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Inhabiting Technology

Inhabiting Technology

A Colloquium

10-12 March 2000

The Mall



To live in the turn of the twenty-first century global information society would seem somehow at the same time necessarily to inhabit technology. We are not only surrounded by technology, we are attached in the household to technology - to brown goods (televisions, stereos, VCRs), to white goods (kitchen electronics). At work we enter the world of 'grey goods' (computers and fax machines). As we move from home to work or from work to work, we dwell in - cars, trains, buses and planes - technology. Technology becomes not just attached to our bodies, but, increasingly, part of our corporeality, with drugs and implants and genetic and reproductive technologies.

Yet we persist in thinking in terms of inhabiting and technology as irreconcilable opposites. 'To inhabit' continues to connotes dwelling: it connotes private space, a certain fixedness in time and space, it connotes locality. 'Technology' for its part connotes movement: it connotes public space, its geography is global. Inhabiting connotes the home, the neighbourhood, technology international airports, Brussels, financial districts in New York and Tokyo. Inhabiting connotes 'place', it points to a classicism, a settled, habitual at-home-ness. Technology connotes the silicon valleys and silicon alleys. Inhabiting is community. It is identity. Technology says, along with architect Rem Koolhaas, 'who needs identity'? Inhabiting is the Amazon, Shitamachi districts in Tokyo, London's Peckham and West Ham; it is large stretches of The Queens, Paris's Malakoff, echt Berlin Kreuzberg. Technology is the generic city: Singapore and Shanghai. It is London's Shoreditch and City, Roissy and La Défense, the Jardins in São Paulo. Inhabiting is roots, technology rootlessness; inhabiting community, technology rampant individualism; inhabiting is memory, technology futures markets and the future. Technology is modernization and hypermodernization, inhabiting the reaction to the latter from radical Islam to radical ecology. We persist in this dichotomous thinking of inhabiting on the one hand and technology on the other. Thus we tend to persist in thinking of inhabiting technology as some sort of strange oxymoron.

Why do we persist with these oversimplified dualisms? Certainly, the interrelations of technology and habitation are more complex than this. Can we still be satisfied with high-tech visions of a global society, a speed culture and a virtual city on the one hand, and more communitarian and anthropological notions of inhabiting, dwelling or the re-assertion of 'place' on the other? Should we not instead be looking at how we indeed dwell in technology, how we inhabit technology. How we reside in technology - in, for example, the new 'wearable technology', the new interfaces of full screens and eye-screens, from portal to portal, from content to e-commerce on the Internet. Should we not consider how technology inhabits us?

Yet inhabiting technology has yet to emerge as a theme in contemporary culture. It is indeed the issue at stake in this meta-colloquium, this gathering together of 100 experts in London's Institute for Contemporary Arts in March 2000, this meeting of diverse culture specialists, which will not so much thematize, as problematize such technological dwelling. These culture specialists will be drawn from the worlds of theory (philosophers, anthropologists, sociologists), architecture, curatorship, design, from biotechnology, planning, engineering and the digital media.

We will address inhabiting technology in terms of four dimensions: space, time, materials and corporeality.
  1. What is the spatiality of inhabited technology? How is virtual space technological? Can we speak of a technologization of real space? Are the frontiers between private and public, of nation being eroded? Do we inhabit technology or, in the example of genetic technology, does it inhabits us?
  2. What is the temporality of inhabited technology? What is its turnover time, its rate of decomposition? In what sense do we inhabit movement? What are the implications for futures, for memory?
  3. What are the materials of this technology we inhabit? Are they the tectonic materials of engineering? What about the immaterial of digital technology? What is the materiality of genetic materials?
  4. What is the corporeality of inhabited technology? How do our bodies
    orient themselves in a technological space which erodes fixed markers?
    What are the implications for the senses? The implications for sex and
    sexuality? For death?

The conference will consist of these four 'streams' - on time, space, materiality and corporeality.

Speakers include Rem Koolhaas, Daniel Libeskind, Paul Rabinow, Golrianna Davenport (MIT Media Lab), Hans Ulrich Obrist, Marilyn Strathern, Karin Knorr Cetina and many others.

The event is presented by the Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths College; Theory, Culture & Society and the ESRC Virtual Society? Programme.

The outcomes will be a special double issue of Theory, Culture & Society, also published as a book in the TCS Book Series, a CD-ROM, and availability of this digital material on the Internet at the ICA website.

Participation is by invitation only.


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Contents current at 12th January 2000