To summarise: realising that he’s stumbled into the Nevada A-bomb test site, Indy tries to shelter in an all-American home straight out of Happy Days. Quick-witted as ever, he clears the refrigerator of its victuals and jumps in. The home, filled with all the latest modcons and a mannequin nuclear family, is vaporised. The fridge, being lead-lined and therefore allegedly blast and radiation proof, is left battered but intact, keeping Indy as cool as a cucumber. As a metaphor for the false promises of Cold War technology, this surely surpasses ‘where’s my jet pack?’The 1957 garden city kitchen in which Indy finds cold comfort is not so dissimilar from that which the USA proudly displayed at the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959. As the V&A’s blockbuster exhibition Cold War Modern: Design 1945-1970 (25 September 2008 – 11 January 2009)reminded us earlier this year, U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev famously had their ‘Kitchen Debate’ in this ideal home show – arguing over the abilities of capitalism or state socialism to deliver high quality white goods via Taylorist production lines. The USA and USSR were competing and converging on the importance of industrial design and consumer economies. The ample provision of high quality white goods for the average worker, seen as the key indicator of growth and thus quality of life, was a paramount concern of both superpowers in the ‘50s and early ’60s.The development of domestic appliances was directly accelerated in the USA and USSR by investment in military research. As the atom age turned into the space age, the moon became the focus of this technocratic attention, a moon which, the taxpayers were told, was being groomed for a manned base, space tourism, frontier settlement and eventual domestication. The kitchen and the moon were two sides of the same coin – both were ways of sanitising technology that was ultimately destined for weapons designed to zap our little homes. The fridge might keep our groceries longer, but it couldn’t save us, in fact, it was hurtling us faster towards Armageddon. This military industrial complex and its overconfident faith in systems is still dominant today and continues to have a profound effect upon our everyday lives.Nuke the Fridge –theinterviewer3 @ http://www.urbandictionary.com May 26th, 2008. Most popular definition on Tuesday 21st July 2009.
The cybernetic-based scenario planning that was central to this era in the USA and USSR alike, was born of confidence in networks rather than nodes, systems rather than agents, in technologies rather than people. Future studies begat imaginary futures in which people were always liberated and fulfilled by new technological developments and in which the current socio-economic system not only delivered but also triumphed. “But in the 1950s (and in many ways, today) it was an elitist model of change that counted “the people” only as epiphenomena of some feedback loop initiated further up the hierarchy of power and/or colonialism, an artefact of an altogether more technocratic age.” Samuel Gerald Collins, “Margaret Mead Answers”, All Tomorrow’s Cultures: Anthropological Engagements with the Future, New York: Berghahn Books, 2008, p31.
Coorelation with conceptual art – built on the futures marketPerfect match with a dematerialised post-industrial economy as heralded by Daniel Bell.BUT -------- With the demise of industrialism we don’t necessarily get a demise of the systems based scenario planning that gave us Indy’s fridge. In some ways, the focus on information intensifies this.
The humble fridge is, once more, at the forefront of technological exploration and foresight studies. The latest smart fridges that will be launched this year use radio frequency identification (RFID) chips and the Wi-Fi links to the internet to create a new form of customer-free consumerism. Smart fridges can, without making contact, read RFID implants in food products as they enter their cool ambience. They send and receive information using radio waves, informing the fridge of their origins, price, use-by date and any other information that the manufacturers, distributors and retailers wish to add. The smart fridge can warn us when we need to finish something off, give us healthy recipes featuring ingredients we have in storage and then order us some more milk while we’re busy working at the supermarket.
Kinderguardand Kidspotter are two of the main commercial RFID technologies available for parents who want to monitor the whereabouts of their children.
Also used in passports and money – both fear-based applications.
It’s not to late, however, to start thinking about how smartwear is being used, what implications it might have and about how we really want to use it. In this we are dealing with extrapolation of what has already happened with smartwear and probability concerning what it might be capable of in the very near future. Smart fridges are among the first devices in an array of new viral technologies now entering our homes thanks to research in ubiquitous computing (Ubicomp) and ambient intelligence (AmI). These forms of viral technology are ‘intelligent’ in as much as they can wirelessly talk to each other in the way that our laptops and iPods have done for some time. Their intelligence is, in theory at lest, related to our desires. They ‘think’ for ourselves. We ask them to create environments that are comfortably calibrated and mass customised, to our needs. This is where ambience comes in. Smart fridges are ambient in as much as we aren’t supposed to notice them any more than we currently pay attention to our cold storage. Like the air in the room, they are just there. The tech they incorporate is just there too. Well, not just there, it’s everyware. It’s ubiquitous. See Greenfield, A. Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing. Berkeley: New Riders. 2006.
