Space is the medium that we live in. Ubiquitous data flows are invisible in Space but are re-shaping it.
The last years of the 20th Century were obsessed with the idea of virtual reality. Whilst head mounted immersive displays are still very rare we did succeed in building cyberspace, a virtual world of accessible data. The early years of the 21st Century are all about the rematerialisation of the virtual, making data flows visible and embedding them into the fabric of our environments. The dream of ubiquitous and pervasive computing is of spaces that are fluid, dynamic, multi dimensional, responsive and smart. Urban futures planners have to imagine cities where the flow of data is interwoven with the flows of people, traffic and money.
These dreams are taking shape through the range of technologies and techniques deployed in the Cookbook’s recipes. Data can be made available in space through a range of delivery devices including the mobile phone, tablet computer, headphones, smart clothing, interactive projections and ‘tangible embedded interfaces’, touchable sound or vision outputs in everyday objects such as street furniture, multi touch tables or smart objects. These delivery devices are able to call data from servers (‘the cloud’) or from one another at increasingly high speed through the wireless networks that are creating a whole new way of mapping and experiencing space. Wireless network ‘cells’ are a new way of understanding space and the network surfers huddled in doorways using a free network are its messengers. Moreover display devices are also input devices – not merely of text but of vision, sound, movement, position and physiological states. This sensor generated data can be sent to other individuals or to aggregating services like Flickr for Photographs or Foursquare for positioning. Finally we are on the cusp of further intensification of rematerialisation as actuator technologies refine the potential for data signals to have mechanical effects through turning signal into motion. So in the near future signals from your phone could control operations in some distant robotic device. If Only explores these new connectivities between device and mechanics in the puzzles that form the core of the experience.
One of the consequences of these developments is that space becomes data in a new way. Of course space has been ‘mapped’ for a very long time. This process represents space as textual information. The affordances of the Geo Positioning System (GPS) represent space as data so that every co ordinate can have a locatable data address. A development that has quickly become naturalised through GPS traffic navigation devices in fact has profound implications for our experience of space. In the past if you wanted to communicate information relating to space you could put up a sign, make a map, publish a guidebook or make an audio walk. Now any amount of data of many different kinds, tourist information, advertising, social information, educational materials or art, can be digitally attached to a space. Prisoner Escape From the Tower, Our Broken Voice, Fortnight and Gorillaz: Escape to Plastic Beach are all projects in the Cookbook that exploit and develop these new possibilities for experiencing space.
So our experience of space now has the potential to be augmented in new ways. Our Euclidian sense of the everyday geometry of space is overlaid with multi dimensional data possibilities from traffic and weather data to commercial and creative applications. Anyone involved in engagement with public space, city authorities, developers, planners, architects, designers, artists, and community organizations all have to engage with this newly augmented potential of space if they want to maximize their civic or commercial goals. The lived experience of data space may itself start to change what those goals are. The Pervasive Media city is also the Invasive Media environment: our engagement with our smart devices within the surveillance and wireless urban mesh provides involuntary data about our whereabouts and our behaviours raising important issues of privacy, voluntary data invisibility, or the need for just simple peace and quiet. Moreover data density is never going to be consistent across urban environments, the overlay will be thickest around nodes of wealth and control, absent in ghettoes and wastelands.
Any approach to space is also an approach to ‘the public’ since space is our common element. Public space is already regulated for civic and commercial good in all kinds of ways, from sewage systems upwards. It seems likely that the experience designers of the future will also have to be grappling with the space as a public good subject to multiple interests that require co ordination if they are to achieve the aims of producing convivial and sustainable environments for human beings and the insatiable data appetites of their networks.