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<nettime> Learning from Prada (PART 1)
Lev Manovich on Sun, 19 May 2002 02:30:18 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Learning from Prada (PART 1)

Lev Manovich (www.manovich.net)

The Poetics of Augmented Space: Learning from Prada
[May 2002]

PART 1: Augmented Space
[posted 5/16/02]

The 1990s were about the virtual. We were fascinated by new virtual spaces
made possible by computer technologies. The images of an escape into a
virtual space that leaves the physical space useless and of cyberspace ­ a
virtual world that exists in parallel to our world ­ dominated the decade.
It started with the media obsession with Virtual Reality (VR). In the middle
of the decade graphical browsers for World Wide Web made cyberspace a
reality for millions of users. During the second part of the 1990s yet
another virtual phenomenon ­ dot coms ­ rose to prominence, only to be
crashed by the real world laws of economics. By the end of the decade, the
daily dose of cyberspace ­ using Internet to make plane reservations, to
check email using Hotmail account, or to download MP3 files  ­ became such a
norm that the original wonder of cyberspace so present in the early
cyberpunk fiction of the 1980s and still evident in the original manifestos
of VRML evangelists of the early 1990s was almost completely lost.  The
virtual became domesticated: filled with advertisements, controlled by big
brands, and rendered harmless. In short, to use the expression of Norman
Klein, it became an ³electronic suburb.²

It is quite possible that this decade of the 2000s will turn out to be about
the physical ­ that is, physical space filled with electronic and visual
information. While enabling further development of virtual spaces ­ from
more realistic computer games to new 3D technologies and standards for World
Wide Web such as Director 3D to wider employment of compositing in cinema ­
computer and network technologies more and more actively enter our real
physical spaces. The previous image of a computer era ­ VR user traveling in
a virtual space ­ has become replaced by a new image: a person checking her
email or making a phone call using her PDA / cell phone combo while at the
airport, on the street, in a car, or in any other actually existing space.
But this is just one example of what I see as a larger trend. Here are a few
more examples of the technologies which deliver data to, or extract data
from, physical space ­ and which already are widely employed at the time of
this writing (early 2002):

1. Video surveillance is becoming ubiquitous, employed in mass no longer by
governments, military and businesses but also by the individuals; cheap,
tiny, wireless and Net-enabled, video cameras can now be put almost anywhere
(for instance, by 2002 many taxi cabs already had video cameras continuously
recording the inside of the car).

2. If video and other types of surveillance technologies translate the
physical space and its dwellers into data, cellspace technologies work in
the opposite direction: delivering data to the mobile space dwellers.
Cellspace is physical space ³filled² with data that can be retrieved by a
user using a personal communication device.  Some data may come from global
networks such as Internet; some may be imbedded in objects located in the
space around the user. Moreover, while some data may be available regardless
of where the user is in the space, it can be also location specific. The
examples of cellspace applications include using GPS to determine your
coordinates; or using a cell phone to check in at the airport, to pay for
the road tool; or to retrieve information about a product in a store.

3. While we can think of cellspace as the invisible layer of information
which is overlaid over the physical space and which is customized by an
individual user, publicly located computer / video displays present the same
visible information to passersbys. These displays are gradually becoming
larger and flatter; they are no longer confined to flat surfaces; they no
longer require darkness to be visible. In the short term we may expect large
and thin displays to become more pervasive in both private and public spaces
(perhaps using technology such as e-ink); in the longer term every object
may become a screen connected to the Net, with the whole of built space
becoming a set of display surfaces.  Of course physical space was always
augmented by images, graphics and type; but substituting all these by
electronic displays makes possible to present dynamic images, to mix images,
graphics and type and to change the content at any time.

Popular media normally does not discuss these three technologies together
because they belong to different industries (electronics, computers) and
different markets (consumer, professional). But from the point of view of
their effect on our concept of space and, consequently, our lives as far as
they are lived in various spaces, I feel that they very much belong
together. They make the physical space into a dataspace: extracting data
from it (surveillance) or augmenting it with data (cellspace, computer

It is also make sense to bring surveillance / monitoring of space and its
dwellers and augmentation of space with additional data because these two
functions often go hand in hand. For instance, by knowing the location of a
person equipped with a cell phone particular information relevant to this
location can be send to this cell phone. Similar relationship exists in the
case of software agents, affective computing, and similar interfaces which
take a more active role in assisting the user when the standard Graphical
User Interface (GUI). By tracking the user ­ her mood, her pattern of work,
her focus of attention, her interests, and so on ­ these interfaces acquire
information that they use to help the user with her tasks and automate them.
This close connection between surveillance and assistance is one of the key
characteristics of the high-tech society. This is how these technologies are
made to work, and this is why I am discussing data flows from the space
(surveillance, monitoring, tracking) and into the space (cellspace
applications, computer screens and other examples below) together.

Lets now add to these three examples of the technologies already at work a
number of research paradigms actively conducted in Universities and industry
labs. (Note that many of them overlap, mining the same territory but with a
somewhat different emphasis.) We can expect that at least some of them will
become a reality during this decade:

4. Ubiquitous Computing: the original move (1990-) at Xerox PARC away from
computing centered in desktop machines towards small multiple devices
distributed throughout the space.
5. Augmented Reality: another paradigm which originated around the same time
­ overlaying dynamic and context-specific information over the visual field
of a user (see below for more details).

6. Tangible Interfaces: treating the whole of physical space around the user
as part of human-computer interface (HCI) by employing physical objects as
carrier of information.

7. Wearable Computers: imbedding computing and telecommunication devices
into the clothing.

8. Intelligent Buildings (or Intelligent Architecture): buildings wired to
provide cellspace applications.

9. Intelligent Spaces: spaces that monitored the users interact with them
via multiple channels and provide assistance for information retrieval,
collaboration and other tasks (think of Hal computer in "2001").

10.  Context-aware Computing: an umbrella term used to refer to all or some
of the developments above, signaling a new paradigm in computer science and
HCI fields.  

11. Smart Objects: objects connected to the Net; objects that can sense
their users and display ³smart² behavior.

12. Wireless Location Services: delivery of location specific data and
services to portable wireless devices such as cell phones (i.e., similar to

13. Sensor Networks: networks of small sensors that can be used for
surveillance, intelligent spaces, and similar applications.

14.  E-paper (or e-ink): a very thin display on a sheet of plastic which can
be flexed in diffirent shapes and which displays information recevied

While the technologies imagined by these research paradigms accomplish this
in a number of different ways, the end result is the same: OVERLAYING LAYERS
refer to this new kind of space which is slowly becoming a reality. As I
already mentioned, this overlaying is often made possible by tracking and
monitoring the users; that is, delivering information to users in space and
extracting information about these users are closely connected. Thus
augmented space is also monitored space.

[PART 2 will be posted shortly]

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