Notes from William Mitchell talk

William Mitchell
ME++: The cyborg self and the networked city
Tate Modern

3 books over last decade. Bits, etopia and me++: realtime scholarship: understanding phenomena fast enough for debate to influence design, architecture and policy

tech gets locked-in. critical discussion has to happen at the right time, early stage otherwise too late.

Wireless, digitalization and miniturisation: nomadic occupation of space.

Communities nucleate nucleate around resources (cf. mcullough)
Wells, rivers, confluences, crossroads, ports, etc.
‘point of presecnce of essential resource’

fields of presence overlaid:
creating fields of presence…
1) dispersed infrastructure: turn the well into domestic water piping system
2) portable devices: bottled water!

Cave : loggia / umbrella (carry a roof with you)
Campfire: electric grid / batteries
Live performer: broadcast / pocket Mpeg player (iPod)

Creating fields of presence loosens time and space relationships.
e.g. when you disperse the well with pipes, the village can spread… the social role of the well evaporates. Doesn’t focus the public space anymore… dispersed and private bathing, private washing, private drinking.

Larger scale patterns emerge

Pic: marconi transmissions, Wellfleet, Massachusetts 1903
A major piece of architecture! Huge scale, noise, energy required. A fixed point of presence.

Pic: couple of decades later: horse packed with military wireless equipment. Miniaturizations, portability.

“The apparatus of communication has become an extension of the mobile body”

terms, language: handy, ketai, mobile.

Wireless tech is transforming rapidly

Pic: MIT, Joe Paridiso – push-pin computing: power, comms, sensors, computation in one small device that can be stuck on walls, ceiling and ad-hoc into a network.

These things could get down to the scale of rice grains… smart motes / dust.

Paintable computing (cf. neil gershenfield)

Penetration of computing into everyday life as a result of ultraminiturisation

RFID: becoming a reality

Spatial effects:

Death of familiar building types and start of hybrid, new forms. Fragmentation and recombination.

Guardian article: “phone boxes at the end of the line”. The end of an architectural type? A conversation at a distance used to happen at a fixed location. Now we have a field of presence… overlaying the private conversation on public space… can cause conflict!

Information workplace: modern workplace in most economies. Depends on digital information and computing: nearly all office and professional work atm.

Mainframes had their own space. Fixed location: like the village well… (but guarded by a priesthood) a workplaced developed around the machine, designed for the requirement of the machine not people. generated intense and privelaged community around it.. .a priesthood… lots of discourse and p2p learning… beginning of hacker culture around the point of presence.

Personal computing: distributed infrastructure. 80s/90s
But a bit like the wireless on the horse… almost at the ideal condition, but not quite.

Wifi and portable computers: anywhere you can sit down near a hotspot, becomes a workplace. People vote with their feet to work in the spaces they find most comfortable… generally café tables!

Transaction space

Space that’s created for economiic exchange

e.g. banks.

One on every main street. Often quite grand as a building type (slide: louis Sullivan bank)

Celebrating the power of capital and exchange

Slide: louis Sullivan bank plan. Designed for synchronous f2f transactions.

Organizing principle: public space in center that distributes customer to teller. Teller space buffer zone. Back office space is behind tellers. Vault is focal point: money in physical form. Symbolically important. opposite the front door… visible at night through glass door by passing policemen. Proximity and adjacency and security perimeter are organizing principles.

Along came ATMs/wired tech. Broke temporal and spatial bond with customer. Made transactions asynchronous. Teller fills up atm with money, then cyustoemr comes along when they want. Fragementing: atms left the bank and migrated to where ppl wanted the cash.. e..g airports, shopping malls.

Backoffice work did not need to be near tellers because of dematerlisation of info. They begin to centralize or conglomerate not fragment… service centers.

Result: building type disappears. Banks turn into restaurants or starbucks!
Wireless tech.: further fragmentaion and recombination.: home banking, mobile banking. “banking is smeared across urban space. Work space, domestic space, public space.

Public space

(slide: Bryant park, NYC)

‘being able to work gives you the excuse to stay in public’ – takes what was private and distributes it into the public space.

Research showed that lots of people were there job searching! If one thinks about it… natural to do this in ‘neutral’ territory… (cf. clay shirky: “the privacy of the mall”)

(slide: manhattan wifi map)

(slide: newbury street in boston wifi map)a study of interference of public and private hotspots, and overlaid with activities in the space.
(slide: map of Dublin with what is visible on the WWW on webcams overlaid)

Spaces become sensate: buildings and cities get nervous systems
Industrial revolution meant that buildings got indutsiral systems built in: water, aircon, electricity… now evolution.(MIT project, by Kit someone: apartment stuffed full of sensors that does ‘activity recognition’… targeting aging baby boomer population)

Tech disappears into the woodwork and your pocket. Irony: more high-tech a space is, the less high tech it looks. Space doesn’t need to be organized around technology. “Architecture freed to return to pre-industrial condition”: more humane.

Physical and digital control systems converge. Control systems of physical space: walls, doors, keys. Digital space: passwords, access codes. Now: convergence happens: biometics and digital access manifesting in real space.

The global village creates a new ethical condition

Extended fields of precense create extended networks of reciprocity and domains of moral obligation (interdependencies, interconnections of community)

The golden rule of antiquity: plato, aristoltle. Now refered to as Social capital.

Traditional view was these networks of reciprocity decay with distance.
It no longer works that way… threats and benefits extend with no reference to distance.

“no distance on the map will protect us” – G.W.Bush.

(slide: plan of nova palma: high degree of determining hierarchy and security of communities with space)

(slide: geostar sat pic of 14 aug 03: new york blackout: interconnections and interdependencies illustrated.. propogation of failure across the power network)
how do we respond?

The construction of discontinuous asynchronous global agoras supports emergence and self-representatiton of grassroots communities.

(slide: anti-war protest) physical presence and self representation was organized through distributed electronic means [cf. the second superpower, smartmobs]

Demonstrations took place in traditional, iconic public space. Timezones meant that momemtnum built (footage of demo in Australia, japan, encourages those in Europe, and in turn the USA)

What remained was an infrastructure of links, what grew ad-hoc left a residue of a community established.

Iconic Place generates an aggregation of electronic images.

Whats happening in London right now: bush visits and “counter manifestations”

Process of engaging /congregating at the most iconic public places. USED AS A


The right to the city has been technologically redfined.

The right to the airwaves has added to the ancient right to the street


How do communities scale.

Ancient Greeks said there was a limit to the size of community/city.
Scaling community has been the essential challenge of urbanism over the centuries

Tradition technique is hierarchical scaling. Embedding small communities into larger ones.

Frank Gehry / GM project: instead of cars reconfiguring the city, reconfigure a car to the city…

Need not be the car paradigm when address disruptions to personal transport and the city through technology, but this project starts with the car paradigm.

Cars giving back to the city as givers / carriers of infrastructure (e.g. ad-hoc comms, grid-computing, power)

Technology doesn’t happen to us. It’s human invention; ethical dminensions have to be passionately engaged in when the tech discussions are at the formative stage.

Charles Moore essay: “you have to pay for the public life”

  1. Anne said:

    Thanks Matt – and what were your impressions?

  2. Mahmoud said:

    I need some pics from Bryant Park and Timesqure for my research which is about the role of ICT upon urban Design.
    would you plz help me to find some? and any other examples u think is proper for my research.

  3. Pingback: social beasts

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