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The Mediated City 09: Platform Urbanism

The Mediated City 09: Platform Urbanism

March 13, 2022

If you have been fortunate enough to travel to new cities, in countries other than your own, it is more than likely your travels in and through this new city was mediated. Not just in the myriad ways we’ve been discussing so far in this series, but increasingly through a specific kind of media form: ‘platforms’. Your accommodation and sightseeing arranged through Airbnb or TripAdvisor; your local travels negotiated with the help of Google Maps or Citymapper; rides hailed through Uber or Lyft; evening meal delivered via Grubhub or Just Eat. When you are in your own city or locale, you probably use some of these platforms, alongside many others. What exactly constitutes a platform, in general, and in relation to urban life specifically, is somewhat up for grabs. In this episode, we explore different perspectives on platforms as new forms of urban media, whether that be as a form of communication, a type of service, a business model, an infrastructure, or even an institution. The popularity of such platforms is clear, and it is not a stretch to say residents and visitors alike find such media useful for grappling with urban complexities. But platforms have disrupted cities too, whether that be their housing markets, transportation services or local businesses. And this disruption seems to brought forth a situation in which platforms are becoming indispensable infrastructures, and maybe even emerging institutions, of urban life.

Thinkers discussed: Sarah Barns (Negotiating the Platform Pivot: From Participatory Digital Ecosystems to Infrastructures of Everyday Life / Platform Urbanism: Negotiating Platform Ecosystems in Connected Cities); Anne Helmond (The Platformization of the Web: Making Web Data Platform Ready); Jean-Christophe Plantin, Carl Lagoze, Paul N. Edwards and Christian Sandvig (Infrastructure Studies meet Platform Studies in the Age of Google and Facebook); Nick Srnicek (Platform Capitalism); Shoshana Zuboff (The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for the Future at the New Frontier of Power); José van Dijck, Thomas Poell and Martijn de Waal (The Platform Society: Public Values in a Connective World); Emily West (Buy Now: How Amazon Branded Convenience and Normalized Monopoly); Frank Pasquale (From Territorial to Functional Sovereignty: The Case of Amazon); Jathan Sadowski (Who Owns the Future City? Phases of Technological Urbanism and Shifts in Sovereignty); Lizzie Richardson (Platforms, Markets, and Contingent Calculation: The Flexible Arrangement of the Delivered Meal); Jamie Woodcock and Mark Graham (The Gig Economy: A Critical Introduction); John Bull (Schrodinger’s Cab Firm: Uber’s Existential Crisis); Niels van Doorn (A New Institution on the Block: On Platform Urbanism and Airbnb Citizenship); Douglass C. North (Institutions); Benjamin Bratton (The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty).

Music: ‘The Mediated City Theme’ by Scott Rodgers License: CC BY-NC (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/)

The Mediated City 08: Networked Location

The Mediated City 08: Networked Location

March 7, 2022

It’s an entirely banal and simple act for many contemporary Londoners: to type, or even dictate, an address or location into a service such as Google Maps, or Citymapper, and be presented with a series of route options: walking, cycling, public transport, driving. And not just these options, but their predicted duration, based on for instance real-time traffic data, and also, perhaps, whether the intended destination will still be open at the predicted time of arrival. User of such services do not tend to reflect on how they are being delivered this information, and when do, they more likely think about the locative service or app. It us less likely they will be aware of the considerable organisational and technical complexities involved in pinpointing geographic location, or the other urban data which allows the city to appear digitally in these ways. In this episode, we explore the complexities involved in the networking of urban location, including but also beyond such simple acts of digitalised, mobile navigation. We will also think through how, experientially, we know urban locations or places via an increasingly digital and networked technological background, including for example search engines, neighbourhood social media, or the act of taking selfies. Such technologies are part of longstanding processes of technological change, through which we have learned and relearned to care for where we are, our place, in the city.

