“Believe it or not, the Internet is a tougher town than New York; fewer people make it here, but no one there seems to make it for long.” – Bill WasikBig lights, big internet, New York TImes
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Nice to see my good friend Rob Van Kranenburg’s excellent essay, on the Internet of Things, given the design treatment. Here’s the alternative cover by Wendy wan der Waal. We should hire her for a second edition, Rob.
For graphic design we got the assignment to design ‘The Internet of Things’, a book by Rob van Kranenburg, a writer and researcher.
The most important was that you gave your opinion about the subject through the design of the book. I found all his theories about ambient technology … very interesting … you can look at the subject in several ways, and that causes confusion. That’s why I started playing with the reading direction. Every direction has a particular color, and at some points it overlaps. In this way it becomes more abstract.
I created the book in a completely ‘off-PC’ analogue manner, on a photo copier. Using colored sheets for the separate reading directions.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this essay by Tom Slee. He writes about how the very tools that help us navigate the web are the very things that drive everyone towards the same locations. He uses a useful topological analogy, stating that the recommender systems, like Digg and Netflix and Amazon, allow everyone to see the most popular material out there: “customers can see further,” he argues “but they are all looking at the same hilltop.”
“Online merchants such as Amazon, iTunes and Netflix may stock more items than your local book, CD, or video store, but they are no friend to “niche culture”. Internet sharing mechanisms such as YouTube and Google PageRank, which distill the clicks of millions of people into recommendations, may also be promoting an online monoculture. Even word of mouth recommendations such as blogging links may exert a homogenizing pressure and lead to an online culture that is less democratic and less equitable, than offline culture.”
The trouble he argues is that in staring at the peak we often miss material that is nearer to us.
But for me this paradox extends beyond recommender systems, reaching right into the heart of the internet itself. For what is a list of Google search results other than a mountain of indexed content with the first page or results representing the peak? The point being that although Google does try to weave a degree of immediacy into its search results, most people just bother to look at the summit of the search, ignoring the other material located further down the slope.
Of course nobody want to return to the days before Google made the mountain scalable in the first place. But we should be aware that the more successful it becomes the more monocultural the internet is likely to become. There may be more content out there, but increasingly most of us are seeing the same things which creates the opposite of diversity.
This monoculture of content then re-inforces itself as the material that finds its way to the top of Googles list and on to the likes of Digg and Facebook and Delicious et al, like successful football teams, the longer they stay at the top of the league, the more powerful and rich they become.
There are of course different ways to scale the mountain. Google’s advanced search option, for instance, allows you to filter your searches so that you can search for content uploaded only today, or only this week or only this month. Searching this way at least makes it easier to find content that is less established, but potentially more interesting.
I love its software and much of my life is in some way governed by it. But it has become so successful, so powerful, that its difficult to see over it. Maybe that’s why they set up office in hills northwest of San Francisco. In a little place called Mountain View.
“After 1989 we enjoyed a strange interregnum where “history ended.” Everyone ran up a credit-card bill at the global supermarket. The adventure ended badly, in crisis. Still, let us be of good heart. In cold fact, a financial crisis is one of the kindest and mildest sorts of crisis a civilization can have. Compared to typical … catastrophes like wars, epidemics, earthquakes, volcanoes, endemic political collapse — a financial crisis is a problem for schoolchildren.”
+ Lord Foster to be stripped of his peerage.
Starchitect to lose out after moving to Switzerland. Maybe he’s the first victim of the new 21st century.
+ Padraig Reidy: the Wikipedia editing debate highlights a retreat from web utopia.
+ More from the London at Night series.
The Boston Globe continues its wonderful pictures of nocturnal London
I’m bound for Nottingham later this week for the Raditor Festival and Symposium, which will explore notions of the “wireless city” while looking at how the future of public space might be shaped. I’m chairing a panel on the “internet of things” with my friend and collegue Rob Van Kranenburg; as well at the architects Usman Haque and Holger Schnädelbach. It’s on at the Broadway Media Centre, January 15 at 10.15.
Here’s the offical blurb:
“Future visions on part of the technology developers are predicting a world where everything from fridge to toothbrush will be computerised, in which not only users are linked to data, but where also the world of physical objects will be networked in a complex system of information exchange. Based on technologies such as RFID (radio frequency identification tags), our environment would turn into a space of “ambient intelligence”, interlinking the physical world with that of data space.
Exploring this controversial development, the speakers will illustrate the alarming consequences this might have concerning issues of surveillance and privacy. At the same time, alternative concepts of empowerment from the artistic community will be presented.”
I don’t think so, but it could be changing the way we all think. Nicholas Carr, who is something of a Google-baiter, is more worried and has penned a thought-provoking essay on the subject over at The Atlantic. I knew he was on to something when, although i was deeply interested in the article, I felt like clicking away before finishing the third paragraph.
I resisted temptation and felt all the better for it.
Here’s a taste for those of you so deep in the throes of Google-induced stupor that you can’t get any further:
“The Net’s influence doesn’t end at the edges of a computer screen … As people’s minds become attuned to the crazy quilt of Internet media, traditional media have to adapt to the audience’s new expectations. Television programs add text crawls and pop-up ads, and magazines and newspapers shorten their articles, introduce capsule summaries, and crowd their pages with easy-to-browse info-snippets. When, in March of this year, The New York Times decided to devote the second and third pages of every edition to article abstracts, its design director, Tom Bodkin, explained that the “shortcuts” would give harried readers a quick “taste” of the day’s news, sparing them the “less efficient” method of actually turning the pages and reading the articles. Old media have little choice but to play by the new-media rules.
“Never has a communications system played so many roles in our lives—or exerted such broad influence over our thoughts—as the Internet does today. Yet, for all that’s been written about the Net, there’s been little consideration of how, exactly, it’s reprogramming us. The Net’s intellectual ethic remains obscure.”