"A map of [Esmeralda] should include, marked in different colored inks, all these routes, solid and liquid, evident and hidden."
-- Italo Calvino. Invisible Cities.
Premonitionpercieve contextually located future events
The physical spaces of cities are layered with the invisible experiences of the personal, the commercial and the historical. Did you ever walk through your city and wish that you could simply pick up useful contextual information in real time from the clothes on your back? Did you ever want to know what was happening on a Friday night, but didn't want to comb through multiple web pages and sift through outdated or incomplete information? When clearly defined through location specific semantic data, these layers can create easily discoverable, time sensitive information that can be accessed through a variety of handheld and wearable devices. I propose a mobile premonition system that could percieve future events based on the user's customized preferences, exposing hidden relationships between physical surroundings and the desired contextual information.
While commuting daily from Providence to Boston I began to think of my fellow commuters as layers of human experience on the landscape of the train, the city street, the office building, the coffee kiosk, etc. These interactions reminded me of Italo Calvino's multi-dimensional imagery used to describe his conceptual invisible cities. Calvino writes,
"I could tell you how many steps make up the streets rising like stairways, and the degree of the arcades' curves, and what kind of zinc scales cover the roofs; but I already know this would be the same as telling you nothing. The city does not consist of this, but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past...." (Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities. Trans. William Weaver. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1974. p 10).
The ephemeral layer of relationships between physical objects and human actions that makes up the reality of the lived city over time has become a primary research interest of mine. Curating a city's physical space by utilizing popular social networking platforms would create an incredibly useful and flexible set of semantic location-aware data that would power a new generation of devices.
In order to expose the relationships of the invisible city two distinct things must occur: 1) the social mapping of the physical world, 2) the creation of customizable, flexible, web/GPS enabled devices, are both context and location aware (ubiquitous smart clothing or devices).
While great strides have been made in the past few years to align user contributed data with physical maps, the data is often inaccurate, outdated or incomplete and there are no consistent metadata standards applied so that this data can be utilized by other applications. Currently the W3C Semantic Web working groups, the Linked Data proposed by Tim Berners-Lee, The Semantic Computing Research Group, and sites like Primal Fusion, Freebase Parallax and Twine concentrate on cataloging semantic data from the web only. Other applications utilize location based social networking: Gowalla, Brightkite, Fire Eagle, Zonetag, Foursquare, Google Latitude and Loki, but limit the cataloging of the physical world to subjective constraints such as a user's social network or places on a map. These subjective systems stop short of labeling actual physical objects and their attributes and give location aware devices very little objective data to work with. In addition, there has been reluctance by the professional content creators (in terms of cost, time and knowledge) to implement the necessary metadata.
However, these data limitations could be overcome if the masses of content creators who participate in social networking sites were utilized to catalog their physical world by semantically tagging real world objects by using a controlled set of metadata. This metadata could be a short set of fields that the user could complete or alternately part of a game. For example, Facebook already has a number of games that could incorporate this type of tagging. Physical space could also be catalogued from widgets or plug-ins that could be accessed from many different sites. By socially curating cities and the experiences that happen within them, much like museums curate objects, and by creating a democratized record of digital experiential history we can enable a host of context aware devices such as smart clothing.
These devices will be tied to a set of user-determined preferences that enable the wearer to be notified when they are near one of their specified contexts. For example, while out for her morning walk Susan passes 120 Park St. and is notified by her jacket that there will be a yard sale (specified context) at 12:00 pm that day. Jim, the resident of 120 Park St. had updated his location profile a few days prior with the yard sale date (date context) and time (time context) and as Susan walked by his house her configured walking preferences (notify me if I am spatially near a upcoming yard sale) triggered an alert.
Based on the current participation in the virtual social networking activities of tagging, gaming, etc., it seems likely that users will continue to document their experiences, time-sensitive events and commercial data. If additional tools are provided to these users, they will likely document their relationship to physical objects as well. This semantic data can be filtered, sorted and interpreted by all and will give rise to a new generation of mobile and wearable devices that are location and context aware.
As Calvino said, "A map of [Esmeralda] should include, marked in different colored inks, all these routes, solid and liquid, evident and hidden." (Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities. Trans. William Weaver. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1974. p. 89)
These semantically mapped routes will contain far richer data imbued with cultural, personal and commercial meaning. Further study is needed to determine how individuals create and document meaning in 3-dimensional physical environments.