Thursday, September 08, 2005

Mobiles phones: Cigarettes for the 21st Century

This phrase has been my e-mail sig since 1999. It refers to the many similarities between mobile phones and cigarettes that I have noticed over this time. Many similarities become obvious as one thnks about the comparison. A phone is compared to the collection of individual cigarettes, the pack and also the matches or lighter. I posted a list of similarities on my website a few years ago, and get lots of hits, but no comments. This posting is therefore a place where you can make suggestions and comments, give examples that I can incorporate into the main document.

Topics covered include sociology of cigarette use, social shaping of health scares, industrial structure and political influence, advertising, cultural images, gender and age issues etc.

LED Projectors

I am not sure how I got to be commenting on these things but, following an earlier post on portable video projects a journalist at New Scientist brought an new product to my attention - an LED-based portable projector from Toshiba. Although not miniture yet, just small, and in the standard form, the long awaited LED based projector solves the problems of heat, power and bulb replacement that has kept video projectors doing the same job as slide projectors from the mid-19th century. This will finally be the start of a radical change in their application. Of course now I discover that several firms have brought out these LED products this year -Matsushita, Epson. I got interested in this topic when I did some work for an optics firm last year, and we were trying to work out what future they had in information technology, based on our understanding of domestic and industrial imaging systems (that's TVs and monitors). Since moving from working on domestic technology to technology in public places it is clear there are a range of important applications and markets.

Here are the notes I sent to the New Scientist, which they managed to pick the least interesting bits!
The main areas where there are applications are

  1. In personal information and communication technologies (pICTs) such as laptops - where you can project directly rather than carrying around another device, PDAs , for the same reason, cameras, and as you suggest, mobile phones (maxi-mobile format). I think the emergence of mobile television and video playback (based round media device) will be an important factor here, but we are talking 5-10 year future. We could also see them built into video games machines avoiding the need to plug into a TV.

  2. The domestic space . LCD and Plasma may be all the rage now, but there is likely to be a big market in front projection TVs, not only in large US home cinema market, but in the huge Asian market where homes are very small, and space at a premium. In the domestic space the TV is an important piece of furniture, and often a very ugly one (except for a rather specific, rather male aesthetic). While flat screen TVs may take up less room, they still hog the wall, and look bad when turned off - many people will be very happy to have 'invisible' TVs that are no more than a small box on a bookshelf or in a hole in the wall.

  3. Dynamic signage: projectors can place signage dynamically much more easily than LCD screens, since they don't have to be wired in where the image will appear. This will be important for public spaces, vehicles etc where messages change, adapt to those looking at them etc. It keeps the sensitive technology out of places where it can be damaged too.

  4. The technology is also important for in-car head-up displays., and a huge range of Augmented Reality applications where extra information is projected onto things we are doing (especially work based tasks), giving instructions, guidance etc

However there are a number of technical issues to overcome. Most importantly is the power and heat, and the bulbs that burn out. The solution to this is likely to be LED light sources - easy for monochrome signage, but still problematic for good colour displays. However this is being solved, and for close range projectors and domestic use, brightness is not so much of a problem as in brightly lit offices and large rooms.
The projectors also have to dynamically adjust brightness, colour and picture shape for projecting at odd angles onto walls and screens, tracking moving screens, and switching projection to screens of different sizes and situation in a room. They can also be linked to eye tracking to project where ever you are looking - rather more convenient than wearing special glasses.

I still think many of these things are a way off ( over next 10 years), and do depend low power, cool light source becoming affordable and of good enough quality.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Control of personal ICTs

I have recently written a research proposal to study the control of use of personal Information and Communication Technologies (pICTs), based on my interest in how society domesticates new techologies, that is, integrates them into social and institutional life. It also relates to my comparision of cigarettes and mobile phones. The study, if it gets funded, will cover cameras, phones, music players, computers and other personal technologies that we carry into public and private places, and are often seen as challenging or disturbing public order, or threatening in some way the activities of the place controllers. Thus we see phones banned in schools, filling stations, planes, cinemas, parts of airports etc, and cameras from schools, shops, anywhere with security concerns etc. Laptop internet connection is often restricted in offices, lecture theatres and other private places. However there is far from even policy, some places will encourage pICT use, others ban it, others will look for technical solutions. I hope to look at 2 cases. 1 the case of cinemas, where you get a fine in NYC, your phone is jammed in Paris, or you are shown a funny film in London. 2. The case of schools banning picture phones. One of the coutcomes will be to look at how the technology itself is shaped by social concerns, such as the Korean government insisting that camera phones make a loud noise when. There is a continual stream of artciles inthe press about control of pICTs, such as this summer the FCC allowing mobile phones to be used on planes, and the FAA deciding not to allow them. This week's New Scientist has an article on a technology that will shine a bright light at your camera phone if you try to take a picture of a protected item. I will put up the archive of the articles I have found over the last 2 years giving examples of this phenomenon. The Proposal can be read here. Please send me any links or comments.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Happy Slapping outside the UK?

