The Production of Space, Henri Lefebvre (209-210)
Consider a door. Is it simply an aperture in the wall? No. It is framed (in the broadest sense of the term). A door without a frame would fulfill one function and one function only, that of allowing passage. And it would fulfill that function poorly, for something would be missing. Function calls for something other, something more, something better than functionality alone. Its surround makes a door into an object. In conjunction with their frames, doors attain the status of works, works of a kind not far removed from pictures and mirrors. Transitional, symbolic and functional, the object “door” serves to bring a space, the space of a “room,” say, or that of the street, to an end; and it heralds the reception to be expected in the neighbouring room, or in the house or interior that awaits.
We need to bring all of our content into one space, a space where we can draw inferences, create links and allow what we’ve made to better inform what we are doing now. I want an environment where I can, for example, outline my itinerary for a weekend excursion, slowly accumulating driving directions, the hours of sights, a packing list, reservations, phone numbers—all the information I might need to have a fun weekend while being able to make decisions about what to do next based on local conditions.
The environment would be able to make inferences such as how much carbon the trip might represent, total distance travelled, emails or chats or next actions or expenses or what music I’m listening to that might be related to the trip. Perhaps the environment might also geotag all of the content as I create it, adding an additional layer of context (where was I when I planned this trip?) and increasing the scope of inferences that can be drawn (what was I reading as I planned this trip? what was I working on?), providing more surfaces for memory to catch onto. After the trip, the environment could integrate photos, journal entries, text messages and phone calls sent and received, expenses and receipts, all the traces of information that we leave in our wake (some of it more relevant, some less so) layered based on the degree of explicitness in the linking. What if the environment could integrate other people’s content, layering it onto yours (with varying levels of intimacy), making your content similarly available to your partner, your family, your friends, the people at work, everyone in degrees of real time proportional to your intimacy with the potential audience? Applications cease to be independent silos—they become providers of structure (templates, prototypes), function and semantics all layered into the environment. For example, if you install a photo application, your environment knows what a photo is, how to manipulate it, how to link it with other content (like attaching it to an email or linking it with other photos into an album).
Why don’t we already have an environment like this? All the pieces are there as far as the technology. And we’re already collecting all of the content I’ve mentioned above—it’s just going into separate buckets. The environment I’ve described is not a new idea—it’s the vision at the foundation of hypertext. Last week, I spent the better part of a work day laying out milestones and next actions, first in Things, then in Basecamp, and then back again as I tweaked things. Then I struggled to get Dopplr to handle multiple legs on the same day without getting confused as to my origin (I failed). All of this should be easier, more integrated. Granted, in both these cases, I could have done the work in Tinderbox and then published to Basecamp and Dopplr. Next time, I probably will. But Tinderbox doesn’t go far enough (even though it does point the way).
Lately, I’ve been paging through old photos, remembering the places I have lived, the people I’ve gotten to know. I want to remember more clearly and more often—I want to bring that remembering into what I’m doing today or what I’m planning to do tomorrow. Place is a central link in my memory—often, if I start from a place, I can remember so much more than if I begin with a date. For example, I don’t remember the dates of when I lived in Houston off-hand (though I could infer it from dates on my photos of Houston), but I have so many memories tied to my hotel room there, to driving, to a small coffee shop in Galveston.
I want to explore intimacy, collaboration and proximity. How might proximity be used as a means of authentication? Situatedness is being explored in the context of urban informatics and physical computing, but not as much in mainstream computing where most of us still spend our day. I’m interested in taking the technologies that are beginning to make urban computing possible and localizing them. In doing so, I want to address issues of privacy and power, but I also want to explore the opportunities for shared intimacy in proximity.