Monday, May 31, 2004

Wireless: local and global

This morning, I see that Howard Rheingold is asking if location blogging will take off. Oh probably, in some form or another. But until GPRS rates come down significantly, the opportunity for public authoring will only be available to a select few (which, of course, is not very public). And ever-skeptical, I do wonder if never missing a friend (or always knowing if you have a friend nearby) is better than not.

Shifting from local to global scale, check out Message in a Bottle: From Ramsgate to the Chatham Islands.

On 25th May 2004, fifty bottles were released into the sea off the south east coast of England near Ramsgate Maritime Museum, Kent. The intended destination of the bottles is The Chatham Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. The islands, which are 800km east of mainland New Zealand, are the nearest inhabited land to the precise location on the opposite side of the world to Ramsgate Maritime Museum ... Several of the bottles are being tracked automatically using GPS technology and are programmed to send their longitude and latitude coordinates back to Ramsgate every hour. The data they send has been used to create a live drawing which is automatically updated in real time. (Scroll down this page for another map.)

But oh no! It seems that on Friday the automatic reports stopped and they now have only a "few days to recover them, diagnose then fix the problem, then put them back into the sea." So if you find one of the GPS bottles, let them know!

(via)

This reminds me - in researching ubiquitous/pervasive computing the past few years, I have rarely seen or heard public discussions about how these technologies often don't work, and if they do, they often don't work well. (Just one example: GPS doesn't work well in dense urban areas where buildings block the signal.) A couple of months ago, Gene Becker wrote: "Ubicomp is hard, understanding people, context, and the world is hard, getting computers to handle everyday situations is hard, and expectations are set way too high. I used to say ubicomp was a ten-year problem; now I'm starting to think that it's really a hundred-year problem." Indeed!

Update - The Feature: These Streets Were Made for Talking. An article on, you guessed it, the Talking Street project.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

On June 28, we vote

The 38th Canadian General Election was called when I was away and, mostly for personal reference, I have set up a quick and dirty guide. Currently it is a bunch of links to information on the electoral process, registered political parties and candidates in my riding.

Over the next few weeks, I will meet with each of my local candidates and discuss their positions on the issues most important to me these days: education, student loans and student debt. Stay tuned for updates.

Thirty-one collective nouns

An army of frogs. A bevy of beauties. A colony of lepers. A conflagration of arsonists. A crash of rhinoceros. A culture of bacteria. An embarrassment of riches. A flock of tourists. A fluther of jellyfish. A gaze of raccoons. A glaring of cats. A gulp of swallows. A hill of beans. A knot of toads. A lap of cod. A neverthriving of jugglers. A number of mathematicians. An obstinacy of buffalo. An ostentation of peacocks. A pace of asses. A parliament of owls. A pitying of turtledoves. A plague of locusts. A ponder of philosophers. A poverty of pipers. A quiver of rebuttals. A rout of snails. A scull of friars. A sneak of weasels. An unkindness of ravens. A vagary of impediments.

Wikipedia: Collective noun

Notes on objects, representation and performativity

Update: also posted in Notes

I'm someone who gets excited when discussions of new technologies do not dissipate into the aether of cyberspace or VR. What I mean is that I prefer thinking and writing about embodied, rather than disembodied, interactions. More specifically yet, I am fascinated by objects and materiality. (I was an archaeologist once...)

Last night I was re-reading some of Brian Cantwell Smith's On the Origin of Objects - the first book I came across that actually applied social studies of science and technology to matters of computation.

**

Centre for Science Studies, Lancaster University (online papers)

Social Studies of Science: An International Review of Research in the Social Dimensions of Science and Technology

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Cantwell Smith divides his concerns into two: empirical (doing justice to computational practice) and conceptual (providing a tenable foundation for a computational theory of mind). Together - he argues - they constitute the need to come up with a "situated, embodied, embedded, indexical, critical, reflexive, and all sorts of other things" theory of representation and semantics.

It is his first concern that most interests me because that is the realm of social and cultural interaction, of practice, of performance. However, because I am less concerned with the conceptual side of things, his desire to delineate a theory of representation seems to me to conflict with his ability to account for performativity.

Paul Dourish's Where the Action Is also pursues situated and embodied knowledge, although it draws on phenomenology rather than science studies. And in the end, it also seeks representational ways of understanding human-computer interaction.

