Posted: June 30th, 2009 | No Comments »
These four pictures depict different ATM interfaces from Lyon, Santa Monica, Lisbon and Paris. As usual, there is a lot to draw here: keyboard minimalism versus “a button for each bill needs”, presence or absence of jack-entry for headphone, paper annotation, ATM receipts dumped in the cracks, etc.
Why do I blog this? An always-interesting approach to object and design analysis consist in taking pictures of similar items in various places, and to adopt an analytical perspective (drawing comparisons, observing exceptions or recurring phenomena, trends and patterns, etc.). I wish I had more time to spend on this sort of analysis.
Posted: June 24th, 2009 | 4 Comments »
(an interactive display at Zürich train station)
In his chapter called “Extreme Informatics: Toward the De-saturated City” (taken from “Handbook of Research
on Urban Informatics: The Practice and Promise of the Real-Time City” by Marcus Foth), Mark Shepard offers an insightful critique of urban screens. He basically posit that they operate as “skeuomorph” in the evolution of urban informatics.
The notion of “skeuomorph” is taken from Hayles who borrowed it from anthropology to describe transitional objects and meme in the context of cybernetic theory:
“In archaeology, skeumorphs are material artifacts that simulate an aspect of a previous time using a technology that has superseded it. They are derivative objects that retain structurally necessary elements of the original as ornamentation, stripped of their original function. Skeuomorphs are often deliberately employed to make the “new” look familiar, comfortable and accessible. Examples include the simulated stitching of the vacuum formed vinyl replacing the fabric upholstery of car interiors, the mechanical shutter sound produced by digital cameras, or more abstractly, the metaphor of the “desktop” work-space of the personal computer introduced by Apple with the Macintosh computer in 1984, where the organizational syntax of ﬁles and folders serves to orient us within an otherwise unfamiliar space“
For Shepard, these transitional artifacts enable to soften the transition between technological phases. As he points out, “Artifacts (and by extension ways of thinking) of one moment are carried forward into the future by simulating aspects of the past“. Quite an inspiring quote I think.
Using this notion, he then explains how urban displays are based on a longstanding model of information access and distribution in public space that is old (and flawed): the fact that we need to access MORE information (and that it should be broadcasted to a “public”):
“I would argue that the paradigm of large-scale “urban screens” operates as a skeumorph in the
evolution of urban informatics. It is based on conceptual categories whose relevance vis-à-vis contemporary societies is questionable. While this paradigm may serve to smooth the transition of integrating digital information systems into urban environments, it does so by reproducing modes of information access and distribution that no longer hold sway. In doing so, it perpetuates design logics regarding “the public” and “public space” that are perhaps less reﬂective of the way we access, share and distribute information today.“
The paper also offers an interesting exploration of other strategies for urban computing/informatics to offer alternatives.
Why do I blog this? I have to admit that I am often on the look out for such theoretical constructs that enable to reflect on technological design. The notion of “skeuomorph” seems relevant and largely applicable to other fields. It’s surely important to use in a course I am preparing for next week about innovation and foresight.
Posted: June 23rd, 2009 | No Comments »
A quantification device encountered on a bike path in Marseille last sunday when riding “le vélo” (that’s how they call the bike rental system down there). Two intriguing pieces of strings connected to a metal box. As an aside, the warning sign on top of it could even be re-used by angry punk-rock guitar players if they wish to start a new band.
This artifact led me thinking about how measurement devices could take different shape.
On one side you can have small and portable objects like pedometers or fancy nike+ shoes. You just take the damned thing and put it in your pocket or simply sport it while walking/running. It’s individual, each human who like to have a reflective account of his/her own movement use it. And that’s all good: as a user you can access the data and reflect on them. Of course, there are different levels of access ranging from reading them on the screen to exporting them in a fancy spreadsheet to run statistical computations.
On the other side, it’s also possible to have measurements infrastructures like the one represented above. It’s collective and generally put in place by a city stakeholder (be it a transportation company/institution or the city council). In this latter case, the information is less accessible to the users: it sits rights there in the weird box and some human comes uploading them before parsing the whole thing on the 7th floor of a building owned by his company. Obviously, the granularity of the information collected by this device is way different than our first category. In addition, the aim is also distinct. The point here is to get some insights about the number of cyclists riding on this bike lane. For the record, this is the “sensable city” from the 20th century: situated data-capture at its best, then-turned into a tool for decision-makers about how this place is “used” by people who ride bikes.
