W4| Warm Bodies, Cold Codes

“Taken together, coded objects, infrastructures, processes, and assemblages mediate, supplement, augment, monitor, regulate, facilitate, and ultimately produce collective life.”

Kitchin, R. & Dodge, M., Code/space software and everyday life, 2011

We are now far from a reality where software is understood as being something that exists only inside a computer. Instead, our modern lives are only possible because of the ubiquitousness of software – it is everywhere, all the time, from our laundry machines to our cell phones, from our video games to our navigation systems.

Nowadays, most of us cannot even drive around armed only with a paper map instead of a SatNav (Daily Mail, 21 January 2013). The ‘AI Takeover’ as fictionalised by Gibson, Ellison, and even consumer-media giants such as Marvel (Ultron) and the Terminator film series (Skynet) seem now closer to reality than fiction, and science giants such as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have even written in advice of creating precautionary measures to ensure this doesn’t happen.

HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey is a perfect (albeit fictional) example of what Kitchin and Dodge describe as software exhibiting “some of the characteristics of being alive” and it being able to ““process information, evaluate situations, make decisions, and, most significant, act without human oversight or authorization”. We are increasingly handing over our decision power to software, not out of laziness but simply because we don’t know now not to.

But software, like us, has a body. Code occupies space in the form of hardware, and without these physical technologies the automated codes and processes we depend on on a daily basis – to receive our monthly salary or remind us of someone’s birthday – would simply not be there.

Ingrid Burrington and Dan Williams explored this particularly well in their Networks of London piece. The duo created a map – now available for download but present in the exhibition in the form of a cork board with post-its and pinned-down handwritten papers – of spatial representations and physical objects that serve as live, warm bodies for the codes that allow London to function. The question the authors pose is pertinent – “how do you see the Internet?” – and they attempt to answer it by circling and marking on a map objects such as CCTV cameras, antennae and utility cabinets. Without these objects, ‘networking’ and ‘connectivity’ cannot exist. This is made ever more noticeable by Timo Arnall’s Internet Machine, where one can truly experience (ironically through an audiovisual projection of the real thing) the physicality of code by standing in the centre of a living, breathing data storage and processing centre.

Without us fully realising it, our lives – from tweets to selfies, check-ins to bank accounts – are stored in those whirring, buzzing corridors and made available both to us and to our governments and big companies (such as Google or Facebook) via antennae, utility cabinets, wires and cables. We become code, through our purchases, phone calls, use of GoogleMaps and any questions we ask Siri. We become a commodity, something to be used, shared, sold to the highest bidder for marketing and indexing.

Where is the line between code and space? Where is the line between public and private, now that our sensitive information is in large invisible databases and not a paper folder? If there even is such a line, would we still be able to live our lives as we do now if our private because truly private again, and all the antennae in the world just stopped working?

Bibliography

Timo Arnall, Big Bang Data Artist Index
< http://bigbangdata.somersethouse.org.uk/artist/timo-arnall/index.html >

Networks of London, 8 January 2016
< http://bigbangdata.somersethouse.org.uk/networks-of-london/index.html >

Kitchin, R. & Dodge, M., Code/space software and everyday life, 2011, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press

Ward, A., Four out of five young drivers can’t read a map as we become more reliant on satnavs, 22 January 2013, Daily Mail [ Article ]
< http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2265917/Most-people-longer-navigate-map-reliant-satnavs.html >

W3 – Cities Like Onions; Layered Networked Databases for a Better Future

The topic of ‘Digital Cities’ encompasses many things ubiquitous in our daily lives – traffic surveillance cameras, which bus to take and what time the post office closes via GoogleMaps, checking the weather on your iPhone every five minutes to decide on taking an umbrella.

But the intricacy of connectivity and the constant sharing and availability of hundreds of other types of content, provided by us, the citizens, can make our Digital Cities not only more complete and complex but also more helpful – and not just in terms of timetables and rainy days.