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representation - the relations between objects and signs/symbols (what things mean)

performativity - the relations between objects and actions/practices (what things do)

Note: there is significant overlap between these concerns within philosophy, linguistics, semiotics, postructuralism, cultural materialism, postcolonial studies, feminist theory etc. See Theory, Culture and Society: Explorations in Critical Social Science.

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Generally, I find performativity more interesting than representation. I also find it a useful way to engage, for example, questions of accountability and ethics. (Even words do things.) But what's important to remember is that they are different concerns and different ways of understanding the world. Different ontologies and epistemologies; different paradigms even. As such, they are not always compatible. At the core of this disagreement is the question of correspondence, or how things relate. (Is it a direct, 1:1 mapping? Is it completely arbitrary? Is it highly contextual and variable? Is it static or dynamic? etc.)

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Perform or Else: From Discipline to Performance by Jon McKenzie

Theatre/Archaeology by Mike Pearson & Michael Shanks

Theatre and Everyday Life by Alan Read

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Object Lessons (pdf) by John Law and Vicky Singleton
Objects as regions or volumes, objects as networks, objects as fluids, and objects as fires.

Making a Mess with Method (pdf) by John Law
Making sense of messes (of objects).

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Friday, May 28, 2004

Of cities and mobility

In An Architect in the City of Bits, David Pescovitz interviews Bill Mitchell++ about location-awareness. Touching on MIT's Smart Cities research programme, Mitchell describes cars that "operate as part of a giant distributed scanner that builds a real-time model of the city and keeps it updated." Hmm. Modelling the city from the perspective of an automobile? The city as car-only space? Surely the city is more than that.

In Inhabiting the Car (pdf), John Urry cites Freund and Martin's The Ecology of the Automobile, in which they argue that "Modernist urban landscapes were built to facilitate automobility and to discourage other forms of human movement… [Movement between] private worlds is through dead public spaces by car." Urry continues: "Such car environments or non-places are neither urban nor rural, local nor cosmopolitan. They are sites of pure mobility within which car-drivers are insulated as they 'dwell-within-the-car'. They represent the victory of liquidity over the 'urban'."

Urry then calls for 'smart' cars that are "better integrated into the public transport systems and public spaces" :

The key to integrating such 'post-steel-and-petroleum' cars into a mixed transportation system will lie in a multifunction 'smart-card' that will transfer information from home, to car, to bus, to train, to workplace, to web site, to shop-till, to bank. Cars could then be partially deprivatised by making them available for public hire through using such a smart-card to pay for their use, as well as to pay fares on buses, trains, or more flexibly-routed collective mini-vans. Smart cards for welfare recipients, students, families with young children, and the elderly could be subsidised. But all of these vehicles would have to become more than technologies of movement – they would also have to be hybridised with the rapidly converging technologies of the mobile telephone, the personal entertainment system and the laptop computer.

Mitchell finally gets at (just some of) the social and cultural implications of the car/city in his acknowledgement that :

Technology is advancing faster than our ability to think through the ethical and cultural issues ... You can't slow down innovation. I think what designers and writers need to do is paint really compelling pictures of possible futures in very human terms so that the public debate can really evolve at a high level in a sophisticated way. We must understand the relationship between these rather abstract technologies and our everyday lives. We need to ask ourselves how we want to live our lives and how we can organize our technological capabilities to fulfill those ideals. Public debate is critical. And you can only have that debate if you engage the public's imagination.

I, for one, am happy to explore the possibilities of 'intelligent' cars, but only if we give equal attention to other forms of (technologically-engaged) mobility, like cycling and walking.

Update - BBC News: Wireless web gets a set of wheels (on Yury Gitman's Magicbike, linked above)

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Photographing urban mobilities (and such) at grand magasin and la forme d'une ville. (via)

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Mobility costs

Everyday in the UK people are spending more on their mobiles than on their gas and electricity bills, and I feel a bit sick to my stomach when I think about what I will have to pay for using my mobile phone in Europe for the last month.

The rhetoric of wireless liberation - and that of business and marketing - often gloss over the various costs of connectivity, as well as social obstacles to the related promise of cultural production.

