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April 17, 2003


Steven Johnson's new article on Discover, "Reality Bytes", looks at the way David Gelernter's predictions have become, in many ways, true.

"In 1991, computer scientist David Gelernter of Yale University predicted in his book Mirror Worlds that advances in computing power and connectivity would lead to the creation of virtual cities: micro versions of the real world built out of data streams and algorithms instead of bricks and concrete."

Johnson points to Stewart Butterfield's Game Neverending (GNE) and to the (allegedly disappointing) Sims Online as examples of intriguing virtual worlds, with economies and currencies based on people's emotional involvement and time-consuming efforts.

Johnson rightly argues that we are still looking more at digital "fantasy islands", as he calls them, than at real counterparts of the urban spaces where we live our daily lives, but I think that there's one aspect that his stimulating article has somewhat missed.
A mirror implies the existence of an original that's reflected in the mirror's surface, but in this case we are looking not at reflection, but at a simulacrum, a copy with no original referent.
Information indeed wants to be free, in the sense that's it's oozing out of the boundaries we had set for it, and it is shaping the space it was meant to mimic.
In other words our frequentation of virtual environments has changed the way we perceive and relate to physical spaces.
In other words still, who's mirroring who?

Some examples.
City Scan is a recent effort to empower citizens to basically become direct planners of the very spaces they inhabit.
First steps towards bottom-up urbanism, but also a cunning example of SimCity imposing its model onto RealCity.
The virtual trickling into the real.
The word infecting had actually come to mind, maybe Freudian-ly so, because of a recent service, offered by one of Hong-Kong's mobile operators, that sends subscribers SMSs based on where they are in the city to inform them of nearby SARS-struck buildings.
The new ghettos will have invisible limits, signaled by the frantic beeping of our overexcited connected tools.
Bits-infected atoms.
First signs of things to come.

On a lighter side, two quick flashes.
The Swedish Bot Fighter game, where players need to be in physical proximity to then use their mobile phones to target opponents and "shoot" them down via SMS, or Japan's "Samurai Romanesque" (also read Justin Hall's review of it), a game for I-Mode phones where real weather reports inform the virtual gaming environment (if it rains on your head it rains in the game, thus making your character's movement slower...).
Remember the old Nike "Tag" ad? Exactly.
The city, one large playground.

What is making my (architect's) brain really tick, though, is a simple question.
How far are we really from a Dark City-like scenario, with urban spaces inheriting the qualities of their digital counterparts, buildings and neighborhoods rearranged at nighttime, to have you wake up in a city, yours to explore, new, every day?

Posted by fabio sergio | 7:17 PM | permalink


April 16, 2003

London bound.

Valeria and I will be spending the upcoming (Easter) week in London, finally enjoying a few days off.
I finally got around to reading all the older entries of my Syndirella feeds, but by the time I'll come home they'll have crawled back to their usual information anxiety-inducing state.

If you happen to be in London next week or simply live there and want to get together for a drink and a chat just let me know...

Posted by fabio sergio | 5:57 PM | permalink



...where inspiration is not a scarce resource...

Adam Greenfield connects his own dots into a convincing picture.
Andre Torrez reality checks Jason Kottke.
Mr. Merholz does Wired magazine.
Anne Galloway reflects on the subtle pleasure of everyday things.
The 37Signals crew ponders the imponderable.
Ashley Benigno simply moves me.

Yours truly linklogs away. Shamelessly.

Posted by fabio sergio | 5:49 PM | permalink


April 15, 2003


Take a look at "The dullest blog in the world" (via Peter Van Dijck).
Then take a look at the number of comments under each post...

There's a lesson in there.

Posted by fabio sergio | 7:26 PM | permalink



Two interesting conferences.

Usermode, May 9-11, London.

"Artists, designers and critics frequently refer to "emotional engagement".
What is meant by this? Is it immersion, rapture, agency, reflection?
This question is crucial to interactive art and design practice where the user's response is sensitive to context and cannot only influence the form and content of the work but also, in some cases, the future direction of technological development.

Psy-Geo-Conflux 2003, May 8-11, NYC (Via Ashley Benigno).

"An annual event dedicated to current artistic and social investigations in Psycogeography.
Part festival and part conference, it brings together visual and sound artists, writers and urban adventurers to explore the physical and psychological landscape of the city.