Take Umbrellium’s piece present at the Big Bang Data exhibition, for example. Essentially a live, interactive, annotated map drawing on the growing theme of the “Internet of Things”, the aptly named “Thingful” gathers and displays information collected and shared by devices all over the world. To anyone looking at “Thingful”, these readings provide an array of readily-available data including energy and radiation readings, localised and updated weather conditions, air quality devices “as well as seismographs, iBeacons, ships, aircraft and even animal trackers”.

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Thingful | Showing an active weather station in Salisbury. More accurate than the Apple weather app?

Here we start to have an emerging theme central to the Digital City: the existence of an ‘interactive, networked databased’ (drawing loosely on Miller’s themes of the technical processes of digital media). In the digital city of today, it is the citizen that provides information (and possibly guidance) to others via interaction and subsequent contribution to these ‘databases’. These databases have “little no meaning on their own (…), but have the potential to be related to other bits of information or objects and thus together can obtain a layer of meaning” (Miller, 2001).

"bastards" "crap" up North, "amazing" "great" "thanks" down South; surely a sign that not all boroughs are made the same

“bastards” “crap” up North, “amazing” “great” “thanks” down South; surely a sign that not all boroughs are made the same


The most interesting example is Tekja’s “London Data Stream”, where ‘tweets’ and other information posted in real time by citizens to their own public social network accounts allows for a creation of a ‘happiness map’ of London – where and when are people the happiest, and why? Through Miller’s technical processes of digital media, several ‘interactive networked databases’ are created, allowing citizens to have a greater understanding of not only their city, but themselves, helping them make better decisions for the future.

"London 2036" puts you to the test; will you do better than Boris Johnson?

“London 2036” puts you to the test; will you do better than Boris Johnson?


It is ultimately the information gathered via Umbrellium and Tekja’s projects that would guide the visitor to make the best possible decisions for the City of London in the “London 2036” city management simulator created by Future Cities Catapult. Armed with knowledge about our cities that goes beyond where to switch lines in the underground, we can ultimately make – or, in the case of the “London 2036” project, attempt to make – the right decisions for our happiness as individuals, as active citizens and as a society. Now that we know how people feel about the amount of green space in Lewisham and the air quality in Hackney, we can finally start to do something about it.

Bibliography:

Who controls our data? Usman Haque debates the implications of the data explosion

Introducing the London Situation Room1 December 2015 [ Article ]

Tekja: London Data Findings, 19 January 2016 [ Article ]

Q&A with mySociety – how do you use data for the common good?, March 7, 2016 [ Article ]

How Can Data Improve Our Health?, 7 January 2016 [ Article ]

ThingfulWebsite < http://thingful.net >

Miller, V. (2011) Understanding Digital Culture. In: Miller, V. Key Elements of Digital Media. Sage: pp 12-21

Digitise and Conquer

When we speak of Digital Cities, there is a tendency to imagine a futuristic Blade Runner-esque environment where cars hover at the height of skyscrapers and humans and cyborgs eat together at stalls in slums that sell cheap artificial food. It seems a very distant future, if not actually fictional, but throughout this module we come to understand that we are actually already there.

St_bladerunner_f

With the advent of 3D printing, it is becoming increasingly possible to construct new body parts that mesh naturally with ours (Formosa, 2016), so the cyborg reality is not that far away. Both Volkswagen and Toyota have been working on prototypes for hover cars since 2012, and the existence of an all-seeing Orwellian entity in our society has already long been accepted – except that we are our own Big Brother, telling everyone everything all the time, whether through Facebook statuses or GPS data (Ferguson, 2016).

But the concept of Digital Cities is not just about a grim dystopian high-tech future where we no longer control our own lives.

It is about taking back the control of the technology that runs our lives and use it to improve the world around us – whether that is through apps that allow us to monitor air quality or 3D printing our own wheelchair ramps without having to wait for the intervention of governing bodies (Jones, 2016)

It is about becoming increasingly aware of how we interact with mass media and how much information we complain is being ‘stolen’ is actually being spoon-fed by us to massive companies like Google and Facebook through the guise of social media and fun apps – such as Foursquare and Instagram.

