From Metaphysics to Metadata: Aesthetics and Politics of Interface

by Nicola Bozzi | Download PDF

This work is a conceptualization of stereotype circulation in contemporary society, emphasizing its globalization and mass-mediation. With the premise that people and space are increasingly read and interpreted as data, I address stereotype in the form of metadata, pointing out the protocological (Galloway, 2004) and asymmetrical (Pasquinelli, 2008) dynamics of its production and categorization. Metadata consists of imaginary symbols shared in a collective imagery and “attached” to individuals and space to facilitate their interpretation on a global scale. It is channeled by infrastructure – the technologies and regulations enabling global flows - and filtered through interface -the filtering systems that mediate them behind the illusion of free choice. I discuss the compromising nature of metadata in terms of identity imagination (Appadurai, 1996) and urban polarization (Castells, 1992), by analyzing the examples of four emerging stereotypical figures: the Nerd, the Hipster, the Comedian, and the Gangster. While discussing their relationship to four main types of metadata (structural, textural, body, scale), I touch issues of identity, gentrification, and social segregation. In the conclusion I propose a mapping of subversive uses of stereotype, in order to phrase new strategies to reclaim real agency within the realm of interface.

Dreaming is work, you know...
There I am in a comfortable bed, the next thing you know
I have to build a go-kart with my ex-landlord.
I want a dream of me watching myself sleep.

- Mitch Hedberg


I want to be stereotyped,
I want to be classified.

- The Descendents, Suburban Home


Introduction: Infrastructure, Interface, Metadata

It has become clearer that despite the infrastructural pervasiveness of information technologies and the homogenization of global cities, a longing for both individual and communal identity still survives, a local reflex co-existing with a global imaginary, channeled through mass media.

While the flow of people and goods is not yet as fast as that of information, there are reasons to notice certain isomorphisms, connections and intersections between these streams. Because of both the impersonal quality of flow itself and the increasingly active role an individual has to play in the definition of his or her own identity, people themselves are progressively dealt with and read as data.

In the last decades, and in different fields, the term “imagination” has been widely used in scholarly literature, most likely because it connects the “intensive” plain of desire, famously theorized by French philosophers Deleuze and Guattari since the Anti-Oedipus, with the more semiotic one of the mass-mediated images shared by the globalized world.

To Italian philosopher and activist Franco “Bifo” Berardi, imagination is a collective space for social practice,[1] something that American anthropologistArjun Appaduraialso highlights — especially in relation to diasporic public spheres for deterritorialized citizens and migrants all over the world.[2] Both theorists acknowledge immaterial labor as another aspect of contemporary imagination, tightly related to issues like the precarious working conditions of the cognitariat[3] and the myth of the “creative cities.”

If imagination as a cognitive production of value is a collective process, Italian scholar Matteo Pasquinelli warns that its political space is competitive. By defusing the false conviction — typical of free culture movements — that “information is non-rival,”[4] the author of Animal Spirits outlines the “immaterial civil war” as “the internal border of a broader immaterial class conflict.”[5]

I will argue that, both on the level of value accumulation and on that of identity imagination, the currency of this conflict is metadata.

I define metadata as the imaginary symbolic units shaping the globalized collective imagery, distributed through mass media and used by individuals or groups to attach them to people or space.

Metadata is iconic and discursive. It is meme, cliché, pre-formatted expectation, template, compromise. Metadata can be a commercial product, a name, a musical preference, a profession, an appeal, exclusivity. Unlike the numerical data attached to consumers and citizens in capitalist society (bank accounts, passport numbers, etc), metadata is utilized and recognized by people, which is why it is both empowering in its creative potential and dangerous as a stereotypical approximation.

Metadata does not represent a direct correspondence between a significant and a signifier, but, depending on use, it can be a simulacrum[6] or a dispositive.[7] It aggregates and clusters into stereotype.

Metadata is channeled (transported, directed, targeted) through global flows of information and people, legitimated by patents and regulations, national and international funding, laws, and conventions. I define infrastructureas the sum of all the technological supports, legal codes, and state funding that enable the production, distribution, and sharing of metadata. Infrastructure is the sustaining principle allowing flow, including both informational protocols and the set of laws, regulations, and institutional backing required to enable global flows of finance and people.

Infrastructure can be national or international, but it is usually and significantly publicly financed and institutionally run. It manages labor dynamics and outlines urban planning, designing structures and patterns to be filled by actors (individuals, companies, or organizations) with metadata. It is not only highways and transportation channels, but also university networks, which shape knowledge around predetermined grids dictated by public funding.

Infrastructure's most important feature is the enabling of flow, which is its priority. One of its main functions is to provide standards, because flow control is important to it. It recognizes metadata, and thrives on it. For this reason parcelization of content is crucial, and metadata is as effective as it is discrete and spread.

While minorities and immigrants are allowed unprecedented desires and imagined lives through infrastructure,[8] this extracts such libidinal surplus to channel it and invest it into itself.[9] For what concerns urban spacing, the infrastructure works as an urban growth machine.[10] As David Harvey explains, the machine's goal is to enable monopoly rents for both private interests and state powers.[11]

It is through this public-private synergy that infrastructure actualizes into interface. In order to adapt to a more versatile conceptual use, I deploy this term as a hybrid between the notion used in computer science[12] and the one used in chemistry.[13] Interface can be seen as a middle layer between infrastructure and metadata, an actualization of the former populated by the latter. It is the visible part of infrastructure, or the sum of the possible metadata choices individual actors can make.

If infrastructure is public, interface is a synergy of public and private. If infrastructure is zoning laws, interface is real estate. If infrastructure is capitalism, interface is the market. The former is virtual and potential, the manifestation of an environment for possibility; the latter is the aforementioned environment, populated and actualized by metadata.

Just like infrastructure enables flow, interface enables choice. Just like flow, choice is important and mandatory, but different types of metadata can allow different levels of agency, both in relation to infrastructure and to interface itself. By agency I mean the socially constituted capacity of an agent to act,[14] that is, making independent creative choices inside of a specific environment.

In the globalized and post-Fordist world we live in, national and international authorities are increasingly willing to collaborate with private actors to create productive interfaces. Harvey mentions the emerging urban entrepreneurialism as a mix of state powers, organizations, and private interests forming coalitions to promote or manage urban-regional development.[15] As for the media, according to Pasquinelli, corporations have created a vertical system filled with horizontally generated content provided by their users' animal desires.[16]

It is very important to point out that, while infrastructure is rigid and can be altered only by complex and large-scale political action, interface can be subject to emotional perturbations. The politics and the aesthetics of interface are thus crucial in understanding the dynamics of identity imagination in the contemporary world.

As global informational citizens, perhaps our most urgent duty is that of a conscious and continuous selection. I will explore the implications of this process, trying to explain how metadata is selected and channeled, by analyzing certain stereotypical figures in popular culture and their relationship with their categorical attributes.

Each of those figures is not intended as a dogmatic definition of specific actors, but as a trend, a limit-case to which an average individual might tend. They all come from United States-inspired imagery, both because of the undeniable North American influence on globalized popular culture and because of personal interest. For simplicity I will discuss each figure independently from the others, even though there could be hybrid forms between them.

The figures can be organized in two groups, depending on agency. The first group consists of the Nerd and the Hipster, who are allowed to interact with the infrastructure and the interface, respectively. The former takes advantage of what I call structural metadata, while the second relies more on textural metadata.

The Nerd is a highly specialized and well-educated professional, whose agency is effective in institutional environments — typically, corporations and academia. His metadata is “structural” because his attributes are read and evaluated in areas that can virtually affect infrastructure itself, such as technology, public funding or financial flows.

