Conclusion

Our understanding of space is in flux. The creeping spread of hybrid spaces challenges our relationships with and in space. The evolution of public space over the coming years will question our mediation of reality. Our ‘view of the world’ will continue to be moulded and reshaped by experience but these experiences will be extended into new cybrid realms.

[Please refer to my Bibliography for the sources of quotes.]

Propagated not only by buildings and fixed objects but also by the everyday technologies we carry; cybrid spaces are innately social. They will facilitate an extension of our senses and new means of interaction. This will enable unprecedented levels of cooperation and has the possibility of profoundly changing the way we socially navigate space.

Smart mobs embody such an evolution of our social navigation. As smart mobs we could be in a constant state of collaboration sharing resources and discerning more about our peers and our surroundings than ever before. Unlike the wired Internet, the mobile cybrid information spaces of the coming years will not require expensive equipment, making it open to the majority. Nor will it require significant social adjustment as mobile phone ownership is already widespread and will act as a precursor to the adoption of new technologies.

In coining the ideas of smart mobs and cybrid spaces Rheingold and Anders have given us a lexicon with which we can understand a unique point in our social development. Cybrids, cybrid spaces and smart mobs will not be forms imposed from above; they will not be created by any one company or government; they will emerge from a critical mass of technologies and social practices coming together to radically change how we relate to our environments and each other.

Posted by Sam at April 23, 2004 11:57 AM

2.5 Cybrid Citizens: The advent of the Smart Mob

Already the pace at which we live due to the technological saturation of our daily lives has led to the widening of our social circles. We stay in contact with many more people than ever before and submit to living in a constant potential of being interrupted by carrying communications devices at all times, everywhere we go.

[Please refer to my Bibliography for the sources of quotes.]

These connections are no longer local either. With the rise of cheap travel we are much more likely to keep in contact with those people we meet across the world. Whereas before we would have to write letters and make expensive international phone calls we now send email and text messages and speak in real-time using instant messaging software, which is now enabled with video and sound . Such persistent connections are not as close as those nurtured face-to-face and so although people often view the world in terms of groups, they function in networks.

The change from groups to networks can be seen at many levels. “¦Communities are far-flung, loosely-bounded, sparsely-knit and fragmentary. Most people operate in multiple, thinly connected partial communities as they deal with networks of kin, neighbours, friends, workmates and organisational ties. Rather than fitting into the same group as those around them, each person has his/her own “personal community”. (Wellman, 2001: 227)

Some of these connections may also be temporary. United by common goals people form transitory special interest groups. When augmented by modern communications technologies these groups can take on an epic scale. Recently, rallies against the Iraq War were organised with great effect using the Internet. Cellspace has also proved invaluable in organising large groups of people. On January the 20th 2001 President Joseph Estrada of the Philippines became the first head of state in history to lose power to an army of demonstrators armed solely with mobile phones. Tens of thousands of Manila residents, mobilised and coordinated by waves of text messages, converged on Epifano de los Santas Avenue, known as Edsa, within an hour of the first text message volleys reading “Go 2 EDSA, wear blck”. Over the next four days over a million Filipinos joined the demonstration. Estrada was rapidly ousted from power.

This new fast-paced mobile ad hoc communications phenomenon is described in depth by Howard Rheingold (2002). Rheingold, like Anders, has coined a useful term to denote the emerging behaviours of technologically enabled groups: the ‘smart mob’.

Smart mobs consist of people who are able to act in concert even if they don’t know each other. The people who make up smart mobs cooperate in way never before possible because they carry devices that possess both communications and computing capabilities. (Rheingold, 2002: xii)

It is the combination of increasingly rapid personal communication, cell and cybrid spaces and reputation that is and will continue the evolution of this new social form. This combination is only now beginning to knit and reveal its form making the coming decade a crucial period in which we can decide how we want such social and technological systems to benefit us.

The mobile phone and the proliferation of cellspace offer the first insight into the possibilities smart mobbing will afford. As seen in the Philippines in 2001, at the World Trade Organisation demonstrations in Seattle, in 2000, and most recently in the protests in Madrid after the rail bombings (2004), living in cellspace allows the rapid coordination of large groups through the massive distributed sending of text messages. As in Manila and Madrid, within minutes tens of thousands of people can be on the streets, within days it can be millions.

Such massive cooperation has always been possible but there has simply never before been a means of communication that was as fast, cheap and widespread as the mobile phone. Rheingold notes that researchers at Xerox PARC studying the dynamics of social systems observed that a diversity of cooperation thresholds among a crowd can tip it into a sudden epidemic of cooperation. A minority of extremists might act first and, if conditions are right, their actions can trigger others who needed to see somebody else make the first move, at which point a cascade of others may take their cue. (2002: 174)

Of course sudden epidemics of cooperation are not always as positive as demonstrations against totalitarian regimes or the perpetration of seemingly unjust wars. The lynch mobs of the former Yugoslavia and the involvement of a large part of the population of Rwanda in the perpetration of atrocities are testament to this.

