The 2016–17 Rice Seminar proposes to look at specific nodes along a network of contemporary life. These nodes, or intelligent “end-points” able to communicate without hierarchical agency, are the very cities that today aspire to be mega, ideal, sustainable, virtual, smart, or resilient formations. Interlinked by computers, mobile devices, and real time sensors, these are places where the implicit connectedness of how we ought to live together depends on distributed networks, rules, codes, protocols, and infrastructures, all bound by a paradoxical, if not panopticistic, social contract now located in Cyberia. In such cities, the social fabric continues to collude (and potentially collide) with the very resilience of disciplinary and control societies. The regularity of social or architectural form has, in fact, become far less relevant than the orchestration of the data that a city produces, collects, and curates. The promise of democracy in the connected city is also “always already” contradicted by a strict hierarchy that either structures access to information or that predetermines how (and by whom) the very tools of communication talk to each other. As Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web, once put it, there is “one centralized Achilles’ heel” to the Web’s otherwise decentralized system: computers may be free to talk to each other, but only if they abide by given naming conventions. This means that the system can, in theory, be brought to a halt by whomever is in control of a limited number of root name servers, which until recently added up, ominously enough, to the mere number of 13.

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