Tag Archives: wifi

Cyberparks will be intelligent spaces embedded with sensors and computers

Source: Cyberparks will be intelligent spaces embedded with sensors and computers

Visit any urban park on a sunny day and you’ll see people relaxing with newspapers, books and, of course, phones and tablets. The digital has become part of our outdoor lives and that trend is set to continue. But there is another trend to take into consideration – the fact that many of us really prefer to stay inside.

In 2009, the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment survey began collecting detailed information on the public’s use and enjoyment of the outdoors. It found that while half (54%) of the adult population normally visited open spaces in and around towns and cities, such as parks, canals and nature areas, coasts and beaches; or countryside areas such as farm and woodland, hills and rivers at least once a week, 10% of respondents stated they had not visited the great outdoors in the previous 12 months and 8% had made only one or two visits. The figures could be better. There is plenty of evidence to show that being out in nature is good for our physical and mental health.

So can we capitalise on our new-found love of the wired life to encourage more people to go outside? A new European research project called CyberPark aims to foster greater knowledge about the relationship between technology, communication and public spaces. Its main objective is to strengthen the dialogue between those already involved in creating public spaces and developing technology, and create new conversations designed to share knowledge, spark new ideas, and trigger new projects which capitalise on bringing nature and the digital closer together.

It has great ambitions: a world of intelligent environments where sensors and computers are seamlessly embedded to enhance ordinary park activities, places where the landscape itself might respond to people moving through it. An indoors example of this might be Canadian architect Philip Beesley’s installation Hylozoic Ground, an immersive, interactive environment that moves and breathes around its viewers in which Beesley uses next-generation artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, and interactive technology create an environment that is nearly alive.

Blended environments

In the past, the natural environment and digital domains were seen as distinctly different. But the growth of social media, wearable tech such as smartwatches, mobile connectivity – and that we now carry the internet in our pockets – are profoundly influencing the way we experience time, space, and other people. Soon, the rise of Google Glass and Oculus Rift, the virtual reality gaming headsets, will lead to even more blended environments.

The CyberParks idea grew from a project which started in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in 1984, when landscape architect Ina Šuklje and her colleagues won a competition to design a new park on brownfield land close to the city centre. Bureaucratic hold-ups meant that the project proceeded slowly, but they did create a series of popular outdoor multimedia reading portals under the theme “United Books of the World”. However, financial support dwindled and the portals could not be maintained. They fell into disrepair.

But when Lisbon-based landscape architect Carlos Smaniotto Costa visited the city in 2010, Šuklje’s experience ignited a new idea. The futuristic concept had been built before its time and was poorly supported by its funders. But now, in the second decade of the 21st century, the time was right to marshall the resources of the European community and learn how it might be done on a bigger scale. And so the idea of CyberParks was born.

Smaniotto Costa co-ordinated an application to the European Co-operation in Science and Technology(COST) fund, one of the longest-running European instruments supporting co-operation among scientists and researchers across Europe. It saw CyberPark as a promising transdisciplinary idea, and agreed to fund it. In April 2014 the team met for the first time at COST’s towering offices in Brussels. I was there too, invited to contribute my technobiophilia research to the discussions.

Digital breaks

A number of projects related to the CyberPark ethos have already appeared. In Paris, for example, Escale Numérique (which translates as Digital Break), was designed by Mathieu Lehanneur to stand at the Rond Point des Champs-Elysées. Inspired by the city’s 19th-century network of drinking fountains, it taps into an underground fibre optic network to provide a fountain of free wifi in a haven of quiet on a busy city street. Comprising a large touch screen protected by a sustainable green roof covered with plants and concrete swivel seats with mini tables and an electricity supply, it heralds the kind of thing that could be achieved on a larger scale.

The CyberPark team want to go further. Researchers from 21 countries gathered round the table at our first meeting in Brussels. There were urban planners, anthropologists, digital media specialists, landscape architects and architects, engineers, computer scientists, geographers, interaction designers and psychologists. At break time, I asked around. Did anyone have a clear idea of what a cyberpark might actually be? Nobody did, but that was the point. We were there to find out, to embark together on a four-year adventure to discover the future of urban parks. But we all agreed on one thing – however digital it might get, the essence of the park is all about being outdoors, experiencing nature, and encountering other people.

