Екатерина Арье
«The Stack»
Бенджамина Браттона

The continuing emergence of planetary-scale computation as metainfrastructure and of information as a historical agent of economic and geographic command together suggest that something fundamental has shifted off-center.
But global transformations of hard and soft systems brought by computation have disturbed neat arrangements in ways that Clinton struggles to articulate and we struggle to describe and design for. While trade and migration perforate borders, state sovereignty and supervision over information flows are also dramatically reinscribed and reinforced. The possible architectures at work now and in the future seem twisted and torqued in the extreme.

In this context, this book proposes a specific model for the design of political geography tuned to this era of planetary-scale computation. It works from the inside out, from technology to governing systems. As we link infrastructure at the continental scale, pervasive computing at the urban scale, and ambient interfaces at the perceptual scale, we will explore how these interweave and how we might build, dwell within, communicate between, and govern our worlds. To do this, it draws on the multilayered structure of software, hardware, and network "stacks" that arrange different technologies vertically within a modular, interdependent order.

I propose The Stack as a way that we might map political geography, but also for how we understand the technologies that are making that geography. Planetary-scale computation takes different forms at different scales—energy and mineral sourcing and grids; subterranean cloud infrastructure; urban software and public service privatization; massive universal addressing systems; interfaces drawn by the augmentation of the hand, of the eye, or dissolved into objects; users both over-outlined by self-quantification and also exploded by the arrival of legions of sensors, algorithms, and robots. Instead of seeing all of these as a hodgepodge of different species of computing, spinning out on their own at different scales and tempos, we should see them as forming a coherent and interdependent whole. These technologies align, layer by layer, into something like a vast, if also incomplete, pervasive if also irregular, software and hardware Stack. To be clear, this figure of The Stack both does and does not exist as such; it is both an idea and a thing; it is a machine that serves as a schema as much as it is a schema of machines. It lets us see that all of these different machines are parts of a greater machine, and perhaps the diagrammatic image of a totality that such a perspective provides would, as theories of totality have before, make the composition of alternatives—including new sovereignties and new forms of governance—both more legible and more effective.
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?
The scenario described in the chapters to follow, and appearing before us in the real world, can be summarized as one in which Users, 10 human or nonhuman, are cohered in relation to Interfaces, which provide synthetic total images of the Addressed landscapes and networks of the whole, from the physical and virtual envelopes of the City, to the geographic archipelagos of the Cloud and the autophagic consumption of Earth's minerals, electrons, and climates that power all of the above.
In the figure of The Stack, we see not one totality but the production of multiple and incongruous totalities, some of which are "interfacial regimes," some are superimposed landscapes of Addresses, and others are interwoven Cloud and state geometries.

These geometries both draw and draw on the vertical platform of The Stack, and in doing so may also displace existing geographies with several alternatives at once. Perhaps these culminate in the apotheosis of Anthropocenic industrialism and perhaps they provide larval scripts for a post-Anthropocenic alternative, or both, or perhaps something much less decisive and dramatic. Our sights are not trained on how The Stack might hasten the messianic arrival of some seamless full-spectrum computational end of history, but how its gnashing and grating juxtapositions generate peculiar new spaces, normal enclaves, and how those exceptions are instructive as ways of deliberately reorganizing the world. Put differently, treatments of each of these six layers work with a particular caveat, that is Paul Virilio's axiom that the invention of any new kind of technology is also simultaneously the invention of a new kind of accident.

This holds true for the emergence of planetary computation and its Stack, as much as it does for the forging of aluminum and airplane crashes, set theory and stock market crashes, and incandescent light bulbs and climate change. Each individual layer promises its own range of possible accidents as it abuts its neighbors, and in some way each of the six layers is presented as a technology for accidents. Each is described in terms of both how it resolves the emergent accidental megastructure of The Stack into one and how the essential accident of each layer, and of the combined whole, points toward very different kinds of geosocial relations and geopolitical systems, perhaps especially those determined not by today's technology but by whatever technological regime will come after planetary-scale computation.

When geography becomes geolocation, who or what truly occupies any given place? Its owner, its user, the platform that makes it useful to either? Again, how is one person governed when platforms of governance see her as a User at a particular layer of a whole more than as a formal citizen?

Accordingly, sovereignty is now less guaranteed by the conceptual resolution of the flattened geopolitical plane as offered by the Westphalian nation-state system, but that does not mean that takes leave.

Globalization both destabilizes and enforces borders, tethering retronationalisms and technological integration into the same contradictory dramas, populated by state and nonstate actors, czarists and androids, switching sides without moving an inch.