The Hipster is a figure that can move through all urban styles with ease, and that is able to see patterns in commercial, aesthetic, cultural, and social dynamics. I call the metadata he makes use of “textural" because it is quite visible and related to his lifestyle.

The two remaining figures are very different from each other, but they both lack the level of agency of the previous two: the Comedian and the Gangster, representing body metadata and metadata of scale, respectively. These two types of metadata are connected due to their contingency and site-specificity, which underlines the grounding of metadata in actual social and urban configurations and also as metadata beyond choice.

Body metadata consists is all bodily features that can carry a cultural or stereotypical backdrop. In my analysis of its implications, I will consider the ethnic kind in particular, because it is the most vulnerable to cultural bias and is at the center of debates around political correctness and other social issues. For this reason, I chose to use the figure of the Comedian to exemplify different uses, both challenging and seconding the flow of this type of metadata.

Metadata of scale is the most complicated. It is a metadata of locality, but one that can shift its scope depending on context, from belonging to a broad national identity down to a housing block. Scale is transitive — a locality transfers its properties on the people in it — and constructed from the top down, but it can also be claimed as a turf. The Gangster, whom I associate to this type of metadata,is essential in showing the way the U.S. gang imagery can be globalized through pop culture and deportations, but can also limit community imagination.

Although an admittedly partial and arbitrary sample, these four limit figures show the specificity of metadata and the way it allows different levels of agency, as well as clarifies the nature of stereotype: ashared, vague, versatile, and not necessarily truthful image resulting from a particular configuration of metadata.


Infrastructure And Flow: The Channels Of Metadata

The reasons why stereotype is both dangerous and empowering, as mentioned above, are tightly linked to the founding properties of the channels of the stereotype's circulation and the modes of its production. Even though most of this paper will discuss issues related to identity, it is important for me to explain how these properties affect space as well, following fractal logic.

In order to outline the core principles at the root of stereotype circulation, I will now discuss the system of infrastructure and interface, and the relations they have between each other.


Structure and Infrastructure

The importance of structure in the process of the creation of worlds, rather than the importance of their content, has been the focus of several important thinkers from various fields: Gilles Deleuze (1973), Nelson Goodman,[17]Christopher Alexander,[18]These theorists all try to define a set of native principles in the generation of consistent models, starting from very different questions and approaches, but sharing some key concepts: division, order, relationship.

Deleuze in particular describes the structure as the real subject. To him, all structures are virtual infrastructures, which differentiate by actualizing themselves.[19] Since space is what is structural, inside a structure places prevail on what occupies them.[20] Space is built step by step as an order of vicinity, where vicinity has an ordinal meaning, rather than extensional.[21]

According to Pierre Levy, Deleuze's virtualis “a kind of problematic complex, the knot of tendencies or forces that accompanies a situation, event, object, or entity, and which invokes a process or resolution: actualization.”[22]Despite being opposed to the actual, the virtual is still completely real, even though it is missing a specific form. For this reason, virtual infrastructures are particularly powerful, because they include every possible actualization without indulging in any — just like the power relations described by Michel Foucault, which are not so much enforced, but assumed: “To govern […] is to structure the possible field of action of others.”[23]


From Infrastructure to Interface: Urban Simulacra

If a structure is the actualization of a virtual infrastructure, and to structure is to govern, an interface is the middle layer between power and the citizen/user.

Data is governed through interface, but — as both urban planning and the so-called Web 2.0, with its social networks and crowd-sourcing, have taught us — such power is exercised subtly and indirectly. Actors make their own choices and, by populating the flows enabled by infrastructure with their own production, actualize it into an interface.

Infrastructure is a series of vectors whose intrinsic and constituting property is to channel flows, to enable a process. Interface is made of infrastructure; it makes it visible to users in order for them to make choices. To best clarify their relation, I will examine the example of the most common representation of infrastructure, in its pervasiveness and materiality: the map.

The emergence of map-based Internet and phone applications has now produced different examples of what scholars Michael Batty and Andrew Hudson-Smith have called “urban simulacra.”[24]

The two scholars highlight the process in which certain relation patterns repeat themselves in the development of cities as well as in virtual worlds, starting from a simple structure which repeats and incorporates itself in a quasi-fractal dynamic. While the “spatial skeleton,” or “shell,” as the authors call it, remains the same, the media embedded — constituting the skin, or the texture, of the simulacrum — can change at different scales.

If the shell of the map, the basic spatial vectors at its root, is fixed, its actualization — a paper map, a map-based web application like Google Maps or Earth, an augmented reality iPhone app like Layar, even an actual city — varies depending on the interaction environment that is built on it. Things as different as the two-dimensional (an online real estate mapping service) and an environment like Google Street View can derive from the same map.

If those maps are visually isomorphic to the cities they represent, what makes them simulacra is the possibility of an actual intersection with the real elements that constitute them. The real-estate prices visible on Zillow are immanent to that ground, and the information provided on Google Local is related to actual commercial premises. The different interfaces of those simulacra employ different filtering criteria, depending on their use. What is being filtered, and the one thing that make those applications truly distinct, is metadata.

Metadata populates interfaces, thus actualizing them. In order to be managed, though, it has to be properly formatted and optimized. In this respect, I think a crucial revolution in Internet informational structures is XML.

Since, according to Alexander Galloway, protocol is “any type of proper behavior within a specific system of conventions,”[25] XML is “a set of rules for encoding documents electronically,”[26]and since the ultimate goal of Internet protocols is to “accept everything,”[27] the design goals of XML are to “emphasize simplicity, generality, and usability over the Internet.” Also, since protocol “governs the architecture of the architecture of objects,”[28] XML is the way metadata meets the infrastructure, thus actualizing it into an interface.

Since XML is a universally accepted standard, there are countless applications and languages that rely on it, from RSS feeds[29] to KML (a geo-coding language read by Google Earth).[30] Newsfeeds alone are a perfect example of the real-time informational potential of Web 2.0, which would not be the web of flows without XML, just like Castells' space of flows would not exist without the international standards that gave way to globalization.

XML is not enforced, but recognized and always accepted. A significant example of its versatility is the possibility for the person who is writing the document to create arbitrary markup tags, to name each element and structure their relations. Also, by defining attributes, it is possible to attach metadata to each element (sometimes called a node), which can be later interpreted by the algorithm or application that is being fed the data.

From the very textual root urban simulacra are built from, they actualize themselves by differentiating into relational patterns that users establish with metadata. Despite the high coefficient of creativity involved in the structuring of metadata, we should not forget that the priority is not a rhizomatic self-expression, but the optimization of flows. As Baudrillard wrote in his text about simulacra: “The real is produced from miniaturized units, from matrices, memory banks and command models.” It doesn't have to be rational anymore, “[i]t is nothing more than operational.”[31]

These aspects of infrastructure and interface aren't only true for map-based applications, but are intrinsic of our globalized informational society.

Pierre Levy describes the way the whole of our collective framework — especially the fields of information, our economic activities, and our modalities of being together — are virtualizing.[32]Manuel Castells analyzes the same changes, describing how “the network of information flows [...] penetrates all activities.”[33]The actualization of the problem of spatio-temporal coordinates posed by the virtualization of corporations, described by Levy, takes place in Castells' space of flows. The structure — or better, infrastructure — allowing the space of flows to exist is both technological and institutional, and the flows themselves are above all economic.


