Limos and Shopping Carts:
the United States,

New Technologies and the Future,
San Francisco,
late 1996.

(Part 1 )

Cities are a sexy compression algorithm. The gleaming concrete and glass towers suit the dominant and dominating egos of the city's aggregated wealth and power, looming over and threatening the fragile and immaterial flesh and blood people scurrying hotly to and fro, way down, down, below the city's material skin. Small wonder then that the media and information architectures of corporations and government reflect this colder, bloodless structuring. Such a desirable framework attracts lots of attention. And money.

Cities take the slow-moving, rich and wide contours of a multiform cultural reality, speed them up and squeeze them into a template derived from the local histories, expectations and conditions of the location. An abstract and abstraction of culture. And the human elements make do as best they can.

Some elements - that's living, breathing human beings - in such a ruthless reduction of diversity, do better than others. In a way, the city compaction routine, urban and suburban life, self reflexively determines the social shape, colour and format of its participants and their activities. In the pressure cooker of compressed urban life, the best and worst of social and cultural activity are expressed and the strange taste of a strange future is revealed. Just as the complexity of a multilevel interaction generates a simpler outline or pattern that can be read from within the turbulence and seeming chaos of physical reactions. And nothing could be more physical that us.

A strong sense of the future is given by the state of large US cities where the acid flux of social, technological and economic change has left its mark on the people of the metropolis; melting and consuming the softest portions, washing over and scarring the harder ones. And in the successes and failures of these cities lies our own personal futures, our dreams, and our potential enthusiasm for and attachment to the future, any future.

For San Francisco, the estranged sister city of Sydney, perched on the edge of a vast bay, bound to nearby suburbs and cities by three steel-wire bridges stretching across the shallow water, enmeshed in acres of eucalypt trees and its citywide grid of streets and houses, is attached to a future. (Oddly enough the trees were planted extensively a hundred years ago to "rapidly replenish the cleared forests" of California displaying a bizarre symmetry with the equally inappropriate planting of American pines in Australia happening at the same time "to rapidly replenish...").

The mix of European, Latino, African-American and Chinese constituents have come to a never-quite pluralist price point of uneasy capitulation to the reality of cultural and economic difference, entrenched racism, and proximity to and complicity in the mythology of the capitalist dream of unlimited economic success, the goldrush: the forever in the future of striking it rich.

Only this time it's a siliconrush.

So near and so far from the out-of-town Silicon Fortress of Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Cupertino, where every other day fortunes are made and lost, and youthful entrepreneurs flash across the TV screens, newspapers and increasingly glossy magazines, the less fortunate city dwellers not caught up in the digital tornado instead congregate inside hopefully earthquake-proof, wooden houses, or feel the chill, foggy winds streaming in from the cold Pacific as they seek temporary shelter in shopfront, alley and park - a use of public space hardly envisioned by the original city planners, but a truly public use of space nonetheless. A domain for the new Untouchables of the Newt Deal.

The shambling, squalid, mumbling, screaming, pleading street poor pushing their possessions along in shopping carts set up a powerful fission between the prettified ultrawealthy, looking faintly ridiculous and out of place as they totter on awkward shoes and squirm in uncomfortable clothes, obscenely proud of using more resources than anyone else. 24 hours a day a seemingly endless long black Limo ferries pop stars, siliconaires and stockbrokers backward and forward between cocaine blurred social events and business deals. The new doctrine of the new Brahmin caste is "Libertarianism"; a rejection of any government intervention on behalf of those not in the loop. Their loop.

 

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TechTonic is a production of 3V 1995-2002