Global Frequency by Warren Ellis
Playing with Bits
and The City
The notes accompanying each slide won’t be the exact text of what I said, but they do require narration. See it as more of a ‘director’s
This isn’t a coherent narrative, a punchy point-laden presentation of a well-worked-through thesis - it’s small thoughts, loosely-joined. It’s a
bunch of things that are on my mind, which somewhat apophenically seem to be connected by something larger that I haven’t quite worked out
yet. That’s the dark matter. I can tell it’s there experimentally, but I don’t have the theory yet... They’re be coming at you fast and loose, in a
style that I think Matt Webb and Jack Schulze have perfected, which I call “wunderkammerkaze”...
So, hopefully all of us can ﬁnd our own point to this at the
I always really enjoyed the “What If?” type stories in comicbooks, and that’s more or less what you’re going to get…
The best factoid (if it is less-than-true, can it be a ﬁctionoid?) I heard at Day 1 of the ISEA Interactive City summit last year, was that urban
theorist and writer Jane Jacobs and corruption-busting cop Frank Serpico lived on the same city block. “Don’t go to hard on the kid, Frank - the
urban planning catastophes here never gave him a chance.”
More on being a relapsing, remitting technoptimist. In his essay / introduction to the concept of “The Long Now”, Eno describes 4 reactions that
people generally have when he talks to them about ‘thinking about the future’
Is the corporate or commerical view too often that of what Eno calls the “The Panglossian” – that we live in the best of all possible worlds? Or
his description of ‘The Designers’ view – technocratic mastery of the future? This is what I mean about being ‘relapsing, remitting’ - I ﬁnd
myself ﬂitting between all of Eno’s characters. I think I might add a ﬁfth character - a mix of the realist, pessimist and designer: who would
build on stilts ready for a rising tide.
NASA Ames Research Centre
I thought I would just get the fact out of the way that I’m a relapsing, remitting technoptimist working for a large corporation with some
‘I.G.Y’ type slides - you know - the Donald Fagen song? “Here at home, we’ll play in the city - powered by the sun. Perfect weather in a
streamlined world - there’ll be spandex jackets, one for everyone”. This is the one I remember best from the books I grew up with - with the
Tron Mickey by Syd Mead
This is pretty bloody awesome - I stumbled upon it while looking for technoptimist designs by arch-futurist Syd Mead.
But, pretty much every thought is informed by these two megatrends: the rising urbanisation of the planet, and the rapid digitalisation of that
urban fabric. The picture is from a talk I did at LIFT06 in Geneva, taken by Timo Arnall. It’s my aleph-slide. You could probably reconstruct
most of the stuff I’ve done or thought-about outside of commercial design based upon this one image. I suppose if anything is the ‘dark matter’ I
mentioned earlier, it’s this.
Or maybe this.
Play is something I was lucky enough to be able to investigate in my previous role at Nokia, and it’s gotten under my skin. It’s a ‘human
universal’ - a behaviour found in all cultures, and as such something well worth understanding when it comes to interaction design.
“Truly Playful Spaces”
TRULY PLAYFUL SPACES: Trulyplayful spaces are those that enable the unplanned and un-authored to
occur within their environments.
Truly playful spaces are being crowded out by authored experiences, but this is only having the
effect of making them even more attractive environments.
A great recent example was the “play” inspired by The Weather Project installation in Tate Modern,
where many people chose to lie down and bathe in the artiﬁcal sunlight, making patterns
together that they could see in the huge mirrored ceiling
“We’re all susceptible to the incredible”
‘Receptacle for the respectable’ by Super Furry Animals
The city as stage, as spectacle is ampliﬁed greatly by the use of personal technology. The Sultan’s Elephant arrived from space one spring day in
And there was a ﬁtting, spectacular explosion of content - all tagged and bundled not only to record for those present the moment, but to share
with the others that were there - to reinforce the moment, the spectacle further. “I was there too, see what I saw, we were together.” reviewing
the spectacle through 11,771 facets of an insects eye.
So another theme is the connection between play and place, people and narrative. Which came ﬁrst - the toy or the story? I like to think that
stories are the contrails that toys leave as they roar through our world and our imaginations. Toys are very special things I think. They radiate
playfulness and opportunity. Gary Penn, the British games journalist and industry ﬁgure writes about the ‘toyetics’ of a thing, an environment, a
place. A nice word to conjure with.
Cities are Nature
Source: United Nations, World Urbanization Prospects, The 1999 Revision.
It is expected that 60 percent of the world population will be urban by 2030, and that most urban growth will
occur in less developed countries. What eect will this have on games, play and the imaginations of children
growing up when we’re a predominantly city-based species?
Some of our responses to our becoming an urban-species are spectacular
“Parkour is an art form of human movement, focusing on uninterrupted, eficient forward motion over, under,
around and through obstacles (both man-made and natural) in one's environment. Such movement may
come in the form of running, jumping, climbing and other more complex techniques. The goal of practicing
parkour is to be able to adapt one's movement to any given scenario so that any obstacle can be overcome
with the human body's abilities.