It seems obvious, but useful to reiterate, that mobile technologies cost: to source, to produce, to distribute, to own, to use, to discard. Wastefulness takes on new dimensions. Accountability is simultaneously near and far.

(How many design features are created without understanding the ultimate costs of such services?)

It is useful to remind ourselves, to say out loud, that many people cannot afford the privilege of mobility. Ubiquity is still concentrated in certain countries and use is mostly local. Anywhere, anytime does not extend to everyone; decentralisation is not the same as equal distribution.

It is useful to keep in mind that a world of mobility will not always support and forgive a world of immobility. Waiting by the phone, or being out of range, become difficult boundary negotiations.

It is also useful to remember that cultural production requires more than access to technology. It demands that creative processes are socially valued and trusted, that public imagination is encouraged and playfulness is rewarded.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

L'invention du quotidien / practicing the everyday

Coming home after many days away is always a bit strange. When I used to spend four months each year doing fieldwork in the high Andes, it would take me a month or so to get used to being home again. This time I only needed a few days, but I still feel a bit... in-between.

Seeing missed friends reminds me of who I am here. Exercise, acupuncture and massage begin to re-balance my body. (Apparently, a daily diet of English sandwiches and chips can cause one to gain 6 or 7 pounds in a month. Not good.) And my mind and spirit remain lit up with new ideas and already-shifting memories.

I've also discovered that my email did not work properly during my travels - so if you sent me a message and never heard back from me, please send it again.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Touchdown

Vast open space. Home sweet home. Current listening. Back in a few days.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Twilight

I can't believe I've been gone for a month and that tomorrow I will be heading home!

I have seen and done so much - and met so many wonderful people - that it will take me weeks to make sense of it all. But I am heading home with a renewed sense of purpose regarding my dissertation and with a firm conviction that my life is beautiful.

Special thanks to David, Michael, Chris, Rod, Jack, Matt and Alex for taking such good care of me. May you all continue to act slantwise.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Hiding from rain

It's raining, my coffee is almost done and I keep thinking about the following:

Narcolepsy does not particularly interfere with doing laundry, as evidenced by the girl who fell asleep in the launderette yesterday.

Twenty or so deaf young people, when drunk and energetic in the garden at three in the morning, can make a lot of noise and apparently not notice.

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"No matter how compelling America's ideals, they still come wrapped in American power. People abroad may love the former but they are inevitably suspicious of the latter. And if America falters in its application of its ideals, people around the world will believe that they are simply a smoke screen for its power. Call it the fate of Empire."

- Fareed Zakaria (in Empire - Nozone IX)

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Dissertation dreams

Spent all day yesterday at HP Labs Bristol - interviewing the folks working on Mobile Bristol about things related to technology, space and culture. Quite fascinating really. And quite different from the academics and artists with whom I have spoken for the other case studies.

With all the interviews now done, I dreamed about a completed dissertation, and it was good.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

On photographs

Yesterday I went to the Photographer's Gallery to see the Hou Bu & Xu Xiaobing: Mao's Photographers and Li Zhensheng: Red-colour New Soldier: A Chinese Photographer's Odyssey through the Cultural Revolution exhibitions. Official photography, official histories. Beautiful photos of cavalry crossing the desert, and platoons of small-footed women soldiers. Formal portraiture, and intimate family photos. Faces in triumph and joy. Thousands of copies made their way into people's homes, and some were never seen.

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I'm staying in central London with hundreds of university students enjoying their first Great European Odyssey (a.k.a. The Grand Tour of Western History and Culture). As I sit on the street drinking my coffee, I ask them where they come from and where they're going. (An Australian guy and Canadian girl, recently fallen in love: "We're saving our money to stay longer in Prague." Me: "Prague? I hear Riga is the new Prague.") I see travellers both struggling with maps and enjoying being lost. But there is one thing I do not see. No one is taking pictures. I ask them if they have cameras. "I don't take pictures," they say. "I will remember," they tell me.

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Traces of India: Photography, Architecture, and the Politics of Representation

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Photographs and Memories by Douglas Rushkoff (and the comments)

But what about the materiality of photos?

