Sunday, April 13, 2008

It's a mad, mad, mobile world

As widely reported, The Economist has tackled the topic of mobility in a special report, starting with a piece called Nomads at last:

"Urban nomads have started appearing only in the past few years. Like their antecedents in the desert, they are defined not by what they carry but by what they leave behind, knowing that the environment will provide it.

'Permanent connectivity, not motion, is the critical thing.'

The most wonderful thing about mobile technology today is that consumers can increasingly forget about how it works and simply take advantage of it."

The first description and Castell's claim are seriously sticking in my brain, not least because "permanent connectivity" is quite different from standard definitions of either mobility or nomadism, and it's difficult to reconcile this view with news that wireless cities are easier said than done.

The unrestrained glee of the last statement I excerpted just makes me sigh, mostly because I remember Yvonne Roger's warning that the purely convenient and efficient life raises ethical issues not unrelated to those of "the world of the landed aristocracy in Victorian England who’s day-to-day life was supported by a raft of servants that were deemed to be invisible to them."

And speaking of mobile technologies, Nokia Design seems to be everywhere these days. Check out this long NY Times Magazine story on the work of Jan Chipchase and Duncan Burns. And they've been busy recruiting as well: Adam Greenfield is off to Helsinki this summer to start his new "plum gig", and Julian Bleecker reports leaving academia to pursue a more "relevant" career.

Anyone who reads this blog knows I have serious concerns about academia, but I figure that's all the more reason to try and improve it. Call me a Canadian socialist, but I believe in government and non-profits and academia, and I don't see how turning my back on them will help me or anyone else. Plus, I'm pretty sure that "escaping" academia for the corporate world just implicates us in a different set of problems. Still, I wish both Adam and Julian only the best. Congrats gentlemen! I know I'm not the only one looking forward to seeing what your insights and enthusiasms bring.

Oh, and while I'm still on the topic of nomads and Nokia, did you know that Nokia China recently sponsored a 100 day roadtrip? Sharing this memory is made possible by Nokia and my N73/N95.

To see what some artists are up to in the arena of the mobile these days, check out wooloo.org's NEW LIFE BERLIN, "a contemporary art festival dedicated to new modes of moving and existing." The June 2008 event will be structured along three themes: transnational communities, artistic social responsibility, participation and intervention.

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