The digital lives that we lead are not necessarily bad, but these is still such a fascination when it comes to the ubiquitousness and ease of use of technology that we are increasingly less aware of our actions and their consequences not only as individuals, but as citizens, both digital and not. ‘Texting and driving’ was not a problem in 1970, and I’m quite sure Ballard or Huxley never mentioned the concept.

The technological possibilities are there for our cities to become increasingly digital in a way that leads us into a better future, but it’s on us now, and how we use those technologies to our advantage. If we want our Digital Cities to be a utopian and not a dystopian reality, we need to realise that the ball is in our court now. The technology we need is everywhere and it is becoming increasingly easier to use. We just need to take a moment, think, and start using it consciously instead of taking another selfie or blindly checking in at our local kebab place.

swarm_group

Ferguson, Juliet, Even Your Cat Can’t Hide, 28 February 2016. < http://blogs.brighton.ac.uk/digitalcities/2016/02/28/even-your-cat-cant-hide/ >

Jones, Janet, Ramp It Up!, 8 May 2016. < http://blogs.brighton.ac.uk/digitalcities/2016/05/08/ramp-it-up/ >

Formosa, Adolf, Bits to Atoms and Atoms to Bits, 10 May 2016. < http://blogs.brighton.ac.uk/digitalcities/2016/05/10/bits-to-atoms-and-atoms-to-bits/ >

Pena, Ines, From Grassroots to the Atmosphere, 3 May 2016. < http://blogs.brighton.ac.uk/digitalcities/2016/05/03/from-grassroots-to-the-atmosphere/ >

A Life In Print

When I graduated from high school and was perusing my options for universities with no idea of what I wanted to do with my life, I stumbled upon a 3D printer for the first time in my life. It was brand new, just acquired by the IADE (a private design-only university in Lisbon) for their Industrial Design students. I watched in awe as it poured down thin strings of plastic, slowly constructing the hollow structure of a perfect cube.

In a 2013 episode of Gadget Man, titled “Home Improvement”, Richard Aoyade hosts a tea party using only cups and cutlery produced with a commercial 3D printer. Tools such as the 3Doodler, a pen that allows you to ‘draw in 3D’, cost less than £100. But as Lipson and Kurman repeatedly point out in Fabricated: the new world of 3D printing, this growing technology is neither purely recreational nor technical. In the particular case of fashion design illustrated in chapter 10, the environmental factor is very clear when a student declares he decided to choose 3D printing as his method for producing his shoe design after he had seen how much of a negative impact contemporary factories have on the environment, particularly in terms of releasing chemicals.

3D printing will not only have a serious impact on designing and producing consumer products and manufacturing parts, but also architecture as a whole: certain structures, such as the naturally-occurring three-dimensional “lattice” structure Lipson and Kurman refer to, can only be produced realistically via computer algorithms. Enrico Dini produced ‘parts of houses’ and architectural structures via 3D printing, but how could this impact our lives as city-dwellers, especially the housing industry and increasing housing crisis in big cities such as London? Could printing our own houses actually make homes cheaper, depending on how popularised 3D printing becomes in the next decade?

It is, nonetheless, now becoming an industry in and of itself and not simply a tool, and it could be one to save lives. Lipson and Kurman mention 3D printing prosthetics for medical use, and recent developments in this field highlight the endless possibilities for 3D printing in healthcare, particularly reconstruction of body parts or even transplants. Kristen Brown wrote earlier this year, in an article for Fusion, on the potential of printing actual organs:

“Since then, researchers have printed all sorts of human tissue: living human kidneys and livers, albeit miniature in size; the first ever artificial cells of a beating human heart; and part of a kidney that survived in vitro for two weeks. Both the heart cells and the kidney tissue were remarkable for the complexity of the tissues recreated—the kidney tissue, for example, was made up of three different kinds of cells, a step towards creating even more complex tissues and eventually entire organs.”

We may not be there just yet when it comes to creating entirely new organs ready for transplant, but we’re certainly on the right track; just last year, a two-year-old girl born with a heart defect survived a difficult operation thanks to a 3D printer. It produced a perfect model of her heart that allowed surgeons to carefully plan out the procedure.