This ‘threshold’ model of cooperative behaviour helps explain the link between ‘intelligent’ cooperative behaviour and the emergent flocking and swarming behaviours of ‘unintelligent’ animals. Thresholds are individual reactions to the dynamics of groups. The key statistic is the proportion of other people who have to act before an individual decides to join them (Granovitter in Rheingold, 2002: 175).

It is worth noting that the cooperative behaviour exhibited en mass in Manila and elsewhere involved a fairly high level of initial motivation followed by a proactive use of mobile phones, fully exploiting cellspace. Part of the reason the smart mobs of Manila, Seattle and Madrid were able to function was that the technology had ceased being a novelty and had permeated their lives to the extent that extending oneself into cellspace was second nature.

As mentioned throughout this chapter a variety of technologies now allow devices to intercommunicate and form ad hoc networks. It is this facility of new technologies that will aid social cooperation on a broader everyday level. When interacting with co-present others in everyday spaces people are not united in clear common goals. This is where smart mob technologies promise extraordinary change. Already used to carrying mobile phones, it is likely we will readily accept their successors, often dubbed ‘smart phones’, that will provide a persistent mediation of our surroundings. Location-based technologies will provide us with information about our immediate surroundings and mobile ad hoc peer-to-peer technologies will provide us with information about the people we come in to contact with. Coupled with this we shall never be without the facility to communicate with the rest of the planet using voice communications or the mobile Internet.

There are a variety of services worldwide that are beginning to offer users the ability to explore new ways of interacting with their environments and other people within their vicinity. Commercial applications such as Dodgeball, ImaHima, Lovegety Mogi, and Node Explore already facilitate smart mob behaviours. They allow users to ascertain information about their location, beyond what is available to them simply in actuality, and allow them to make links with people they would otherwise never be aware of, managing trust and reputation issues along the way.

With many political issues, such as privacy, international monopolies and freedom of speech, the nature of smart mobs remains uncertain, as Rheingold says: ‘Technologies of cooperation or the ultimate disinfotainment apparatus? The next several years are a crucial and unusually malleable interregnum.’ (2002: 215) What we know about the new technologies, how we use them and how we let them be used on society is sure to have implications on how we live and particularly on our social navigation of public space.

Posted by Sam at April 23, 2004 11:55 AM

2.4 Reputation as Your Passport

Reputation is an important factor in our social navigation. When deciding where we consume goods from and which information sources we trust we are faced with trial and error situations. If we have a trusted friend, who can provide advice on where to buy particular goods or services or which newspaper or website to read, we can forego some of our social games and act according to another’s experience.

[Please refer to my Bibliography for the sources of quotes.]

Reputation systems already drive the most successful virtual knowledge transactions. E-Bay, the electronic auctions website, acts as a third-party to users who can sell goods to the highest bidder. Users are encouraged to rate sellers according to the quality of goods and the service they receive. Many participate in rating, overcoming the collective action dilemma, recognising that by contributing a small amount to the system they can receive the benefits of the sum of the contributions: an accurate means of assessing the trustworthiness of sellers.

Purely virtual systems can, and generally must, be egalitarian in offering everyone a chance to rate each other. The most successful example of such a system is the SlashDot, a website about ‘News for Nerds, Stuff that Matters’ (2004), forums. Using a random seed, any user can become a moderator for a short time, awarding high or low ratings to posts. Thus a constantly evolving peer-review drives the reputation system. Such systems are important as users; in fact all users of the Internet have little idea of each other’s identity. The recent explosion of ‘social software’ websites, such as friendster.com, thetribe.net and Google’s Orkut, present a different model. Simply by creating an account and inviting friends to ‘link’ with you a network of social contacts can form. A form of social capital is placed on who knows whom; the connotation is that because you know ‘a’ and ‘a’ knows ‘b’, ‘b’ must be trustworthy. Social software sites generally provide links across three degrees of separation, a ‘friend of a friend of a friend’. What people separated by three degrees have in common and whether they feel the other trustworthy or not is questionable at best. In actual spaces it is very different. Whilst we may consider information from second degree or third degree links, we generally trust the opinions of a select few, the reputation system is much more local. Those people are friends and family we know directly, i.e. separated from us by one degree.

Forming links with others through cybrid face-to-face interactions, as suggested in 2.2, may bring up issues of trust to which there seems two possible reputation-based solutions. A ‘local’ system based purely on the opinions of first-degree links would provide reputation information users know they can trust. Alternatively, following the virtual model feedback could be made available by anyone. This could be organised according to the context and the trustworthiness of the person who gave the feedback. It is also possible for such a system to be distributed across the mobile ad hoc networks that could make up cybrid social space. Schneider et al. describes such a solution as a ‘decentralised reputation framework that uses opportunistic physical encounters to propagate trust data’ (2000: 3). Such data would be continuously shared and updated with the added benefits of an extreme difficulty in feedback being biased and individuals only ever having a general awareness of their reputation.

