Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007 | amsterdam, picnic07 | No Comments

So to Picnic07 in lovely Amsterdam. I spent three days immersing myself in everything from social networking, to film credits, to ubiquitous computing and I let my brain fill with interesting stuff, much like a sponge fills with water. It was brain filling by osmosis, and it was great!

I want to jot down some of my notes from the talks that really stand out for me, though be warned they’re quite rough.

Jonathan Harris; Creative Genius (wefeelfine).

A partial view is more interesting than a whole. He became interested in studying the footprints of other people’s lives, and started writing code to understand this.

wefeelfine: the way something behaves physically should represent the emotion behind it. Any link can be saved, and all saved links are added to the archive – creators are archivists.

The most common feeling represented is “better”, out of around 4000 – 5000 emotions/feelings collected. The site is dominated by people in their 20’s. This is passive observation, those posting do not know they’re being watched.

The Whale Hunt Project – Jonathan wanted to subject himself to the same rules as he would a project. Set out to take a photograph every five minutes throughout the experience, even when sleeping. When exciting things happened, he would quicken the pace and therefore match the changing pace of his heartbeat. This led to 3214 photographs over 7 days.

The second objective was to experiment with a new interface for storytelling: taking the experience, documenting, attaching metadata to each document, then creating a framework to unearth other narrative angles.

This project isn’t live yet, but should be in a couple of months.

David Weinberger: Everything is Miscellaneous

There is more porn, love, hate, utter foolishness, more amateurs and more experts on the internet. The task is to find more of value, of what is of interest and important to us.

Now we are digitising everything, we loose the authority that comes with the limitations of paper. In the first order, you archive things yourself. In the second you physically separate the metadata, whilst in the third everything is digital – the order is digital and the information about the order is digital.

There are four principles of change:

1. Leaf on many branches
2. Messiness is a virtue – each link adds value
3. There is no difference between data and metadata. Metadata is what you know, data is what you’re looking for. If everything is metadata, our species just got way smarter.
4. Unowned order – online users own and control the organisation.

It’s more expensive to exclude than include – we can’t predict what other people are going to be interested in. Instead we can postpone the moment that we organise until the very moment we want to use the information. It’s an additive process, not an exclusive one – by letting information go you’re allowing it to accrue interest – Metabusiness.

We externalise meaning with the web, we do it every time we use tags. The web was built to solve the problems of messiness, it is about finding what happens to us and why it happens.

Stefan Sagmeister: Things I Have Learnt In My Life So Far

Did some work with truemajority – funded by big business to highlight the amount spent on the war with Iraq.

“Then we got really ambitious and went blimp shopping”.

Stefan took an experimental year out in 2000. He found unavailability created desire, and also created freer briefs from clients, “do something”. “Everything I do always comes back to me”, “Trying to look good limits my life”, “Everybody always thinks they are right”, “Starting a charity is surprisingly easy”. As this went along, the clients became freer and freer with their briefs, resulting in “do anything”. “Keeping a diary supports personal development”.

Adam Greenfield: The City Is Here For You To Use

Urban form and experience in the age of ambient informatics. How Adam became an urbanist: Jane Jacobs, Christopher Alexander, Bernard Rudofsky. They gave luminosity and a concern about life on the street.

Streets are no longer a space outside houses that we can use, they are now a throughway for cars etc. People’s worry about cars, traffic, over-planning. We’ve managed to kill the street (although not in cities like Amsterdam which are still very much alive).

We have a repeating module of doom – branches of chain stores/restaurants repeating down each street. They take from the neighbourhood but don’t give anything back. Malls created persistent alienation and displacement.

The conventional humanist response is that ambient communication doesn’t do us any favours either (e.g. ipod’s, mobiles). We surround ourselves with information rather than relating to our surroundings. It’s a vicious circle – we’ve lost something.

But – “nostalgia is for suckers”! Ubiquitous computing is the way forward. “Everywhere” means that information systems are embedded in the environment, wireless, imperceptible, post-GUI. And information processes are showing up in new places, particularly at the body, street and city level (e.g. the Nike plus ipod kit). Information about our cities in being made available locally so that we can act upon it (e.g. wifi hotspots). this will profoundly influence, at a very simple level, how we make choices within the city we live in.

The bottom line is: a city responds to the behaviour of it’s residents and users, in real time. “The city is the platform”.

There are inevitable downsides to this: new inscriptions of class, over-legibility and emergent behaviour. But there are also upsides: more efficient resource utilisation, product-service ecologies.

Ambient information is increasingly going to pervade our cities, how and when will depend on our culture.

“Systems are for cities and cities are for people”.

The most inspiring talk by far was from Dr. Sugata Mitra, Professor of Educational Technology, Newcastle University (United Kingdom/India) on Minimally Invasive Education through Social Play. I’m afraid I closed my laptop and sat back to listen, if you get a chance I really recommend that you go listen to Dr Mitra. His talk was both heart-warming and thought-provoking, and still makes me stop and think about how I can take what I learnt from it back to every day life. Teaching 300 illiterate, non-English speaking Indian children to use a computer and learn the principles of DNA (in English) in three months is almost unbelievable, especially considering that they taught themselves. Each wanted to be seen as the “teacher” within the group, driving them to find ways around the language barrier. I would love to see how Dr Mitra’s research continues.


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