I've gathered some reflections on the life of Steve Jobs over at Domus. See here.
It’s time for my promised set of predictions for the coming decade. It has been a transgression of disciplinary norms for historians to predict the future, but its also quite common among bloggers. So let’s treat this as a blogosphere game, nothing more. It’ll be interesting to see just how wildly wrong I am a decade from now.
In many respects, the next decade is likely to seem like a hangover after the party of the 2000s (yes, I said party). The good times of the boom were little more than a lie perpetrated by finance, utterly ungrounded in any economy reality, and were not based on any sustainable economic thought. Honestly, it’s unclear to me how much players like Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, Hank Paulson, and Larry Summers were duplicitous and how much they were just duped. Perhaps they thought they would get out in time or drop dead before the bubbly stopped flowing. Or maybe they were just stupid. Either way, we start a decade with national and global economies in ruins. A generation that grew up believing that the world was their oyster is now faced with the same reality that my generation knew growing up: that we would likely be worse off than our parents. I see little to correct this condition and much to be worried about.
Gopal Balakshrishan predicts that the future global economy will be a stationary state, a long-term stagnation akin to that which we experienced in the 1970s and 1980s. China will start slowing. The United States, EU, the Mideast and East Asia will all make up a low growth block, a slowly decaying imperium. India, together with parts of Africa and South America, will be on the rise. To be clear: the very worst thing that could happen is that we would see otherwise. If another bubble forms—in carbon trading or infrastructure for example—watch out. Under network culture, capitalism and finance have parted ways. Hardt and Negri are right: our economy is immaterial now, but that immateriality is not the immateriality of Apple Computer, Google, or Facebook, it’s the immateriality of Goldman Sachs and AIG. Whereas under traditional forms of capitalism the stock market was meant to produce returns on investment, a relationship summed up in Marx’s equation M-C-M’ (where M is money, C is a commodity produced with the money, and M’ is money plus surplus value), the financial market now seems to operate under the scheme of M-M’ (see Jeffrey Nealon’s brilliant Foucault Beyond Foucault). Surplus value is the product of speculation.
There’s every chance that I have little idea to what lengths the financial powers will go to continue this condition. After all, I would have said that we should have had a lengthy recession following the dot.com boom and we didn’t. Still, the Dow Jones, NASDAQ, house prices (measured in real dollars), and salaries all went down over the course of the decade, so it’s plausible to say that for the most part, the economy was a shambles.
Climate change will become more widely accepted as corporations realize that it can lead to consumption and profits when little else can. If we are unlucky, the green "movement" will become a boom. We will finally realize that peak oil has past, perhaps around 2006. Climate change will be very real. It will not be as apocalyptic as some have predicted, but major changes will be in the works. We should expect more major natural disasters, including a tragic toll on human life.
Populations will be aging worldwide during the next decade and baby boomers will be pulling more money out of their retirement accounts to cover their expenses. At the same time, younger people will find it harder to get a job as the de facto retirement age rises well into the seventies, even the eighties. A greater divide will open up between three classes. At the top, the super-rich will continue controlling national policies and will have the luxury of living in late Roman splendor. A new "upper middle" class will emerge among those who were lucky enough to accumulate some serious cash during the glory days. Below that will come the masses, impossibly in debt from credit cards, college educations, medical bills and nursing home bills for their parents but unable to find jobs that can do anything to pull them out of the mire. The rifts between all three classes will grow, but it’s the one between the upper middle class (notice there is no lower middle class anymore) and the new proles that will be the greatest. This is where social unrest will come from, but right now it seems more likely to be from the Right than the Left. Still, there’s always hope.
Speaking of hope, if things go right, governments will turn away from get-rich-quick schemes like "creative cities" or speculative financial schemes and instead find ways to build long-term strategies for resurrecting manufacturing. It will be a painful period of restructuring for the creative industries. Old media, the arts, finance, law, advertising, and so on will suffer greatly. Digital media will continue to be a relatively smart choice for a career, even as it becomes more mainstreamed into other professions. For example, it will become as common in schools of architecture to study the design of media environments as it is now to study housing. We will see a rise of cottage industries in developing nations as individuals in their garages will realize that they can produce things with the means of production at hand. Think of eBay and Etsy, but on a greater scale. National health insurance in the US will help in this respect, as it will remove individuals from the need to work for large corporations. But all will not be roses in the world of desktop manufacture. Toxicity caused by garage operations will be a matter of contention in many communities.
