In "Seeing like a City," Marianne Valverde turns to urban regulation to counter some of James Scott's arguments about the homogenizing gaze of high modern statehood. Cities, she notes, are highly regulated, but without the panoptic order that Scott suggests. They operate instead as a splintered patchwork of regulatory boundaries – postal codes, tax assessment districts, business improvement zones, school catchment areas, zoning blocks, sanitation districts, and similar divisions that don't quite line up. Arguments about online experience and the consequences of the Internet have a similar air to Scott's analysis of statehood – they posit a world of consistent, compliant, and compatible information systems, in which the free flow of information and the homogenizing gaze of the digital erases boundaries (both for good and ill).
In fact, the organization of the Internet -- that is, of our technologically- and historically-specific internet –is one of boundaries, barriers, and fiefdoms. We have erected all sorts of internal barriers to the free flow of information for a range of reasons, including the desire for autonomy and the extraction of tolls and rents. In this talk I want to explore some aspects of the historical specificity of our Internet and consider what this has to tell us about the ways that we talk about code and the city.