Why do I blog this? categorizing different measurement devices is intriguing and contrasting the approaches.
Posted: June 23rd, 2009 | 1 Comment »
A subtle cue on the pavement that indicate that you should press “2″ on the audio-guide. An interesting location-based service which do not necessitate a GPS or any other positioning technology. In this case, it relies on people’s curiosity and will to spot this sort of red dot on the pavement.
Why do I blog this? apart from the general aesthetic of the cue, it’s interesting to contrast this sort of approach and a positioning technique. What are the pluses and minuses? What are the conditions under which it would be better to let people spot such cues (and hence be more active)?
Posted: June 21st, 2009 | No Comments »
Sunday morning in Marseilles, France. This folk is collecting material and old devices in the city. I don’t really know what he’s going to make out of it but he seems to be fully equipped. Perhaps some tinkering and device repurposing, the fan may surely prove handy with Marseilles’ hot temperatures.
A practice that I see more and more in occidental cities.
Posted: June 18th, 2009 | 2 Comments »
Somehow, this soft infrastructure, a zebra crossing in Marseilles, is quite intriguing: (1) it’s yellow (which reveals that it’s a temporary signage), (2) it’s interrupted by a layer of concrete that has been added there.
Why do I blog this? observing the decay of soft infrastructure and how different layers pile up in the urban environment.
Posted: June 18th, 2009 | No Comments »
“in the land of the mute – the blind are deaf“, the local version of “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king“. This is Marseilles, France and today is Workshop-day, lots of things going on.
Posted: June 16th, 2009 | 1 Comment »
A recent telco ad campaign aimed at showing the pervasivenness of the Internet in the physical environment… through a chaotic set of arrows that indicate the omnipresence of network access in the environment. 10’000 arrows have been deployed last saturday in certain swiss cities.
From another point of view, it may be perceive a physical spam.
Posted: June 15th, 2009 | No Comments »
As shown in his book “Social Theory and Social Structure”, Robert Merton coined the expression “self-fulfilling prophecy”:
“a situation where “a false definition in the beginning… evokes a new behavior which makes the original false conception comes true (…) this specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the beginning“
Why do I blog this? preparing a course about innovation and foresight leads me to revisit this notion. The history of sciences and techniques has a great list of such prophecies.
Posted: June 13th, 2009 | No Comments »
In the various interviews for my book about location-based services, privacy is often brought to the table, especially with french journalists who really want to deal with this angle. What happens is that most of the discussion revolves around the potential fear caused by Google Latitude, Aka-aki (I was even asked what I thought about the GPS bra). Most of the time, there is a big confusion between the imaginary representations some people of these technologies (trackable everytime everywhere) and what is really implemented.
It’s generally hard to talk about something else so I try to move the discussion to different grounds. My point is to show that privacy is indeed a problem but that there are other interesting matters when it comes to locative media. In order to do that, I highlight how locative technologies can be repurposed or hacked through playful or critical practices. Projects such as iSee that that maps the locations of surveillance cameras in urban environments and propose paths to avoid them are interesting for that matter. The possibility to avoid surveillance becomes a purpose here.
Which is why I was interested in reading “Playing with Surveillance“, a short paper by Judy Chen that deals with this issue. It basically presents a playful design of an application that exploits surveillance as a playful practice through a camera phone. The paper describes the application but I was more interested by the design rationale:
“Our design for mopix was inspired by an observation we made of a woman taking a photo with her phone in a shopping mall. The woman was photographing an object in a store across the walkway, but another woman sitting nearby hid behind a baby stroller in an effort to avoid being in the photograph. To the first woman, her camera phone was a device she could use to capture a memento from her experience at the mall. To the second woman, the camera phone was an unwanted surveillance device that was invading her privacy and anonymity.
By taking a playful approach in our design, we trivialize aspects of surveillance that are typically disconcerting to users, while at the same time, providing engaging experiences with the system and between users. “
Why do I blog this? documenting interesting examples of technology ambiguity and their non-neutral nature. This work is interesting also in the discussion about locative media and privacy or how to go beyond the general discourse about these 2 issues.