Internet companies, or Corporations, grow bigger and more powerful; their offering varied and all-encompassing, yet tailored to specific needs; their breadth extensive and far-reaching. The State's own service offering such as communication, entertainment, community-building, financial services… begins to mutate under the influence of increasingly powerful Corporations dealing with people's data.
Corporations have long undermined the sovereignty of the State, less by transgressing the State's oversight than they did by absorbing it into their own offering. State powers such as defining and tailoring identities, controlling borders, advancing urban policies, providing transport networks and so on are now managed by State-like Corporations. These take on functions which were once exclusive to a country, while the State can no longer see, quantify, or manage what happens within its borders. In this scenario, the tension between the two grows higher, until the State advances a new socio-economical model to face the rising challenges.
To gain its authority back, the State begins to remotely target, control and capitalise upon its own people with the promise of free, efficient, tailored third-party services and a secure data-policy. The State (data)mines its users’ minds and builds specific Desire profiles by electronically gaining an enormous amount of user-specific knowledge; among the data-types collected are genetic, health, financial, consumer, social and geo-specific information. The State is justified in its omnivorous data-collection as the facilitator of the services citizens benefit from, since citizens trust the State over Corporations, tired of the advertising–oriented business model of the latter.
The new socio-economical model relies on taxing the dataflow of everyday Interfaces. Using a State-issued Interface, citizens can access free third-party services in exchange for the monetisation of their thoughts. Their desires are externalised via a cubic portable piece of equipment — the Interface— as they manually reconfigure it in different shapes. A fee is applied to every desire, generating revenues for the government, while allowing it to impose a layer of cognitive control over its own citizens, effectively supervising people’s speech in order to deliver a longed-for service.
The State evolves into a fully-functional Cloud platform, absorbing those functions displaced by Corporations a decade earlier back into itsel, effectively winning the battle of sovereignty against them. Citizens, or users, can access services only after accepting a public Terms & Conditions agreement. The T&C is as much the condition of citizenship as the bearer of all rights and responsibilities of a citizen, detailing the relationship one maintains with the State and the Corporations. The T&C specifically targets a citizen’s language, in that the terms used to describe a service, an end product, or a desire are remotely and immediately taxed. When accepting the T&C the State provides a citizen with the Interface.
The story begins…
An early visualisation of what hides In the Shade of the Stack was exhibited at the Royal College of Art's Show 2015, in London, and is digitally represented on this website. This project, initiated by Francesco Tacchini and Yi-Miao Shish, is very much in-progress. The graphic novel, co-written by Joseph Pleass, will take a hybrid form, working across online and offline platforms. We are happy to collaborate, hear feedback and send high quality scans of the map.
In the Shade of the Stack is influenced by a number of theorists, philosophers, novelists, architects, designers… Some of them are mentioned in the map — look out for the reference tree. The concept of (black) Stack in particular was advanced by Benjamin Bratton.