network city

inside the amazon warehouse

What is amazon.com's warehouse like? Kim Gilmour offers a glimpse of the activities inside the amazon.co.uk warehouse
More on the wareshouse (with a photograph) here

Quartzsite in Cabinet

The spring issue of Cabinet Magazine is out, featuring a project that Robert Sumrell and I did on Quartzsite, Arizona at our two-man collaborative AUDC.

Howard Rheingold Lecture @ Netpublics

The countdown to the Networked Publics Media Festival and Conference continues. Along the way I've been busy putting our remaining lectures online. The first of these is Howard Rheingold's lecture on Technologies of Cooperation.

Annenberg Principles on Network Neutrality

The Annenberg Center for Communication, where I am a resident fellow this year recently brought together a group of senior communication experts from industry, academia, and consumer groups to discuss how to begin to bridge differences over the issue of network neutrality. Together, this group developed the Annenberg Principles for Network Neutrality, a set of key points to serve as a base for discussions on the topic in the future.

Cubicle Culture

Fortune Magazine carries an article Robert Propst and the history of the cubicle. As moves away from physical offices toward more fluid, cybernetically conceived spaces, cubicles were an evolutionary step toward the networked workplace of our own day. Along with the fascinating history of this ubiquitous part of office design, the article makes some surprising observations about the present, most notably that 26 million Americans now telecommute via broadband. The article is, unfortunately, vague about whether this mean they just check their email once a day from home or whether they don't bother going into the office at all.
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Two books : AUDC and Infrastructure

The last few days have been rather intense. After recovering from a cold that I got while at Yale, I wound up finishing the images for AUDC's first book, Blue Monday, to be published by ACTAR later in the year. It was a long haul, but the DVD-R went off to the press this morning and the project is looking very good indeed.

Amidst all that, I ran into Brian Hayes's Infrastructure. A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape at St. Mark's books while in New York. Hayes spent some 15 years on this project and it shows. Beautiful, pristine photographs stud a remarkably informative text that addresses virtually all the aspects of contemporary infrastructure. If you're an architect, engineer, or just interested in the city, don't even think twice, just buy it now.
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Notes on the Portable Kit

43Folders brought to my attention the Burdens of the Modern Beast, a Washington Post article on how today's networked individual (43Folders suggests we might call them urban crap wranglers) is carrying more and more stuff around with them. This article has personal resonance this week: as I've been working simultaneously on my lecture on Philip Johnson at Yale as well as my Network City, and Networked Publics work, I've found myself carrying not just my laptop bag, but a giant orange Patagonia bag filled with books. With the lecture at least temporarily under control, I suppose I can focus and just carry a book or two with me. But still, as this flickr tag set (this one too) shows, we have this insatiable desire to take stuff with us. The most interesting observation in the Post article is from cultural historian Thomas Hine, who suggests that this proliferation of items in our personal kit reflects “the tendency of our society to dispense with sources of shared stability -- the long-term job, neighborhoods, unions, family dinners -- and transform us into autonomous free agents.” Hine suggests that the Walkman: “probably set the precedent; it allowed people to be physically in a space, but mentally detached. The plethora of ‘communications’ devices we carry are also tools of isolation from the immediate environment. And, in the words of the recruiting ad, we each become ‘an army of one’ carrying all our tools of survival through a presumably hostile world.” But speaking of the Army of One, the Objective Force Warrior, a.k.a. the networked Soldier of the future will need a robotic mule to help schlep all their junk around.

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Satisfaction / Affluence / Luxury

While working on my paper for the Philip Johnson symposium, I have been looking through a number of magazines from the 1980s such as New York or the New Yorker. In the case of the former, I went into the bookstacks at USC's Doheny Library, for the latter I have the wonderful complete New Yorker on DVD.

As I was working with these documents, I noticed how ads in these magazines that aim squarely at the upper-middle-class market are for lower end goods than they would be today. Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein appear, but that's a far cry from today's Prada and Gucci. Where automobiles are shown, magazines in the eighties generally showed American models with a smattering of conservative foreign models thrown in. The Hummer would be, as yet, utterly unimaginable.

But these are not just changes in advertising, they are changes in culture. Consumption of luxury items””?not just designer items, but luxury designer items””?is more and more widespread. Pierre Bourdieu, of course, argued that these markers of distinction exist to legitimate social difference. True to be sure, but we live in an increasingly clustered world and things have changed greatly since the simple class structure of his day. Forms of luxury consumption can be found in many clusters, especially urban-dwelling clusters. Even clusters that express disdain for Hummers and Prada have their own forms of luxury consumption. Earth mamas dig their organic cotton clothing, for example.

I'd like to suggest, then that what we're seeing is a further affirmation that network culture is distinct from postmodernism. Where modernism aimed to satisfy needs, postmodernism introduced a culture of affluence in which people could search out objects of desire, while in network culture luxury consumption and highly specific markers of distinction have spread widely.

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Thoughts on the Urban Long Tail

Stephen Johnson, author of Interface Culture and Emergence, is now writing on the Urban Long Tail and lecturing widely on the Urban Web. In Discover Magazine he suggests that the Long Tail is a sort of antidote to the indifference and withdrawal that Richard Sennett identifies in the contemporary city. Johnson argues that as our tastes become more eccentric, the diversity of taste cultures that we can find in dense cities will appeal to us more and more. Forms of locative media and such as dodgeball or even tribe.net will facilitate this. It's worth bearing in mind, however, that the urban has itself greatly changed during the last thirty years. You may seek others like yourself, but as this USA Today report on the work of demographic corporation Claritas demonstrates, the earth is now blanketed in a posturban terrain of discontinuous microcosms, clusters of communities organized by similar taste, culture, and ideology. The kind of urban infrastructure (40 year old suburb, brand new 80 story condos on the beach, exurban loft, ultra-dangerous urban renaissance skid-row housing) we choose for ourselves, then, is a product of our position within a cluster. So is this really an antidote to the condition of disconnect Sennett identifies? Not in my book. But this post isn't intended as a lament. We can't recuperate the city any more than we can recuperate the pre-industrial village. Instead, architects and urbanists need to find strategies for working in this new landscape.

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