Thinkers discussed: William Gibson (Neuromancer); Mark Graham, Matthew Zook and Andrew Boulton (Augmented Reality in Urban Places: Contested Content and the Duplicity of Code); Eric Gordon and Adriana de Souza e Silva (Net Locality: Why Location Matters in a Networked World); William Mitchell (E-topia: "Urban Life Jim - But Not as We Know It”); Matthew Wilson (Location-Based Services, Conspicuous Mobility, and the Location-Aware Future); Jordan Frith and Adriana de Souza e Silva (Mobile Interfaces in Public Spaces: Locational Privacy, Control, and Urban Sociability); Jordan Frith (Smartphones as Locative Media); Nicole Starosielski (The Undersea Network); Rowan Wilken (Communication Infrastructures and the Contest over Location Positioning); Gerard Goggin (Cell Phone Culture: Mobile Technology in Everyday Life); Shaun Moores (Media, Place and Mobility / Digital Orientations: Non-Media-Centric Media Studies and Non-Representational Theories of Practice); Germaine Halegoua (The Digital City: Media and the Social Production of Place).

Music: ‘The Mediated City Theme’ by Scott Rodgers License: CC BY-NC (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/)

The Mediated City: Observing the Digital Picket

The Mediated City: Observing the Digital Picket

February 19, 2022

This is a short message to listeners of The Mediated City podcast series. UK listeners, and certainly my students, will know that the University and College Union (UCU) is currently taking industrial action. This action centres on two disputes. The first is focused on pensions: a typical member of the USS pension scheme is set to suffer a dramatic 35% drop in their guaranteed retirement income if planned cuts go ahead. The second dispute relates to four wider areas: pay, casualisation, pay gaps and workloads in UK Higher Education. These are all areas which really are reaching a breaking point; at many institutions, including my own, for example, an inexcusably high proportion of teachers are paid by the hour, and more often than not, deliver their excellent teaching by working many extra hours unpaid. While it was tempting to imagine that this podcast could continue around the strikes, it didn't take too long to remember that this whole thing is possible because of what I (your host, Scott Rodgers) do for my job, teaching and researching at my institution, Birkbeck, University of London. In that workplace, I am a member of the UCU, and am joining my colleagues on the strike action. The strike action means we are withdrawing our labour, including our teaching. And it also includes a digital component, called the ‘digital picket’ which is meant to underscore that the digital spaces in which we labour are no different than the physical ones. The upshot is that our sixth episode, and possibly our seventh as well, will be withdrawn from this season.

If you want to know more about what’s going on in this dispute, in the meantime, you can find general information on the main UCU website: https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/12100/Ten-days-of-strike-action-begins-at-UK-universities

Music: ‘The Mediated City Theme’ by Scott Rodgers License: CC BY-NC (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/)

The Mediated City 05: Media Architectures

The Mediated City 05: Media Architectures

February 6, 2022

If you live in a city which is changing rapidly, construction sites might begin to seem like processes of erasing, copying and pasting, remixing or remediating the city. And it also may be that the new buildings being put in place have more and more forms of media or communication, such as illumination or interactive screens, built directly into their exterior surfaces. The apparent embedding of media forms into architecture has become one of the most prominent themes in recent debates about the relationships of media and cities. While buildings have long been communicative, novel uses of illumination, screen interfaces and inventive building materials seem to be underscoring a new age where buildings are media. And yet, the interconnections of media and architecture run even deeper than this. Not only might we consider sites whose explicit function is some kind of communication – such as museums, art galleries or libraries – but also the buildings inhabited by media industries, sometimes known as 'media houses'. And then from there, we could observe that architecture more broadly is a discipline building spaces for communication in general, both domestic as well as of labour and organization. As a discipline, architecture itself is defined by mediation, from the age of print, to the computational practice it has increasingly become. In this episode, we explore just some of the numerous intersections of media and architecture, with a broad conception of architecture, both as practice and realised design, as both mediated and mediating.

Thinkers discussed: Friedrich Kittler (The City is a Medium); Marshall McLuhan (Understanding Media); Scott McQuire (Geomedia: Networked Cities and the Future of Public Space); Zlatan Krajina (Negotiating the Mediated City: Everyday Encounters with Public Screens); Dave Colangelo (The Building as Screen: A History, Theory, and Practice of Massive Media / We Live Here: Media Architecture as Critical Spatial Practice); Adam Greenfield (Against the Smart City); Shannon Mattern (A City is Not a Computer); Aurora Wallace (Media Capital: Architecture and Communications in New York City); Staffan Ericson and Kristina Riegert (Media Houses:  Architecture, Media, and the Production of Centrality); Staffan Ericson (The Interior of the Ubiquitous: Broadcasting House, London); Sven-Olav Wallenstein (Looping Ideology: The CCTV Center in Beijing); Reinhold Martin (The Organizational Complex: Architecture, Media, and Corporate Space); Jennifer Kaufmann-Buhler (Open Plan: A Design History of the American Office).

