What Happens to ‘Smart Cities’ When the Internet Dies?

By Lee Gardner – One of the chief criticisms of smart city technology is that it’s very generic. These technologies are very much off-the-shelf solutions—and “solutions” in quotation marks, because a lot of the smart-city stuff views cities as a problem that needs to be solved.

My view—and Bristol is a good example of this—is that cities exist as a bunch of different conflicts between different priorities and different communities and different infrastructures, and those conflicts are unique to every city. The idea that a top-down solution can be dropped onto every city is really dangerous.

One thing that cities and the internet have in common, it seems, is that they both embody these contradictory impulses people have to be together, and also to maintain privacy.

What’s public and what’s private is increasingly blurred by technology and the internet, and the privatization of public spaces is an issue that the book was trying to tap. What were previously common spaces, or public spaces, are increasing corporatized, even if just by advertising or through surveillance technologies.

In most cities in the world, there’s very little regulation. The use of surveillance technology by the city itself might be regulated, but it’s less regulated for people that own property.

That idea that you are being watched, that you don’t have privacy in public spaces, which sounds, I guess, oxymoronic in some ways—I think we should be allowed to have an anonymity in public spaces to a certain extent. That’s a real conflict, and I hope the book makes that something that people think about.

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We buy into that saying that if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to hide. I think that’s an incredibly dangerous expression, because it simplifies the surveillance argument down to one about law and order. I come from the perspective that that kind of law and order is probably incredibly dangerous in itself. But it’s more to the fact that we are being surveyed for our behavior and our data rather than for moralistic or legal reasons. more>

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