Talk given at http://www.webstock.co.nz, Wellington, New Zealand, 20/2/09...

Talk given at http://www.webstock.co.nz, Wellington, New Zealand, 20/2/09

Talk description: "Since the 60s we've imagined the combination of computers and our environment would create both utopias and dystopias. Since the 80's we've seen academics, artists and corporate R&D labs prototype these futures from the top-down. Now, hackers are building sensors, bots and software into everything around them bottom-up, fast, cheap and out-of-control. They're creating environments that react, adapt and respond to us - and perhaps more importantly - each other: The Demon-Haunted World. Matt's session will be a whistlestop tour of those days of future past and pointers to some practical futures we can start building right now, together."

Sharika Cavallero, N/A at N/AExceptional demonstration. Really clear and useful Sharika http://winkhealth.com http://financewink.com

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bibblesI would really like to be able to read this offline.

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Dan Cass, Consultant at Dan Cass & CompanyReally interesting, thanks. I wonder how this relates to the 'triple crisis' notion of 'relocalisation' as the solution to peak-oil, climate and recession. What do you think of Transition Towns and Post Carbon Institute? Have you looked at what people are already doing to change the ideological 'software' of their communities to increase social connection and decrease energy waste?

The Demon-Haunted World
or the past and future of practical city magic
Matt Jones / Webstock
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41° 17′ 21.48″ S, 174° 46′ 38.28″ E
February 2009
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Hello!
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Hello - my name is Matt Jones, and I’m a designer who’s been working on a start-up for two
years called Dopplr, and I’m an advisor to a small product design company called Schulze &
Webb, who made this tiny version of me that jumps up and down depending on my IM
status...
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Before that I worked for Nokia doing design research into RFID amongst other things and in
the previous millennium I trained to be an architect...
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Tash and Mike very graciously said I didn’t have to talk about Dopplr... and as a result I have
to give you a warning or three...

