Tag Archives: Black Box

Inside the Black Box


City as a Field – we navigate city as a field contained inside Leviathan’s black box. A camera tracks a loop through the field, which reorganises itself relative to the viewer’s perspective. To interface with the real world we pass through the edge of the box – composed of all the black boxes we use to enter the internet.

Perhaps we could consider City (that is the collective composite of culture as recorded and linked through digital networks) as a field of ideas and concepts, embodied in symbolic objects. This would of course be a field of vast complexity – like the labyrinth – impossible to see or comprehend all at once. However, some legibility might be attained if we understand the forces that transform City. I propose 4 basic forces through which City can be understood to remember, associate and potentially, predict.

1. Gravitation through Linking

Concepts/Media linked through browser/search/share associations act as a gravitational force, pulling elements of the field closer to other elements that occur frequently in the same network.

2. Centering through View

The view of City is always relative to the observer. The subject of the view appears central and the rest of City orients itself around as context.

3. Decay through Time

Representational objects within City decay with time, fragmenting until all ability to discern meaning in an image is lost.

4. Preservation through Engagement

The Decay force is resisted through engagement with content – the length of time an observer views a piece of content offsets its decay, preserving ideas that are important within collective cultural memory.


Inside Leviathan – a composite black box composed of our servers, data centers, smartphones and computers. Scaleless in the interior, each element links to a distinct scale, object and context in the real world – acting as a way to travel between both the city streets (through our mobile devices) and the physical infrastructure of City (via the data centers and servers).

city-as-house_wunderkammerThe image from Tuesday – City as a room curated by everyone.

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City and Leviathan

City, as distinct from The City, resides in buildings alien to our urban neighbourhoods. The purpose and functioning of the buildings that house City are so different infact that they are often exiled to secret spots in the middle of otherwise barren deserts.


There are an estimated 8.6 million data centers in the world, covering some 180 km2. This is over half the size of Inner London, a massive physical city that supports City. The largest 10 data centers shown above are each the size of entire city blocks.


If we consider the data world a contemporary version of Hobbes’ Leviathan, then it is (almost literally) contained in a black (or white) box. The Black Box is a symbol in computing, science and philosophy (Wittgenstein’s black box) which describes a system or device that can be understood only in terms of its inputs and outputs – its workings remain shrouded in mystery.


The Trendsmap is a realtime interactive map of the world’s tweets, illustrating where City’s attention is at any given time. However, to date, data visualisations like these, whilst revealing of our collective instantaneous obsessions, fail to capture that which is important or persistent within culture. Real-time recordings are nearly instantly overwritten, with no mechanism for memory. For a genuine interface with City, we need to include time and memory as variables in determining that which is valuable to us as a whole.



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