What’s different here to using a laptop with Wi-Fi? Well, smart white goods can use everyware to communicate with other services online. They can order the milk, but they can also psychologically profile your private domestic life in ways hitherto only experienced by Jade Goody. This goes beyond the kind of consumer profiling enabled by store cards, it makes full use of mouse droppings, of our digital footprints. Everyware can also collaborate with other semantic environments, fully mapped out spaces that can be read by us, but which can also read us. These spaces are already mapped in detail thanks to our participation in social web applications such as Flickr and Facebook in which geotagging produces a wealth of data on the social, cultural and commercial activity of our postcodes. Convergence culture ensures compatibility and interoperability is key to the design of all smart products – they can all talk not just with each other but can interact with the richness of the social data now available online and in the smartwear around us. Our homes are entering the cloud, wherein they will procure not just goods and services but a mash-up of ideas and services creating a household-centred experience culture.
We have to ask ourselves if this is what we really want. Is this being driven by customer demand or is demand being manufactured by the stealthy introduction of smartwear? One way of thinking about this is to examine the issue of ‘loyalty’, a key concept used by supermarkets in the past decade to create higher profit margins through close customer profiling. Loyalty schemes and savings dividends aren’t new, but coupled with smartwear they potentially could leave us less in control of our consumer choices. Our ‘free’ choices always have hidden costs.
In the 1950s, TVs were not aligned or locked-in to particular channels, but then, there were only a handful of station. In most countries, they were, and remain, predominately commercial. Ever since, buying a TV has meant, potentially at least, buying the advertising they carry. We can turn the TV down, over or off, but, short of throwing it away, we can’t wholly escape the ad breaks. But TVs aren’t smart, they are interactive only in the most basic sense; they belong to a broadcasting era that’s past its sell by date.Same goes for radio – now we decide what we want to listen to, the ads follow the demographics mapped to our music choices.
The smart fridge is at the forefront the new breed of media that is slowly replacing broadcasting; radio enabled, they are forms of narrowcasting in disguise. All those television and radio programmes were just a distraction from the ads. Of course the ads are a distraction to us, so it’s best that they circumvent this line of communication altogether. Smartwear will enhance brand loyalty by cutting out the middle-men (the broadcasters and consumers), allowing brands and distributors to pitch directly to our fridges.
This doesn’t apply just to personal computers but to new cars, many of which now come with music systems, such as Windows Automotive, that are highly proprietorial. Even if proprietorial bias were to be criminalised as an uncompetitive practice, how can we be sure that viruses will not persuade us how we like our eggs in the morning?
Everyware isn’t just for the home; it’s for everywhere (obviously). It can help us navigate our environments, to always know where we are and what we can do and to let everyone else know too. For now, we have to do this ourselves, by making phone calls, sending SMS messages or knocking on doors. The latest mobile devices have GPS and RFID fitted as standard. They will now be able to function as tickets, ID, credit cards or keys. With everyone carrying an RFID reader-writer and all retail products safely tagged with implants, all it will take to purchase something is to swipe it. There will be no need for security or check-outs – shoplifting will become impossible. So long as we have GPS and RFID enabled, our smart mobiles will ensure that anyone who we have given access to our mobile IDs can be informed when we are in their neighbourhood. So while, on the one hand, smart phones will function as security gateways and electronic chequebooks that easily enable impulse ‘tagged’ purchasing, they will, on the other, provide our friends with fewer privacy borders to cross. This vision of the future of a technologically enhanced experience culture is of one that resonates and builds like radio interference. This promises to amplify the disposable culture of consumable media, amalgamating our social networks and our consumer choices. There is no public or private, no inside or outside. A virtual vampiric consumer of consumerism, this emerging culture feeds off itself.