<BLINK>
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1) I may have lost my mind. I think this is the weirdest thing I’ve ever done in public...
2) I’m going to go pretty fast...
3) this presentation contains the <blink> tag - I’ll warn you if you’re sensitive to such things.
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I want to talk about cities, and “practical city magic”
City Magic is a phrase I use a lot - I have a whole bunch of things tagged with ‘City Magic’ on
delicious.
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It comes from a comic book I love called “The Invisibles” by Grant Morrison...
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quot;Cities have their own way of talking to you; catch sight of the reﬂection of a neon sign and
it'll spell out a magic word that summons strange dreams.
Have you ever seen the word 'IXAT' glowing in the night? That's one of the holy names.quot;
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- Tom O'Bedlam, The Invisibles by Grant Morrison
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The reason I want to talk about this is informed by these two mega-trends: 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.
You could probably reconstruct most of the stuff Iʼve ever done or thought-about based upon
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this one image.
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Cities are Nature
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Source: United Nations,
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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.
We’ve also just gone through the most vigourous period of city building the world has ever seen.
What eect will this have on games, play and the imaginations of children growing up when we’re a
predominantly city-based species?
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Reclaiming futures
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In the next 45 minutes or so we’re going to look at three things, broadly.
FIRSTLY, reclaiming some optimistic visions of the future we might have lost sight of i.e.
Where’s my Jet Pack? HERE’S YOUR JET PACK.
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Making the
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SECONDLY, ways in which hackers and designers are making re-conﬁgured versions of some
of those futures-past.
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“Something wonderful.”
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and lastly, some wild proclamations about the magical future we’re weaving...
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And that’s kind of the “dark matter” at the centre of both things: software.
If you’re sitting comfortably, then I’ll begin...
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Reclaiming futures
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In order to ﬁgure some of this out, let’s go back to the future.
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Further back!
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We’re going to have to go quite far back... to the 60s...
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I’ve been reading a lot about the post-war and cold-war period lately...
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And, I’m a child of the 70’s. I grew up with books full of images like this. This is a Bernal
Sphere: a hypothetical design for a space colony generated by a group from NASA and
Stanford University in 1975-1976
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NASA SP-413: Space Settlements - A Design Study
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And this is what it looks like from outside...
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And I grew up pouring over books like this one.
I’m incredibly grateful to Tom Coates for sharing his scans of his copy of the book (perhaps
the fact we both had the same book growing up will become apparent once you’ve seen both
our talks...)
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It’s full of great predictions like this - 2 trips to the 21st century: “polluted city of a dying
world” and “garden city on a cared-for planet”...
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And, I grew up (sort of) went to uni and trained to be an architect. The web came along and I
kind of got distracted, but a lot of the work I’ve been doing in the last few years has drawn
me back to that world - of place and cities and urban design, especially where it overlaps
with technology.
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This is Richard Rogers, one of the most well-known architects in the world, and a prominent
member of the British Establishment. He’s even a LORD!
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A few years ago, he wrote a book at “Cities for a small planet”, and a companion book later
called “Cities for a small country” - both centred around Cities as the most promising
technical, political and cultural solution to living on a planet with constrained resources.
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“Our cities are
now linked,
and learning...”
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Late last year, I went to a talk by Lord Rogers, where he said something quite evocative. That
our cities are increasingly linked, and learning.
As a sound-bite - this was more eective a time-machine than the DeLorean.
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Because, back in the 60’s when he wasn’t a Lord - Richard Rogers was a radical architect
reconﬁguring the city with buildings like the Pompidou Centre in Paris, based on radical
theories of cybernetics, space, social-networks, robotics and space stations...
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The radical theories of a group called Archigram...
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Archigram were a group of young architects who decided to make
magazines full of their ideas, drawings and manifestos from 1961-1974,
You might be familiar with their walking city project...
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http://bldgblog.blogspot.com/
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Their inﬂuence was far greater than the number of buildings they actually got built (the golf
course on the aircraft carrier isn’t by them, I found it on the awesome bldgblog.com but you
can see their inﬂuence...)
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They weren’t just architects.
They were really interaction designers.
They were really software designers.
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CyberSyn / http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cybersyn
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And it was a time when cybernetics and software was seen as being able to decide big things
- like how to run a country. It was also a time when technology needed a room, and that
meant it could be architecturally groovy!
This is Cybersyn, designed by British Cyberneticist Staord Beer at the request of Salvador
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Allende to help run Chile. That’s really UbiComp, baby! Look at those chairs!
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Archigram thought of behaviour as the raw material they were building with
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And systems and services as the things that would enable behaviour, rather than buildings...
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Personal technologies instead of buildings... (can you see a theme building??)
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They even used the term “Social Software” back in 1972! That blew me away when I found
that out this week researching my talk.
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Essentially they were user-centred designers, working with technology to create humane
exciting environments with technology... with a liberal dash of 60’s psychedelia...
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They saw that software was going to change our environment in profound ways. The ghost
was in the machine, and the machine was the city.
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Are we there yet?
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But before you write them o as techno-optimist loons, they didn’t see technology and
systems as a panacea.
I really like this quote: “We shall really get somewhere when it has all cooled o a little, ad
hard and soft become relative to each other rather than opposition”
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Chris Heathcote /
http://antimega.textdriven.com/antimega/
2009/01/20/cheer-up-its-archigram
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My friend Chris Heathcote thinks so - I used to work with Chris at Nokia and he’s a fantastic
source of critical thinking about technology, place and the city.
He recently wrote a great blog post about how our urban technology has ﬁnally caught up
with Archigram’s thinking...
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But, as right as they may have been in the broad strokes, predicting the future is notoriously
dificult, even if you are on extremely good drugs.
For instance, looking at a lot of Archigram’s schemes, it’s plain to see what they think is the
ultimate technology of personal freedom.
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Whereas, today it ﬁts in your pocket, not your garage.
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BOW!
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The car changed the development of the city irreversibly in the 20th century. I’d claim that
mobiles will do the same in the 21st.
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Making
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And it’s from that point of view I’d like to take you through a few urban futures that people
are constructing right now, with some links back to Archigram and their contemporaries.
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Back to that book from Tom’s attic. It seems hackers are trying their best, bottom-up to build
this!
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This is another favourite book of mine at the moment, On Guerilla Gardening... It’s about
reclaiming space in the city through gardening it without permission.
It seems to me like there are a bunch of hackers reclaiming information from the city and
gardening it without permission...
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Botanicalls.com
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There’s also a bottom-up maker movement, hacking hardware and covering the planet in
sensors.
You might have heard some of this in Matt Biddulph’s talk, and you’ll certainly hear a lot
more of it in Tom’s talk I think.
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This is the Botanicall’s kit I made over Christmas (ﬁrst time I’d soldered anything in about 20
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years, enormous fun!) it connects a pot-plant of ours to the internet and when it’s moisture
sensors detect it needs something...