Voluptuous spaces

Spent several hours at the Barbican with Jack today. It was the first time I have been there, and it really is amazing. First of all, it is much more beautiful, and finely crafted, than I expected. It fills me with sheer joy when I think of such a wondrous space being created as council flats / social housing - even if it is now largely inhabited by the well-off. But mostly I noticed that it is a place of soft boundaries and unstable scale - two forces that lend it a peculiar quality in terms of embodied experience.

I plan to go back on Wednesday to do some quick-and-dirty mapping and interviews for him because he wants to better understand how people find their way around. (The area may be one of the most disorienting and confusing spaces in which I have ever been!)

I started looking through the resident discussion boards to see what people have to say about the place and its signage, but my quick perusal only turned up a few complaints that workmen have a hard time finding apartments, and yet people seem to be very much against obvious or intrusive signage (especially advertising) on the estate. I also see a bit of desire to revitalise some of the open space but there are plenty of complaints about inappropriate use of the public spaces, including skateboarding noise (and the police response of "You're all in your own little world in the Barbican" and "Skateboarders... that's all they care about in the Barbican"). It also seems that London traceurs have been exploring the potential for parkour around the estate architecture. Ha!

Now I find myself still thinking about the body in the Barbican - and the related tensions between the virtual and the actual, the local and the global in that space - but I will write more about that after my next visit.

Later I found myself back at Foyles (how does that keep happening?!) browsing books and enjoying coffee while listening to great jazz. I bought what will be this trip's last two books (I must resist my urges!) - Theatre/Archaeology, which looks at ways of understanding landscape and cityscape through notions of physicality, encounter, site and context, and Lost Architectures, which looks at unrealised (or imaginary) architectures of the last decade. The author, Neil Spiller, describes the collected projects as examples of New Romanticism: "a romanticism that is sometimes caught up with middle-class slumming, interest in the found object, the spaces of events, and patina and decay." He describes his own architecture as concerned with the "grotesque, ornamental, schizophrenic, vitalist, mythic and highly strung." Rejecting minimalism, he uses appropriately excessive language to describe his project:

Ours will be an architecture of ecological wefts, technological distortions and here and there digital necromancy. The spell is back, mixing together disparate things; spatial embroidery is where my architecture is going. It is a world populated by vascillating objects, Dalian exuberances, smooth but jagged objects and Baroque ecstasies. Objects will flit across a variety of spatial terrains simultaneously, some seen, some not. These ideas demolish the notion of the privileged site plan because the objects in some sense become ubiquitous, doppleganged and paranoid.

These words make me wonder how the Barbican is a voluptuous space.

Monday, May 17, 2004

If I lived in London I would spend all my money on books

Ahhh. Another afternoon spent in excellent company. And I resisted buying more books at Foyles, only to be seduced at the Tate Modern. (Contented) Sigh.

The brilliant and beautiful Empire grabbed me immediately and I bought Instructoart under the pretense that it will help inspire me with the graphic component of my dissertation. And because everyday life is in the relations, I finally picked up a copy of Nicolas Bourriaud's Relational Aesthetics, which now reminds me of Matt Locke's excellent post on trust, art and technology. And last, but not least, I left with Untitled (Experience of Place). Michael Ashkin's essay Notes Toward Desolation gives a small glimpse of the anthology's writing:

(21) I once regarded fragmentation and decay as negatives toward utopian promise. But as a fragment assumes a previous whole, it is just a smaller lie, no more true by virtue of its size. Perhaps fragmentation and entropy are merely the revenge the material world takes on a fixed idea. The relation of energy and entropy is but a restatement of the universal and the particular.

And just for Chris and Rod, 50 word summaries will follow on the books without pictures.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Playing catch-up (or is it dodge-ball?)

Can't say I ever expected Intel to cite the Situationists as primary inspiration for new technologies - well done! You can read more in Howard's article for The Feature or at Intel Research: Urban Atmospheres and Urban Probes.

Liz Goodman also rounds up some thoughts and links on current city-wide gaming in NYC.

And Molly quite rightly reminds us that maps are (only ever) abstractions.

But be still my book-fetishist heart! Archaeologists have found the great Library of Alexandria.

