Exactly. And I wrote that future in order to foreground the question i.e. biometric detection to optimise services would be completely the wrong thing to do—partly as optimising services is only a small, ‘vaguely important but not really’ thing as regards cities, and certainly not important enough to warrant the dissolved civil liberty or social contract that biometric detection entails, and also to foreground the ways in which we are currently sensed. Hence also noting that some people will find a way around it, and so foregrounding a deliberate question in the reader’s mind: which side of the fence are you on? But the key thing in writing this as a narrative is that it was an attempt to make the questions tangible and engaging (we could also draw, or visualise, or enact it, but writing it enables multiple readings.)

The danger of narrative form is that it is a powerful tool, and so it can be used to lead the debate, it can be used to trigger emotional responses. However, a pretence that we could have cold, logical, somewhat dispassionate reading of these questions seems unlikely to the point of irrelevance now. Note Ian Warren’s reflection on the various recent elections noted in my piece on Estonia’s digital identity/e-residency system, and how they are framed around emotion rather than ‘facts’. Indeed these latter aspects of the ‘smart city’ matter: we are dealing with things like housing, voting, energy, mobility, streets, schools etc., as you note; as opposed to things like LED streetlight roll-outs, which are important in their own small way, but not likely to engage citizens fundamentally. This means we have to use narrative carefully, but we do have to use it, as it is a powerful carrier and shaper of culture, and will draw people in to a genuinely meaningful debate.

Designer, urbanist, etc. Director of Strategic Design at Vinnova, Swedish govt’s innovation agency. Visiting prof UCL Bartlett IIPP + Design Academy Eindhoven

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