Jay Springett: So before I start, I’m just gonna say that this is going to be a bit of an info­dump. And I’m going to be going quite quick­ly. So if any­one’s got any ques­tions in the Q&A, please let me know. Because I’m going to be going quite quick­ly to move the con­ver­sa­tion on. I’m going to be mak­ing some sweep­ing gen­er­al­iza­tions about things. So, I thought I’d start off with a bit of a small­er top­ic, so let’s weigh in.

There are a num­ber of things through­out his­to­ry of cul­ture that soci­eties have used to tell sto­ries about them­selves. And whether these are memes or whether they’re myths is a ques­tion. But one of these, when talk­ing about the his­to­ry of civ­i­liza­tion is the his­to­ry of great men.

So Alexander the Great cre­at­ed the Byzantine era. Caesar of Rome civ­i­lized the Gauls, built the roads, and unit­ed Europe. And Genghis Khan cre­at­ed his empire and opened up the trade routes between the East and the West

Dan Carlin, who’s an ama­teur his­to­ri­an and pod­cast­er, talks about these men as his­tor­i­cal arson­ists.” And what he talks about is there’s the great men as an enti­ty, and then there’s the num­ber of peo­ple that they killed. And as you move for­ward in his­to­ry, the num­ber of peo­ple that they killed drops out of human mem­o­ry. So when we look at this, Alexander the Great killed 60 mil­lion peo­ple. Caesar of Rome killed 40 mil­lion peo­ple. And Genghis Khan was expect­ed to have killed about 100 mil­lion peo­ple in his life­time. So this is the sto­ry of great men of history. 

There’s a num­ber of these myths, such as man’s domin­ion over the earth, which is a meme of colo­nial­iza­tion. And the way social Darwinism has been adopt­ed by neolib­er­al­ism to express mer­i­toc­ra­cy. And then of course there’s tech­nol­o­gy as progress, which is one of the memes of cap­i­tal­ism. Science dis­cov­ers, tech­nol­o­gy exe­cutes, and man con­forms.” I don’t think you can get a bet­ter quote than that. So his­to­ry is writ­ten by the vic­tors, and it’s also rewrit­ten by the revi­sion­ist his­to­ri­ans. This is why Luddite” is used as a pejo­ra­tive. Because to ques­tion the tech­no­log­i­cal doc­trine of progress is to ques­tion the sys­tem and the cul­tur­al meme of the day. But here we are.

I’m con­cerned that the cur­rent lev­el of dis­course around pol­i­tics of tech­nol­o­gy is held very much in the same lev­el of cri­tique as fair trade. 

Fair trade does noth­ing to address the fun­da­men­tal struc­ture of the sup­ply and goods envi­ron­ment. Instead it tends to pierce down and build an eth­i­cal sup­ply chain from begin­ning to end. This com­plete­ly dis­re­gards the fact that the entire sys­tem is uneth­i­cal and does noth­ing to real­ly fix any­thing. So the ques­tion why is your cell phone cov­ered in blood is a ques­tion that goes far beyond the man­u­fac­ture and deliv­ery of the device. 

So his­to­ry of tech­nol­o­gy is the his­to­ry of civ­i­liza­tion. The pri­ma­ry con­cern of all humans through­out his­to­ry has been not dying. So the way that we have coped to mit­i­gate this risk of not dying is by build­ing infrastructure. 

Tap, turn, and flush. These are the three inter­ac­tions that every day you have with infra­struc­ture around us. The rest is hid­den. The key point is that whilst we inter­act with the tap, turn, and flush, the infra­struc­ture and the tech­nolo­gies involved in infra­struc­ture around us are part of a vast net­work of inter­con­nect­ed depen­den­cies, and they’re increas­ing­ly more and more hid­den from us. 

So this is what’s known as a Simple Critical Infrastructure Map, by Vinay Gupta. And it is an attempt to map the infra­struc­ture around us against the six ways to die. So too hot, too cold, ill­ness, injury, hunger, and thirst. These are the six ways to die, and the map with the indi­vid­ual at the cen­ter is an attempt to mit­i­gate those things. 

This is a typ­i­cal Westerner. So if we take cook­ing, which is in the hunger sec­tion of the graph, it’s relat­ed to the ener­gy pow­er sta­tion and the ener­gy mar­ket. It’s relat­ed to the water and the munic­i­pal water sys­tem, and also san­i­ta­tion sys­tems in the city. We’ve also got how and where you store your food. And you’ve also got where your food comes from in terms of the shop and how it gets to the shops. And those things are also relat­ed to the glob­al food mar­kets and the fuel markets. 

So this in the very crude sense is The Stack. What we’re talk­ing about is the stack of tech­nolo­gies that keep us alive, and also allow us to com­mu­ni­cate and trans­port. So the Stack is some­thing… This term allows us to map hid­den ter­rain of infra­struc­ture that keeps us alive, and allows us to speak about it conceptually. 

