Monday, May 12, 2008


When writing the omnitopia book (in press), I wish I could have had this example of mutability (link).

Here's my somewhat overly-academic description of the concept:

Mutability enables the perpetual change of a place. As a practice of omnitopia, mutability reflects a range of potentials: it may be employed to destabilize a critical response by altering the foundation upon which such a critique could be launched. It may also provide the means through which occupants of omnitopia may change the environment for their own purposes.

Omnitopian mutability is best illustrated by its continual and seemingly automatic adaptation to changing exigencies. While the twisting, growing, morphing buildings of Alex Proyas’ Dark City provide a literally perfect illustration of mutability, we also encounter this phenomenon in more banal environments.

For example, we queue at the airport and study the evolving mazes of retractable line-control ribbons, wondering about the precise stimulus that commands a staffer to craft an opening or alter the flow of waiting flyers. An hour later, more people arrive, and the ribbon-line has been altered to accommodate them. Sitting at our gate, we know that previous flyers used this same site to visit a different place; later, flyers will journey elsewhere from this site. While some gates may be regularly associated with certain flights, the portal generally leads to one location in the morning, another in the afternoon, and yet another in the evening.

Another day, perhaps at an amusement park, we visit a site that alters itself according to changing expectations, marketing campaigns, seasons, and even hourly weather patterns. Rides close, become revised, and even adapted to new purposes. Even “It’s a Small World” must accommodate changing national realities from time to time. As such, these rides become a metaphor for more than mobility; they become a sign of constant change.

We also find the mutability of omnitopia to contain the seeds for its transformation, even momentarily, into a locale. We learn the codes, study the practices, observe the habits, and we sometimes can alter the place to suit our own purposes. Thus, omnitopia remains for some an enclave. For others it becomes a playground.