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The End of Cyberspace

Semapedia.org describes itself as «the physical wiki.» The basic idea

is to connect the virtual and physical world by bringing the best information from the internet to the relevant place in physical space.

We do this by combining the physical annotation technology of Semacode with high quality information from Wikipedia.

Most simply, the Semapedia system generates 2D barcodes that can be linked to Wikipedia articles (and maybe any other Web page? not sure). When you point a camera cell phone at the code, you can call up the article. Here’s more:

The significance of Semacode is that one can now link a real world, physical object to arbitrary data. Before there has been no link, except for things like ordinary barcodes such as those used in stores to label products, or on books to indicate publication details. Unlike Semacodes, traditional barcodes have limited storage for information, are fixed function and good for only one narrow application, and also require the use of special, custom hardware and software to read or access such barcodes. With the Semacode approach, all it now takes is for an ordinary camera phone, equipped with a Semacode reader software package (available free of charge by pointing your mobile phone web browser to the ‘over the air’ distribution). There is no need to purchase any hardware or software to read these two dimensional barcodes.

Semacodes, by embedding a URL into a barcode, enable any portion of the Internet to be ‘attached’ to any object, and can replace barcodes by going further to give arbitrary information on the Internet, not just the simple product number.

Naturally, are pictures of semapedia in action on flickr, and a flickr semapedia cluster.

There are a growing number of little systems that consist of stickers/tags/barcodes + back end with some content + delivery of said content to mobile device. All pushing to make it easier to access digital information in physical places— easier both in technical terms, and in terms of lowering the amount of work or distraction required. What’s a general name for these things? Is there one yet?

Technorati Tags: digital culture, digital-physical, end of cyberspace

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The End of Cyberspace

  • «Residents of Minneapolis and Seattle are the most bookish and well-read, according to results from a new survey released today of the most literate American cities. The survey focused on 69 U.S. cities with populations of 250,000 or above.»
  • «Natural catastrophes in 2007 were more frequent and costlier than a year earlier and climate change will make them more expensive still, the world’s second-biggest re-insurer, Munich Re, said Thursday.»
  • «A new report called The Age of Consequences, just released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Center for a New American Security, tries to bring the social sciences… into the forecast of climate change in the coming century.»
  • «as the New Year approaches, we wonder what our objects of desire will be in a year or five. For answers, we turn to Paul Saffo, a veteran Silicon Valley forecaster who explores long-term technological change and its… impact on business and society.»
  • Latest innovation from thw music industry: «the industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer.»
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The End of Cyberspace

Today Sue Thomas gave a talk at the Institute on «transliteracy.» I’ve communicated with Sue for the last couple years about the end of cyberspace— last year she published an article in Convergence titled «The End of Cyberspace and Other Surprises» that said nice things about my work— but this was the first time we’d met in person.

Transliteracy is «the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.» It’s a concept that the De Montfort University PART (Production and Research in Transliteracy) Group, which Sue leads, is working on. I found the talk quite interesting, but it made me aware of something I hadn’t realized:

I hate the term «literacy.»

Obviously this needs some explaining.

I certainly agree with the basic the idea that the repertoire of skills that we need to express ideas is multiplying, as the variety of media in which we work grows; that the cultivation and exercise of those skills probably affect not just how we can communicate, but how we think; and that all this deserves lots of attention.

Where things go off the rails is using the term «literacy» to talk about things as different as game-playing, geo-blogging, writing, and picture-taking. I think there are two possibly insurmountable problems with it.

First, among academics, the term «literacy» may be irretrievably bound up in assumptions of literacy as fluency with texts. The danger with applying the term to other kinds of creative and communicative activity is that it ends up reviving the post-structuralist imperialist project— the intellectual enterprise that saw everything from nuclear war to dressing to Photoshopping as engagement with one or another «text.»