At this point what I’d like to do is throw out a term for this, and that is stack­tivism.” And it’s a term that I think is use­ful in order for us to con­cep­tu­al­ize this vast inter­con­nect­ed net­work of tech­nolo­gies that we inter­act with on a dai­ly basis. Because you can’t have a con­ver­sa­tion about some­thing that remains unseen. So begin­ning to have this con­ver­sa­tion, I think is some­thing that would be real­ly useful. 

So just to quick­ly cov­er the Stack. So this is a risk and resilience analy­sis graph of infra­struc­ture; this is actu­al­ly in New York. And you can see how the pow­er grid relates to the gas grid which is also relat­ed to the water grid. But they are also con­nect­ed and inter­de­pen­dent on each oth­er. So this also in the crud­est sense is a visu­al­iza­tion of the stack of technology. 

There’s Benjamin Bratton, who’s writ­ing a book called The Stack. He gives us some the­o­ret­i­cal lan­guage around infra­struc­ture which takes us from the user up to the Earth lev­el. So every inter­ac­tion they have, either with the Internet or with any kind of grid, goes through these sev­en points and then back down again. 

And then of course, the SCIM map gives us a rough map of these tech­nolo­gies and how we map it to the indi­vid­ual in its rela­tion with not dying. 

So these new eco­nom­ic geo­gra­phies mean updat­ing the pol­i­tics. One of the things that the Luddites under­stood was that cer­tain tech­nolo­gies inter­nal­ize cer­tain ide­olo­gies. And this is both in terms of the way they are con­struct­ed but also the way that they func­tion. So the his­to­ry of how the Stack is built and by who is the his­to­ry of civilization. 

So the munic­i­pal mod­el of infra­struc­ture built by the Victorians. Consider the water grid, for exam­ple. You build the water plant out­side of the city, you con­trol it, and then you con­nect every­one to it. This very much reflects the admin­is­tra­tive prac­tices of Victorian times. Control over the elec­tric­i­ty, gas, and water and our rela­tion­ship to these is an impor­tant ques­tion. Because it’s worth noth­ing that these things—the water and the gas—were cen­tral­ized far before they were privatized. 

In this con­text we should ques­tion the neu­tral­i­ty of the Stack, and the pow­er and influ­ence that it has over us. The same goes for terms that to seek to obscure infra­struc­ture, such as the cloud.” This term is in fact a term for a shed for the com­put­ers just off of the M4. So the polit­i­cal his­to­ry of each lay­er tells us some­thing about the time at which it was made.

Now, our rela­tion­ship with the Stack. The SCIM map puts an indi­vid­ual at the cen­ter of a sim­ple mod­el, and that is the six ways to die. Not dying is the prin­ci­pal con­cern of most of the peo­ple on our plan­et, and that is some­thing that we should at least rec­og­nize. So the per­son­al and polit­i­cal rela­tion­ship with the Stack is hav­ing con­trol or access over the means not to die from. It’s hav­ing the means to heat your home, it’s hav­ing the means to car­ry the waste away from you house, and it’s hav­ing the access to clean water.

Most polit­i­cal thought has cen­tered around human needs, which are in pure sur­vival terms shel­ter, water, fire, and food. There’s no health­care in that mod­el. Whereas if you were to negate the ways to die, then that con­ver­sa­tion is there. 

The cur­rent cri­tique of glob­al cap­i­tal­ism and the left in gen­er­al is of Marx. Marx’s inter­est in fac­to­ries and land is all pre-infra­struc­ture and it was writ­ten in the time when trade and colo­nial­ism, and war, were much clos­er togeth­er. Marx did­n’t see this stuff com­ing because it did­n’t exist. There were no grids in the time of Marx. He does­n’t give us a ref­er­ence point in this regard. At the time of Marx, you got your mon­ey and then you went and bought the coal to heat your house, in your house. This abil­i­ty to keep your­self alive is only evi­dent when it stops work­ing such as in Hurricane Sandy.

So, what hap­pens when you lose con­trol of the means not to die from? This is a pic­ture of Athens. You can’t real­ly see it that well, this is a pic­ture Athens from the win­ter. And there’s a haze of wood smoke across the city. And that’s because due to aus­ter­i­ty poli­cies there’s huge tax­es that have been put on oil and gas. So peo­ple peo­ple have gone back to burn­ing fire­wood in wood-burning stoves. There are a lot of eco­log­i­cal issues and health issues with this. There’s a lot more effi­cient ways of gain­ing con­trol of the means not to die from. 

So who con­trols the Stack is one of the 21st century…that should be our cri­tique of the Stack. It’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly who owns the robots. Instead it’s who con­trols the Stack. 

Thinking about our rela­tion­ship to the means of not dying in the Stack give us far more greater lever­age points than the tra­di­tion­al approach of the wage rela­tion. And it’s worth not­ing that the pol­i­tics that build a giv­en infra­struc­ture don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly die until the infra­struc­ture is gone. It is the rela­tion­ship with the means not to die from that should be politi­cized, because this is an approach that we can all share glob­al­ly. Thanks.


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