Friday, July 4, 2003

People, place and information

Adam Greenfield has posted the presentation he will be giving at the First International Moblogging Conference day after tomorrow.

In Whatever happened to serendipity? Adam writes:

I think moblogs are what happen at the intersection of people, place, and information, and I think they spontaneously arise almost immediately, any time a means exists to harness these three ingredients together ... Now imagine for a moment that the city is overlayered with a palimpsest of user-created tags, and everyone in the city over the age of five has a cheap, easy-to-use device that affords publishing, browsing, searching and filtering from among same. What does it look like when you can stand in a given location, press a single button on this device, and avail yourself of the collective experience of everyone else who's occupied that same spot?

People who read this site know how much I like the idea of cities digitally layered with human experience - it is my dissertation research after all - but I've always been concerned that ubiquitous computing (and let's include moblogging here for now) will most likely serve to bring us closer to sites of consumption. And while I have no objection, per se, to buying things, I do have problems with the increasing commodification of social and cultural experience (think shopping malls, theme parks, etc.). But Adam astutely adds something else to this familiar problematic: the risk of losing serendipitous experience and connection.

... In this world where we're all issued the keys to the city as soon as we're old enough to grasp a palm-sized device, there's precious little room for accident. There's not much incentive to go offline and stumble around blindly, regardless of the intangible benefits that may accrue to those who do so. And the self-selection gradient that results in streets that are known for diamond merchants and neighborhoods that are devoted to consumer electronics - in short, the frequently-ungentle osmosis that has shaped our gathering places for centuries, for better and just as often for worse - only becomes reinforced.

This reminds me of our desire to PLAY, to GROPE around, to MANIPULATE (in the sense of shaping by hand) ... After all, we don't just discover places, we CREATE them, we MAKE THEM UP. And I'm afraid I'm just not impressed by any technology that limits our ability to do so. Adam conjures this in terms of Situationist dérive - or DRIFTING - and it is through related critiques of everyday life that I believe ubiquitous computing, and moblogging, will succeed.

So here's wishing the conference goes well. Cheers Adam.

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