Mimi Ito’s New Look

My friend and Networked Publics colleague Mimi Ito has a new look, or rather her blog has a new look and I’m delighted that she credits varnelis.net with influence in creating some balance between static (articles, student work, projects) and temporally based content (blog). Ever since last May, I’ve been spending a bit of time on this blog and recently on kazys.varnelis.net to develop a site that might better suit my readership and myself (after all, I am probably this site’s biggest user). Anyone who doesn’t know Mimi’s work should investigate. Mimi is an anthropologist studying new media use and her work on portable technologies is crucial for anyone working with questions of place today (that means you: architects).

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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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The Battle Over Net Neutrality Heats Up

Net Neutrality is a crucial issue for networked publics and the topic of one chapter of the collaborative book we are pursuing will address this topic. On Tuesday Internet content providers such as Google and last mile telecoms such as telephone and cable companies clashed over regulatory policies that might enforce net neutrality. The stakes aren’t so much the current implementation of broadband as the future. Telecoms have expressed their desire to build what would amount to a second, super-fast network that would deliver only privileged content to the consumer. For example, your DSL or Cable Internet provider would be able to transmit HDTV-quality content to your home in real time whereas other content providers would have access only to a slower network. Founding father of the Internet and Google evangelist Vint Cerf spoke in favor of Net Neutrality, arguing “We risk losing the Internet as a catalyst for consumer choice, for economic growth, for technological innovation and for global competitiveness.”

Meanwhile, at a conference marking the 10th anniversary of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, John Thorne, a senior vice president and deputy general counsel at Verizon stated bluntly “The network builders are spending a fortune constructing and maintaining the networks that Google intends to ride on with nothing but cheap servers. It is enjoying a free lunch that should, by any rational account, be the lunch of the facilities providers.” In contrast, Om Malik’s blog, Daniel Berninger fires back, stating that the future of the Internet and even of the technology industry in this country depends the adoption of Net Neutrality.

Another opinion is emerging on Slashdot, where the consensus seems to be that Google can win simply by letting the carriers have their way. After all, who really wants to go to whatever passes for a Verizon portal? If end-users feel that their carrier isn’t delivering the services they actually want fast enough, they will vote with their feet.
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The February 2006 issue of the Journal of Architectural Education is out. Look for it in your favorite school of architecture.

Why? Because this issue is edited by George Dodds of University of Tennessee, Knoxville and myself. Hatched at Jacques-Imo’s in the Riverbend/Carrollton area of uptown New Orleans in September 2004, this issue looks back, to 1966, 40 years after Robert Stern put together the seminal 40 under 40 exhibit. An interview with Stern about the show is a highlight, as are Simon Sadler’s essay “Drop City Revisited,” Hadas Steiner’s “Brutalism Exposed. Photography and the Zoom Wave,” Mary Lou Lobsinger’s “The New Urban Scale in Italy. On Aldo Rossi’s L’architettura della citt?ɬ†,” Stanley Mathews’s “The Fun Palace as Virtual Architecture. Cedric Price and the Practices of Indeterminacy,” and Peter L. Laurence’s “Contradictions and Complexities. Jane Jacobs’s and Robert Venturi’s Complexity Theories.” In the book reviews section, Andrew Ballentyne reviews Sadler’s The Situationist City and Patrick Harrop reviews the CCA’s The Sixties: Montreal Thinks Big.
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Following les Traceurs

The evolving sport of Le Parkour remakes the dérive as martial art. Defining itself as the art of movement, Le Parkour “is a new way of apprehending the environment which surrounds us, with…the human body.” As wikipedia explains, Le Parkour consists of moving from point to point in an uninterrupted motion, which means running, but also jumping, climbing and otherwise negotiating the urban terrain in a smooth and rapid manner. Founder David Belle states that Le Parkour’s fundamental principles are “escape” and “reach,” allowing one to go wherever one wants. But fluidity and beauty are also key and Le Parkour sees itself as a philosophy, not just as a sport. More on The Art of Le Parkour at the BBC.

But Le Parkour is also a form of “reality hacking,” which makes it part of network culture, inconceivable without Kung Fu movies, video games, and the postwar Brutalism of European suburbs in which it was invented and that makes up its playground. Obviously, Le Parkour is related to skateboarding, but as Anne Galloway points out at spaceandculture.org, Le Parkour is silent. At the risk of offending my skateboarder readers, skateboarding is old school (postmodern), Le Parkour is new school (network culture). Skateboarding requires an intervening object that makes loud, disruptive noises, Le Parkour is largely silent except for the sounds of sneakers contacting objects.

To see Parkour in action, check out “Russian Climbing,” an eight minute long video that captures the phenomenon in a landscape of abandoned, semi-completed Soviet housing or this documentary on Le Parkour founder David Belle.
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Sonic City

The Future Applications Lab at Vikktoria Institute in G?ɬ?teborg, Sweden built Sonic City a project that’s a sort of cross between an iPod (in which sound comes from a unit you carry) and Mark Shepard’s Tactical Sound Garden (in which sound comes from your surroundings via wifi). Users wear a garment with an integrated laptop that takes sounds from the user’s surroundings, senses the user’s context and actions as they walk through the city to create music to blend with these sounds and outputs the results through headphones.

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No More Ambassador Hotel

Los Angeles's Ambassador Hotel is gone. I hate to say that I never had a connection with the place, but I didn't. I came to Los Angeles after it was shuttered and saw it only as the object of a longstanding attempt to preserve it. What fascinates me about the destruction of the hotel is that the fixtures from the pantry, in which Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. was shot, ar being preserved, have been packed into two steel containers as part of an agreement with the school district. Nobody seems to want them, least of all the Kennedys. Technorati Tags: historic preservation, history, los angeles
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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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