My idea for the second assignment is to make a short documentary by combining my own shots with external materials (on the fair usage principle). Using juxtaposition, I will explore and examine relations and differences between two concepts; AI systems in digital cities vs natural systems in nature. I aim to determine connections and disconnections between spaces and physical objects and to what extent environments can affect symbiosis with humans. Different concepts could affect people’s lives and sometimes maybe create an interconnection between artificial smart cities and the natural environment.
With this documentary, I also want to establish whether it is possible to connect and co-exist between two, at first glance, opposing concepts to achieve harmony in the relationship between technology – nature – people.
My idea relies on an article from the Guardian entitled ‘Dumb Cities’ with the difference, I want to question how to achieve the best results using optimal and sustainable solutions that benefit everyone.
Leszczynski argues that besides the common understanding of big data and urban governance as tools for real-time management in smart cities, it is also essential to consider using big urban data in algorithmic governance to control undesirable urban futures. This approach prioritises security over efficiency and relies on the abstraction of individuals into decontextualised encodings that serve as functional inputs for speculative calculi that anticipate particular kinds of subjects.
The “urban derivative” concept is introduced to understand how individuals and the city are positioned within this mode of algorithmic governance. Microsoft’s Pedestrian Route Production service is an example of how normative, risk-averse neoliberal subjects are assumed to self-securitise by adopting and utilising the service to mitigate any threats to their safety associated with walking through “unsafe” neighbourhoods.
The article also discusses the use of user-generated content from social media in preemptive urban securitisation, such as the EMOTIVE platform for generating real-time “mood maps” of UK cities. This approach relies on the continuous flow of non-curated data from social media and is designed for state actors such as urban law enforcement. The operationalisation of this approach is entirely dependent on the presence of public entities such as social media companies, whose products generate flows of content made available to third parties through the shared use of their APIs.
Leszczynski states that big data security is anticipatory in scope, relying on the speculation of data-driven futures assembled across content flows and rendered actionable in the present. This approach is a defining feature of emergent modes of state-enacted signals intelligence activities crystallising around big data.
The conclusion is that the interplay between efficiency and security in urban algorithmic governance is complex and mutually implicated. The urban derivative is a valuable concept for understanding how urban management is transformed by using big data and algorithmic governance to anticipate and control future urban scenarios.
Leszczynski, A. (2016). Speculative futures: Cities, data, and governance beyond smart urbanism. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 48(9), 1691–1708. https://doi-org.ezproxy.brighton.ac.uk/10.1177/0308518X16651445
The use of digital protest, particularly on platforms such as Twitter, has become increasingly popularized as a means for users to respond to events, incidents, and public figures. Bonilla and Rosa (2015) noted that such protests could offer an experience of real-time engagement, community, and collective enthusiasm that can be akin to participating in a physical protest. While such protests can be both positive and negative, depending on the nature of their use, examples such as #Ferguson and #Repealthe8th demonstrate their potential for benefitting the wider society.
In the case of #Ferguson, the predominant usage of the hashtag was to democratize information in real-time, with users feeling as if they were participating in the events as they monitored incidents through live streams. However, despite the heightened awareness generated through the hashtag, the effects on the justice system were not seen. This highlights the limitations of digital protests in effecting legal change.
In contrast, the #Repealthe8th campaign demonstrates the potential for digital protests to influence legislative change. The campaign used the hashtag to insert bodily autonomy into debates concerning the 8th Amendment, which sought to prioritize the rights of female autonomy over pregnancy. The campaign generated significant influence, ultimately resulting in the repealing of the 8th Amendment. This demonstrates the potential for digital protests to be utilized more broadly and more effectively in generating social and legislative change.
While the use of digital protests on platforms such as Twitter can offer an experience of real-time engagement and collective enthusiasm, their effectiveness in effecting legal change can be limited.
It is important to conduct careful and nuanced analyses of social media data to avoid making overgeneralizations or assumptions about the meaning and impact of hashtag use. Anthropologists and other researchers must consider how different users engage with social media platforms, the context in which tweets are produced and shared, and the potential biases and limitations of social media data. By doing so, they can better understand how social media shapes public discourse and activism and how broader social, cultural, and political contexts influence these processes.
