One two three four five six
Going faster miles an hour
Gonna ride by the Stop-n-Shop
With the radio on
I'm in love with the modern world
I'm in touch I'm a modern girl
USA when it's late at night
I got the radio on
I'm like a roadrunner yeah
Okay, so the blog is back on after a harrowing holiday season involving multiple rounds of parties and an extraordinarily gluttonous New Year’s Eve. Yeah, you heard me right. Gluttonous.
I’m back in LA and thinking a lot about cars. Since I don’t have one yet, you can imagine that mostly my thoughts are full of longing. Filled to the brim with longing, actually. But there was also a post in City Comforts late in the year that got me started thinking about ubicomp and cars.
Cars carve up the experience of the city into plastic- and metal-wrapped single serving-size packets. I especially like to drive alone, late at night, and feel more connected to the DJ on the radio than to the people waiting for me at home or the people I left on the onramp. At midnight on the 405, Garth Trinidad, the voice of Chocolate City on KCRW 89.9, seems closer to me than anyone else on the road. He has a name, and he’s inside my car with me. Other drivers are just license plates and car makes.
So, yes. Ubicomp. Or rather, Pervycomp*. And parking. Admittedly, parking is much less romantic than driving around at night listening to the radio, but after doing a quick check around for ubiquitous computing projects on cars I got a long list of projects designed to help people deal with parking. In HCI, everyday irritations trump romance nine times out of ten. (The tenth, of course, makes my day.)
City Comforts cites this article about SmartPark, the Whistler, BC in-car parking meter system
Motorists purchase one of the devices for $90 along with a rechargeable “smart” card. When drivers decide to park in municipally operated pay parking stalls, they activate the unit by swiping their card, which then deducts an amount of money from the total value of the card based on the amount of time used.
The device, known as an ICPM (In-Car Parking Meter), is then displayed on the vehicle’s rear-view mirror or dashboard for the benefit of pay-parking attendants.
This could tremendously improve the management of scarce urban resources. (Of course, you have to wonder how visitors to the city pay for parking.) In future versions, could the city dynamically change the metered rates over the day depending on supply and demand of spaces per block? Would this, perhaps, someday encourage people to carpool on Saturday nights because parking near bars costs the earth and thus reduce the number of drunken idiots on the 405? Just asking.
What does a city without parking meters look like? Is it like a city without pay phones or without bank branches with tellers? A toll road without booths? How would we know when to pay, and how much will it cost? This is the Internet city, where intelligence is shifted to the edges of the network. As much as I like it in theory (I like the Internet, after all) I don’t know about the practice…
These individual parking meters are a good example of how ubiquitous computing can displace civic infrastructure onto individuals. Which is one way to say that this is a more intrusive continuation of the interaction with government services created by printing your own stamps from the Internet. The on-board parking meter is an extension of the presence of state influence within the previously inviolable space of the car interior.
The ICPM is not ubiquitous computing, exactly. It’s pervasive. It invites the state into a previously privately controlled zone. It dematerializes transactions between individuals and cities into transactions between individuals and personal computing equipment. It’s the plastic- and metal-wrapped single-serving size packet of civic governance.
I’m not quite talking here about the GPS-enabled fear of stalkers and nasty rental car companies. That’s scary too, but it’s a different pervasive computing nightmare. I’m talking here about a gradual fading away of visible confirmations that civic life is a compact between individuals and something exterior to themselves. A lot of the benefits of healthy cities are negative – the litter that isn’t on the streets, the time you didn’t get mugged coming home late at night. So it’s important to have some tangible, ritual interaction with the city infrastructure, even if the infrastructure is as ugly and poorly designed as a parking meter.
And now I’m thinking about radio again. Of Garth Trinidad, in fact, and the way I tune into KCRW late at night, when I’m starting the long dive south on the 405. He’s dematerialized too, just a set of waves on a certain frequency. (It’s funny, isn’t it, how some types of radios are so new I don’t think of them yet as radios, and how some types of radios are so old I forget what they really are?) The ICPM isn’t actually a radio, mind you -– the actual hardware seems to be just a smart card reader/writer. But it’s a next step down the path that began when radios were first routinely installed in automobiles. Folktales tell us to be careful of what we invite across the threshold. We invited the radio frequencies in –- traffic reports, morning talk shows, and all. Garth Trinidad is just a voice in my ear, but through his voice he’s real to me. Here’s the question: could city governance get even realer if it turned into a box on your dashboard? Can we design a box that might make it as real as the voice on the radio? And how freaky would that be?
I don’t know if I’m explaining this correctly; I don’t know why this is such a sticking point with me. If anyone has any thoughts, could they please comment?
Radio on I felt in touch with the modern world
Radio on I fell in love with the modern world
Radio on I feel in love, feelin' love I got the
Radio on like the power, got the magic
Radio on got the AM
Radio on got the FM
Radio on 50,000 watts of power
Radio on going faster miles an hour
Radio on and the neon and it's cold outside
Radio on I feel in touch I feel in love I feel in love
Radio on I got the I got the I got the
Radio on I got the I got the I got the I got the
Radio on again
* If I call ubiquitous computing “ubicomp,” can I call pervasive computing “pervycomp?” And how many people have made this joke before? I bet it’s ubiquitous. Oh, I just kill myself.