Time, here, becomes not a relationship to the spatial circulation of goods, labor, and commodity, but a thing in itself, a non-historical, but also non-geological or environmental time. Time as a pure ecology of self-reference. Such understandings of time, of course, demand that we ask: What is the relationship between derivation and extraction? And provokes new practices most significantly around measurement, since no longer is time = money, but money derives from the time = time. The form of time, here, is speculative not predictive. This logic takes its built form in engineering and design through the production of the testbed, demo, or prototype, which is a form of speculation on a future, without prediction; a practice invoked in many places, as for example through the prototypes and design demos that plan and re-perform, seemingly without consequence, the destruction of New York City.
Another way to think about how resilience and prototyping or demoing is linked is through distinguishing between risk and uncertainty. If the Cold War was about nuclear testing and simulation as a means to avoid the unthinkable, but nonetheless predictable, nuclear war ‒ now the formula has now been changed This distinction is best summated in the separation between risk and uncertainty first laid out in the 1920s by the economist Frank Knight. According to Knight, uncertainty, unlike risk, has no clearly defined endpoints or values It offers no clear-cut terminal events. In this case, the test no longer serves as a simulation of life. Rather, the test-bed makes human life itself an experiment for technological futures. This “uncertainty” embeds itself in our technologies ‒ of both architecture and finance. Thus, in financial markets, we continually “swap,” “derive,” and “leverage,” never fully accounting for risks in the hope that circulation will defer any need actually to represent risk, and in infrastructure, engineering, and computing, we do the same.
As future risk transforms into uncertainty, high-tech, particularly “smart” and “ubiquitous” computing infrastructures, become the language and the practice by which to imagine our future. Instead of looking for utopian answers to our questions regarding the future, we focus on quantitative and algorithmic methods, on logistics, on how to move things, and not where they end up or the measurement of the impacts of these actions. Resilience, now married to the infrastructures of ubiquitous computing and logistics, becomes the dominant method for engaging with possible urban (but also more sui generis infrastructures of transport, energy grids, financial systems. etc.) collapse. At the same time, terms like “smartness” become our new catchphrase for an emerging form of technical rationality whose major goal is management of an uncertain future, through a constant deferral of future results or evaluation, through a continuous mode of self-referential data collection without endpoint, and the construction of forms of financial instrumentation and accounting that no longer engage, or even need to engage with, alienate, or translate, extraction from history, geology, or life.
One of the key (and troubling) consequences of these two operations that now shape and form many logistical territories ‒ the practice of demoing, prototyping, and versioning and the imaginary and discourse of resilience ‒ is to obscure differences in kinds of catastrophes. While every crisis event ‒ for example, the 2008 subprime mortgage collapse or the Tohoku earthquake of 2011 ‒ different, within the demo-logic that underwrites the production of smart and resilient cities, supply chains, and infrastructures, these differences can be subsumed under the general concept of ongoing crisis without clear event structure. That is, whether threatened by terrorism, subprime mortgages, energy shortages, or hurricanes, smartness always responds in essentially the same way (and this because the demo is a form of temporal management that through its very practices and discourses evacuates any historical and contextual specificity of the catastrophe). It is precisely this evacuation of differences, temporalities, and societal structures that most concerns me in confronting the extraordinary rise of ubiquitous computing and high-tech infrastructures as solutions to political, social, environmental, and historical problems confronting urban design and planning, and engines for producing new forms of territory and governance. This logic also prompts us to ask about the possible alternatives.
Our challenge, then, is fundamentally to transform the current resilient hopes of deferring negative futures through the practices of demoing, which mirrors the models of software development, to another mode. This demands that we begin to examine the social movements, construction projects, and many efforts in art, design, the humanities science, and politics, which have challenged the positive embrace of end times, and fought to reintroduce other forms of time, and life, into space. When concrete first emerged as an ideal material in architecture and in art, it was in the interest of producing another world, one that was not yet here. Today, we face another challenge ‒ one of imagining another world while recognizing the tragedy that already has, and is still, occurring to most of life on Earth. This demands a change of tense for design and politics. We cannot dream of creative destruction, since we have indeed already destroyed the world, but nor can we continue to embrace a world without futures.