Ubiquitous Infoscapes: new forms of awareness in contemporary cities.

FALL 2012: V.08 N.02: FOUND – SAMPLED – STOLEN – STRATEGIES OF APPROPRIATION IN NEW MEDIA

Salvatore Iaconesi
La Sapienza University of Rome, ISIA Design Florence

Oriana Persico
La Sapienza University of Rome

INTRODUCTION

In 1960, Kevin Lynch [1] described how individuals perceived and organized spatial information as they navigated through cities, showing how they understood their surroundings in consistent and predictable ways, by forming mental maps.

Different cultures, backgrounds, and individuals can interpret the same urban spaces in dramatically different ways, [5] forming different mental maps, which describe the diverse ways of experiencing, using, traversing, and stopping in the same areas of our urban contexts.

The presence of these differences, and their encounter at the boundaries and metropolitan interstices gives rise to the negotiation and emergence of intersubjective, collective experiences, as described by Low & Lawrence-Zunigais, [6] and by Bhabha. [7]

All these reinterpretations of city spaces live together at the same time, embodied by the people who pragmatically and continuously perform the act of creating maps for the spaces they live in, through the ways, places, and times in which they work, study, relate, have fun.

The construction of mental maps has direct effect onto the landscape itself, [8] as the different usages of lands, streets, buildings, and the spatial patterns along which people meet, work, and collaborate are not only a result of the shape of the elements of the urban context, but also a transformative energy which acts on spaces, thus shaping the features of the city, in a continuous process of mutual feedback. [8]

In his classic definition of Cultural Landscape, Sauer states,

“The cultural landscape is fashioned from a natural landscape by a cultural group. Culture is the agent, the natural area is the medium, the cultural landscape is the result.” [2]

This description finds important matches in the ideas, such as the ones proposed by de Certeau in, [3] according to which it is possible to formally observe the ways in which individuals constantly navigate everything, from city streets to literary texts.

A dialogue exists between the ‘strategies’ according to which spaces are institutionally defined, and the ‘tactics’ according to which human beings individualize them by creating rituals, trajectories, and patterns in using these spaces, in a constant process of reading/writing space which is performed by interpreting its signals, symbols, shapes, and aesthetics, and reinterpreting them, systematically or temporarily, through approaches, actions, and relations.

The idea of ‘infiltrating’ space by individualizing it, by personalizing it, describes the possibility of taking part in the spatial politics of our cities.

The concept of psychogeography and of derive, expressed by Debord, [4] confirms this process, and the possibility to describe the urban context through its personalization operated by individuals is highlighted as a fundamental tool to innovate society.

THE PERSONALIZATION OF SPACE

Portable technological devices radically enable opportunities for the personalization of space.

For example, the Sony Walkman allowed for drastic mutation of our experience of space/time, by enabling individuals to design imaginary mental landscapes, which were the result of the mash-up of the music experienced through earphones with the rest of the physical reality. [9]

The possibility to move through urban spaces –with their cognitive, aesthetic, and moral significance– using personal devices, allows us to manage our space and time, in the construction of boundaries around ourselves, and in the creation of sites of fantasy and memory. [10]

Mobile devices, smartphones, wearables, digital tags, near field communication devices, location based services, and mixed/augmented reality have gone much further in this direction, turning the world into an essentially read/write, ubiquitous publishing surface. [11]

The usage of mobile devices and ubiquitous technologies alters the understanding of place. [12]

According to Morley the mobile phone fills “the space of the public sphere with the chatter of the earth, allowing us to take our homes with us, just as a tortoise stays in its shell wherever it travels.” [13]

In this process, the definition of (urban) landscape is multiplied according to all individuals which experience that location; as a lossless sum of their perceptions; as a stratification of interpretations and activities which forms our cognition of space and time, as suggested by J. P. Eberhard,  [14] and A. Farina. [15]

The accessibility of these devices allows us to contaminate and mutate our perception of space/time by integrating into our cognition layers of information based on sets of assumptions different from our own ­– generated from different cultures, backgrounds, beliefs, and visions.

