+Commissioned by Rhizome.org+
Interview with Adam Greenfield by Christina Ray
I recently met up with Adam Greenfield, author of Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing, to discuss the book's ideas over coffee. Everyware was published in 2006 and draws upon Adam's background as a user experience consultant and critical futurist to describe the subtle yet persistent diffusion of computing technology into the landscape. Against the espresso machine hum, the cafe's iPod shuffling through indie rock tunes, and the register jingle, we talked about speed and convenience as the seductions that drive our increasingly mediated reality. And we pondered the cultural, ecological, and ethical costs of living with everyware and where we go from here.
CR: From where we are right now, what kinds of everyware or pre- everyware can you identify?
AG: Remember when you were a kid, and you were first writing letters to your friends, and you'd lavish a ridiculous amount of detail on the return address? "127 North Van Pelt Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 19103, USA, North America, Earth, the Solar System"? It turns out that "where," in the everyware context, is a little like that -- in order to give you an answer as to "where I am right now," in the sense that's most relevant to this discussion, I'd have to specify all the situations and contexts in which I'm presently implicated.
Some of these situations are physical, and they're unfolding at a nested series of scales. So I'm simultaneously in the United States, and in Brooklyn, and at the given address of this cafe. And, of course, I also happen to be in a room, and sitting at a table, and in close proximity to an array of tools and devices at that scale.
At the most global scale, I'm already implicated in ubiquitous systems, at this very moment, by dint of those ghostly traces of me that exist in networked databases -- property register, driver's license, utility accounts -- and which associate me with this location. Those, in turn, can be correlated with an IP address that locates me virtually. In front of me are my mobile phone and wallet and transit pass, lying on the table, and those things are all either presently networked or designed to be used with the global information network.
Increasingly, we inhabit what I think of as an order of networked things. I think of each of them, as diverse and heterogeneous and apparently unrelated as they are, as nothing other than tendrils of ubiquity. All that would be necessary for these things to constitute everyware, in the sense I discuss in the book, is for them to start talking to one another -- and we're already beginning to see the signs of just such a convergence.
All of this is a way of saying that, if you want to detect the traces of emergent ubiquity in the world around you, it can't hurt to cultivate a certain sense of the paranoid-critical. Look around you: It's there to be seen, if you have but the eyes to see it.