Containers and Heterotopias

If XML is an informational standard that enables flexibility in content and efficiency in transmission, there is an element in contemporary urban design that exemplifies the same type of operational formatting. I am here referring to Michel Foucault's heterotopia, best exemplified by the shipping container.

In his book Recombinant Urbanism, urban design scholar David Grahame Shane describes the contemporary metropolis as “a layered structure of heterotopic nodes and networks.”[34]Shane utilizes the Foucauldian concept of heterotopia in relation to the enclave and the armature. Heterotopias mix “the stasis of the enclave with the flow of an armature” and within them “the balance between these two systems is constantly changing.”[35]Quoting Foucault, Shane describes the emergence of heterotopias as a shift towards a system of “sites” — that is “relations of proximity between points or elements” — that replaced “extension,” creating a world in which space “takes for us the form of relations between sites.”[36]

The container is probably the perfect example of Shane's heterotopic sites. Like an XML node, this versatile architectural element has a varying function/texture, but it is fixed in its structure, which is conceived for the optimization of space and its relations with other modules. The shipping container thus represents the overlapping of infrastructure as a set of rules in capital exchange and as a neutral wrapper: it can be used both as an information unit involved in commercial flows and as a module to which any urban purpose is assigned.

Its very basic volume (optimized geometry) and the object itself (the metal container) exemplify the economy — both aesthetically and structurally — in its infrastructural need for smooth transportation and practical storage. Also, its not-so-fascinating wavy metal surfaces can be augmented, through the use of modern projectors and audiovisual technologies, with the aesthetic connotations of choice.[37]

Containers are also in line with today's real-time politics, since they are utilized both as emergency housing resources[38] and means of occupation.[39]


The Stereotypical Rhetorics of Urban Space

Since protocol has to standardize in order to liberate through the virtual infrastructure of global capital, zoning laws and local incentives, in global cities certain neighbors are labeled as “creative,” while others — where the immigrants are deflected — become known as “ghettos.” Such labels become effective metadata, attached to the people who inhabit those areas.

Castells analyzes the spatial conditions of place in the location of technology-related industries, trying to find patterns in their distribution. The election of a particular area to the status of a technology-fertile ground, and the resulting creation of social and professional milieus in the same area, seems to depend on certain infrastructural characteristics, making the location particularly fit for channeling global flows of investment capital and product transportation. For example, social control of labor is important to keep innovation going, and if work regulations are meaningful variables to location choice (something visible in the sweatshops phenomenon), real estate and zoning laws are the infrastructural parameters shaping spatial polarization around different professional classes.[40]

While Castells talks about a dual city,[41] where the social gap between specific skilled workers and unskilled service workers is increasingly dividing the urban population through the patterning of space and systematic gentrification, urban consultant Richard Florida[42] has made himself the spokesman of a creative workforce whose main concern seems to live in a place where sushi bars and art galleries are within walking distance. For an economic boost, Florida suggests city councils to increase the bohemian and creative coefficient of their cities.

Matteo Pasquinelli writes that Richard Florida's creative class is a simulacrum produced by the cognitariat and attached to a territory to be exploited by the upper class through rent.[43] The Italian writer also refers to David Harvey's “collective symbolic capital[44],” harvested in order to extract monopoly rent, either from preexisting subcultural scenes and historically constituted cultural artifacts and practices, or artificially fabricated.[45]

Researcher Bas Van Heur describes the Creative Industries as “a service industry, one in which state investment in 'high culture' shifts to a form of welfarism for property developers.”[46]He is also very skeptical about developmental rhetoric (or “economic imaginaries[47]”) like the Knowledge-Based Economy and their stereotypical qualities, for example the loose definition of creativity[48] and the supposed incentive to social inclusion.[49]

With the excuse of growth, social issues arise: from the “endocolonization”[50] of downtowns, evicted from the poor and reclaimed by the middle-class, to the exploitation of housing rents in subculturally-appealing areas (“The price of our house rent is rising because we produce the value of the district we live in”).[51] While the infrastructural investment in private enterprise for their development is state-financed,[52]the overly competitive market forces the people who actually work there in precarious and low-paying conditions.[53]

If work is one of the parameters by which areas are profiled, it is definitely not the only one. Globalization has created multi-ethnic metropolises where different groups give form to ethnicity-based environments. These environments are not necessarily culturally integrated with the surrounding neighborhoods, and they are mythically connected to their “tales from the homeland,”[54] something American anthropologist Arjun Appadurai defined as “diasporic public spheres” and “communities of sentiment.”

Such communities constitute global narrations, personal histories and worldwide family connections, but they can sometimes be antagonistic to one another. Infamous terrorist movements like Al Qaeda have shown how the informational, globalized infrastructure can also channel dangerous flows. This is one more reason why its protocological control is so pervasive, as we can experience ourselves every time we have to pass through airport security.


Living by Metadata. Folksonomy and Parasitical Infrastructure

Metadata are imaginary symbols[55] in the sense that they belong to a shared collective imagery, where each symbol does not have a descriptive value, but an autonomous potential of association loosely bound inside of a certain range, varying on context. It does not represent a direct correspondence between a significant and a signifier, but it is more like units of imaginary, similar to the simulacra famously defined by French philosopher Jean Baudrillard.[56]

Metadata can be used instrumentally and accumulated asymmetrically, thus carrying ideological and political implications in its very format. Since metadata is channeled through global flows, carried by both the media and the people using them, it is as effective as it is discrete and spread: clean-cut metadata can spread faster, and spread out metadata becomes an accepted standard — for this reason it is crucial that the imagery be shared, and that data keep flowing.Also, the possibility for metadata to be creatively and instrumentally used within the ideological space of its circulation makes it a potentially double-edged weapon.

In Protocol, Alexander Galloway explains how, according to Foucault, biopower is the power to interpret material objects as information, and how, as stated by Deleuze, individuals are “dividuated,” sampled, and coded.[57] If the only way we can get in contact with each other is through conceptualization,[58] the cliché (the violence of representation, according to Deleuze)[59] inscribes itself on the flesh, through the convergence of media and desire in the collective imaginary.[60] In the information age, then, demographics and statistics become more important than real names and identities,[61] and it is no surprise to learn that Google, with its huge statistical power, is interested in genetic and biometrics.[62]

Along with the schizophrenia, famously praised by the French philosopher, depression appears as a collateral damage, as pointed out by Franco “Bifo” Berardi.[63] At the same time, though, the Italian activist also sees a creative and active potential in those images.[64] The image can be “a narrative dispositif,” which can provoke “effects in consciousness” and predispose it to “produce effects in the world.”[65]

However, not all images have the same potential, in the same contexts. The essential imbalance in metadata is due to its folksonomical nature, something exemplified by “tags,” one of the main features of the so-called Web 2.0.

Tags are textual attributes used on online platforms to organize content. They are usually organized by popularity, but also by trivial formatting rules. While tags are characterized by creative textual freedom (as opposed to the more rigid categories,)[66] in order to share content with the most people, a user should format his or her tags in accordance with the most popular formula. This system of classification is commonly referred to on the Internet as “folksonomy.”[67]

Like user-generated tags, imaginary metadataemerges from a collective pool of shared images. Like tags are social, so metadata is built on the intersections of common desires and imagination, following specific aesthetic standards depending on the media that channel it.

