people have received the message: “And, thus, also considered Mr. Sestini’s statement, to understand how an organisation such as Anonymous could participate to an Horizon2020 call.”

Laughter in the audience.



Go on with the other slides.

The theme is not really taken seriously. Perhaps it suggested in people’s imaginations strange cinematic scenes of peculiar groups of masked people presenting themselves at the doors of the European Commission to claim the payment in Bitcoins of the freshly obtained Horizon2020 funding with the “Anonymous Social Innovation” project proposal.

For us, this theme is of central importance, as it directly confronts a subject matter which is a fundamental concern for any innovation process: conflict and transgression.

But let’s step back in time for a while.

We’re always in Brussels. Always at the European Commission. It is September 2014, at the High Level Group Meeting on Smart Cities. Rem Koolhaas, from the stage, tells how, with the coming about of the “market”, in the 70s, the city has become an enormously less adventurous and more predictable place.

According to him, this is the place where all the apocalyptic effects of climate change, of the ageing of society, of water and energy find supposed solutions in smart cities, to the sound of sensors, drones, Internet of Things and efficiency.

Specific consideration is given to the visual language dedicated to the citizens of the smart city.

We quote here this part of his intervention:

When we look at the visual language through which the smart city is represented, it is typically with simplistic, child-like rounded edges and bright colours. The citizens the smart city claims to serve are treated like infants. We are fed cute icons of urban life, integrated with harmless devices, cohering into pleasant diagrams in which citizens and business are surrounded by more and more circles of service that create bubbles of control. Why do smart cities offer only improvement? Where is the possibility of transgression?


This term defines multiple different concepts.

Here we refer to its sociological understanding, according to which we transgress whenever we infringing a certain social norm.

Transgression implies going beyond a boundary, a limit, but also its existence. As described by Bataille in Eroticism: “Transgression opens the doors towards what is beyond the limits of what is usually observed, preserving them.”

There is little space for transgression in this age of smart (smart cities, smart communities), of innovation and creativity. Thus, there is little space for conflict.

The creative class has already been absorbed by the industry. Hackers, makers, startuppers and the other human profiles in the new scenario create the ranks of the new research laboratories and of the production lines of the industrial complex. They are the unexpected blue collars of this type of industry, perfectly encoded in the new models of labour and production.

This economy relates to an industry which has understood creative thinking as its pre-requisite, as highlighted by Pine and Gilmore in their Experience Economy. There is no doubt, from the point of view of the architectures of power, on who runs the show.

Troublemakers, in this scenario, are precious commodities.

Enzensberger used this exact word in his Industrialization of the Mind essay in 1962.

According to his thesis, the cultural industry lives in a state of paradox: it cannot produce its own product (conscience), as conscience is a social product and, thus, it can only be induced and reproduced by them.

A sterile industry follows from this, in which the larger part of production is of the derivative type, and in which only a limited few (the troublemakers) are able to really innovate.

This is not sustainable for the industrial complex, which, thus, has perfectly learned how to deal with conflict, using all sorts of techniques: from violence; to financial pressure; to media exposure and display; to cooptation.

In a few words: encoding, recruiting, aestheticising.

Subversive action has already been internalised by the market, under the form of instruments for the creation of value, to increase sales and for marketing. This is clear, for example, when we consider the linguistic (and, thus, perceptive and operative) transformation of the word “hacker”.

In his “Preface to Transgression” (on Bataille: a Critical Reader, by Bolling and Wilson) Foucault explains how transgressions forces limits, boundaries and norms to recognise themselves, requiring them to deal with their imminent disappearance.

Transgression creates a space, and innovates

Elizabeth Grosz defines this process as spatial excess, a new dimension which is able to go beyond preconceptions, prejudices and worries about utility, “beyond the relevance for the present, looking towards the future.” The revelation and discovery of this excess depends on the possibility for transgression.

Excess is in the “problematic”, which is full of potential.

The clandestine, the unacknowledged, the unofficial find their survival – beyond crime – in the transgression of social norms and limits. Those same limits which have excluded them in the first place. The recycle trash, appropriate spaces, invent communication channels, create styles, fashions and trends. They don’t cross borders: they move on them. Moving, they innovate.


De Certeau, Lefebvre, Maturana, Bateson, Bhabha and other show how this system is a cybernetic system of the second order.

Citizens continuously re-program their space, appropriating, hybridising, creating relations, reactions and transformation in the system.

Systematic transgression creates innovation.

Using a term from Massimo Canevacci Ribeiro: it is the methodological undiscipline.

The conflict as represented in the spectacle (by all participants, conflictual ones included) is not the one which innovates: the one with violence, molotov bottles, batons.

It is rather the polyphonic and undisciplined stride of myriads of uncoordinated individualities, actuating their own style of spatial re-appropriation (both physical and digital), continuously creating conflict, transgression and movement along and across boundaries and interstices.

The industrial complex has already reacted to this scenario, trying to resolve Enzensberger’s paradox intervening on languages and imagination, by encoding the roles of troublemakers.

For example, it is interesting to note the Italian case of Telecom Italia, whose ascent in the arena of digital cultures began with digital arts. With Venice’s Future Centre and initiatives such as RomaEuropa Web Factory, they opened up the way to the encoding of digital troublemaking, establishing de facto the rise of the new class of creative blue collars.

(In fact, one of our first interventions in this sense was through the RomaEuropa FakeFactory collective performance.)