Music: ‘The Mediated City Theme’ by Scott Rodgers License: CC BY-NC (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/)

The Mediated City 04: Urban Soundtracks

The Mediated City 04: Urban Soundtracks

January 29, 2022

There is an old adage about cinema: that it may seem a principally visual medium; but in fact, its soundtrack and sound design are just as important. So it is with our more general encounter with the city. While it may seem that we are surrounded and even overwhelmed by an assemblage of visual inputs, our experience of the city is multi-sensory. And sound, in particular, is fundamental in constituting how we experience cities. People walking, standing and conversing; vehicles moving, stopping and reversing; pounding construction equipment; amplified music and announcements; pedestrian crossing beacons; the calls of birds and other animals; the reverberations of hallways and rooms. These and other audible effects and affects shape our urban experience, a fact not at all obscure for sight impaired urban travellers and explorers. In this episode, we consider the urban soundscape both generally, but also via personal sound devices, perhaps the most noted, and explicit kinds of sonic urban mediation. Such technologies have often been framed as a way to ‘manage’ the urban experience: to limit, cope or otherwise make more pleasant its noise, complexity, drudgery, dreariness, excitement and strangeness. Another perspective, however, is that such technologies are as much about urban engagement as disengagement; ways of re-modulating, remixing, reformatting or retuning our interface with urban life.

Thinkers discussed: Sarah Barns (Sounds Different: Listening to the Proliferating Spaces of Technological Modernity in the City); Martin Heidegger (The age of the world picture); Walter Ong (Orality and Literacy: The Technologising of the World); Jonathan Sterne (The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction); Georg Simmel (The Metropolis and Mental Life); Adriana de Souza e Silva and Jordan Frith (Mobile Interfaces in Public Spaces: Locational Privacy, Control, and Urban Sociability); Erving Goffman (Behavior in public places); Paul du Gay, Stuart Hall, Linda Janes, Anders Koed Madsen, Hugh Mackay and Keith Negus (Doing Cultural Studies: The Story of the Sony Walkman); Michael Bull (Sounding Out the City: Personal Stereos and the Management of Everyday Life / Sound moves: iPod culture and urban experience); Matthew Jordan (Becoming Quiet: On Mediation, Noise Cancellation, and Commodity Quietness); David Beer (Tune Out: Music, Soundscapes and the Urban Mise-en-scène); William Mitchell (Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City); Betsey Biggs (Like it was a Movie: Cinematic Listening as Public Art); Allan Watson and Dominiqua Drakeford-Allen (‘Tuning Out’ or ‘Tuning in’? Mobile Music Listening and Intensified Encounters with the City).

Music: ‘The Mediated City Theme’ by Scott Rodgers License: CC BY-NC (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/)

The Mediated City 03: Suburban Screens

The Mediated City 03: Suburban Screens

January 23, 2022

One way or another, you most likely watch television in some form. You might use a device explicitly called a ‘television’, sited in a room in which televisions tend to be, such as a lounge or family room. Or perhaps you use a remediated version of television: via a device such as a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop or even projector. And the content you’re watching may itself be only loosely television: it may be live content (e.g. news, sports, or a a live-to-air programme); or perhaps your taking in programming via an on-demand streaming platform, or even just watching video clips. Regardless of these variations and contingencies, according to some scholars, this mediated situation has important technological and cultural connections with the suburb. Not just the suburb as a location, but as: a historically specific form of urban development; as an archetype for living; and above all, as an emergent configuration of mediation in the modern urbanising world. In this episode, we explore the ways this may have transpired, and may still endure today, from television in the postwar period, to its more recent and ambient urban appearances across urban spaces.

Thinkers discussed: Roger Silverstone (Television and Everyday Life); Raymond Williams (Television: Technology and Cultural Form); Marylin Strathern (Future Kinship and the Study of Culture); Delores Hayden (Redesigning the American Dream: The Future of Housing, Work and Family Life); James Carey (The Telegraph and Ideology); Jürgen Habermas (The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere); Anna McCarthy (Ambient Television: Visual Culture and Public Space); Marc Augé (Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity); Michel de Certeau (The Practice of Everyday Life); Jo Helle-Valle and Dag Slettemeås (ICTs, Domestication and Language-Games: a Wittgensteinian Approach to Media Uses); Lynn Spigel (Welcome to the Dreamhouse: Popular Media and Postwar Suburbs); Roger Keil (Suburban Constellations); Francesco Cassetti (Cinema Lost and Found: Trajectories of Relocation).

