Category Archives: Stacktivism

we’re physical

The internet is tied inextricably into the physicality that is the earth. Even the network nodes that exist beyond this planets atmosphere have been constructed from the materials pulled from the ground below our feet.

Whilst many will now take their power from the sun, the very fact that they are there and are able to collect, transmit and receive data is dependant on the raw materials that this planet provided.

Roy Batty proclaimed that ‘We’re not computers Sebastien, we’re physical’ what we have done is built the paths and tools for computation onto a physical layer.

Our infinite virtual exists in the imagined space conjured up by this computation and our interaction with it.

At some level, at some point we have to step off the virtual levels of the stack and examine the physical parts that make this machine work and tally the cost of each component and each joule of energy it consumes.

Physical costs but so do bits.


Art and …

I was watching some of the twitter stream from an event last night about #Stacktivism. From the stream it felt like there were a number of people in a room who could not communicate with each other, their disciplines used elements of language differently, expectations varied.

I was not there and I am waiting for the video of the event but from the narrow strand of talk I did pick up on, it reminded me of something else.

A while back I was at a symposium at the National Maritime Museum on Art and Astronomy and I think there was one question from the day that is useful thinking about art and Stacktivism.

One of the artists, Elizabeth Price, who had won the Turner Prize in 2012, had been invited to talk about her work and was asked a question from the audience about the scientific usefulness of her work.

Price had been working at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, on work around their archive of photographs of the Sun.

When asked though about the outcomes of the artistic practice, in relation to the scientists work neither the artist or the scientist could give a straight answer, either a ‘Yes, her work gives us new insight into the data and we have done new research on X’ or ‘No, but the outcomes are pretty.’

Similarly, earlier in the day we had been introduced to the work by Hubble scientists in how they present the images that are released. How they echo the great American landscape artists of the 19th and 20th Century. Again a question had been asked on the ‘scientific usefulness’ of this work.

The question could not get a simple answer, it does not deserve a simple answer even though it was an easy question to ask.

One of the things art can do is take something ‘mundane’ and make it weird and in doing that make you think about the thing again.

Art can use the materials of other areas to make the art, it can inherently discuss the materials and processes or not. It can be considered political (or not). It can help describe, help define or just reflect upon.

The language of art becomes a part of the culture of communication, even subconsciously. The photographs taken by Apollo astronauts reflected an aesthetic of the time, and now the images from Hubble are often framed to recall the great sublime landscape art of the 19th Century, the frontier of American colonisation.

Even though the artist may use the data that was used by scientists and create a new output and that output by itself does not answer any questions the scientists immediately have does not diminish its value.

What is it that lies at the nexus of Art and Infrastructure? I don’t know yet, I don’t think anyone has developed it fully yet, no one is properly weirding that part of the world to make us think about it again.

A thin strand of the new digital infrastructural layers are starting to be reflected, presented back and made visible to us, but there are vast stacks behind all this that remain a dark matter to be explored and re-exposed.

Looking back at the history of art, could I just make a small suggestion, Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII could be an interesting node to start looking at this nexus, but then, so could Turner.

Mapping the Cyborg

I have been thinking about the cyborg and our instrumentation of the self. The Elegant Cyborg project is encompassing of a number of strands of investigation but initially I have been thinking about activity trackers, the data that they generate and the Stacks.

To get started on this I have started scribbling a few maps. Initially, in my notebook I drew this:

Its me trying to frame what I want to examine by cyborg. There is already a lot of research and writing on this and I am fully aware of the fact that we can create a definition of cyborg that encompasses all of modern human beings, in that they enhance their physical interaction with the word through technology. This can be corrective technologies and interventions such as medical intervention through drugs, or artificial limbs or even glasses or it could be self prescribed tools to enhance ones self, a smart phone to act as a reminder / memory and location finder or something like an activity tracker to specifically tally some activity data about oneself with a specific aim in mind. This aim is probably around fitness.

With Google announcing their Fitness data system at I/O the other day and Apple already having announced their HealthKit as a part of the forthcoming iOS 8 it is appropriate to look at this last element of cyborgification in more detail.

This map has a lot from the previous map, at the moment it does miss off genetic technology, 23andMe for example. It does show the Stacks over on the right. What it does not show is the place existing Pharma and medical technology companies play in this.

What are the questions to be investigated here? I think some of the following are worth looking into:

  • How do the different activity / health apps/devices compare?
  • Is the actual data useful to an individual (and/or how to make it useful)?
  • How is the data useful to the company offering the system?
  • Are there problems with the sharing of this data?
  • Are there ways of mitigating any such potential problems with this sharing?