And because this looks neat: See-Through Wall (scroll down a bit) - an interactive video art work that redefines space by blending the real architecture of the gallery space with virtual architecture, giving viewers “x-ray” vision to see through the walls of the gallery and out into a virtual urban landscape. (found via)

Friday, May 14, 2004

Community

Back in London after a few wonderful days with friends in Sweden - tack! - and I was a bit surprised to see just how similar it is to Canada. The countryside around Linköping (where I stayed) looks like the Ottawa Valley in some places, and in others it reminds me of where the Rockies meet the prairies near Calgary. I ate lots of venison, salmon and potatoes - as well as good cheese and dark bread - and felt very much at home. Stockholm is a gorgeous city, dispersed over little islands and an absolute pleasure to walk around. I could easily and happily live in any of the places we visited.

And I was most taken by the Colony Gardens - Koloniträdgårdar - these little parcels of urban land where apartment dwellers can garden. From what I understand - and please correct me if I'm wrong - in the 1920s the Swedish government realised that people would not want to live in city apartments and other social housing if it meant that they would have to give up the food and flower gardens to which they were accustomed. As well, they became popular (and necessary) as a way to feed city dwellers in times of poverty. So the government created these little lots that people can rent from the city; people then purchase small dwellings to put there that allow them to spend the night or weekend. The colony gardens look a bit like mobile home parks, but much more ordered. Like hundreds of meticulous little backyards. And because everyone is so close together, they also act as social binders or community spaces. Increasingly, immigrants are maintaining colony gardens which allows for increased integration with the existing Swedish population. Fascinating.

I've got a few research interviews to finish before heading home next week. But now, I'm off to browse the bookstores again.

Sunday, May 9, 2004

Material histories

Heavy Little Objects

I collect heavy little things.

Tools, parts, toys, instruments, tchotchkes - the weight of some new thing in my hand, often small, metallic and well machined, compels me to add it to my life.

It's instinct by now. I can't say why these things are important, or why I haven't bothered cataloguing them until this day - they almost litter my office, my pockets, my car, my home. But this is as good a place to start as any.

This is fab. (via)

(Travel update: Still in Dublin, and using this rainy Sunday to catch up on some overdue work. Finally saw Kill Bill Vol. 2 yesterday, and I am *so* in love with Uma Thurman as The Bride. Off to Stockholm tomorrow.)

Friday, May 7, 2004

On mobile cities, Archigram, invisible networks and ubicomp

I gave an informal presentation on my research to some fabulous engineering/art/technology students this morning. I started out by talking about Archigram's take on mobile cities, and specifically Peter Cook's 1963 Plug-in University (a version of the Plug-in City) and Ron Herron's 1964 Walking City. In stark contrast to the historical and material heaviness of Trinity's campus, the plug-in university would comprise skin-covered frames and decks, or a sort of temporary "nomadic plain" on which students would move from place to place. The Walking City is probably my favourite Archigram project, not least because it provides a means to contextualise our current mobile technologies and shifting landscapes.

When I return later in the month to give a more formal (i.e. to more people) presentation, I want to spend more time talking about David Green's 1969 L.A.W.U.N. project. As described in the Archigram exhibit I visited on the weekend, "Green speculated that eventually it would be possible to create a 'fully serviced natural landscape', or Bottery, in which the natural world looks just as it should but is serviced by unseen networks, otherwise known as L.A.W.U.N. - Locally Available World Unseen Networks ... Green's Logplug could provide all the utilities and communication links a modern traveller out exploring the wilderness might require, while leaving the beauty and serenity of the natural surroundings undisturbed."

Certainly this brings to mind Mark Weiser's vision for ubiquitous computing and calm technology, as well as Don Norman's invisible computer. (Note: Weiser warned against being completely seduced by the idea of seamless computing - a point that is often overlooked in current pervasive computing and mixed/augmented reality research, with the exception of work by Matthew Chalmers and Ian MacColl. See also Andrew Odlyzko's article The Visible Problems of the Invisible Computer.)

The one concern I keep returning to when I use Archigram to help me manoeuver mobile cities is their focus on expendable architectures. Now, don't get me wrong: I think the idea of modular and adaptive cities is brilliant. But Archigram wasn't considering global scales of production, consumption and disposal of mobile technologies. These networks include - but are not limited to - tantalum mining, international telecommunications policies and recycling and disposal procedures. You may be familiar with thinking about technologies from cradle to grave - or from cradle to cradle - but I think it is also important to look at technological intimacies in terms of the people/objects/places/activites/ideas are brought together - brought into intimate relationships - in the design and use of mobile technologies. Like African mining communities, American manufacturers, EU telco regulators, and Japanese cell-phone users.