Such systems provide interesting questions for the future of our social navigation. Reputation could, for example, prove an effective form of distributed policing. Those deemed untrustworthy by communities could find themselves barred from public events such as football matches, concerts and nightclubs. The chances for reform in such cases might therefore be very difficult. Once someone is ‘black marked’ they might find themselves rapidly excommunicated. New systems of class could emerge as, under the guise of positive discrimination, well-behaved students are favoured by universities, and only graduates deemed to have the right sort of reputation are employed by ‘reputable’ firms. Depending on the success of the implementation of distributed reputation systems it could be possible for the introduction of a new technological edge to public relations of ‘reputation management’.

We cannot be certain of the strategies that will emerge in a cybrid society until it is broadly realised there are many hints from existing social theory. Existing Internet-based social systems can already be described in terms of behaviours predicted by theories of ‘game’ and reputation. When coupled with widespread cybrid spaces there can be no doubt that exciting new social phenomena will occur.

Posted by Sam at April 19, 2004 05:37 PM

2.3 The Social Games We Play

The debate over whether cooperation is an exclusively human trait, whether cooperation is a biological strategy employed to ensure genetic reproduction and whether noble concepts of altruism simply cloak an innate but subtle selfishness is too wide for the scope of this work. However the tension between self-interest and cooperation is crucial in understanding how we socially interact.

[Please refer to my Bibliography for the sources of quotes.]

In conversation with Howard Rheingold, Marc A. Smith, research sociologist at Microsoft, suggests ‘If you follow the strands of cooperation, public goods, presentation of self, and reputation you might find they all tie together. “¦Biologists, economists, even nuclear warfare strategists became interested in social games.’ (2002: 31) The ‘public goods’ that Smith highlights are resources ‘”¦from which all may benefit, regardless of whether they helped create [them]’ (31). It is the balancing of public goods against our own self-interest that provides the collective action dilemma. Those people who ignore the balance and choose to benefit from a public good without contributing, or risk depletion through over consumption, are ‘free riders’ or ‘free loaders’. If we all free ride then the public good is not created or is over consumed, in which case we all suffer, as Smith notes: ‘What’s good for you can be bad for us’ (31). The result of an entire population of free riders is the ultimate consumption of public goods, a situation labelled ‘the tragedy of the commons’ by Garret Hardin (1968).

Other people’s performances and weighing up collective action dilemmas combine in a heady mix of ‘bluffing, of little tactics of deception, of asking yourself what is the other man going to think I mean to do’ (Bronowski, 1973, cited in Rheingold, 2002: 41). It is the constant enactment of these tactical games that makes us good ‘mind readers’ (Johnson, 2001) and is described by Game Theory, devised by John von Neumann a contemporary of Einstein at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study and the Manhattan Project.

There were four elements of von Neumann games devised by researchers at the RAND Corporation, in the 1950s: Chicken, Deadlock, Prisoner’s Dilemma and Stag Hunt. These games, told as stories but equally represented by complex mathematical formulae, were used, and have been developed, in fields as diverse as economics, predicting markets, and nuclear warfare simulation.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma game has been integrated into a multitude of research practices since its initial definition and is the most relevant to social navigation. The game can be described thus: Two men have been charged with a joint violation of the law and they are held separately and are unable to communicate. Each ‘prisoner’ is told that the prisoner who testifies will be released and their partner will be sentenced to three years. If both prisoners testify the will both receive a two-year sentence. If neither testifies they will both receive a one-year sentence. Part of the theory of the game is that each player is only interested in his own welfare. Therefore the two prisoners are faced with a choice of cooperation or defection. (Rheingold, 2002: 42) There is then a mathematical relationship between the payoffs for the players. The temptation payoff (T) for defecting is greater than the reward payoff (R) for mutual cooperation; which is greater than the punishment payoff (P) for mutual defection; all of which are greater than the ‘sucker’s’ (S) payoff for cooperating when the other player defects. Equated thus T>R>P>S, the relationship is usually presented in a table, see Figure 2.1.

B cooperates B defects
A cooperates 2,2 0,3
A defects 3,0 1,1

Figure 2.1 (Rheingold, 2002: 43) The outcomes of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Each outcome results in a sentence given, in years, in the form A,B.

The application of the Prisoner’s Dilemma to how we make our decisions on when to cooperate and when to be selfish demonstrates how we weigh up collective action dilemmas. Prisoner’s Dilemmas are rarely played once; iterative versions of the game are crucial to learning who is trustworthy.

