Engaging with infrastructures of the future: convenience, cashlessness and connection

Authors: Si Jie Ivin Yeo*, National University of Singapore
Topics: Urban Geography, Cultural Geography
Keywords: Smart urbanism, futures, convenience, cashlessness, connection, Singapore
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 40
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In this paper, I investigate how people on the ground engage with digital technologies, or what I term “infrastructures of the future”. Often, the introduction of digital technologies in urban spaces through smart urbanisation is not merely about solving problems in the here and now, but is also concerned with envisioning future urban worlds that are supposedly better and more efficient. Based on ethnographic fieldwork and interviews conducted with urban dwellers in Singapore, I argue that the promises of smart urbanism are never quite fully realised. I draw on the notion of experience as an analytical optic to open up the spatial realities of smart urbanism and, more specifically, unpack three tensions inherent to futures envisioned by the E-Payments programme in Singapore: convenience, cashlessness and connection. Using the example of electronic payment, I posit that these tensions emerge variously in and through people’s everyday interactions with the material infrastructures of electronic payment, from smartphones to quick response codes to point-of-sale devices. This paper shows that there is a mismatch between the expectations and realities of smart urban futures, one that can be palpably felt and experienced by people on the ground as they interact with and through digital technologies. Beyond its empirical contributions, this paper also brings into conversation the concepts of futurity and infrastructure as a way of illuminating more clearly the uneven social and spatial implications of smart technological interventions in the urban landscape.

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