Our grandchildren may one day owe their lives to printers.

References:

Lipson, H. & Kurman, M., Fabricated: the new world of 3D printing, Indianapolis: John Wiley

3D printed heart helps to save girl’s life, BBC News [online], 27 January 2015, Accessible at < http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-30996506 >

Brown, Kristen V., How close are we to a 3D-printed human heart?, Fusion [online], 17 February 2016, Accessible at < http://fusion.net/story/269559/3d-printed-organs-can-live-in-animals/ >

Gadget Man, “Home Improvement”, S02E05, Channel Four, Accessible at: < http://www.channel4.com/programmes/gadget-man/on-demand/56350-005 >

Dehue, Robert, The Story of Enrico Dinin – The Man Who Prints Houses, 3D Printing, 9 July 2013, Accessible at: < http://3dprinting.com/materials/sand-glue/the-story-of-enrico-dini-the-man-who-prints-houses/ >

From Grassroots to the Atmosphere

HackAIR allows us to measure air quality as individuals and share the information we acquired with other users, creating a comprehensive and up-to-date map of air quality in Europe. That’s good, it’s one step further towards greater awareness of the world we live in; but it doesn’t particularly tells us what we, as individuals, can change.

Elliott and Urry discuss four possible post-oil-peak scenarios, of which the ‘Digital Networks’ one seems the most favourable, although not perfect, and so far the most likely. “Smart ‘cards'” that “control access and ensure payment for all forms of movement” are already widely used in most of what the authors call the ‘rich north’ – public transportation cards such as the Oyster card, the VISA PayWave system and even smartphone apps that provide scannable QR codes in lieu of printed tickets. We’re also familiar with the “electronic regulators embedded in lampposts” that account for most speeding tickets. But what the authors fail to address when mentioning the source of the technologies necessary for the ‘awakening’ that would lead to a ‘digital networks’ future is that they might not come from governments or large companies.

iSPEX concerns itself with air pollution, much like HackAIR, but on a smaller scale, and focuses on something we, as individuals, can change in our daily lives:

iSPEX is an innovative way to measure aerosols. Click an add-on on your iPhone to change this everyday tool into a scientific instrument. This instrument measures properties of small particles in the sky: aerosols.”

If measuring our own personal and individual damage to the atmosphere becomes the new norm, then a positive tipping point of awareness might be reached – even if it’s just spray-on deodorants and home-use pesticides being cast aside. Apps such as iSPEX, which allow individuals to monitor their own actions, could bring amazing change if widespread use occurs.

Elliott and Urry also mention “new software ‘intelligently’ works out the best means of doing tasks” particularly when it comes to physically moving around, which we already have popularised in the form of ubiquitous transportation-help apps such as GoogleMaps; but another app tells us more than which bus we should get and where to switch our tube line, and that is Plume Labs, an “urban weather forecast and environmental AI to beat air pollution in 40+ countries around the world”.

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 02.12.11 Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 02.15.33 Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 02.15.41

PlumeLabs allows you to choose how to navigate the city you are in in the healthiest way possible, providing you with detailed advice related to air quality as well as accurate measurements.

With grassroots technology helping to inform individuals on how exactly their wellbeing is being endangered and guiding them towards smarter choices, it will most likely pave a less rocky road towards larger state-level investments idealised for the ‘digital networks’ future. Electrical cars are already increasingly common, and in some major cities so are electrical public transportation systems. It is cheap and moderately easy to create apps, with many free online classes on coding, as well as WYSIWYG app-making software available to the masses, and as Nancy Odendaal wrote, smartphones are ubiquitous even in the overpopulated cities of the ‘poor South’.

We can only hope it is not as Orwellian as the authors expect it to be, and that “Big Brother” is actually watching our greenhouse gas emissions and not what we talk about with our friends.

References

Elliot, A & Urry, J. ,2010, Mobile Lives, pp. 1-23, 131-154. Routledge.