“I just want to know,” said Thanos Vlastos, a professor of urban and transport planning at the National Technical University of Athens and self-confessed utopian, “how we get people to go outside?” It’s something that we plan to find out.

Sue Thomas, Visiting Fellow, The Media School, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

‘Silicon beach’ has locals in a twist but who wants to be stuck in an office?

Source: ‘Silicon beach’ has locals in a twist but who wants to be stuck in an office?

Wishful thinking., Giorgio Montersino, CC BY-SA

We must all now be very familiar with complaints about how the hours we spend glued to our devices eat into family time and other meaningful relationships. Stories range from children who’d rather play with phones than eat at the table (for which there’s an app to lock them out at mealtimes) to addictions in the making and ones that “threaten the very fabric of society”.

Locking away your phone may be the answer for some, and at the moment we can’t be sure whether our use of digital devices will have a positive or negative effect on our health, but isn’t it more about being smart about how you use them?

While VisitScotland took the opportunity to sell poor mobile reception as a great time to experience the “novelty of luddism”, the New Forest National Park in southern England is inviting visitors to lock away phones in what it calls the “world’s first creche for technology and car keys”. The idea is that wandering in the forest without mobiles will “get families connecting.”

Asked about this initiative on BBC radio, Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood made the case for disconnecting. He also commented on plans to introduce wifi to Bournemouth beach. While he welcomed them, he said there should also be mobile-free quiet zones.

Bournemouth also happens to be my local beach. And I profoundly disagree with Mr Ellwood. Mobile-free zones on beaches are technically impractical, if not impossible, and only reinforce the notion that we can’t enjoy nature without being “switched off”. Quiet coaches on trains, arguably an easier thing to enforce, didn’t exactly work and are being scrapped. The idea of depriving people of their connections is a backwards way of thinking and out of step with modern life.

The town, in any case, is supporting Silicon Beach, an annual gathering of techies and digital entrepreneurs, in September. Organiser Matt Desmier recently said that the conference along with other notable digital events, two universities and myriad award-winning agencies, meant Bournemouth was “emerging as a creative and digital hotspot to rival Brighton or Bristol”.

Bournemouth is clearly working towards being a place where wired people can hang out and work while pursuing healthy digital lives. Talking about mobile-free quiet zones at the mere suggestion of having wifi on the beach seems an anathema to this. I know where I’d rather be working (ideally in the sunshine, though Bournemouth of course isn’t the Bahamas).

Spurred on by the moral panic about the time we spend using personal technology, Ellwood said it was “a little bit worrying” that we now carried out offices and social lives with us. Meanwhile, the New Forest National Park declared that “a battle is raging” in families with smartphones.

Is it really? Do any of these claims mean anything at all? Or is it just that X out of Y media outlets think that negative stories about our digital lives attract Z number of readers, while only a minority of readers enjoy technology stories with a positive bent?

Conflicted organisations

The New Forest National Park seems to be engaged in its own conflicted struggle with technology. Is it good for you, or is it not? The park already offers a pretty good New Forest App with advice on where to cycle, walk, sleep and eat, as well as updated events and travel, yet now it seems to want us to stop using it and go off to play among the trees, stripped of our phones.

But is it true that technology makes the outdoor experience somehow impure – a belief that is no doubt ingrained in many minds? Or, alternatively, can it actually expand our enjoyment of it? Perhaps, as I’ve suggested before, we already use our phones to enhance our woodland experiences. They give us maps and GPS, apps for identifying plants and creatures, audio to record them, cameras to photograph them, and tools to draw and write about them. Plus, of course, the ability to call or text if needed. The Wild Network, an offshoot of The National Trust which is dedicated to reconnecting children with nature, is exploring the connections between “screen time” and “wild time”.