Some cities are simply doomed, but if we’re lucky, some leaders will turn to intelligent ways of dealing with this condition. To me, the idea of building the world’s largest urban farm in Detroit sounds smart. Look for some of these cities—Buffalo maybe?—to follow Berlin’s path and become some of the most interesting places to live in the country. If artists and bohemians are finding it impossible to live in places like New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles anymore, they may well turn elsewhere, to the boon of cities formerly in decline. The hippest places to live will no longer be New York or Los Angeles or San Francisco. The move toward smaller cities—remember Athens, Georgia, Austin, Texas and Seattle?—will explode in this decade as the over-capitalized major cities will face crises. But to be clear, this is an inversion from the model of the creative city. These cities will not see real estate values increase greatly. The new classes populating them will not be rich, but rather will turn to a of new DIY bohemianism, cultivating gardens, joining with neighbors communally and building vibrant cultural scenes.
With the death of creative cities, planners will also have to turn toward regions. As jobs continue to empty out, city cores will also see a decline in their fortunes. Eventually, this may resurrect places like New York and San Francisco as interesting places to live in again, but for now, it will cause a crisis. Smart city leaders will form alliances with heads of suburban communities to force greater regional planning than ever before. This will be the decade of the suburbs. We began the last decade with over 50% of the world’s population living in urban areas. I predict that by the end of the next decade over 50% of the world’s population will live in suburban areas. This isn’t just Westchester and Rancho Palos Verdes but rather Garfield, New Jersey and East Los Angeles. Worldwide, it will include the banlieues and the shantytowns. Ending the anti-suburban rhetoric is critical for planners. Instead, we’ll be asking how to make suburbs better while boosting the city core. Suburbs may become the models for cities as the focus turns toward devolving government toward local levels, even as tax revenue will be shared across broad regions.
Urban farming will come to the fore and community-supported agriculture will become widespread. This won’t just be a movement among the hipster rich. It will spread to the immigrant poor who will realize that they can eat better, healthier, and cheaper by working with members of their immigrant community running farms inside and outside the city instead of shopping at the local supermarket. A few smart mayors will realize that cities in decline need community gardens and these will thrive. The rising cost of long-distance transportation due to the continued decline of infrastructure and peak oil will go a long way toward fostering this new localism.
The divisions in politics will grow. By the end of the decade, the polarization within countries will drive toward hyper-localism. Nonpartisan commissions will study the devolution of power to local governments in areas of education, individual rights (abortion will be illegal in many states, guns in many others), the environment, and so on. In many states gay rights will become accepted, in others, homosexuality may become illegal again. Slowly talk will start on both sides about the US moving toward the model of the EU. Conservatives may drive this initially and the Left will pick it up. In that case, I’m moving to Vermont, no question.
Architects will turn away from starchitecture. Thoughtful books, videos, and Web sites on the field will grow. Parametric modeling will go urban, looking toward GIS. Some of those results will be worth talking about. Responsive architecture will become accepted into the profession as will the idea of architects incorporating interfaces—and interface design—into their work.
In technology, the introduction of the Apple iSlate will make a huge difference in how we view tablets. It will not save media, but it will allow us to interface with it in a new way. eBooks will take hold, as will eBook piracy. Apple itself will suffer as its attempts to make the iSlate a closed platform like the iPhone will lead first to hacks and later to a successful challenge on the basis of unfair restraint of trade. A few years after the introduction of the iSlate, an interface between tablets and keyboards will essentially replace notebook computers. Wine will advance to such a point that the distinction between operating systems will begin to blur. In a move that will initially seem puzzling but will then be brilliant, Microsoft will embrace Wine and encourage its production. By the end of the decade, operating systems will be mere flavors.
The Internet of Things will take hold. An open-source based interface will be the default for televisions, refrigerators, cars and so on. Geolocative, augmented-reality games will become popular. Kevin Slavin will be the Time Web site’s Man of the Year in 2018. As mobile network usage continues to grow, network neutrality will become more of an issue until a challenger (maybe Google, maybe not) comes to the scene with a huge amount of bandwidth at its disposal. Fears about Google will rise and by the end of the decade, antitrust hearings will be well-advanced.
