urbanism and monumentality (3.3)

In March 2014, Twitter promoted a tool that would help you unearth your first tweet on the microblogging platform. The unearthing or shortcut to your first tweet probably saved a lot of people from scrolling, scrolling, scrolling down, down, down their twitter stream to unearth their first tweet. (The above was my first.) Funny to think of scrolling as a form of digging. Like getting to the bottom of a tell, to find the first form of the city.

At the same time that Twitter users were rediscovering their #FirstTweets, officials in Turkey tried to shutdown Twitter by removing it from local domain name servers. That prompted a very urban and physical response. People in Turkey started to post alternate DNS numbers on urban surfaces: on walls and on sign posts.

The city is a theater, says Mumford, a theater in which monumental works of art are produced and performed. The effect of this monumental, performance art, he writes, transitions in ancient urban history from the villager as actor in the town play to the citizen as spectator within the city. What is the person in the modern, networked city? A global villager or a networked citizen? A performer or spectator?

Whether carried around on phones or writ large on urban surfaces, the chirps of tweets and texts makes the citizen no mere spectator. Their performance in this context is within variably-scaled circles. That is to say, their snaps, texts, pics are produced for a social graph of followers and friends. Observations can be recorded – filtered and forwarded, but they don’t necessarily translate into action or reveal themselves as part of anything particularly monumental.

What is monumental in urbanism today? The monumentality of the city is the ability to comprehend or conceive it as an overwhelming whole. The walls of the city have the aesthetic affect of a border between urban and rural. It forms the place set apart, a greatness that even the least can find transcendence within – insofar as acceleration can be had on the subway or ascent can be experienced on an elevator. This greatness used to be for the ruling monarch and one can fairly say it is mostly for the social and political elites that manage and shape the city today, but access to a city’s greatness appears as open as the variety of ways a city without walls can be.

The frame for giving semblance of a whole to the city has changed over time. Cities like Seattle and New York have a natural setting that may stand-in for city walls. Cities like Vienna and Moscow have ring roads that still carry the symbolic weight of the walls they replaced. While skypscraper-skylines have an affect carrying equal force to the ancient city wall.

What remains of an image of the city as a whole is a semblance. Equipped with their own maps and graphs, every actor/agency/citizen/authority of the city charts works out their own image and the modes of networking are crucial for the exchange and translation of all these images of the city.

While the chorus of the modern city dweller is muted, it murmurs under pressure. The 8.8.8.8 of a corporately-owned domain name server was a co-opted tongue of the networked protest in Turkey. It is the address of a server, dressed as a message of defiant resistance and an invocation of the public to perform a bypass. The bypass can be interpreted as both a network workaround and as the potential of a political alternative resting on the strength of the immense variety of stable, workable urban images held in hand and heart of every city dweller.

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