Рубрики
Без рубрики

The End of Cyberspace

  • One night a week for a year, I am going to completely unplug from anything with a screen. This means no computer, no cell phone, no movies. I plan to focus instead on the other things I like doing like writing letters, crafting, organizing, dancing, going for walks, cooking and making tea, writing in my paper journal. I might also try picking up some new things to like such as watercolors, mail art, dance classes, attending lit readings, etc. I’m going to work on my next book, brainstorming by hand. (BY HAND, PEOPLE!) Regardless, one night a week I’m going to unplug. Want to follow along with my progress? Read the Unplugged blog. Because of course I can’t unplug without blogging about it! (Irony, is that you?)

    • «Thus began my “secular Sabbath” — a term I found floating around on blogs — a day a week where I would be free of screens, bells and beeps. An old-fashioned day not only of rest but of relief….

      I do believe that there has to be a way to regularly impose some thoughtfulness, or at least calm, into modern life — or at least my version. Once I moved beyond the fear of being unavailable and what it might cost me, I experienced what, if I wasn’t such a skeptic, I would call a lightness of being. I felt connected to myself rather than my computer. I had time to think, and distance from normal demands. I got to stop.»

  • Рубрики
    Без рубрики

    The End of Cyberspace

    Goodbye, virtual world. Hello, new world.

    « Quote of the day | Main | Games without frontiers »

    • «[S]low time is a main scarce resource in the information age. Parents, readers, pensioners, wage workers, executives, unionists and politicians have a common cause here.»

    • Special issue on «Information, Silence and Sanctuary.»

    • This paper argues that the accelerating pace of life is reducing the time for thoughtful reflection, and in particular for contemplative scholarship, within the academy. It notes that the loss of time to think is occurring at exactly the moment when scholars, educators, and students have gained access to digital tools of great value to scholarship. It goes on to explore how and why both of these facts might be true, what it says about the nature of scholarship, and what might be done to address this state of affairs.

    • «DAVID LEVY, A PROFESSOR in the University of Washington’s School of Information, believes he may have witnessed the first-ever interruption-by-e-mail. It happened back in the ’70s, when he worked at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, a think tank at the forefront of today’s computing world.»

    • «The information age, it seems, is data-contaminated. And it’s not just the volume of information that’s worrisome; it’s the lack of context in which it’s delivered.

      «At least that is the argument of a new and growing group of people some call «information environmentalists.» Their aim: to reclaim quiet mental space from the chirping persistence of cellphones, personal digital assistants, instant messaging, niche cable channels, and a virtual landscape littered with news, entertainment, and sales pitches.»

    links for 2008-12-01

    • «[S]low time is a main scarce resource in the information age. Parents, readers, pensioners, wage workers, executives, unionists and politicians have a common cause here.»

    • Special issue on «Information, Silence and Sanctuary.»

    • This paper argues that the accelerating pace of life is reducing the time for thoughtful reflection, and in particular for contemplative scholarship, within the academy. It notes that the loss of time to think is occurring at exactly the moment when scholars, educators, and students have gained access to digital tools of great value to scholarship. It goes on to explore how and why both of these facts might be true, what it says about the nature of scholarship, and what might be done to address this state of affairs.

    • «DAVID LEVY, A PROFESSOR in the University of Washington’s School of Information, believes he may have witnessed the first-ever interruption-by-e-mail. It happened back in the ’70s, when he worked at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, a think tank at the forefront of today’s computing world.»

    • «The information age, it seems, is data-contaminated. And it’s not just the volume of information that’s worrisome; it’s the lack of context in which it’s delivered.

      «At least that is the argument of a new and growing group of people some call «information environmentalists.» Their aim: to reclaim quiet mental space from the chirping persistence of cellphones, personal digital assistants, instant messaging, niche cable channels, and a virtual landscape littered with news, entertainment, and sales pitches.»

