Bureaucracy on Wheels: Navigating the Perils of Technological Convenience

Once upon a quintessentially ordinary Sunday in the vibrant heart of London, with a sky so cerulean it mirrored the innocence of my uneventful day, I made the fateful decision that led to an adventure more paradoxical than the city itself. The routine act of renting a Santander e-bike—a choice that at the time appeared greener, healthier, more in sync with my football hobby, and unarguably more scenic than taking the Tube—ended up becoming an unfolding mystery, full of twists that even Arthur Conan Doyle would have been proud of.

My Santander e-bike journey commenced on a sun-dappled morning, amidst the hustle and bustle of London’s urban wilderness. The excitement of swerving through the busy streets, breezing past the trademark red buses, and the soothing charm of a morning ride was too tempting to resist. The experience was no less than a symphony of sights, sounds, and smells—a dance with the city’s heart, set to the rhythm of my e-bike pedals.

The football match that day, though an ordinary Sunday activity, felt more refreshing. Perhaps it was the crisp air from the bike ride, the novelty of the eco-friendly travel, or maybe just London’s magic seeping into my usual routine. Post-match, with a feeling of victorious exhaustion, I docked the bike, ensured it was securely locked, and went home, my heart lighter and my wallet thinner by £3.30.

That lightness, however, was short-lived. The next day brought with it a pending charge of a startling £77.55, a figure far from the realm of expectation. The shock was as swift as a chilly gust of London rain, the absurdity as potent as a droll English comedy. With no plausible explanation, I called my bank, only to be met with the bureaucratic shrug of ‘waiting until the money has been debited’. The next call was to TFL Customers Service, a conversation that started as a quest for answers and transformed into a bewildering tale of undocked bikes, relentless charges, and the unraveling of a supposedly infallible system.

Sharif, A (2023), Santander Docking, London.

A certain ‘Mike’ at TFL narrated the tale of the undocked bike—an errant metal steed that had decided to stay astray, triggering a daily £50 charge up to a whopping £300. There were no trackers to trace its whereabouts, only the word of the customer and a system that supposedly never erred. Despite my certainty of docking the bike, the system deemed otherwise, and the bike was on an apparent adventure of its own, painting me as an unintentional outlaw in this bizarre, bureaucratic drama.

The scene of the ‘crime’ was revisited, the docking station scrutinized for signs of the missing bike, yet it was nowhere to be found. The saga was no longer a solitary one, as fellow victims surfaced with their stories, painting a grim picture of what was looking less like a mishap and more like a systemic failure or worse—a scam.

Another call to TFL brought me face-to-face with ‘James’, a customer support representative who insisted that their system was infallible. Yet, here I was, alongside numerous others, bearing the brunt of a flawed technology. The disagreement was as stalemated as the Sherlock Holmes vs. Moriarty duel—both sides convinced of their stance, the truth seemingly unreachable.

TripAdvisor, (2023), Reviews on Santander E-Bike App, London.

Finally, amidst the flurry of calls and charges, a glaring truth emerged—Santander’s e-bikes (TFL) lacked both an insurance scheme and GPS tracking. These crucial elements were sacrificed for a cost-efficient business model that, unfortunately, seemed to rest on the shoulders of its eco-friendly customers. The small print, often dismissed, harboured the silent charge of £300 and the subtle responsibility of a stolen bike, creating an undeniable imbalance in this shared bike scheme.

A screenshot of an Email from TFL, (2023)

In the end, my adventure with Santander e-bikes was a wake-up call to the latent patriarchal structures and the systemic exploitation lurking beneath the polished surface of modernity. It is a tale that is an uncomfortable reminder of how a seemingly simple decision can drag one into a whirlpool of issues, and how, in a city as advanced and vibrant as London, one can feel strikingly powerless, lost in the rigid machinations of bureaucracy.

The story ends in a confusing mix-up between a possible trick and a simple mistake, showing a system with big problems. It is scary to think that the same group we trust to keep us safe could put us at risk, all because of a bike that wasn’t appropriately returned.

In the world of digital cities and online communities, we are all part of a big, complex network. A bike left at the wrong place becomes more than just a bike—it turns into a piece of data, a dot on a map in this digital world.