Guten Tag? “…every vehicle is a node, every good is tagged”. While the European Union steams ahead with an unilinear evolutionary ambient strategy that will make the Wal*Marts of the world very happy, there is little sense of how most people are currently participating in, adapting to and expanding the structures of ambient culture. Despite the rapid penetration of smartware into the domestic sphere, ‘ambient’ hasn’t, as yet, become a household term. Knowledge and analysis are, conveniently for some, dragging behind the emergence of ambient culture as a major paradigm of our time. Precisely because ambient is, by definition, hidden from view it remains to be more fully imagined and exploited in how we are thinking about our past, present and future. So, if smartwear really is to be designed by many people for many people, it’s crucially important that ordinary citizens fully engage with this emergent culture.K. Ducatel, M. Bogdanowicz, F. Scapolo, J. Leijten and J-C. Burgelman, Scenarios for Ambient Intelligence in 2010, Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, Joint Research Centre, European Commission, Seville, 2001, p41.
Of course, a great deal of strategic scenario planning has already been done on our behalf and it shows, predictably enough, a picture of a passive Consumer 2.0 who has little control over how ‘user-centred’ ambient technology is being designed and implemented. Where Nixon and Khrushchev worried about how to ensure the even provision of manufactured products, today’s transnational powers, such as the European Union, are concerned with delivering on access to services.
This means overcoming the digital divide by rolling out faster broadband and even cheaper home computing. Despite the dropping cost of processing power, this is never going to be ‘too cheap to meter’ and isn’t going to occur philanthropically or through state intervention – it’s happening because coupling Wi-Fi with cheap RFID enabled devices is seen as a licence to print money. This is because the smartwear devices are the infrastructure. With no cables to lay or systems to install, the infrastructure can be imbedded virally, incurring minimal up front costs to the manufacturers and retailers.
What’s crucial here is to notice that we are forgetting howto notice. AmI researchers and designers are deeply concerned with our centres of attention, with understanding, responding to and developing our peripheral awareness. Concurrently, ambient commerce is concerned with how to avoid our ever-alert powers of discression, to find ways of persuading us to let down our guard against things that attempt to monopolise our attention, perhaps just long enough to get us to buy something that will perform this function for us. Cutting the broadcasters out of the picture is one way of making this easier – broadcasters are regulated and regulation gets in the way of the message.See Dunne, Anthony, and Raby, Fiona. Fields and Thresholds. Presented at Doors of Perception. http://www.mediamatic.nl/Doors/Doors2/DunRab/DunRab-Doors2-E3.html 1994;James J. Gibson “The Theory of Affordances”, in eds. Robert Shaw and John Bransford, Perceiving, Acting, and Knowing: Toward an Ecological Psychology, Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1977.
As in the early days of household radio sets, RFID is rapidly being domesticated and black-boxed, made cool, cosy and consumable. It’s being sold as a fully immersive convenience technology, as something that makes our lives easier and safer. As it becomes smaller and less visible, like our mobile phones, it becomes almost an extension of our bodies. Social acceptance of RFID has come via its entertainment value, it leisure possibilities and its ‘exclusiveness’ – secured by its strategic role in the development of the ‘experience economy’.From a managerial perspective, this appears to be mainly retail-related acceptance (macrosociological), but it could be argued that early adoption is led by social interactionism (microsociological). Is it possible that AmI is really human-centred rather than technologically or economically determined? It’s obviously misguided to assume that the new technology will determine social behaviour – it could be that RFID is the product of social behaviour and that it adapts with it.
For example ambient ware such as RFID are promoted as a way of controlling the avalanche of information heading our way, of converging everything invisibly, inconspicuously, into a single, mythical, black box embedded in our heads. One of the ironies of this situation is that this avalanche is partly caused by technologies such as everyware. From this perspective RFID the product of behaviour we have been developing since the growth of the web mid-90s. Of course, convergence tech is a way of fighting fire with fire, of trying to overcome the noise of the street by turning up the volume on the TV. See Jacques Atali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music, 1977.
There is much evidence to support social constructivist readings of AmI. For example, one of the pervasive arguments in favour of socialware is evolutionary, that it is inevitable that broadcast technology will be superceeded by interactive smartwear since, in biological terms, open networks tend to fare better than closed ones. This is the perspective of academic software developers and libertarians around the world – that good ideas are social in origin, that clustering gets things done quicker and better.
