Extreme Informatics: Toward the De-Saturated City

Extreme Informatics: Toward the De-Saturated City

Mark Shepard (University at Buffalo, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-152-0.ch029
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What happens to urban space given a hypothetical future where all information loses its body, that is, when it is offloaded from the material substrate of the physical city1 to the personal, portable, or ambient displays of tomorrow’s urban information systems? This chapter explores the spatial, technological and social implications of an extreme urban informatics regime. It investigates the total virtualization of the marks, signage, signaling and display systems by which we locate, orient ourselves, and navigate through the city. Taking as a vehicle a series of digitally manipulated photographs of specific locations in New York, this study analyzes the environmental impact of a pervasive evacuation of information–at various sites and scales–from the sidewalks, buildings, streets, intersections, infrastructures and public spaces of a fictional future De-saturated City.
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One might argue that urban informatics takes as an implicit goal the expansion of information into ever-greater visual and aural fields of the ordinary urban citizen. For example, consider the current fascination with large-scale “urban screens”—programmable electronic billboards enveloping the facades of prominent urban structures. UN Studio’s Galleria West Department Store in Seoul, South Korea, realities:united’s SPOTS media façade on Berlin’s Potsdamerplatz, Klien Dytham’s Uniqlo façade in Tokyo, or Peter Cook’s Kunsthaus in Graz, Austria are but a few examples of media-architecture hybrids that demonstrate the transformation of entire architectural surfaces into information displays. Media artists have also explored the building façade as a site for mediated play and social interaction. Berlin-based Chaos Computer Club’s “Blinkenlights” (2001) transformed the façade of the Haus des Lehrers on Berlin’s Alexanderplatz into a low-resolution game board for playing pong with your mobile phone (http://www.christian-moeller.com/display.php?project_id=59). Interest in urban screens is also reflected by a number of recent conferences on the subject bringing together researchers and practitioners from the fields of media, architecture, information and communication technology (ICT) to identify issues and strategies for future development.2

At a smaller scale, signage displaying precise wait-times for busses, trams or subway trains equipped with GPS or other location-based technologies is becoming common in large cities such as Berlin, Rome, and New York. In 2000, New York City-based Adapt Media of Boston introduced AdRunner: a GPS enabled LED display designed for the roofs of taxi cabs that delivered location-based advertising customized for the neighborhood demographics they move through.3 In Toronto, 13,000 cabs have been outfitted with touch screen displays that use GPS to target customers as they drive by local businesses (GPS World, 2007) . Whether it be building-scale display surfaces or smaller mobile screens distributed throughout the city, the trend appears to be toward finding new and inventive ways for displaying real-time or demographically targeted information in physical urban space.

Visions of the future promulgated by popular media project this trend to the extreme. Take for example a scene from Steven Spielberg’s 2002 movie Minority Report, which projects the future of location-based advertising in the city of year 2050. In a chase scene depicting renegade cop Jon Anderton’s flight through a shopping mall, he is bombarded by advertising tailored to his specific location, time and identity as revealed through a retinal scan. Illuminated advertisements that recall his personal preferences and history of shopping transactions call out for his attention as he darts through a cacophony of sound and image. In developing this scene, Spielberg worked with a combination of advertising “creatives” and researchers from MIT’s media lab to extrapolate forward a vision of how advertising might work in the future (Rothkerch, 2002). What’s perhaps interesting here is less the imagined technical wizardry at work in, say, performing retinal scans on the fly and correlating the unique patterning of neural cells and capillary structure with a personal transaction history—all in real-time, and for a rapidly moving target. Rather, as with most science fiction, what’s striking is how this future scenario carries forward existing paradigms of advertising embedded within the present, and what that might tell us about the place of media and information within contemporary culture.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Personal Informatics: Information services, often accessible via a mobile device, that search, sort, mine, correlate or otherwise filter information for a person based on their preferences, transaction logs, location, social networks and other personal data.

Urban Screen: Large, programmable, outdoor electronic billboards displaying media for commercial and advertising purposes, often affixed to buildings or other prominent urban structures.

Locative Media: Art and technology practices that employ location-aware technologies in exploring novel or unconventional relations between cartography, place, community, sociality, and technology.