Humans have always brought technology into nature, from the earliest adzes and axes to presentday equipment of all kinds. And people have always used natural spaces to connect and socialise, whether in green woodland gatherings or sunny beach parties. Smartphones and devices are a tool too, just a new kind, that come with apps specifically designed to be used in those spaces. Turning off will always be your choice, there’s no need to make up yet more rules about quiet zones.

Sue Thomas, Visiting Fellow, The Media School, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

No phones on the beach or in the forest? Seriously?

This article was originally published at The Conversation in my column on Wired Well-being.

We must all now be very familiar with complaints about how the hours we spend glued to our devices eat into family time and other meaningful relationships. Stories range from children who’d rather play with phones than eat at the table (for which there’s an app to lock them out at mealtimes) to addictions in the making and ones that “threaten the very fabric of society”.

Locking away your phone may be the answer for some, and at the moment we can’t be sure whether our use of digital devices will have a positive or negative effect on our health, but isn’t it more about being smart about how you use them?

While VisitScotland took the opportunity to sell poor mobile reception as a great time to experience the “novelty of luddism”, the New Forest National Park in southern England is inviting visitors to lock away phones in what it calls the “world’s first creche for technology and car keys”. The idea is that wandering in the forest without mobiles will “get families connecting.”

Asked about this initiative on BBC radio, Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood made the case for disconnecting. He also commented on plans to introduce wifi to Bournemouth beach. While he welcomed them, he said there should also be mobile-free quiet zones.

Bournemouth also happens to be my local beach. And I profoundly disagree with Mr Ellwood. Mobile-free zones on beaches are technically impractical, if not impossible, and only reinforce the notion that we can’t enjoy nature without being “switched off”. Quiet coaches on trains, arguably an easier thing to enforce, didn’t exactly work and are being scrapped. The idea of depriving people of their connections is a backwards way of thinking and out of step with modern life.

The town, in any case, is supporting Silicon Beach, an annual gathering of techies and digital entrepreneurs, in September. Organiser Matt Desmier recently said that the conference along with other notable digital events, two universities and myriad award-winning agencies, meant Bournemouth was “emerging as a creative and digital hotspot to rival Brighton or Bristol”.

Bournemouth is clearly working towards being a place where wired people can hang out and work while pursuing healthy digital lives. Talking about mobile-free quiet zones at the mere suggestion of having wifi on the beach seems an anathema to this. I know where I’d rather be working (ideally in the sunshine, though Bournemouth of course isn’t the Bahamas).

Spurred on by the moral panic about the time we spend using personal technology, Ellwood said it was “a little bit worrying” that we now carried out offices and social lives with us. Meanwhile, the New Forest National Park declared that “a battle is raging” in families with smartphones.

Is it really? Do any of these claims mean anything at all? Or is it just that X out of Y media outlets think that negative stories about our digital lives attract Z number of readers, while only a minority of readers enjoy technology stories with a positive bent?

Conflicted organisations

The New Forest National Park seems to be engaged in its own conflicted struggle with technology. Is it good for you, or is it not? The park already offers a pretty good New Forest App with advice on where to cycle, walk, sleep and eat, as well as updated events and travel, yet now it seems to want us to stop using it and go off to play among the trees, stripped of our phones.

But is it true that technology makes the outdoor experience somehow impure – a belief that is no doubt ingrained in many minds? Or, alternatively, can it actually expand our enjoyment of it? Perhaps, as I’ve suggestedbefore, we already use our phones to enhance our woodland experiences. They give us maps and GPS, apps for identifying plants and creatures, audio to record them, cameras to photograph them, and tools to draw and write about them. Plus, of course, the ability to call or text if needed. The Wild Network, an offshoot of The National Trust which is dedicated to reconnecting children with nature, is exploring the connections between “screen time” and “wild time”.

Humans have always brought technology into nature, from the earliest adzes and axes to presentday equipment of all kinds. And people have always used natural spaces to connect and socialise, whether in green woodland gatherings or sunny beach parties. Smartphones and devices are a tool too, just a new kind, that come with apps specifically designed to be used in those spaces. Turning off will always be your choice, there’s no need to make up yet more rules about quiet zones.