CONNECTED CITY, a daily adventure

(credits photo : Olivier Ratsi)

Where are you…? The city is not just an economic network based on division of labor—it’s a network of emotional connections, a perpetual source of crossed lives, tragedies, love stories, intimate and public moments.

The city as a confluence of networks is nothing new. Cities have always followed the same logic as networks; they have always constituted a system of exchanges. In this sense, medieval cities, for example, whose spatial structure was based on the idea of community (of beings, saints, etc), bear witness to this condition of the networked city. As new communication technologies have emerged over time, so has our awareness of the city’s networked dimension, on one hand, and on the other, the very social need for connection that is intrinsic to the city itself. The sprawling contemporary urban network is becoming ever more complex. The city as an increasingly difficult system of relationships represents the urban condition. In order to understand the city as a form of spatial and temporal organization, we must think of it as the result of a dialogue, of constant interconnections among all its elements.

Relationships with objects, with our surroundings and with others presents the city not as a closed object but as an arborescent structure. This inter-subjectivity shows that the city is not just an economic network based on division of labor—it’s a network of emotional connections and, consequently, a perpetual source of crossed lives, tragedies, love stories, intimate and public moments. Connected cities are built on existential relationships between people. In this regard, authors such as Michel Maffesoli refer to the existence of "primum relationis", or the naturally "relational" destiny of urban beings. It’s because the city is so connected that we can simultaneously disperse and converge within it.

Clearly, the connected city is strictly prohibited from being self-sufficient. And yet, between the city and those who live and consume it, sometimes there no longer seems to be any "real" communication. Communication as a system of agreement (or disagreement) with one another has given way to communication as referring to one another. How do we move about this connected city? The labyrinthine contemporary city is no longer measured in distance, but in meaning, identification and reference points. Its dynamics spring from factual, meteorological, geographical and corporal references. Geolocation and instantly customized maps have opened new worlds with new references. These new doors lead to urban landscapes that technology unveils (or not) before us, shaping objects and desires in space. In this territory, we find objectively new, intuitively exploitable and always subjectively improvable services. This is where images speak to the consumer’s body, to her sensibility rather than her capacity to "resolve" communication and mobility problems.

The current consensus that the city communicates with us is far from rational. Another level of interpretation is necessary to establish relationships between the producers of the city and its inhabitants. In order to better interact with (and within) the city, we must not only understand that it’s about networks and connectivity, but also consider that it’s an energy, always changing and continuously circulating. Thus, communication between the city and us is an immersion: we must be intimate with our daily connectivity needs. But we have long known that urban life is already present in the intimacy of our homes. When technological innovations have replaced the domestic hearth with an "image machine" (televisions, computers, screens, tablets, etc), we have in some ways unwittingly sketched out a new sensibility toward urbanity. Consideration of disorientation and alienation, as well as isolation and meditation have emerged in our daily urban relationships. In this sense, life in the city always presents itself to us as the outline of an adventure—an "ordinary", even "profane" adventure hidden in customized maps and constant exchange with our surroundings, like tourist and travel fantasies. Current technology has intimately adapted this adventure to our everyday needs.

Finally, the daily question "Where are you?" seems ever more invasive and dizzying, for it defines the identity of the correspondent by their location. In this way, all the maps, GPS, interactive reference systems, satellite views, panoramic photographs and computer-generated fantasies that inhabit our individual city become mobile devices that accompany us on our daily adventures. Connected, "prêt-à-porter", digital, instant adventures take center stage in our most deeply rooted urban experiences. Signage, for example, is not so much a series of strict instructions on how things work as a system of tracks—from prohibited relations with the image of the city (heritage conservation, museums, tourism) to fascination, strangeness and intrinsic transgression of these same prohibitions. This geographical intrusion is also the unconscious sharing of our intimacies. Dreaming the city instead of thinking it, hallucinating contacts instead of realizing them, such are the leitmotifs of our contemporary urban logic.

Manuel Bello Marcano



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