We will see substantive steps toward artificial intelligence during the decade. HAL won’t be talking to us yet, but the advances in computation will make the technology of 2019 seem far, far ahead of where it is now. The laws of physics will take a toll on Moore’s Law, slowing the rate of advance but programmers will turn back toward more elegant, efficient code to get more out of existing hardware.
Manned spaceflight will end in the United States, but the EU, China, and Russia will continue to run the International Space Station, even after one or two life- and station-threatening crises onboard. Eventually there will be a world space consortium established, even as commercial suborbital flights go up a few dozen times a year and unmanned probes to Pluto, Mars, Venus and Europa deliver fantastic results. Earth-like planets will be found in other solar systems and there will be tantalizing hints of microscopic life elsewhere in the solar system even as the mystery of why we have found nobody else in the universe grows.
Toward the end of the decade, there will be signs of the end of network culture. It’ll have had a good run of 30 years: the length of one generation. It’s at that stage that everything solid will melt into air again, but just how, I have no idea.
As I stated at the outset, this is just a game on the blogosphere, something fun to do after a day of skiing with the family. Do pitch in and offer your own suggestions. I’m eager to hear them.
In the new issue of Wired, Andrew Blum has an article entitled Air Repair about how consultants at the Mitre Corporation are rethinking the airspace above New York to alleviate congestion in the nation’s most heavily travelled airspace. It was a great delight to read and this is precisely the kind of approach that new infrastructural initiatives will need to take. Not heavy construction or expensive technological retrofit, but rather applying intelligent thinking applied to making the most of out of conditions, hacking and social engineering what we’ve already got.
It’d be great if there could be some kind of grand science of optimizing existing infrastructure, but I suspect that there’s not going to be. There’ll be some mathematical models, sure, but more than ever, I think we’re living in an age of tactics, not strategies.
Archinect asked me to post with my predictions about the future of architecture and I’ve contributed with even more gloom than usual.
But the end of the year means that your favorite blogs will be doing year-in-review posts. Although good significant buildings have been in scant evidence, I thought it opportune to list the design highlights of the year. Some of these, but not all, are personal.
You’ll notice that almost every entry also has its down side. In our era of perpetual beta/continuous partial attention, it is difficult for designers and developers to focus long enough to get out a finished project. Speaking of which, having been sleep deprived for days (Christmas with small children does that), I’m sure I’m missing all sorts of stuff…
Anish Kapoor at the Haus der Kunst
I was floored by Anish Kapoor’s show at Munich’s Haus der Kunst. The retina-searing pigments and restrained but fluid surfaces of Kapoor’s installation created a vision of another world that architecture could learn a lot from. Sadly the show at Boston’s ICA was so much smaller in scale and failed to engage the architecture (partly the fault of it being relegated to a much smaller space).
Situated Technologies Pamphlet Series
The Situated Technologies pamphlet series, curated by Mark Shepard, Omar Khan, and Trebor Scholz brought together some of my favorite thinkers to reflect on the evolving role of ubiquitous computing and architecture. Freely downloadable or available for purchase at Lulu, this series does present-day pamphlets right by picking a great format and impressive content.
I’m hoping to do one too, that is if the organizers ever come around to my idea of writing the pamphlet online as a discussion with my readers on this blog.
Although the Macbook Air was released this year, the real story was the fall’s aluminum Macbook. If its confused design and strange use of black made it less visually appealing than the more Ulm-school plastic Macbooks and if the glossy screen and the sad omission of Firewire is typical of Apple’s longtime misunderstanding of users’s needs, at least there’s finally a small, blazingly fast Mac. Adding icing, Apple’s unibody aluminum chassis means that the Macbook is much sturdier than the previous thin-skinned models. Sporting a decent graphics card and, wonder of wonders, a hard drive nearly as easy to upgrade as the battery, the Macbook air won me over. With the Infrastructural City done, I sold my 17” Macbook Pro and moved to a Macbook that is just about as fast. My shoulder is happy.
Running atop a flavor of Unix and easily capable of running Windows via a number of different technologies, today’s Macs are great machines. Apple’s decision to focus on bugs in its next OS release is most welcome as frustrating bugs still abound.