Dates overlap.
Themes resonate.
Lingering dreams.

Posted by fabio sergio | 5:40 PM | permalink


April 11, 2003


I just realized that I missed freegorifero's first year anniversary.
It was more than a week ago.

Trying to think about something half-meaningful to say, and failing miserably.
Must be my brain, still unsettled by the earthquake that gently shook Milano right around lunch time today.
I'll leave it at that.
A missed opportunity for gratuitous self-celebration.

Posted by fabio sergio | 7:21 PM | permalink


Form follows swivels and hinges.

Far-east handset manufacturers are having a wild time with the trans-form factor of their products these days.
I want to believe.

A few examples?
Sony Ericsson's made-for-DoCoMo SO505i, with a slippin' and slidin' screen.
It's a camera, no, it's a phone, wait, it's a camera.
Ditch the teeth-clenching color and I want one now.
Samsung's designed-for-Aztecs SGH-D700, swivelin' Symbian wonder.
It's a PDA, no, it's a phone, wait, it's a PDA.
Mitsubishi's acid green camcorder phone, allegedly able to handle more pixels than you'll ever need, and WI-FI-enabled to boost.
It's a camcorder, no, it's a phone, wait, it's a mini-bazooka.

Even though there are obvious (and legitimate) concerns about the ergonomic qualities of these object, my geeky designer side can barely hold its curiosity and enthusiasm.
Well, maybe with at least one exception...

With the economic roller coaster hitting hard even world-renown innovators it is a breath of fresh air seeing a handful of companies still trying to go the next step, in one way or another.

Posted by fabio sergio | 1:52 PM | permalink


April 10, 2003

Know thy users.

Peter Merholz's new short essay, "Finding the Right Users", gives precious advice on how to avoid (pointlessly) testing with users who might not be representative of who you have been designing for.
I'd add that very similar considerations can be applied when creating personas for your products.
I think it could be interesting to couple Peter's article with Whitney Quesenbery's "Market Research and Usability" and User Interface Engineering's "Usability Myths Need Reality Checks".

Whitney Quesenbery has also another interesting article, "Being User-Centered When Implementing a UCD Process", which focuses not on the final users of the products we help design, but on the users of the deliverables we create in the process.
How many times have you seen documents collect dust on decision makers' desks and shelves, not because they didn't hold useful information, but simply because they lacked the ability to convey it in the professional language of choice of the target reader?
Luckily Peter's thoughts can be extremely useful also in this case...

Posted by fabio sergio | 6:43 PM | permalink


April 02, 2003

The times they are not a-changin'.

I've been finding it incrementally harder to motivate myself to add thoughts to these pages lately.
As Peter has recently said, we should always question ourselves when we decide to break silence with our words, and make sure that we are creating harmony and not just increasing (the dominant) noise.
But silence is not the only reason behind my uneasiness.

Fellow human beings are again suffering for the choices or powers way above them, whether it is soldiers sent to fight one more war of unequivocal economic interest, or innocent civilians who'll have to fight for their own survival first to see the light of a promised "new" day.
I can hardly imagine a war, any war, to provide an outcome, any outcome, that will in the end prove to be positive for this spinning sphere we should all learn to call home.
IMHO war can only bring more deep-rooted hate, as history has proven too many times, and in the long run the poor usually gain very little, no matter how enlightened the winner.

If war was not enough a new biological threat is showing how our increased mobility and ever-expanding presence across the planet can have us glimpse into one of our worst nightmares in no time soon.
I feel for people who live close to the areas that so far have been hit the hardest, but glad to see that even when facing undeniable fears friends like Adam decided to choose the most nicely designed mask available out there.
Some things, luckily, do not change.

I'll nurture the dry smile brought to my lips by Adam's tasteful choice with the closing quote from Italo Calvino's "Invisible Cities", one that has been helping my worried mind to look at things from a more positive perspective:

"The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together.
There are two ways to escape suffering it.
The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it.
The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.

I am seeking these days.
Seeking vigilantly.

To all of my remedies to inferno (and you know who you are, don't you ?): my thoughts fly out to you more often than ever these days, wherever you might be.

Posted by fabio sergio | 12:34 PM | permalink


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