Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City out in Paperback

Me++ - The MIT Press:
I don't know. There's a quasi-convincing element to the argument that human identities and interactions within their environments are determined by their communications (see Study Links TV to Teen Sexual Activity or Language May Shape Human Thought). But still, if many people used cell phones on September 11, is it testimony to "electronic engagement," or to more familiar emotions, love, connections to friends and family in any way, shape or form - and ultimately the form is a familiar voice, a familiar language, sound waves into the ear? The question (for me) isn't so much about the fact that cell phones were used as whether their use means anything significantly new or different for human identity. How significant are cell phones?
From the MIT press release:
"With Me++ the author of City of Bits and e-topia completes an informal trilogy examining the ramifications of information technology in everyday life. William Mitchell describes the transformation of wireless technology in the hundred years since Marconi - the scaling up of networks and the scaling down of the apparatus for transmission and reception. It is, he says, as if 'Brobdingnag had been rebooted as Lilliput'; Marconi's massive mechanism of tower and kerosene engine has been replaced by a palm-size cellphone. If the operators of Marconi's invention can be seen as human appendages to an immobile machine, today's hand-held devices can be seen as extensions of the human body. This transformation has, in turn, changed our relationship with our surroundings and with each other. The cellphone calls from the collapsing World Trade Center towers and the hijacked jets on September 11 were testimony to the intensity of this new state of continuous electronic engagement.

"Thus, Mitchell proposes, the 'trial separation' of bits (the elementary unit of information) and atoms (the elementary unit of matter) is over. With increasing frequency, events in physical space reflect events in cyberspace, and vice versa; digital information can, for example, direct the movement of an aircraft or a robot arm. ...Computer viruses, cascading power outages, terrorist infiltration of transportation networks, and cellphone conversations in the streets are symptoms of a dramatic new urban condition - that of ubiquitous, inescapable network interconnectivity. He argues that a world governed less and less by boundaries and more and more by connections requires us to reimagine and reconstruct our environment and to reconsider the ethical foundations of design, engineering, and planning practice."


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