Of course, this type of path is present across the whole world: cultural institutes, “factories” for digital arts, workshops for creativity flourish everywhere. Linguistic metaphors are in plain view. Spaces and events are created (co-working spaces, incubators, hackathons). Creatives are co-opted (makers and hackers). They are transformed in precarious research labs (startups, incubators, fablabs). Value and scalability/replicability are created (acceleration). The few good ideas are taken and sold (exits), generating profit.

This model, which is potentially virtuous, has a number of disadvantages, most of them at the level of the social and political discussion.

On the one hand it quickly comes back to the paradox of the creative industry: by encoding, conflict and transgression are integrated and, this, unable to innovate.

On the other hand, it creates precariety, by dumping business risks.

The initial funding of about 20 thousand euros (or similar amounts) for a startup are much inferior of the risk of hiring a single researcher. Large operators place the calls for proposals; they receive proposals from groups of precarious workers, offering their idea; the accurately select the most feasible ones, and the ones which are more in line with their business strategies (in direct and indirect ways); they give out the small capital; the incubate, instructing teams on reference imaginaries and work methodology; if something goes wrong, they spend much less that what they would have spent for a single employee, but having extracted from this cost a whole team, working day and night, without contributions, social security, holiday leaves, benefits, overtime, unions, and so on; if everything goes as expected they perform exits of which they will have a share, which will be higher than what they would have earned through other industrial or financial investments.

On top of that, by doing this they become able to promote the social imagination formats which are useful for the cultural infiltration of their business: innovation becomes the chase for a single form of future, instead of opening up to the opportunity of a plurality of possible futures. They typically promote optic fiber, sensors, robots and all of the other products, services and approaches of the industry financing the initiative.

Furthermore, this model promotes large differences and inequality in the distribution of wealth: the imaginary heroic startupper; the culture of failure; the “billion dollar startup”. They look like a lottery, more that resembling a model for fair distribution of wealth.

Technology’s role, in all of this, is banalised, reducing the complexity of the perception of how it could be possible to find solutions to the planet’s major problems.

Technology becomes a fetish which can be a per se guarantee for solution for energetic, environmental and social problems. It becomes perceived how small groups of people, by coming together for 24 hours of hackathon, can produce an App or a website to confront with large issues which are political, social and cultural, not certainly technical.

This obviously is reductionist and simplistic.

In times of crisis, this potentially becomes an apocalyptic scenario. When education, institutional initiatives, arts and cultural expense become flooded with these types of initiatives – with the “hour of coding” becoming more important than philosophy, just to mention one –, it becomes immediately clear who holds the strings of this process, supporting their own strategies.

And, going, back to the initial question: how can preserve the possibility for conflict and transgression, to maintain all of their positive effects on the world, starting from the possibility for critical visions, and the consequent possibilistic opening to the perception of a multiplicity of futures and imaginaries?

To look for a possible answer, it can be useful to adopt the metaphor of the garden.
In his Moving Garden, Gilles Clément explores the possibility for a new type of garden, emergent, mobile and in perennial mutation, which lives in friches, the abandoned, uncultivated lands, those which history denounces as the loss of power of man over nature.

“What if we lay a different gaze on them? Could they not be the new blank pages which we need?”

On the one hand, historically, form – controlled form – was considered powerful in protecting us from the diabolical residues of the unknown.

On the other hand “friches have nothing to do with dying and decay. In their beds species abandon themselves to invention. Walking in friches is a continuous process of self-interrogation. […] Could this great power of reclaiming and conquering space not be placed at the service of the garden? and of which garden?”

The Third Landscape is a moving challenge, with mutating borders and boundaries, in a state of perennial conversation. It is the weeds which grow in-between bricks and train tracks. It is the natural space of our cities which has not yet been encoded.

In our cities, the largest part of biodiversity is found in the Third Landscape. It is an interconnective tissue, composed by residual spaces, which resist government and form. In this, it is transgressive. It is a multiplication of narratives. It is not a property, but a possibilistic space for the future.

If John Barrell spoke about the “dark side of landscape”, alluding at its controlled forms as imposition of the point of view of a single social class, Clément speaks about a “light side”: the Third Landscape is not an exclusive model, but an inclusive one; it is a “shared fragment of a collective conscience.” It is a mutating transgression, which operates in emergent ways through multiple points of view and intentionalities. It is a syncretic map which evolves together to the mutations of the residential, industrial and commercial areas of the city.

It is the geography of the mutation of the city.

Clément openly speaks about the need to educate a new type of gaze, to be able to understand the importance and valence of the Third Landscape: a new possibility for vision and for knowledge dissemination in natural urban environments.

In synthesis: the need for new aesthetics, new sensibilities

This is a potentially revolutionary point of view, opening up to the possibility to perceive emergence, conflict, transgression, and to transform it into a form of shared knowledge,

The same type of discourse can be made, for example, starting from Marco Casagrande‘s considerations on ruins, intended as the progressive reunion of objects and architectures to nature.

If, on the one hand, ruins represent a loss of power from human beings to nature, on the other hand, according to different aesthetics, they represent the life of the city, demonstrating its usages and non-usages: the action (and non-action) of human beings leads buildings into a different state, transforming them into ruins and, thus, producing the evidence of their and nature’s history.

Ruins, to all effect, constitute a shared, extremely usable and accessible source of knowledge and information.

According to Casagrande, the Third Generation City is the ruin of the industrial city, and becomes real when it recognizes its own local knowledge, becoming part of nature.

It is possible to search for solutions in these types of metaphors. How?

A new aesthetic system is needed, a new sensibility, which allows to recognize the value (and, thus, to directly support) of the continuous stratification, in our cities (and, in general, in the environment) of the unconscious, of the transgressive, of the conflict, of the different, to attribute value to it, as a new construction material which is able to innovate and to preserve history and knowledge, and to transform spaces and processes.