    • About the end of cyberspace

      Cyberspace is a «metaphor we live by,» born two decades ago at the intersection of computers, networks, ideas, and experience. It has reflected our experiences with information technology, and also shaped the way we think about new technologies and the challenges they present. It had been a vivid and useful metaphor for decades; but in a rapidly-emerging world of mobile, always-on information devices (and eventually cybernetic implants, prosthetics, and swarm intelligence), the rules that define the relationship between information, places, and daily life are going to be rewritten. As the Internet becomes more pervasive— as it moves off desktops and screen and becomes embedded in things, spaces, and minds— cyberspace will disappear.

    • This blog is about what happens next. It’s about the end of cyberspace, but more important, about what new possibilities will emerge as new technologies, interfaces, use practices, games, legal theory, regulation, and culture adjust— and eventually dissolve— the boundaries between the virtual and physical worlds.

    • Alex Soojung-Kim Pang is an historian of science and futurist.

      ping Pang

    • Part of the Corante Innovation Hub.

    Рубрики
    Без рубрики

    The End of Cyberspace

    [From the Red Herring blog, 2005]

    1.

    I was about ten when I saw my first video game. As a kid obsessed with science fiction, astronomy, and computers, Nolan Bushnell’s Pong seemed like the coolest object this side of a telescope clock drive. Growing up, I would spend more hours (and quarters) playing video games than I like to think about: the worlds of Defender and Xevious came be to as familiar to me as my backyard, but a lot more exciting.

    Like most kids of my generation, I thought of video games as an alternative reality. Not only were the games other worlds: arcades were inevitably dark, slightly space-agey places populated entirely by teenagers.

    Of course, games have come a long way since then. In technical terms, video games are more complex, realistic, open-ended, and intense than in my boyhood, but they’re fundamentally conservative technologies. Despite all the changes around the edges—the better graphics, the spectacular violence, the five hundred-button controllers that you have to learn to use in utero—they’re still worlds in boxes, ultrasophisticated versions of arcade games or personal computers of old. Playstation and Xbox are incremental improvements over Galaxian and Pac Man: granted, they’re very big increments, but my 10 year-old self would have no trouble grokking a Playstation.

    2.

    But the game world is poised to undergo a revolution. In the coming decade, everything that I took for granted about video games will change. They won’t be alternate realities; they won’t be confined to edgy spaces with names like Station Break; and they won’t be arcade-like experiences. We’ll have games without frontiers.

    To appreciate this revolution and what it’ll mean, we need to take video games serious. Too often, games don’t get no respect. They’re easy to dismiss as a social problem, to criticize as a waste of time, or insult as the lowest form of pop culture. But games matter. Video games have driven innovations in hardware, software, and interface design. For better or worse, they’re big business, and major sociological phenomena. (This isn’t just the case in the United States: the Korean multiplayer game Lineage has about 4 million subscribers—almost ten percent of the population.) Games metaphors are woven through our language, and structure the way we behave at work and approach relationships.

    And playing video games isn’t always the isolating, alienating experience that some critics make it out to be: LAN parties bring together game players, and Lineage clans will take over Internet cafes for an afternoon, playing together in both virtual and physical space. People can be just as creative around games as they are within them.

    Multiplayer games have already capitalized on this fact. There are hardly any successful PC games that don’t have multiplayer capability, and massive online games like Everquest are creating a new art form out of persistent, open-ended worlds. They show just how much farther we can take video games before we exhaust their potential.

    3.

    The future of video games will be driven by two kinds of changes: a proliferation of interfaces between games and players’ bodies; and an integration of game-worlds and the real world.

    It’s strange that video games and exercise equipment have never gotten together. There have been a few exercise bikes with cycling video games, or video game controllers that attach to exercise equipment. But only in the last few years have we seen games that involve players’ bodies, not just their thumbs. Dance Dance Revolution, in which players copy dance moves on a sensor-laded pad rather than a handheld controller, was the breakout game in this genre. Previous attempts to marry exercise and video games had been failures: exercise equipment companies couldn’t make compelling games, video game companies couldn’t figure out how to build interesting alternative input devices, and early products remained too expensive for the mass market. DDR showed that there was a serious market for games that involved more of our bodies, and that such games had an attraction that went beyond video games’ traditional young, testosterone-heavy core market. In fact, for some players, DDR isn’t a «video game,» but serious exercise—a substitute for health clubs, not a competitor to Halo.

