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4_Social Technology

Today globalization has become probably one of the most undisputable conditions of our societies. Perhaps its greatest power comes from technological advancements in the field of communication, and exchange of information across the globe. And what is socialization and social contact if not communication between individuals!

Architecture is not a static field. It is an expanding discipline that, as I have shown, has evolved in the past to solve and express man’s greatest psychological concerns. Architecture has as its main characteristic creating conditions or environments where human activities can take place in. And space is nothing more than visual sensory input from an environment one finds oneself in. If this sensory information is coming from a ‘real’ space or from a digital one matters little. Especially after movies like ‘The Matrix’ emerged proposing what we think as real being possibly very far from so.

Technology today affords the second road out of which architecture can innovate itself in a meaningful way. The new road is linked to the computer and digital technology. Yet, some of the other benefits that the computer has brought is not, and should not be, what we focus on. One of the great benefits the computer has brought to architecture is the ability to create and manipulate endless new forms – as had been suggested before in Survival and Replication in Architecture – form s that allows architecture to attempt innovation through the wasteful process of mutation. Mutation can be described as wasteful because it consists of random changes to the form of a shape without any meaning or thought behind it – random changes in hope of finding something that works. However, like the biological process of mutation, it produces mainly garbage, since most mutations fail to achieve meaningful modifications to the organism, and in many cases brings changes that jeopardize the organism’s existence. Therefore, all the new form generating capabilities that the computer has brought (through incredible form generating software, algorithmic processes, etc) has not generated any meaningful architecture because we cannot relate to all the new shapes that are created – this problem being the problem that people that say they will create something completely new face when wiser people reply that nobody can create something completely new, or that if you do nobody can understand it, for there is nothing to relate to, if it is indeed completely new. Thus, out of the new technological advancements the computer has brought, I believe that to be the wrong thing for architecture to focus on, although clearly the easiest and most attractive to latch on to (which explains why indeed architects today have latched on to it).

The truly meaningful characteristic that new technological developments have brought is the ability to communicate, and socialize! The development of cellular phones; sms text messages; internet with email, chatting, video chatting, video conferencing, and more, with anybody, no matter where they are located in the world, is the most salient and radical of the new technological advancements for architectural purposes, and also the one that must be taken advantage of. The greatest benefit of the digital architecture mentioned before is that with the development of the internet it can be made available and made to be able to mediate interactions of people across the globe. The internet has provided a platform where digital architecture can become ‘real,’ that is, meaningful and functional in creating environments where human beings can interact.

In addition, the internet provides, for the first time, for true freedom of individuals! As mentioned before, in today’s societies one can’t know other people’s true intentions because we all have to follow society’s rules and codes of conduct if one is not to be punished by imprisonment or fines. Thus in today’s public spaces, everybody is supposed to act a certain way, a way that is considered normal; and any deviations makes one at least become ostracized – as one is cast into the group of “weird” people. In other words difference is looked down upon if not downright punished (e.g. in many states in the USA to be gay is be a criminal). Thus one is forced to hide one’s true self in today’s societies, and only in very private settings does one reveal oneself. The potential of the internet as a social sphere is that it, by the reverse process of panopticism, completely liberates the individual. Without the eye of society watching and judging, one can feel free to express one’s self without any reservation. It also makes it easier to find other likeminded individuals not only across the world, but also in one’s own cities (before, because one had to hide, finding other people that shared the same beliefs was very difficult if not impossible.)

With the amazing success of websites like Facebook.com, MySpace.com, Friendster.com, and many other similar social networking sites it is clear that the internet has an incredible power to not only connect people from across the globe, but also create places where they can and do interact to great extents. The potential of the internet to become the place where socialization will most prominently take place in the future lies at the heart of my interest. The great benefit of the internet is that one can maintain one’s privacy, and meet only who and when one wishes to. Over the internet one can establish networks of people with the most uncommon of interests, and because the world is what one has to choose from, one will be able to find countless numbers of individuals with the same particular interests. Even if one were to take only people that lived in the same city, with millions and millions of people to choose from, groups of tremendous numbers could still be formed. With the internet it becomes easy to find people that share the same interests without having to expose one’s self to the eye of society. And in websites like Facebook.com one can create networks of people based on very different criteria: where one was born and raised, where one is living, where one went to school, what one has as a hobby, etc. And much like the real world one can see who the other people know, and find which friends one has in common with them, so that more trusting relationships can be made. The problem with websites like Facebook.com is that in it one usually becomes friends only of people one knows in real life. Which in itself is great because one can keep contact with all the friends one has spread across the world, but the full potential of these networks are not utilized. What would be even better is if one could meet new people through it, through the networks that one has in common with other people, and through the friends of our friends that we can therefore trust.

