Some perspectives on urban computing

Dourish, P., Anderson, K., & Nafus, D. (2007) Cultural Mobilities: Diversity and Agency in Urban Computing, Proc. IFIP Conf. Human-Computer Interaction INTERACT 2007 (Rio De Janiero, Brazil). This article is a comprehensive critique of mobile computing in the city that has been construed quite narrowly. the authors criticized urban computing applications, and the underlying vision of urban and mobility they convey. Some excerpts:

"The narrowness of both the site and “the users,” we will argue, has meant that mobile and urban computing have been driven by two primary considerations. The first is how to “mobilize” static applications (...) The second is how to provide people with access to resources in unfamiliar spaces, the “where am I?” approach, as manifested in context-aware applications (...) While these applications clearly meet needs, they fail to take the urban environment on its own terms; they are based on the idea that urban life is inherently problematic, something to be overcome, in comparison to the conventional desktop computing scenario."

The view on mobility they propose is oriented by 3 principles that can help opening up the design space for urban computing: (1) Mobility takes many forms (different type of journey, different means of transport) (2) Movement in space is more than going from A to B (3) People move individually but collectively produce flows of people/goods, etc. that serve to structure and organize space

As described in the conclusion:

"To that end, our criticisms of much (certainly not all) of conventional urban applications of ubiquitous computing are that, first, they construe the city as a site for consumption, organizing it in terms of available resources; second, that they reflect only very narrowly the breadth of urban experience, focusing on particular social groups (generally young and affluent); third, that they focus on individual experience and interaction, rather than helping people connect and respond to the larger cultural patterns and urban flows within which they are enmeshed. "

They also present 4 areas of research into mobile computing: mobility as a disconnection (i.e. how to get a mobile access to information), the problem of dislocation (i.e. wayfinding and resource location), disruption (i.e. how context-sensitivity might provide contextualized service/filter) and locative media. While the first three categories focus on "mobility as a problem", locative media is more appealing to them because it takes "mobility as an opportunity".

Why do I blog this? This is the sort of remarks/principles that I like being expressed because it resonates a lot with my own thoughts about urban/mobile computing, and the underlying issues propelled by designers of these applications.