When considering new collaborative systems, such as those made possible by cybrid spaces, the Prisoner’s Dilemma becomes crucial in defining the terms of interaction to promote the emergence of cooperation. Systems in which cooperation is not fostered become weak and can easily be compromised. The majority of users of peer-to-peer file sharing networks, such as Kazaa and Gnutella, free ride, leeching free music from a small minority. This has meant that covert ‘saboteur’ accounts set up by record companies have been extremely successful in propagating ‘dummy’ files, making it very difficult to be certain of the quality of what is being downloaded. Greater payoffs for cooperation or design systems that take advantage of selfish behaviour will be an important consideration in designing applications for the augmentation of face-to-face encounters.

Collaboration is not only about cooperation, when considering larger numbers of participants it is also about coordination. Coordination problems in large social groups do not involve Prisoner’s Dilemmas they involve collective monitoring and sanctioning. Chewe (2001) claims that public rituals are not just about top-down communication but also about many-to-many communication. Everyone in a group then knows who else is contributing, free riding and even policing to solve the coordination problems.

Such coordination problems are mirrored in nature as demonstrated by Steven Johnson’s ‘Emergence’ (2001). Complex behaviours such as insect swarms and bird flocks are simply the result of many individual decisions based on simple common rules, such as avoiding collision and travelling in roughly the same direction. Similar behaviour is exhibited in human crowds such as football supporters in a large stadium chanting the same words or stamping their feet in time.

In societies where there will be increasing numbers of opportunities to cooperate with others through personal communication technologies forming ad hoc cybrid links we will be making judgements on who to trust constantly. Of course once we have decided whom we trust we share that information with those we know. Networks of reputation form as a result of our judgements, making reputation an important part of a cybrid society.

Posted by Sam at April 19, 2004 05:36 PM

2.2 Personal Area Connections

We all have a natural desire to establish personal spaces. We buy homes, we have offices and we sit certain distances apart from other passengers on public transport. In an increasingly crowded and mobile society we spend most of our waking lives in the personal spaces we construct for ourselves in transit, whether walking down the street, sitting on a train or driving a car. When spending such large amounts of time in transitory personal spaces it is inevitable that cracks appear in the public façade with which we present ourselves.

[Please refer to my Bibliography for the sources of quotes.]

Erving Goffman describes this facade as a ‘performance’ to those around us in public spaces. We present a ‘front stage’, which is the performance we put on for the outside world. We hide elements of our true selves ‘back stage’. Goffman noted that however polished the ‘front stage’ performance there is an uncontrolled leakage of elements of our true selves, from ‘back stage’ (1984: 109-114). The information that does get through is called ‘stigma’ by Goffman and is the attributes that mark out an individual’s emotional and social status. It is our ability to pick up these clues that make us the successful ‘mind readers’ Johnson (2001) suggests.

The shrinking of our personal spaces to those we create in transit, and the majority of time we now spend in these transitory spaces, has resulted in an increase in the stigma we give-off inadvertently. This has been accentuated by the arrival of mobile personal communications devices, as highlighted by many people’s dislike of public mobile phone users (Ibid. 5). The stigma that are picked up by co-present others may not relate to interactions in the actual environment. As people can be continuously connected to their virtual social groups many alienate themselves from others in public spaces.

The space in which our social interactions occur is a very local one. Goffman (1984) labelled this the ‘Interaction Order’. Modern mobile communications devices are increasingly equipped with Bluetooth and other short-range radio frequency devices that create a sphere of connectivity within the immediate vicinity of the user. Rheingold equates this wireless 12ft information bubble around wearable computer users as a physical model of Goffman’s interaction order (2002: 171). Paul Rankin of Philips Research Laboratories describes these cybrid bubbles as ‘aura’.

Devices we carry are increasingly linking up to share our information, for example mobile phones can share address books with PDAs and laptops. The need for devices to connect to each other within our aura has led to the development of ‘personal area’ networking. Personal Area Networks (PANs) are low power, low range wireless networks that provide connectivity among devices within the aura space (Kortuem et al. 2001: 1). Thus our personal spaces become cybrid, and with that comes the augmentation of the information we give-off. PANs will augment our local interactions by allowing us to share information with any passer-by. When aura overlap, devices will be able to share information about users allowing matching algorithms to run for a variety of contexts, such as personal interests and common acquaintances. The ability of our PANs ‘to establish communication links among devices during a face-to-face encounter can be used to facilitate, augment or even promote face-to-face interaction’ (Kortuem et al. 2001: 3). Such ‘impromptu collaboration’ (Kortuem et al. 2001: 3), using only the devices we normally carry, allows the sharing of resources such as music and contacts and promotes conversation and cooperation with others with similar interests we would not otherwise meet.

