Ubiquitous Computing

Ubiquity is a really interesting concept to explore in the field of media studies just because you don’t realise how truly ubiquitous and interconnected our internet based world is until you stop to dwell on it a bit. Traditionally, desktop computing was the way of the world. There were rigid rules to the exploration of the internet because the computer was a direct portal with a specific entry point usually a ridiculous CRT monitor that hurt your eyes.

Ubiquity describes where we are at today. This whole idea of ‘Ubiquitous Computing’ is based on the concept that the CRT of old is no longer the only way in which the internet and connectivity can be accessed. Suddenly a whole host of items in your everyday life has access to the internet and connectivity abilities of some description. Phones, fridges, cars, tablets are also personal items that can get you connected then you can go even bigger with things like billboards, buses, trains and even traffic lights really are all connected online through some means. There are billions of these things that are connecting or transmitting data constantly creating what is popularly known by some as an ‘internet of things’. Ubiquity is basically the polar opposite of virtual reality, it brings the digital into the real and integrates it, while virtual reality concerns itself with making an approximation of the real in the digital (Weiser).

Keller Easterling suggests that increasing ubiquity of computers means it’s easy to write off the agency and active-ness of the physical world that already exists. Many people already consider phones and tablets to be objects of information exchange but Easterling encourages us to think about physical structures and how they too can be active structures in a world. It’s not  the physical structures themselves, but the way in which they are arranged to produce and foster meaning and communication. He’s right about not really being aware of the activeness of arrangements, and it’s interesting it has taken an increase in ubiquitous computing to realise how truly influential our physical landscape is. We really have to rethink our relationships to the physical world now, just because everything is so interconnected and responsive. Relationships between not just things, but people are going to change as we’re drawn closer together. I also started to think about something like ripple effects, like what happens when we click something here and a billboard changes over there? It’s a really basic and crude example but the ways in which affect now works are quite incredible and far reaching.

One of the most spectacular ways we can rethink our relationship to the world in this increasingly ubiquitous era is consideration of the ambient commons. David Bollier poses this idea that ubiquitous platforms encourage an understanding that our brain’s thinking patterns are largely operated externally. The networks and relationships that surround us directly affect the ways in which our mind operates. He uses the example of being in another kitchen and being confused as to where everything is. There’s strong ties then to location and memory menaing that our bodies become a part of the ‘computational loop’ of meaning creation. This sort of thing is exacerbated by digital devices, its not a one way interaction, it’s a web of interaction. Using a phone affects my temporality, my memory and the way in which I communicate and make decisions.

I don’t know if I’ve made sense of this all correctly but theres a TV show called Black Mirror that I love and I’d just like to end on one of its episodes calledThe Entire History of You. In this episode, Iris cams record and allow the users to rewind footage of their life and interact with detail in the world around them. It’s a reality overlay that effects temporality and really illustrates well some of the concerns surrounding the ways in which human relationships could change with an even bigger increase in ubiquity in computing technology.






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