However, the asymmetrical nature of metadata is the result of other factors too. Pasquinelli refers to economist Enzo Rullani to explain the value of knowledge, depending on interpretive, multiplicative, and institutional mediators.[68] With Lovink and Rossiter, he also points out that networks thrive on diversity and conflict, not unity,[69] and focuses on competition[70] and imitation as key factors in determining the asymmetrical and parasitical nature of value exchange. If, according to Paolo Virno, the cognitive product needs to have a political attitude,[71] Maurizio Lazzarato highlights that an invention that is not imitated is not socially existent.[72]

According to Arjun Appadurai, individuals are “sites of agency,” “globally defined fields of possibilities,”[73] whose imagination is at the center of their consumption/work.[74] Individuals consume symbols as a social practice, but they are selectors rather than actors.[75] When it comes to identity, their choices are just as bound as they are with goods.

Metadata hides a trap for everybody.If the urge for a more detailed and personal self can be a positive drive in the pursuit of goals, the hybrid parceled-out folksonomy offered by metadata is firstly a compromise, and secondly an illusion of choice, masking the rather limited interface underneath.

For some, choice is both the greatest freedom and the most pressing duty. The creative class praised by Third Wave theorists like Alvin Toffler [76]and urban advisors like Richard Floridafractalises in niche markets and sub-subcultures, making a living (often barely) off ultra-targeted information. On the other hand, immigrants balkanize in gang-ridden slums, which are physically deterritorialized and also deterritorializing their imagined identity on a globalized recording surface. Everyone, though, is caught between the endless flow of desire — with its intensities of love, fear, ecstasy, and panic — and that of metadata — with its logic of parcelization, imitation, and compromise.

Matteo Pasquinelli describes the role of infrastructure in the alienation of its desiring-creators as parasitical. Relying on Michel Serres' concept of the parasite,Pasquinelli points out how exploitation of surplus is a counterpart to the endless production of desire and society itself is inscribed within an implicit civil war of parasites.[77] We could also say that the parasite, being a sort of tax on exchange — it obtains energy and pays for it in information[78] — is protocological, to use Galloway's term. In fact, the parasite is a “technical and neutral concept without political connotation” which can also produce life, and, for this reason, it can be advisable to stipulate an alliance with it.[79]

In particular, Pasquinelli focuses on the immaterial parasite, which is the symbiosis between immaterial labor and digital networks. It is “an assemblage of semiotic, technological, and biological strata that extracts an energy surplus (in the form of labor as well as money or libidinal investment)” which functions through the material and technological infrastructure by applying a “monopolistic rent” on it.[80]

The desiring-production of global citizens generates exchangeable metadata that is channeled by the infrastructure, actualized and prospering through it, while the circulation of metadata creates alienation and schizophrenia. But while flow is unstoppable and impersonal, choice is personal and not granted or free.


Interface And Choice: Types And Implications Of Metadata

Structural Metadata: The Nerd

The word “nerd" has come to embody anything within a wide range of different figures: from the inoffensive geek to the teen billionaire.[81]

Despite the manifold facets the Nerd has assumed in pop culture, I am here more interested in the core blueprint of this figure, that is the straight-As student who might sacrifice some of the carefree social life that is typical of college times for a successful career in the science or IT fields.

Both Google and Facebook, two of the most monolithic Internet enterprises active today, were started in universities. While Richard Florida's loosely aggregated “creative class” includes the smart kids that go straight from college to high-paying jobs in the information technology business, academic education becomes more and more specific, targeted, and job-oriented.

As Jean-François Lyotard predicted, studying now provides tools and structures rather than notions and contents; knowledge is not transmitted una tantum, but is able to update itself.[82]

This is very important: while the Nerd is schooled in competitive institutions, his knowledge is still, to a significant extent, self-taught. Be it with electronic engineering or computer programming, his task in life is to create interfaces and enable networks, to make information flow as smooth as possible.

The Nerd can go from hacker to entrepreneur and, since — as Alexander Galloway points out in Protocol — all hackers are either terrorists or libertarians, the Nerd's twofold nature of subversive and ambitious is what makes him perfectly fit for today's reckless market.

The Nerd's libertarian implications are not in any contradiction with his being rooted in institutional knowledge, since “[t]he ideology of communicational 'transparency' [...] will begin to perceive the State as a factor of opacity and 'noise.'”[83]

The typically libertarian distrust towards the state is one of the factors underlying debates around the so-called “Californian Ideology,” a trend embraced by tech-enthusiasts and neo-liberals.[84] Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, coiners of the term,[85] instead defend the role of the State in the creation of network infrastructures and advocate no less than a “rebirth of the modern."[86]

Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek is another strong critic of the Californian Ideology. He identifies it with the “liberal communists of Porto Davos,”[87] meaning people like Bill Gates, who on one hand strangle the world with their monopoly and exploitative politics and on the other sport good intentions with charity and New Age-inspired illusions of harmony and unity.

Manuel Castells writes about a synergy between the state and corporations, as “the rise of the technocracy” establishes “a tight linkage between the high levels of the state and the corporate world through the intermediary of the scientific establishment.”[88]

As an algorithm designer and an interface creator, the Nerd is thus a central figure in the contemporary metadata-obsessed world. In the Web's cognitive over-abundance, to filter, choose, and even discard, are acts of elegance, semiotic gestures more significant than information itself. Google's libertarian exploitation of user-related and user-generated statistics is a proof of this: the company's success lies in the powerful algorithms through which it filters and organizes the information that users compile for free.

For what concerns the Nerd's own metadata, important attributes are the areas of technical expertise in which he is trained, either by schooling or self-taught hacker know-how. Given the Nerd's specific interface designing role, the specific programming language he knows can be considered metadata for his curriculum and his professional persona, as well as his academic achievements. These labels create a sort of invisible tag-cloud around him that actually plugs him in the market and the world, providing a virtual access to high-paying jobs and decision-making roles.

I have named this type of metadata “structural,” since itenables interaction and a certain level of active agency within infrastructure. The Nerd is closer to infrastructure because he works in technological innovation, which is today one of the main fields of investment for governments, often for military reasons.[89] Hisqualities allow him to interact both as a direct participant in the design of the electronic and digital interfaces that channel modern communication and as an indirect one in the shaping of Third Wave economics. Structural metadata is tightly intertwined with the functioning of interface as a means of data filtering. It affects the flow of data — meaning imaginary symbols, pop culture, information, and finally people, traveling across globally defined routes to the urban meccas hyped up by the media. It helps actualize virtual infrastructure into interface, the underlying design logic enabling choice in informational and institutional environments. Structural metadata doesn't per se shape infrastructure as an economic or social power, because it still is metadata to be channeled and it has to respect certain standards that it does not create itself. It does, however, provide a more active interaction with it, enabling a more conscious and potentially effective choice.


Textural Metadata: The Hipster

Just like the XML node is perfect to be aggregated in RSS feeds, and just like the containers I described in the previous chapter are the ideal unit for contemporary architectural needs, the Hipster is perfectly fit for the highly internationalized and gentrified feel of globalized metropolises.

Eclectic and sophisticated in his cultural interests, the hipster embodies both the irony and the taste for found materials that have been widely theorized in postmodernism theories. Clashing subcultures ranging from heavy-metal to hip hop and electro music are all equally celebrated by hipster bibles such as Viacom-owned Vice magazine,[90] and a sophisticated understanding of the layers of underground and pop cultural history make thrift stores and vintage important elements of the hipster aesthetic. As a curious person that travels the world, while at the same time maintaining a safe global brandscape of reference (American Apparel, Apple, Ray Ban, and so on), the Hipster represents the ideology of cool for the international urban youth.

The very clothing style hipsters sport in cities all over the world, despite being a patchwork of cultural references, often exemplifies a pretty solid structural and “modernist" dogma, framed together by staple elements like All Stars shoes and Ray-Ban glasses.[91] While there are many other possible configurations possible,[92] it is important to point out the coexistence of a sustaining shell-structure with the personal creation of a pastiche-style.

