kazys's blog

the next big plateau

Now that I've had the second revision of iPhone software for a month and an iPhone 3G for two weeks, I've had time to live in the promised land of locative media. Applications on my iPhone allow me to annotate the area I'm in and read notes by other users, to locate my friends, to see what Flickr images were taken in the area, what restaurants, gas stations, or whatever are nearby, or look up the area I'm in on Wikipedia.

So finally this sort of technology is here in easy-to-use form on a mass-market handheld product. In anticipation of this being the "next big thing," it seems, there has been a rush toward locative media, mobile Internet platforms, and ubiquitous computing. First the dot.com boom, then Web 2.0, now the mobile, locative net.

But having this stuff in my hand is deeply anticlimatic. Retrieving information tied to a location is turning out not to have much of an impact on my perception of it. Maybe in a few years, when the amount of geotagged data out there is huge (I dream of chow.com being geotagged) and aggregatable (right now information is divided up between different information providers—Yelp, Flickr, Wikipedia, etc.—and searches need to be made repeatedly) things will be different, but I doubt it. Walter Benjamin's old dream of being able to see a place's history superimposed upon it seems to have come too late.

I apologize for the disagreement or depression the next statement will induce in developers (and architects), but my sense is that now, of all times in recent history, developing new technologies is a backwards move. Our ability do retrieve infromation is all but ubiquitous now. The real developments are going to be in the way that society changes—in terms of finance, sexuality, politics, urbanism and so on—and these kind of transformations are going to be bottom-up. The horoscope for savvy developers, then, is to carefully tune what you're already doing, but find ways to tread water. We've had a tremendous technological run. The next few years are going to be a plateau. If I'm correct that we have yet to see the economy tank, then it might be a decade of this.

With that in mind, it's time to begin scratching out the outline for the Network Culture book in what remains of the summer. I hope that much of that can be done on the blog, but time will tell.


goodbye to all that

Yesterday I turned in the final copy for the Infrastructural City. Networked Ecologies in Los Angeles. That makes three edited books done this summer (the other two being The Philip Johnson Tapes. Interviews by Robert A.M. Stern and Networked Publics). These have been long, multi-year projects and I am delighted to get them out the door. You will see all three of these books in bookstores later this fall. Doing three books in one year is total madness and I won't repeat it anytime soon!

What's next? A book-length project on network culture is in the works while I also continue to fill in the blanks on Johnson's life, aiming toward a critical book on the architect. Perhaps most important, however, is that AUDC's Robert Sumrell moved to New York last week. Expect new work from us soon. It's coming as early as the Grand Tour issue of Perspecta, but we are also teaching a studio together at Columbia and other projects are in the pipe.

I'm taking a few days off to regroup, but afterwards, it's time to go back to the blog.

design in the age of intelligent maps

The Netlab has the first product of this summer of work over at Adobe Thinktank. Our article, "Invisible City: Design in the Age of Intelligent Maps" went live this morning. A new link is here (2014)

Many thanks to my collaborator at the Netlab, Leah Meisterlin and to David Womack at Adobe, a great editor.

As usual, your comments make all our work worthwhile!

the secret life of robin hood gardens

I just read a beautiful post at one of my favorite blogs, Kosmograd, on "the Secret Life of Robin Hood Gardens." Although I suppose it is better to destroy the project than tartify it with some kind of crazy scheme by Will Alsop, the thought of losing such a place is depressing. Waking up and stretching one's arms out at Robin Hood Gardens while looking out the window must have been a fabulous experience, a moment in which one could have been capable of anything. As Komograd points out, the residents would agree, but money and urban growth beg to differ. A tragedy.

locative media is here

I've been playing with version 2.0 of the iPhone firmware for a few hours already and am impressed.

For too long, locative media has been deferred into the near future, but now, overnight everything changed: a widely-used handheld platform can deliver a large (and growing) array of information swiftly and efficiently (yelp, hotels.com, and even the yellow pages can do this now). Some of this information (such as the nearpics application that draws on photographs at panoramio) is even user-uploaded.