From Bhabha’s and Soja’s Third Space, to Clément’s Third Landscape, to Casagrande’s Third Generation City, to Pistoletto’s Third Paradise, to our Third Infoscape, alluding at its informational manifestations.

A new aesthetics, a new sensibility, a new imagination, corresponding to the possibility for institutions with a new form: ecosystemic; not only responsible for strategies, but also for the possibility for the emergence of tactics, transgressions and conflicts.

Not only “normative actuators and certifiers”, but also – and most of all – direct and responsible supporters of the environment in which transgression and conflict may take place, as a form of emergent, shared knowledge.

Going back to Clément;s metaphor, together with the imagination for a new type of garden, we need a new conception of gardner:

“it is hard to imagine which aspect these gardens will assume, in which existence is expected to assume no form. From my point of view, gardens of this kind should not be judged on account of their form, but, rather, on the basis of their capacity to generate and translate a certain joy of existence.”

The Factory of the Mind

Everything began like this, with a Facebook post:

“The Third Industrial Revolution? Yes! Meaning that we’re seeing a new kind of factory: this time not for bodies, but for minds”

Always on, Always working.

We’re moving towards a dimension of continuous work.

Life becomes work.

Within cognitive economies we have entered a domain in which the working condition is permanent. Off moments do not exist. Off moments become opportunities to create (and, thus, to produce), not to switch off from work.

Even switching off is encoded:  meetings, social media, pictures. And coffee culture. 24h challenge marathons. HackathonsThe culture of sleeplessness. I never sleep, I always create.

But sleeping is useful. Neuroscientists know better, Sleep recharges and, more important of all, it enables dreaming.

Zombies of the 21st century

The second industrial revolution saw bodies under stress. The third one is about minds.

It is in the mind, in perception, that the encounter/conflict takes place.

Therefore factories move. We don’t need physical factories to contain and to encode bodies anymore, we need cognitive factories to contain and encode minds.

Contain and encode minds: let’s try to understand what that might mean.

In pop culture, zombies are monsters of the 20th century, correlated with mass phenomena: mass production, mass consumption, mass death.

Zombies are not aristocratic monsters like Dracula, nor freak superstars like Frankenstein. They are the monsters of everyday life.

What is the zombie of the 21st century?

Zombies and immaterial production celebrate the logics of the colonization of the mind and of the central nervous system. – Lars Bang Larsen

The living dead walk the world and have a genetic relation with restlesness. They are “pure motor instinct”, as described by Romero in the “Night of the Living Dead“.

In 1956, Don Siegel’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, in which a space plant duplicates human beings and extends its reach all over the world, much like the World Wide Web, exposes the violent normative power of the American way of life (during McCarthysm). It’s 1978 remake, by Philip Kaufman moves the discourse to highlight the role of technologies and networks: the snatchers occupy telecommunication networks and start a planetary action for the circulation of bodies, in the transition from the industrial era to the one of immaterial labor. Production ends, replaced by a regime of mediation and reproduction.

In these visions the imperatives are about socialisation and re-invention, together with the scenarios of self-canniblism (self-management, self-evaluation, self-regulation, self-consumption).

Art and creativity become the norm.

In “The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre and Every Business is a Stage”, James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine II, observe the evolution of art’s and creativity’s normative power.

Most product designers focus primarily on the internal mechanics of the good itself: how it performs. What if the attention centered instead on the individual’s use of the good? The focus would then shift to the user: how the individual performs while using the good.


The emergence of the Experience Economy coincides with, albeit not coincidentally, heightened interest in creative thinking. It also introduces a real need for greater improvisational skills in the workplace.

Both art and creativity, become norms, expected, needed, both from the point of view of the industry, and from the perspective of the user, of the individual. Both become performers, in stage acts (the authors describe them in terms of theatre genres), in which both parties take active, constructive, creative part in a creative action.

The myth of the otherness of art becomes commoditised, leading to the reproduction of subjectivity: experience is the new source of profit, and the object of production is the experience (and, thus, the performance) of the user.

Conscience as a social product

The premise to this approach is psychological: the ability to alter consumers’ perception of reality is a central theme.

In 1962’s “Industrialization of the Mind”, Hans Magnus Enzensberger explores the condition of human beings with the rise of the cultural, cognitive and creative industries. He started out from the analysis of the issues of consciousness and awareness.

No illusion is more stubbornly upheld than the sovereignty of the mind. It is a good example of the impact of philosophy on people who ignore it; for the idea that men can “make up their minds” individually and by themselves is essentially derived from the tenets of bourgeois philosophy: secondhand Descartes, rundown Husserl, armchair idealism; and all it amounts to is a sort of metaphysical do-it-yourself.

Marx: what moves within our mind is a product of society.

The industrialization of the mind (and in the mind) is a process of the last 100 years which just cannot be explained through the analysis of its technologies.

The term “cultural industry” is vague and inaccurate, and embeds a paradox.

Conscience can be induced and reproduced by industrial means, but it cannot be produced.

Conscience is a social product, and the result of dialogue. No industrial process is able to replace the people who generate it.

The industry of the mind does not produce anything, but the dynamics of infiltration and transmission which are necessary to the formation of the perception of what is possible, desirable, preferable: in the formation of the perception of the future.

Which is a form of power, but also its weakest spot: it benefits from that which cannot produce on its own, people’s creative productivity.

The industrialization of the mind begins from education.

While we debate about curricula, education systems and university reforms, the technological systems which will make all of these things obsolete and irrelevant are right around the corner.

The education system as a mass-media, the most powerful of them all, and a multi-billion dollar business.

