• The Topology of the City Studio, The Cooper Union, Fall 2015; Professors: Pablo Lorenzo-Eiroa (coordinator), Dorit Aviv and Will Shapiro; Student: Bing Dai.
  • Sarah E. Williams working with Matatu drivers to develop the first map of the information transit system in Nairobi, Kenya. [Detail]

Chronotopic Imaginaries: The City in Signs, Signals, and Scripts

The ubiquity of today’s connectedness, in addition to the ongoing production, collection, and curation of massive amounts of data, has produced a new textual medium. Made of tweets, posts, messages, chats, etc. (all associated with time, date, and longitude and latitude), this new medium now flows through a pervasive network of computers, tablets, smartphones, PDAs, media players, and GPS navigation units. This “text” needs a new reader, one as critical and perceptive as previous semioticians who interpreted the signs and signals of often equally disruptive literary scripts. Unimaginable amounts of publicly accessible data reside on the databases of government agencies, corporations, and municipalities, from which a multitude of file formats can be downloaded, read, studied, and interpreted. It is perhaps due to this open access to digitally borne information about the cities we live in that Roland Barthes' maxim, "the city speaks to its inhabitants,” now operates at a much greater scale thanks to digital repositories that are, in fact, treasure troves for scholarly work. Humanists today face the unprecedented possibility of analyzing programming languages much as Ferdinand de Saussure once constructed a linguistic model made of signifiers and signifieds. Insights and solutions from multiple disciplines will inevitably be necessary in order to look at contemporary society and explore not only such phenomena as the “hyper-surveillance” of communication protocols, the “instantaneity” of transactions, the “immateriality” of production, or the “color” of profiling algorithms, but also more esoteric topics such as the “closetedness” of avatars, the “virility” of machines, the “coerciveness” of data validation functions, the “anonymity” of Anonymous, and the “reflexivity” of selfies—not to mention the style, syntax, and rhetoric of algorithmic bias in clouds made of zeros and ones.