One of the reasons I am sceptical about the fourth industrial revolution is the scenario where instead of serving and helping us, AI and machines would replace humans in most jobs. Part of the process is undoubtedly platform capitalism and their gain for profit. Global neoliberal capitalism always seeks to find the cheapest labour, and that is why China became the world’s biggest factory production where workers do not have the right to organise in unions. Since even a strike is not possible in such conditions, it is a ‘win situation’ for international platform corporations. Through transnational solidarity ( Wodcock, 2021:5), overseas labour activists are trying to help workers, although unfortunately, without much success. One of the examples is the case after workers fled China’s largest iPhone factory in 2022. Chinese overseas labour activists and allies have launched a campaign demanding accountability from Apple and Foxconn for their gross mistreatment of workers at a Chinese factory where half the world’s iPhones are made.
The factory, located in the city of Zhengzhou in the province of Henan, is Apple’s largest production site in China and has drawn attention for its poor working conditions. Foxconn was in the midst of peak season for the production of the new iPhone 14 and had been pushing a brutal closed-loop management regime, forbidding workers from leaving the area during the lockdown.
According to Labornotes, ‘there were reports that infected workers had been forced to isolate in nearby unfinished dormitory buildings without access to medical services and supplies. Some workers slept in the workplace to avoid infected workers living in the same dorms, which were not isolated’.
Hon Hai released a statement promising improvements but continued to affirm closed-loop management practices while Apple refused to admit that the workers work in inhumane and brutal conditions under its watch.
Although digital cities and highly developed technologies and inhumane working conditions and misery seem to be a contradiction (Dyer-Witheford 2015:2), the uncomfortable truth is that they are connected and that digital capitalism, including the whole idea of digital cities as sustainable oases, depends on, and exploits poor countries and child labour, as is the case in Congo.
After seeing reality, all the western activists throwing soup on paintings while using selfies, all the stories about inclusiveness and a better world seem like empty words. And hypocrisy.
Dyer-Witheford, N (2015) “Proletariat” in Cyber-Proletariat: Global Labour in the Digital Vortex. London, Pluto Books
Mosco describes the concept of a smart city as ‘The Next Internet’ (Mosco, 2019: 59), combining IoT, cloud computing, big data analytics and advanced telecommunications systems that embed tracking and data collection technology while creating connections with other objects, including people. While transhumanists might go even a step further in their quest to merge artificial intelligence and humans, in the meantime, global high-tech companies (Mosco,2019: 72 – 74) are eager to earn more profits by implementing smart technologies that could help create optimised digital infrastructure and better network systems. Advocates of the smart city join in their efforts (Mosco,2019: 66). At the same time, by describing his problems with security systems in his building, where he could not open the electronic entrance, Sadowski warns us that ‘systems’ are not perfect (Sadowski,2017: 6). They can not think, can not improvise and can be ineffective. As this funny commercial shows, sometimes even annoying and stressful:
Not only does the commercial above showing how digital technologies can be the opposite of what usually is promoted as “smart”, but the fact that not all the people like the idea of the ‘Next internet’ and IoT. Guardian has published an interesting article about a possible alternative – ‘Dumb cities’. Amy Flaming describes how we can rewild our urban landscapes and apply low-tech ecological solutions to drainage, wastewater processing, flood survival, local agriculture and pollution, with no need for electronic sensors, computer servers or extra IT support. We can weave ancient knowledge of how to live symbiotically with nature into how we shape the cities of the future.
The idea of the city, which makes symbiosis with nature, maybe would not be welcomed by global corporations and high-tech, but as Sadowski emphasised, our informational right is not just to ask for more transparency but to have the right to raise the voices against the accumulated power structures. (Sadowski,2017: 11). The city is for all of us, and the right should go even further – to have the right not to live in the smart city if we do not want to.
(Announcement – I do not have a TV licence, so I could not open the BBC link.)
