The overarching vision

One of the responses I often get after a talk is that, while I may have offered a critical take on existing and emergent trends in ubiquitous interactivity, I’ve failed to frame an affirmative vision of what I believe such interactivity ought to look like.

To be honest, I’m not sure this is entirely a fair cop. Sometimes the duty of an observer is simply to point out that a given situation is unfortunate, unaesthetic or undesirable, that one or another emperor is prancing around the block all buck-nekkid. This is an especially important thing to do when consensus might otherwise seal around the essential OKness of something that is really, truly Not OK.

But there’s another sense in which the complaint is not without a certain justice. There’s nothing less fair to the working designer than some dilettante, someone without any skin in the game, second-guessing their decisions — especially when the sideline sniper hasn’t had to squander their hope and energy along the nigh-endless gantlet of compromises, arguments, negotiations and endless meetings that constitutes the contemporary corporate development experience. Somewhere inside, I do feel that if I’m going to make a decent chunk of my living taking the efforts of others to pieces, it’s only right and proper that I throw something of my own on the table, to expose my own notions to the rigorous vetting I demand of any other. Some part of me feels like I should be sketching some kind of overarching, affirmative vision.

It was only liminally intentional, at best, but it’s now clear to me that over the last few months, I’ve been setting forth the building blocks of just such a thing here on Speedbird. For a variety of reasons, I’m not so hot on grand Statements of Intent at this point in my life, so it’s nowhere near as coherent as a purpose-built manifesto like this…but if you string the following (mostly rather wordy) posts together, the outlines of my stance ought to become pretty clear.

In 2010, anyway, this is my own personal vision of informatic technology at the service of the full range of human desire and complexity. Not a word of it is intended as a “solution” to what are inevitably and correctly local social or political challenges…but it is intended to give people everywhere better tools with which to join such struggles. I hope you find it useful, and invite you to subject its claims and assumptions to the same skepticism I’ve applied to other visions of ubiquitous technology.


Understanding, first, the complexity of the environment in which any intervention will take place, and what kind of disciplinary tools might be useful in framing sensitive interventions.

Toward urban system design

Frameworks for citizen responsiveness

Using ubiquitous informatics to reinforce a sense of public life and one’s own agency. Inviting new urban actors to the stage.

Part I
– Part II: Toward a read/write urbanism


Using the envisioned frameworks instrumentally, to help people manage what is all-but-invariably among the most vexing challenges faced by citydwellers: getting around.

Part I
Part II
Free mobility, social mobility…transmobility: Part III

Every user a developer

Arguing that the true gains will be made not by offering people powerful tools, but the ability to make their own tools of equal power.

– Part I: A brief history, with hopeful branches
– Part II: Momcomp

Respectful interfaces

Arguing that, while entirely new technical possibilities ultimately demand interface metaphors that convey the full measure of their power, they should also be designed in recognition of the environment in which they’ll be deployed.

What Apple needs to do now
jnd: An emergent vocabulary of form for urban screens

5 responses to “The overarching vision”

  1. olivier T. says :

    We all share an urge to get a bite-sized vision summary from every thinker out there. This is a hard one to provide when one is in the business of discovering a new arrangement of ideas.

    In any case, thank you for the outline of the story so far – useful as a reading guide when a grand plan does not (and probably should not) exist.

  2. AG says :

    when a grand plan does not (and probably should not) exist.

    Heh. Yes. On that note, and to head off any further confusion, I should point out that the “purpose-built manifesto like this” mentioned above is linked utterly without endorsement, and is simply offered as an example of what happens when someone does set out to frame a self-important Statement in a domain external to the envelope of their competence.

  3. Dave Gray says :

    A great overview and index to your thinking on this. Thanks!

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. links for 2010-08-15 - 15 August 2010
  2. tools – mammoth // building nothing out of something - 22 November 2010

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