Some of the staple hipster features can also ascend to the status of meta-accessories: glasses become pendant jewels,[93] mustaches become tattoos.[94] Thus, the constitutive elements of the Hipster look become true simulacra to the highest degree, losing the last bit of functionality in favor of an echoing irony, and creating the perfect postmodern pastiche, which Fredric Jameson defined as “parody without satire.”[95]

According to the philosopher, “pastiche is compatible with addiction and the new consumer's appetite for a world transformed in sheer images of itself, pseudo-events, and spectacles,”[96] and this seems to be confirmed by the voyeuristic convergence of alt-porn[97] photography by artists like Richard Kern or Terry Richardson and war documentaries in the same hipster media.[98]

While irony is a substantial property of the Hipster, sarcasm is not, and while the antagonist enthusiasm historically driving underground scenes against a dominant culture is missing, what is left is the celebration of taste and interests. Like Matteo Pasquinelli wonders: Where is the underground in contemporary cities?[99] If hippies used to like things that were “far out,” nowadays youth is more interested in “inside jokes.”

Unlike the Nerd, the defining metadata for the Hipster is textural rather than structural. Textural metadata is surface metadata, meaning that its inscription is not embedded in a person's individual and invisible skills, like professional and academic connections or achievements, but is instead a projected cosmos of imaginary symbols expressing cultural affiliations and interests. This type of metadata can include any cultural reference, manifesting itself also through creative hobbies, activities, and more in general entertainment and lifestyle choices. Structural metadata is related to work and skills; textural deals more with leisure and appeal.

Textural metadata does not directly interact with infrastructure, because it is more dependent on the content channeled by the latter rather than its structure. This is the deepest contrast with structural metadata: textural metadata deals more directly with interface than infrastructure. The Nerd is able to design a social network or a marketing platform, but the Hipster can make the most out of it through cultural savviness. By spotting the “cool,” the Hipster's decisions can affect the market.

The Hipster's characteristic ambiguity lies in the way he embeds a flat and ironic postmodernism within the infrastructural ideology of interface. By using infrastructural channels, like the Internet and low-cost flights, the Hipster makes his style and brands global — resembling a human billboard — and by creatively interacting with them he actively helps produce international urban aesthetics. Such aesthetics are channeled by both alternative media like the Internet, as a global urban imagery, and by the infrastructures of globalization, used by hipster-tailored brands. The availability to the Hipster of both “underground” and “mainstream” channels is also visible in the gentrification processes they inspire, as an ongoing deterritorialization-reterritorialization phenomenon that shapes urban space.


Body Metadata: The Comedian

Especially in the United States, the convergence of multi-ethnicity with a development of media plurality and the rise of politically incorrectness — both in entertainment and in political discourse — has given way to a strong stereotypization of minorities in the media. Comedy, of course, has been one of the main channels.

Analyzing the way American comedians use bodily — and especially ethnic — stereotypes is crucial in understanding more about the twofold nature of metadata. On one hand, a comedian can cash in on codified images of his own race/community, but on the other, his complicity in an approximated depiction of members of his own ethnic group can become an excuse for racism.

The most clear-cut example of this is Dave Chappelle’s famous decision to walk away from a 50-million dollar contract with Comedy Central and temporarily escape to Africa.[100] As he declared to Oprah Winfrey in an interview after he came back from his voluntary exile, he had been “doing sketches that were funny, but socially irresponsible.”[101] Chappelle talked about slavery, crack, racism, exposing all the stereotypes surrounding African-American culture. The problem, though, was that some people didn't perceive the irony or the social satire as such, but rather found an excuse for a confirmation of those stereotypes. Like other comedians,[102] Chappelle has been the victim of the ambiguous, double-sided effect of metadata: since the imagery from which symbols are drawn is shared, people with different convictions see the same symbol differently. Context rules on content.

The most controversial example of ethnic metadata in the United States, often debated by several African-American comedians, is definitely the N word. Perhaps the one most concerned with the specific contexts in which it can be used is Chris Rock. One of the comedian’s most famous routines deals with the distinction between “black people” and “niggers,” who “have got to go.”[103] Rock’s depiction of “niggers” is that of the stereotype: loud, lazy, ignorant, gangster wannabes, incapable of spending money in a constructive way. Instead of indulging in a collective rehabilitation of the “nigger” and the black person, superimposed as two sides of the same coin, Rock refuses the patronizing collective imagery of African-Americans and makes a semantic distinction.

If Rock’s approach might be described as modern and emancipatory, there are other semantic distinctions that do not occur on the same level. Comedian Eddie Griffin makes a more postmodern difference between the words “nigger” and “nigga.”[104] If “nigger” is a top-down, master-imposed, derogatory term, “nigga” is an inclusive bonding term, reterritorialized from ghetto lingo to a broader pop cultural sphere.

Another interesting contrast in the use of ethnic metadata is noticeable in Latino comics George Lopez and Carlos Mencia.

The former is a proud representative of the Mexican community rooted in the Mission district of Los Angeles. He makes jokes like: “What part of Mexico are you from? Los Angeles, bitch!,” and mocks Governor Schwarzenegger for supporting English-only in Californian schools, while barely speaking the language himself.[105] He also talks about immigration laws and consistently uses Spanish in his act.

Carlos Mencia is of Hondureño origin and refers to himself as a “beaner,” almost as often as he calls himself a Latino. He uses little Spanish in his act, but when he mentions bilingual standards in American schools it is as an example of a negative tendency towards lowering the bar in order to let the lazy and the stupid in.[106] He’s also pro-immigration, but more as a form of individual improvement, of chasing the American dream, than as a community achievement.

Mencia is probably the comedian who most understands and makes the logic of metadata his own.[107] His main obsession is with total freedom of speech, by way of systematically offending every ethnic group through the most complete listing of every racial stereotype, under the claim that everybody should be allowed to make fun of everybody. We can see a very sharp difference between a more modern and community-oriented take on stereotypes, as in George Lopez’s comedy, and a more postmodern, metadata-fed approach, such as Mencia’s.

In particular, Mencia and Dave Chappelle should make us think about the social implications of metadata as both a symptom and a cause of social issues on an ethnic base. Both comedians benefit from their condition of “ethnic” comics, but at the same time their popularity and media exposure make them able to affect and confirm the symbols channeled by the infrastructure into pre-packaged formulas. If Chappelle sees this as “socially irresponsible,” we cannot say the same about Mencia, who represents — with both its good and bad sides — the parceling power of metadata and the vacuous subversiveness of pure language. Mencia is endorsing stereotypes, even while leveling them in an anti-racist semantic liberation.

Given the peculiar status of the Unites States as a nation founded on diasporic principles, where wewitness mobile and protean diasporic identities[108] (Asian-American-Japanese, Hispano-American-Bolivian, and so on) it is arguable the social implications of stereotype are also connected to a need for social identification.

According to Arjun Appadurai, modern ethnicity is culturalist, but transnational,[109] which means the diasporic categories enabled by culturalism and globalization are a compromise between top-down, state-driven impulses and spontaneous — yet specifically channeled — migration flows. As a result, original ethnic types and registers (Spanglish, Ebonics) are born and used to tone the Latino or Black up or down, depending on context.

In order to detach ethnicity from the metadata logic, the only way seems to be a strategic dosage of stereotype. Chris Rock has been carrying on this practice virtuously, but more comedians are working on this issue.