This was the year that I joined Facebook and, judging from my friends’ list, the year many of you did as well. Social networking sites are a remarkable phenomenon, fundamentally changing the way we connect to others. Too bad then, that Facebook’s redesign is so bad. Just how am I supposed to post links or add a photo to my profile pics again? The designers and coders for the site are clearly too busy to actually use it.
Hand dryers in public bathrooms make me angry. They are so frustrating that I usually wind up using my jeans if towels are lacking. That’s why I’m so delighted by the Dyson Airblade, a hand dryer that works! Moreover it doesn’t require you to touch a grungy button to activate it. The Dyson Airblade made my trips through Boston Logan’s Jet Blue terminal much happier. Now if only the people in charge of mounting them on the rest stops in Connecticut’s I-95 would learn that they should be mounted much lower than the useless old hot-air blowers of the past.
Apple’s iPhone 3G is of much greater consequence than the first iPhone. Driven, perhaps, by a burgeoning DIY distribution system for iPhone apps, Apple made it possible for developers to write applications to be sold over Apple’s application store. Sadly, Apple also limited the application store in arbitrary, sometimes insane ways. For example, if you want a video recording application or want to share your 3G connection with your laptop, you’ll need to jailbreak your iPhone. The logic behind such rules is hidden for end-users and suggests that Apple wants a happy fascist version of the Internet. I’m definitely not a fan of that approach.. Luckily, hackers have filled the gaps Steve Job created. Beyond that, the iPhone 3G is not only faster, it has GPS built in, making it the first really major application for locative media applications. If only the battery life wasn’t so pathetic, another example of Apple’s lack of connection with its users.
Like all of my sites, this site runs on Drupal, a decision I made back in 2004, and one that has proven on target. Drupal also runs many, many sites, including the sites for the architecture programs at Yale and Columbia (in the very near future!) as well as the students of the Harvard architecture programs. I was there first! This year the steep learning curve of Drupal flattened a bit at the same time. But if user-contributed modules give it immense flexibility, Drupal also witnessed a speed bump with the upgrade to version 6 and ground-up rewrites ofmodules used by many developers. Adoption of the new version on production sites was slow (I still haven’t upgraded any of my sites to 6). Still the future is bright for my favorite content management system.
Instead of more megapixels, better megapixels. We published a number of photos in Infrastructural City using the Panasonic DMC-LX2. The LX3 is a significantly better camera, capable of saving its output in RAW, decent low-light photography, with a nice wide lens (f2.0 and 24mm Vario-Summicron lens), able to shoot HD video, a hot shoe for flash, and even an elegant black leather case. This thing often beats my Canon 5D for image quality. What more can I ask from a pocketable camera? To save in Adobe’s open DNG format would be nice, but I’ll take what I can get .
As if to cement the historical verdict that Bush was a total disaster as President, NASA’s new Ares I launch system was revealed as wildly expensive, insanely complex, delayed, and possibly a crew killer. Only two things may save the manned space program. First, Obama’s transition team may realize this and cancel it outright, replacing it with either the Direct 2.0 system or a man-rated Atlas V or Delta IV. Second, if Elon Musk’s Falcon 9 is successful, it may be able to take over after the Ares pogos to smithereens during its first launch. Then again, maybe we should just save our money for unmanned space?
I was at the MIT Press bookstore the other day where I saw that the Infrastructural City is already available. Since Amazon has apparently already run out of stock, just minutes after the book finally became available there, MIT is your best bet for a few days.
I also bought the new issue of Perspecta on “the Grand Tour” since it features AUDC’s most recent piece “An American Pastoral.” This is our first project since Blue Monday and marks a new direction for us, away from the model of the cabinet of curiosities and toward a more universal understanding. If we were suspicious of master narratives when we began writing Blue Monday, by the end we realized that—pace to that grand narrativist Lyotard—fantasies of escape from the master narrative were dubious, if not impossible. To lead to anything at all, curiosities, like life demand master narratives (more, from a more theoretical perspective, on this soon!). After all, just because the academy gave up its ambition in favor of minor narratives doesn’t mean that power did. Take a good look at the last eight years for evidence of the utter failure of that strategy on the part of the academic left. In any event, our new work, of which this is a fragment, sets out as nothing less than an inventory of the contemporary world.
