Underground Aesthetics: Rethinking Urban Computing

Yesterday I came across this terrific piece of research (pdf).

Situation: We usually see mobility as a (research) problem. So we design applications:

  • For accessing info “anytime, anywhere” (When we view mobility as disconnection)
  • For helping users to find interesting nearby restaurants (When mobility involves being “out of place” or lost)
  • That respond to contextual cues. For example, a mobile that sets “itself automatically to vibrate mode in a theatre”. (When we view mobility as disruption)

Proposal: Some local folk (Arianna Bassoli of LSE and Karen Martin of UCL) and some folk on the other side of the pond (Johanna Brewer and Paul Dourish of UCI and Scott Mainwaring of Intel) propose to depart from our habit of viewing mobility as a problem. By contrast, they encourage designers of mobile applications to profit from movement and space. To prove the point, they have designed undersound – a music application that consists of three parts:
“1) A mobile phone client lets both emerging musicians and audiophiles wirelessly upload their tracks at upload points inside the Underground station ticket halls.
2) This same phone application lets users download tracks from download points on the train platforms as well as from other users in proximity.
3) The phone application stores metadata from each music exchange, which the upload and download access points throughout the undersound network collect and use to drive large visualizations in the ticket halls, which reflect the music’s movement through the network.”
For example, emerging musicians can get some free publicity by uploading their latest track and by adding the date of their next gig as a note to the track.
Also, their etnographic study in the Tube is well worth reading. It reminded me of what Francine Prose once wrote: “Travelers compare notes on how best to prevent their seatmates from making casual conversation. Pervesely, it’s more likely that someone might “share” a confession with a national TV audience…”

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