In the fictional dystopia of Tim Maughan’s novel Infinite Detail, our dependence on urban technology has been suddenly severed.
... Infinite Detail has more than mere dystopia on its mind. Cutting back and forth between New York City and the U.K. port city of Bristol—and between the hardscrabble post-internet world and the uncanny near-future version of our own society that precedes it—Maughan grapples with our sacrifice of privacy for convenience, our dependence on networked technology, and the death and possible second lives of cities. The novel emerged in part from a series of articles he wrote for the BBC and Motherboard that chronicled the head-spinning scale of the modern global supply chain. “I’d seen stuff that made me upset or angry or frustrated or confused in various ways,” says Maughan, now based in Ottawa, Canada. “I found that putting that stuff in fiction was a much more visceral way of getting those issues out and onto the page.”
One of the paradoxes of Infinite Detail is that this anarchic and contrarian neighborhood in Bristol becomes of one of the few islands of stability in the post-crash world, and therefore attractive to all sorts of folks.
A big thing that’s happening in cities in the U.K. at the moment, especially in London, is nightclubs are being shut down. They’re in neighborhoods that were opened up in the ‘90s, because those neighborhoods were very run down, for want of a better phrase. Property was cheap. Nightclubs like Fabric became very popular, became brands in themselves, attracted people from all over the city, from outside the city, and from all over the world, eventually.
They revitalized the neighborhood around them. They become attractive places for people to live or set up businesses. Next thing happens is property developers move in, start building condos, and complain about the noise. So these clubs are being forced to shut down because property developers are building apartment blocks right next to them or on top of them.
Who loses in that dynamic?
It’s quite often the most marginalized communities or those people that have the most to lose.
Frank, the can-collecting guy [in the book], was an incredibly familiar figure to me when I was living in Brooklyn. These guys were constantly orbiting our neighborhood collecting recycling before the city came to recycle it so they could get a small amount of money for each can. That was their living. It’s an organic symbiotic relationship they have with the city. It struck me as the sort of thing that smart cities want to “solve,” in quotation marks. How do we solve the problem of recycling? How do we incentivize people to recycle themselves? How do we gamify recycling? It just kind of clicked into place as this really obvious way of exploring this idea.
We’ve talked about digital divides for a long time. What the internet of things does, and what smart cities do, is they take those digital divides—those divisions between who understands and has access and control of technology and who doesn’t—and they turn them into even more physical divides.