This bike mix-up is a real-life lesson about the problems that can come from too much convenience. It highlights how important it is for new technological solutions to be clear and responsible in our growing digital world. As we move through digital cities, let us remember this: every ride might have a few bumps. But we can learn from them and make the road ahead a bit smoother.

The Digital City and Platform Capitalism: A Closer Look at Airbnb

During my time as an Airbnb host, I’ve had the pleasure of opening my home to a diverse range of guests, from free-spirited backpackers to diligent business travelers. Yet, beneath these delightful encounters lies a complex interaction between platform capitalism (Woodcock, 2021) and the notion of the digital city.

Airbnb, a prominent figure in the sharing economy, has revolutionized the way homeowners can generate supplementary income by renting out their properties. This groundbreaking platform exemplifies the broader trend of platform capitalism, which harnesses digital networks to extract value from users’ activities.

While engaging in the sharing economy can be gratifying for both hosts and guests, it is crucial to contemplate the broader implications of platform capitalism on the digital city. Swift urbanization and the growing integration of digital technologies have reshaped our lives and work. Nonetheless, the emergence of platforms such as Airbnb has also given rise to challenges like escalating housing prices and the displacement of local communities (Gurran and Shrestha, 2021).

As we delve into platform capitalism and traverse the digital city, we must adopt a more thoughtful approach to guarantee a balanced and sustainable future for all stakeholders. Seizing the opportunities provided by platforms like Airbnb demands that we weigh the potential consequences and collaborate to tackle the associated challenges.

The secret to realizing a sustainable digital city is nurturing transparency and cooperation among all parties involved, encompassing hosts, guests, platform operators, and policymakers (Gurran and Shrestha, 2021). By actively partaking in policy-making, implementing regulations, and heightening awareness about the implications of platform capitalism, we can strive toward a more equitable and democratic digital future.

My experience as Airbnb host and studying smart cities has opened my eyes to the opportunities and challenges of platform capitalism and the digital city. and as we continue to embrace the sharing economy, it’s crucial to maintain a balance between benefits and responsibilities.

Week 3 – The Loss of Social Capital in Smart Cities: A Call for Balance

In the age of smart cities and ever-increasing technological advancements, we often find ourselves marveling at the convenience and efficiency of our urban environments “We are reorganizing our lives and our communities around mass mobile communications” (Townsend; p.2). However, as we embrace the wonders of technology, it is crucial to reflect on the potential loss of human contact and the risk of social isolation in these smart cities (Townsend, 2013). The erosion of social capital, as Miller (2011) suggests, could be an unintended consequence of the digital world we are building.

Imagine strolling through the streets of a smart city. You’re surrounded by high-tech infrastructure, state-of-the-art public transport systems, and countless digital devices that aim to make life simpler. While these innovations offer undeniable benefits, they also raise questions about our increasingly detached human interactions. Are we sacrificing genuine connections with our neighbors, friends, and even strangers for the sake of technological progress?

Townsend (2013) highlights the potential risks of social isolation in smart cities, where human contact is replaced by digital interfaces and algorithms. In this context, people may find themselves more connected to their devices than to each other, which could lead to a decline in social capital. Miller (2011) further elaborates on this issue, emphasizing that the key elements of digital culture may undermine the fundamental human connections that constitute the essence of our social well-being.

As we continue to develop smart cities and embrace the digital world, it is crucial to strike a balance between leveraging the benefits of technology and preserving our social capital. Townsend (2013) suggests that urban planners and policymakers should prioritize human connections when designing smart cities, ensuring that digital technologies enhance, rather than replace, The organization ‘Playable City,’ as discussed in ‘The Compass’ podcast, could potentially serve as one solution to address this issue.

Let’s embrace the future while keeping the importance of human connections at the forefront of our minds. After all, the genuine bonds we form with one another are irreplaceable and cannot be replicated by even the most sophisticated algorithms. Maintaining this perspective will help us create a balance that preserves the essence of our humanity amidst rapid technological advancements.


Glover, F. (2019) ‘The Smart City: Seoul, South Korea, [The Compass], 10 April 2019. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3csz41r (Accessed: 21 March 2023)

Miller, V. (2011) Understanding Digital Culture. In: Miller, V. Key Elements of Digital Media. Sage: pp 12-21

Townsend, A. (2013). Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia. W.W. Norton & Company

Week 8 Draft Idea

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.