HackAIR., 2016,  Available at: http://www.hackair.eu [Accessed 2 May 2016]

iSPEX – iSPEX: measure aerosols with your smartphone., Available at: http://ispex.nl/en/ispex/ [Accessed 2 May 2016]

Plume Labs – explore and predict air quality in your city. Available at: http://plumelabs.com [Accessed 2 May 2016]

Odendaal, N., “You have the presence of someone” The Ubiquity of Smart, in Hemment, D. & Townsend, A., 2013. Smart Citizens – FutureEverything (31-34)

Coming Up for Air

When discussing ‘smart cities’ and grassroots technological movements for a better future, the first thing I always think of is pollution and environmental sustainability. Despite EU laws regarding industrial pollution and changes in public transportation regulation all across Europe, the world is still in danger. Surely there must be a way for citizens to monitor and improve the environment beyond just separating rubbish into the ‘waste’ and ‘recycle’ bins?

Hemment and Townsend wrote that “digital culture has given rise to a collaborative code ethic, and there has been a trend towards applying thinking and methods from open source software development to other domains”. One of these domains has been environmental sustainability. HackAIR, one of the 22 new CAPS projects for 2016, is a Europe-centric open technology platform for the monitoring of air quality. Users can access information on air quality in a particular city or area as well as, through an easy-to-build “low-tech measurement setup involving paper filters and aquarium air pumps”, collect said information and contribute to the HackAIR air quality database via Bluetooth.

The HackAIR mobile app can be used on smartphones and tablets and for those not carrying the DIY air quality sensor module with them at all times, users can submit photographs of the sky.

A data fusion algorithm then merges “air quality information from various sources and produce a normalised map of air quality” (HackAIR website), becoming a ‘social tool’ that “can be layered over the city, giving us real time access to information about the things and people that surround us”.

The only problem that comes to mind is access to HackAIR; not all people have the means to pay £799 for an iPhone up-front. Nancy Odendaal, however, when writing about African cities, points out that lack of means to purchase a device in one go does not necessarily mean inability to access those devices:

“The Smart City is dominated by cell phone access. Private individuals use flexible payment options provided through private service providers to access mobile telephony and the Internet without onerous contractual obligations (not possible if you do not have informal employment). Community services are enabled through less formal to highly informal provision through phone shops and kiosks.”

HackAIR is a tremendously exciting app for anyone remotely concerned about the wellbeing of our planet, and, as explained by Odendaal, access can be available to those under the poverty line via community-oriented setups and flexible payment options. What better way to connect with others in your area while raising awareness of environmental issues at the same time?

References:

Hemment, D. & Townsend, A., Here Come the Smart Citizens, in Hemment, D. & Townsend, A., 2013. Smart Citizens – FutureEverything (1-4)

Odendaal, N., “You have the presence of someone” The Ubiquity of Smart, in Hemment, D. & Townsend, A., 2013. Smart Citizens – FutureEverything (31-34)

HackAIR

< http://www.hackair.eu/ >

Run For Your Life!

I tend to be someone who appreciates what De Souza and Sutko introduce as pervasive games, as in games that “include elements of everyday life” (Nieuwdorp, 2005) and “extend the gaming experience out into the real world” (Benford et al, 2005) either in spatial or temporal terms.

I’m personally familiar with games that tend to ‘go on in the background’ even when you’re not playing and many non-location-based games, such as console games, have adopted that technique since it subconsciously draws the player back into the game – either to see if there is a special event going on or, in the case of the Fable and Elder Scrolls series, if your tenants have paid you thousands in rent after you invested in all those houses throughout the kingdom.

That said, in the subject of location-based mobile games, I’m bringing back Zombies, Run! since it is a terrible underrated app in being considered a ‘fitness app’.

Zombies-Run-730x432

Zombies, Run! is an incredibly complex location-based mobile game insofar as it incorporates an intricately written storyline worthy of a console game with all the ‘perks’ of a location-based app – accurate interaction with your local map via Google Maps and a virtual ‘geocaching’ system that fits into the storyline. Huizinga’s “magic circle” in this case is your desired running/jogging/walking area – it can expand from a street to an entire city, and develops as you keep running in whichever direction you desire. The game also incorporates a core feature of fitness apps which is to allow you to listen to your ‘exercising playlist’ while you run, and story updates come randomly between one song and the next, sometimes catching you off guard.

