Friday, 30 October 2020

Technology and the City panels @ PHTR conference

To celebrate the publication of our edited volume Technology and the City: Towards a Philosophy of Urban Technology, we will host two sessions at the Philosophy of Human-Technology Relations Conference (4-7 November 2020).

In the first panel (Nov 5, 12:15), EL Putnam, Kevin Mintz, Taylor Stone, and Ryan Mitchell Wittingslow will present and reflect upon their contribution to our book. You will find the abstracts below. The session will be chaired by Pieter Vermass, the current president of the Society for Philosophy of Technology and one of the co-editors of our book.

The second session (Nov 5, 14:15) will be a workshop organized by Sanna Lehtinen, Taylor Stone and myself which aims to identify future urban technologies which will shape and will be shaped by life in the city. Ideally, the exercise will lead us to the first outline of a future research agenda for the philosophical exploration of urban technologies. Of course, the presenters from the first panel will join us.

Needless to say, there are more sessions and presentations at the Philosophy of Human-Technology Relations Conference (4-7 November 2020), which are of relevance for our domain: For example, on Saturday, Nov 7, 12:30, a panel on "City & Architecture" will feature talks by Tea Lobo, who also contributed to the book project, and a presentation by our colleagues from the Designing for Controversies project. The session will also feature a talk by form PSTS-student Hidde Kamst, who wrote a wonderful thesis on citizen-participation in smart cities initiatives. I am also looking forward to the workshop on "Designing Frictions for Active Technological Environments" co-organized by our co-editor Margoth González Woge and yet another PSTS alumni, Samantha Valenzuela.

I hope to meet some of you at the event! We will continue our series of launch events for the book in December 2020. And here are the abstract for the City and Technology session:

EL Putnam: Locative Reverb - Artistic Practice, Sound Technology, and the Grammatization of the Listener in the City

There are various ways that artists use technology in exploring the relation of sound to the urban environment, which has different impacts on the listener in relation to place. The rising prominence of these works is connected to a broader sonic turn in urban studies and art, underscoring a rising emphasis on the influence of sound on multisensory experience. Using Bernard Stiegler’s consideration of technology as pharmakon (or the condition of duality in which something is both poison and cure, bringing both benefit and harm), and his definition of technological grammatization, how artistic use of technology mediates the relationship of the urban environment to the listener through sound is studied through a pharmacological approach in order to nuance the possibilities of artistic critical engagement, emphasising how this can include unintended consequences of re-enforcing certain listener behaviours. At the same time, considerations of how artistic repurposing of listening technology can provide new modes of urban engagement are taken into account, where sound offers the impetus for what Brandon LaBelle (2017) refers to as sonic agency.

Kevin Mintz: Universally Designed Urban Environments - “A Mindless Abuse of the Ideal of Equality” or a Matter of Social Justice?

In “Justice and Nature,” Thomas Nagel rejects the claim that social equality requires the universal design of urban environments to accommodate people with disabilities. Universal design is a movement in architecture and other arenas to minimize the need to provide individual accommodations for people with disabilities by designing environments that are accessible to a wide range of individuals. I advance that Nagel inappropriately categorizes universal design as a matter of humanitarianism or charity. He miscategorizes universal design in this way because he wrongly assumes that the inaccessibility of public facilities results from an impairment itself rather than the inaccessible design of urban environments. I argue that for people with disabilities to receive equal access to a city, universal design must be a central consideration in urban policy and construction. I also suggest that assistive technologies are necessary to the realization of universal design. These technologies are critical to facilitating responsible design, and relational autonomy for people with disabilities. In situations where universal design is impractical, cities should aim to retrofit facilities for disability access as a matter of justice whenever feasible. My presentation will further address how my argument has implications for urban design in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Efforts to promote social distancing also provide opportunities to improve the accessibility of public facilities and urban modes of transportation for people with disabilities, particularly theme parks, restaurants, and airplanes.

Taylor Stone - Dark Acupuncture and the Possibilities of Responsible Urban Innovation

Building on the contributions of Technology and the City, this presentation will explore if – and how – the philosophy of human-technology relations can contribute to urban planning and design, and vice versa. This will be discussed mainly via my contribution to the volume, which outlines strategies for incorporating environmental values into nighttime lighting. One strategy refines the planning theory urban acupuncture to foster positive experiences of darkness, offering new possibilities for urban lighting. Beyond serving as a provocative moral and aesthetic argument, this creates opportunities to work with designers on the realization of responsible lighting strategies. To exemplify this possibility, two collaborative projects will be presented that translate the concept of dark acupuncture into site-specific design proposals. The first is a lighting master plan for a park in the Netherlands. The plan focuses on wayfinding and the re-design of light-dark transition zones (specifically adjacent highway underpasses), to create a dark habitat within a densely urbanized region. The second is a design concept for a pedestrian bridge in Jakarta, Indonesia. To draw attention to the impacts of light pollution, the bridge lighting has been re-designed to resemble an unpolluted night sky – meant to convey an environmental message via an immersive experience. To conclude, generalizable insights will be sketched regarding the interaction between the philosophy of human-technology relations and urban design. In particular, a future direction for the philosophy of urban technologies will be proposed: taking ideas off pages and into the streets.

Ryan Mitchell Wittingslow - Authenticity and the “Authentic City”

Thanks to the transformative power of information and communication technologies, smart cities purport to offer managers and bureaucrats a more harmonious and efficient means of reducing traffic, managing assets, and increasing public safety. However, I am dubious of these utopian sentiments. Indeed, I argue that the benefits that smart cities purport to provide cohere poorly with a number of our shared phenomenological intuitions about the relationships(s) between authentic experience and technologised society. While many of these intuitions are, strictly speaking, pseudo-problems, they deserve our attention. The belief that technologised urban spaces somehow corrode our potential for authentic experience is one that carries enormous power, as Charles Taylor argues, authenticity is nothing less than the contemporary moral ideal. Consequently, it indelibly colours the relationships that we forge with our artefacts. These issues will only grow more pressing as our ‘dumb cities’, already so opaque to experience, give way to hyper-technologised ‘smart cities’. However, it is possible to design our way out of these pseudo-problems. Assuming we accept my argument that the distinction between authenticity and the device paradigm is premised upon a certain kind of category error, there is no categorical or definitional reason why it is not possible for urbanised, technologised spaces to feel authentic, whether by virtue of their aesthetic properties, or because they facilitate ‘authentic’ behaviour. Indeed, I argue that ‘inauthenticity’ is an aesthetic rather than an ontological category (much like ‘ugliness’, or ‘boring-ness’), with feelings of inauthenticity serving as evidence of a basic failure of design.

Friday, 16 October 2020

Book launch events (update)

To celebrate the launch of our edited volume Technology and the City: Towards a Philosophy of Urban Technologies, we will organize a number of events with the authors. Robert Seddon will go first. He contributed a chapter entitled "Ghost walks for wireless networks" for our book and will speak about Cultural Icons and Symbolic Links at the Colloquium of University of Twente's Philosophy department on Thursday, October 22, 2020, 15:45-17:15 (local time). This will, of course, be an online event - and we invite everyone in an interested in technology and the city to join! Just send me an email and I will send you the link to the virtual meeting. Of course, there will also be some activities at the Philosophy of Human-Technology conference in November PLUS some independent events. Stay tuned!