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”.

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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.


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

HackAIR., 2016,  Available at: [Accessed 2 May 2016]

iSPEX – iSPEX: measure aerosols with your smartphone., Available at: [Accessed 2 May 2016]

Plume Labs – explore and predict air quality in your city. Available at: [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)

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