[iDC] re: Architecture and Situated Technologies - September Overture

Anne Galloway anne at plsj.org
Thu Sep 14 11:09:33 EDT 2006

Thanks Mark for your thoughtful introduction to the September 
discussions.  I've been following with great interest since I introduced 
myself in July, and now I'd like to share and begin to explore some 
things that have particularly resonated with me.

You mention the "current status of the material object [and] forms of 
embodied interaction" and I've often thought about this 'return' to the 
body and the physical after the (failed?) promises of cyberspace 
disembodiment.  In other words, I see a kind of re-embodiment ethos at 
work right now in research, art and design practice, and a re-newed 
commitment to the material.  In some ways, then, it seems that the 
pendulum of technological desire has merely swung to the other side.

Since my first two degrees are in anthropology and archaeology I also 
have a special interest in material culture.  Coupled with my doctoral 
work in social studies of science and technology, I find this question 
of materiality to be rather persistent in my research.  If you'll 
forgive my self-referencing, Matt Ward and I wrote a paper recently 
about some intersections we saw between archaeology and locative media 


and I continue to imagine a possible future where complex legal battles 
are being fought over the cultural repatriation of digital artefacts <grin>

I mean, I sometimes wonder if our pervasive computing collections (we 
_are_ still talking databases) will more closely resemble the British 
Museum (http://www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/) or the City Reliquary 

I also wonder about a current fetishising of 'things'.  Or how can we 
'return to the object' without privileging objectivity?  I really 
disliked the phrase 'the internet of things' when I first heard it, but 
I've since embraced it as a rather lovely manifestation of a type of 
contemporary commodity fetishism.  Earlier this year I gathered links on 
the historical development and use of the phrase, and it's not difficult 
to trace its movements--its inscription devices--from academic-industry 
research partnerships to popular business and technology publications to 
popular blogs and back to academic-industry research partnerships. 


You may note in that cycle I just described there was no mention of 
particular technologies, or rather no mention of pervasive computing 
devices.  I think that the material status of 'pervasive computing' 
today can be profitably distinguished from the material dreams of 'the 
internet of things'.  (The _things_ we're talking about are different in 
each case.)  In actuality, most embedded computing today is used for 
surveillance/monitoring or 'consumer convenience' and _not_ for 
participatory media production.  I guess my point is that pervasive 
computing in its most banal and mundane expressions is by definition 
dull and boring.  It's the Oyster card used on the Tube every day, the 
fingerprint scan to get into the office, the rfid tag stuck on the 
broom.  But that's also _everyday life_ and sometimes boredom is just 
what people want and need. Plus, I try to never underestimate how 
inventive people are when it comes to finding hope and joy in small things.

I think that David Lyon got it right when he described surveillance as 
'social sorting,' even if his sense of the social was too humanist for 
my taste.  The sorts of structured and stored monitoring necessary for 
context-aware computing are also matters of spatial and cultural sorting 
(inclusion and exclusion).  I find that we're still not very clear on 
these notions of 'publics' or 'communities' either, or rather that 
people are working with a multitude of different understandings that are 
often glossed over in conversation.  Add to this the matter of 
matter--or things--and we're in a downright voluptuous state, where 
_things_ often don't co-operate. 

So we induce, we create, places where it's easy to associate only with 
those who share our interests and values, where it's easy to avoid being 
accountable to, and for, precisely those interests and values that we do 
not share.  And all despite the fact that we pass different others--move 
through spaces together--every day!  (I guess that does trouble me.)  At 
the same time, I'm not sure it's productive to essentially reframe this 
social and cultural discussion in terms of public and private.  I'm not 
sure that dichotomy is either reliable or useful beyond helping me 
understand the everyday movements in-between...

In any case, I do continue to focus my work on how we are (re?)imagining 
our being-together in mobility--and I'm looking forward to our 
continuing discussions and to meeting some of you at the symposium.

Kind regards,

Anne Galloway
Dept. of Sociology & Anthropology
7th Floor, Loeb Building
Carleton University
1125 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada K1S 5B6


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