Touching Space, Placing Touch

Mark Paterson’s edited title Touching Space, Placing Touch with Martin Dodge is to see print this August. Ashgate’s page on the book is here, and includes an eclectic mix of touch-based spatial narratives.

French geographer Anne Volvey’s chapter ‘Fieldwork: how to get in(to) touch’ and Hannah Macpherson’s ‘Guiding visually impaired walking groups’ are of particular interest, and all chapters engage with topics otherwise neglected, or dealt with through standard visual approaches (art, toilets and elephant captivity as themes!).

I’ve tried my best to track down Paterson’s The Senses of Touch: Haptics, Affects and Technologies (2007), a fantastic historical analysis of touch. Chapter 5 entitled ‘Tangible Play, Prosthetic Performance’ sounds promising, and from reading some of Paterson’s other work in Human Geography journals, I’m convinced he’s got some approaches that might well tessellate with a Stieglerian approach. I also notice his PhD supervisor was Nigel Thrift, so there’s a definite link. His blog Senses of Touch is worth heading over too, with Haptic, Blindness and Technology the fulcrum of his research interest.

Battle For the Internet

The Guardian have been running a series all week entitled; ‘Battle for the internet‘, taking a look at the new frontiers of the web. So far the most interesting article posted in the series focused on ‘walled gardens’ – closed computer hardware (mainly Apple’s new stable of mobile products) with restricted operability. That is, a growing range of devices such as the iPad that limit user ability to dig down into code, run non-authorised software, or curate their own, self-verified programs.

The fulcrum of the piece was the antagonism between ‘generative’ devices (those that can be programmed to do more than they were set-up to do) and ‘reductive’ devices (as above, those that limit/deny programmability by the user). Mobile smartphones, by and large, fall into the latter category. Jonathan Zittrain‘s book The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It (2008) shapes this argument.

The obvious question, then, if mobile smartphones are results of a ‘tethering’ process (Zittrain 2008) designed to limit program operability to those screened and sold through App stores or other similar marketplaces, is; why is this necessary? What do smartphone manufacturer’s have to gain from, in effect, reducing their product’s usability? And, does this reduce a product’s value?

Of course, it’s easy to simply say this is a case of Apple (and others) wanting to profit from their own success. The brand itself has swollen in worth, even since the mid-noughties, and despite Steve Job’s death remains a technological powerhouse. It’s App Store – combined with its iPad – represents the frontier of it’s business currently. In securitizing the use of the latter through the former, Apple have bricked up large swathes of internet usage behind its rather menacing walls. In operating with such impunity, Apple have managed to attain a level of online policing unknown to, or uncharacteristic of Western democracies, and much more akin to online modus operandi of the Chinese Communist Party, Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party or Iranian Government. This – rather than mere profit – becomes a greater concern for global web usage.

There’s also a great quote from journalist and author, John Battelle on the ‘unstoppable’ mobile nature of the web:

“The PC-based HTML web is hopelessly behind mobile in any number of ways,” he [Battelle] wrote on his blog. “It has no eyes (camera), no ears (audio input), no sense of place (GPS/location data). Why would anyone want to invest in a web that’s deaf, dumb, blind, and stuck in one place?”

Whilst the quote itself draws on the hapless PC to elucidate the absurdity of a ‘non-sensing’ platform (slow, clunky, vulnerable, flawed), on the whole, the article lauds it as some sort of biblical feature pre-dating the narrowed confines of web 2.0. Of course, this is doubly untrue. Firstly, the PC-based HTML web can indeed sense in all the noted ways. It still has eyes (web-cams), ears and a sense of place (however fixed and immobile).  And secondly, the continued investment in mobile technology (aka web 2.0) is predicated on open, expansive, experiences. Only Apple and other pretenders seem to gain from the walled garden effect. The challenge, like Zittrain notes, is to traverse these boundaries in ways that cast open the future of the web.

Situated Technologies II: Urban Computing and Its Discontents

Urban Computing and Its Discontents was the first of nine pamphlets produced by The Architectural League of New York  back in 2007, all of which are free to download here.

Under the series title of ‘Architecture and Situated Technologies’ these nine publications were intended to contribute to a burgeoning literature on ubiquitous technology. Adam Greenfield (author of Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing) and Mark Shepard author this initial architectural overview.

Wholly comprised of a conversation between the two, Urban Computing provides a fuzzy introduction to the cross-fertilizing worlds of urban computing and ‘ambient informatics’. The majority of it stretches out the rather banal aspects of the sentient city, with a heavy emphasis on advertising, marketing and consumption. Sometimes I’m hard pushed to really get into some of the grey literature on technology and urbanism, and find myself returning to geographical base, as it were. Partly that’s to do with my preconceptions on those in the field of architecture and design, and a rather site-specific and (quite honestly) short-sighted approach to urban malaise. I’ll see where pamphlet two (download here) takes me.

Situated Technologies I

“Si vous réussissez, vous serez bientôt couverts de gloire”
(“If you succeed you will bask in glory”)
The Chappe Brothers 1791

The Semaphore System was an early mechanical informational device to send visual messages across long distances. In it’s initial guise, the semaphore system was devised by the Chappe Brothers to send coded messages from French military forces in the late 18th century. This blog takes it’s name from The Chappe Brother’s invention (synonymously known as a ‘Semaphore Line‘) , and the quote above comes from the first message sent between two signal towers in 1791.

 As a historical example of the nexus of military needs, political and revolutionary events, and visual informational devices, the Semaphore Line acts as a grounding for thinking through the dynamics of geospatial technology, interactive media and the digital frontier. This blog will collate some of the work done at the intersection of these fields.