The question of responsibility and accountability gets sticky here - especially if we consider that technologies are too often viewed as neutral tools or isolated artefacts. If we draw out these flows, these networks, these interconnections, we find ourselves faced with the possibility of being connected to people/objects/places/activites/ideas that we may never see. And with intimacy always comes risk.

Thursday, May 6, 2004

Thinking out loud about maps and territories and time

I've been thinking a lot recently about the relationship between maps and territories. Especially considering that mobile technologies are making it easier to map real-time movements through physical space. In other words, I'm wondering how maps and territories may be sliding together.

Tangents/Trajectories:

BBC Radio 4 - Thinking Allowed Jan 2003 - Maps

"The dimension of time has been shattered, we cannot love or think except in fragments of time, each of which goes off along its own trajectory and immediately disappears."

- Calvino, If On A Winter's Night A Traveller

I've also been a little preoccupied with time - as in, it does no good to speak of space if we do not speak of time. Rob's paper, Visualicity, takes a look at the glance as a specifically temporal(ised) way of understanding urban spaces.

But I don't know where I'm going with this, yet.

Update: city|SPACE announces Urban Legends: The City in Maps, "an upcoming exhibition of maps in all their forms and meanings. The show will explore the idosyncratic ways in which we seek to understand the world around us, and in particular, the urban environment, with a visual record of our paths and patterns both literal and figurative." Now accepting submissions.

Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Where are you going today and what did you leave behind?

Portable Effects: A Survey of Nomadic Design Practice

Everybody is a designer in everyday life. Yet we share no common vocabulary for describing everyday design practice, and few would even claim to have a coherent method for pursuing it. Through glimpses into human mobile nature, Portable Effects is an interactive anthropological exploration which prompts each of us to consider the design motives and methods that underlie our daily transactions with ordinary objects.

Very nice. (via)

From Trinity College to Media Lab Europe

Trinity College Dublin is a gorgeous campus. I had tea with Linda Doyle this morning and will be meeting with her post-grad students tomorrow to discuss my research, as well as spending some time interviewing her for my dissertation case study of the Passing Glances project (in collaboration with MLE - Story Networks). I'm off to Media Lab later. Everything is good.

Later: Media Lab Europe is amazing. It is located in the old Guinness building, so it's this lovely combination of old wood floors and rafters, open brick walls and tons of technological devices. It is also full of interesting people doing interesting things. I met with Stefan Agamanolis, who leads the Human Connectedness group, and I'm already looking forward to going back on Friday to talk with some other reseachers.

Made it. Barely.

Christ, it took me six hours door-to-door to make it from London to Dublin - and the flight itself was only 50 minutes. And the free (pay only taxes) Ryanair flight ended up costing me $150 in additional travel and overweight baggage costs. Sigh. I arrived tired and cranky, and bailed on dinner plans. (I'm so sorry but promise to make up for it by being extra charming tomorrow!) On the up-side, I'm staying in what was once George Bernard Shaw's home.

Anyway, I started wandering around because it's so beautiful here, and although it is busy, it is not near as congested as London. A massive grey cloud made buckets of rain come down and I ran into an internet cafe. Just enjoyed reading Shaviro on Simondon on technology, as well as Steve's post on real imaginary languages and this wondrous Eco quote found at Rodcorp:

Stefano, my boy, I will give you guns. Because a gun isn't a game. It is the inspiration for play. With it you will have to invent a situation, a series of relationships, a dialectic of events. You will have to shout boom, and you will discover that the game has only the value you give it, not what is built into it.

But now I can see blue sky and the rain has stopped. That means it's time for me to venture out again. Tomorrow I've plans to visit Media Lab Europe and Trinity College - and to finally meet a friend.

Tuesday, May 4, 2004

Next

Visited the Archigram exhibition at the London Design Museum this afternoon with a bunch of clever people - and I remembered how much I believe that buildings are often more beautiful while they are being constructed than after they are built. Imaginary architectures are also good.