Such an invisible bubble that stretches before us as we go about our lives could remove much of the guesswork around gathering basic information about others and leave us to engage in the higher order interpretation and reasoning at which we are so good. Of course all of this relies on all parties being similarly trustworthy. It is calculating whom we can trust and then sharing that information in the form of reputation that is an important building block on which mobile peer-to-peer networks shall be based.

Posted by Sam at April 19, 2004 05:24 PM

2.1 People Powered

Navigating information is an activity that is taking up an increasing amount of people’s lives. Information is imbued in the environment around us, both actual and virtual. We understand the spaces in which we live through our knowledge of specific things and activities and, more frequently, through the application of our general understanding of the systems and approaches that form modern society. Increasing numbers of the new spaces we must navigate are not experienced alone. Therefore it is asking directions of others and interpretation of how others use and behave in a space that aids our navigation of new spaces. This is social navigation: a continuous inquiry into how others navigate a space.

[Please refer to my Bibliography for the sources of quotes.]

Although a comparatively recent development in computing theory and practice social navigation is an important and basic strategy for navigation we use daily. However, on the desktop computer we are rarely asked to employ such navigation strategies. In many cases, when visiting a website the user is not aware of anyone else using the same website. The World Wide Web (WWW) is structured as an exclusive resource. Hypertext draws upon the paradigm of the printed page, whose navigation is an overtly individual experience; we don’t communally read. Publishers of websites provide navigation suggestions in the form of link pages, listing hyperlinks that may be of interest to the reader. Whilst there is a social element insofar as the links are recommendations from one user to another, the reader has no indication of how useful other users found the links.

In actual spaces people may navigate from maps, but often ask directions or simply follow a crowd. For example, train stations are equipped with many navigation aids such as signs and bulletin boards and yet a common way to find platforms and exits is simply to follow the crowd. Martin Svensson notes: ‘This direct and indirect interaction with other people can be thought of as social navigation, that is, in order to navigate the information space people communicate with other inhabitants of the space’ (1998: 76). Therefore, as Svensson suggests, it is possible to identify two categories of social navigation: direct social navigation and indirect social navigation.

The sheer amount of information available to us now on a constant 24-hour basis has led to a dazzling and confusing array of rumour, fact and conjecture. We therefore place great importance on filtering information. We trust editors to filter information in newspapers and on news broadcasts and we increasingly trust online journalists to filter information in the form of weblogs. We trust friends to recommend products and services and, finally, we learn by trial and error where to find good sources of information.

Whilst we are capable of automating content-based filtering, searching content for keywords and attributes, such filtering is dependent on other users accurately describing content and understanding words to have the same meaning as we attribute to them. This can produce results with varying degrees of success and accuracy. Social filtering has been proposed and implemented to combat such problems. Social filtering, such as the Amazon.com recommendation system, ‘recommends information based on what other people with similar tastes like or dislike’ (Svensson, 1998: 83). Collectively known as ‘recommender systems’, services such as Amazon’s ‘Other people who bought [this] also bought [these]’ track every user’s habits as a profile. For such systems to work a rating system must employed. Ratings can be either implicit, such as time spent reading a certain page, or explicit, a score given by the user. Thus websites do not rely on futuristic Artificial Intelligence, they are people powered.

The benefits of recommender systems are that information is filtered according to quality rather than content and many systems work simply by users navigating the website. Thus, users feel they are getting something for nothing. However, as Svensson points out, there are two dilemmas with recommender systems. Firstly, input and ratings are imperative for a recommender system to work. When the service first starts there are little or no ratings to work with and so recommendations may be poor. Secondly, it is very difficult to get users to offer unbiased ratings once it is clear that many others before them have rated an object highly. Similarly it is difficult to get users to rate a low-rated object at all once several people have rated the object poorly. (1998: 84) Recently it was revealed that many authors anonymously reviewed their own books on several of the Amazon websites (Smith, 2004), highlighting the fact that many social navigation tools rely on an element of trust, which can be broken.

In cybrid spaces recommender systems, based not only on virtual interactions but also actual interactions, may not suffer some of the problems of purely virtual systems. Trust issues may be partly answered in location-based peer-to-peer systems by the simple fact that users must be fairly close to one another. Similarly, once people are close to each other they do not have to rely simply on virtual social navigation clues. Humans are extremely adept at recognising and interpreting the continuous stream of information we each give off in the form of body language, facial gestures and many other signals. Steven Johnson equates this to ‘mind reading’ as we innately guess other people’s mental states (2001: 196). It is within such close proximity to other people that much of our cybrid social navigation will take place.

Posted by Sam at April 19, 2004 05:22 PM

1.5 Cybrid: Reaching a Common Lexicon

It has become clear that there are many terms for the hybrid spaces that are emerging in many places across society. In understanding such spaces it is important to have a common frame of reference, a common lexicon. I will seek to reach such a lexicon.

[Please refer to my Bibliography for the sources of quotes.]