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It twitters!
You’ll also notice that ours is called “Robert Plant”...
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But there are some geeks wiring up bigger things...
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Before I talk about bridges that Twitter, I want to go back to the 60s again brieﬂy.
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“...the study of the precise
laws and speciﬁc effects of
the geographical
environment, consciously
organised or not, on the
emotions and behaviour of
individuals.”
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This is Guy DeBord. French philosopher and head troublemaker of the Situationist Internationale, who apart from
doing all of that good 60’s Parisian stu of getting the girls, drinking the wine, smoking the galloise and getting
bashed by riot police, also coined the term “Psychogeography”
he deﬁned it as:
“...the study of the precise laws and speciﬁc effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the
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emotions and behaviour of individuals.”
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“...a whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies
for exploring cities...just about anything that takes
pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts
them into a new awareness of the urban landscape”
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But this alternate deﬁnition cited on wikipedia ﬁts almost exactly, for me...
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“...a whole toy box full of
playful, inventive strategies for
exploring cities...”
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as a description of what we carry around in our pockets - our use and experience of the city
is being profoundly changed by these things.
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They are psychogeographic, magic wands.
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...back to Tower Bridge.
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Tom Armitage /
http://www.infovore.org
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My friend Tom Armitage did some guerilla info gardening and scraped the data feed of when
Tower Bridge opens and closes - and created a twitter account that spits that out...
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You’ll notice that Tom’s also doing a bit of city-scale ventriloquism with @TowerBridge,
and... that all of it’s friends are Statues, NASA Probes or Radio Telescopes that twitter...
I’m kind of ﬁnding the best people on twitter aren’t people...
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I was walking around on sunny Saturday morning last December, and was about 10 minutes
away from Tower Bridge when I got an update from it about the opening...
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That little bit of information turned my morning into something wonderful.
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Making the
invisible,visible
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One extension of this, is increasingly we are able to see previously invisible behaviours from
ʻthe real worldʼ and apply social tools to them. “Anything essential is invisible to the eye”. This
is “Nuage Vert” - a project in Helsinki (where half of Dopplr are based) wear a laser picks out
the pollution coming from a power station. Eerie, beautiful and perhaps, useful to the city...
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“The way the street feels may
soon be deﬁned by what cannot
be seen with the naked eye.”
Dan Hill, Street as Platform / http://cityofsound.com
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Two people doing more thinking about this than most, and if your interested in the area, I’d
recommend you go read their stu asap are Dan Hill, who wrote an epic blog post last year
called “The Street as Platform”...
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“The bottom line is a city that
responds to the behaviour of its
users in something close to real
time, and in turn begins to shape
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that behaviour.”
Adam Greenﬁeld: The City Is Here For You To Use
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http://speedbird.wordpress.com/
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And Adam Greenﬁeld - who wrote an excellent book called “Everyware” about designing in
times where everything and everywhere has software embedded in it... and is about to release
a book called “The city is here for you to use” from which comes this quote.
Again, we’re not so far away from what Archigram were examining. Behaviour and
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Information as the raw material to design cities with as much as steel, glass and concrete.
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There are lots of people working on making the invisible visible in our cities. This is The
Watermark project in the UK - projecting projected sea-levels on the sides of city blocks to
bring home the impact of climate change...
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Sky Ear by Usman Haque
http://www.haque.co.uk / www.pachube.com
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This is Sky-Ear by Usman Haque - an airborne network of sensors that turn ambient sound
into light. You can see the inﬂuence of Archigram here for sure...
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Practical Psychogeography
