Smart Territorialities

As extractive democracies become reality, classic definitions of the State as ‘an entity holding a monopoly of power over a defined population in a set territory’ unravel, as do the revolutionary imaginaries rooted in them. With worlds turning smart, political physics dismantling law, post-physiocrat populations replacing people, prosumers cannibalizing citizens, platforms undoing territories, everything changes.

In the Corporate State, Corporations wrote their own law. Under the Corporation as State, the Corporation disperses law in forms of rules, regulations and norms. These, as Sidewalk Labs proposed, are no longer legitimated by and pegged to participative processes or input but defined and constantly changing in relation to “floating targets”, or output. They are no longer homogenously applied to a set territory or population but shapeshift depending on situational setting.

Smart Cities are multi-dimensional places, in which physical space is infused with sprawling super-layers, n-dimensional pockets and quantum trajectories of analog and digital realities. This includes simple hybrid transactions set half in a shop, half in a digital elsewhere, such as personal trainers or doctors interacting through digital platforms with people and their bodies in a set space such as gyms or a robot-assisted smart doctor’s office. It naturally further implies the ghosting away of capital to distant and dispersed storage spaces, from credit and debt digits to raw capital such as big data collected from the City Platform prosumers. And it extends to city spaces cut into complex assemblages off varying sets of rules and laws that transform your status and potential in the set of floating regulations, standards and norms as you enter and quit zones defined not just through location but also activity: from special economic zones, to competing and overlaid zones of federal and local legislations, to special border regimes and policing rights defined by set instances such as ports of entry as well as potentially travelling factors such as transitory camps and people with special security status that spills over on you on contact (think the suspension of certain civil rights upon contact with people registered as terrorist threats). Smart Worlds, in other words, not only amplify the already existing legal trend of law to not be set on where you are, but also on who you are and what you are doing, but they add to it the possibility of being in multiple dimensions of rules and laws at the same time.

The problematics of territoriality concerning Smart Worlds, then, is more than just another reiteration of the known issues concerning Banana Republics or the regulation and taxing of multinational corporations, where multinational corporate capitalism either controls territory or moves between territories. It is about the non-linear, simultaneous and enmeshed dimensions of presence, locality, temporality and activity. And it is even more about the “floating” aspect of law itself so that, even if your specific situation seems perfectly intelligible, its context mutates according to the overall situation of the Smart City, making it almost impossible to accurately evaluate your reality-status without information processing tools on which the Platform will make sure to have a monopoly. As Sidewalks Labs put it, the goal is to move beyond zoning, into more flexible spatial imaginaries and rules. Even if it was referring to urban zoning in terms of use and taxing, the dynamics remain the same: not simply to complicate territory, but to keep it in flux in a manner that makes its prosumers totally dependent on the Platform for elucidation of the present situation and its im/possibilities.

Next to the total commodification of both the communal and the individual in extractive democracies, then, Smart Cities also threaten to become gated realities to which one needs to buy access so as to dispose of the tools and information necessary to interact with and exist in it. What these changing realities might imply at their most radical remains everyone’s guess. Sidewalk Labs’ examples refer to the use of a place as either a shop or an apartment, rising and ebbing with the economic fortunes of the local environment, which remains a meso-level proposal. Micro-level (“real life”) variants, however, are what matters most. Here, one can imagine everything from the relatively anodyne of walking into a shop and being unable to read the price tag on things (which have been relegated to augmented reality) or to pay (lacking the necessary program or costumer ID), to the existential of not being aware of current basic criminal legislation. It seems perfectly straight forward to imagine a Corporate Smart City such as Sidewalk Labs’ Quayside project offer mass transit–and access to its timetables–only to those with a customer account. But it is no more difficult to imagine dystopian extrapolations well within the mold of Sidewalk Labs’ motive of a “complete community”, in which the rules-set-like-prices extend to include abortion laws tagged to population scores, etc. This side of such radical pessimism, it appears obvious that one of the smart services offered by the City Platform would thus be an app or an augmented reality overlay (since we’re talking about Alphabet, we might just think of Google Glass) that tells one in real time what the consumption choices as well as legal rules currently present and active in one’s situation/location are. From being shown personalized advertising nudging you to a close popular restaurant matching your eating-habits, to being informed of moving in a temporary pop-up tax-free shopping zone, to suggestions to pop in for a cup of coffee and a spontaneous business meeting in a near-by open office space where a regular business partner happens to be sitting with an “open for small talk” status: this will be information generated through algorithms constantly crunching the big data extracted through the Smart City’s cybernetic environment. Smart immersion is thus no longer a geeky past-time of staring at one’s smart phone with the help of a head-set, but a necessary process for interacting within Smart Worlds. If you can’t (or don’t want to) afford the app or augmented reality, you can’t live here. But that’s ok, because that is officially not the result of evil intention or conspiracy but either your choice (no one forces you to live in this environement) or the natural law of urban progress (c’est la vie). In that the discourse of Smart Cities’ capital/control nexus is no different from current gentrification debates.

Smart territorialities, then, are defined not by borders, but by multiple enmeshed realities, both physical and digital. In this sense, the problem of Smart World Capitalism is its cosmophag nature: it eats the worlds we’re living it. Once our environment goes smart it will be increasingly difficult to live without an account on the City Platform, just as it became increasingly difficult to live without a car in the city and suburbs once the automobile and its infrastructure became king. However, instead of looking to post-WW2 infrastructure politics, one needs to look at the last great cosmophag epoch to summon the specters of resistance and pattern recognition: the epoch of colonialism.

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