future of the interactive city?
It was an unusual event for me to attend, since the bulk of the people seemed to be strongly into the issues around new urbanism, planning, technology of the future civic life, if-you-can-dream-it interactivity, etc. I admit I hadn’t thought about this stuff in great depth and so it was a lot of new thinking; although many of the examples shown were things that go through the design and technology sections of the blogosphere I frequent.
I think like so many events, this one struggled a bit with the identity. They repeated the notion of a summit several times, and one possible output was a document that could be sent to a city planner or a design planner or any number of agencies. But an event with a goal like that – a goal of producing a collective output – needs to really structure and facilitate the discussion and creation of output. The emphasis here was on invited presentations (and some good freewheeling discussion), and on quickie presentations from attendees. I don’t see how that sort of content can accomplish the stated goal. And that’s okay, I think the format wasn’t bad. We had the usual problems with acoustics and presenters with tiny type, presentations that ramble without a clear thesis to support, heavily accented presenters, etc. but I think for the most part it was a pretty good event.
Matt Jones gave a stimulating hyperlinked talk (while the laptop-enabled in the audience checked out links and videos concurrently). He showed us this amazing video of the Sultan’s Elephant – an artistic spectacle that you must check out.
There was a great presentation from Rebar, who did the widely blogged PARK(ing) project, where they created small parks in parking spaces; putting down sod, a bench and a plant in a parking space and feeding the meter for a couple of hours.
Troika spent a lot of their time defending themselves (needlessly?) from their work in the commercial domain, under the rhetoric of art vs. design. I didn’t fully understand their stance. They showed the widely blogged SMS Guerilla Projector; a handheld device that takes a text message from a phone and projects it at great distances. In some experiments they shone messages into people’s apartments, and they bemusedly described people calling the police. Ha ha? Their next slide was about empathy, which they seemed to have none of; creating technology experiences that surprise and sometimes frighten people, so they can study their reactions? They need to take a look at an ethics committee guidelines for human subjects! (NB: I was reminded of the disturbing potential for this stuff when I saw Rob Walker’s post about a popular (among cynical edgy youth, no doubt) text message in Iraq: “Your call cannot be completed because the subscriber has been bombed or kidnapped.”
In an excellent lunchtime discussion we brainstormed on the key issues where technology impacts urban life, and it seemed to me that most of the issues fell into three piles: preserving old stuff, ensuring we don’t fuck up the old stuff (those are different), and enabling new stuff. Of course, today I see this post about the closing of an historic neighborhood store. The post is not significantly high-tech (it uses pictures, and it has a broader reach since it’s on the Internet), and is not significantly unique, but I enjoyed mmediately stumbling across an example of a model that we were just refining.
I took public transit in from Montara both days, trying BART on the first day and MUNI the second day. Thinking I was pretty smart, I drove up to Stonestown Galleria on 19th, parked my car, and took the MUNI right to the front of the place. When I came back after lunch, my brand new car was gone. Towed. The conference was free (including food) but this stupid mistake cost me nearly $300 in fees and taxi! Not to mention stress and wasted time. And somewhat ironic, given the conversations we had been engaging in around surveillance, technology, privacy, and the like. How did they know that I wasn’t a customer at the mall and I wasn’t shopping while my car was there? I parked around 9:35, and the towing receipt read 10:30. What time did they call the towing company in order for them to be writing the thing up at 10:30? Couldn’t have been much after I parked. Did a security guard simply observe me walking away from my car and onto the transit platform? If I had gone into McDonald’s and then come out again, would they have figured it out? Were they monitoring me, or the car in the lot?
I’m not defending my choice, or their response, but it certainly raises some questions about how the heck they knew. Liz Goodman had just mentioned the highway signs that tell you your speed and if you are over, and she commented on the different emotional impact and social perception of a technology that monitors you for your information and a technology that monitors you for someone else’s usage. The highway sign, in her example, doesn’t write you a ticket, or tell the cops, it simply tells you about your behavior, presumably to warn or shame you into driving normally (or to reinforce your choice of compliance). I certainly wondered about whatever technology was used to identify my misdeed.