Christian Nold, http://www.biomapping.net
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Christian Nold’s Biomapping.org overlays readings from a ‘stress-sensor’ worn by someone
wandering the city.
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“...the study of the precise
laws and speciﬁc effects of
the geographical
environment, consciously
organised or not, on the
emotions and behaviour of
individuals.”
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Again, the sensors we are all carrying around the city are creating everyday psychogeography
a reality.
More on this in Tom’s talk I’m sure...
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New Maps
http://www.openstreetmap.org
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With these 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.
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Neurones
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You can’t not look at something like that, and see biological, cybernetic parallels...
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“Our cities are
now linked,
and learning...”
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YES LORD RICHARD THEY ARE!!! W00T!!!
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We’re heard from Adrian about Everyblock.
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And similar projects in the UK like ﬁxmystreet.com
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and streetwire.org are surfacing hyper-local information...
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Again, visualisations help us picture the local information ﬁelds around the city such as this
beautiful piece by Shawn Allen of Stamen showing San Francisco as a mesh of trees, crimes
and cabs.
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DOPPLRand the Long Here
The Big Now
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Our future city 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...
Adam Greenﬁeld has talked about the Big Now and the Long Here, in a reconﬁguration of
Brian Eno’s “the Big here and the long now” - the long here being the ‘rhinoesque’ build-up
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of media in place... where media = rhino poop.
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“Tribal Search Engine” by Hiromi Ozaki
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http://beta.interaction.rca.ac.uk/ft/
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“The Big Now” in Adam’s concept refers to our social senses being extended over space.
This is a project by a student at the RCA for a project I was running there, Hiromi Ozaki -
where she was inspired by ﬂocking and swarming behaviours - using swarming algorithms to
determine which pub to go to...
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On another scale, that of neighbourhoods... Hacking together software tools to deal with
speciﬁc place - more guerilla info gardening, like Paul Hammond’s “minimuni” tool he wrote
for his iphone to work out when the next bus is coming.
As he says - he oers no warranty outside of the 6 mins radius from his house.
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Clay Shirky:
Situated Software /
http://www.shirky.com/writings/
situated_software.html
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Clay Shirky calls this pattern “Situated Software” - a tool that is locked to it’s context.
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“Always design a
thing by
considering it in
its next larger
context
...a chair in a
room, a room in
a house,
a house in an
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environment in a
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Another architect, from Finland in the beginning of the 20th C, Eliel Saarinen gives us some
food for thought about this...
Imagine a lot of these small pieces of situated software loosely joined... and you’ve got a
bottom-up, open-source city full of software...
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“Our cities are
now linked,
and learning...”
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YEAH!!!!next?
Where
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“Something wonderful.”
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Finally, I want to get a little weirder and darker...
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“From the beginning of his
literary career, Machen
espoused a mystical
belief that the humdrum
ordinary world hid a more
mysterious and strange
world beyond. His gothic
and decadent works of
the 1890s concluded that
the lifting of this veil could
lead to madness, sex, or
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combination of all three.”
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This is another Welshman, Arthur Machen, who investigated the common human belief that
there are invisible forces at play behind the ‘ordinary world’
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DOPPLR Arphids!
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By which of course he meant RFID! The mark of the devil!!! (not really...)
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Work by Timo Arnall, Einar Sneve, Matt Webb and Jack Schulze.
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Robot Readable Planet
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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, that’s
opaque to our naked un-augmented eye?
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“Has Needs” by James Chambers
http://beta.interaction.rca.ac.uk/ft/