    Other companies are building on the concept of video game as an exercise machine. Yourself!Fitness, which was released this fall, is aimed squarely at women. Some of its elements are drawn from exercise videos: it has a peppy soundtrack, encouraging instructor (Maya), and a variety of exotic workout locations (a desert resort, a Matrix-like dojo). But it also creates an exercise program based on your physical shape and fitness goals, chooses exercises that use exercise equipment (hand weights, Pilates ball) you already have, introduces new routines over time, and adjusts its difficulty depending on your performance. It’s not a deeply interactive game in the way DDR is, but it uses customization to create an interesting variety, and to deepen the relationship that players have with Maya and the regimen.

    4.

    Some electronic games are recasting the relationship between bodies and game-play. Others use things in the real world as resources for games that you play partly in the real world, partly in game space.

    The great example is geocaching, a game that draws on GPS and the Web. Shortly after the U.S. government sharpened civilian GPS signals (they had previously been kept purposely fuzzy for security reasons), people began hiding «caches»—usually just a few simple objects in a box—in various places, posting approximate geographical coordinates and hints about a cache’s precise location on the Geocaching Web site (at www.geocaching.org). People who find a cache may take an object, leave an object, and note their find online.

    The game is completely unregulated and unsubsidized, anarchic in the classic sense. It’s also growing like mad. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of players and tens of thousands of caches worldwide. The caches themselves now constitute their own field, and are supporting the growth of new games: geobugs, for example, requires players to move marked tokens between caches, with the aim of fulfilling some goal—having a bug visit all 50 U.S. states, for example, or every country in the EU.

    Interestingly, in its early days, geocaching was described as a kind of nerd treasure hunt, an activity that would appeal to gadget freaks, or the kind of sportsmen who buy radar for their fishing boat or military surplus laser sights on their deer rifles. More recently, however, as the cost of GPS units has fallen and the number of geocaching sites has grown, the game has been redefined as outdoor family fun—a way to get kids away from the Playstation and into the world.

    Other games combine the power of the Web with information that resides in things. In Where’s George (www.wheresgeorge.com), players tag dollar bills with a message to register a bill’s serial number online, and to record the date and place they found the bill. The result is a kind of travel history of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even more fanciful is Skannerz, a handheld game based on the premise that warring alien species inhabit bar codes, thanks to an out-of-control nanotechnology weapon (I know, not the world’s most linear plot line). Players build characters by scanning UPC codes, which are on virtually everything, and «collecting» weapons and talents (a quest that anyone exposed to role-playing games will immediately recognize).

    5.

    Geocaching uses the Web and GPS to help players find (and find out about) objects in the real world. Other games treat the physical world as a kind of game-board, and make physical proximity an element of the gaming experience.

    Not surprisingly, the most popular of these games are played on cell phones. Mogi is a treasure hunt game in Japan, in which players navigate their way through Tokyo to locations where they can pick up electronic prizes. There’s no physical good to collect—the prizes are virtual—but you can’t get them sitting at your computer. Scandanavia’s Battlebots, in contrast, operates not in specific physical places, but in social spaces: players cluster into cafes or parks to pit their bots against each other.

    From a technical standpoint, these are relatively simple games: no one is hooked on Mogi or Battlebots by the bleeding-edge graphics, or the compelling storyline. What seems to be appealing about them is two other things. First, they fill idle time. Lots of Battlebots games happen on trains or buses, and Mogi prizes tend to be near public transportation stops. Second, they find serendipity in the random, often anonymous experience of traveling and living in modern urban cities. The person three seats down on the morning train may become your sworn digital enemy, but at least you’ve connected.

    6.

    So what will games look like in the future? Some people will continue to prefer the world of first-person shooters, and will look to their Playstations or Xboxes as a retreat from the world. On the other hand, other players will take electronic games more deeply into the real world, and create new kinds of games.

