martes, 12 de marzo de 2013

Code/Space. Software and everyday life

This book by Rob Kitchin (National Institute of Regional and Spatial Analysis, National University of Ireland, Maynooth) and Martin Dodge (Department of Geography, the University of Manchester) has been for some months on my to-read list of books. For someone that doesn´t come from a software background, the intersection of code and space is an approximation to understand the role of software in shaping our world from social sciences perspective. If Everyware was an open window to the emerging –remarkably considering the year it was written- expanded presence of invisible zeros and ones in our daily life, Code/Spaces puts more light into recent developments and prospects on ambient intelligence in its multiple forms.

Planning, geography or regional studies seem to have lost the run on influencing and analysing the smart city concept to some extent, precisely when it has become more than evident the personal and collective implications of different software assemblages in all social spheres. This book proposes a descriptive genealogy of the different forms the transduction of code and space takes. Particularly relevant to me is the analytical framework to understand the different classes of coded objects, "objects that have code physically embedded into their material form, altering endogenously their ongoing relations with the world". Ranging from digital timers embedded in home appliances and USB memory sticks to GPS trackers to cell phones or security monitoring systems.

All these objects, with their extended presence in public spaces, productive systems, personal sphere of devices or homes, create a new "spatialities of everyday life" taking an active role in creating new forms of relationships between people and particularly in everyday systems like consumption systems, homes or air travel (the three systems covered in-depth in the book). Thus, this research offers a framework to understand code/spaces as those –as opposed to coded spaces- whose functionality is completely dependent on software in its diverse array of uses in different objects so that any fail or malfunctioning implies the impossibility to use them in a traditional way. In this sense, the book also explores the everyware paradigm termed by Adam Greenfield to look into different approaches often used synonymously: pervasive, ubiquitous, sentient, tangible and wearable computing, showing the different forms, functionality and impact software can imply in everyday objects. At the same time, authors take a step further from descriptive purposes, bringing to the table some conflicting issues such as empowerment, surveillance, uneven distribution of objects, networks and Access or the risks of automation.

As a final but critical contribution to further research efforts, the book includes "A manifesto for software studies" as a research agenda in the spatialization of software. One could possibly argue, as I often do, that there is a risk to make a deterministic understanding of the role of technologies and the current spectacularization of smart technologies contributes to hide more complex social and political questions. The production of space is a critical a complex topic approached from different perspectives and especially in the last decades, and a wider link with them would raise more critical topics: resistance to invasive applications, software production processes, democratic or autocratic use of technology, ownership,…. Precisely, Everyware (and other, of course) shows some clear design options to avoid a mere passive role people seem to have in a vision of software/life interaction in which everything is inevitable.

Anyhow, there is a growing need to understand the role of technology in everyday life going beyond celebratory songs and acritical utopian visions and this book is an open door to do so.

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