From September 2005 to June 2006 a team of thirteen scholars at the The University of Southern California's Annenberg Center for Communication explored how new and maturing networking technologies are transforming the way in which we interact with content, media sources, other individuals and groups, and the world that surrounds us.

This site documents the process and the results.

portable media

Americans Finally Getting the Message

The most recent issue of the Economist carries the surprising news that America has finally caught up to the rest of the world in text messaging, surpassing Germany, Italy, and France. What took us so long? Cheap calling plans meant that there was little reason for texting while incompatible devices and the extra cost carriers frequently charged for texting didn't help. Meanwhile the burgeoning adoption of mobile phones by young people and, surprisingly enough, the reality show “American Idol,

Submitted by kvarnelis on March 4, 2006 - 11:10pm

Place, Ubiquity, and the Thing

As our concept of place expands to the network of relations between humans + humans, humans + things, things + things, "place" becomes mobile, virtual and contingent. Ubiquitous.

A tree falls in a forest. A transponder tag embedded in its bark transmits its position to a reader-device that sends the information through middleware to a database on the internet. The tree’s location and data about its condition are conveyed without requiring human line of sight. No one hears, no one sees the tree; the forest is a place fully accessible to data-mining without need of human perception or intervention.

This is not science fiction (although Bruce Sterling’s spime is nearly that); the thing—once only a material object, a commodity, a fetish valued by humans—is becoming a sentient node of communication; dust is smart, glass is smart, phones are smart. Humans are dumb and dumber.

The Internet of Things, published by the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) in 2005, declares a “new era of >ubiquity ? beyond the “ubiquitous computing ? of networks available anywhere anytime for human-to-human (H2H) connectivity to an Internet reliant on connections between humans and things (H2T) and between things themselves--Thing to thing (T2T) communication circumvents the communicative networks between humans. The Internet is emerging as not only a network between anyone but between anything.

The Dialect of Things

There is a robust philosophical tradition of musing about “the thing, ? its nature and its culture. Martin Heidegger opens his short essay, “The Thing ?(1950), with a commonly-claimed assertion about transport and media technologies: “all distances in time and space are shrinking. ? He forecasts the philosophical consequences of an impending technological change: “the peak of this abolition of every possibility of remoteness is reached by television, which will soon pervade and dominate the whole machinery of communication. ? What Heidegger’s 1950 essay took to the furthest reaches of philosophical parsing, the 1951 science-fiction horror film The Thing (directed by Howard Hawks from a screenplay by Hawks, Charles Lederer and Ben Hecht) extrapolated to camp hyperbole. At a military outpost near the north pole, scientists detect an abberation in their instruments, they find a space craft below the ice, attempt to destroy it only to discover it contained a passenger, an 8 foot frozen alien. “An intellectual carrot. The mind boggles, ? quips a scientist aghast at the potentially deadly intelligence of the partially-thawed object.

General Motors tests vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) collision-avoidance systems that endow automobiles with a “sixth sense ? foreboding imminent collision. A transponder signals the car's position, speed, acceleration, and braking action to other any similarly-equipped vehicle, up to a quarter-mile away. And yet the GM system only fosters communication between GM cars. Cars ‘speak’ digitally to other cars but in a manufacturers dialect with a key security flaw. A “foreign ? car could attack undetected using the existing tactics for vehicle-to-vehicle engagement—a sudden crash.

Place and >Ubiquity

In a 1928 essay entitled “The Conquest of >Ubiquity ? (1928/1934), French poet and cultural critic Paul Valery forecast yet-unrealized networks of media delivery. Valery’s rarely-read text registers only dimly on the horizon of cultural criticism because it served as an epigram for Walter Benjamin’s now canonical “Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility. ? Benjamin’s essay--which has acquired remarkable >ubiquity as the ur-diagnosis of twentieth century cultural change —drew directly on Valery’s insights into the changing value of the work of art once it was removed from its place of origin and delivered elsewhere and everywhere. Whereas Benjamin’s interest was in the loss of aura of the artwork when replaced by its mechanically-reproduced other, Valery was instead struck by the conduits of connectivity as images and sounds would enter the home as a utility, as water, gas, or electricity. As geographies and temporalities are reconfigured by the ever-more efficient spatial-temporal mash-ups of media and their delivery platforms, the CONQUEST OF UBIQUITY seems an apt assessment of the goals of both tech-design and social engineering. In Heidegger’s assessment:“despite all conquest of distances the nearness of things remain absent. ?