    One obvious move will be to map video games into physical places. Imagine, for example, college students creating Everquest spaces that are only accessible on-campus; overlaying Doom 3 on a building, turning a student center or parking structure into a monster-infested death zone; or creating game challenges that can only be played in subway stops when more than four players are present. Games like Everquest and the Sims have shown that players are capable of exercising remarkable ingenuity creating online spaces and resources; giving them the ability to apply these skills in the real world could exponentially multiply a game’s variety, difficulty and appeal. It would also broaden a franchise beyond the console, and bring in players who would never consider sitting down in front a screen.

    Another move will be to create games that blend virtual and real economies. As economist Edward Castronova has discovered, players in massively multiplayer games may create thousands of dollars of wealth, and build elaborate underground economies in which they trade virtual goods—often using real money. There economies are currently black markets—game companies claim to own everything in their games—but eventually, a smart company will realize that this phenomenon is a feature, not a bug. But this doesn’t have to be confined to trades of money for virtual goods: you might redeem frequent flyer miles for Elven chain-mail, earn strength points for your avatar by reaching your real-world fitness goals, or be awarded secret powers after making the dean’s list.

    The examples of geocaching and Where’s George show that we should also take a broader view of what a successful game can be. They needn’t be like board games of sports, with end-points and clear winners; geocaching isn’t a competitive sport. For example, imagine a courier game consisting of teams of players scattered around the country. The objective of the game would be to get a digital package—which can only be passed between players via Bluetooth-enabled PDAs and cell phones, say—from one end of the country. Each player would be required to make contact with the package (so I couldn’t just take it with me on a trip I’d already planned); but teams can recruit others to carry the package from city to city. In such a game, the fun wouldn’t be in the rapid-fire play, but in the challenge of enlisting and organizing teammates and friends.

    Рубрики
    Без рубрики

    The End of Cyberspace

    For those of you old enough to have played video games in the late 1970s or 1980s— the halcyon days of Defender, Xevious, and Tron, not to mention a Pac Man franchise that rivaled CSI— the terrific retro arcade photset on Flickr is not to be missed.

    Perhaps I’m just over-generalizing from my own over-excited teenage reactions to these kinds of spaces, but I think these arcades, with their spaceship or Buck Rogers interiors, darkness lit only by the neon and the light of the games, played an underappreciated role in creating a psychological association between computers and space— or alternate spaces.

    called Station Break. The arcade was on the edge of the Virginia Commonwealth University campus, near student eateries, bookstores, and the city’s only independent movie theatre. For a teenager, it was a neighborhood that spoke of leisure, freedom, and escape. The arcade itself was like another world.

    The appeal of these spaces hasn’t disappeared entirely, though most arcades are gone. The memory of the old arcade model was compelling enough to inspire MAME developers to create a virtual arcade, and there’s a pretty clear linage from Station Break to Chuck E Cheese to the Pizza Planet in Toy Story. For those who really want the old experience, a Springfield, MO arcade, 1984, is a nostalgic re-creation of arcades from the era, right down to the 50+ classic games.

    Tags: endofcyberspace, arcades, videogames, history

    Рубрики
    Без рубрики

    The End of Cyberspace

    Recently I’ve been using a couple tools a lot, for reasons that are worth noting (worth it to me, anyway). Increasingly, I find my choice of technologies depends on fairly small and specific things, keyed more to the way I’m able to use them than to functional specs.

    The first is WriteRoom. I’ve had it for a while, but I’ve now made it my default basic text editor. The interesting thing about WriteRoom is that it revives an old interface for a new purpose: it turns it into a tool for focusing an author’s attention. This is writing without distraction, the Web site promises.

    Walk into WriteRoom, and watch your distractions fade away. Now it’s just you and your text. WriteRoom is a place where your mind clears and your work gets done. When your writing is complete, exit WriteRoom and re-enter the busy world with your work in hand.

    With so much e-mail and information pouring in, the digital life we lead can sure be a blur. If you’ve found it getting harder to focus on the words you want to write, if you’ve forgotten how great it feels to really write distraction-free, then let WriteRoom help you rediscover your muse.

