Category Archives: ubiquitous_computing

dot matrix

hp.jpg From Forbes: “Hewlett-Packard has invented a wireless data chip that can store 100 pages of text or 15 seconds of video on a dot about half the size of a rice grain.” Memory Spots, as these things are called, are supposedly two years away from widespread commercial release, and should end up costing about a dollar a piece. Forbes again:

The chip, which requires no power, works like this: Up to four megabits of data are put into the chip by touching the dot with an encased coil about the width of a pencil eraser. The data is read, and possibly updated, by anyone with another coil, at a rate of 10 megabits per second. It is possible to encrypt and authorize access to the data.

What will this mean? Singing cereal boxes, self-documenting appliances, hospital bracelets with updating patient histories, brochures or magazine inserts that beam slide shows to your phone: these are just a few of the things they can imagine (predictably, many have to do with advertising). This is one of those things that makes me wonder how we’ll look back on present conversations about the future of networked media, caught up as we still are in a computer-based mode of interaction. As the functions of the computer gradually melt back into the physical environment, we may find ourselves, even five years from now, somewhere quite different from what we currently imagine: in a landscape literally dotted with texts, images and sound. A data minefield.
Which, of course, we’re in already. Memory spots would likely just super-concentrate, in little data-packed specks, every square millimeter of the already info-glutted environment. If that’s so, they may find themselves an irresistible target for my spent wads of chewing gum.

love through networked screens

3 times poster.jpg This past weekend, I saw a remarkable film: “Three Times,” by Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien. It’s a triptych on love set in Taiwan in three separate periods — 1966, 1911, and 2005 — each section focusing on a young man and woman, played by the same actors. Hou does incredible things with time. Each of the episodes, in fact, is a sort of study in time, not just of a specific time in history, but in the way time moves in love relationships. The opening shots of the first episode, “A Time for Love,” announce that things will be operating in a different temporal register. Billiard balls glide across a table. You don’t yet understand the rules of the game that is being played. Characters gradually emerge and the story unfolds through strange compressions and contractions of time that comprise a weird logic of yearning.
This is the first of Hou’s films that I’ve seen (it’s only the second to secure an American release). I was reminded of Tarkovsky in the way Hou uses cinema to convey the movement of time, both across the eras and within individual episodes. There’s much to say about this film, and I hope to see it again to better figure out how it does what it does. The reason I bring it up here is that the third story — “A Time for Youth,” set in contemporary Taipei — contains some of the most profound and visually arresting depictions of the mediation of intimate relationships through technology that I’ve ever seen. Cell-phones and computers have been popping up in movies for some time now, usually for the purposes of exposition or for some spooky haunted technology effect, like in “The Matrix” or “The Ring.” In “Three Times,” these new modes of contact are probed more deeply.
The story involves a meeting of an epileptic lounge punk singer and an admiring photographer, while the singer’s jilted female lover lurks in the margins. 3 times.jpg Hou weaves back and worth between intense face-to-face meetings and asynchronous electronic communication. At various times, the screen of the movie theater (the IFC in Greenwich Village) is completely filled with an extreme close-up of a cell-phone screen or a computer monitor, the text of an SMS or email message as big as billboard lettering. The pixelated Chinese characters are enormous and seem to quiver, or to be on the verge of melting. A cursor blinking at the end of an alleged suicide note typed into a computer is a dangling question of life and death, or perhaps just a sulky dramatic gesture.
What’s especially interesting is that the most expressive speech in “A Time for Youth” is delivered electronically. Face-to-face meetings are more muted and indirect. There’s an eerie episode in a nightclub where the singer is performing on stage while the photographer and another man circle her with cameras, moving as close as they can without actually touching her, shooting photos point blank.
But it was the use of screens that really struck me. By filling our entire field of vision with them — you almost feel like you’re swimming in pixels — Hou conveys how tiny channels of mediated speech can carry intense, all-consuming feeling. The weird splotchiness of digital text at close range speaks of great vulnerability. Similarly, the revelation of the singer’s epilepsy is not through direct disclosure, but happens by accident when she leaves behind a card with instructions for what to do in case of a seizure, after spending the night at the photographer’s apartment. This all strikingly follows up the previous episode, “A Time for Freedom,” which is done as a silent film with all the dialogue conveyed on placards.
It’s one of those things that suddenly you viscerally understand when a great artist shows you: how these technologies spin a web of time around us, sending voices and gestures across space instantly, but also placing a veil between people when they actually share a space. In many ways, these devices bring us closer, but they also fracture our attention and further insulate us. Never are you totally apart, but seldom are you totally together.
“Three Times” is currently out in a few cities across the US and rolling out progressively through June in various independent movie houses (more info here).

a network of books

fatmi connections.jpg
This is the “cover” (it’s an email mag) of the latest issue of artkrush. Part of a 2004 installation by Moroccan artist Mounir Fatmi called “The Connections.”

Connections is the outcome of a reflection which began in the early Nineties, at the time of the war in the Gulf…. At that time, the operations Desert Storm and Desert Fox, preceding the last operation which could be named “Desert, full stop”, established the era of a media oriented war, therefore a war of image, on the very spot of the Revelation, that of the three sacred books, a historic place dedicated to communication. They clearly showed the lack of means of communication and even the lack of communication power of the Arab countries as well as the resurgent fear of technology.
In our calendar, that of Hegira, we are today in 1420, eternally nomads. Our roots are clearly set in the future, as the Arab poet Adonis wrote it. For me, it is an attempt to enter this desert, this collective memory, to remove sand from objects which may lose their identity through the changing of material but will still keep their memory.

A recent comment from Adam Greenfield, author of the just-published “Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing,” seems apropos:

I’ve become all but unable to think of the objects around me except in terms of Actor-Network theory, as sort of depositions or instantiations of a great deal of matter, energy and information moving through the world. And of course, a book is nothing but a snapshot in that regard; you have to do a lot of extra work if you want to prise out and examine the flows it is a part of, or even those it has set up.

city chromosomes – an sms chronicle

screenshot_01.jpg Found this on The City Chromosomes project is a sort of scrapbook of the city of Antwerp made entirely from text messages beamed in from mobile phones. Further evidence of the new genres emerging from this technology. An english version has just been published under a Creative Commons license.
Also take a look at this sister project, CityPoems, from Leeds. Posts from the Leeds project are interspersed through the english version of “Chromosomes.”
From the introduction to “City Chromosomes”:
“The city of Antwerp is full of writers. And many of these writers describe their city, often in splendid stories, novels and poems that gain a wide readership. In this way, they determine a large part of our image of the city. But what about the people who only readers, or even those who do not care for reading, what do they think of the city? And would it not be possible to persuade them to write this down?
“This was the point of departure for the City Chromosomes project. We got the idea of gathering sms messages. Nearly everybody has a mobile phone. Everybody has a moment to spare to type in a message. This was the ideal way to make the project accessible to everybody. The people of Antwerp, and anyone else with something to say about city, could submit their impressions anonymously. We established 25 text sites across the city, and the contributors could indicate with a simple code to which part of the city their message applied. By means of posters, flyers and ads, we asked people for their impressions. The only restriction: the messages should not be longer than 160 characters.”