A few of you who saw the piece complained about the design making it hard to read the text. I know. I’m not really sure what to say about it except to observe that our experience is that many graphic designers think that a straightforward text with straightforward photos need a non-straightforward layout. Architecture is like that too, I suppose. Maybe it’s the Hawthorne Effect? Robert and I often observe that the Hawthorne Effect is nothing less than the operative principle for all culture. Is that, perhaps, the title for our next book? I ran it by Robert and he thinks so. Could be!
Via Kottke.org and PSFK Philippe Starck announces that design is dead and he is retiring. Long an advocate of immaterial culture, Starck confessed to Die Zeit "I was a producer of materiality and I am ashamed of this fact." "Everything I designed was unnecessary. … design is a dreadful form of expression."
This is building toward another post that I’ve been hoping to make, which is to bring together my review of Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody with the MoMA Design and the Elastic Mind show. Just as we seem to have more faith in design than ever, just as design seems to be exploding, we are also faced with a culture for which design (as conventionally practiced) is simply not appropriate anymore.
Looks like I wasn’t the only one to rethink the way their site looks: Régine Debatty’s wonderful We Make Money Not Art had a radical redesign yesterday. As with my redesign, the goal seems to be to have non-RSS visitors have a cleaner experience, eliminating the endless blog-scroll-of-death.
In Régine’s case, she’s kept an overview page with multiple stories but reduced the "teasers" on these to little more than images (how will she deal with entries that have no images, I wonder?) while the entries sit by themselves, much as my entries do. Its nice to see a continuity with the existing site and the search bar as title bar is fabulous. I’m surprised to see that such a radical redesign is possible within Movable Type, kudos to Régine and her designer.
Then there’s Brett Steele’s redesign of his site. Brett’s abandoned his old resarch.net site and now has brettsteele.net an interesting WordPress-driven site that he hopes reminds us of the New Yorker and the Economist. Brett’s design freely mixes his blog with announcements about his appearances, what he’s reading, the classes he’s teaching and so on.
Over at aggregät 4/5/6, Enrique is experimenting with different platforms as well.
It’s time to take one last look back at 2007. For AUDC, the Netlab, and myself it was a great year, as AUDC’s Blue Monday hit the bookstores and as the Netlab brought two books—the Infrastructural City: Networked Ecologies in Los Angeles and Networked Publics—to press. The latter contains my conclusion on the Rise of Network Culture, a text that I ambitiously crafted as being one of the first attempts to periodize this moment. The reaction to it has been incredibly favorable and I look forward to seeing what people have to say when it hits print this fall. In other news, the Netlab began working at Columbia’s Studio-X space in Soho as I spent more time blogging on this site than I have in a while.
But what about the wider world? What were the trends that struck me as significant this year in architecture and network culture? This list may strike someone who isn’t familiar with varnelis.net as Borgesian, but remember that the Netlab’s mission is to study the impact of digital technologies together with electronic and social networks on architecture and the city. These developments have a critical impact on the field: how (or whether) we choose to understand them is key.
Many of these are end-game scenarios, but this shouldn’t be surprising if the rise of network culture obsoletes earlier sociocultural forms.
1. The Decline of the City, the Rise of the City
So let’s start with a condition of closure. Nearly every time I go into the city, I lament its passing. In its stead rises a fabulous machine for consumption, a playground for the global élite. Banish any thought that this city is still the place to meet others unlike yourself—Louis Wirth’s great insight that urbanism was first and foremost a way of life. The result is that the global city is, more and more, a metropolitan version of American girl town. But if a lament is necessary, its also the symptom of an aging cultural critic. So let’s not go there. Closure brings new opportunities.
After all, Jean Gottmann re-mapped the city as megalopolis for us back in 1961. Today the suburb, not the inner city, is increasingly the first stopping point for immigrants, a new mixing-ground, the place where a new urbanism is emerging. What new cultural forms will this new city, writ large, produce? France seems ahead of us in this with le Parkour and French Democracy, What else might be out there?
2. The End of Privacy
Speaking of end-game scenarios, how about the utter and complete decline of privacy in our lives? We live in a world worthy of Orwell, in which every action in our lives is increasingly transparent while the government operates in a state of exception, shrouded in mystery, operating a war without end. Nor is this only a question of the individual’s relationship to the state. With the rise of social networking sites and blogs, the boundaries between public and the private are blurred. Make no mistake, this transition is as great as that from the bourgeois public sphere to the age of mass media and will have similar architectural implications. If transparency was one of the foundational principles of modernism and if it remains so in our own architecture, what of it when, like modernization, it is no longer a goal but a default condition?
