The Misinformation Ecosystem: A Post-Truth Heterotopia

James Dalley

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Mackintosh School Of Architecture, Glasgow, Scotland.

A new reality is constructed within a self-regarding loop of
hedonistic splendour. This hierarchal pleasure garden is a gift from the new digital economy to a society that has redistributed its identity to the digital. It defines a world that is no longer solely understood through systems founded on human dimensions, visions and patterns of occupation but through the heterotopia of cyberspace; a landscape absent of order where users are in a state of deviation from the truth. Masquerading as a landscape of desire, this counterfeit ecosystem mines the populace for what is now its most valuable asset; data.

Your project imagines a futuristic landscape in which the world is understood through the heterotopia and cyberspace, what persuaded you to explore this topic?

 

I was fascinated by the notion of considering the internet as a place. Our identity is now a composite of our presence in both reality and cyberspace; half bits and half atoms. Although much of what is represented online about ourselves is contrived, the internet is now a tool for branding even on an individual level. I believe the line between these dimensions is becoming less obvious; behaviour is now majorly influenced by what we are exposed to on the internet, combined with an increasing volume of addictive and toxic misinformation. I wanted to take a critical viewpoint by referencing the harmful business model of surveillance capitalism, where the global economy takes advantage of personal information to influence consumerist activity or even voting behaviour.

 

 In the description of your project you use the term Post-Truth Heterotopia, could you give our readers an insight into what this means to you?

 

The term 'post-truth' is defined as "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief." From this notion of treating the internet as a space you can occupy, I had outlined early on that it acts as a space where authenticity is often irrelevant. My argument is that post-truth has become ubiquitous in recent years. Its manifestation is inherent to the evolution of the internet. Facebook/Instagram/Twitter have all become extensions of the self, forming what I have described as a 'heterotopian' cyberspace in an uncontrollable state of deviation from the truth. Fake news, populace rhetoric and subliminal propaganda are all symptoms of a news ecosystem and political culture that incentivises click-bait and confrontation. The heterotopia refers to this space acting 

as a filter or portal to a reflection of our own identities. It is a reality that embraces notions of the other, limits access and presents contradictions of illusions, imagination and deviancy.

How did this alter the way in which you approached the architectural design?

 

The actual design of the project fluctuated between a satire that relied on its imagery to inform the principles of design and a strict technologically informed scheme that examined the energy use of the internet. It took a while for me to tap into the surrealist aesthetic that I had been looking for throughout the project. I reference victorian pleasure gardens, theme parks and 20th century industrial complexes to communicate the degenerative aspect of our obsession with status and image. 

 

The project also explores the very topical subject of data-mining whereby you provide a satirical commentary that critiques the digital economy, what are your thoughts on contemporary society and its use of the digital space?

 

A rapid convergence in the data mining, algorithmic and analytical capabilities of tech companies has resulted in major political shifts in recent years. The internet plays host to increasingly powerful, unregulated and opaque ‘intelligence platforms’. This method of surveillance permeates into the most private personal sphere of any given user who can be targeted individually through paying advertisers or political parties with profitable agendas. Truth has become so devalued that political debate is now a worthless currency. Our inability to process the overload of information has stimulated judgments based on personal belief; preferring digestible, emotionally appealing story-telling in contemporary political communication. Contemporary society's constant connection to screens means that we tend to actually prefer inhabiting representations of the world. It puts people in a vulnerable position of becoming a product of their own investment. Relinquishing data by investing in various online platforms creates a kind of digital panopticon that has the power to destabilise a functional democracy.

The satirical nature of the project encourages a discourse around the projects topic, do you feel approaching architecture in this way is an important part of a student’s architectural studies?

 

Satire is a powerful form of criticism for architecture students. It very much depends on the issue being examined by the student, however a comical appeal can be an effective device for splitting opinion and creating discourse. With my project there is a seriousness that belies the ridicule of contemporary monuments such as Kim Kardashian or the images of flying pigs. Architectural education provides students with the opportunity to invent something that exceeds the capabilities of a physical building, free of constraint. An architectural thesis can be presented using a plethora of critical devices and I find it incredibly important for individuals to explore a personal stance on the possibilities of architecture. 

 

The project is located in Stockholm Sweden, was there any particular reason why this city was chosen?

 

I studied at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm during the first semester of my final year. The Misinformation Ecosystem is an island superstructure that is removed from any context. Its site references the isolation and introversion experienced online, settling amongst the islands and islets of the Archipelago. I was also exploring the way Stockholm brands its Archipelago as a site of tourism, tranquility and retreat from the city, I found a location at the Eastern Strait, resting on the edge of the municipality of Stockholm, outside of government control, alluding to the autonomy of tech giants. 

The brief of the project is very eccentric but also incredibly thought-provoking, has anything or anybody been a particular influence on your studies?

 

My peers always had a significant influence over my work. At the Mac there is a collective spirit amongst individual projects. In your final year you develop a small community of peers that will always feed into your work, providing inspiration from a variety of precedents. At the time I was writing about the photographic works of the Bechers and Karl Blossfeldt, comparing their analytical and objective approach which I think led to a vital turning in the representation of the project. I was also constantly captivated by the imagery of CJ Lim, Laurie Lipton, Gerald Scarfe and Piranesi, whose work all fed into my final drawings.

 

What do you feel you have learnt by undertaking this project?

 

Asides from mastering the art of last minute execution, I think the project always managed to provoke a stimulating conversation that questioned the future of data storage and how this affects the world out with the boundaries of architecture. I think as an architect you acquire discursive abilities that permeate into social, political and economic issues and I've learnt that the strength of a project is born from self-confidence from a personal standpoint in all of these factors. It is easy to doubt yourself in architecture through the constant torrent of criticism, questioning and self-reflection, however hard work and self-belief has always prevailed for me.

Your drawings are incredibly realistic and often it is hard to believe they are not photographs, how did you acquire such an impeccable drawing style? 

 

Everything starts in the sketchbook. From there I give each image a name or a phrase, accompanied by a vocabulary; a list of words that the image must always communicate. This helps me not only when building the image, but when I'm verbally presenting. To much disbelief, all my thesis images were modelled in SketchUp. I used V-Ray to extract render elements from the model, however most of the work comes in Photoshop; a tool I have extensive knowledge and experience in that I believe is the most unrestrictive and all-encompassing program for producing drawings. I use Photoshop to achieve the qualities sought in the images' vocabulary, working between the final image and the original sketch to always make a link back to the purpose of the thesis.

If you could offer one piece of advice to our architecture student followers what would it be?

 

Take the red pill.

 

Finally, where can people find out more about you and your projects?

 

Perhaps it's ironic, but I will be using Instagram as a platform for my work which you can follow; @jr.dalley. 

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