18 March 2007

"a colourful and pulsating future"

[image: Real Time Rome website]

Ever wonder if there is a latent collective potential for mobile technology, beyond mass communication?
An interesting article from the Technology Quarterly in last week's Economist sheds some light on the research efforts of the SENSEable City Laboratory at MIT, which is pioneering efforts to mine the vast amounts of locative data gathered by tracking mobile phone usage. The laboratory's project "Real Time Rome," included in Ricky Burdett's 2006 Venice Biennale, serves as a prototype for a much larger cartographic project that would generate unprecedented amounts of urban and sociological data. From the "Real Time Rome" website:
The project aggregated data from cell phones (obtained using Telecom Italia's innovative Lochness platform), buses and taxis in Rome to better understand urban dynamics in real time. By revealing the pulse of the city, the project aims to show how technology can help individuals make more informed decisions about their environment. In the long run, will it be possible to reduce the inefficiencies of present day urban systems and open the way to a more sustainable urban future?
[image: Real Time Rome website]

It certainly does make sense to take advantage of the mass proliferation of these mobile devices and capitalize on the information that can be harvested by monitoring usage and location patterns. Characteristically, the Economist is enthusiastic about the benefits to both private enterprise and public good that such data promises: at once a boon to both telecoms and social engineering. What more could one ask for?

[image: The Economist]

Perhaps it's paranoid of me, but could there possibly be a dark side to this new cartographic wizardry? Yes, mobile technology does indeed afford us great freedom and convenience, but what kind of new restrictive and oppressive baggage comes along with it? Would it ever be possible to achieve true privacy? Would turning off your mobile phone become a political statement?
Forgive my reactionary doubts of the promises of new technology. But it's something to think about.

link: "Go with the flow", in The Economist