On the second map sits Google Glass. Around the corner from my office at Central Saint Martins is the new Glass Basecamp. I don’t think glass counts as an activity/health device yet, but it is there in the cyborg enhancements. Its the bridge to the projects on privacy. Its the poster device for a reaction against the cyborg as an extension of a corporate entity (Wear Glass be a Stack Node?) but is that justified? Are all our interactions with an entity such as Google a cyborgification of our selves and do we need new tools and language to understand what that means to us and to it and how do we (if deemed necessary) change that so that the technology is still useful to us as humans not us humans being useful to the Stack.

[[I am currently trying to find funding for this project so if anyone has any suggestions for routes for such funding please let me know.]]


I wrote this for Mute Magazine, back in April 1999. It was my first attempt at getting down my thoughts on what is happening, and has not really stopped happening. It is simplistic and please do crit in the comments.

The current war inn the Balkans is being called the first Internet war. Previously, the Gulf war was hailed as the first information war. That is, information war in the terms set out by Bruce Sterling, Alvin Toffler, Jean Baudrillard et al – fought by a war machine using the latest information technology to strike at the enemy accurately, quickly and, notionally, ‘without risk to human life’.
Of course, the main front in this information conflict was back at home, packaging and selling the war to the general public. The information war was fought in our living rooms – by each side against it’s own populace. In information conflict, missiles and bombs go on destroying; civilians and soldiers go on being killed, but politicians require at least the illusion of a public mandate to sanction military attacks.
Now, eight years later, we have a similar situation, although this time part of the conflict is taking place online: both war machines involved in the conflict are using websites and newsgroups to spin their media hype.
At the same time, the NATO website was supposedly hit by a denial of service attack, a flood of pings requesting a response from the server and reducing it’s response time to a crawl. In America at least one person took it upon himself to do the same to a pro-Serbian website, using an off-the-shelf spam package.
All of these actions fit wonderfully into the new-speak of military action: ‘SYN Flooding’, ‘Denial of Service Attack’, etc – technical terms that generals would love to be able to use to describe aspects of their bombing campaigns.
Information war has to be constructive, not destructive. Instead of flooding the Net with SYN packets, we should be listening to it’s flood of voices. Away from the electronic toys of crackers and wannabe hackers, the information war is being fought with dialogue, conversation and the broadcast of ideas.
In media terms, the Internet is not quite up there with the televisions, but it’s getting closer to the living room corner. When it does, will we visit the site of consent, as we did before, or will we search out genuinely alternative sources of information? Instead of listening to the news about government sites being brought down by hackers, will we instead find sites built and emails sent by those on both sides of the conflict?

Art belongs to the infrastructure of society

– The Beach Beneath The Street , McKenzie Wark

‘Emergence from infrastructure into public space… ‘

– Explore Everything, Bradley Garrett

‘Todays infrastructure sustains the paranoid and waning civilization that will be tomorrow’s ruin’ – Alan Rapp, Architect

– Explore Everything, Bradley Garrett

‘Security Entertainment Complex’ Nigel Thrift

– Explore Everything, Bradley Garrett

The Open Journal of Critical Infrastructure Studies

An awful lot of us live lives wrapped in infrastructure, its what keeps many parts of the world functioning in a modern way.

A number of people have started writing, producing work that attempts to examine this infrastructure with the same critical eye that we cast over other components of our lives and the development of such a critical thinking framework is rapidly and increasingly becoming vital as the new infrastructure of the digital, communications network increasingly affects so many aspect of our lives.

Yet this infrastructure is increasingly invisible, from the fact that it uses electromagnetic radiation to transmit information through to the strategic agendas of corporations who wish to mask the underlying operational methods behind their productised solutions to modern life.

‘It Just Works’ being the mantra from Apple and you as the user of the apple product, do not have to understand how it works, just know that it does. Except that often it doesn’t or doesn’t quite and you won’t know why.

@thejaymo is concept curator at @stacktivism and Paul Graham Raven has created ‘Infrastructure Fiction‘.

Vinay Gupta (@leashless) has created Simple Critical Infrastructure Maps and written extensively on the infrastructure that keeps us alive.

We want to create an open access journal to disseminate the new ideas and thinking in this space. This is a blog post on starting the process and I will keep these going until we have one up and running or have decided that the area is already well served.

To this end we need to:

1. Check the landscape, what are the existing journals on infrastructure (critical or otherwise) and what is their approach? Are they papers on the latest implementation techniques for X technology or are they discussions on the implication of installing such a technology with such and environment and what could be the impact on the population of that environment.
2. Decide a domain to cover, is it about critical infrastructure, or is is critical thinking about infrastructure? Is it urban in scope? What does it encompass and what is outside of its remit?
3. Find a name.
4. Define an editorial process. Who will edit, how will review take place, how often will it publish, will it be online only or print and online?
5. Then launch journal.

(Somewhere in there we will attempt to find funding as well).

Since these discussions are already collaborative, if you have any thoughts on scope or ideas or name or anything, then please take part.