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Tag Archives: rhizome

So. You are walking down the street on hot summer afternoon in Brooklyn, when you see a fire hydrant gushing water with a gang of happy kids playing in it. “Good times,” you reflect nostalgically as you dodge the spray and keep strolling down the block. You remember what it was like being a kid yourself doing the same thing in the dead of summer. Your mind wanders and you start to think about fire hydrants themselves and their history and the laws strictly prohibiting people from wastefully opening them up like that. When you round the next corner you see another hydrant, and this one hasn’t been opened for recreational purposes. On the side of it you are pleased to find a small sticker placed there by another citizen, because that sticker will enable you to access more information about fire hydrants, their history, and the laws about opening them up for play. You snap a picture of that sticker with your phone and it immediately links you to the appropriate Wikipedia article “fire hydrant”, while the GPS determines your location and the appropriate location based information to push to you.

OK, the fire hydrant is a slight bizarre example, a bit of a stretch, but its been hotter than hell in NYC lately and this story illustrates what Semapedia.org does.

Visit the site, it’s a really cool idea- filling out a form on their website will create 2D barcodes for you that correspond to any Wikipedia article. It gives you a pdf of that barcode and then you can print stickers that you attach to a real world artifact “once you have permission”. Part two of the venture is installing a 2D barcode reader on your phone, which taps into the camera function (some phones come with them already installed, others you’ll have to sort out on your own). Then snap a picture of any 2D barcode and it will take you to the appropriate URL. Here’s a link to a project at Columbia where someone built a 2D barcode reader for the iPhone that can recognize URLs embedded in QR codes. Unfortunately, because Apple is all about driving you to their not so mom-and-pop App Store for everything, with the 2.0 upgrade I haven’t figured out how to install a 2D barcode reader on my phone. If any readers can help, please email me.

But wait, is hyperlinking the world’s objects an appropriate end game? I don’t think so. I went to a publisher’s showcase at New York Public Library this afternoon and decided to walk all the way back home to Greenpoint, Brooklyn from 42nd st. The urban hike is a beautiful thing, don’t knock it- even if some fools try to turn it into a networking experience. Along my way I was snapping pics on my phone and sending them to FaceBook mobile, documenting my path and my thoughts as I passed through the city. I love the graffiti aspect of the Semapedia project: literally “tagging” things with information. But what if you customized your own version of this technology and made the barcodes you place on objects link not to Wikipedia but to your own site. You could “virtually” slander or promote a physical target via one tiny barcode. You could create your own narrative of your urban hike, based on fleeting memories, random nostalgic associations, déjà vu, ANYTHING. While I appreciate the “information commons” aspect of Semapedia, the first thing I think of is customizing and personalizing the thing and making Sema-Nate-O-Pedia so that I can create my own narratives of the city and my daily journeys through it. I’d put those damn stickers everywhere! I’ll add that I think this is part of what the artists are experimenting with in the Marfa webring project proposed on Rhizome, but I’d love to see that taken to the next level and made individual rather than awkwardly pseudo-municipal.

Bottom line: I’m less interested in a physical-computing encyclopedia of the world’s objects than I am in a physical-computing encyclopedia of the world’s object versus me. That’s not vanity, that’s just the way individuals interact with the world, as individuals. The collectives will form by themselves later.

Update: looks like this is easy enough to do with this QR code generator!  Awesome!  Now i just need a reader for the iphone…

Update again:  I got a datamatrix decoder to work on my iphone!  awesome! 

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Last Friday I went to Nextcity: The Art of the Possible, a Rhizome event at the New Museum. Eric Rodenbeck of Stamen Design, artist/designer/educator Christian Nold, and artist/architect J. Meejin Yoon of Howler & Yoon all spoke with Adam Greenfield of NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. This was their agenda:

“Emergent digital technologies are rapidly changing both the face of our cities and our daily experience of them, whether invoked in the production of architectural form, the representation of urban space, or our interface to the locative and other services newly available there. Dynamic maps update in real time; garments and spaces deform in response to environmental, biological and even psychological conditions. We find our very emotions made visible, public, and persistently retrievable. Somewhere along the way, we find our notions of public space, participation, and what it means to be urban undergoing the most profound sort of change.”

Though I get pretty excited about emerging technologies, particularly when they are approached from a philosophical stance, I was most interested in how this panel would address public space. It seems clear that public space will be defined differently in the rapidly approaching era of ubiquitous computing. Adam spoke briefly of Starbuck’s business model being based on Ray Oldenberg’s concept of “Third Places”: places that are neither home nor work, but places where people can publicly interact. Christian came right out and said we don’t really have many true public spaces left at this point. I, the public librarian, sat in the audience, squirming in my seat when the conversation turned in this direction.

Public Libraries are the best examples of public space (or public place, if you want to get technical) in America that I can think of. Public libraries are places of information exchange, places where knowledge is created, shared and dispersed. Libraries are the front line, they are cultural centers where anyone can bring any query and they can be answered or directed appropriately. I find it fascinating to listen to developers of open source software and data visualization projects talk about the way their work makes publicly available information accessible, manipulable, and usable for anyone and everyone. Those developers really work with the same mission public libraries do, yet somehow they represent “the future” and libraries are stuck with this archaic image as book repositories. We really need to coordinate these efforts and work together. Previously, technologies have  challenged the public library as a relevant institution because it has been so costly to invest in the flavor-of-the-month. The dramatic shift away from the home PC, the move of processing power into portable units and the environment, and the shrinking costs of memory and connectivity suggests that public libraries are in a very good position to offer information access to more people in better ways than ever before. How does these changes redefine public space? How do our behavioral patterns associated with these technologies reshape public space?

I’m excited as hell to meet with Adam next week and to talk with him about where the urban public library fits into the Nextcity. I had a forward-thinking professor at Pratt institute, David Walczyk, who said at one point to a classroom full of soon-to-be librarians that if we don’t take a strong creative roles and define the direction in which our libraries are going to grow, then some consultant will get the job and you’ll just be stuck doing what you should have told the library to do years before. I’m convinced that librarians need to look outside their profession to find the future of their libraries. We need to get off our reference-desked asses. Lets take those creative roles and define the Nextlibrary. I’m not going to let a consultant do it*.

*parties interested in hiring me as a consultant feel free to email me with offers 🙂