Notes on Media

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Just another weblog. Lasse Bo Timmermann.

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.

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Filed under: Future, Google, Mobile, Ubiquitous Computing

Urban Screens – Visualizing the Rhythms of the City

Visiting the urbancreens conference in Amsterdam provided some interesting insights into the connections between urban culture, architecture and media spaces. Most interesting in view was Martijn de Waals’s talk on Improving Cultural Public Spaces. In his talk he was concerned with urban screens, mobile media and urban culture. In his terms the city is a space full of strangers in which we only know a small fraction personally. He asks how we shape and express our own identity in these spaces and how we relate ourselve to others?
real-time rome visualization taken from http://senseable.mit.edu/realtimerome/
De Waal then turned to the analysis of different urban practices that are fundamentally reshaped by the use of mobile communication devices. The space of the city can hence serve as a space for political debate and the encounter of different people and perspectives. The cultural public space offers a bodily experience of collective rhythms, performances and habits. Wearing particular clothes and visiting shared places leads of the creation of patterns. Just by being in space a person creates a specific urban space. Over time the same persons encounter each other frequently which can build a sense of trust, similarly to social networks and recommendation systems. The sense of belonging to a collective can therefore be argued to be based on a shared space. This sense of belonging can further lead to what de Waal terms dwelling and that describes the process of making oneself at home in a city. In his talk de Waal provides a comeplling way of describing urban life in the time of the increasing use of mobile communication devices (and their screens). I really enjoyed his descriptions of actively formed and constantly re-formed spaces in an urban environment.
The examples introduced show current projects that support the creation of the spaces described by de Waal. In a project called citysense one can download a cell phone application in order to find people and places with similar interests based on one’s own habits. The inhabitants of the city are placed into different tribes, hence pointing towards a future possibility to form and bring together dynamic groups of people. A second example introduced was MIT’s SENSEable City Lab which includes several different projects. In one of the featured projects the cell phone data is combined with public transportation data to provide a real-time visualization of the collective rhythms and flows of the city of Rome (see visualization above).
Plastic Container of Liquid Soap in New York
Obviously most of the current projects are more aesthetic experiments pointing towards a certain direction. If, however, the concepts described by de Waal and realized in many different projects can be lifted to the next level the will most likely have a tremendous impact. Imagine local political discussion based on these technologies. New forms of collaborative action and new ways of living together might become available. Projects like Trash|Track (see visualization above) can help to create an awareness of spatial relations. If we can manage to solve issues of privacy that are arising from the collection of large amounts of data, which is certainly not an easy task, the metaphors introduced by de Waal point to an interesting future.

Filed under: Amsterdam, Architecture, Conference, Mobile, Visualization

Of Phones and Food

I already stumbled upon the number of 4.1 billion cellphone subscriptions worldwide quite a while ago. My feeling, however, was that the indication for a reduction of the digital divide is flawed by the fact that many of the people in Western countries are subscribed more than once. A remarkable fact, pointed out by Bruce Etling on the Internet & Democracy blog, seems to allude to the opposite. He points to an announcement by the UN which states cell phones will be used to distribute 22$ vouchers among Iraqi refugee families in Syria. This indicates that we have indeed reached a very strange point at which cell phones seem to be more accessible than food as Matthew Cordell points out. For me this significantly questions how important the discussion about a digital divide still is and how telling the numbers of worldwide cell phone subscriptions really are. What is it worth if the whole planet is connected to global communication networks if many still don’t have access to food or water? What does this tell about the potential of the Internet to improve everyday life?

Filed under: Cyberspace, Internet, Mobile, Politics