Perhaps one of the most advanced models of hybrid space that has emerged is that of the cyber-hybrid or Cybrid’ of Peter Anders.

Digital technology blurs the distinction between the sensory and the mediated world”¦ The computer is a symbiosis of hardware and software. We can touch the mouse and keyboard, but we can’t see the software. Hardware is palpable, software is not. Yet one is inoperable without the other. The computer then is a hybrid of complex entities. Each has its own level of existence, ontologically, with respect to the user, although they are mutually dependant on each other. Such dependencies between material and electronic entities have great implications for the arts industrial design and architecture. [Anders has] “¦written elsewhere on this relationship – particularly between physical and cyberspace in design … and uses the term Cybrid to denote it. (Anders, 2001: 60)

Figure 1
Figure 1. (Anders, 2001: 60) A revised illustration of the continuum between concrete objects – understood in this work to be Actual objects and abstract data, understood to be Virtual objects. Cybrids are a union of Actual and Virtual, residing in the middle ground of the continuum.

Anders describes a Cybrid, or Cyber-Hybrid, as an object that is a fusion of actuality and virtuality concentrated in a fixed point in space. As can be seen in Figure 1, a Cybrid is a link in a continuum between concrete objects, actuality, and abstract data, virtuality. Rather than a distinct line existing between the actual and the virtual there is a borderland, a transition in the continuum, in which new spatial entities, Cybrids, exist.

Figure 2
Figure 2. (Anders, 2001: 61) A revised illustration of the progressive union of physical space – understood in this work to be Actuality – and electronic space – understood to be Virtuality.

According to Anders’ model, incorporating the concept of Cybrid into our definitions of space results in three distinct types of spatial entity, as seen in Figure 2. The first, not a Cybrid, shows a complete separation between the actual and the virtual – a typical example would be an office with a computer network. The second shows an overlapping of the actual and virtual, allowing a leakage of data in to the actual. Anders notes that an office with a teleconferencing facility is an example of this ‘partial’ Cybrid, Cellspace would also be a wider reaching and less architectural example. Finally, the third entity is a complete overlap, a true Cybrid. Again, Anders cites an example of a building, this time with a security system that can be accessed both physically, in place, and virtually, perhaps remotely.

Anders’ concept of Cybrid is particularly useful as it marries together the actual and the virtual explicitly in one term, rather than resting in the ambiguity of ‘hybrid space’, ‘mixed reality’ or ‘augmented space’. Perhaps owing to his background in architecture Anders seems unwilling to address models of space; rather he deftly skirts the issue by changing the emphasis from the nature of space to objects that demonstrate its hybrid properties. Not unlike the dilemma faced by the early researchers of Quantum Physics we are faced with a problem of duality. Matter can be observed as a particle or a wave depending on how one seeks to measure it. Such indeterminacy at the basic level of actuality highlights our constant mediation of our ‘view of the world’. In 1927 Werner Heisenberg – one of those who helped form our understanding of subatomic particles and thus derive a quantum theory of matter – stated: “The conventional division of the world into subject and object, into inner and outer world”¦ is no longer applicable”. Thus, anything in our reality can be described as both a discreet object and a condition of space it inhabits. Elementary quantum particles such as Protons or Electrons can be both a particle and a wave depending on how you measure them.

I propose that Cybrid can be both a description of an object and a description of a state of space. Cybrids can be both an object such as a building – with many sensors encapsulating a virtual entity that exists in harmony with its actual partner – or a space – with additional ‘layers’ of data flowing through and enhancing it. It simply depends on the focus of inquiry, when measuring fixed objects; such as buildings it is useful to consider the building a Cybrid. However, sensors and communications chips are now embedded in to more mobile objects. Mobile phones and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) include such sophisticated technologies as standard. When Cybrids move from being fixed objects such as buildings to manifestations of temporary ad hoc networks creating clouds of data around crowds of ‘smart’ mobile phone and PDA users who or what is the Cybrid? Is it a single phone or PDA? Is the network of all of the constituent devices? Or, is it the people who happen to be walking near each other allowing their devices to form the ad hoc network?

In cases such as the ambiguous mobile ad hoc networks or even networks of devices about a single person, Personal Area Networks (PANs), I suggest it is more useful to consider the surrounding space as having Cybrid properties, thus the space is Cybrid. Just as with the quantum world, measuring something outside of experiential reality depends on how one chooses to measure or observe it. With the nature of personal communications set to continue down a mobile and personalised path it is highly likely that temporary, ad hoc networks will be common place. In the near future many of our spaces will be Cybrid spaces.

As Howard Rheingold notes in his recent ‘Smart Mobs’ (2002), once chips, capable of autonomous wireless communication, disappear into the furniture and our environment, ‘odd’ new things become possible. Our environments are increasingly imbued with information that could better inform our everyday decisions. I suggest that as ‘Cybrid’ can act as a common term for describing such spaces it should prove popular the more it is needed.