A quite promising example is The Awkward Comedy Show,[110] a documentary featuring stand-ups by a few unconventional black comedians (including director Victor Varnado, a black albino). The movie's tagline is “Comedy, Plus Blackness, to the Nerd Power,” highlighting the rather noble purpose of reterritorializing ethnicity on a different point of view. Regardless of the longevity of such an experiment in the tweaking of metadata, Varnado and company have at least successfully injected the “black nerd” on the interface map.


Metadata of Scale: The Gangster

Metadata of scale has two main characteristics. First, it denotes the belonging to a particular locality, to which certain imaginary qualities and properties are attached in the collective imaginary. Second, it keeps the boundaries of such a locality elastic, depending on the chosen scale of interpretation deriving from the specific interface that is dealing with it.

I will make the example of New York. Without mentioning the linguistic ambiguity (state or city?), this label can be associated, in accordance to different imaginary lenses, to Manhattan, the five boroughs, the East Coast, or even the whole U.S., depending on the interpreter's inclinations towards Sex and the City or hip hop.

Metadata of scale can also be at the center of much harsher controversies, like the legal belonging of a disputed piece of land to a country or another (as exemplified by the elastic geographies of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, described by Eyal Weizman).[111] In some cases, metadata of scale can be stretched out to include diasporic communities, or imaginary networks resembling Appadurai's dispersed nations.

Through the figure of the Gangster, I will now discuss how metadata of scale constructs imaginary associations, at times resembling diasporic communities, but still remaining different.

On a global scale, the Gangster's use of textural metadata outlines an international aesthetic imaginary, drawing unlikely connections between rich and poor countries. On a smaller scale, the interstitial nature of gangs makes them bottom-up alternatives to accurate top-down classifications. Therefore, an area generally labeled as a “ghetto,” with the social function of offering low-cost housing for low-salary workers and their families, fractalizes into a more fine-grained folksonomy of Bloods, Crips, and so on. In a taxonomically leveled and de-functionalized social wasteland, metadata becomes a tool for survival, used for “othering”[112] and identity-building at once. Nonetheless, metadata-based communities often lack a sustaining narration/utopia to emancipate them from their postmodern topology and categorical equivalence.

Especially in the age of electronic media, diasporic public spheres make agency transnational, going beyond nation-states. Imagined communities are often characterized by a “vertical” purpose. The anthropologist describes these new mythographies as charters to new social projects.[113] However, there are exceptions: communities that are indeed children of a globalized imaginary, but at the same time lack that verticality, the urgency to define the group as a primary need. With a few exceptions (like the Latin Kings, that consider themselves a diasporic nation)[114] street gangs belong to this second type of communities.

As pointed out by one of the gangsters interviewed by Stacy Peraltain his documentary Bloods and Cripts: Made in America [115]gangs began to gain power in Los Angeles after the Black Panther Party had disbanded. While the emancipation of African-Americans was the primary goal for the party, the Crips and the Bloods soon began to kill each other for turf. Instead of a “vertical,” “modern,” emancipatory goal, gangs had a more “horizontal,” “postmodern” focus. A gang and its color may constitute a community, but a red or a blue bandana does not have any other claim than its self-evident difference from another equivalent piece of cloth. Defining their communal identity mainly by an arbitrary parameter such as color, or a compulsory geographical proximity, gangs like the Bloods and the Crips gave up the emancipatory plan that made the Black Panthers — as a USA-wide network — an imagined community with a direction.

With or without a focused social and ethnic drive to better community life, the style, signs, street names, and colors of American gangs have been channeled by the media and have fascinated youth worldwide,[116] deterritorializing their local appeal.

Nowadays sets of Crips and Bloods are known to be present all over the world: in Holland the members are apparently of Surinamese origin [117]and the Australian version of the same gangs are of Tongan-Australian and Samoan-Australian ethnicity,[118] respectively.

The most unusual franchise, though, has to be the Trondheim Crips, who have adopted the Compton aesthetics despite being Norwegian kids who do not engage in criminal activities. The Trondheim Crips are a social symptom of mass-mediated metadata — blue handkerchiefs, C signs — creating original phenomena that have little or nothing in common with the ones they were inspired by. While their textural metadata is shared and global, for example, metadata of scale can mark their relationship to crime and then their social status.

As pointed out by the Eurogang researchers, “the internet has globalized gangs allowing them to become logos,” and young street cultures like hip hop are giving way to internet phenomena that are at once “medium and message.”[119] On YouTube it is possible to encounter proof of this gang-inspired label production in the form of celebratory mash-ups of gangsta rap, photos, and symbols exemplifying gang lingos.[120] Some of these videos seem to be shout outs of local LA-inspired “gangs” — for example from the Philippines — to global Internet gangsters, seeking attention by putting themselves on the online map.[121]

Another way gangs and their associated symbols spread is through the physical flow of people, namely immigration and deportations, most significantly from Central America.

In El Salvador, two gangs — la Dieciocho and Mara Salvatrucha— have been slaughtering each other for years. Both born in LA, they were imported as a sort of franchise through deportations that not only have not helped the US to get rid of the gangsters, but have made their drug-trafficking networks even more efficient.[122]

Needless to say, both gangs also sport explicit hip hop and gangsta rap references, such as the use of the word “homeboy”[123] — even though Mara Salvatrucha's hand sign, the devil’s horns, was inspired by heavy metal music.[124]

In this case, while textural metadata can be inspired by a globalized American “gangsta” imagery, the very street names after which the gangs are named become simulacra, and metadata of scale is used to create infrastructural connections with fellow gang expats.

Other gangs show different ways in which metadata transforms the use of imaginary symbols, even if those symbols are not inherent to locality. The most incredible is the example of the Aryan Brotherhood, a prison gang sporting Nazi symbols. Curiously enough, not all of the members are the typical stereotype of a white supremacist. In an enlightening documentary, available on YouTube,[125] the viewer is introduced to an American-Indian and even a Jewish member, sporting a swastika tattoo on one arm and a six-pointed star on the other. To see a Nazi-Jew, somebody wearing the sharpest Good versus Evil dialectic on themselves, is to witness the final victory of metadata over metaphysics and history, to have the last confirmation of the fading of the symbolic into the economic.

As this paper has shown, Arjun Appadurai’s notion of imagination as a social practice can be applied to very different phenomena, but it is important to distinguish between imagined communities with an identifying direction or utopia (be it constructive or disruptive) and the ones who share mainly an aesthetic code, local contingency, or — at best — an economic interests. If the first ones represent a method to claim agency through the interface of social imaginary, the second constitute a more ambiguous and politically segregated alternative



We have seen how metadata has several downsides. It is pre-formatted along top-down-defined categories, asymmetrical in its folksonomic nature, and ultimately as constraining as it is inspiring. The dangerous principle behind it is the exploitation of immaterial work — the very imagination of identities — to forage the rhetoric of urban development and encourage spatial and identity polarization.

Although the scenario described seems a bleak one indeed, constructive strategies of resistance seem to emerge out of the overall pessimistic literature I have examined.

David Harvey states the tools for political action are to be found in the mobilization of collective memories and collective symbolic capital,[126] while Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt argue that the multitude has to acknowledge its monstrous nature and embrace its own transformations.[127]

Matteo Pasquinelli sees “unproducing and deaccumulating the symbolic”[128] as the only way to sabotage the immaterial value accumulation,[129] a “productive sabotage against a consensual hallucination,”[130] Agamben states that the task of the coming generation is the “profanation of the unprofanable,”[131] through autonomous video/mythopoesis — new genres and formats rather than alternative information.[132]

Franco “Bifo” Berardi also calls for the creation of video-poetic strategies as today's main political task,[133] by learning how to target the effect of any action on the social imagination.[134] The tool for this are of course image-dispositifs, semiotic engines able to act as the paradigm of a series of events, behaviors, narrations, and projections modeling social reality.[135]

As I have begun to illustrate in the section about the Comedian, certain actions on the collective imaginary are already taking place, through the very interface that is populated by stereotypical figures. The example of The Awkward Comedy Show is one of several recent attempts to hijack the collective imagination — anchored to particular coordinate — to less explored territories of metadata.

