It’s Wednesday, 27 July, 2022 in Portland, Oregon and it is still hot.
Some short things today:
EETimes has an overview of where China’s using graphene and as far as I can tell it’s not sponsored content. Caught my attention because: graphene feels like an example of “technology that’s been on the horizon for ages” and that might turn into a slowly, then all at once, a bit like quantum dots being just everywhere. Or, you know. Branding.
IEEE Spectrum covered weaving your own ferrite core memory, you can get a kit from core64. Caught my attention because: yeah, it stores 64 bits of RAM but the idea of computer-storage-you-can-see and “make infrastructure visible” is intriguing to me.
I wrote/had the thought the other day that infrastructure is that which when you stop believing in it, it goes away
a) it’s a Philip K. Dick reference (Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away)
b) Terence Eden reviewed Me++ The Cyborg Self and the Networked City by William J. Mitchell on his blog and pulled this quote out right at the top:
We experience networks at their interfaces, and only worry about the plumbing behind the interfaces when something goes wrong1
c) a Daily Beast op/ed, You’re Going to Miss the Deep State When It’s Gone by David Rothkopf, also published yesterday on 26 July
… and everything collided in my head.
If you stop believing in infrastructure – if you stop tending to it, prioritizing it, maintaining it, if you get too complacent about it, if you give up on caretaking, on housekeeping – then at some point it will break and go away.
Or, rather everything eventually breaks and goes away and everything will whither and die if you wait long enough. There’s the idea that we humans don’t live long enough and don’t remember enough, that people are (partly) complacent about vaccines because nobody remembers how debilitating and devastating polio was (although there’s one person in particular who should know better), so to reinforce my bias, whomst amongst us is surprised when the first polio case in the U.S. since 2013 has just been detected in New York.
Infrastructure doesn’t work (he says, tritely) like love. If you love the infrastructure your lifestyle depends upon then you do not get to set it free (I mean, obviously, you can) and if it loves you too it will come back. It will not come back. That is not how the universe works. Infrastructure is what you get from other people doing work, deliberately, over time, for the benefit of more people (ideally all people) and when those people are othered or hidden, then of course the work involved in it gets devalued.
There’s something here as well in the it just works mantra, the whole designed so well it just does what it’s supposed to do, which is to say when that really works, how much work was involved in it? When you hide so much behind an interface, or even worse you make it so what’s hidden can’t be easily seen, then what happens?
Magic boxes don’t need maintenance although at this point I’m just free associating and some magic boxes do need maintenance in that they need ritual sacrifice or whatever, almost like “the price of having electricity that works in America is a government that shuts down in budget renegotiation every year or so”.
It feels like there should be (I am being lazy here) the sort of visualization that’s here’s everyone required for your city to work, here’s the people, here’s the supply chain, here’s how enormously, mind-bogglingly complex it is. We saw that during COVID (I don’t know why I say that – COVID is still happening) and for a brief optimistic moment there was the thought that perhaps systemic change might happen, that this might be a spasm moment where True Disruption occurs because we all pull together. But things are never that clear, we’re not in a movie.
One thing that’s different in the U.S. from the UK that’s stuck with me is the whole deal with pavements/sidewalks and snow. In the UK, making sure pavements are free of snow is a public responsibility in that, as far as I remember, the government is supposed to do it. But in the U.S., it’s the individual property owner’s responsibility. In the UK, if you trip and fall on the pavement/sidewalk, then it’s probably the council’s fault, I think? But here, you get to sue the property owner. Sometimes. I guess? This has always felt wrong to me, because clearly we all benefit from collectively making sure pavements aren’t tripping hazards.
The funny thing that happens here is that if you live on the right kind of street (or most? I don’t know), then it snows and you might see all your neighbors out there, shoveling snow. And there’s a tiny collective/community moment where you can see someone doing work, and you’re doing work, and it’s super visible. Like, you can see who shoveled and who didn’t. And you have an opportunity to help out if someone can’t do it.
So. Infrastructure. People. Work. Stuck in my head.
That’s it for today. Are you surviving?
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William J. Mitchell, Me++ The Cyborg Self and the Networked City ↩