The computer in the palm of our hands is a ‘portal gun’ — an entry point to a planetary structure linking lithium mines in Chile to offshore data servers in Russia, to fiber-optic submarine cables in the Atlantic to freeports in Singapore, to corporate-owned satellites in orbit, to a swelling quantity of IP addresses and teraflops of data. Old cultural, economic and political structures and connections are being reshaped by digital technologies into new, uncanny geographies — and all the while we already inhabit them.
In order to understand and map how technologies and policies have shaped each other and morphed into new forces in different parts of the world, we are working with a diverse group of people from all continents to represent these technopolitics. By working with photographers, designers, cartographers and academics, we aim to navigate the hidden politics of the Great Chinese Firewall and the New Silk Road via photography, or visualize the algorithms of Amazon through graphic design and more.
The digital reality we find ourselves in is increasingly complex. The tools we have to navigate it do not yield meaningful agency anymore. Old maps do not account for new folded, fractal borders that are created in cyberspace and do not show how national digital borders have become physical at odd places in the world such as cobalt mines in Congo, owned by China, or Amazon-owned cloud servers in Singapore. At the same time, states are increasingly morphing into non-local platforms (like-E-stonia) and cloud platforms in some ways take over traditional roles of the state, like Google doing cartography through Google Maps.
If maps are tools to aid in navigation, new kinds of maps are needed. And these new tools cannot be thought of again as ‘universally applicable’ as the old maps were, from a European perspective. Modern cartography has for centuries been the spearhead of colonialism. And corporate-run mapping systems (like Google Maps or Bing) are just a different flavour of the same. As such our current techno-political realities have both global aspects as different histories and different meanings in different zones of the world.
Vertical Atlas applies the conceptual model of the Stack, as laid out by Benjamin Bratton, to actual geographies in order to unravel the mesh of intertwined conflicts among powers and sovereignties at different locations. With its different functional layers, the Stack is a way of schematising and investigating the accidental megastructure of planetary scale technological developments. Applying the Stack model reveals materialised techno-politics that remain hidden under current predominantly economic, technocratic or cultural modes of understanding geopolitics.
The fourth edition of Vertical Atlas events, Futures.gcc, focusses on the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. Positioning themselves as competing digital, corporate service platforms and each branding themselves with their own futuristic architecture, megacities and investment opportunities - they all create and make us question visions of artificial futures>>
“[...] now billions of Earthlings carry little bits of Africa around with them in their pockets” - Benjamin Bratton. When talking about technology and its cultural impact, the American-led internet and Silicon Valley are always taken as the global technological standard. This disregards important parallel histories of technological development in different regions across the world, that are shaping the future of digital technologies. From ancient divination systems to contemporary science parks, African cultures have been pioneering and producing algorithmic thinking through arts and crafts for centuries already>>
Lately the African continent has been the backdrop for a fierce competition between Chinese and American cloud platforms and hardware giants in pursuit of the most rapidly growing global user-base. This Vertical Atlas event was focused on the growing African technological future, discussing a wide variety of Afrotech cultures that are forming, rooted in the old knowledge networks and pre-colonial algorithmic thinking>>
Since the early 2000s, a new sovereign model has started to surface from the supposedly free space of the Internet: cloud platforms such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple (GAFA). Over the years, it has become clear that these platforms represent not only a new corporate model, but also a political one that claims sovereignty over cyber and material space through its infrastructure and algorithms>>