The Blank Canvas of Networked Capital, or, Another Look at the Whiteboard

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Image from dry-erase company ideapaint

When architects look at the built environment today, it can't help but be with profound misgivings. They're still working on projects, but the most ambitious designers are concentrating on building out, rather than building up, on moving people through interfaces rather than cities. Foundations and blueprints are replaced by schematics and entity relationship maps: architectures not of form, but of information. The fundamental unit of design isn't so much a site as it is a platform. And today, engineering a new society involves relentless ideation, a messianic vision, and— most crucially— a whiteboard.

"Whiteboarding," used as a verb, is a sort of lingua franca of the technologist— a new international style that reconstitutes the very assumptions of digital design, from interfaces and software diagrams to database structures. Though not new, this apparatus has recently become associated with a new kind of creative, a new type of thinker/tinkerer, and thus the whiteboard takes on new meaning vis-a-vis the economy, privilege, and power. Used and abused, it is a significant artifact of the present age of networked capital. If we were to construct a museum-like period room to represent the tech start-up of the new millennium, its walls would be whiteboards.

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