The possibility to control that which is accepted or refused, perceived as present and future, is a primary subject for political debate.

Material exploitation must disguise itself to survive, and immaterial exploitation has become its necessary corollary. Exploitation has not been abolished: our perception and awareness of exploitation has.

Prosumers in the era of remix

The focus shifts from consumers to producers. Prosumers, some time ago. Makers, now.

There is no doubt, from the point of view of the architectures of power, on who runs the business.

It is not the intellectuals for sure (designers, coders, creatives, engineers, artists, writers…) who control the industrial complex.

Nonetheless present time allow for a certain degree of ambiguity, as the industry of (in) the mind can enforce control only by acquiring the services of the few ones who, effectively, create something.

The majority of creative products are derivatives. Wether we are speaking about music, interfaces, apps, hardware, software, fashion or else, there are a few drivers and even fewer enabling innovations: the majority of the rest is the result of derivation, remixing, recombination.

In the long term, this is not enough to feed the industry.

This results in the need for “new things”, and the consequent dependency on those who radically innovate: in other words, on potential troublemakers.

All sorts of techniques, from the crudest to the most sophisticated, have been developed to this end: physical threat, blacklisting, moral and economic pressure on the one hand, overexposure, co-optation into star cult or power elite on the other, are the extremes of a whole gamut of manipulation.

These are all short-term, tactical solutions, used to resolve this paradox: managing the unmanageable people who are able to introduce alternatives. If it is not possible to control the producers, it will not be possible to control the consumers (now under the form of prosumers, makers or the other kinds of performative consumers, the subjects who consume by performing/expressing themselves, producing).


The rapid development of the mind industry, its rise to a key position in modern society, has profoundly changed the role of the intellectual. He finds himself confronted with new threats and new opportunities. Whether he knows it or not, whether he likes it or not, he has become the accomplice of a huge industrial complex that depends for its survival on him, as he depends on it for his own. He must try, at any cost, to use it for his own purposes, which are incompatible with the purposes of the mind machine. What it upholds he must subvert. He may play it crooked or straight, he may win or lose the game; but he would do well to remember that there is more at stake than his own future.

And, thus, we can go back to the beginning, to the factory of/in the mind, and to our contemporary zombies: the creatives.

Industrialized, they find themselves immersed in a recombinand cognitive assembly line, whose every element is dedicated to their self-cannibalism, through creativity: continuous innovation; the search for the billion dollar startup.

Obviously, it isn’t a matter of being able to controlling the future, but of being able to control the perception of the future (which implies the possibility to control the present, time): what is considered and perceived as possible, desirable, preferable.

It is a matter of education, conscience, awareness and performance. Of understanding where our perceptions come from, from which infiltrations in the social game of dialogue.

Short term innovation, and beginning from scratch

The control of time, and of the perception of the future.

Many important issues are at stake. For example the possibility for the many different types of innovation, and of the capability to create shared practices and methods to produce usable knowledge and wisdoms.

A strong focus on efficiency innovation is common in current times. Much more than the one on enabling innovations. They have different time cycles and modalities. Enabling innovation usually need longer time frames, and different operative modalities, which struggle with the ones of the cognitive industry, always on a rush and pulverized, competitive, focused on simple, localised ideas which allow for venture capital investments that are oriented at exit strategies.

On top of that, the research for enabling innovations is progressively becoming encoded through a singular vision of the future. On a techno-deterministic vision of technology, or even on the singularity: artificial intelligence, robots, nanotechnologies, biotechnologies, colonisation of space. Which, of course, is not something negative in itself. What is negative is the absence of critique, and of the lack of a pluralistic, polyphonic vision on what the future can be. It is consumerism, and the status quo perpetuated through positivistic and techno-deterministic utopias. Technologies become spectacle and, thus, hyperreal, forcing alternative models out of the stage. The search for efficiency forces the focus on the modalities of problem solving: even holistic and ecosystemic methodologies are transformed to serve efficiency and the production of more effective business models which are based on the emergence of a self-cannibalistic creative class.

The evolution of philosophies yields space to efficiency and to the possibility to maintain current lifestyles, enacting novel kinds of colonialisms and the resulting comfort zones.

The result comes under the form of short term strategies, of the impossibility to deal with uncertainty and of the progressive encoding of new normalcy fields – of novel consensual realities – characterised by diminished social certainties, of lessened shared social unconscious spheres, which can all more easily become the target for the influence of power players.

Who decides what a “smart city” means? Who decided the future of work? And other examples.

Following the money is always a good exercise in trying to find answers to these questions.

Plural holistic and long term visions are progressively disappearing. And so is the perception of the possibility for a plurality of futures.

History and Aesthetics

The impossibility of history is directly connected to this.

The perceived structure of time has changed. We are now in a state of continuous present, of continuous flow.

We constantly start from scratch.

All this can be framed into a discourse which is about perception and, thus, of aesthetics.

Beauty is a complicated matter. Just as the Future.

Being able to decide (or even only to suggest) what is beauty and what is future constitutes a great power.

We live in times in which the architectures of power have learned to liberally draw on this modality. By doing that, they create a funnel, in which beauty and future loose modalities and possibilities: they progressively stop being a polyphony, and become mono, singular.

This condition and progression can be inverted by a few things. Among these are enabling innovations and art (which is different from creativity).

Both enabling innovations and art enable different, other, possible, emergent, dissonant visions of “consensual reality”, of “beauty” and of “future”. Possibilities which are plural, emergent and performable, through the construction of dialogues.

Both have different times frames and cycles than the ones of work, creativity, competition, and even of current currencies.

