Saturday, March 5, 2005

The myth of pervasive computing

VISION 2010: Changing the Mobile Frontier (video)

"NTT DoCoMo believes that the future of mobile multimedia communications holds incredibly rich promise... The video you are about to see portrays the kind of technological advances that could transform our world over the next ten years. The events depicted are fictional, but the potential of NTT DoCoMo's cutting-edge technology is very real..."

This story quite nicely enacts the values and desires that characterise the current myth of pervasive computing - and I mean myth in the anthropological sense. Contrary to being false or fictional, cultural myths engage people's worldviews - our values, fears, hopes and beliefs. Myths also serve to explain or justify certain cultural practices, often in ways that allow them to appear timeless and morally just. In other words, they make what we believe and do seem 'normal' or 'natural'. Because of their normative role, critique is difficult and usually begins with problematising the taken-for-granteds in the story.

For example, in this video (and most other marketing campaigns) we are encouraged to believe that pervasive computing will make life "more convenient" and "richer", and also "deepen the bonds that link us together".

But nowhere does it explain how these technologies will actually be able to do that. And since myths often involve some sort of magical or fantastic intervention, it doesn't really matter how it happens - after all, at first glance, who doesn't want those things? The myth makes it seem as though this is what we have always wanted, and will always want, in life.

But is that true? For whom? When? And where?

Ask why convenience is important. Think about the data collection necessary to make those technologies work.

And who gets to decide what richer and deeper social relations mean?



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