According to founder David Belle, the quot;spiritquot; of parkour is guided in part by the notions of quot;escapequot; and
quot;reachquot;; that is, the idea of using physical agility and quick thinking to get out of dificult situations, and to
be able to go anywhere that one desires. However, ﬂuidity and beauty are also important considerations; for
example, Sébastien Foucan, a traceur who trained with Andrew Hahn during the infancy of the art speaks of
being quot;ﬂuid like water,quot; a frequently used metaphor for the smooth passage of barriers through the use of
The term traceur is the substantive derived from the verb quot;tracerquot;. Tracer normally mean quot;to tracequot;, quot;to drawquot;,
but it recently (a dozen years) acquired a second, basilectal meaning of quot;going fastquot;. Compare tracing rounds,
“The most important element is the harmony between you and the
obstacle; the movement has to be elegant... If you manage to pass
over the fence elegantly—that's beautiful, rather than saying ‘I jumped
the lot.' What's the point in that?” - Jerome Ben Aoues, Traceur
I love this - it’s not just about the spectacle - it’s about
Grant Morrison on the left, writer of comicbooks (The Invisibles, The Filth, We3) - on the right Francis Fukyama, writer of unintentionally
comic books - both strongly predict the arrival of ‘superhumans’ in the next 20/30 years. Matt Webb of Schulze and Webb has written and
talked about how our personal technology is giving us ‘supersenses’
These are the ﬁngers of Quinn Norton a technology journalist, who underwent surgery to have strong magnets inserted in her ﬁngertips. She
reported feeling new sensations of stickyness or slipperyness around magnetic or metal objects. Her brain was rewiring to accommodate the
With new senses we can make new sense of what’s around us. New maps. This is the work of openstreetmap.org who gave a small group of
people GPS units for a small amount of time and created this wonderful image of the viscera of London’s ﬂows and connections.
Christian Nold, http://www.biomapping.net
Christian Nold’s Biomapping.org goes a step further and overlays readings from a ‘stress-sensor’ on the city.
Bruce Sterling’s “Shaping things” - a survey, speculation, warning and manifesto for a blurry digital/physical future that we’re entering.
Like Rhinos See
Our future social senses might be more like those of rhinos. Their amazing sense of smell means that their ‘pub conversations’ can last many
months over many square miles...
What if the senses of the Traceur could be extended using technology? Invisible gymnastic ninja parkour robot battlesuit of urban augmentation!
Newton vs Palm. Learning you vs teaching you. Machine-accommodates-you, vs you-accommodate-the-machine. We all know what won.
Robot Readable Planet
Instead of making robots smarter, more accommodating of our world and our senses - what if by covering the world with data, RFIDs etc -
we’re creating a robot-readable planet?
Rocks Are Slow Life
Kevin Kelly said in “Out of Control” that “rocks are slow life” - also a great track by a
great Welsh band: the Super Furry Animals. That is, the mountains are using us to turn
them into computers.
Cities are slow computers
I think cities are slow computers. Read “Emergence” or “The Ghost Map” by Stephen
Johnson to ﬁnd great examples of this.
This visualisation by Stamen Design is particularly evocative of cities being live, biological
systems I think.
The Texture of the City
Or, Foot Candy
In Parkour documentary “Jump London” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDaZgSUka_I) you can see the traceurs sizing up the
bollards, brick-courses, park benches - the atoms of the city, which have different granularity all around the world. Malcolm
McCullough author of “Digital Ground” desires that designers start to work on providing us with: “Foot candy not eye candy”
The Nike+ is about as close as we’ve got to foot candy at the moment. In fact it’s probably the state-of-the-art in terms of personal ubicomp. But
it’s so limited by the imagination and brand of Nike! You uhave to get ﬁt. You have to run! You have to succeed! It switches off if you don’t give
all you can! Why can’t you just enjoy the city with it? Chris Heathcote wrote wonderfully about this: http://antimega.textdriven.com/
design a thing
it in its next
...a chair in a
room, a room
in a house, a
house in an
in a city plan.”
Scale would be a good pharmaceutical... It would project you out of the middle world and
through the Powers Of Ten - hyperawareness of our interdependencies up and down the
Technology can help us project into the Big Here, and The Long
The Big Here - illustrated. A map of the Earth’s ecosystems:
“What would happen if we gave
people a toy planet?” 44
Simulation and play can help us to explore and understand our choices with the real
world: Will Wright’s Spore (but beware ‘The Ludic Fallacy’?: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludic_fallacy)
This idea has earlier roots: Buckminster Fuller proposed a “World Game” for the US
Pavillion of the 1967 World Expo in Montreal: http://www.hohlwelt.com/en/interact/context/bfuller.html
rld , in th
e w anity e,
ke t f hum le tim
“Ma % o ssib neous
100 test p onta t
or h sp withou the
sh ug r
n, e o ne.”
thro eratio ffenc yo
oop gical o e of an uller
colo vantag nster F
Here are the rules and the goal of the game. My ﬁnal “What
Porthcawl / Picture by Will Richards
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