I am still working with the following Cyberinfrastructure report.
But as i re-read where i left off, i recalled concepts such as convergence, intelligent infrastructures and web 3.0. There was lots of cross over. Also, elements of intelligent infrastructure look like indicators of ‘infrastructureness’ (Michael’s word) such as:
interoperability, scalability, adaptability, reliability, visibility and security.
Coincidently the Intelligent Infrastructure paper considered signaling system 7 (SS7) and the domain name system (DNS) as intelligent infrastructure examples which leads me to believe that email, and excel spreadsheets would also fall into that category. The former because it is now a ubiquitous part of any communication infrastructure irrespective of the type of user application and the later because it is so well used across many disciplines. Does widespread use make something a defacto element of an infrastructure or a characteristic of infrastructureness?
Michael may also be right (he often is i just hate to immediately admit it!) that virtual infrastructure is not a very good concept particularly when reflecting about convergence and predecessor infrastructures. However, the term second order infrastructure still makes sense with regards to characterizing community wireless infrastructures (Alison liked that concept to!).
I thought about the definitions of geospatial data infrastructures (GDIs) which are a collection of policies, standards, technologies, people, applications, institutional arrangements and organizations at any scale to collect, manage, maintain and disseminate geospatial data. Are cyberinfrastructures any different?
cyberinfrastructure is the set of organizational practices, technical infrastructure and social norms that collectively provide for the smooth operation of scientific work at a distance. (p.6)
Their application areas differ but not heir definitions substantively. The discussion of standards in the Cyberinfrastructure report is also very reminiscent of GDI standards work. What of community wireless infrastructures? Spectrum Standards?
In Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape infrastructure is considered to be part of
the technological fabric of society (p.2)
the hardware that goes into making a civilization (p.5).
Hayes focuses primarily on the technological and physical artifacts of infrastructure and less the social, nonetheless i like his definitions.
Back to the Infrastructure report. Path dependence and infrastructural determinism in my mind are highly associated. Path dependences are those locked in technologies, sometimes even inferior technologies that are hard to move out of. Path dependent technologies become so dominant, that they cannot be upseated even if a better technology comes forward, as there are significant hardware, software and peopleware investments. Some of the issues associated with this are:
- Localized learning: "individuals and organizations satisfice rather than optimize" (p.17) and once technological choices have been made and invested in adaptation occurs which creates resistance to change.
- Irreversability: "beyond some tipping point of widespread adoption, choosing an alternative to the dominant system becomes to costly" (p.17) in money, time, attention, retraining and coordination.
- Network effects: "the value of certain kinds of technology increases exponentially with widespread adoption" (p.17). This is also associated with wide adoption and indispensability.
The authors caution that
technological change is always path dependent in the sense that it builds on, and takes for granted, what has gone before. Today’s choices constrain tomorrow’s possibilities. Yet they also create new possibilities, i.e. directions that could not have been taken in the absence of technology x (p.17-18).
Therefore there is both positive and negative path dependence.
The report discusses scale. From small, local and specific infrastructures that move into large fully functioning infrastructures. They refer to the long time frames the diffusion of innovation theories for a variety of infrastructures. But not in enough depth for my liking! Particularly since scalability is really important when deciding on gateway technologies.
The report also discusses the invisible tensions that occur behind the scenes and rarely appear in the performativity of the actual operating infrastructures. As the author’s put it, what seems inevitable as a technological path or implementation has occurred through a series of debates that users do not see nor can they conceive of. Particularly in the case of ‘achieved’ infrastructures. When infrastructures are forming numerous tensions emerge amongst actors and as Schumpeter would say - there is allot of ‘creative destruction’ resulting in both winners and losers.
Infrastructures, especially those in the making, are what political scientists term agonistic phenomena: imagined, produced, refined, and occasionally reassessed in a stratified and deeply conflictual field (p.24).
as practices, organizations, norms, expectations, and individual biographies and career trajectories bend - or don’t - to accommodate, take advantage of, and in some cases simply survive the new possibilities and challenges posed by infrastructure (p.24).