Later on I really enjoyed conversations with Jack Schulze about mapping complex urban spaces and the Barbican, and I'm still digesting Matt Webb's recent post on social software.

I've also been enjoying ROAM - A Reader on the Aesthetics of Mobility and Pillow Talk - a new weblog translation of Sei Shonagon's 10th century Pillow Book.

Tomorrow I'm off to Dublin. Yay.

Monday, May 3, 2004

Manchester stories

Back in London after the train trip through the rolling green hills of sheep country and still thinking about the locals in Manchester.

The small square outside of Urbis was packed with working class teenagers on an (uncharacteristically) sunny Saturday afternoon, and I chatted with a 15 year old goth who had just formed an anarchist collective with three of his mates and they were looking to participate in May Day protests but had been distracted by all the immediate goings-on. He was the lead singer of a band that included a violinist, and had a good sense of humour.

The girls in Manchester are some of the most confident women I have ever seen. Every body shape imaginable was squeezed into super short skirts and super tight tops with plunging necklines. They drink and swear and laugh loudly. I liked them a lot.

Chris and I went for Thai food, and then a pint of Boddington's in Manchester's Gay Village, a really welcoming area where the ebb and flow of the crowd added new meaning to mobility.

An older man - drunk and unhappy - stopped and told me that he wished he had met me before he had met his wife, but then that would be a shame because it would make me an old woman, and I was young and pretty. He had a tattoo of her name on his arm, and I suspect they had a very good life together. She was dead, and he said he was waiting to die. I resisted the urge to wipe the tears welling in his grey eyes.

Sunday, May 2, 2004

Mobile Connections- Day 2

The day kicked off with Matt Adams of Blast Theory discussing hybrid performances and audience participation in their mobile mixed reality games. Riffing on Hakim Bey, Matt introduced the idea of TPZs: Temporary Performative Zones.

Their Uncle Roy All Around You game has been running in Manchester, taking a strangely intimate look at matters of absence and presence. It requires you to get close with people far away, and to enter into social contracts with complete strangers. Given our increasingly interconnected worlds, this raises the particularly interesting issue of what responsibility we may have to distant people.

A few audience members accused him of selling out because they have collaborated with industry. And frankly, it surprised me to see several panel discussions get hung up on utopian vs. distopian discourses, where art was almost expected to comprise some sort of "pure" practice, completely divorced from capitalism. It seems a shame to me that when people were trying to work with existing social practices and institutions they were attacked; acceptable critical practices seemed to be limited to only working outside of everyday life. As if that were possible.

This tension resurfaced later on when Tom Melamed was asked what was the end point or ultimate objective of the Mobile Bristol project. He said he hoped it would never be finished, and I wondered why an end point would be preferable. There was also much talk of (to use Marko Peljhan's phrase) freedom in the electromagnetic sphere. He claimed that the battle over a publically owned telecommunications infrastructure has already been lost and that artists and designers should be focussing on technologies for people that don't have lots of leisure time and money. While I certainly agree on one level, this focus on efficiency to the exclusion of pleasure seems oddly mechanistic and restrictive. The wireless spectrum is still up for grabs, and I wonder how artists, designers and researchers can change telco policies if they do not engage the people who make them.

Saturday, May 1, 2004

Mobile Connections - Day 1

Good stuff at Urbis today! The morning kicked off with Sadie Plant on the social and cultural aspects of mobile phones. I'm particularly interested in some of the tensions she described: a sense of social security (always connected, always supported), a sense of social insecurity (extreme sponteneity, uncertainty of plans), a reinvigorated sense of place ("where are you?"), reduced chances of serendipity (never "who are you?"), and the increasing importance of questions like "where are you coming from?" and "where are you going?"

The first panel was on the network commons, where topics of discussion included public wireless access by free2air and TAKE2030, and wireless jamming by WiFi Hog.

The second panel was on locative media - including projects like teletaxi, murmur, biomapping and shrinking cities. Then Ben and I discussed intimate assemblages, locating accountability, problems with black-boxing and technological determinism, amongst other things. I know we lost some people, but others seemed to really enjoy it.

The third and final panel of the day was on the Creative Crossings workshop I posted on a few days ago, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow's panels and checking out more of the interactive city experiences and exhibitions.

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