    Of course I find the spatial metaphor interesting.

    But what I find I really like about it is that it’s particularly well-suited for writing late at night. I have these regular bouts where I’m up until 2 or 3 at night writing— periods when I can really get a lot done, or have those conceptual or organizational breakthroughs that every writer finds really satisfying. Most of the time I’m not writing something that requires elaborate formatting or layout, so I can use a simpler writing tool. But when I’m in bed, the lights are out, and I’m trying to work without keeping my wife up, the amber lettering on a black screen seems especially fitting. The amber and black screen are gentler on the eyes. They focus attention on the words at a time when I don’t have much energy, but have some of my best ideas.

    The other tool I’m using a lot these days is Skype. Of course, I have lots of ways to talk to people— two cell phones (one used mainly for text messaging), but I’m finding Skype really good for work-related calls, for a couple reasons.

    First, I just bought a headset, which has made it possible to walk around while talking. Before I had it, I had to lean over the computer and yell into the microphone (wherever it is on my computer), which is not a superior communications experience. With the headset, on the other hand, the sound quality is excellent, and I can get up and move about. Much better.

    Further, when I’m working, I’m never at my desk— I don’t even have a desk— but I’m always at my computer. (When I’m not working I’m also often at my computer.) Since I actually lost my office phone a long time ago, it’s a lot easier to do calls through Skype.

    Finally, the combination of talking and texting makes it possible to share notes with the person you’re talking to, pass URLs back and forth, etc. Since I generally have to send a follow-up e-mail after any phone conversation, having the ability to write those notes in real-time is really useful. And since Skype can save text threads, you can use it as an archive of previous conversations. That’s really useful for things like weekly conference calls, which I’m now doing with some Oxford students I’m advising on a project.

    Рубрики
    Без рубрики

    The End of Cyberspace

    (For those who don’t want to read the various articles in which I lay out this argument, and its various elaborations.)

    What is cyberspace?

    Cyberspace is a place.

    Cyberspace is separate from the everyday world in which our bodies live.

    Cyberspace is superior to the everyday world. Information lives in cyberspace, or wants to live there. In cyberspace, information can be free.

    As more information migrates to cyberspace, or originates there, older media— like books— and information-managing institutions— like offices and libraries— will wither.

    Why did we believe in it?

    It had intellectual origins in science fiction, video games, arcane academic scholarship, and the writings of California futurists. Arguably John Perry Barlow has done more than anyone to make the concept of «cyberspace» appealing.

    It became very popular in the 1990s because it made sense of the experience of going online in the PC-and-Internet era. When the Web was new and 28.8 kbs was blazing fast, going online was often like travel: difficult, time-consuming, yet novel and exciting.

    The way we interact with PCs reinforces the sense of the computer as portal to a different world. The GUI uses spatial metaphors (e.g., «windows»); PCs are very good at absorbing our attention; and it’s hard to interact with computers and with your surroundings. You can either focus on the screen, or the world, but not both.

    Why does the concept matter?

    Cyberspace is a metaphor we live by, to borrow a phrase from Berkeley anthropologist George Lakoff. Not only have we used it to explain what happens when we go online; it’s come to guide our thinking about new work in everything from interface design to copyright law.

    The idea of cyberspace as place has had profound implications for copyright and intellectual property law. If cyberspace is a place, one argument goes, then property rights must apply there.

    Why is cyberspace coming to an end?

    Our experience of interacting with digital information is changing. We’re moving to a world in which we (or objects acting on our behalf) are online all the time, everywhere.

    Designers and computer scientists are also trying hard to create a new generation of devices and interfaces that don’t monopolize our attention, but ride on the edges of our awareness. We’ll no longer have to choose between cyberspace and the world; we’ll constantly access the first while being fully part of the second.

    Because of this, the idea of cyberspace as separate from the real world will collapse.

    So if «cyberspace» is no longer relevant, what will we call this new world?

    That’s the big question, isn’t it?

    What will life be like in this new world?