Zombies-run-app

What is incredibly interesting, and many people who categorise it as simply a fitness app don’t point out, is that these pre-recorded story updates will be accurately timed to take into consideration your local road map, giving you random optional missions such as saving a little girl or collecting supplies, and a voice will tell you to follow directions. This can lead to a whole new interaction with your city by taking you running in places you had never seen before, or into terrains you are not familiar with. It works precisely as De Souza and Sutko wrote: it equates the magic circle with the urban space, encouraging players to discover unknown areas of the city and bringing a digital layer to the construction of the “urban playful space”.

The physicality of the game – having zombies chase you if you choose to activate that option – as well as the complexity of its writing also brings to mind Richardson’s passage on the mobile phone being “both multiform and multifunctional, an ‘open work’ requiring a complex range of hermeneutic skills on the part of the user, and also highly mutable because ‘it is held very close to the body or stays on the body surface’ (Fortunati, 2005: 152–153, 156).”.

Although it is not a temporally-pervasive game, it doesn’t end when you stop running. One of the features that make it so encouraging for people who normally hate exercise is the rewards that you ‘collect’ while you are running, regardless of speed. These rewards then allow you to upgrade buildings and facilities in your “survivor’s camp” which will then unlock more chapters in the story.

Zombies-Run-Windows-Phonw

It may be a form of abstraction insofar as it is fictional, but merging wellbeing and exercise with an exciting storyline plays with the (drawing from De Souza and Sutko’s work) co-presence of digital and physical spaces and flows in and out of them with ease. It allows for a certain level of daydreaming that is only highlighted and enriched by physical reality, possibly even discovering hidden parts of our cities – “attaching digital information to places and reconfiguring urban spaces” (De Souza and Sutko).

Bibliography:

De Souza e Silva, A, and D. M. Sutko, eds. (2009) Digital Cityscapes: Merging Digital and Urban Playscapes. New York: Peter Lang: 1-17

Richardson, I. (2011). The hybrid ontology of mobile gaming. Convergence, 17(4), 419-430. 

Augmenting our Reality

Back when the videogame industry first started their foray into Virtual Reality, the goals and outcomes were to remove the player or audience from their real space and insert them, as realistically as made possible by technology, into a virtual one. We all remember those shaking and moving capsules in funfairs and theme parks, where you would sit inside and ‘experience’ a particular journey or event through sight (screen), sound (stereo) and the movement of the capsule. Now there is a large focus on Augmented Reality – particularly with devices such as the Google goggles and rumours of a similar version for Samsung phones.

Augmented reality is a large part of what’s being developed in videogame industries at the moment and a particular example is a mobile game called Night Terrors. You play it on your mobile phone, at night, in the dark, and your goal is to save a little girl. Your mobile device – an iPhone, iPod, Android phone, etc – is your only way of seeing what is around you, and it maps out your home and environment in real time in order to create a realistic experience of being chased by demons and monsters in your own home. One of the key elements in this game, however, is sound, which the creators discuss briefly in the first trailer (skip to 3:39).

Not only is sound key in creating the experience as a narrative element – you can only find the girl by following the sound of her voice – but fine-tuning of setting such as pitch, volume, reverberation allow you to understand what is where and how safe you are (or not). Sound here is used to create an immersive experience that would not be possible using only visual means.

Zombies, Run! is another great example as not only is the storytelling compelling enough to make you want to run longer distances to unlock more chapters, but being told you have a horde of undead chasing you and hearing them groaning really does get you to speed up – especially if you’re running at night. A feature that is not mentioned in the example given in the article (Behrendt, 2015) is that sometimes characters will ask you to run a certain distance and turn at certain locations to collect supplies – such as ammunition, food and medicine – or rescue other survivors. So there is also a GPS and mapping element to this game, as it uses your location to give you directions to fictional missions (*I used this app extensively as my go-to workout app when I lived in Italy so this knowledge comes from personal experience).