As intimated by Rheingold’s descriptions of ‘disappearing chips’, Cybrid space has profound social implications. Social Cybrid spaces shall be the norm, whether open or private; commercial or public we shall all have to deal with the cybrid nature of space in the coming century. Consequently, I shall examine existing methods of social navigation of space in the next chapter and explore how they might aid how we learn to live and adapt to Cybrid spaces.

Posted by Sam at April 5, 2004 05:11 PM

1.4 Augmented Space

It seems many theorists and practitioners are identifying a coming convergence of several seemingly unrelated technologies into a critical mass that will spawn a widespread revolution in our experience of space.

[Please refer to my Bibliography for the sources of quotes.]

As Lev Manovich explains:

The 1990s were about the virtual. We were fascinated by new virtual spaces made possible by computer technologies. The images of an escape into a virtual space that leaves the physical space useless and of cyberspace – a virtual world that exists in parallel to our world – dominated the decade”¦ By the end of the decade, the daily dose of cyberspace”¦ became such a norm that the original wonder of cyberspace so present in the early cyberpunk fiction of the 1980s and still evident in the original manifestos of VRML evangelists of the early 1990s was almost completely lost”¦ It is quite possible that this decade of the 2000s will turn out to be about the physical – that is, physical space filled with electronic and visual information. (2002)

Such a critical mass is made possible by the market economy. As technologies become more widespread they become mass-produced and thus become extremely cheap to produce. So cheap, in fact, that it has allowed numerous areas of research and development to become more economical. Where they were progressing at a painfully slow pace for years they are now accelerating because sufficient computation and communication capabilities have become affordable. These projects originated from different fields but are now converging on the same boundary between the actual and the virtual. (Rheingold, 2002: 84)

Although it is clear now that they are all related to the promotion and creation of pervasive hybrid spaces there are a bewildering number of labels for the research activities that are approaching the same goal, from a variety of angles. These include Ubiquitous Computing at Xerox PARC (and many others), Tangible Interfaces at the MIT MediaLab, Wearable Computing – principally at the University of Oregon, Context-aware Computing at the MIT MediaLab and the Georgia Institute of Technology and Smart Rooms/Objects, also at the MIT MediaLab.

Whilst there is an array of in-depth descriptions for every one of these research activities, highlighting their various nuances, it is possible to gather them all under the popular blanket term ‘Mixed Reality’. However, the ambiguity of a term based on a concept of reality could result in engaging in extensive philosophical discourse outside the bounds of this work. A term more specific to the exploration of hybrid spaces can be suggested as ‘Augmented Space’. Augmented Space, coined by Lev Manovich (2002), is in itself a derivative of another very specific field: Augmented Reality, which Manovich explains is opposed to ‘virtual reality’ (VR). With a typical VR system, all the work is done in a virtual space; physical space becomes unnecessary and its vision is completely blocked. In contrast, AR systems help the user to do the work in a physical space by augmenting it with additional information.

When mobile phone ownership grew faster than many expected, it became clear that there were definite commercial prospects for the development of ‘lifestyle’ products that could take advantage of society’s positive acceptance of living in Cellspace. It is important to note that ideas of human augmentation are not new; in fact Augmented Space research has produced ideas similar to those that helped spawn computer culture. Douglas Engelbardt envisioned a concept of a computer augmenting human intellect 40 years ago. However, Engelbardt’s ideas and the
related visions of Vannevar Bush assumed a stationary user – a scientist or engineer working in his office. Revolutionary for their time, these ideas anticipated the paradigm of desktop computing. Today, however, we are gradually moving into the next paradigm where computing and telecommunication are delivered to an untethered, mobile user. (Manovich, 2002)

The research departments and companies with a background in engineering that gave birth to our understanding of virtual worlds, through the invention of the personal computer and the Internet, are the institutions and companies that look to be shaping our emerging augmented space. One of the most prominent companies in helping realise our new spaces is Intel. In February 2002 the Chief Technology Officer of Intel announced that in the near future his company would include radio communications technology in every chip it manufactures.

Producing some of the most influential academics in the field of Augmented Space research, the MediaLab at MIT has a very clear understanding of where such research is heading. This is outlined by the Academic Head of the MediaLab, Alex Pentland, who identifies a deep divide between the world of bits, Virtuality, and the world of atoms, Actuality. Machines currently have no senses; they do not see nor hear. They are not aware of us unless we explicitly instruct them. Therefore only experts use machines to their full potential and even they must mediate such use through very specific programming languages. Pentland explains his research goals as merging the actual and virtual more closely by giving machines perceptual abilities. This might result in machines recognising faces, understanding when people are happy or sick and perceive common working environments. ‘Roughly, it is making machines know who, what, where, when and why, so that devices that surround us can respond more appropriately and helpfully’ (2004). Such research is producing ‘Smart Rooms’ and ‘Smart Clothes’ that are perceptually-aware and allow exploration of diverse applications in health care, entertainment and many other areas. It is probably still too early to tell whether or not such products will be successful, however one thing seems certain: there are many research groups both academic and commercial working towards the creation of devices that will create augmented spaces. We need no longer question how such technologies and spaces will be made but when.