    That’s the other big question, isn’t it?

    Technorati Tags: culture, cyberspace, internet

    Рубрики
    Без рубрики

    The End of Cyberspace

    How many of your loved one’s cellphone numbers do you remember? In my case, it’s exactly one: the number of the phone my wife and I shared, and which she still has. My brother’s, father’s, stepmother’s, or virtually any of my friends? No. I can’t remember my mother’s number, and she’s on my account— I pay for that phone, and I can’t remember it.

    It would be more accurate to say that I haven’t even tried to memorize it. Why would I? I put it in my cell phone, and put her on speed dial. My mother’s not a ten-digit number: she’s «hold down the 5 for three seconds.»

    This kind of thing is not at all unusual: most of the high school or college interns who’ve worked for me in the last few years confess they program phone numbers, rather than memorize them. Likewise, I don’t know anyone’s e-mail address; I’ve got them in my address book. This kind of thing usually inspires hand-wringing about how young people can’t remember anything any longer, the arts of memory are being lost, etc. etc. I take a different view, though it’s informed mainly by my own experience.

    I think the following shift is going on. Those of us who live in a world of cellphones, PDAs, e-mail programs, etc., are spending less mental energy memorizing things that we used to have to remember. For those of us who remember when we used to know our parent’s and friends’ phone numbers, this feels like a collective, mild case of Alzheimers’ syndrome. At the same time, we’re better able to remember (or at least recall) specific episodes in the past, single events, places we’ve visited, etc.

    Tools like blogs, Nokia’s Lifeblog, Flickr, del.icio.us, and others create records of things that previously would have been quickly forgotten; but the act of using them often helps us fix those things in our memories. The books I remember best are the ones I’ve taken the best notes of: that’s because the act of note-taking helped me commit the book to memory. For me, note-taking is more important as a mnemonic device than as a record-creating tool. Something similar happens when, for example, I geocode pictures on Flickr. Tagging pictures helps me remember taking them, and associate that picture with a place.

    So ultimately, the story of computer memory’s impact on human memory isn’t merely one of «offloading» or externalizing or digital amnesia: it’s a story of a shifting of mnemonic resources, and a reconfiguration of the contents of our memories, not a simple shrinking of our memories.

    Technorati Tags: end of cyberspace, memory

    Рубрики
    Без рубрики

    The End of Cyberspace

    Dan Hunter is a professor legal studies in the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. His article on cyberspace as place and the growth of a digital anti-commons does a terrific job of showing how the concept of cyberspace has been used to underwrite, rather than undermine, the imposition of property rights in the digital realm.

    Dan is also a contributor of Terra Nova, an excellent group blog on online games. «I’m not sure that the words cyberspace or the net will ever be replaced,» he wrote in response to the big question, «because they’re such neat tags for the range of social practises that have emerged as a consequence of this new era in electronic connectedness.»

    But if I had to nominate a word it would be mesh. I think that the future of the net is in ubiquitous connectivity: which will mean that we will always be online and our physical environment and our online environments will mesh in a seamless way.

    We will be in a virtual world as we walk around in the physical world, and all sorts of extensions will come to seem natural: being able to check out ownership records of that building there; having a virtual «emergency call» button available on our sunglasses a la William Gibson’s Virtual Light; sitting in a park in downtown Philly, but exploring the Louvre in Paris; and so on.

    My kids won’t ever see a disjunction between the virtual and the «real», because they will have meshed long before they are aware that anyone ever thought of cyberspace as a place separate from their lives.

    Earlier suggestions:

    Cory Doctorow: Chattergoods
    James Boyle: None
    Kris Pister: UberDustenWissenshaftsVergnugen
    Luke Hughes: Reality Online
    David Sifry: Cyberspace
    Andy Clark: Interactatron
    John Seely Brown: The Infomated World
    Ross Mayfield: On and Catalink
    …plus many others in the Wired article

    Technorati Tags: cyberspace, language, pervasive computing, ubicomp

    Рубрики
    Без рубрики

    The End of Cyberspace

    Cory Doctorow is a science fiction writer, co-editor of Boing Boing, activist, and tech guy. His answer to our call for nominations for terms describing the post-cyberspace world zeroes in on machine-to-machine communication:

    Chattergoods.