In today’s big metropolises, the younger generation at least, spends most of its time in front of a computer screen inhabiting the digital world. Yet, websites are designed in ways that are mostly information driven, while a great number of these websites have the potential to have a social sphere incorporated in them, given that the people that visit the website would probably be interested in meeting the other people that also visit the website (given their common interest). The only way people have of interacting on these websites is through posting messages in a board that people reply to or not – which is very limited given the potential they have if one measures the massive volumes of users that frequent these sites.

Not to mention the real promise of sustainability that this brings! Construction represents in the world one of the biggest producers of CO2, spending of energy, and use of natural resources. If the latest financial crisis shows that construction and new development will indeed take a big plunge, and that even after the market recovers there won’t be as much construction as there was before, then why not take the next step and make future architecture, future spaces of interaction, mostly digital?!

The revival, or rather, the emergence of true social space with all the tremendous new possibilities it faces with the internet, digital environments and technologies, after millennia of social repression is what architecture must deliver! The internet allows for the creation of an infinity of worlds, all completely independent and private from each other where people with the most different and particular of interests can find each other and populate their own world without supervision from society!

Capitalism has achieved, with the society of the spectacle, political control over the minds of individuals the world over! Individuals have thus been rendered completely passive as consumer culture has infiltrated their minds to such an extent that their only concern is to consume – consume as much as they can before they die and not have the chance to do so anymore . For life is short… and one must enjoy it while one still can… Or so Capitalism has led us to think! In the movie Gladiator, one hears that one of the main functions of the Coliseum in ancient Rome was to entertain, or better, distract the mob – give them something to do other than think and talk about politics with others, so that the politicians could still rule unchallenged and the system of power maintained.

In ancient Greece a great discovery was made – the potential of free time! Some of history’s greatest thinkers and philosophers came to being because of it. It is known that they promoted the cultivation of one’s mind in one’s free time – a fundamental commodity in their culture. In fact, the Agora was viewed as a place where Greek citizens – who had free time because of their wealth – could engage in public discourse, exchange and develop ideas. In other words the lack of distractions was valued! And indeed it bore its fruits with the emergence of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle to just name a few. The Agora did its job so well that it eventually led to its own destruction, or the destruction of its ideals at least, when because of its success perhaps history’s greatest thinker, Socrates, was killed (as described in Plato’s ‘The Apology’) for having ‘mislead the youth’, that is, using the power of socialization brought by free time to achieve among many other things a change in people’s minds, become aware of the systems of power and how it works, and organize to possibly challenge it.

Today only an infinitesimal amount of the world’s population has the ability to enjoy free time as the Greeks did, since most people have to work to make a living. Yet, the view of free time as a commodity has been totally lost. Today free time signifies boredom. Not an opportunity for reflection, critical thinking, and self growth. One is in a constant search for things to fill one’s free time with, in a constant search for distractions! Especially if the little free time one has comes after a period of arduous work, thus leaving one with a need for “relaxation” and entertainment (without adding to it all the propaganda capitalism puts forward for it already). Thus one can see that work is one of capitalism’s greatest weapons in rendering individuals powerless in attempting any insurgence against it. The second is its promotion of the spectacle or distraction culture as a way to alleviate the existential angst of living in today’s societies; which is brought about by, third, the creation of mega-globalized-metropolises where it places most of the world’s population – effectively rendering them ostracized, without a community, and therefore paranoid about the people surrounding them (as had been explained in Meaningful New Architecture). And fourth, as a development of the ones just mentioned, the elimination of the public sphere which – much like the closing of Tiananmen Square to massive numbers of people in trying to prevent their organization, and thus their potential for political manifestations – makes for an ever greater individualization and loneliness, and therefore ineffectiveness to organize in larger numbers –the major way human beings can effect change (strength in numbers).

One might not yet be able to change the necessity one has today of working in order to survive in today’s society, but architecture can and must provide for the rest with the development and revival of social interactions in internet based digital environments!

2 comments

  1. yeah, but.. hmm…


  2. Sidi, this is all really good. My props! So what exactly are you planning to do with all of this? real and virtual sutff? just virtual?
    you are going somewhere man, make me proud…
    and keep me posted



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