3. The Return of Big Computing
How is all that information that we are leaving behind being processed? What does it mean that social networking sites pull our attention away from PCs and onto massive, centralized sites? How about the rise of networked applications such as Google docs together with online mail storage? Key software publishers such as such as Adobe suggest that in the near future they will be switching, at least in part, to an on-demand model of software in which users rent applications from on-line sources. One of the hottest trends in web browser development in 2007 was the rise of Site-Specific Browsers.
The result is the emergence of vast server farms and the erosion of the decentralized model of networked computation. Late Fordist computing was big and centralized around mainframes while digital culture focussed on the discreet PC. In its first phase, network culture promised a peer-to-peer model even if it never delivered that, but now this is giving way to big computing.
If so, what are the implications for urbanism? Remember that the growth of the global city has in many ways been the product of its role as a command-and-control center in flows of information and capital. This has been made possible by the decentralized model of large telecom hotels located near key financial centers. But if more centralized than the distributed model that the Californian ideology promised—and thereby ideal platforms for surveillance—telecom hotels still consisted of a multiplicity of individual servers. These too are likely to be replaced by cloud computing, in which virtual servers will be rented from the big players like Amazon or Google. The result is the impending end of the telecom hotel and the rise of utility computing in its stead. Utility computing isn’t a bad name for what this new model will be like. Demanding vast amounts of space and power of these server farms will likely be located far from city cores in places like the Dalles, Oregon.
Coupled with new technologies for bringing the net to the home or office—for example, Verizon FiOS—that are being deployed first in suburbs instead of in cities, the computational drive toward urban centralization may be fading.
One consequence could be that we’ll see a lot of the "creative industries" going suburban to take advantage of faster online speeds, lower rents, and a less exhausted urban condition over the next half decade.
4. Systems not Sites
2008 is the Web’s fifteenth anniversary. But the old Web is dead. We just don’t build Web sites from HTML anymore. If you have a site, it’s run by a content management system. Now some backwards sites still rely on Flash, but they’re easy to identify: they haven’t been updated in two years. Instead, most sites that people I know operate or own are either built on Open Source database-driven systems based on modularity and interoperability or hosted on server farms.
Could there be any connection here at all to architecture? Well, if our virtual spaces operate on such principles, why are our real spaces still based on handicraft, low-quality labor, and thoroughly proprietary (the more so, the more "advanced" they purport to be)?
Sure, scripting is all the rage now (having taken over from parametrics), but for the most part this has aimed at producing "cool" design without taking any responsibility for it. Nothing new about that since Eisenman’s House series in the early 1970s. Is there any chance that architecture can figure out network culture before its shown the door?
5. Goodbye, Bilbao
On a related note, one of the most pernicious influences in architecture over the last decade has been the Bilbao-effect, the idea that architecture could effect urban change simply by looking cool.
Sure, it worked for Bilbao—maybe everybody was just so shocked by Gehry’s only decent building in thirty years—but 2007 was the year in which it became clear that this idea was thoroughly played out. Just who is going to go to Toledo to see SANAA’s Glass Pavilion, let alone Roanoke to see Randall Stout’s Art Museum of Western Virginia?
There’s no question that the Bilbao-Effect has been bad for architecture, validating long-obsolete practices and putting the focus on visibility precisely at a moment when invisibility should have been the focus. Take scripting again, its painfully retardataire, obsessing with form rather than program.
Remember the 1960s, when Philip Johnson museums sprouted everywhere from Utica to Lincoln, Nebraska? Or the 1980s, when every city thought it needed a stadium and convention center to attract businesses until Richard Florida encouraged them to think what that they really needed was an art museum and a gay district?
So too, this fad will pass. Watch the Bilbao-Effect take on water as the real estate bust continues into the next year and begins to negatively affect tax rolls. Architects better make sure they’re not so thoroughly identified with cool form that the discipline suffers heavy damage. After all, the alliance of big architecture, big business, and big government has gone awry once twice—in 1929 and 1968—and it nearly meant the end of the discipline the second time.
