The You-City:
Technology, Experience
& Life on the Ground
by Jeff Ferzoco

101 pages
$4.99 ebook ISBN 9781937402198
$5.99 print ISBN 9781937402290 available 5/15/12


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We're going to have to get comfortable connecting in new ways...

And that's going to take a lot more tools being developed by users, which we already see in some game platforms.

PlayStation's "Little Big Planet" is a mighty cute world, one that is also infinitely customizable, encouraging new experiences inside the core game. Through simple pointing and clicking, users can make new mazes with the same tools used by the game-makers. Apply this idea to social networks and databases, and you've got millions of new developers all over the world, creating tools that work best for them.

Simple, lightweight, open-source tools are already starting to appear. Easy-to-use and visual programming languages like Processing and Lua offer quick ways to build interaction. Most people aren't ready to invest the time it takes to code; programming languages are usually too complex. But as people build friendlier and more forgiving experiences, everyone can have access. The terminology has to match the ease too. Calling something a "wireframe" or "sketch" makes it seem more fluid and keeps the play moving. New coders will come into the fold if we make it less threatening and more forgiving.

It's a lot like knitting. Knitting is crazy hard for people to want to pick up. For me, it's quite complicated, and I forget how to do it as soon as I put the needles down.

But it's a language to be learned, a skill that has social value and part of perhaps my favorite recent trend: knit bombing. Also sometimes referred to as yarn bombing. It's a low-tech, simple and labor-intensive form of spontaneous interaction where someone covers a piece of infrastructure or a civic object in brightly colored yarn. Tanks, lamp posts and benches have been covered in this incredible new form of graffiti. It is really wonderful, a display of craft and coordination.

I see it as a direct link to data and augmented reality. It's adding a layer onto something that wasn't there before. Something made up. Making it better, more playful, and doing it with a sense of interruption, if not protest. Somehow the previous iteration of this lamp post wasn't quite right. So we've made fifty knitted panels, fitted them snugly on it, and now it looks like it was part of Rainbow Brite's Central Plaza. Other times there might just be some average-looking objects, a coffee cup or a rock made of yarn. Knit bombing has a few effects. It brings us closer to the original object. We instantly know about it and remember it was there. It may be that we walked by that lamp a thousand times. But you sure as hell see it this time, don't you. Now, who made that lamp? Is it part of a larger system? Why is it there? It's almost a form of infrastructure advocacy.

The other part of this is civic play. We don't have to live in cold, clean cities, now or in the future. They can be covered in bright, messy objects. In fact, they might be better that way. They might add a bit of joy to the daily lives of working people. Slogging off to a particularly difficult workday, but tripping over a yarn banana peel? Try not to cheer up with that one, my friend.

Knit bombing and the MAKE movement give me a lot of hope for how humans will approach technological change. It's a reaction to our disconnect between what we use and where it is made. People want to see that the quality is there and perceive its creator. So they make it themselves, as a village. From that comes education, and if you look at the ultra-supportive communities around open-source hardware and software, you'll see there is a lot being given out for free. Tutorials, parts, code and labor are exchanged for great ideas. It doesn't always pay the rent, but it gets things done...

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