World audiences have been refreshed by the sci-fi South Africa depicted by District 9,[136] and YouTube has saluted with enthusiasm the destruction of Uruguayan landmarks, instead of American ones, in the short Ataque de Panico[137] by young director Fede Alvarez. If it is still through the patronage of established show business personalities, like Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi, that such products can reach the most powerful interfaces,[138] it is optimistically arguable that something can be done. Another enlightened example is David LaChapelle, who years ago injected hip hop clowns and krumping in the collective imaginary through his beautiful RIZE,[139] relieving for a while certain parts of the Los Angeles area from the destabilizing monopoly of the “gangsta” stereotype.

There are, however, imaginary perturbations that reach interface from the bottom up. An example is Taqwacore, an underground scene of Muslim punk rockers originated after the publication of the homonymous cult book written by the Roman-Catholic-born, Muslim-converted Michael Muhammad Knight.[140] The subculture did not exist before, but now it is growing as a new metadata configuration, chronicled by documentaries[141] and displaying unprecedented combinations of collective imagery.

These new subcultures and genres (hip hop clowns, Muslim punks, second and third world sci-fi) represent the alliance of new creative impulses with the parasite of a hosting infrastructure. Since these innovations cannot appear as novel interface options out of thin air, such an alliance is necessary for locality to filter through the global lenses of the imaginary.

In the coming years, it will be important to map these phenomena and learn their specific strategic qualities, in order to develop new and more sophisticated tactics to tweak interface. Artists and cultural producers can successfully inject new figures in the collective imagery, but they have to understand the media's viral potential, as well as weigh and study relations between context and content.

A theory deploying both a political critique of flow (with its content-seizing logics) and a qualitative critique of content (considering both its semiotic formats and folksonomic nature) could maybe help us question the use we make of stereotypes and the implications they have on various scales, applying a possible “metadata ethics” to the exploded field of visual linguistics the media (and us) are imbued with. A more fine-grained conceptualization, then, going beyond the four American limit-figures I have used, might be useful in outlining such ethics.


[1] Franco Berardi, The Image Dispositif (originally part of a text published on, now unretrievable on the site), 2

[2] Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large. Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000).

[3] A term coined by right-wing futurist Alvin Toffler (1983) and more recently recuperated by Italian philosophers like Berardi (2001) and Antonio Negri (2007).

[4] Matteo Pasquinelli, Animal Spirits: A Bestiary of the Commons (Rotterdam: NAi Publishers / Institute of Network Cultures, 2008),77.

[5] Ibid., 110.

[6] Jean Baudrillard, “Simulacra and Simulations,” in Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings, ed. Mark Poster (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988), 166-184.

[7] Berardi, The Image Dispositif.

[8] Saskia Sassen, Going Beyond the National State in the USA: The Politics of Minoritized Groups in Global Cities (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi: SAGE, 2004), 1-3.

[9] Pasquinelli, Animal Spirits, 209-210.

[10] David Harvey, The Art of Rent: Globalization, Monopoly and the Commodification of Culture (retrieved at “Rene -- Harvey -- THE ART OF RENT: GLOBALIZATION, MONOPOLY AND THE COMMODIFICATION OF CULTURE,”16beaver Group, accessed August 15th, 2010,

[11] Ibid.

[12] “The point of interaction or communication between a computer and any other entity, such as a printer or human operator,”The Free Dictionary, accessed August 16, 2010,

[13] “The area where two immiscible phases of a dispersion come into contact,”ChemiCool, accessed August 16, 2010,

[14] Chris Barker, Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice (London: SAGE Press, 2008), 234.

[15] Harvey, The Art of Rent.

[16] Pasquinelli, Animal Spirits,158.

[17] Nelson Goodman, Ways of Worldmaking (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1978).

[18] Christopher Alexander, Notes on the Synthesis of Form (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1964).

[19] Gilles Deleuze, Lo strutturalismo, trans. Simona Paolini (Milano: SE, 2004), 31. — Italian edition, translation to English and paraphrasis are mine.

[20] Deleuze, Strutturalismo, 21.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Pierre Levy, Becoming Virtual (New York and London: Plenum Trade, 1998), 24.

[23] Michel Foucault, “The Subject and Power,” Critical Inquiry8, no. 4 (Summer 1982): 790.

[24] “Imagining the Recursive City: Explorations in Urban Simulacra,”CASA Centre for Spatial Analysis UCL, accessed August, 16 2010,

[25] Alexander Galloway, Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization (Cambridge: Massachussetts Institute for Technology, 2004), 7.

[26] “XML,” Wikipedia, accessed August 15, 2010,

[27] Galloway, Protocol, 42.

[28] Ibid, 75.

[29] “RSS,” Wikipedia, accessed August 15, 2010,

[30] “KML Tutorial,” Google Code, accessed August 15, 2010,

[31] Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulations.

[32] Levy, Becoming Virtual, 15.

[33] Manuel Castells, The Informational City: Information Technology, Economic Restructuring, and the Urban-regional Process (Cambridge, Massachussetts: Basil Blackwell, 1991), 19.

[34] David Grahame Shane, Recombinant Urbanism: Conceptual Modeling in Architecture (Chichester: Urban Design and City Theory, Wiley-Academy, 2007), 10.

[35] Ibid., 231.

[36] Ibid., 233.

[37] See a perfect example here: “CO2 Cube | A Tonne of Change,” Arkinet, accessed August 15, 2010,

[38] An example is their deployment in Haiti: “Dominican Authorities Approve Container Cities For Haiti Housing Relief,” Inhabitat, accessed August 15, 2010,

[39] As in the Israeli settlement of Migron, in the West Bank. See: Eyal Weizman, Hollow Land. Israel's Architecture of Occupation (London and New York: Verso, 2007), 2.

[40] For example, skilled and unskilled workers live in different neighborhoods with different statuses, harvesting different social milieus. — Castells, Informational City,81.

[41] Ibid., 214.

[42] Author of the controversial The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life (New York: Basic Books, 2002).

[43] Pasquinelli, Animal Spirits, 120.

[44] Ibid., 119.

[45] Ibid., 131-133.

[46] Bas van Heur, Creative Networks and the City: Towards a Cultural Political Economy of Aesthetic Production (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2010), 101.

[47] Ibid., 14-15.

[48] Ibid., 135-137.

[49] Ibid., 100.

[50] Pasquinelli, Animal Spirits, 128.

[51] Ibid.,146-147.

[52] Ibid., 100.

[53] Ibid., 172-175.

[54] Ibid., 227.

[55] A concept explained by Fulvio Carmagnola in his essay on image exchangeFulvio Carmagnola, Il consumo delle immagini. Estetica e beni simbolici nella fiction economy (Milano: Bruno Mondadori, 2006).

[56] Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulations.

[57] Galloway, Protocol, 12.

[58] Pasquinelli, Animal Spirits,166.

[59] Ibid.,174.

[60] Ibid.,192.

[61] Galloway, Protocol, 69.

