Wilfried Hou Je Bek on Fri, 11 Jul 2003 23:32:56 +0200 (CEST)

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ubiquitous computing in .walk 
(by Barnaby Snap, Helsinki)

Sitting in the park one rare sunny afternoon, I
noticed something peculiar about certain members of
the crowd passing-by. Some of them were carrying a
green A4 which they were passionately studying at
every turn in order to find out where they had to go.
It was definitely not a map, maybe an itinerary of
some kind. But even though they had instructions they
didn't really seem to have a destination either.
Normally only people who are looking for something, or
who are lost, take the same streets over & over again
like these paper carrying pedestrians did. But they
seemed to pretty sure where they were going to. 

After a while, trying to work it all out, the purpose
of this strange behaviour dawned on me. [Aaahhh] I
thought. Oh no! I thought also, it's another one of
those zany generative psychogeography experiments
which seem to be going on everywhere at the moment. I
mean, you can go to any random blog & within 3 double
clicks you find yet another report of a
psychogeographic walk talking about 'aimlessly
wandering in memory of the flaneur' & 'the sublime
spell of the algorithm' always supplemented by shady
pictures of even shadier back-alleys or modernist
high-rises towering into the sky. Well you know, it
was fun in the beginning but now it's just everywhere,
psychogeography has become as fashionable as Prada.
What do I say, it's even worse: psychogeography has
turned into the Dolce & Gabana of the pedestrian

I stopped a boy & a girl walking hand in hand, who
were of the age that you really should be thinking
about other things, like if I may suggest drinking
beer & smoking marijuana (just like the real flaneur
did), instead of participating in a pointless [second
left, first right, second left, repeat] walk. So I
stopped them, wanting to point out to him that geezers
need excitement & that she was young, much to young,
doing psychogeography with a kid she could be having
fun with. But (2[step/tone] puns aside) while talking
to them I found out that my suspicion was only partly
right. I also found out that what was going on around
me was stranger than any Pynchonite conspiracy: I had
not solemnly been watching the meandering of
psychogeographers walking on an algorithm but the
peripatetic processing of data within an ubiquitous
computer in the truest sense of the word [Aaahhh]. 

The couple was doing a .walk; a dotwalk. Apparently it
has all got to do with added functionality. Like an
umbrella that doubles as a chair, the dot in the walk
turns psychogeography into the Swiss army knife of
non-electronic computation; think Turing, think
Apollinaire applied by Torvalds. The way they
explained it, it all sounds as far out as Kool Keith
doing his Dr. Octagon shizzle, but let the truth be
told, the concept was not utterly devoid of logic,
albeit in it's own schizophrenic mode. Because, so the
reasoning goes, people were already executing
algorithms by walking them for psychogeographical
causes like 'unpredictability of the route' & 'the
non-subjectivity of the directions' [Aaahhh], it's a
small step to use them at the same time to do what
algorithms do: perform calculations. If this is
possible & there are no reason's why it isn't, it is
possible to construct a 'Universal Psychogeographical
Computer' a strange construction in which people doing
walks generate a computer. 


So... there is code, with an extension called .walk
(the couple was indeed carrying something resembling
computer code which they were running... [Aaahhh]
walking) & all these people participating together
produce it's walktime. 

[Aaahhh] you will think & you go ahead thinking
[Aaahhh] for a while, if you are as intelligent as I
am & I'm sure you are, you will decide for yourself
that it all makes sense. [Aaahhh] 


.Walk has the catchphrase 'Walking Apart Together' &
the key moment in the functioning of this pedestrian
computer is the random encounter: when 2 different
psychogeographers cross paths, they immediately start
writing down all sorts of stuff from the other's piece
of paper. During these exchanges the data that is
generated during walking slowly builds up within the
system. But information only becomes intelligence when
it can reach the individuals in the network that need
it. Information want to be valuable, so the saying
goes, it's the same here & therefore data must flow
through the system rapidly. People are already talking
to do .walks by bike to enhance the processing speed,
thus creating a 'cyclotron'. But let's stick to the
point, shall we? When an agent receives new data it
doesn't need to be valuable at that time for that
particular agent. But because it gets stored anyway,
the information has copied (double, than trebled, in
exponential speed) & is increasingly more likely to
find an agent elsewhere who can use that data. To get
this .walk system to work you only need the numbers to
beat statistics; remember how ants tackle the same

I didn't get the chance to talk to the people of
socialfiction.org who are behind all this, but I did
found out that the project has just started & that for
now their main concern is to let people get used to
the idea, many people who are unprepared to the
concepts seem to be overcome by codefobia when
confronted with a huge slab of .walk code to be
walked. Perhaps not that strange when you look at
previous experiments on their site. I only wonder if
it's possible to program artificial intelligence in

.walk: http://www.socialfiction.org/dotwalk


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