Extrastatecraft, the Game of Go and Digitalization as an Oxymoron

In “A Thousand Plateaus”, in a chapter entitled “Treatise on Nomadology: The War Machine”, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari utilize the model of the game Go to illustrate the dispositions of the “war machine” – an array of conflict that is “exterior to the state”.

What might be the implications of this notion when it comes to the infrastructure of the internet?

Any infrastructure is a setting that controls our lives to a certain extent.

“Microwaves bounce between billions of cell phones. Computers synchronize. Shipping containers stack, lock, and calibrate the global transportation and production of goods. Credit cards, all sized 0,76 mm, slip through the slots in cash machines anywhere in the world. All of these ubiquitous and seemingly innocuous features of our world are evidence of global infrastructure. – In the retinal afterglow is a soupy matrix of details and repeatable formulas that generate most of the space in the world –“

So begins the dystopian story of the infrastructure of our time, “Extrastatecraft” by Keller Easterling. This epic book describes the prevailing conditions of the global digital and physical capitalist system.

In this book, Easterling sets out to analyze the current situation via the themes of “zone”, “disposition”, “broadband”, “stories”, and “quality”. The approach, case studies and perspective in this book are very leftist, but will carry relevance to anybody interested in these topics.

As reflected upon by Easterling, the sociologist and anthropologist Bruno Latour has written that networks and infrastructure are composed of both social and technological actors. Think about the most popular social networks. According to Easterling, they may be “conglomerates of many surprising sets of agencies”.

Whichever corporations control the algorithms of these conglomerates, however, have rapidly taken over the framework and infrastructure where we operate in our daily lives.

I would argue, in the spirit of Easterling, that the algorithm of Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, for instance, are very powerful ones, in as much as they control our current social lives and actions online.

As Easterling describes, for Deleuze and Guattari, “the war machine conquests operate in the “smooth” space of Go, instead of the “striated” space of chess.” The main distinction here is that whereas chess offers hierarchy, and each game piece operates via established hierarchical routines, Go only allows areas of black and white stones to move on a grid as each attempts to conquer ever-changing territories.

What are the implications of this notion for the 21st century and the digital industries?

Coming back to algorithms, and taking the algorithms of our most powerful social media tools as example, any attempt to run an agile and successful software company should be based on the game Go, rather than the game of chess.

My next question, then, is, how to make the algorithm appealing to masses, and  what might then be the driving values that eventually make successful companies with this operating system, as these must matter as well? Or do the values matter?

Digitalization is an oxymoron in the sense that it implies to a change, whereas now it seems that in our current economy it only adds a layer of infrastructure upon it.

I firmly believe now more than ever any aspiring startup entrepreneur must consider the social and global impact of their service and product, and play a game of Go.

Get “Extrastatecraft – the Power of Infrastructure Space”, 2014, by Keller Easterling on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Extrastatecraft-Power-Infrastructure-Keller-Easterling/dp/1784783641/


Get “A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia”, 1987, by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari:


About Urban Planning and Ikigai

Today, I attended an intriguing lecture by the architect Hella Hernberg, the author of the book “Helsinki Beyond Dreams – Actions Towards a Creative and Sustainable Hometown”. This book came out in 2012, as Helsinki was a World Design Capital.

Hernberg is one of the key professionals behind initiatives that transformed the former cargo port of Kalasatama, still in the middle of its ongoing construction, into a hip area in Helsinki. This area was opened to the general public in 2010, as I moved to neighbouring Kallio myself, and has so far witnessed the creation of open-for-all graffiti fence, urban gardening, a pop-up sauna, and various self-organized events. It’s one of my absolute favourite places in Helsinki, especially in the summertime.

Hernberg’s book explores new perspectives of a city in transition. As Hernberg states, it’s the “new we-spirit and enthusiasm of its people” that has turned Helsinki into an inspiring place to live. “In the past few years our previously quiet and reserved Nordic hometown has been a source of constant surprises”, she says. Helsinki is indeed bubbling with new ideas and creative endeavours. “People are motivated by doing concrete things that have an impact – however temporary – on their environment,” Hernberg writes.

According to the Japanese, everyone has an “ikigai”. The term ikigai is composed of two Japanese words: “iki”, referring to life or spirit, and “kai”, which roughly translates to “the realisation of what one expects and hopes for”. Finding one’s ikigai, according to the Japanese requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Such a search is regarded as being very important, since it is believed that discovery of ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to everyday life. An ikigai is essentially ‘a reason to get up in the morning’ – a reason to enjoy life.

Reflecting on the concept of “ikigai”, perhaps we would benefit from letting more people have an impact on their surroundings. As ikigai, more or less, consists of doing the things you love, which you are good at, which you can be paid for, and most importantly, that which the surrounding world needs, I think this concept is extremely useful in relation to crowdsourcing urban planning. One example of such co-design is the project coordinated by the University of Helsinki in the abandoned Marian sairaala hospital area.

According to Hilde Heynen “architecture – in its most broadly conceived sense – forms the framework for life”. Heynen also says that “But in accepting this as a starting point, one should also recognize that there can be something more”. In Heynen’s view, “the critical impact of an architectural project is not equivalent to its smoothly fitting into the international magazines”. Nor should it be. According to Hella Hernberg, the designer or the architect should act as an agent for a positive change. I am happy that my hometown is co-designing urban projects more and more.