Personal ubiquity

It took me a while to digest Janne’s post on why ubicomp is a broken concept, mostly because on principal I tend to disagree. It’s also a bit in response to Tom Coates’s altered version of his talk with Matt Jones that he gave at Foocamp called “Personal Informatics”.

Firstly I think the starting point for thinking about ubiquitous spaces, objects etc is not necessarily that they are meant to be smarter, but perhaps more that they are meant to report better. Not smart, just less dumb :) Andy’s house is the obvious example of this. I think there is tremendous interest at the moment about being able to gather more efficiently stuff that is just lying around, invisible and not particularily useful. Innovation often comes from taking things we know and mashing them up with things we didn’t know we didn’t know. Someone pointed out the other day that we’re ultimately creeping towards AI with all these “clever” systems, but I think it might just be the reverse, we still hold the brain, we’ve just outsourced the synapses.

Also I think there are plenty of areas to think about in regards to the results of ubiquitous systems, information and data. One of the most important things, in my opinion has to do with evaluating the amount of behavioral or operational change based on the digestion and synthesis of all this data. It’s no use collecting the temperature and light levels inside a building if it isn’t with the aim to perfect your heating system or prevent collective seasonal depression for eg. Even on a personal basis, its no use me being able to monitor my heartrate everyday, because it only puts me in the “now”, an ephemeral place of thought and decision-making. One thing about technology, is that it tends to make people generally lazy about their levels of commitment. Perhaps we should push instead for the development of technologies and applications that encourage people to invest time and effort in an activity (think Honey we’re killing the kids).

Furthermore, what’s interesting about this idea of personal ubiquity is that some of it could possibly be shared online, so no longer relying on a sturdy and professional infrastructure other than the internet itself. Seeing people play around with Pachube and the Ethernet Arduino shield, makes things really exciting.

All in all I think the ubicomp ideas of the future will be more personal, more persuasive and lighter than what we’ve seen so far.

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Founder of designswarm & the Good Night Lamp. Ex CEO of Tinker London, Head of Bulb Labs till May 2019.

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