Is a network a place? Is place a network?

French anthropologist Marc Augé distinguishes “places ?-- encrusted with history and social life-- from “non-places ?-- spaces of transition not location, without history or social life. Highways, airports, airplanes, shopping malls may perform as conduit-places embodying the locative paradox of neither “here ? nor “there ? but the place in-between. And although Augé designates highways/motorways as “non-places, ? let’s recall for a moment the discarded metaphor of the “information superhighway. ? This vaunted “superhighway ? was an artery carrying data in two directions at high speeds, producing a new sense of place-- a cyberspace-- with new addresses and identities. The highway metaphor was soon redolent with the exhaust of cliché as speed-bumps, traffic jams, tollroads, advertising billboards helped to sour both utopian promise and descriptive panache. But a decade later, the internet is encrusted with history and social life; the network is a place. And as real highways become smarter, automobiles smarter, our mobile devices smarter, the inanimate boasts new intelligence, turning tables on our concept of the table itself.

The Invisible Visible, the Animate Inanimate

The recently issued large format reprint of the 1665 Atlas Maior (Taschen 2005) includes an methodological treatise on the cartographic enterprise:

"Enlisting their help we may set eyes on far-off places without so much as leaving home; we traverse impassable ranges, cross rivers and seas in safety; without provisions we range over the whole world; by the power of imagination we swiftly journey East-West and North-South at a single glance. What greater delight than with our very own eyes to survey the realms and conditions of kings, princes and dukes; to know the positions and remoteness of cities and villages; to have studied not merely the rivers, harbors bays and capes of different countries but the character and customs of their different regions and peoples... --From our printing press, January 1, 1665"

The atlas and the printing press mapped and disseminated exotic elsewheres and Others as part of the cartographic episteme of virtual travel. The introduction to the Atlas Maior emphasizes the requisite visuality of such arm-chair site-seeing. The "geo-spatial web"/"internet of things" is engaged in a very different representational project. Information is mapped (willfully or not) onto elsewheres and others (chairs, tables, automobiles, dogs, infected birds, terrorist suspects) that have as little subjectivity as the indigenous Other was granted. This formerly "inanimate" Other can now communicate back (about its location, condition, needs) either willfully or not. Does the chair want to tell us about its history? Does the terrorist suspect want to elude our tracking? In The Internet of Things, the RFID and sensor technologies offer a “shortcut to >ubiquity. ? The RFID is a product-tracker; it pulses deep in the warehouses of Walmart, the Amazonian rain-forest, the bourgeois home. It is a passive tag, activated by its reader.

E-vade: Mobile v. Locative

The device is mobile and we are mobile with it. Some of us have devices; some of us are merely tagged. To be tagless is to be free; to create one’s own location, to control one’s own data flow means that we must e-vade the tag. In The Internet of Things, the RFID and sensor technologies offer a “shortcut to >ubiquity. ? The RFID is a product-tracker; it pulses deep in the warehouses of Walmart, the Amazonian rain-forest, the bourgeois home. It is a passive tag, activated by its reader. [need for manifesto here about locative media counter-strategies as building new positions and instrumentalities in an annotated and geo-mapped >ubiquity.]

Submitted by afriedberg on January 11, 2006 - 5:07pm

Power to the Cyborgs

Jill Walker and Noah Wardrip-Fruin are editing a new edition of Ted Nelson's Computer Lib/Dream Machines. They asked me to write a little essay for the "Stuff You May Run Into" section near the back of the Computer Lib side. The book came out before my time, but the lore about it was still in the air when I started nibbling on the edges of geekdom in the early nineties. So it was fun to get invited to this project. Luckily Scott had held on to his first edition so I could see the book in its original glory. The new edition should be a run update with lots of folks contributing pieces to augment and update Ted's manifesto. My contribution is appended here.