Second, among just about everyone else, «literacy» isn’t a description of a particular kind of skill, but instead is a claim about the importance of a skill. Skills that have economic value or give power to their users— or more specifically, are believed to be skills that are valuable now but will become more valuable in the future— are defined as types of «literacy:» we talk about computer literacy, visual literacy, economic literacy, information literacy, and other forms of 21st-century «digital literacy.» On the other hand, we don’t talk about «bicycle literacy,» «walking literacy,» or «sexual literacy» (except perhaps in certain chat rooms)— these are either universal and hence trivial, or not economically significant. The word «literacy» signifies importance. It’s an argument masquerading as a definition.

Finally, and separately, I wonder about how long the particular condition that the PART Group is interested in— the need to have different forms of literacy that allow for fluent use of different kinds of media— is going to last. Today we talk about visual literacy, television literacy, and computer literacy as different things because they’ve been separate media; but in the YouTubed, mashed-up, RSSed future of media, will we need different kinds of skills to deal with each? Is transliteracy an artifact of today’s fractured media situation?

Again, this is not to say that the underlying issues don’t deserve to be studied; they most certainly do. I just wonder how long it will be before the concept of «literacy» will be more trouble than it’s worth.

Technorati Tags: culture, literacy, media

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The End of Cyberspace

  • «More than half of Americans visited a library in the past year with many of them drawn in by the computers rather than the books, according to a survey released on Sunday…. the biggest users were… in the tech-loving group known as Generation Y.»
  • «The sudden influx of Chinese and Indian technologies represents the «browning» of African technology, which has long been the domain of «white» Americans and Europeans who want to apply their saving hand to African problems.»
  • «A new survey is out that is bound to add to the angst that some Indians feel about China. A British ranking of the world’s top 200 universities is now out – and there are no Indian schools on the list. Meanwhile, there are six universities from China
  • «Benton Foundation, at the request of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, published Buildings, books, and bytes in November 1996. The report reveals what library leaders and the public have to say about the future of libraries in the digital age.»
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From Marc Andreesen’s blog, quoting the New Yorker, July 14, 1951:

The most encouraging word we have so far had about television came from a grade-school principal we encountered the other afternoon. «They say it’s going to bring back vaudeville,» he said, «but I think it’s going to bring back the book.» Before television, he told us, his pupils never read; that is, they knew how to read and could do it in school, but their reading ended there. Their entertainment was predominantly pictorial and auditory — movies, comic books, radio. Now, the principal said, news summaries are typed out and displayed on the television screen to the accompaniment of soothing music, the opening pages of dramatized novels are shown, words are written on blackboards in quiz and panel programs, commercials are spelled out in letters made up of dancing cigarettes, and even the packages of cleansers and breakfast foods and the announcers exhibit for identification bear printed messages.

It’s only a question of time, our principal felt, before the new literacy of the television audience reaches the point where whole books can be held up to the screen and all their pages slowly turned.

Okay, leave aside the point that watching books on TV would be only a little more boring than golf. But anyone who watches an hour of cable news is probably exposed to more words and numbers— in the form of headlines, crawls, stock tickers, etc.— than their grandparents saw in a day; likewise when browsing the Web. Of course, that’s a total guess. But as I mentioned a little while ago, my son is keen to start reading more on his own so he can play more advanced video games. The bottom line is, the relationship between new media and old skills is always more complicated than we think.

Technorati Tags: reading, technology, television

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The End of Cyberspace

  • On late medieval academic life and workspace. «With the erosion of the communal institutions which provided for their members’ daily needs and regulated their lives, the place of study within the structures of everyday life had to be articulated anew.»
  • «Perhaps no other space in the domestic interior embodied and articulated the values of Renaissance culture quite like the study…. This paper examines how scholarly identity was constructed through the choice and display of objects in private studies.»
  • «The «multitude of books» was a subject of wonder and anxiety for authors who reflected on the scholarly condition in the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries.»
  • «The visual elements in a workplace have a profound effect on its employees. Most organizations, however, do not recognize the power of design, art, sculpture, and graphics to create the vibrancy and energy that can drive productivity and innovation.»
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The End of Cyberspace

Via Wired:

Tom Drapeau, AOL’s director of the Netscape brand, announced in a blog post Friday that AOL will cease development on all Netscape web browsers on February 1, 2008.

Technorati Tags: internet