, Volume 78, Issue 6, pp 967-980
Date: 28 Jun 2013

Avoiding the Ghetto through hope and fear: an analysis of immanent technology using ideal types

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Abstract

With over one hundred million smart-phone users in the world, mobile, spatially-aware devices are radically altering how individuals move through and experience both physical and social environments. This article presents a theoretical and methodological framework for engaging the emerging geoweb as part of a longer tradition of research into society and technology. A close reading of Microsoft’s Pedestrian Route Production patent, dubbed the “avoid ghetto GPS”, is used to construct two ideal type futures—one hopeful and one frightening. One where spatial technology ensures efficiency, safety, and new forms of coordination, while the other algorithmically sorts society by race and class. Despite not yet and potentially never existing, the patent offers a viable means through which potential futures are made real in the present. Through comparative analysis of these futures, their underlying commonalities are drawn out, revealing the relationship between technology and the delimitation of human experience. This analysis avoids grand narratives and teleological arguments, while making it possible to draw forth the unthought acceptance within each ideal type for the future: the continuing shift of human life itself towards a teleological, always already-calculated standing-reserve. The work on technology of Martin Heidegger and Herbert Marcuse (re)situate the geoweb within long-standing theoretical work on technology and its role in society, modernity, and capitalism.