I grew up in the communist regime in a small communal one-room flat with my mom and dad. They slept in the kitchen, and I was in the room, which served as our living room during the day and my bedroom at night. But we were lucky because we did not have to live in a shared apartment as was common in the USSR, where whole families had to live with complete strangers. As Gregory (Grisha) Freidin, professor of Russian literature at Stanford University, remembers his childhood,
‘On one side of my room was the man who washed corpses at the local morgue. There were two rooms where the mother and father served in the KGB. Then there was the woman whose husband was serving a sentence for stealing bread from the bread factory where he worked’ (The Kitchen Sisters, 2014).
These were my first associations when reading Townsend’s Smart Cities, where he not only writes about the concept of a smart city as an automated digital infrastructure but calls for an overall change in the social order on a global scale, using terms like the ‘sharing economy’ ( Townsend, 2013: pp 15 -16). It may sound like the ultimate solution to reach a utopian society, and the same romanticized narrative can be found in Forbes by Ida Auken, in which she describes people who own nothing, do not even have their own apartments, but share rooms in the principle of ‘rotating use’ – when the room empty, it will be used by whoever appears first.
And while such a vision of the city and life, in general, may indeed sound like the best option, it should be mentioned that young Westerners who have grown up in abundance are most prone to such ideas. They had their own rooms in large houses, which, especially in America, have at least two bathrooms and several rooms, including a separate guest room, living room, etc. And, of course, it is all owned by their parents who, except maybe with friends or family, never shared their homes with strangers. However, let’s assume you offer an identical vision to people who grew up in poverty and were forced by the state to live with strangers. In that case, whether they will accept that concept as an option is highly questionable. Especially considering the fact they know that these ideas do not come from the citizens themselves but from the WEF – the World Economic Forum, a private elite club that gathers the wealthiest and most powerful individuals in the world who fly to Davos every year in their private jets to decide the fate of billions of people, but without any intention to possibly involve themselves, by their own example, in the circular economy or ‘shared economy’ process. The text in Forbes is mentioned as ‘WEF contribution’, and Townsend, as it turned out, is also a WEF contributor, so it is not strange that I found so much similarity between his vision and Ida’s dream.
Having in mind that Klaus Schwab, founder of WEF, recently proudly announced that they are ‘penetrating the cabinets’,
it is not unusual to see that the citizens, even in Western counties such as the UK, are not particularly thrilled with the ideas of smart cities in general, including ULEZ (MyLondon, 2023) and implementations of concepts such as ’15 minutes city’ which is not grassroots in Britain but is a global agenda present in Croatia, and other countries.
Smart City koncept: 15-minutni grad, 2021, Pametni grad
All mentioned above leads us to the main problem and question – who will live in a smart city, and who will be the actual owner of these cities?
Throughout the last term various readings have explored the role of the smart cities in innovating more sophisticated systems that adapt to the public. Despite reservations surrounding the misuse and barriers created by technologies, evidence of systems successfully responding to the needs of individuals has been witnessed, especially as the publication of information gathered through these technologies is starting to become shared to the public. Information which is ‘more real-time in nature [is] generated through sensors and locative/social media’ (Kitchin, Lauriault & McArdle, 2015, p.6), enabling citizens and councils to manage locations based on the indicators provided. Complex data gathering is often accused of a lack of transparency, evidenced in social media algorithms and surveillance practices (public and private), therefore the use of these initiatives does address this problem through greater transparency. However, they ‘are open to manipulation’ and may not be as reflective as of real experience as initially imagined. Enlund et al. (2022) highlight this also, exploring the role of sensors and informational cities ‘measuring’ the interactions within a locale. One way in which manipulation or misuse may occur is through commercial or political activity, with specific stakeholders utilising datasets to function for their own benefit in how they target their demographics.
Kitchin, R., Lauriault, T.P. & McArdle, G., 2015. Knowing and governing cities through urban indicators, city benchmarking and realRegional Studies, Regional Science , 2(1), pp.6time dashboards. 28. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1080/21681376.2014.9 Further Readings 83149
Enlund, D. et al. (2022) “The role of sensors in the production of Smart City Spaces,” Big Data & Society, 9(2), p. 205395172211102. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/20539517221110218.
