[A] table of contents for The City Is Here For You To Use. It’s a little unusual, in that it takes the form of a skeletal argument, or maybe even an essay; I hope you enjoy it.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about why “ubiquitous computing” has such problems as a name. When I talk about it, people either dismiss it as a far-future pipe-dream, or an Orwellian vision of panoptic control and dominance. I don’t see it as either. I’ve never seen it as an end point, but as the name of a thing to examine and participate in, a thing that’s changing as we examine it, but one that doesn’t have an implicit destination. I see it as analogous to “Physics” or “Psychology,” terms that describe a focus for investigation, rather than an agenda.
Why don’t others see it the same? I think it’s because the term is fundamentally different because it has an implied infinity in it. Specifically, the word “ubiquitous” implies an end state, something to strive for, something that’s the implicit goal of the whole project. That’s of course not how most people in the industry look at it, but that’s how outsiders see it. As a side effect, the infinity in the term means that it simultaneously describes a state that practitioners cannot possibly attain (“ubiquitous” is like “omniscient”–it’s an absolute that is impossible to achieve) and an utopia that others can easily dismiss. It’s the worst of both worlds.
The following talk was given on February 13, 2009, at Cowell Theatre in Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, to an audience of 550 people. Audio and video of the talk will be available on Long Now Foundation web site.
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for showing up. It’s certainly nice to travel all the way across the North American continent and have a few people come to see you, even if the occasion isn’t a happy one. You are here to listen to me talk about social collapse and the various ways we can avoid screwing that up along with everything else that’s gone wrong. I know it’s a lot to ask of you, because why wouldn’t you instead want to go and eat, drink, and be merry? Well, perhaps there will still be time left for that after my talk.
I’m not quite jaded and pessimistic enough to buy the whole scenario presented here, which might be a good thing considering
“[p]essimism is a luxury in good times… In difficult times, pessimism is a self-fulfilling, self-inflicted death sentence.” -Evelin Linder (as quoted by Jamais Cascio during his 2006 talk at the TED conference)
Still, an interesting “what if?”-piece.
Related: How are you coping with collapse-anxiety? (added 20/02/09). The crazy just keeps rolling.
For our latest mission, Agent Lathan gave out 2,000 high fives by standing next to a subway escalator during the morning rush. Five additional agents spread out along the adjacent stairs, holding signs that prepared commuters for the upcoming high five fun.
We present an as-yet-unnamed article skimmer. Think of it as an attempt to provide the Sunday Times experience anytime.
I rather like this. I’ve never come to terms with online newspapers, they just seem all over the place and don’t match my mental mode of focused information seeking when reading online. Online newspapers never get me browsing and skimming all the different sections as printed newspapers do. This seems like a promising first step to alleviate this problem.
For some inexplicable reason touchscreen interfaces for cellphones seem to be all the rage these days. And apparently there’s some kind of conference going on in Barcelona, where new touch interfaces keep popping up left and right. Entirely too much to digest right now, so here’s a couple of links to get back to later: there’s Windows Mobile 6.5, which looks a lot like iPhone OS. There’s the Nokia N97, which doesn’t look a lot like iPhone OS, but aside from that there’s little to glance from the short clip. There’s the Sony Ericsson Idou, which looks a lot like the PS3 interface; kinda sexy, but overly swishy in an almost sickening way. Of all the recent entries in the touchscreen phone interface space I’m still most impressed by the Palm Pre, though.
Learning and Working in the Collaborative Age: A New Model for the Workplace. Pixar University’s Randy Nelson explains what schools must do to prepare students for jobs in new media.
Google Latitude (announcement @Google mobile blog) brings location tracking to Google maps:
It’s available for Android, Symbian, Blackberry and Windows Mobile and will be available for iPhones soon. On PC there’s an iGoogle gadget available for tracking your contacts, but no desktop client for updating your location so far.
There doesn’t seem to be an API for updating or sharing location data, which seems like an enormous oversight and severely limits its utility. I’ve always considered the Fire Eagle concept of a location broker rather smart (even if somewhat scary) and the only logical and viable way to move forward in this space. Kinda funny how Yahoo! built a useful location broker service without any kind of useful client, thus making it difficult to adopt, while Google built a great number of clients, but no valuable service to take advantage of the collected data.
Should be interesting to see how this impacts Fire Eagle, Plazes, Brightkite, Loopt, &c. Probably not that much, as I have a really hard time imagining anyone using any of these services, except for the odd oversharing, exhibitionist early-adopter technophile. You don’t have to be a privacy nut to find the prospect of sharing one’s whereabouts with the internet scary. Compare with this Wired article on the dangers of location sharing and awareness, where it becomes obvious how dangerous posting location-tagged photographs on flickr can be, yet how inconspicuous and harmless the act seems in comparison.
Related: The luxury of privacy. Giving up one’s privacy isn’t just a matter of comfort anymore (if it ever was), it is a matter of economic well-being. For the economically weak it might as well turn out to be a matter of survival.
Related: Hello There: A CoreLocation Tutorial.
Related: DIY coarse grained location awareness using readily available rfid readers. Sorta IM-like presence for the real world.
Related: Pocket Life, seems like pretty much the same thing as Google Latitude, somehow affiliated with Vodafone.
WhatTheFont for iPhone allows you to snap a picture of interesting fonts you encounter and have them identified right on your iPhone using MyFonts’ WhatTheFont identification service. The interface feels a bit clunky in some places and it’s certainly not as easy as just snapping a picture and getting results, but it’s a nice and potentially useful app anyway. Available for free on the appstore.