Public Authoring: The open, public process of associating virtual media objects and other types of information to actual locations in the city, whereby people are enabled to construct and contribute to this information layer, rather simply consuming pre-authored content.

Location-Based Services (LBS): A combination of hardware and software technologies that incorporate mobile devices, wireless communication networks, geographic information, and software applications in serving information related to specific locations or routes.

Geocoding: The process of associating geographic metadata (such as latitude/longitude coordinates) to physical features within natural or constructed environments.

Skeuomorph: Material artifacts that simulate an aspect of a previous time using a technology that has superseded it. Skeuomorphs are derivative objects that retain structurally necessary elements of the original as ornamentation, stripped of their original function.

Complete Chapter List

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List of Reviewers
Table of Contents
Anthony Townsend
Marcus Foth
Marcus Foth
Chapter 1
Amanda Williams, Erica Robles, Paul Dourish
This chapter critically examines the notion of “the city” within urban informatics. Arguing that there is an overarching tendency to construe the... Sample PDF
Urbane-ing the City: Examining and Refining the Assumptions Behind Urban Informatics
Chapter 2
Jaz Hee-Jeong Choi, Adam Greenfield
Once a city shaped by the boundary conditions of heavy industrialisation and cheap labour, within a few years Seoul has transformed itself to one of... Sample PDF
To Connect and Flow in Seoul: Ubiquitous Technologies, Urban Infrastructure and Everyday Life in the Contemporary Korean City
Chapter 3
Nancy Odendaal
Recent literature on African cities examines the way in which social networks function as critical livelihood arteries in the ongoing survival... Sample PDF
Creating an Analytical Lens for Understanding Digital Networks in Urban South Africa
Chapter 4
Wayne Beyea
Community planning is facing many challenges around the world, such as the rapid growth of megacities as well as urban sprawl. The State of Michigan... Sample PDF
Place Making Through Participatory Planning
Chapter 5
Mike Ananny, Carol Strohecker
In this paper, we describe the design and installation of a new kind of public opinion forum—TexTales, a public, large-scale interactive projection... Sample PDF
TexTales: Creating Interactive Forums with Urban Publics
Chapter 6
Jenny Preece
This chapter describes a small networked community in which residents of an apartment building in Washington, D.C., USA supplement their... Sample PDF
An Event-Driven Community in Washington, DC: Forces That Influence Participation
Chapter 7
Fiorella De Cindio
After more than a decade of e-participation initiatives at the urban level, what remains obscure is the alchemy—i.e., the “arcane” combination of... Sample PDF
Moments and Modes for Triggering Civic Participation at the Urban Level
Chapter 8
Michael Veith
Societies face serious challenges when trying to integrate migrant communities. One-sided solutions do not pay tribute to the complexity of this... Sample PDF
Fostering Communities in Urban Multi-Cultural Neighbourhoods: Some Methodological Reflections
Chapter 9
Victor M. Gonzalez, Kenneth L. Kraemer, Luis A. Castro
The practical use of information technology devices in domestic and residential contexts often results in radical changes from their envisioned... Sample PDF
Beyond Safety Concerns: On the Practical Applications of Urban Neighbourhood Video Cameras
Chapter 10
Colleen Morgan
This chapter explores how we may design located information and communication technologies (ICTs) to foster community sentiment. It focuses... Sample PDF
The Figmentum Project: Appropriating Information and Communication Technologies to Animate Our Urban Fabric
Chapter 11
Barbara Crow, Michael Longford, Kim Sawchuk, Andrea Zeffiro
The Mobile Media Lab (MML) is a Canadian interdisciplinary research team exploring wireless communications, mobile technologies and locative media... Sample PDF
Voices from Beyond: Ephemeral Histories, Locative Media and the Volatile Interface
Chapter 12
Helen Klaebe
This chapter defines, explores and Illustrates research at the intersection of people, place and technology in cities. First, we theorise the notion... Sample PDF
Embedding an Ecology Notion in the Social Production of Urban Space
Chapter 13
Vassilis Kostakos, Eamonn O’Neill