[Interesting historical note: 1968 – 1929 = 38. 2007 – 1968 = 38. Meaningless no doubt, unless perhaps you believe in Kondratieff waves but interesting to think about how when we refer to 1968 as our formative cultural moment, we are referring to something as distant in time from us as Black Friday was from 68.]
6. The Bust
Which bring us to… the bust in residential real estate. Like the Economist, I have been predicting this for a while and it’s finally here. And like anything that’s been around too long, the boom bred all sorts of badness as it lasted too long. As a consequence, it may well be harder to pull out of this one than it was to pull out of the great recession of the early 1990s.
It’s going to be tricky for the profession not to take on heavy damage in the next year, even with China and Dubai (themselves not very stable propositions) offering work to many. I hope everyone has their paper architecture skills honed. For a short time, at least, paper architecture could be a good thing. The boom has been going for so long that its exhausted the profession thoroughly.
Take Rem, for example, I suppose it’s nice that he’s building the CCTV tower and all, but during the 1990s he was one of the great thinkers in the field. He hasn’t had anything interesting to say since Junkspace and that was pre-9/11 and while Porto was certainly a great building to visit, what happened to immensely intelligent urban plans like Melun-Senart or Yokohama? I was talking to one colleague. In his view, this was no surprise. Rem is going to be able to collect social security a year from now and he’s said everything he would ever say. Could be. But there are plenty of thinkers who do great works in their sixties, unless of course they’re off chasing their retirement dollars in China and Dubai. And Rem is only one example. Architecture needs practice from time to time to thrive, remember when Praxis (a journal I greatly admire) was founded as a counter to the world of paper architecture and bad theory? But architecture needs down time too and its state of continuous partial attention is, well, increasingly irritating and pointless. The same can be said of culture as a whole. Let’s have a good recession and get some good music and art out of it for a change, ok?
7. The iPhone
It’s hard to deny the impact of the iPhone. Even with all of its faults—the most awful network in the country, a locked-down interface, and an interface that has its quirks, such as no cut and paste—its a remarkable achievement. For now it unites the iPod and the cell phone, but what’s more interesting is that the iPhone is roughly as powerful as a 2002 vintage iMac.
Nor is it unimportant that even as Apple and AT&T proved themselves to be part of the old economy, locking down the platform not just once but repeatedly, a guerilla army of developers successfully broke Apple’s code. Among the programs already available for the iPhone are a Last.FM scrobbler, Navzon’s simulated-GPS locator that works by triangulating your distance from cell phone towers, and a program that uploads photographs you take immediately to Flickr.
Hundreds of thousands (and just possibly over a million) users have jailbroken their phones, downloading programs onto them and something like one in six went a step further to unlock them to use non-AT&T SIMs. For comparison’s sake, Apple only sold 4 million iPhones. This means that hacking firmware is no longer only for the elite anymore. If you haven’t done so yet, it’s easy… just click this naughty link. Whether Apple gave in or whether this was their canny intention all along, they are releasing a developer kit and opening the iPhone for third-party applications in February.
If Apple opens up the iPhone enough and if Navizon allows hooks into their system from other applications, then the era of mass locative media will be upon us very rapidly in 2008. And if that doesn’t happen, then the upcoming Google Phone likely will do that too.
But in this interesting post, Chris Messina suggests that there’s something disappointing about this situation. Messina, an advocate of web-based applications, suggests that the iPhone could have been the first real web-driven platform. Now I think there is something interesting here since web apps are in many ways easier to code for (at least for me). There are rumors that the next iPhone update will allow Safari bookmarks to be saved as icons on the iPhone, something that relegated web apps to second-class citizens thus far. If, I differ with Messina in thinking that a forced march into web apps was a bad idea and if I’ve suggested that there are problems with the web apps model (see #3 above), there is potential here that could be exploited. Of course, I’ve also said things about web apps in item #3, so exercise some degree of caution as you throw away the CDs for your software.
Alright, enough of 2007. More than half of its last day has passed. Time to pay my final bills of the year, grade my final essays of the year and hope that the former will be smaller, the latter much better in 2008. Stay tuned tomorrow for a surprise or two on the blog.
No doubt there’s much more to say about this past year. As always, I’d love to hear about it. Comment away.