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.