The scenario can change whenever novel platforms for identity (and, thus, for representation, in a social context) enter into the game.

Networking is not enough anymore, as it is not enough to have open source tools, open data, 3D printers, etcetera. Because whomever controls the platform also controls the framework which is used to define oneself. Wether it’s Telecom, Facebook or Energy Company X, it makes a small difference. Even Energy Company X will tend towards becoming a platform for identity: it is the difference which will mark the transition between the energy companies who extract, refine and distribute energy, and the ones who control the information of people who produce their own, and share it.

Sometimes it is possible to hear the objection: “If you don’t like Facebook, abandon it!” And, obviously, it is not that simple. One does not simply leave an identity system.


How can we imagine framing and resolving these issues. What is the zombie of the 21st century, and how can we perform a shared transition towards a more reasonable and empowered control of time and of the perception and performance of possible futures?

It not simple, and it is not a technological feat. And it is not singular.

With all probability it is a process which can only begin at the level of the education system, by integrating in schools and universities a critical vision of the world, along with an ecosystemic (and, thus, possibilistic, even in terms of the possibility and opportunity of conflict) one. An education system whose interest is not on building a system of consensus, but of co-existence. Of the capability for the perception of the value of diversity and of civil confrontation and conflict, not on techno-utopian and singular visions of the future.

In all of this, the roles of governments, organisations and companies can change: not, anymore, evangelists and advocates of visions and approaches, but enablers of ecosystems who construct their own, and who learn how to make them co-exist.

This is the great opportunity of our times.

[this article, in modified form, appeared in Italian on CheFuturo!, here: ]

Communication, Knowledge and Information in the Human Ecosystem: p2p Ethnography

[this article originates from our participation to XYLab, in Castrignano de’Greci, Puglia, Italy]


Indigenous populations in Universal Exhibits

Indigenous populations in Universal Exhibits

In Universal Exhibitions from the end of the ‘800s and beginning of the ‘900s, indigenous people were often exposed – under glass houses, in cages or using a variety of media and artefacts – for the entertainment of other people, as if they were objects.

For example Paris’ Exposition Universelle of 1889 featured an entire Negro Village, which was among the Exposition’s main attractions.

These were storytelling exhibits, telling the stories of far-away, “Other”, alien people, by trying to narrate them through images, objects and entire re-created environments, and turning them into an entertainment experience for amused visitors and consumers.

They were often also stories about possibilities: futures and things which we, the colonialists, had imagined for them, the aliens, the Others. In fact the objective was, many times, to highlight the “civilising” influence of colonialist rule, and the supposed ways in which colonialist influence would have been able to bring about new economies and roles for these people (for example: Apache chief Geronimo selling his autograph in the Primates section of the Bronx Zoo).

natives on exhibit at the Chicago World Fair

natives on exhibit at the Chicago World Fair

Much has happened since those times, including the fundamental intuitions and practices coming from Lévi-StraussMalinowski, to Bateson, Mead, Clifford, Geertz, Bhabha and the many more with which ethnography has understood many lessons, including the ones of self-representation, the importance of performance (of all parties involved, and with all parties involved being able to choose the rules of the game, not having to adapt to a scheme decided by the ethnographer, in polyphonic ways, with a number of different voices, evenly distributed between the ethnographers and the people, from their own point of view).

In the Digital Age, the age of Communication, Information and Knowledge, the possibility to capture, express, observe, visualize and understand the patterns for behaviour, emotion, opinion, expression, movement and more, potentially for hundreds of millions of people at a time, has brought the term “ethnography” in the spotlight for both academic and popular crowds.

This is also among the results of the rise of the creative classes, among the leading driving forces for economic development of post-industrial cities. The Creative Class is constantly engaged in a wide variety of design related processes for which certain domains of ethnographic research are of fundamental interest, both at the direct (observation and understanding of user bases)  and meta (understanding of the Creative Class itself) levels.

Also of importance is the need to understand the ways in which the logics of entertainment, in the age of the prosumer can drift towards the logics of self-colonialism: the prosumer often becomes a consumer that consumes itself through acts of creative production whose results contribute to the benefit of large operators, who provide the expressive frameworks and schemes, and who are the only ones able to intercept, harvest, understand, interpret and represent the value being produced.

This, in many cases, results in a state of self-colonialization, in which prosumers act within a set of diverse boundaries (perceptive, identity, cognitive, economic, service) which are perceived as performative public spaces, but which are not, and whose benefits mainly go to the advantage of large operators.

In this frame, we can conceptualise a scenario which is more sustainable, clear, open and free by introducing a series of concepts which refer to ecosystemic logics, which are more polyphonically performative, and which are based on novel definitions of value and on a use of knowledge sharing tools and practices which is more aware and which does not re-enact colonialist logics and, instead, focuses on the possibility and value for self expression, representation and performance, and on the multiple types of economies which can be generated from this.

Human Ecosystems & Ubiquitous Knowledge Ecosystems

We want to address this scenario starting from the opportunities offered by the possibility to study micro-histories, and from the importance of understanding communication, information and knowledge flows in cities.

Micro-history, to leverage the driver of the well-being of any ecosystem: its biodiversity (cultural biodiversity, in this case).

Communication, information and knowledge flows, to be able to perform Digital Urban Acupuncture: a form of relational intervention whose aim is to identify these flows and their interruptions, to discover those localised pressure points which can be engaged to establish new dynamics, create bridges and, possibly most important of all, to enable the emergence of a Communication, Information and Knowledge Commons: a perceivable, accessible, usable environment which is inclusive and free, thus being able to promote the rise of a variety of different, resilient economies.

