18 April 2007


One of the purposes of this blog is to explore the way technology and the built environment have molded our lives. That's a very broad subject, and I've been torn between focusing on writing about technology on which I need to be conversant for work, and the sociology of material culture. One of the blogs I've noticed, but feared was a bit too far afield to link to on the sidebar (at least, for now) is Subtopia, a blog devoted to the militarization of the urban landscape.

Click for larger image

When I first became aware of the subject, I was astonished at the degree of specialization. Surely there's not much to say about this subject? On the other hand, I know I have a lot of hobbyhorses that would appear to be exhausted in no time. And after a few minutes of utterly fascinating exploration, I discovered that Subtopia has an endless reservoir of material. First, with the phenomena known collectively (and wrongly) as "globalization," the world in which we live has become criss-crossed with defensive boundaries. The most famous are probably the Israeli "security fence" and the Mexico-US border. Other famous examples include the border between the Koreas, the Spanish (Ceuta)-Moroccan border, and neighborhood barriers enforcing segregation. This enforcement of borders, though, is by no means confined to windswept, austere border regions. The mania for prisons and gated communities reflects the deep divisions imposed by the soaring disparities in income or privilege; surveillance cameras and electronic sensors are used to regulate and control movement, even when that movement is sanctioned.

Now, I want to make some clarifications here for my readers. I'm not opposed to walls or controls or regulations. To be honest, looking at photos of the barrier between the US and Mexico fills me with great shame and sorrow, but I understand the demand for them. The industrial system per se seems to require hard boundaries as a form of heat engine, rather the way the invention of the steam engine required the ability to machine tool steel containers for high-pressures. Still, I believe people need to know the artificiality and occasional barbarism of these barriers. Perhaps then they might realize how arbitrary and random their station in life is.

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