Now secondary questions arise: is this kind of information going to be limited to walled gardens within individual applications or will developers find ways of exchanging this information between databases (as openid promises for identity). Is this kind of interaction between informatic and physical space a minor tweak of an existing relationship to networkedpublics.org/book/place or is it something else entirely? What sort of radical applications can this platform spawn?

notes from underground

The endless summer of finishing books drags on. In the meantime, I have been thinking that it might be enjoyable for my readership if I posted some quotes from books that are particularly fascinating to me. To start with,

T. J. Clark, Farewell to an Idea. Episodes from a History of Modernism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 2-3.

"Now that I sit down to write my introdcution, I realize that what I had taken for a convenient opening ploy—the fragments, the puzzling scholars, the intervening holocaust—speaks to the book's deepest conviction, that already the modernist past is a ruin, the logic of whose architecture we do not remotely grasp. This has not happened, in my view, because we have entered a new age. That is not my book title means. On the contrary, it is just because the 'modernity' which modernism prophesied has finally arrived that the forms of representation it originally gave rise to are now unreadable. (Or readable only under some dismissive fantasy rubric—of 'purism,' 'opticality,' 'formalism,' 'elitism,' etc.) The intervening (and interminable) holocaust was modernization. Modernism is unintelligible now because it had truck with a modernity not fully in place. Post-modernism mistakes the ruins of those previous representations, or the fact that from where we stand they seem ruinous, for the ruin of modernity itself—not seeing that what we are living through is modernity's triumph.

"Modernism is our antiquity, in orther words; the only one we have; and no doubt the Baku Palace of the Press, if it survives, or the Moltke Museum, if it has not been scrubbed and tweaked into post-modern receptivity (coffee and biscotti and interactive video), is as overgrown and labyrinthine as Shelley's dream of Rome."

site updates

This seems like the summer of endlessly extended projects. It's already July and I am still finishing work on books that I thought would be done last semester. But with a larger staff at the Netlab and with those projects wrapping up, this should be a good summer for new work and, I hope, for the blog.

Over the weekend, I've been bumping up both this site and the Netlab site. With Drupal as the underlying content management system, it's pretty trivial to change the look of the site, so I brought varnelis.net in line with the underlying theme at AUDC. It probably looks a tiny bit less polished right now, but it has more potential for growth in the long run. At the Netlab, I set up a photoblog, which seemed long overdue given the number of photographers around.

hertzian writings

I've uploaded Architecture for Hertzian Space.

Originally in the May issue of A+U, this brief article gives a taste of some of the more recent research we've been involved with at the Netlab. Look for a second installment on mapping and design under network culture coming this week or next.

The Big Sort

Last week's Economist contains a provocative discussion of The Big Sort. Why The Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart. I've long been interested in the phenomenon of demographic clustering. See for example, the essay that I co-wrote with Anne Friedberg for the Networked Publics book. According to this model, mobility is leading individuals to cluster in communities of other like-minded individuals. In Bill Bishop's book, and the Economist article, the concern is with the consequences of such clustering for politics. Americans increasingly don't talk to people with political views unlike themselves. Instead, we live in liberal urban environments or conservative exurbs or whatever community turns us on. I don't suspect Europe is going to do much better. The EU has changed dramatically in the last two decades and, with the freedom of mobility that Europeans enjoy, old ties like language and family are going to dissipate over time, in favor of a similar clustered world.

The consequences for politics are relatively clear, if distrubing, but this "big sort" also has consequences for urbanism since politics is such a huge part of thinking about cities. So when we think of dredging up Jane Jacobs yet again for models of thinking about the city, let's remember the ideological context and the larger complexities of such situations.


something underground


Apologies for the slow rate of posting. After bringing Networked Publics to press (I've learned my lesson: I will never again agree to do my own index!) and getting the Philip Johnson Tapes out the door, its back to the Infrastructural City, which should be done next week, if we're lucky. We've been thoroughly unlucky (I thought that project would be done by Christmas of last year!) and my summer projects are all on hold until then, but the end is near. As my friend Robert says, "all's well that ends."

In other news, I will be teaching a History of Theory course at MIT next fall in addition to my regular teaching and am very much looking forward to seeing those of you at MIT and in Boston.

I do have some posts on the back burner and these should see the light of day soon enough.

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