Notes on Media

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Just another weblog. Lasse Bo Timmermann.

Calm Technology

Ubiquitous Computing is a concept firstly formulated by Mark Weise in 1991. Afterwards is has been used in various contexts and under various names. Pervasive computing, the Internet of things and ambient intelligence are only some of them. Whether the high expections formulated by Weiser and others can ever be reached or if the goals are at all desirable is a question still discussed. Dealing with Weiser and his work itensively during my Bachelor program I have been reminded of one of his ideas in a quite remarkable way. On TV I stumbled upon an ad of the new HTC campaign, which comes under the slogan “quietly brilliant”. As a description of mobile communication devices the slogan shows a striking closeness to Weiser’s notion of calm technology that appears in a paper from 1999. There he describes how technology fades to the background and adapts to the context in order to remain calm and disappear from the focus of attention. The ad itself then nicely plays with the ubiquity of phones in daily live. While the phones sold by HTC are arguably far from Weiser’s vision, the example still indicates a nice way to see the relevance of writings that are almost 20 years old.

Filed under: Future, Media, Nostalgia, Technology, Ubiquitous Computing

The End of (Reality) Browsing?

Siva Vaidhyanathan’s notion of googlization is around for quite a while already. The practice of search arguably spread from the Internet into other areas of life. With mobile devices the ability to search became increasingly pervasive and finally enabled, however basic, augmented reality applications. Jeff Jarvis calls this the hyperlocal and recently published a nice blogpost summarizing where this might lead. There he speaks of the annotated world and he concludes with a redefinition of search:

This is the new way I want to look at search: not to search a data base but to search my world, to see what is around me in new ways […]

Arguably being a form of googlization in the sense of Vaidhyanathan the idea might imply some more things. Before the massive success of search engines one was browsing the Web by calling a URL to start from, and then followed its links to the next page and so on. Very similar one is ‘browsing’ reality today, just strolling around to see what comes. In a local context one usually knows certains paths, like on the portals used earlier on the Web. Landmarks could be described as links that are used for navigational purposes. If this reality is increasingly augmented with data and constantly searched will this change? What happens if I can search the reality around me? The experience of reality changes fundamentaly when I can point a device to anything and anyone in order to search for further information. It might be too far fetched to argue that the way one experiences reality will change from browsing to search. Thinking about the implications of such a shift, however, remains interesting. Google’s experimental “near me now” button points to a possible outcome. Rather then walking on known paths one can explore the local by searching it.

Filed under: Future, Google, Mobile, Ubiquitous Computing

Digital Archives

If one looks at the Internet and its increasing use as an environment of communication, social interaction and writing an often heard claim is that whatever is put on the Internet will be there forever. The Internet does not forget. The usual assumption is that with storing all our e-mails, having facebook profiles, twitter and weblogs the history of persons or institutions will soon be available in machine readable formats, ready to be recalled at any moment and in a detail never seen before. Stefan Heidenreich describes this in a recent episode of the medienradio podcast as a point in time where we will ascend from a ‘dark era’. Heidenreich’s argument is that 20 Years from now we will be able to look back in time on the basis of our digital biographies to a certain point between 2000 and 2005 at which our history is obscured or dark simply because there is no data. I got a similar idea from a recent lecture of my digital methods seminar. The digital methods intiative is researching, among other things, the history ob websites with the Internet archive. While this kind of research has its own limitations (e.g. with websites extensivle using JavaScript or Flash) the research posibilities seem to increase with growing archives. The above approaches and common ideas about the Internet as an archive thus generally expect an increasing availability of data. The issues of studying history with the Internet rather lies in privacy issues than somewhere else. A recent post by Manuel Lima on the visual complexity blog, however, provides a striking viewpoint on this topic. He refers to an article by Robert Lee Hotz in which he argues that

“Scientists who collaborate via email, Google, YouTube, Flickr and Facebook are leaving fewer paper trails, while the information technologies that do document their accomplishments can be incomprehensible to other researchers and historians trying to read them.”

Lima writes that the more channels we are using to communicate the smaller the trails we are leaving behind get. New platforms, networks and formats come along daily. The important question is to what extend we will be able to access the data we collect in lets say 20 or 200 years from now. Paper trails have been a pretty save form of archiving even for thousands of years – although time consuming. Opposed to that, the data stored on floppy disks requires a significant effort to be restored only 15 years from the time in which it was the dominant storage media for data. So, will we still use e-mail in 50 years? Will facebook be around in 10 years? The larger question is whether the predictions of a future in which all our memories a available with the click on a button are right. Are we at the verge of entering a time of almost infinite recollection, as Stefan Heidenreich puts it, or rather facing a memoryless generation of what Manuel Lima calls the dark digital age?

Filed under: Digital Methods, Future, Internet, Memory, University