Pervasive computing

Returning to the subject of a couple of my recent posts – online information – I thought I would comment on computing that is becoming part of our taken for granted world.

Gallow starts a rather interesting article with the sentence, ‘Ubiquitous computing seeks to embed computers into our everyday lives in such ways as to render them invisible and allow them to be taken for granted, while social and cultural theories of everyday life have always been interested in rendering the invisible visible and exposing the mundane (2004: 384- 385). The projects she writes about are interesting and sound like fun things to interact with: an annotated map that calculates your walking speed and then shows you where could walk to within an amount of time that you specify, a wearable device that makes music based on the rate and directions that you walk, members of the public record audio messages which are played back to people when they get close to the player, audio which is played whenever somebody in the are gets an sms, and more. These uses of technology to create ‘amplified and annotated city spaces’ (391) do seem like a fun way to spend an afternoon exploring a city, but Galloway also makes the point that we need to understand the stakes, especially when it comes to visibility and control (404).

To side step from the debate for some meta communication around how these issues of computing are discussed… Galloway highlights something I had not really thought of – the distinction between augmented reality (like the iPhone apps I have been playing with) and augmented virtuality (where a simulated world is augmented through using real-world objects and data) (2004: 386-387, 390-391). I also like the way she states very clearly that we do not need to talk of a continuum of virtual to real (390), but rather we can talk about shifting intensities as the virtual and the real [I would chose to say ‘actual’] are not separate from each other (402).

Dodge and Kitchin (2007) have added an interesting point to the list of ethical considerations for the use of digital information, the degree of surveillance that is possible not only when it comes to collecting information but also storing it. They suggest that it may be more ethical for computers to be able to ‘forget’ information. If you have ever been in a conversation with someone and they have said, ‘Look! I’ll show you the text messages they sent me.’ you have probably reflected on what digital information means in a context that values primary evidence over spoken accounts. I think this is a bit too much of a tangent for me to pursue their article too closely during day time hours, but I think it is interesting to think about the ethics of ‘getting it right’ alongside the right of people to self represent.

Dodge, M., and R. Kitchin. 2007. ‘Outlines of a world coming into existence’: pervasive computing and the ethics of forgetting. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 34:431-445.

Galloway, A. 2004. Intimations of everyday life: Ubiquitous computing and the city. Cultural Studies 18:384-408.


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