    Cyberspace is the «place of the mind.» The world of intelligent, networked, self-optimizing, plentiful objects is a world where everything around us is continually negotiating its place and role: advertising service-queues, determining available RF spectrum to occupy, negotiating to share load, storage, and functions. Chattergoods are goods that converse with one another, all the time, the network chatter of the physical environment.

    Earlier suggestions:

    James Boyle: None
    Kris Pister: UberDustenWissenshaftsVergnugen
    Luke Hughes: Reality Online
    David Sifry: Cyberspace
    Andy Clark: Interactatron
    John Seely Brown: The Infomated World
    Ross Mayfield: On and Catalink
    …plus many others in the Wired article

    Technorati Tags: cyberspace, language, pervasive computing, ubicomp

    Рубрики
    Без рубрики

    The End of Cyberspace

    The New Oxford American Dictionary has declared that «hypermiling» is the word of the year. As they explain,

    “Hypermiling” was coined in 2004 by Wayne Gerdes, who runs this web site. “Hypermiling” or “to hypermile” is to attempt to maximize gas mileage by making fuel-conserving adjustments to one’s car and one’s driving techniques. Rather than aiming for good mileage or even great mileage, hypermilers seek to push their gas tanks to the limit and achieve hypermileage, exceeding EPA ratings for miles per gallon.

    I’ve been interested in hypermiling and its mainstreamining, because I see its popularization (measured very nicely by its being word of the year, thank you OUP) as a really good example of what happens when digital information leaves cyberspace and becomes available in the world, and available in real time. We can see it in way drivers react to the Toyota Prius mileage estimator.

    The Toyota Prius was a breakthrough in the hybrid auto market. If you live in northern California, they’re almost a ubiquitous technology: you could be forgiven for thinking that Palo Alto passed a law requiring residents to own one. One of the most interesting features of the Prius is its fuel efficiency calculator (also called an MPG estimator). It appears on the screen in the center of the dashboard, and it tells you, based on how you’re driving, your estimated gas mileage. Drive more aggressively, or accelerate quickly after stopping (thus engaging the engine rather than the batteries), and your mileage goes down. Drive more calmly, and the milage goes up. In other words, it provides real-time information about the impact a driver’s habits are having on fuel efficiency.

    Of course, we all watch our car’s fuel efficiency, but the relationship between specific driving practices and efficiency is difficult to determine in conventional cars, or when calculating average MPG per tank of gas. With my car (a no-frills, late 1990s four-door sedan), I can easily calculate my average mileage is when I full up my tank— just divide my trip meter reading by the number of gallons I’ve put in— but the relationship between my actual driving practices and mileage is always hazy. Even if I fill up every few days (usually I can go a couple weeks between visits to the gas station), I can’t make any useful connection between how much gas goes into my tank, how I’ve driven the last couple days, and what I could do to improve my mileage. I know I get better mileage on the freeway than the city (who doesn’t know that), and that keeping my tires properly inflated helps (actually I don’t know that, but enough people say it for me to believe it), but knowing that freeway driving is more efficient doesn’t help me on my 2-mile commute to work, and I’m too lazy to reinflate my tires on a regular basis.

    Prius owners have a completely different kind of relationship to their knowledge of fuel efficiency. By making information about fuel efficiency available in real time and in context, the Prius creates a feedback loop between a driver’s behavior and MPG. As a result, it encourages drivers to change their driving habits.