Following my passion for gaming and augmented reality, I decided I would approach Actionbound as a potential immersive fictional experience as most of the public examples I have seen have been educational, informational or historical. I believed it could be used to create a narrative – much like Night Terrors or Zombies Run – as it gave me various options.

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I found ActionBound to be very easy to use and intuitive but like any service that is not meant for professionals or comes with a hefty pricetag, it is quite limited. The options to create “Information” stages and “Missions” have amazing potential for fictional locative experiences, but I would have liked more options of integrating sound – a free sound effect library, the ability to record sounds as a mission.

It is disappointing that no one has explored ActionBound as a platform for building a fictional augmented reality experience! This is something I would like to explore further and possibly even record the narrative and missions. The fact that you can read text and play sound at the same time is very interesting as it can provide a feeling of being “guided” through your storyline with background music and even a narrator.

I will most definitely continue to explore ActionBound as a tool for creating a locative narrative that is not necessarily bound to the city as a subject, as most examples I have seen are; there is tremendous potential as well in the city as a vague, unnamed location with no history in order to create a realistic narrative by using visual clues, without having to link them to real information. For a larger ‘game’ one could even give the player the mission of finding a way to reach a different town, such as driving or taking a train from Brighton to London or Hastings, giving the cities fictional names and backgrounds.

References:

Behrendt, F. (2015) Locative Media as Sonic Interaction Design. Walking through Placed Sounds. WI Journal of Mobile Media. http://wi.mobilities.ca/frauke-behrendt-locative-media-as-sonic-interaction-design-walking-through-placed-sounds/

ActionBound < https://en.actionbound.com/ >

Night Terrors IndieGogo Funding Campaign < https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/night-terrors-augmented-reality-survival-horror#/ >

Zombies, Run! < https://zombiesrungame.com/ >

Smart Thinking for Smarter Cities

What are smart cities? It is most likely a concept that carries different meanings to different people, despite all fitting into a larger umbrella with a mostly positive note. Anthony M. Townsend attempts to describe the term ‘smart cities’ as “places where information technology is combined with infrastructure, architecture, everyday objects, and even our bodies to address social, economic and environmental problems” (p.15).

Different places will have different issues, priorities, advantages and shortcomings. For example, while bike-sharing took off almost globally in just a few years after its 2007 debut in Paris, it quickly became a problem in Rome. In some neighbourhood, bicycles started ‘disappearing’, never returning to any station, being effectively stolen; in other areas, they remained completely untouched, as almost all Romans own a car or a moped. A combination of factors turned this supposedly ecological transformation of the city into a massive failure. There has recently been an attempt at setting up a car sharing programme, which would fit more into the patterns of Roman life, but still does not address probably one of the biggest issues of traffic in Rome – parking.

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So one size most definitely does not fit all, and we cannot go about making our cities smarter via an industrial cookie-cutter formula.

In the preface of his book Smart cities: big data, civic hackers, and the quest for a new utopia (2013), Anthony M. Townsend, when discussing the everyday use of the smartphone, the author writes “Every day, all across the globe, people are solving local problems using this increasingly cheap consumer technology.” (p.xiv). With smartphones now being out of big-budget monopoly and more affordable options being made available, having a lower income does not necessarily mean having less access to things such as apps. Almost everyone now can check their bank accounts, check-in on Foursquare and send text and voice messages for zero cost beyond their monthly mobile data plan – real time and on the go.

A great example of how apps can not only help make cities smarter but also be a ‘call to action’ to its inhabitants is “Geo Estrela”. Designed by the parish council of Estrela, one of Lisbon’s most beautiful historical neighbourhoods, it allows people who live in the area to instantly report any problems they notice in the area, sending, along with a description and the type of problem, it’s exact location via GPS. The application can be accessed on a computer as well but only by inhabitants of the area, who are given a username and a password, to ensure efficiency of the service. Reports range from excess rubbish on the streets to holes in pavements or roads, and citizens have gone on record to state that once a problem is reported through the app, depending in its scale, it is usually fixed within hours or just a couple of days.