Submitted by mito on December 19, 2005 - 11:59am

Intimate Visual Co-Presence and Pervasive Image Capture and Sharing

For the 2005 Ubiquitous Computing conference I helped run a workshop on Pervasive Image Capture and Sharing and I put in a position paper on "Intimate Visual Co-Presence." After our discussions of locative media, I realized that it is an example of mapping relations between personal and spatial relations.

Basically, it is a riff on some of the earlier work I did with Daisuke on technosocial situations like "ambient virtual co-presence" that were being supported by ongoing, lightweight text message exchange. With the advent of camphones, photos have entered this stream of exchange. Christian Licoppe has been talking about similar dynamics in terms of "connected presence." The idea of ongoing lightweight connection is a common refrain in mobile society research, but the addition of visual information adds an interesting twist.

Submitted by mito on December 16, 2005 - 1:30am

word of the year

So its official. Podcasting is dead. The New American Oxford Dictionary has declared the word "podcasting" the "Word of the Year" for 2005. That surely is a sign that the technology/phenomenon is on the decline, right?

Does anyone remember how quickly "weblog" moved from initial use to mainstream ackowledgement? IIRC, it was a log longer than it took for podcasting.

Submitted by todd on December 7, 2005 - 9:37am

what hath the pod wrought?

Quite a day for iPod/vPod-related announcements...and its not even 10am yet (well, PST). Among them:

It's a Mod, Mod World: Podcasting has been called the ultimate in personalized media, since most podcasts are produced by amateurs for small, specialized audiences. But the real ultimate in personalization may be a podcast for an audience of one -- you. That's the promise of Modcast, a technology developed by Florida-based Bind that enables a podcast listener to choose which segments of a show to hear, then have a customized audio file generated on the fly. Other companies, such as, are also experimenting with modcasting -- which suggests that customization may be a big wave in podcasting's future. TechReview

Submitted by todd on November 30, 2005 - 11:27am

mp3s: cheap, legal, russian?

an album for a little over a buck? Legal? Morally reprehensible? A ragin' deal? You make the call...

Submitted by todd on November 9, 2005 - 12:26pm

your brain on ipod

Functional Anatomyof the Human Brain (PSY146S)
Functional Anatomy of the Human Brain, taught by Professor S. Mark Williams, is an introduction to the structure of the human brain and spinal cord. In order to study the organization of the major neural systems underlying sensory, motor and cognitive function, students are faced with the formidable task of learning myriad new and unintuitive terms to describe brain structures. To facilitate this process, students will use photo-enabled iPods to access a visual glossary of human neuroanatomy. This glossary was created by Professor Williams and his colleagues, Professor Leonard E.

Submitted by todd on November 7, 2005 - 12:37pm

microlocal, in South LA

Shahram, Julian, Anne and I just submitted a grant proposal to USC's Urban Initiative to explore microlocal urban media in South Los Angeles. To illustrate, I wrote a microlocal story about this spot.

That page includes an ICBM geotag. How would I go about displaying it on a googlemap?

Submitted by fbar on November 3, 2005 - 7:14pm

its the windows, stoopid

Many electrons have given their life in discussing the video iPod and the ramifications (or lack thereof). The problem is that most seem to be missing a critical piece of the puzzle: its about the windows. And no, I'm not talking about Microsoft. Films have certain release theaters, dvd release, VOD, cable, TV. These are gentlemens agreements between the studios. The problem that is hounding the iPod, VOD, and related distribution is that it falls *after* the DVD window. Why download if you've already bought? It is not secret that the studios make a nice chunk of money on each DVD sold. They make about 5x *less* on a VOD purchase. But they can make it up in volume, right? Well, not if the window for "buying" on VOD/iTunes falls after the DVD has been on shelves for awhile.

Submitted by todd on October 24, 2005 - 5:35pm