De Kerckhove [16] describes this scenario by bringing the metaphor of the hyperlink to architecture, expanding our opportunities for awareness and consciousness, defining a novel form of intelligence, coagulating and interconnecting in multiple ways the diffused intelligence expressed trough ubiquitous digital devices and networks.

Mobile devices act as spatial/temporal mediators [17], exposing alternative perceptions and behaviors and, thus, proposing different usage grammars for spaces and timeframes:  “public places and spaces are being transformed into hybrid geographies through the introduction of new spatial infrastructure.” [18]

CO-CREATING CITIES

These possibilities allow us to enact novel scenarios in which ubiquitous technologies can be used to substantially innovate society.

Atlas of Rome, 2010, Art is Open Source, Projection Mapping and Ubiquitous Technologies, © Art is Open Source.

Atlas of Rome, 2010, Art is Open Source, Projection Mapping and Ubiquitous Technologies, © Art is Open Source.

The possibility to transform entire architectures in interactive systems creating novel forms of active, aware citizenship, such as in the Atlas of Rome [19] depicted in the images, brings forth opportunities for urban contexts, as citizens’ desires, wishes and visions are coagulated into forms which are usable to reinvent the practices of Urban Planning, decision-making and governance.

The Atlas of Rome, the information Visualizations, 2010, Art is Open Source, Information Visualization, real-time data from social networks, © Art is Open Source.

The Atlas of Rome, the information Visualizations, 2010, Art is Open Source, Information Visualization, real-time data from social networks, © Art is Open Source.

New concepts for urban screens, such as in ConnectiCity Neighborhood Edition, [20] implement awareness mechanisms, allowing people to access, in real-time, the conversations exchanged by the inhabitants of the neighborhood, highlighting influential themes and the main flows of interaction­ ­– the digital life of neighborhoods.

ConnectiCity Neighborhood Edition, 2010, Art is Open Source, Information Visualization, real-time data from social networks, © Art is Open Source.

ConnectiCity Neighborhood Edition, 2010, Art is Open Source, Information Visualization, real-time data from social networks, © Art is Open Source.

On top of that, the possibility to harvest real-time public information from the digital lives of citizens, as expressed on social networks, and to analyze it using Natural Language Analysis and GeoParsing/GeoReferencing/GeoCoding techniques, as in VersuS, [21] creates new accessible sensibilities on the city which allow to experience the themes, issues and centers of attention engaged by citizens.

VersuS, the city of Turin in Italian and Arabic languages, 2011, Art is Open Source, Information Visualization, real-time data from social networks, © Art is Open Source.

VersuS, the city of Turin in Italian and Arabic languages, 2011, Art is Open Source, Information Visualization, real-time data from social networks, © Art is Open Source.

In this way a city can be ‘read’ as a text produced by multiple cultures, languages, and beliefs, which describe completely different usage scenarios for streets, squares, neighborhoods. Even the simple gesture of observing the ways in which two different languages are expressed in the same city reveals completely different geographies at different times of day, as communities and individuals move, relate, consume, work, learn, socialize, and entertain themselves.

VersuS, a few minutes of love expressed in social networks in the city of Turin, 2011, Art is Open Source, Information Visualization, real-time data from social networks, © Art is Open Source.

VersuS, a few minutes of love expressed in social networks in the city of Turin, 2011, Art is Open Source, Information Visualization, real-time data from social networks, © Art is Open Source.

CONCLUSIONS

The possibility to listen to the ideas, visions, emotions, and proposals, which are expressed each day by citizens –either explicitly or implicitly by the ways in which they use their cities, workplaces, and malls– suggests the emergence of positive scenarios.

It is possible to create multiple layers of narratives which traverse the city and which allow us to read them in different ways, according to the different strategies and methodologies enabling us to highlight how cities (through their citizens or even on their own, expressing through sensors) articulate points of view on the environment, culture, economy, transports, energy, and politics.

These methodologies for real-time observation of cities can be described as a form of “ubiquitous anthropology,” based on the idea that we can take part in a networked structure shaped as a diffused expert system, capturing disseminated intelligence to coagulate it into a framework for the real-time processing of urban information.