In this paper, we describe a platform that enables us to systematically study online social networks alongside their real-world counterparts. Our... Sample PDF
Cityware: Urban Computing to Bridge Online and Real-World Social Networks
Chapter 14
Katharine S. Willis
In our everyday lives, we are surrounded by information which weaves itself silently into the very fabric of our existence. Much of the time we act... Sample PDF
Information Places: Navigating Interfaces between Physical and Digital Space
Chapter 15
Viktor Bedö
This chapter contributes to the ongoing effort to understand the nature of locative urban information by proposing that locative urban information... Sample PDF
A Visual Approach to Locative Urban Information
Chapter 16
Tristan Thielmann
Car navigation systems, based on “augmented reality,” no longer direct the driver through traffic by simply using arrows, but represent the... Sample PDF
Navigation Becomes Travel Scouting: The Augmented Spaces of Car Navigation Systems
Chapter 17
Daisuke Tamada
A lot of street view services, which present views of urban landscapes, have recently appeared. The conventional method for making street views... Sample PDF
QyoroView: Creating a Large-Scale Street View as User-Generated Content
Chapter 18
Hideyuki Nakanishi, Toru Ishida, Satoshi Koizumi
Many research projects have studied various aspects of smart environments including smart rooms, home, and offices. Few projects, however, have... Sample PDF
Virtual Cities for Simulating Smart Urban Public Spaces
Chapter 19
Andrew Hudson-Smith
Digital cities are moving well beyond their original conceptions as entities representing the way computers and communications are hard wired into... Sample PDF
The Neogeography of Virtual Cities: Digital Mirrors into a Recursive World
Chapter 20
Laura Forlano
This chapter introduces the role of community wireless networks (CWNs) in reconfiguring people, places and information in cities. CWNs are important... Sample PDF
Codespaces: Community Wireless Networks and the Reconfiguration of Cities
Chapter 21
Katrina Jungnickel, Genevieve Bell
From WiFi (802.11b) with its fixed and mobile high-speed wireless broadband Internet connectivity to WiMAX (802.16e), the newest wireless protocol... Sample PDF
Home is Where the Hub Is? Wireless Infrastructures and the Nature of Domestic Culture in Australia
Chapter 22
Andres Sevtsuk
This chapter presents the iSPOTS project, which collects and maps data of WiFi usage on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus in... Sample PDF
Mapping the MIT Campus in Real Time Using WiFi
Chapter 23
John M. Carroll
We discuss the vision, plan, and status of a research project investigating community-oriented services and applications, comprising a wireless... Sample PDF
Supporting Community with Location-Sensitive Mobile Applications
Chapter 24
Christine Satchell
Early 21st century societies are evolving into a hybrid of real and synthetic worlds where everyday activities are mediated by technology. The... Sample PDF
From Social Butterfly to Urban Citizen: The Evolution of Mobile Phone Practice
Chapter 25
Jong-Sung Hwang
u-City is South Korea’s answer to urban community challenges leveraging ubiquitous computing technology to deliver state-of-the-art urban services.... Sample PDF
u-City: The Next Paradigm of Urban Development
Chapter 26
Dan Shang, Jean-François Doulet, Michael Keane
This chapter examines the development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in urban China, focusing mainly on their impact on social... Sample PDF
Urban Informatics in China: Exploring the Emergence of the Chinese City 2.0
Chapter 27
Francesco Calabrese
The real-time city is now real! The increasing deployment of sensors and handheld electronic devices in recent years allows for a new approach to... Sample PDF
WikiCity: Real-Time Location-Sensitive Tools for the City
Chapter 28
Eric Paulos, RJ Honicky, Ben Hooker
In this chapter, we present an important new shift in mobile phone usage—from communication tool to “networked mobile personal measurement... Sample PDF
Citizen Science: Enabling Participatory Urbanism
Chapter 29
Mark Shepard
What happens to urban space given a hypothetical future where all information loses its body, that is, when it is offloaded from the material... Sample PDF
Extreme Informatics: Toward the De-Saturated City
Chapter 30
Roger J. Burrows
Is it still the case that one can symptomatically read the early work of the cyberpunk author William Gibson as a form of prefigurative urban theory... Sample PDF
Urban Informatics and Social Ontology
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