Music: ‘The Mediated City Theme’ by Scott Rodgers License: CC BY-NC (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/)

The Mediated City 02: Print Urbanism

The Mediated City 02: Print Urbanism

January 17, 2022

If you’ve ridden public transport over a number of years, you might think printed material is declining. You may have once been surrounded by people immersed in newspapers and books, but more and more people seem to be cradling smart phones, tablets or laptops. Playing video games, watching downloaded on-demand programmes, listening to music, using their camera as a mirror, or catching up on work. But if you look a little harder, you will see the material traces of an enduring print urbanism: a panoply of banal or ambient texts such as signage, labels and messages; some people still carrying on reading books, magazines or commuter papers; and as for the others, using digital devices to read online news or an ebook, are they not undertaking a practice intimately connected with urban print culture? Even the act of riding public transport itself depends on a huge amount of published and printed information informing the operators, bureaucracy and expertise running the system. The relationships of print and the city run deep. In this episode, we take a long view, exploring how these relationships of print and the city can highlight the most elemental features of mediated urbanism today.

Thinkers discussed: Shannon Mattern (Code + Clay … Data + Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media); Marshall McLuhan (The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man); Mario Carpo (Architecture in the Age of Printing: Orality, Writing, Typography, and Printed Images in the History of Architectural Theory); Aurora Wallace (Media Capital: Architecture and Communications in New York City); Benedict Anderson (Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism); David Henkin (City Reading: Written Words and Public Spaces in Antebellum New York); John Nerone (The Mythology of the Penny Press); James Carey (The Telegraph and Ideology); Carole O’Reilly (Journalism and the Changing Act of Observation: Writing about Cities in the British press 1880–1940); Scott Rodgers (The Architectures of Media Power: Editing, the Newsroom, and Urban Public Space); Walter Bagehot (Charles Dickens); Peter Fritzsche (Reading Berlin 1900); Rolf Linder (The Reportage of Urban Culture: Robert Park and the Chicago School); Robert Park (The Natural History of the Newspaper); Ursula Rao (News as Culture: Journalistic Practices and the Remaking of Indian Leadership Traditions); Jennifer Robinson (Ordinary Cities: Between Modernity and Development); Lev Manovich (The Language of New Media); Scott Rodgers (Digitizing Localism: Anticipating, Assembling and Animating a ‘Space’ for UK Hyperlocal Media Production).

Music: ‘The Mediated City Theme’ by Scott Rodgers License: CC BY-NC (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/)

The Mediated City 01: Surfaces, Depths, Fragments, Publics

The Mediated City 01: Surfaces, Depths, Fragments, Publics

January 8, 2022

When you move through the city, you move through mediation. This is because what we call media and what we call the city (or the urban) are in a nexus: they are intimately connected. On the one hand, the practices, the rhythms and the motilities of urban living compel certain uses, exposures and desires in relation to media technologies, forms and industries. On the other hand, these media forms, infrastructures, and industries inhabit – and are increasingly ‘built-into’ – urban environments. Many might quite reasonably point out that media represent the city and urban life, in film, television, literature, news, video games and apps. In this opening episode, however, we introduce a focus on the city itself is a mediating environment. We begin to think how, through the urban we can find new ways to think about media, and how, through media, we can find new ways to think about the city. The aim here is modest. Rather than presenting a general framework for understanding the mediated city in the past, now and forever more, we start with four points of reference. These will loosely guide how we’ll think about the mediated city in the episodes to come: surfaces, depths, fragments and publics.

Thinkers discussed: Simon Wreckert (Google Maps Hacks); Scott McQuire (An Archaeology of the Media City: Towards a Critical Cultural History of Mediated Urbanism); Shannon Mattern (Deep Mapping the Media City / Code + Clay … Data + Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media); David Henkin (City Reading: Written Words and Public Spaces in Antebellum New York); Iain Borden (Hoardings); Marshall McLuhan (Understanding Media: The Extension of Man); Friedrich Kittler (The City is a Medium); Georg Simmel (The Metropolis and Mental Life); Erving Goffman (Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings); William Mitchell (E-topia: "Urban Life Jim - But Not as We Know It”) Eric Gordon and Adriana de Souza e Silva ( Net Locality: Why Location Matters in a Networked World); Kurt Iveson (Publics and the City); Michael Warner (Publics and Counterpublics)

