Mitchell's City of Bits: Commentary and Discussion

Cost-efficient Capitalist Paradigm

Erica Dillon

Mitchell makes several allusions in City of Bits that indicate a cost-efficient capitalist paradigm as the basis for the development of some virtual services or devices, thus definitively supplanting other forms of economic and social organization. One value that seems traditionally bourgeois (in Marx's sense), that "crowds become easy to handle" (59) in virtual museums echoes (part of) the principles upon which Baron Haussmann designed the new Parisian boulevards--to prevent revolutionary congregating in the streets. Similarly, Mitchell writes that "It will not be possible to tell tourists where some Marx of the next millennium sat. All that is solid melts in air" (57), a valorization of the move towards saving material resources and space with virtual libraries, but, in a new twist, also an accusation of capitalist society's penchant for worshiping so-called genius individuals, and puttimg grande fašades on buildings. While his use of Marx as the individual that can no longer be detected in public space has interesting theoretical implications, Mitchell is certainly pointing to social values that may not be traditionally capitalist; saving resources, multiplicity, and other values implicit in virtual reality would therefore force us to reevaluate what exactly capitalism is and why using this word to describe certain economic structures prevents us from accurately understanding the attendant social structures and problems. Especially since, unlike Haussmann's boulevards, the infobahn's existence is invisible to most people (not only its physical existence, but its virtual existence as well).