Modulated cities; Networked spaces, reconstituted subjects.

Pamphlet no. 9 “Modulated cities; Networked spaces, reconstituted subjects.”


About the authors:

Helen Nissenbaum: Professor of Media, Culture & Communication and Computer Science at New York University. Subjects of her work are privacy threats, trust online, security and values in technical design.

Kazys Varnelis: Director of the “Network Architecture Lab” at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture. He wrote exstensively about the Internet, locative media and network culture.


  • The pamphlet was posted on the “Situated Technologies” ( website.


“The Situated Technologies Pamphlet Series extends a discourse initiated in the summer of 2006 by a three-month-long discussion on the Institute for Distributed Creativity (iDC) mailing list, which culminated in the Architecture and Situated Technologies symposium at the Urban Center and Eyebeam in New York that October, co-produced by the Center for Virtual Architecture, the Architectural League of New York, and the iDC.” citation from the website


  • The pamphlet no. 9 is a series of nine conversations about consequences of universal computing for architecture and urbanism.
  • abstract of all their conversations with each other
  • It explores how our experience of space and the choices we make within it are affected by a range of mobile, pervasive, embedded or otherwise “situated” technologies.
  • most of the presentation is about recapitulating the most important statements, theorys or proposals of Nissenbaum and Varnelis to this subject.


We no longer surf the net, but the Internet surfs us.” citation by Nissenbaum, p.5


Do you agree? To what extent?


Inernet censorship


  • We are used to giving up data, for example to our friends or especially to nameless corporations in the internet and therefore data becomes a currency for expressing our friendships.
  • The authors push for transparency, first and foremost of the systems that affect peoples well-being and life prospects.
  • They argue that built environment is no longer the standard when it comes to decisions about privacy. Because there are constantly new systems that allow corporations to get information about personal behaviour or f.e. shopping behaviour.
  • Therefore, Nissenbaum and Varnelis pledge for explicit laws and regulations for new technologies.


Do technical systems have independent casual powers or do they reflect cultural ideals that are already in the air?

Do Facebook or Foursquare design privacy behavior?


  • “Network” is a term universally used, and everything and everyone is in a way a part of the network. This network faces us with unceasingly shifting boundaries cutting across physical and social contexts.


The Internet of Things

  • embedding of networked devices throughout physical space
  • Video sequence



What do you think of the Internet of Things after this video?


Private and public

  • The barriers of private and public are constantly changing and break down more and more. People may now behave in public as they might have behaved in private before.
  • Networked publics: groups of often-widely-dispersed individuals who come together online to share a common experience of interest.
  • The common public doesn’t share a same belief anymore, in fact, if common public does no longer exist, then the walls of privacy are as well blurred.
  • The lack of distinction between public and private is played out in space, that means that many spaces we think are public actually aren’t public (for example shopping malls or parcs).
  • Of course, giving up information must not mean giving up privacy – only if the information is shared inappropriately or contrary to expectations.


Public and Privacy boundaries blur more and more


New technologies and complexity

  • New technologies are often very complex and we therefore don’t understand this overcomplexity and hand out our privacy really easily without really understanding what it means.
  • A rise of complexity of everyday life is the consequence. For example are legal documents of corporations like iTunes or Apple so long and hard to read, that nobody really takes time to read through all the regulations.
  • But creating more privacy online could also lead to even more complexity.


In control society, power takes advantage of complexity.” Varnelis,      S. 14


  • New technologies often use mapping, tracking or location services. They are trying to gather up our data to improve their technologies. But Data mining through corporations is nothing new, as Nissenbaum says.
  • The problem: new technologies often do get ahead of the law because many forms of collective surveillance is unregulated so far. Therefore, we should demand greater transparency from corporate actors.


Problems and Trends in the Future

  • Our age is a network culture, technologies permeate our lives and our desires also shape technologies.
  • Therefore, also buildings show this trend of breaking down private and public. There is a intensive growth in construction of highly transparent apartment buildings and hotels f.e.
  • With this trend of architecture, Nissenbaum and Varnelis also see a growth of voyeurism happening, not only in “real life” but also in the Internet.
  • They suggest that people will become more circumspect and that even communication with friends and family will be held in caution.
  • Another problem is that people often assume that “Nothing has changed”.


Do you agree with their forecasts? Why?


  • Our notions of space, self, public, private etc.  are being radically redefined today and in the future.
  • The only way to ensure our privacy is to fight for a system of contextual rights to privacy and for more transparency.




Nissenbaum H. and Varnelis K. “Modulated cities; Networked spaces, reconstituted subjects.”

  • checked on 5/5/18

Kazys Varnelis on Wikipedia:

  • checked 4/5/18

Situated Technologies Citation

  • checked 7/5/18

Internet Censorship Picture

  • checked 5/5/18

Private and Public Picture

  • checked 5/5/18

Center City Building Picture, University of North Carolina

  • checked on 5/5/18


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