As the shape of political geography and the architecture of planetary-scale computation as a whole, The Stack is an accidental megastructure, one that we are building both deliberately and unwittingly and is in turn building us in its own image. While it names the organization of a planetary-scale computing infrastructure, my purpose is to leverage it toward a broader program for platform design. In the depiction of this incipient megastructure, we can see not just new machines but also still-embryonic geopolitical institutions and social systems as well. For these, The Stack is powerful and dangerous, both remedy and poison, a utopian and dystopian machine at once (it can go either way, and as Buckminster Fuller said, it will be touch and go until the last instant). As a model, The Stack is simultaneously a portrait of the system we have but perhaps do not recognize, and an antecedent of a future territory, and with both at hand, we hope to prototype the alien cosmopolitanisms these engender for us and suggest to us.
This accidental megastructure, this machine that is also a "state," is not the result of some master plan, revolutionary event, or constitutional order. It is the accumulative residue of contradictions and oppositions that arose to address other more local problems of computing systems design.
In other words, if the interfaces of the city itself address everyone as a "user," then perhaps one's status as a user is what really counts. The right to address and be addressed by the polity would be understood as some shared and portable relationship to common infrastructure. Properly scaled and codified, this by itself would be a significant (if also accidental) accomplishment of ubiquitous computing.
The Stack, as examined here, comprises six interdependent layers: Earth, Cloud, City, Address, Interface, User. Each is considered on its own terms and as a dependent layer within a larger architecture, and each is drafted from the superimposed image of the geographic and computational machines we now inhabit and the ones we might yet make. Each layer is understood as a unique technology capable of generating its own kinds of integral accidents, which, perhaps counterintuitively, may ultimately bind that larger architecture into a more stable order. These layers are not just computational. As much as it is made from computational forms (multiplexed fiber-optic cables, data centers, databases, systems standards and protocols, urban-scale networks, embedded systems, universal addressing tables), The Stack is also composed of social, human, and concrete forces (energy sources, gestures, effects, self-interested maneuvers, dashboards, cities and streets, rooms and buildings, physical and virtual envelopes, empathies and enemies). These hard and soft systems intermingle and swap roles, some becoming relatively "harder" or "softer" according to seemingly arcane conditions. The Stack comes from both equilibrium and emergence, one oscillating into the other in undeciphered and unaccounted-for rhythms, stabilizing and destabilizing the same component for sometimes mismatched purposes. What is its state condition, and, literally for governance, what kind of machine that is a state does it provide for?