Some of the issues associated with these tensions are:
- Interest and exclusion: some positions, programs, cities, life in general are enhanced by a particular infrastructure development. Alternatively, some jobs become obsolete, the negative effects of being bypassed by a particular infrastructure (road, fibre), sidetracking some disciplines by new funding preferences, or further marginalization by some groups by the fast pace change in a particular infrastructure they are not even a part of.
Emergent infrastructures function as redistribution mechanisms, reorganizing resource flows across scales ranging from the local workplace or research laboratory to the global economy. Few if any are free from distributional consequences altogether (p.24).
Disregarding this effect is bad planning, bad politics and bad business and i would add un-neighbourly!
Doreen Massey, a well know cultural geographer coined the term ‘power geometries’ of infrastructure, while Leigh Star refers to infrastructure ‘orphans’. The term ‘consequential infrastructure’ is also discussed but not defined.
When discussing power, exclusion and path dependence the report refers to the concept of capture:
the interests of powerful established constituencies come to overwhelm and crowd out potential innovations. Infrastructural incumbents may exploit their historically-accrued strengths to effectively hold infrastructure in place, stacking the decks against new, less organized, or less favorably placed actors, thereby limiting the scope and vision of new infrastructure possibilities (p.26).
Today i went to an urban planning consultation event, and the workshops were by invitation only. The rest of the people who attended got to look at maps and provide input to officials at the event. There was also an absence of those most familiar of Wellington street, namely, the established francophone population, those who live in social housing, the hookers, druggies and the homeless. The demographics at the consultation were also primarily white in this very ethnically and racially diverse part of town. The process will be trapped and captured by the needs and interests of those easy to deal with, who are sophisticated and versed in the process while the more messy elements, linguistically diverse, and urban nomads who know the hood better than anyone will simply have to live with what comes down the pipe.
In the case of community communication infrastructures, it becomes important to question these social dynamics as well. Who is at the table and who is not? Whose agendas? How exclusive are the meetings and think tanks? What are the demographics? Do they matter? What is the social and political agenda? Who gains and who loses? What are the main tensions - open source vs ms? Exclusively free or a combination of free and not? Mesh vs hotspots? Municipal or private or public? Neutrality? Who are the community wireless infrastructuralists? Should they dominate? Where and who are the checks and balances to evaluate the pros and cons of a path dependencies? Is it only the system builders who have a say? Like the great man theories of scientific advances? What of unmitigated entitlement? The report suggests:
Finding ways to translate between such design-level perspectives and the more "pedestrian" experience of infrastructure - and to continually incorporate lessons learned "below" into the next round of design from ‘above" (p.28).
Moving from the god view and the pedestrian is no easy task! Tension is what most of us try avoid, however in the case of infrastructures, it is suggested that these should be embraced, they may be leveraged and contribute to a better infrastructure avoiding "edifice complex" which is the
the tendency to build first and ask questions later, or to treat the technical "code and wires" core as the realest or most essential thing about infrastructure, and the rest as social add-on - that has too frequently defined and limited the work of infrastructural development (p.29).
The report looks at ownership and investment models. This was a light review where public, private a combination thereof, centralized, decentralized or formalized and distributed were alluded to.
The OSI layers were discussed and the authors pointed out that only computer users and designers appear within them and suggest that the social elements appear at each layer. I disagree, and think that we should still promote layer 8 - the social layer!
I still need to put all of this stuff together! But conclude that infrastructure is not socially benign, and what and how they are created will determine how we interact with them to some extent, alternatively their technological and social path dependencies especially as infrastructures converge and their components consolidate. Community wireless infrastructures provide an opportunity to learn by doing infrastructure and they too will be interconnected, at the moment the glue is social, eventually it may be technical. It will be interesting to see what gateway technologies get developed and how these second order infrastructures will look like when they become achieved and who will take part in imagining these and what the tensions will be.