Flaming, A. (2020) ‘The case for … making low-tech ‘dumb’ cities instead of ‘smart’ ones’. Guardian, 15. Jan [Online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2020/jan/15/the-case-for-making-low-tech-dumb-cities-instead-of-smart-ones


Week 7 – The urban derivative

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

# Week 6 #

AmericanMusical (2016) Twitter

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.



Bonilla, Y. and Rosa, J. (2015) #Ferguson: Digital protest, hashtag ethnography, and the racial politics of social media in the United States. American Ethnologist. Volume 42, Issue 1. https://doi-org.ezproxy.brighton.ac.uk/10.1111/amet.12112

Walsh, H. (2020). Hanging Our Knickers Up Asserting Autonomy and Cross-Border Solidarity in the #RepealThe8th Campaign. Feminist Review, 124(1), 144–151. Hanging Our Knickers Up: Asserting Autonomy and Cross-Border Solidarity in the #RepealThe8th Campaign – Helena Walsh, 2020 (brighton.ac.uk)

Week 5 – Hypocrisy

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

Sky News (2017) Special report: Inside the Congo cobalt mines that exploit children. 27 Feb 2017 [Online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JcJ8me22NVs

Woodcock, J (2021) “Introduction” and “Why struggles against platform capitalism matter” The Fight Against Platform Capitalism. London: University of Westminster Press

Xiang, L. And Yan, R.(2022) After Workers Flee China’s Largest iPhone Factory, Activists Demand Accountability from Apple. Labornotes, 10. November [Online]. Available at: https://www.labornotes.org/blogs/2022/11/after-workers-flee-chinas-largest-iphone-factory-activists-demand-accountability-apple#:~:text=There%20were%20reports%20that%20infected,dorms%20who%20were%20not%20isolated.

Week 4 – Dumb Cities

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.


Flaming, A. (2020) The case for … making low-tech ‘dumb’ cities instead of ‘smart’ ones. Guardian, 15. Januar [Online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2020/jan/15/the-case-for-making-low-tech-dumb-cities-instead-of-smart-ones

Mosco, V. (2019) The Smart City in a Digital World. Emerald Publishing Limited

Sadowski, J (2017) ‘Access denied: Snapshots of exclusion and enforcement in the smart city’ in Shaw, J and Graham, M. ed. Our Digital rights to the citypp 6-11. Meatspace Press


Your Man In London Collecting (2019), Smart House {funny commercial}. 10 Mar 2019 [Online]. Available at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LELq9ZbS8o


Week 3 : Citizens vs Elite

(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

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?

Unknown,(2023) Twitter


Anthony Townsend, World Economic Forum [Online]. Available at: https://www.weforum.org/people/anthony-townsend (Accessed: 20.03. 2023).

Auken, I. (2016) ‘Welcome To 2030: I Own Nothing, Have No Privacy And Life Has Never Been Better’. Forbes, 10. August [Online]. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/worldeconomicforum/2016/11/10/shopping-i-cant-really-remember-what-that-is-or-how-differently-well-live-in-2030/ (Accessed: 20.03. 2023).

Benady, R.M., (2023) ‘ULEZ cameras covered with bags in South West London in latest act of defiance against expansion’. MyLondon, 17.March [Online]. Available at: https://www.mylondon.news/news/south-london-news/ulez-cameras-covered-bags-south-26490694 (Accessed: 20.03. 2023).

Kumar, K., Kaushik, M. (2022) ‘My Carbon: An approach for inclusive and sustainable cities’. World Economic Forum, 14. September [Online]. Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/09/my-carbon-an-approach-for-inclusive-and-sustainable-cities/  (Accessed: 20.03. 2023).

The Kitchen Sisters (2014) ‘How Russia’s Shared Kitchens Helped Shape Soviet Politics’. NPR, 20. May [Online]. Available at: https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/05/20/314054405/how-russias-shared-kitchens-helped-shape-soviet-politics (Accessed: 20.03. 2023).

Townsend, A.M., (2013). Smart Cities, New York: W. W. Norton & Company


Nieuwsitems (2022) WEF – Klaus Schwab (founder of The World Economic Forum): “We penetrate the cabinets. 2. Jun 2022 [Online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjxJ1wPnkk4


Week 7: Open Data

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.