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This is another project by a student I was working with at the RCA, James Chambers - it’s a
sensor like Botanicalls, but crucially this one doesn’t send it’s messages to you - but to
everyone else you know, making you cave into social pressure... If you carry on your wanton
ways, then it’ll post itself to craig’s list or freecycle and ask to be rescued!
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Daemons
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And, it’s this thought... about the conversations that will be happening between bridges and
plants and cars and everything else non-human that both delights me and gives me the
willies, like most magic...
The demon-haunted world is something we’ve believed in for most of our time on Earth. It’s
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interesting to me that we’re perhaps building it.
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I, for one welcome our new Xbee overlords
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This is an Xbee shield - that I think Matt Biddulph discussed in his talk.
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Xbee is an open-source version of Zigbee - a protocol that connects things together in a
mesh at very low power... so that everything can talk to everything else. Zigbee devices are
continually waking up and looking for something to talk to... they look for the next thing up
the chain... a master or controller... and that then wakes up and looks for the same... like
Demons do...
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Eloi vs
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Morlocks
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Neal Stephenson, in his essay on technological literacy “In the beginning was the command
line” describes passive unaware consumers of technology as Eloi and those in control of
keeping them that way as Morlocks...
Will we become literate in this demon-haunted world of urban computing, or will we be
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unaware Eloi at the mercy of the Morlocks?
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Dark materials...
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Will our demons be extension of ourselves, or extensions of the forces of control? Will they
be open and transparent, or dark magical things we barely understand?
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Natalie Jeremijenko’s Feral Robot Dogs
http://www.nyu.edu/projects/xdesign/feralrobots/
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I’m optimistic, like Archigram.
I think the bottom-up, loosely-joined situated software that’s being built will prove faster,
nimbler and more useful than anything top-down or monolithic.
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A ﬁnal example in this vein: natalie jeremijenko’s feral robotic dogs...
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Natalie Jeremijenko’s Feral Robot Dogs
http://www.nyu.edu/projects/xdesign/feralrobots/
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they’re cheap robot toy dogs hacked and ﬁtted with sensors to detect pollution and
environmental hazards in the city...
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Natalie Jeremijenko’s Feral Robot Dogs
http://www.nyu.edu/projects/xdesign/feralrobots/
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Natalie goes into communities and takes people through the process of turning cheap toys
into powerful visualisers of pollutants in their environments... making the invisible visible...
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“Mana is the concept of an impersonal force or
quality that resides in people, animals, and
inanimate objects.”
DOPPLR quot;...the stuff of which
magic is formedquot;
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90
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We’re building our future - it’s up to us if it’s as open, transparent, fantastic and sustainable
as Archigram, Richard Rogers and Natalie Jeremijenko have imagined it to be.
Go out and play with the city, and the stu of which magic is formed... Software...
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“Something wonderful.”
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Go make something wonderful happen.
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Thanks Webstock...
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10 comments128 Likes11–10 of 10 previous next Post a comment

Full NameComment goes here.MetaGrrrlAlas, and so begins the invasion of the crappy comment spam.zunita78Incredible work.zunita http://ringtones-x.com/ | www.freeringtonesforatt.org/

Sharika Cavallero, N/A at N/A Exceptional demonstration. Really clear and usefulSharika

http://winkhealth.com http://financewink.com

bibblesI would really like to be able to read this offline.Dan Cass, Consultant at Dan Cass & Company Really interesting, thanks. I wonder how this relates to the 'triple crisis' notion of 'relocalisation' as the solution to peak-oil, climate and recession. What do you think of Transition Towns and Post Carbon Institute? Have you looked at what people are already doing to change the ideological 'software' of their communities to increase social connection and decrease energy waste?Anders M, Interaction Designer at Ziggy Creative Colony 2 weeks agoPaul Reinhart1 year agoGeoff Northcott, Client Partner at AKQA 1 year agoPROFESSOR PHILLIP BALDWIN, PROFESSOR at STONY BROOK UNIVERSITY 1 year agoamoustafa2 years ago