SQUARE ONE – THE KABA

In Mahwah, New Jersey, lies a cubistic building with no windows and just one door. This is the 37.000 m2 digital heart of Wall Street; a so-called colocation with surreal computer-power processing all the information of the North American stockmarket. Since a couple of years, this is where the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) not only keeps all their own servers, but also are hosting the servers of banks and other companies with the interest of being as close as possible to the source of the information – to those who can afford it, that is.

Whether your arena is stock-market or the horse-races, upfront access to information has been the key to success. In the era of High Frequency Trading, where stocks are bought and sold in speeds producing a time-space not accessible to man, the 5 microseconds it takes for the information to travel from Mahwah to the actual Wall Street is all it takes to differ the winner from the loser.

The technical investments needed to participate in this microsecond-race obviously are astronomic. Today 2% of the total number of investors have the financial muscles to play this game, that nonetheless represents 80% of all transactions on Wall Street. And of this minority, only a few have the resources required to get a room at the monolithic collocation hotel at 1700 MacArthur Blvd, Mahwah. The machinery is operating in speeds beyond human perception, making this cube of financial immanence a vehicle with no throttle or steering wheel – just a red button to turn the engines off in case of emergency. (However, what situation would constitute an emergency remains to be defined, since a coherent analyzis of the system is beyond the capacity of humans as well.)
In this up-scaled, 3-dimensional version of Malevich Black Square, algorithmic programs owned by a mere fistful of major players of the US market make 25 % of the daily transactions on Wall Street. This other-space of sorts is an arena where man-made machines, left alone from any human intervention, make decisions defining the material foundation of our reality – pensions, investments, mortgage etc – based on analyzises made by other machines.

This Kaba of the Financial World, is our Graal; the virtual aim of the project Three White Soldiers – a pilgrimage into the void of contemporary High Frequency Trading.

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