We surely must expect profound movement in our perception of the spaces in which we live when such evolution of the spaces in which we live occurs. When spaces themselves respond to our constant interaction the mental construct that has remained relatively unchallenged for millennia will be drastically and irrevocably broken and recombined. Thus, in our cellspaces, we are in the first throes of a landslide of technological and social change that will gather momentum over the coming decade as more Augmented Space technologies emerge.

Posted by Sam at February 29, 2004 06:58 PM

1.3 Heterotopias, Drifting and other Social Products

It is important to stress that considering the extension of our models of space is not the sole reserve of scientists. There are several noteworthy cultural theorists from the arts and philosophy whose writings augment our understanding of actual and virtual space.

[Please refer to my Bibliography for the sources of quotes.]

In the 20th Century, several theorists have enabled us to move beyond our Cartesian-bias in to a deeper understanding of space and ‘our view of the world’. Post-Cartesian space is a model in flux that is supported by Foucault’s heterotopias, the social sensitivities of Lefebvre and the dérive of the Situationist International (SI) – particularly Guy Debord and Asger Jorn. Although most of these ideas were conceptualised before the advent of computers and the Internet – let alone mobile phones – they bring philosophical and social insight into the exploration of our new hybrid spaces.

The global exploration of the last century highlighted many similarities, as well as many differences, between the various cultures that populate our planet. As Foucault points out, an interesting commonality is that:

There are”¦probably in every culture”¦ real places – places that don’t exist and that are formed in the very founding of society – which are something like counter sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which “¦ all the other real sites that can be found within the culture are simultaneously represented, contested and inverted. Places of this kind are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality. (1967: 2)

Such counter sites are completely different from all of the actual sites they encompass and reflect. They are in complete contrast to the modern concept of one common vision of a perfect form, utopia, held by many to the extent that Foucault termed them ‘Heterotopias’, many visions of a common place juxtaposing and coming together to form a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Thus it can be said that our common hybrid spaces are a perfect realisation of heterotopias created through modern technology. Just as in cellspace and augmented space, Foucault asserts that the heterotopia is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place, several spaces that are in themselves incompatible. He gives the example of the theatre as, over the course of a production, the stage is transformed in to consecutive places that are foreign to one another. This is not unlike maintaining multiple conversations between cellspace and actual space. Palen et al. (2001) highlight the theories of Erving Goffman explaining that people subconsciously assume different ‘faces’ and that the interleaving of multiple activities necessitates assuming multiple public faces. There can be conflicts between the different faces assumed for the remote and local activities. This is central to what those who dislike public mobile telephone use find disturbing or even offensive.

With the continued explosion of urban living across the planet most people’s view of the world and their understanding of space rests firmly in the man-made: the city. For some, the reality of such living, the imposition of a common model of space from above, was unacceptable. Methods and strategies were formed to reinterpret common space. One such practice is the dérive – literally ‘drifting’ – “a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances.” (Debord, 1958: 1) Dérives, or drifts, “”¦were radical rereadings of the city”¦ They linked the city’s ‘chunks’ in new ways, creating a subcultural knowledge versed as much in radicalism and literature as in the distillations of guidebooks and geography.” (Sadler, 1998: 99) Therefore, drifting affords participants a completely new view of the spaces they inhabit, often shared, arguably resulting in a heterotopic view of space. The similarities between dérives and modern practices spawned by mobile phone usage become apparent. Just as “”¦from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into and exit from certain zones.” (Debord, 1958: 1) mobile phone users follow currents of data flow and signal strength. Like dérive participants, the inhabitants of cellspace increasingly allow mood and circumstance to dictate their actions. Whereas with fixed point telephone access meetings are pre-arranged, with a set time and place, mobile phone users allow meetings to evolve. Vague times and places may be suggested and details are established and agreed in transit, thus the practice of approximeeting has emerged.

We see then, that models of space are inextricably intertwined with social activity, as Lefebvre notes, “at once the medium and the outcome of social being”¦ simultaneously mental and material, work and product – such that social relations have no real existence except in and through space.” (Borden et al. 2001: 6) Our emerging hybrid spaces are also therefore social products, as can be seen in the emergence of cellspace. All of our hybrid spaces in the future will fundamentally rely on this relationship. Unlike the very individual experiences of early virtual reality, augmented space is social space and therefore social strategies for interaction and navigation, explored in chapter 2, will become as important in our new hybrid spaces as they are in actuality.

Posted by Sam at February 28, 2004 03:04 PM