Yet a social constructivist reading of AmI could just as easily proffer a pessimistic perspective of socialware depending upon what examples of AmI used to illustrate the introduction of the technology. The smart fridge is a case in hand – it can easily be read, from a social constructivist position, as dystopic. The balance of evidence tends to determine what way the tide turns in relation to technologies such as everyware.
In terms of human rights, the security applications of everyware are subject to an oscillating effect of amplification and feedback, generating the conditions of Paul Virillio’s ‘integral accident’. Any new device that carries information about us, however trivial it may be, creates potential accident of that information getting into the wrong hands (e.g. an ID thief or a supermarket). This creates the need for more security devices and software, especially as smartwear is wireless. The more of ourselves we are willing to document, give away, sell or make common property, the more we are trading off our privacy against convenience. This is not a fair trade. While convenience is contingent and boundless, privacy is unconditional (in as much as human rights are universal) and finite. How might contemporary culture be produced and disseminated in ways more tailored to our desires and our right to remain silent, our right to voluntary participation? Image – GOSPLAN in Moscow
Ambient culture has the immense potential to connect people in ways that make full use of the sensorium, of all of our senses. Just as humans and animals form a continuum, the ‘social’ and ‘technological’ spheres cannot be so easily separated since both are symbiotic, complex systems. As AmI grows in speed and power and becomes imbedded in our commodities and our flesh, it duets with the human sensorium to create a sonorama. Human rights issues are part of the process of interaction, not simply a means of monitoring the development of technology from a (determinist) distance.
Does this mean that the body is the ultimate destination of convergence culture? Perhaps Convergence Culture, as Henry Jenkins terms it, is not the most obvious way of describing this phenomenon. Providing that people interpret everyware in ways that don’t simply involve passive consumption, that they are users rather than audiences, we can imagine an ambient culture that is predominately centripetal rather than centrifugal. Networked bodies are thus, fundamentally, no more or less political animals than humans are now – the social bond is simply enabled in new ways.Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture Where Old and New Media Collide,New York: New York University Press, 2006.
Although convergence may feel like it is centred upon us as unique individuals, it is a phenomenon that is unevenly distributed across a complex of networks. In this sense, then, Jenkins’ perspective is correct. What’s converging is the ability implant experiences, feelings, and emotions directly into our sensorium through the process of rendering sensation in digital form.Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture Where Old and New Media Collide,New York: New York University Press, 2006.
A richer palette of interactions with ambient media is promised in the form of calm technology or emotional technology, interfaces that will blend our peripheral awareness of activity in the virtual world with that in the real world. Today’s haptic interfaces are more fun and intuitive to use than their ‘80s predecessors: paddles, light pens, mice and joysticks. As haptic devices such as Wii and iPod Touch demonstrate, the playful dimension is crucial to the adoption and commercial success of richer ambient media. While such interfaces are highly adaptive, humans are more so. The emergence of habitual ‘SMS thumb’ shows how quickly ambient interfaces are adjusting the human sensorium in evolutionary ways that attune it to ambient experiences that were not possible a few years ago.
Commonplace wetware interfaces still seem some way off. Designers are focusing more on developing two key forms of graspable ambient environments: immersive ambient displays such as AmbientROOM wherein the entire environment is interactive, and augmented ambient displays that use gestural interfaces which promise to free us from flat screens and keyboards. Such hardware might start to liberate our eyes and allow us to focus again on our neglected senses, of touch, smell and taste, to regain some of the breadth of our humanity. Moreover, it promises as synthesis of the senses, a new kind of ephemeral synaesthesia for networked communities.This suggests that where modern technocratic culture has been driven by systems and structures, an ambient ecology could be driven by textures.
In London restaurant Dans le Noir?, for example, the clientele are invited to dine in the dark in order to empathise with their blind waiters. Bompas & Parr’s Alcoholic Architecture gin and tonic bar, also in London, sprays a fine G&T mist onto the punters, delivering enough units to put you over the limit in just over an hour.What such products of the experience economy offer is frequently gimmicky, invisible, ambient and intangible since they are attempts to build on the foundations of a post-industrial entrepreneurialism that has imploded. An increasingly niche, feedback-loop economy that has no raw materials, no manufacturing base, no ethical foresight is doomed to collapse. The current recession is not just a downturn in the fortunes of capitalism; it is the last of the post-industrialism founded during atom age of the Kitchen Debate. Pine, B.J. & Gilmore, J.H. (1999) The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage, Boston, Harvard Business School Press.