Through the Human Ecosystems (here, as well, on Art is Open Source) project we have described and implemented a series of open approaches, methodologies, tools and practices whose intent is to enable people, citizens, organisations, administrations and companies to freely observe, use and perform the relational ecosystems of entire territories (wether they are geographic, topic-based, networked…) from the points of view of  emotions, relations, issues, interactions, communication, information and knowledge. This is a radical approach in which the logics of consensus are replaced by the ones of ecosystemic co-existence.

These dynamics integrate the discourse about the possibility to design a Near Future Education scenario (the Near Future Education Lab is also here on the P2P Foundation Wiki , and here are some of the results of a recent global event: ), in which an Ubiquitous Knowledge / Information / Communication Ecosystem forms a Commons which can be used in peer-to-peer modalities to enable novel inclusive, free, mutualistic, sustainable scenarios, developing new economic models and opportunities. In this article we will describe the methodology through which we are defining the concept of P2P Ethnography.

P2P Ethnography, as Ethnography, can be defined as a qualitative research design aimed at exploring cultural phenomena. Different from Ethnography, its aim is not to produce field studies or case reports, but to establish continuously available, accessible, participatory, performative and collaborative processes which allow gaining understandings about the knowledge and the systems of meanings in the lives of a social group, and its interactions with other ones.

P2P Ethnography represents a participatory, performative approach, in which research and understanding require gaining awareness of one’s position within the relational ecosystem (from cultural, emotional, aesthetic, perceptive, cognitive points of view) of the observed social group, and to establish or modify relations and interconnections both within the group, outside of it, and in-between, in fluid, dynamic, possibilistic ways.

P2P Ethnography requires the definition of the concept of Ubiquitous Commons: the availability and accessibility of shared, usable Knowledge, Information and Data Commons which are ubiquitous both in their spatial dissemination and in their capacity to co-exist throughout cultures, divides, media. A protocol for a new definition of Public Space in the Age of Communication, Information and Knowledge.

The Methodology

This, below, is a visual overview of the proposed methodology (click on the image for a larger version):

P2P Ethnography and Ubiquitous Commons

P2P Ethnography and Ubiquitous Commons

As described above, the methodology is laid out as a series of subsequent stages.

The first one, described as “points of view“, is dedicated to the creation of a series of toolkits, methodologies, approaches and protocols using which multiple public points of view can be expressed, performed, captured, transmitted and, in general, observed and used and put together, interconnected.

The second one, described as “toolkits” regards, as the name suggests, the creation of a series of toolkits (and the methodologies for creating such toolkits) to collect multiple points of view, as emerged from the previous stage, represent them (with special care for the possibilities and opportunities of self-representation), understand them and interconnect them, creating new relations in the ecosystem.

The third stage, named “interpretation” describes the methods for acting onto/into the ecosystem through practice, visualisation and performance.

The fourth stage, titled “new politics“, describes a new political scenario, which acts using the ecosystemic logics of co-existence, in which to act politically describes the act of positioning oneself within the ecosystem and in the creation of a series of relations and connections.

The last stage describes the use of the concept of Ubiquitous Commons in this scheme.

Points of View: polyphonic expression, methodological stupor and interconnections

The first stage is dedicated to the expression of the multiple points of view which compose the Human Ecosystem: its cultural biodiversity.

This can be done in multiple ways, which can be combined together: they can be collected from social networks, harvested through interactive systems or opportunities for performance and self-expression and representation, or they can even be the object of education processes through which people understand how to create their own forms of expression and representation in ways which are suitable for inclusion in the Human Ecosystem.

This can be imagined as the Internet: you can use an interactive system, a social network or some social media service to express yourself. But you can also understand how the Internet works to create your own way of expression and representation which uses it, as long as it is possible to transmit it over its protocols.

The prototype protocol which we have imagined is fairly simple in its base version, and it can be expanded as needed.

It is composed of four main parts:

  • perceived organizational models
  • communication / information / knowledge
  • missed opportunities
  • knowledge sharing

For example, we have created a small software using Processing which can visualize these elements using a very basic data structure (implemented through a CSV file) which captures all of these relations. (shown in the image below;  full source code and example data available here for download ).

an example human ecosystem visualization tool

an example human ecosystem visualization tool

Perceived Organizational Models

Who interacts with who? Who is responsible for what? Who is related with who?

perceived organizational model

perceived organizational model

The first objective is to try to understand, from a certain point of view, what is the organizational model of the social group. Points of view can be of individuals, groups, organizations, administrations. Of course, they can vary a lot, and it becomes interesting to overlay them and compare them, to identify discrepancies and differences in perception.

Communication / Information / Knowledge

communication information knowledge model

communication information knowledge model

Who do I communicate with? Who delivers me information and knowledge? To who do I deliver information and knowledge? Where does the information and knowledge that is delivered to me come from? Where is it headed? Am I the man-in-the-middle for information and knowledge of some sort? What are the knowledge references which I use? Are they human? Websites? Texts? Oral? What knowledge do I produce? Are these types of flows unidirectional, bidirectional, a-directional?

These are very interesting models which can be harvested from the actual facts (for example observing social networks) and from the perception of individuals and organizations.

When layered and compared, they can show the origins of information bits and types, their localization within social groups, the sources of knowledge and their re/production. And, in general, they can show how aware the members of the ecosystem are about their roles and scope.

On top of that, they can be compared to the perceived organizational models to understand the strategies and tactics according to which information and knowledge flow in the ecosystem, and where/when/how they are redundant, replicated, interrupted, broken, misled etcetera.