It is possible to give shape to a scenario in which the concepts of citizenship and political representation can be reinvented, tending towards a vision in which people can be more aware and benefit from added opportunities for action, participating in an environment designed for ubiquitous collaboration and knowledge which is multi-actor, multi-stakeholder, in real-time: the city.


REFERENCES

1.  Kevin Lynch, The image of the city, 1960, (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press).
2.  Carl O. Sauer, The Morphology of Landscape, 1925, (Berkeley: University of California Publications in Geography).
3.  Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, 1984, (Berkeley: University of California Press).
4. Guy-Ernest Debord, “Théorie de la dérive”, Les Lèvres nues, n.9 (1956).
5.  W. J.  Mitchell, Placing words, 2005 (Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press).
6.  S. M. Low and D. Lawrence-Zunigais, The Anthropology of Space and Place: Locating Culture, 2003 (Malden and Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell).
7.  H. K.  Bhabha, The location of culture, 1994, (London-New York: Routledge).
8.  M. Gottdiener, The social production of urban space, 1994 (Austin: University of Texas Press).
9.  P. Du Gay, Doing Cultural Studies: the story of the Sony Walkman, 1997 (London: Sage).
10.  M. Bull, Sounding out the city: personal stereos and the management of everyday life. 2000 (London: Berg).
11.  S. Iaconesi and O. Persico, RWR Read/Write Reality Vol. 1, 2011 (Rome: FakePress Publishing).
12.  R. Wilken, “From Stabilitas Loci to Mobilitas Loci: Networked Mobility and the Transformation of Place”, Fibreculture Journal, Issue 6, Mobility, New Social Intensities and the Coordinates of Digital Networks, 2005.
13.  D. Morley, “What’s ‘Home’ Got to Do with It?: Contradictory Dynamics in the Domestication of Technology and the Dislocation of Domesticity”, European Journal of Cultural Studies 6.4 (2003), 435-458.
14.  J. P. Eberhard, Brain landscape: the coexistance of neuroscience and architecture, 2009 (Oxford: Oxford University press).
15.  A. Farina, Ecology, Cognition and Landscape, 2010 (New York: Springer).
16.  D. de Kerckhove, The architecture of intelligence, 2001 (Basel: Birkhäuser).
17.  N. Green, “On the Move: Technology, Mobility, and the Mediation of Social Time and Space”, The Information Society, Vol. 18, N. 4, pp. 281-292, London: Routledge, 2002.
18.  M. Berry, M. Hamilton, “Changing Urban Spaces: Mobile Phones on Trains”, Mobilities, Vol. 5, N.1, pp. 111-129, London: Taylor & Francis, 2010.
19.  Atlas of Rome, August, 2010, http://www.artisopensource.net/2010/06/07/atlas-of-the-visions-festa-dellarchitettura-index-urbis-rome/ , http://www.artisopensource.net/2010/06/13/atlante-dell-visioni-atlas-of-the-visions/ , http://www.artisopensource.net/2010/07/02/a-video-atlante-di-roma-atlas-of-rome/ (accessed February 9, 2012).
20.  ConnectiCity Neighborhood Edition, 2010, http://www.artisopensource.net/2010/09/20/cities-telling-stories-atlas-connecticity-reality-and-a-nice-event/ (accessed February 9, 2012).
21.  VersuS, 2011, http://www.artisopensource.net/category/projects/versus-projects/ (accessed February 9, 2012).


Bios:

Salvatore Iaconesi is an artist, robotic engineer, and interaction designer. He teaches Multi-platform design and Ubiquitous Publishing at La Sapienza University of Rome, at ISIA Design Florence and at Rome University of Fine Arts. He is the founder of Art is Open Source and of FakePress Publishing.

Oriana Persico is an artist, writer and researcher. She has had extensive experience in the domains of e-participation and e-governance, collaborating with national governments and the European Union. She teaches at La Sapienza University of Rome and is the Chair of Communications at FakePress Publishing.