The Haptic Quality of Urban Sensing: from the Nudge to the Algorithmic Touch Manifold
Environmentality, as a new form of governmentality, works through an ubiquitous and distributed network of sensing and communication devices, simultaneously capturing and emitting information (Gabrys, 2014). Part of this environmentality works through the nudging of human and non-human bodies, creating an informational surround with the ability to move bodies, push them to action or inhibit them (Ain Al-Shams, 2017). The nudge is any “gentle poke” inscribed in an environment and capable of altering people’s behavior without forbidding any options (Thaler and Sunstein, 2008). We see, for instance, the presence of a camera or an Intelligent Personal Assistant influences our behavior around it, the coming notifications in a smartphone create a diffuse while alert ecology of attention, while the visualization of urban data on air quality can change our mobility behaviors. With this contribution, we will present the nudge as a point of entrance into a manifold of environmental “algorithmic touches”—from smartphone notifications, home-system devices, environmental sensors, urban dashboards, surveilling devices and other environmental agents—which are shaping this soft enclosure and interface informing the encounter between body and world and modulating its behaviours and practices within it. We will propose minor spatial ethnographies of these and other nudging cases to frame the haptic quality of this computational environmentality (Marks, 2002), and describe this interface and its effects on both individual and collective bodies’ agency.
Paper presented at the RAI2022 Conference on Anthropology, AI and the Future of Human Society.
Panel on Informated Environments convened by Hannah Kox and Emilie Glazer.