    Interestingly, many drivers describe efforts to boost their fuel efficiency as a kind of game. One driver, a former Silicon Valley tech executive and car afficionado, recalls that «When I got my Prius, it absolutely felt like I was piloting a large, rolling video game, seeing how to optimize the mileage.» Another, a Valley educator, reports that driving her Prius has «become a game for me. I always try to improve the mpg over the last trip.» When I gave my end of cyberspace talk at IDEO last week, I brought up the Prius MPG estimator, and one personal immediately said, «It’s like a game!» Game designer Amy Jo Kim recalled, «When I first got my Prius 4 years ago, I was completely transfixed by the real-time MPG display. Multi-scale feedback! I could see my mileage per tank, in 5-minute increment, and moment-to-moment. I experimented with my driving style, trying to beat my «high score» each day.» A 2006 Cnet article described the Prius as «a mobilized video game… surely the most expensive, biggest gaming machine built… so far.»

    This kind of feedback has always been an attraction of expensive, high-performance cars. Sports cars give you a feel for the road, and let you hear and feel how well the engine, transmission, and brakes are performing. «In many ways,» one friend e-mailed me, «driving the Prius is just as much fun as my little red sports car: there is a ton of feedback, which encourages very intense involvement with what the car is doing; it’s just that the involvement takes very different forms in the 2 different cars.» He adds, «The typical sports car communicates tactilely, via the driver’s hands, skin, eyes, and ears… that’s why it is such a joy to drive. Communication with the Prius is mostly via eyes and ears, but there is a similar quantity and quality of information; the driver is just optimizing different things.»

    The Prius-as-game metaphor may make the car, and the behavioral changes it inspires, more appealing to young drivers. Another Silicon Valley Prius driver told me, «the biggest impact our having a Prius with its MPG feedback has had is to make our son a pretty careful driver. When I was a teenage driver, my focus was acceleration, his is efficiency. He has learned to tell by feel when the gas engine is on and can achieve better MPG results than either of his parents.»

    The Prius MPG estimator shows how the presence of real-time feedback can encourage changes for the better in user behavior. In effect, it makes the extreme engineering sport of hypermiling accessible to a broader public. Hypermiling is a set of practices that a small band of drives have developed to substantially boost their cars’ fuel efficiency. They range from fairly straightforward— e.g., accelerating slowly, avoiding stop-and-go driving— to the extreme— e.g., switching off the engine while drafting behind tractor trailers.] Hypermiling is an interesting combination of low tech and information intensivity. Many hypermilers are engineers or scientists— Wayne Gerdes, who coined the term «hypermiling,» is a nuclear power plant operator— who treat their cars with the empirical and quantitative scrutiny they apply on the job, and have carefully analyzed the physics of driving. At the same time, most hypermilers don’t radically customize their cars. Instead, as Dennis Gaffney reports, they take the position that «fuel efficiency is not about the car. It’s about the driver.» Successful hypermilers don’t get «high mpg marks by tinkering with engines or using funky fuels or even, most days, by driving a hybrid,» but «by driving consciously—hyperconsciously.»

    Prius owners talking about the «game» of increased fuel mileage also illustrates how many users naturally construct narratives and cognitive frameworks around interactions with technologies. Toyota didn’t intend for the Prius to be thought of as a game, but owners happily think of it as such. Just as Internet users in the 1980s and 1990s quickly came to talk about going online as akin to going to a place, Prius owners reach for a familiar technology interaction model to describe this new kind of interaction. This suggests that designers of systems for revealing real-time energy use might want to borrow some visual cues from video games, but needn’t construct complicated narratives or rewards for good behavior: users will fill those things in themselves.

    Hypermiling illustrates how monitoring fuel consumption, understanding the physics of driving, and applying rules (some of them not particularly safe) for more fuel-efficient driving, can substantially boost fuel efficiency— in short, how information can be exchanged for energy. However, hypermiling is a lot of work, as it requires generating and tracking information that the car itself may not provide. With the introduction of real-time fuel mileage calculators on cars, however, hypermiling practices are starting to reach a wider audience. More widespread adoption of fuel efficiency calculators could also have a significant impact on oil consumption. Hypermiling pioneer Wayne Gerdes argues, «If the EPA would mandate [fuel consumption displays] in every car, this country would save 20 percent on fuel overnight…. They’re not expensive for the manufacturers to put in— 10 to 20 bucks— and it would save more fuel than all the laws passed in the last 25 years. All from a simple display.»