Hacking Google Maps

Simon Weckert and Moritz Ahlert

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"99 second hand smartphones are transported in a handcart to generate virtual traffic jam in Google Maps. Through this activity, it is possible to turn a green street red which has an impact in the physical world by navigating cars on another route to avoid being stuck in traffic." #googlemapshacks

The lecture discusses the development of maps and their function within society. It links the genesis of early maps with the current development of urban apps and the success of Google Maps. Thus it questions the practice of mapping and gives an overview over the critical perspectives of today’s mapping.

How the impact of digitalization shapes urban transformation is highly contested. A frequent concern voiced by critics is the reliance of so-called smart cities on ›big data‹, collected, monitored, and geo-localized by a ›cocoon of ubiquitous computing‹ (Halpern). While collectable and marketable data is prioritized, the actual realities of urban populations are being ignored and compromised. Commercialized smart city approaches foster the fragmentation of urban fabrics instead of ›bringing the world closer together‹ (Zuckerberg). ›Spatial software‹ (Keller Easterling) are actively shaping urban transformation processes but also functioning as new gateways for private corporations to dominate cities.
The focus of this lecture is on the role of urban actors as producer, consumer, prosumer and hacker in our emerging ›surveillance capitalism‹ (Zuboff). Simon Weckert & Moritz Ahlert want to reflect the means, the significance, and the potentials of ›civic hackers‹ (Townsend) operating today’s and tomorrow’s smart cities dominated by the logic of ›platform urbanism‹ (Barns).
The starting point of this endeavor is Simon Weckert’s performance "Google Maps Hacks" In February 2020 Weckert, a Berlin-based artist, got global news coverage for the video of his performance in Berlin, it went viral (over 3 Mio. clicks on Youtube). To contextualize his performance, he referenced an essay written by Moritz Ahlert, who recently finished his PhD about ›Google Maps-Urbanism‹.
For this lecture the speakers would like to investigate the role of hacking the digital urban infrastructure from their complementary artistic and scientific perspectives, using their work as a basis and including contemporary works of other artists, researcher and activists.


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