Music: ‘The Mediated City Theme’ by Scott Rodgers (https://soundcloud.com/rodgers_scott/the-mediated-city-theme). License: CC BY-NC (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/)

Media, Technology and Culture 10 (2nd Edition): Extractive Technologies

Media, Technology and Culture 10 (2nd Edition): Extractive Technologies

December 13, 2021

Policymakers, politicians, activists, businesspeople and even ordinary people are more and more sceptical of digital platforms like Facebook (or shall we say, Meta). This scepticism is not just about the murky decision-making power of algorithms. It’s also that there is increasing awareness about the operation of digital platforms as private entities. Entities that do not exist for our own individual benefit. Entities which, even if they have some value as mediums of publicity, or have some public utility, are not publicly-owned. Put simply, whatever they say about their mission, digital platforms - ranging from Facebook to Google to Amazon to Airbnb to Uber - are first and foremost about making money. Making money in a way that relies substantially on extracting data about us: what we do, when, where and how we do things, as well as our explicit signals about why. Very often, this extraction also enables an approximation of who we might be. It is true that data mining can divulge intimate personal details about us. But what is principally happening in such processes is the construction of user models, a profile which we match, often fairly precisely. A model of a situated user that can be targeted for advertising, or marketing, or triggered in various ways to remain faithful the platform. And when users are faithful to these platforms, they generate yet more data for extraction. These insights have inspired a revival of sorts amongst political economy and Marxist approaches to media, towards a new critique of digital or platform capitalism. But is this capitalism? Or is it, as suggested speculatively by McKenzie Wark, something worse.

Thinkers Discussed: Shoshana Zuboff (The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power); Anne Helmond (The Platformization of the Web: Making Web Data Platform Ready); Tarleton Gillespie (The Politics of Platforms); Jose van Dijck (The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media); Jose van Dijck, Thomas Poell and Martijn de Wall (The Platform Society: Public Values in a Connective World); Nick Srnicek (Platform Capitalism); McKenzie Wark (Capital is Dead: Is This Something Worse?); Clive Barnett (The Consolations of ‘Neoliberalism’).

Media, Technology and Culture 09 (2nd Edition): Algorithmic Technologies

Media, Technology and Culture 09 (2nd Edition): Algorithmic Technologies

November 30, 2021

There is now widespread awareness of, suspicion about, and even opposition to 'algorithms'. As widespread as the multiplicity of situations and domains in which these mysterious entities seem to be making more and more decisions: around welfare payments; university places; travel routes; and police patrol routes. Algorithms are also pervasive in media and communications. They build you customised magazines with news from several sources, help inform what movies you watch, the posts you see in your social media feeds, the way a matchmaking website pairs you with others, not to mention all that advertising and direct marketing. Media today are personalised, whether we want them to be or not. And we are becoming more than a little worried about these algorithmic agents that seem to make all this personalisation possible. Their computational decision making, their capacities at deep learning: so hidden; so obscure. In this episode, we think about the growing role of algorithms in shaping contemporary media cultures, from the early rise of apps and personalised ‘filter bubbles’ to the rather ordinary recommendation systems we rely on today. We also grapple with growing concerns for how deep structural biases around race, class, gender and sexuality are embedded into and reinforced by the way algorithms – such as those enabling facial recognition technologies – actually work. But we will also ask: what if the politics of algorithms is not just about prying these black boxes open, revealing their internal biases and perhaps correcting them? Instead, might it be that we need to understand the problematic social and cultural conditions from which these algorithms and associated technologies sprout up, get nurtured and grow?

Thinkers Discussed: Eli Pariser (The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You); Blake Hallinan and Ted Striphas (Recommended for You: The Netflix Prize and the Production of Algorithmic Culture); Raymond Williams (Keywords); Daniela Varela Martinez's and Anne Kaun (The Netflix Experience: A User-Focused Approach to the Netflix Recommendation Algorithm); Safiya Umoja Noble (Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism); Ruha Benjamin (Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code); Fabio Chiusi (Automating Society); Axel Bruns (Are Filter Bubbles Real?); Frank Pasquale (The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information); Taina Bucher (If...Then: Algorithmic Power and Politics); Mike Ananny and Kate Crawford (Seeing Without Knowing: Limitations of the Transparency Ideal and its Application to Algorithmic Accountability).

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