Missed Opportunities

Missed Opportunities Model

Missed Opportunities Model

What interaction/information/knowledge would I like to have? What would I need? Who has this information or knowledge? How/when/where would I like to have it? Through a person, a service, an app, a website, a book, a sign?

This type of model is extremely useful in establishing bridges using information and knowledge which are present in the ecosystem, and to create new ones, by creating opportunities for interaction, communication, information and knowledge which are not currently found in the ecosystem.

It also allows to gain better understandings about the awareness of the possibilities and opportunities which can be generated through the presence and transmission of communication, information and knowledge in a certain ecosystem, and its impacts on the types of economies and dynamics which can be created, for example through a museum, an art exhibit, a cinema, a library, a research center, a laboratory, a musical workshop, or by bringing back traditions and cultures under the form of new jobs, restaurants, education processes, and more.

Knowledge Sharing

knowledge sharing model

knowledge sharing model

What knowledge do I produce? Do I plan to share it, transmit it or make it available/accessible/usable in some way? Using which tools, technologies, media? Dedicated to whom? Interoperable with what? Within which knowledge ecosystems?

This can be among the most surprising models to try to understand. Mostly because the desire and attitude towards producing knowledge is not often matched by the awareness about the efforts which are needed to make that same knowledge available, accessible, usable and interoperable with other sources. This is often one of the largest problems with innovation processes.

Understanding these kinds of perceptions, and the ways in which people and organizations do (or do not) dedicate thoughts and resources to sharing their knowledge can bring into the ecosystems powerful effects: opportunities for the creation of jobs, services, collaborations, interactions, networks and more.

Also, it often happens that people and organizations are not aware about the knowledge which they produce, and of its potential value.

For example, this is among the things we experienced while participating to XY Lab. While the importance of storytelling was very clear (the need to tell the story of what happened in the laboratory), the notion of the fundamental importance of how to share the knowledge that was generated from the lab was not clear at all, at direct (what knowledge was produced in the various projects which took place in the lab?) and meta (what knowledge was generated in creating the lab?) levels.

Toolkits: polyphonic understanding, micro histories, third infoscapes

The first stage is mostly dedicated to describing a methodology to enable capturing the expressions coming from multiple points of view, and to map this methodology onto a protocol, so that the harvesting process can be performed through social networks, interviews, surveys, but also and most important through self-expressive and self-representational processes, in which individuals and organizations establish their own form for expression and representation (and the rules-of-the-game that go with it) and they use them to produce their own representation, in ways that are interoperable with the rest of the observed ecosystem.

This stage, the second, aims at creating readability in the ecosystem.

While stories and histories can be very readable, micro-histories are not. Micro histories are polyphonic and even dissonant. They include conflict (and, in fact, it is one of their fundamental characteristics) and do not focus on the dynamics of consensus (even multiple simultaneous consensus) but, rather, on the ones of co-existence and diasporas.

From the simultaneous co-existence of strategies and tactics (from De Certeau’s framework) derives the possibility that each time, space, context, scenario or situation can (and does) have multiple meanings, according to which set of eyes you look through, different perceived softwares and hardwares: everyone potentially and continuously re-programs everything else.

This is the Third Space, described in anthropologic terms by Homi K. Bhabha, and in sociological terms by Edward Soja. Sociocultural approaches are concerned with the “… constitutive role of culture in mind, i.e., on how mind develops by incorporating the community’s shared artifacts accumulated over generations”. Bhabha applies socioculturalism directly to the postcolonial condition, where there are, “… unequal and uneven forces of cultural representation”. It is a transgressive space for self-expression and self-representation. Third Space Theory suggests that policies of remediation based in models of the Other are likely to be inadequate: an inclusive space/time/context is needed.

Based on the idea of the Third Space, (and its many impacts, such as the Third Landscape, the Third Generation City, the Third Paradise…) we form the idea of the Third Infoscape: the inclusive, possibilistic space of communication, information and knowledge, not based of the concept of Otherness, but on the idea of a multitude of co-existing self-expressions and self-representations. A radically biodiverse information landscape, which finds its value in its biodiversity.

As in the third space, strategies and tactics co-exist in the Third Infoscape, meaning the more structured, administrative, statistical data (the ones coming from administrations, organizations and bureaucracies, for example), and the more emergent ones relative to people’s expressions, emotions, and points of view. They can co-exist thanks to recipes, assemblages of ingredients and procedures through which individuals (be them persons or organizations) can describe their point of view onto the world. Recipes are the base onto which the different economies of the Third Infoscape are founded: reputation, attention and networked economies which are mutualistic, meaning that recipes are in a constant peer-to-peer evaluation process through which other subjects of the ecosystem describe their perceived importance for the well-being of the ecosystem itself.

These evaluation processes can assume multiple forms, such as visualisations, interactive systems, knowledge sharing processes and performative acts, through which recipes can be experienced, remixed and recombined to form new knowledge that takes part to the ecosystem.

Third Infoscape

Third Infoscape

The Human Ecosystems project, for example, can be positioned at this stage: a toolkit composed from software, methodologies and interoperable protocols at cultural, technological and educational levels, which are intended to create a Third-Infoscape-aware environment.

Interpretation: performance, interconnection

Digital Urban Acupuncture is the main methodology for this stage.

As its architectural, analog counterpart, it is a performative practice aiming at gaining better understandings about the communication, information and knowledge flows in the observed ecosystem, and their interruptions and blocks, in order to re-create them or to establish new ones.

Digital Urban Acupuncture is Urban Acupuncture in the age of ubiquitous media.