The UK press and the BBC have been publicising instances of 'happy slapping' recently (e.g. BBC 12/5/05), with it making the front page at the weekend after a minor celebrity's girlfriend was attacked. Even the Deputy Prime minister was allegedly a victim. For those outside the UK, Happy Slapping is the practice of a gang attacking someone and taking a photo or filming it, normally with a camera phone. It apparently started in London in 2004 and has since spread in the UK, but apparently not elsewhere. However there are doubts as too how much of a real phenomenon this really is It has links to other mobile phone hooliganism, such as taking pictures of people in private situations (school shower rooms), as Peter Brandtzag of Sintef reports in Norway. It also has antecedents in TV shows such as Jackass, and the tango drink adverts that featured public slapping attacks , some of which banned. People have also been playing tricks on each other and animals for the camera for years, driven by TV clip shows.
However it must also have its roots in particular anti-social behaviour that is fairly common in the UK, a constant issue on the political agenda these days.
Happy Slapping does of course raise the issue of user innovation around technology - this is clearly not something that a mobile phone company ever dreamt up as a way of encouraging people to use MMS. It is a good example of the subversion of a technology by users, in line with the subversion of shopping malls noted by Fiske, and recently in the news around banning of 'hoodies' However, they did promote 'doing your own thing', based on the idea of user-led innovation, appealing to young people to take pictures of all the things they do all day. More importantly phone companies gave away millions of camera phones, putting them in the pockets of everyone, a true democratisation of technology. Richard Swinford wrote today to the mobile society mailing list that he considers some of the operators and manufacturers complicit in violent uses, suggesting Nokia and T-mobile's ads that include filming violence. His conclusion was that this is just the latest feature of a society that seems prone to violence, accepts media violence, and indeed, where filmed or recorded violence of authorities, from the LA police beatings to the Iraq war, is influencing young people to do the same. His positive spin is of course, that victims can use these personal devices to record attacks too, as in the example of a UK police assault.
So far we have only reports of UK incidences, please let me know if you hear of an attack in another country.
This incident fits into my interest in the way that society appropriates new technologies, particular mobile technologies, and develops new behaviours, and the subsequent norms and rules to control them. My current work is to get some research money to study this rule and norm making. I also see the putting of media and communication tools into the hands of everyone in the form of mobile phones, video cameras, RFID readers etc, as a critical feature of modern society that will serve to undermine and challenge many existing social structures.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

spanish university teachers sacked over P2P

Jorge Cortell has been sacked from the Universidad Politecnica de Valencia for giving a lecture on legal issues around P2P networks, by the Dean apparently under pressure from music copyright organisations (4/5/05). This appears to be an outrageous situation, now staring to be reported around the world. Cortell is a rather radical proponent of 'cyberliberties', and apparently against copyright in all forms, including Creative Commons work. (El Mundo, 4/3/05)

GPS+Digital Camera+mapping+life recording

In our work on 'nonplace' we have been taking lots of wayfinding picture series, and thinking about recording in images everywhere we go. This led onto looking into using GPS to produce your own maps, and linking together the personal maps of many people to produce 'open source' mapping (e.g. FreeLondon). Linked into time, image and sound data from many people and you start to build up a really rich multimedia virtual mirror of the world through the eyes of multiple people. This also ties into moblogging, and projects such as Yellow Arrow, Spellbinder, and MIcrosoft Lab's MyLife Project. I will write more about this in later posts.
One obvious tool needed is a digital camera linked to a GPS or other location finding technology. Now I find a number of solutions, and other discussions from a blog in 2003 Headmap discussinglocation aware devices. Rioch has a digital camera that can take a GPS card, and Geospatial Expertssell software that can link the timestamps of GPS and digital photos in the PC without need for a hardware link. $299 a bit steep for me though.

Mobile Phone Projector

One of my interests is the development of video projection, particuarly as an alternative to fixed screens. These projectors have been getting smaller and smaller, and finally nearly what I have been waiting to see, a projector aimed to pair with a mobile phone. Telecoms Korea report that Sunyang have produced a prototype projector that can project 12" image. Seems to be promoted as part of a head up display, but I think this is crucial to develop the ultra-portable personal device for use with video media.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Starting again

I have started this blog again for a number of reasons. 1st, because I need to write down some of my ideas and the many things I find inthe infospace; 2nd, I have been telling people blogs are the next big thing since 2001, but never got round to actually writing one (although I did try to do it in 1994 when the web first started); 3rd, I have some students studying blogs; 4th, it will be interesting to see if anyone ever reads this.

I also saw a couple of blogs and pages that triggered me into doing this, including this by someone called Jonathan Marks Critical Distance
His blog pointed me to this:
Creative Archive which is related to my work on open source, creative commons etc. I have just had to mark a number of essays on the topic, which again brought it to mind. I am also working on a wiki, and trying to decide how to get our department to have an more dynamic website, rather than the static one I set up in 1996, which I cannot believe is nearly 10 years old.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Welcome to my blog.

Welcome to my blog.

I am just off to give a talk on information, communciation and cybercafes at the Scottish Librarians conference.
I am trying to think of all the different forms of internet content, and all the jobs that are created around it.