The Atlas of Contemporary Networks is the 2nd publication from the MA Communication Design at IUAV Venice, led by Ivor Williams and Marco Ferrari. The Atlas includes essays by Joanne McNeil, Anab Jain, James Bridle, Joseph Grima, Daisy Ginsberg & Tamar Sharfrir.
We live in an era of complex technological environments disguised under the constant promise of a simplicity at ease. The systems we live in and which shape our everyday actions are designed to be perceived as magic boxes, where we don’t need to understand anything of their internal functioning. Systems that overlap and combine which are able to produce their own consequences without any human intervention. Emerging from this are a variety of political, social, relational implications, as these environments move at a radically different speed from other pre-existing systems like international law or cultural norms. The logic of the network ‒ necessary to the fast progress of contemporary society ‒ has also become the sole mean for the understanding of today’s complexity.
In an attempt to understand the world as a system, we have in the past, organised the information into fixed forms. The Atlas is a classic example of this form. Whereas the Encyclopaedia would organise knowledge into a formal sets of lists, the Atlas creates a synthetic representation of the world, a list of subjects is substituted by diagrammatic or visual contents. The growth of the Atlas in society comes as a result of our ability to comprehend, organise and visualise the world, via the advancement of communication and travel, and through the creation of maps and printing presses.
In this way, it is important to recognise the Atlas as a renewed publishing format. As it was one of the first ways to describe the world as a machine, it is somewhat fitting to use a similar format to reinforce the visual and informational form that expresses the modern world. Moreover, the Atlas provides a precise picture of a particular point in time, one that belies the more transient digital world we occupy. The ideas in this Atlas are not only general, but specific ‒ referring to particular technologies, services, objects ‒ which provides an interesting tension between a traditional Atlas of definitive knowledge, and a modern one of ephemeral information. We begin with a process that seeks to deliver a comprehension of complexity, which requires the practical limiting of topics to ten key areas.