Location Awareness: Urban computing and locative media

Instead of a dark room with a screen, mouse and keyboard, we are more likely to be online in a café, scrolling down the touch screen of a smart phone. It is typical of a ‘neo-nomad’ to live the ‘Starbucks lifestyle’, relying on mobile technology while relocating around the world (Abbas 2011). Problems of ‘neo-nomadism’ are many, as described in detail by Yasmine Abbas, but they are a group of users who were ‘liberated’ by mobile technology. Exactly this is the point of Net Locality: contrary to the general prejudice about technology’s alienation effect on the physical experience of the world (which is justified by the way we used to connect to the web in the 90s), new technologies are making us aware of locations, and making locations aware of us (Gordon and de Souza e Silva 2011).

Because “games provide a logic for user interaction” (Gordon and de Souza e Silva 2011), they have been widely used to simulate behaviours and situations. The Familiar Stranger (Paulos, e. &Goodman 2002) and Umbrella.net (Moriwaki, K. & Brucker-Cohen 2002) made use of Bluetooth connections between mobile phones, to discover the position of other players. Further-on, Can You See Me Now (Blast Theory and Lab 2001) is an interesting example that combines mapping with real-time communication between participants, local and remote. Botfighters (2001) and Mogi (2003) engaged the players to consider their everyday urban experience as part of the game, having to change their usual paths (take the bus instead of the metro) in order to stay online – and thus in the game.

In the Cityware project, Ava Fatah gen. Schieck analysed interaction spaces generated by Bluetooth devices. The researchers observed the usage practices in order to come up with new forms of human to human interaction. The team considered different methods for mapping the physical and digital flow and the digital co- presence. The looked for design strategies for different experiences in the city or at least an understanding of existing city behaviours. At the time of writing, Bluetooth technology provided more information on movement and interaction than the typically static Wi-Fi access points. “Within Cityware, we are extending Space Syntax consideration of the architectural spaces created by the built environment to include the wireless interaction spaces created by Bluetooth enabled devices. ” (Fatah, Penn, and Neill 2008). In the meantime, Bluetooth saw a fall in popularity, while Wi-Fi and 3G technology (3rd generation mobile pones, that provide mobile Internet access) became more pervasive. However, they concluded that “[communication] technology can be appropriated to support emergent social interactions”, and even become “a motivation to change the way they communicate and engage with others.” (Fatah, Penn, and Neill 2008).

In order to achieve a better understanding of the urban landscape augmented with the digital landscape of a city, we need to expand and adapt our understanding and practice of design. Looking at the urban environment as an integrated system made of both the built environment and pervasive computing systems, design can offer dynamic solutions that engage with both.

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