[62] The founder of, a site offering custom gene decoding to its clients, is married to one of the company's bigwigs.“Google Takes Stake In Sergey's Wife's Biotech Company,” TechCrunch, accessed August 13, 2010,

[63] Pasquinelli, Animal Spirits, 203.

[64] Berardi, The Image Dispositif.

[65] Ibid.

[66] “Categories vs Tags,” Wordpress Support, accessed August 15, 2010,

[67] Theterm was coined by information architect Thomas Vander Wal, connecting the notion of popularity (“folk”) with organization (“taxonomy”). I hope the reader will not mind the use of a Wikipedia quote for this particular term: “Folksonomy,” Wikipedia, accessed August 15, 2010,

[68] Pasquinelli, Animal Spirits,97.

[69] Ibid.,101.

[70] Ibid.,110.

[71] Ibid.,114.

[72] Ibid.,112.

[73] Appadurai, Modernity at Large, 31.

[74] Ibid.,41.

[75] Ibid.,13.

[76] “Alvin Toffler,” Wikipedia, accessed August 15, 2010,

[77] Pasquinelli, Animal Spirits, 59.

[78] Ibid.,61.

[79] Ibid., 60.

[80] Ibid., 66-67.

[81] The Social Network. dir. David Fincher. Columbia Pictures, 2010. Film. — What better example?

[82] “Lyotard,”, accessed August, 15, 2010,

[83] “Lyotard,”, accessed August, 15, 2010,

[84] Amongst the inspiring literature to the followers of this trend are Wired magazine and theoretical publications like Esther Dyson, ed., Cyberspace and the American Dream: A Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age (Washington, DC: Progress & Freedom Foundation, 1994).

[85] Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, The Californian Ideology, 1995. Retrieved at

[86] Barbrook and Cameron, Californian Ideology.

[87] Slavoj Žižek, Violence (London: Picador, 2008).

[88] Castells, Informational City,31.

[89] Ibid.,249.

[90] “DOs & DON'Ts,” Vice Magazine, accessed August 15, 2010,

[91] Understanding the marketing potential of the creative crowd of urban style-surfers, brands have been producing “rare" or unusual versions of their staple models, to embrace their customers' craving for individuality: All Stars' legendary Chucks have been conjugated in all possible colors and flavors, and Ray Ban has also started a series of unique sunglasses models called Never Hide, sporting rare prints on the old basic Wayfarer structure. The Hipster's relative tendency to safe clothing formulas is also quite obvious in American Apparel's plain-color collection.

[92] “Paste Magazine,” Paste Magazine, accessed August, 16, 2010,

[93] “Ray Ban Style Vintage Aviator Sunglasses Retro Vintage ish Necklace and Pendant,”, accessed August 15, 2010,

[94]“Mustache Tattoos,” 4.bp, accessed August, 15, 2010,

[95] Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (London: Verso, 2008), 17.

[96] Ibid., 18.

[97] “Alt Porn,” Wikipedia, accessed August 15, 2010,

[98] “The Vice Guide to Liberia,”, accessed August 13, 2010, — It is curious to see how seemingly countercultural media like VBS get channeled by very institutional and even conservative ones like CNN. I will also discuss the Hipster's political ambiguity in the next pages.

[99] Matteo Pasquinelli, “Beyond the Ruins of the Creative City: Berlin’s Factory of Culture and the Sabotage of Rent,” in: KUNSTrePUBLIK (ed.), Skulpturenpark Berlin_Zentrum (Berlin: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2010), 3.

[100] “Why Comedian Dave Chappelle Walked Away From $50 Million,”, accessed August 13, 2010,

[101] As of August 13, 2010, the whole interview is available on YouTube: “Oprah interviews Chappelle,” Youtube, accessed August 13, 2010,

[102] See the examples ofSarah Silverman and Stephen Colbert in this article, where they are described as “meta-bigots”, accessed August 13, 2010,

[103] “Chris Rock-Niggas Vs. Black People Pt 1,” Youtube, accessed August 13, 2010,

[104] “Eddie Griffin's “Freedom of Speech" (N*gga/N*gger),” Youtube, accessed August 13, 2010, — Griffin also makes the same point when interviewed in the documentary The N Word (2004), directed by Todd Williams, a very interesting and recommended resource on the argument.

[105] “Carlos Mencia,” Youtube, accessed August 13, 2010,

[106] “Carlos Mencia-Lower the Standards,” Youtube, accessed August 13, 2010,

[107] It is to be noted that a further embracement of stereotype is represented by Mencia's stage name (Carlos), which replaces his original name (Ned).

[108] Appadurai, Modernity at Large, 173.

[109] Ibid., 147.

[110] The Awkward Comedy Show. dir. Victor Varnado. Supreme Robot Pictures, 2010. DVD.

[111] Eyal Weizman, Hollow Land. Israel's Architecture of Occupation (London and New York: Verso, 2007), 3.

[112] Rob White, “Weapons are for wimps: the social dynamics of ethnicity and violence in Australian gangs,” in Frank van Gemert, Dana Peterson and Inger-Lise Lien, ed. Street Gangs, Migration and Ethnicity (Willian Publishing, Portland, 2008), 143.

[113] Appadurai, Modernity at Large, 6.

[114] Frank van Gemert, Dana Peterson and Inger-Lise Lien, ed., Street Gangs, Migration and Ethnicity (Willian Publishing, Portland, 2008), 73.

[115] Crips and Bloods: Made in America. dir. Stacey Peralta. The Gang Documentary, 2008. Film.

[116] Van Gemert, Peterson and Lien, Street Gangs, 21.

[117] “The Netherlands (Holland),” Street Gangs Discussion on Bloods, Crips, 18th Street, MS 13, Florence and other gangs Forum, accessed August 13, 2010,

[118] Van Gemert, Peterson and Lien, Street Gangs, 148.

[119] Ibid., 74.

[120] An example regarding the Latin Kings: “LATIN KINGS X8,” Youtube, accessed August 13, 2010,

[121] “MS 13 Mara Salvatrucha MS 13 es ahora en las Filipinas y Mundo,” Youtube, accessed August 13, 2010,

[122] Here is the LA Times article:“Gang Uses Deportation to Its Advantage to Flourish in U.S.,” LA Times, accessed August 13, 2010,,1,4477244,full.story..., we should also keep in mind that, according to the Eurogang book, the thesis that deportations actually help the spreading of gangs is a popular but controversial one (p.18)

[123] “Homie,” Wikipedia, accessed August 13, 2010,

[124] “Mara Salvatrucha,” Wikipedia,accessed August 13, 2010,

[125] “Aryan Brotherhood part 2,” Youtube, accessed August 13, 2010,

[126] Harvey, The Art of Rent.

[127] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (New York: Penguin, 2004), 196.

[128] Pasquinelli, Animal Spirits,150.

[129] Ibid.,104.

[130] Ibid.,151.

[131] Ibid.,186.

[132] Ibid.,198.

[133] Berardi, The Image Dispositif, 1.

[134] Ibid., 4.

[135] Ibid.

[136] District 9. dir. Neill Blomkamp. TriStar Pictures, 2009. Film.

[137] “Ataque de Pánico! (Panic Attack!) 2009,” Youtube,accessed August 16, 2010,

[138]Panic Attack! Is sci-fi going Global?,” Almost Nothing, accessed August 16, 2010,

[139] RIZE. dir. David LaChapelle. David LaChapelle Studios, 2005. Film.

[140] Michael Muhammad Knight, The Taqwacores (Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia, 2005).

[141] Taqwacore. dir. Omar Mayeed. EyeSteelFilm, 2009. Film.