Preview: Sensing and Sensibility – Politics and Technology in the Contemporary City

We have been told that, like our minds and memories, our computers’ hard drives are palimpsests—that even when we delete files, traces of our activities remain as encoded fragments of personal data digitally persisting unto posterity. The Internet is similarly awash in the ripples created by our surfing, with search history, purchase history and various personal histories all entwined in the comet-like trails of our virtual movements. These data, which we are continually producing, are mined by government entities and private corporations for a variety of purposes, ranging from law enforcement to marketing.

And what of our physical movements, from home to work to play? Of course, they, too, are tracked, monitored and archived, by surveillance video in the public realm and our own smartphones glowing benignly in our pockets—making the built environment a social palimpsest writ large. Individuals’ movements become mass motion, whittling dirt pathways into park greenery and carving underground transit tunnels beneath our cities. Infrastructure, hardscape and greenscape change with the tides of human movement, and buildings reflect generational shifts in taste, fashion, and technology. Meanwhile, data is constantly being generated and collected.

The stuff of many a dystopian nightmare, these facts are also the subject of much intellectual debate. Join the conversation at a panel talk co-organized by MAS Context and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago on Thursday, April 23.

Click here to read my preview of the talk.

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