Although it is limited to a neighbourhood, it is certainly a way to make the council aware of issues as they occur, keeping the area safe and clean, and in TV interviews regarding the app, people have even commented on how caring for the state of their neighbourhood has even helped them learn how to use their smartphones better.

In order to properly analyse the effects and consequences of this app on both the physical space of the neighbourhood and people’s use of media in that location, and possibly devise smarter solutions for smarter cities, we would need the framework that Tarantino and Tosoni ask us to conceive – somewhere between the study of urban spaces and the study of media, where none of the two takes a central role.

 

Bibliography

Townsend, A (2013). Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia, ppxii-xiii. WW Norton & Company.

Tarantino, M. & Tosoni, S., 2013. Introduction: Beyond the centrality of media and the centrality of space. First Monday, 18(11). Available at: http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/4953

Migliaccio, A., June 11th 2014. Rome Shows the World How Not to Run Bike-Sharing Program[online] Available at: <http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-06-11/in-eternal-city-bicycle-thieves-doom-sharing-ambitions>

Martin, C., February 2nd 2016. Best budget smartphones 2016: What’s the best budget phone? [online] Available at: <http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/test-centre/mobile-phone/20-best-budget-smartphones-2016-uk-summary-3473395/>

November 28th 2014. Freguesia lisboeta lança ‘app’ para reportar ocorrências [online] Available at: < http://boasnoticias.pt/noticias_Freguesia-lisboeta-lan%C3%A7a-app-para-reportar-ocorr%C3%AAncias_21776.html?page=0>

 

Ines in the Digital City

(Yes, my post is coming quite late in the game but I had to introduce myself!)

My name is Ines (plus four surnames). I’m from Portugal, I’ve lived in Italy where I completed my BA in Fashion Communication and have recently moved to the UK to study and find work.

When I was a small child in the early 90s we had one of the first black-and-white Apple computers in the study of our small apartment. As soon as my father received a Windows 95 (in full colour!) to work with, that powerful tool with a monochrome display went to the hands of a four-year-old who only saw it as a visually fascinating new toy where she could draw with black and white patterns and play Solitaire. Little did I know that was my first step into a new world, or rather a different way of experiencing and seeing the world that children before me could only have dreamt of.

I am very visually inclined; I am an amateur freelance photographer – I do digital fashion editorials and analog travel photography on my website, http://goldenwolves.net (shameless plugging). I dabble in graphic design, having created the prototype issue of my own magazine all by myself (cue the eponymous song) where I wrote the articles, produced the photographs and did all the layouts, etc. Now I work as photographer and graphic designer for a concept store in Rome, but I also did stints in Social Media Management and Digital PR & Events.

I am fascinated by the modern city, and I don’t mean just ‘futuristic’ experiments; I mean the everyday elements. Traffic cameras and speed sensors and the fact that you can get a traffic ticket even when there’s no policeman physically watching you. Automatic doors in Sainsbury’s, mobile and internet banking and paying your bills online. Sitting down at a café and being almost appalled when they say they don’t have Wi-Fi because “that’s why I sat down in the first place, to save my 4G”. These technologies are ubiquitous, they enhance and control our lives in a myriad of tiny ways that we don’t even realise it sometimes. We rely on mobile data to tell us where we are on Google Maps, see what pharmacies are open when we get a headache at 7pm on a Sunday, and text friends without paying 50p per text.

These things have become so mundane and almost taken for granted that I am curious to see where we go next. What will be the next step in the evolution of the digital city? What innovations will make our cities even smarter? What else can be done for us? And what could be the consequences of that?

I realised recently that having permanent access to the Internet everywhere I am is taking a toll on my studies and ability to concentrate. Whenever I have a lot of reading to go, I head down to my local Costa so I’m not distracted by my laptop and a constant need to stay updated. But without access to their website, I wouldn’t even have known they were there and that they closed at 7h30pm.

Quid pro quo?