Monday, May 16, 2005

Questioning ubicomp, circa 1995

"While conceiving of a technology that it regards as having potentially revolutionary effects on everyday life, the thinking underlying Ubiquitous Computing fails to show the slightest inclination to call technology into question. Although it is willing to examine other approaches to computing, the primacy of the unfolding of technology over the satisfaction of humans needs, and the self-sufficiency of this unfolding are taken as absolute givens. Taking into account the primacy given to technology over needs, the proposed massive penetration of everyday life by a particular kind of technology, the attempt to immerse the technology into the background partially as a way to bypass resistance to the technology, and the fact that these developments are not questioned but regarded as absolute, we characterize the thinking underlying Ubiquitous Computing as an emerging form of technological absolutism...

Although it is implicitly recognized in the proposals that certain groups show more reluctance than others to accept current computing technology, nowhere is to be found in them any concern regarding the possible acceptance or rejection of this invasive technology by the community at large. Its acceptance appears to be completely taken for granted... Thus, the thinking underlying Ubiquitous Computing exhibits a highly unreflective submission to the powers of technology - which to some extent echoes a similar unreflection predominant in the community at large - by taking for granted that the unfolding of technology does not require any justification outside of itself.

It appears then, that in the name of 'enhancing the world' the proposals for Ubiquitous Computing constitute an attempt at a violent technological penetration of everyday life. For how else could we characterize a proposal that advocates the pervasive transformation of things into surveillable objects, the substitution of 'real world' situations by digital surrogates, and the transformation of our surroundings into responsive artifacts by massively populating them with micro-processors and related devices - all of these transformations being mainly driven by technology itself?"

Agustin A. Araya, Questioning ubiquitous computing, Proceedings of the 1995 ACM 23rd annual conference on Computer Science (subscriber link)

Ten years later, can we really say anything has changed? Add to this what are being defined as the current Social Implications of Ubiquitous Computing and the situation looks rather bleak indeed.

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