Digital Urban Acupuncture

Digital Urban Acupuncture

Multiple (potentially all) subjects of the ecosystem can gain understandings about the relational networks which are present in it – from the point of view of topics, approaches, emotions, opinions, interconnections, cultures… –, and they can position themselves in it, find interesting pressure points, establishing relations, bridges, conversations, within the ecosystem and/or interconnecting nodes of the ecosystem to other ones, bringing them to all effects inside it, nourishing interaction, communication, information and knowledge flows, to create opportunities, possibilities and energy: an ubiquitous, performative, inclusive and possibilistic landscape, composed by fragments of interconnected shared knowledge and information.

Digital Urban Acupuncture can be performed in a variety of ways, including education processes, practices, performances, meetings, physical and digital gatherings, participatory decision making processes, shared policy-making activities, actions, and by creating cooperatives, consortiums, citizen groups and more.

New Politics: the roles revolution

This scenario describes a new form of politics, which is participatory, ecosystemic and interconnective.

“The theoretical recognition of the split-space of enunciation may open the way to conceptualising an international culture, based not on the exoticism of multiculturalism or the diversity of cultures, but on the inscription and articulation of culture’s hybridity. It is the inbetween space that carries the burden of the meaning of culture, and by exploring this Third Space, we may elude the politics of polarity and emerge as the others of our selves.”
Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture

In this form of politics the first step is to position ourselves in the Human Ecosystems, and to understand the diverse cultures which are part of it, according to the logics of interconnection, co-existence and inclusiveness, in which cultural biodiversity is a value which forms the resilience of the ecosystem.

This is a revolution of the roles of politics.

It is not, anymore, a politics based on delegation and on representation, but one which is based on participation, self-representation and mutuality.

In this scenario, the roles of governments, administrations, organizations and enterprises radically change, becoming the enzymes, the facilitators, the enablers and, sometimes, even the certificators of these ecosystemic logics.

Quoting from Bhabha once again:

Terms of cultural engagement, whether antagonistic or affiliative, are produced performatively. The representation of difference must not be hastily read as the reflection of pre-given ethnic or cultural traits set in the fixed tablet of tradition. The social articulation of difference, from the minority perspective, is a complex, on-going negotiation that seeks to authorize cultural hybridities that emerge in moments of historical transformation.

It is in this sense that the boundary becomes the place from which something begins its presencing in a movement not dissimilar to the ambulant, ambivalent articulation of the beyond that I have drawn out: ‘Always and ever differently the bridge escorts the lingering and hastening ways of men to and fro, so that they may get to other banks….The bridge gathers as a passage that crosses.’

This model of liminality engages culture productively in that it enables a way of rethinking “the realm of the beyond”.

And yet Bhabha’s model also introduces a number of potentially serious problems in its translation to the complicated process of collective social transformation. That is, Bhabha’s formulation of an exilic, liminal space between (rather than supportive of) national constituencies is problematic in that it fails to engage the material conditions of the colonized Third World. Does Bhabha’s liminal space itself become a privileged, textual, discursive space accessible only to academic intellectuals?

From our point of view, these sets of problems and issues can only be confronted by renovating the roles of governments and administrations – by introducing the cultures and understandings of ecosystems and of their models for well-being, based on diversity and hybridity – and making tools and methodologies such as Human Ecosystems (and the many more which we hope will come) strategic instruments to promote techniques such as Digital Urban Acupuncture: a performative, participatory P2P Ethnography, beyond colonialism and self-colonialism, such as in the post-industrial age.

Ubiquitous Commons: a new Public Space

In the end, we need to stress a key requisite for all this scenario to happen.

In the age of digital networks, the concepts of Private and Public Spaces  have radically changed.

On one side, the ubiquitous presence of interconnected devices (from smartphones, to sensors, security cameras and drones, to the ubiquitous Internet of Things) has transformed the possibility to capture data and information about people’s lives, expressions, relations, opinions, collaborations, and more.

This has gone as far as to enter a sub-conscious level: we don’t know (and we don’t have the possibility to know) what information we’re sharing, how it will be used, who will have access to it and more.

Spaces which make all possible efforts to mimic Public Spaces and Private Spaces (those spaces for which we have gained a good understanding, and in which we are sufficiently confident and sure about the privateness/publicness of our data and information) are, in reality, Privatized Spaces which we can access not for free, but by paying with our personal data, our images, texts, videos, messages, comments.

Our legitimate expectation for privacy/publicness is broken, in obscure, opaque, illegible way.

On the other side, the wide movement for Open Data has opened up the perception of the importance (for freedoms, economies, citizen rights…) about the transparency, availability, accessibility and usability of data and information coming from Public Administrations (and, hopefully, also from companies and enterprises).

What Open Data movements still have not managed to do is to work on the dimensions which are ecosystemic and based on desire.

In this time, data and information (wether it is collected on social networks, sensors, biometrics, cameras, drones…) has become a matter of identity and self-representation, not only about statistics and commerce: it expresses the cultural differences in our human ecosystems, not only the levels of pollution or the most suitable market segment for selling a certain pair of shoes.

It is a commons: and as a commons it should be collectively preserved, accessed, used, desired, interpreted, performed.

This is, sadly, not the situation we have now: data and information of these kinds are in the hands of political and economic subjects who harvest, use and expose it according to logics which are limited, opaque and illegible. Facebook has our data. The NSA has our data. Coca-Cola can buy it. We, the citizens, are the only ones who don’t have it, and who cannot use it to create a better human ecosystem, by performing it.

This is the reason why, from our point of view, all of the scenario can be enabled only by creating a new type of Commons, which we’re calling Ubiquitous Commons: a communication, information and knowledge commons in the age of ubiquitous communication.