This is not necessarilythe end of capitalism; however, it could be that it is adapting and diversifying to an ambient phase of development. An ambient ecology will have to behave differently; the deficit of frivolous expenditure during recession means it can’t exploit experience simply as a means of creating huge profit margins. The economy that will emerge after post-industrialism can’t put all of its eggs in one basket – it has to become an ambient ecology. Convergence, and simultaneity go hand in hand. In this sense it must learn to engage with the full ethical implications and long term social synergies of experience.In order to reproduce and survive, capitalism has to shift from a focus on (profitable) function-oriented interaction to a focus on (sustainable) goal-oriented participation.This kind of ‘soft’ capitalism might help us to understandthe revival of interest in systems based approaches to culture. This is a means of managing culture in an ambient ecology.But the emergence of an ambient ecology is by no means inevitable – the economy does not behave rationally any more than the art world does.
The fast pace at which commercially-loyal smartwear has entered our homes and our bodies in the West is largely down to a lack of imagination regarding what new technologies can do for us, tied as they are to the self-destructive interests of the military-industrial complex that gave us Indy’s fridge. This remains as powerful as ever.
Maybe taking a more global view helps to redress the post-industrial bias?As Jonathan Margolis demonstrates, when we start to engage with future studies research from Israel, India and Pakistan we see very different visions for the future, not forethoughts that are populated by growth economies based on commodities, gadgets and genetics but foresight that imagines rather how we can use the connective power of smartwear to encourage intellectual and creative fulfilment. In secular and religious states alike, smartwear is a way of enhancing the ‘noosphere’ of collective human consciousness, of finding enlightenment, of striving for the Omega Point (rather than just finding a cucumber in the fridge).See T.S. Ananthu, A Ghandian Approach to Technological Wonders for the Twenty-First Century, New Delhi: A P H Pub., 2003. Jonathan Margolis, “Is Futurology Bunk?”, A Brief History of Tomorrow: The Future, Past and Present, London: Bloomsbury, 2000, p68-70
Information<br />Curated by KynastonMcShine<br />Museum of Modern Art, New York City 1970<br />Formally established Conceptual Art in the United States. <br />
Software, Information Technology: Its New Meaning for Art<br />Curated by Jack Burnham New York: Jewish Museum, Sept 16 to Nov 8th, 1970.<br />Participating artists: Vito Acconci, David Antin, Architecture Group Machine M.I.T., John Baldessari, Robert Barry, Linda Berris, Donald Burgy, Paul Conly, Agnes Denes, Robert Duncan Enzmann, Carl Fernbach-Flarsheim, John Godyear, Hans Haacke, Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth, Nam June Paik, Alex Razdow, Sonia Sheridan, Evander D. Schley, Theodosius Victoria, Lawrence Weiner.<br />
Lawrence Alloway –Network: The Artworld Described as a System (1972)<br />
R Fear ID<br />RFID made acceptable via its security benefits: preventing theft, illness, injury, kidnapping, etc.<br />Tendency by sceptics to see AmI in this light as a ‘big brother’ technology.<br />
R Fun ID<br />Social acceptance of RFID; technology introduced via its entertainment, leisure and ‘exclusiveness’ – by its role in the ‘experience economy’.<br />
R Fiscal ID<br />RFID introduced via its cost benefits/ potential, e.g:<br />Tracking of orders, just-in-time precision, monitoring of best-before dates.<br />This reading of the technology is managerial or economically determined.<br />
e.g. of economic determinist view of AmI:<br />“The Wall*Mart Standard”<br />What WallMart wants allegedly effects the whole marketplace regardless of whether or not RFID is necessary in all commercial arenas.<br />What evidence is there for this?<br />e.g. of WallMart’s global market hold:<br />
“…every vehicle is a node, every good is tagged”.<br />K. Ducatel, M. Bogdanowicz, F. Scapolo, J. Leijten and J-C. Burgelman, Scenarios for Ambient Intelligence in 2010, Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, Joint Research Centre, European Commission, Seville, 2001, p41.<br />