The prospect of machine-to-machine communication on a massive scale already drives the design of network infrastructures and regulatory frameworks that can structure and sustain the (self-)organization of an emergent machinic multitude at the heart of a new dynamic of mediation. The scope of critical reflection is related to the extent of our attention to and awareness of the immanence of our agency, our capacity for relation in the machinic assemblages that structure and sustain our communicative existences far beyond the sphere of signification. To assess the political stakes of mediation, we will need to comprehend its infrastructural relationalities, the modes of relation through which it structures our communicative socialities and imagines individual and collective engagement. Yet whereas it is the depletion of a commons that makes us aware of its existence, it is difficult to make this loss visible in the case of algorithmic processes operating beyond our scales of perception. One way to think about life and labor in the sentient spaces of our smart cities (whose semiotic machines are fueled by our data exhaust) is to imagine dynamic of atmospheric media as an “ambient commons” (McCullough). The notion of ambience captures both the characteristics and the consequences of the becoming-ubiquitous of information and communication technologies, enveloping us in the multi-layered fabrics of a subjective economy in which every expression, every act of relation can be stored and retrieved as potential element in processes of valorization. As more and more corporate actors intervene in the space of self-relation, offering infrastructures and operating systems to organize the distribution of life and labor across the complex topologies of our computational cultures, we need a much better sense of how these processes shape our modes and capacities for relation, of how we can come to terms with the enclosure of the space of experience. As informatization expands to include a vast array of everyday objects as active agents in technological networks, it is the ambient commons of our space of experience that is subject to new forms of enclosure. And as we connect the exhaustion of natural resources to the exhaustion that follows from the distribution of life and labor across real-time networks, the question of depletion design becomes a question of agency under the condition of depletion: how do we engage with the dynamics of exhaustion, how do we create interfaces for such engagement, how do we create new forms of commoning.
Lecturer in Media Theory at the Academy of Fine Arts Saar, Soenke Zehle co-initiated and currently works as managing director of the academy's xm:lab - Experimental Media Lab, frequently publishes (often co-authored) essays, and co-develop arts-and-technology research projects with colleagues from Communication Design, Fine Arts, Media Art and Design, Media Informatics and Product Design, with a particular focus on practice-based and transcultural approaches.