The role of digital protest has become increasingly popularised as users rely on mainstream platforms to respond to events, incidents and public figures. As platform, Twitter can be powerful in garnering support from audiences, as ‘Engaging in [tweets and live monitoring] is akin to participating in a protest in the sense that it offers an experience of “real time” engagement, community, and even collective effervescence’ (Bonilla and Rosa, 2015, p.7). These forms of protests can be both positive, used to highlight inequalities and injustices, but can also form from more malicious activity, evidenced in disinformation campaigns and increased forms of radical misogyny. However, in the cases examined, we explore examples of protest used for the benefit of wider society, including #Ferguson and #Repealthe8th. The role of the hashtag, as stated by Bonilla and Rosa (2015) has both semiotic significance in the way in which it frames perspectives, in addition to clerical significance through the indexing of information. In the case of #Ferguson, Bonilla and Rosa (2015) note how predominant usage of the hashtag was to democratise information in real time, with users feeling as if they were ‘participating in #Ferguson’ as they monitored incidents including ‘live streams where they could bear witness to the tear gassing and arrests of journalists and protestors’ (Bonilla and Rosa, 2015, p.7). While there is evidence that these digitalised forms of protest do heighten awareness significantly through the algorithmic formations of social media platforms, in the example highlighted, effects on the justice system are not seen. Whereas, Walsh (2020) refers to separate action under the name, #knickersforchoice, where in 2014, the direct action group Speaking of IMELDA targeted a diner with a ‘knicker-bombing’ of politicians to repeal the 8th Amendment. This sought to prioritise the rights of female autonomy over pregnancy. For those unable to participate directly and publicly, the hashtag provided ‘a means of unapologetically inserting bodily autonomy into debates concerning #RepealThe8th within multiple jurisdictions’ (Walsh, 2020, p.150) that demonstrated a refusal to remain silent in the run up to the referendum. In comparison, to #Ferguson, evidence of change was witnessed in the repealing of the 8th Amendment. While this referendum relied upon more than just once campaign, there is a clear form of influence generated, suggesting there is further scope for such protests to be utilised more broadly and with effect.
#KnickersForChoice offered a means of unapologetically inserting bodily autonomy into debates concerning #RepealThe8th within multiple jurisdictions
Ethnography, by the definition used within Pink et al (2016), is stated as “iterative-inductive research (that evolves in design through the study), drawing on a family of methods…that acknowledges the role of theory as well as the researcher’s own role and that views humans as part object/part subject”. Due to this definition, and others which multiple fields of academia use, Pink et al (2016) argue that those who use ethnography within their research do not always agree on the definition being used, therefore the types of research which is meant by ‘ethnography’ is not always agreement on. One of these research methods which is not always agreed on is that from digital ethnography. It has been argued that since digital element of digital ethnography does not centre around humans as individuals, but on data gathering instead, this does not fall into the category of ‘ethnography’. In counter to this argument, it could be suggested that as the data is gathered from humans, either in the singular or multiple, allows for this information to fall into the ‘ethnography’ category. Such a distinction seems both important and negligible at the same time: the question of the type of human impact and importance within a research method could depend on both the type of research being conducted and the context in which it works within. Therefore, could it not be argued that ethnography can, and should, be used within digital settings and platforms when the need arises instead of arguing for and against in the general sense of the term.
Pink, S. et al. (2016) Digital ethnography: principles and practice. SAGE
Quinton and Smallbone (2010)’s work on student reflection and learning, within the use of digital media and open data, could be explored in the terms of continued education. By allowing educational digital media to be open and accessible to everyone could allow for further education, understanding and learning from prior examples and mistakes. This would aid in helping future teaching as well as those who are hoping to up-skill and understand other areas for their own development. The idea of such open data does have its merits – allowing for support across educational facilities, counties and possibly even countries; however, that is not to say that there are not drawbacks of open data. By opening up so much data in such a way would, inevitably, break laws around personal information, consent of data, along with multiple others. There are many in the world who would not agree that the positivises of such open data would ever outweigh the breaches of such confidentiality. Yet, in argument to this, is it so different from the technology-saturated world which we currently live in? Said information and data is already currently online and assessable to certain people. Would it be such a change to allow more people this assess? I am sure some would think it would be. Yet I am sure there would be as many others who would be grateful for the support given in their time of need. This, as many topics when it comes to digital media, is a difficult conversation, one of which does not have an easy answer when trying to please and answer to many different arguments, laws and voices.