Let the Technology Fit the Ecology

Bruce Sterling tells us that we should stop saying “Smart Cities.”  He’s right, of course.  Cities are pretty stupid.  Population densities that range into numbers that need exponents are the first idiotic thing about them, but this isn’t intended to be a digression on cities themselves—it’s intended to consider what’s wrong with how we’re thinking about cities and how we can change the thought process.

First of all, we need to discard the “everyone has an equal amount of skin in the game” mentality.  Human progress is about advancing some people and leaving others behind.  The problem comes from being in the latter group.  We can’t stop building the pyramid just because that one old grease lady slipped under the rolling bit.  It’s not fair, it’s probably not desirable, but no amount of liberal arts degrees dreaming about our conjoined future is likely to change it.  We want to discard the “we just need to” mentality.  You know, we just need to make basic services available to everyone regardless of economic status or we just need to not pour millions of tons of pollutants into the atmosphere daily.  I’m a firm believer in sculpting the world you want to live in while existing in the one that’s real.  There’s no switch to throw that just changes things, especially human nature.  Stop trying to throw switches.

Sterling hints at the solution when he writes “Why trouble to ask the ‘citizens’ what they want from urban life, when you can accurately surveil the real actions of city’s ‘users’ and decode what they’re actually doing, as opposed to what they vaguely claim they might want to do?”  All we need to do is follow the money.  Or more to the point, make the money follow us.

The failure of a number of products in commercial marketplaces is that they were developed for the developers, not the end users.  “Smart cities” are the same.  Too often now we’re designing toward ideals instead of ideas.  Technology doesn’t change the foundations of what we, as human beings, want to do, it changes how we do it.  The way to develop smarter cities is to adapt to how people want to live, not attempt to chisel out some utopian fantasy of how you think they’re supposed to.  If your desire is to change the human experience for the better (something even the most cynical of us probably want), then recognize the inhabitants, as Sterling does, as consumers.  Let the technology fit the ecology, as it were.  Yes, I admit that I’m proud of that turn of phrase.

The greatest inventions in human history have tapped into the human experience, have resonated with what people want.  I encourage tech developers to explore the paths of human desire, even the basest of them, not for the ends of those paths, but how they’ll branch out.  A Robert Frost quote here would probably be great, but who has the time?  I’m trying to figure out what next great invention will come out of your porn addiction.

Which is, of course, a great name for a cocktail.  It’s something that you really enjoy, feel kind of bad about consuming, and is likely not particularly good for you in the long run.  I present Your Porn Addiction (since all things regretful start with tequila).

3 oz. high quality tequila

6 amarena cherries

.5 oz lime juice

Muddle the cherries in a cocktail shaker.  Strain off a half the juice and set aside.  Add crushed ice, tequila, and lime to the cocktail shaker.  Stir briskly, then pour entire contents into an Old Fashioned glass.  Drizzle the set aside juice on the time.  Garnish with a wedge of lime.

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About sheldonmenery

Sheldon Menery is a self-taught food and wine aficionado who has circled the globe in search of the riches it has to offer. He's wined and dined at some of the best (and worst) places in the world.
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