Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Telekinetic Spaces

From India to the Planet Mars: A Study of a Case of Somnambulism with Glossolalia by Theodore Flournoy Professor of Psychology at The University of Geneva depicts a number of cases of spiritualist interest, including the account of Mlle. Smith who "really possesses the faculty of telekinesis - the ability to move ponderable objects situated at a distance, without contact and contrary to known natural laws" (1900: 5). Flourney attributed these phenemona to Martians and 'Hindoo fakirs', and as this image shows saw a link between the magically charged environments of India and Mars. Undoubtedly stunts that fascinated credulous spectators were composed of complex strategies and devices to make things appear to move. Yet, oddly enough the idea of telekinesis is now emerging as a technical possibility without arcane assistance.

MRI technologies combined with wirelessness and other brain interfaces present the possibility of environments actually controllable by the mind.

How would it work? New research at Washington University published in Journal of Neural Engineering demonstrates implants on the brain that allow the control of mice controllers (PC World 10 April 2011).Furthermore, the technical aspects of so-called 'mind controlled environments' are already being imagined for 2020 and beyond in gaming (Tech Radar 29 January 2010). Thoughts would be detected and translated into digital code by special interfaces that are bound to become more common and cheaper. Also, mind-controlled exo-skeletons are in development that amount to the same thing as mentally controlled remote objects (Wired 23 April 2010). Also, toys like Mindflex are already available in stores. It seems inevitable that public spaces, which already contain sensors and motion detectors, some even wireless enabled, will become thought-controllable.

What would they look like? Augmented technologies are already being integrated into many small technologies like spectacles and contact lenses. It could be imagined that a brain interface might sit inside a cap or hat of some kind and link to a wireless enabled 'personal server' such as a smart phone. Technologies like the Emotiv Brain Interface certainly are consumer-ready.

What would the travel implications be? The social aspects of mass telekinesis are much more of a challenge to forecast. Infrastructures that interact with large numbers of people would face new demands including the dislocation of proximity to control. For example, queue-jumping would take on new dimensions of complexity as objects like doors, lifts, and gates could potentially be accessed by multiple users from a much further distance.

Communication from a distance is already possible therefore it is not hard to imagine 'invisible' and hands-free conversations through thoughts. But telekinetic communication between people and objects might enhance and improve the control of vehicles, transactions and payments, as well as more ambitious uses including the control of doors and even perhaps traffic flows or bicycle lanes. Even autonomously powered objects might appear to defy physics, floating to their users via invisible thought commands.Blue sky social shifts could include the neglect and perhaps redundancy of speech in favour of thoughts as daily tasks are routinized via telekinesis to privilege this form of activity. Telekinetic environments are augmented reality 2.0 and the tools already exist in principle for this to happen.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Nano-Fibres from Fruit = Pineapple Cars?

Engadget reports on research presented by Dr Alcides Leão from Brazil to the 241st National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) that nano-fibres could be made from fruit 30 March 2011. The new textile would be 30% lighter than carbon fibres, which are currently being used in a range of transport vehicle designs from car bodies to bicycle frames and protective clothing. The nano-fibres have the strength of kevlar and could be used in a wide range of consumer products.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Reaching the Limits of the Web: The Travel Impacts

The Internet protocol version 4 (IPv4) is the enduring system of addresses used to identify and connect devices within the Internet. However, there is concern by many leading experts that the number of IP addresses supported by the IPv4 system is becoming exhausted. When the Internet was conceived it was assumed that 4.3 billion IP addresses would be a sufficient number to meet the needs of the Internet. But given the continued proliferation of devices connected to the Internet, the pool of IPv4 addresses could reach its limit by November 2011 (BBC, 13/01/11).

An alternative Internet protocol has been developed, the Internet protocol version 6 (IPv6). This protocol has the capacity for 340 undecillion (340 followed by 36 zeros) IP addresses (Star Telegram, 4/02/11). Having a vast number of IP addresses at our disposal will mean many more everyday devices, at home and at work, can have their own unique IP address resulting in a much more secure, robust and effective connection and communication within an ever diffuse web (see IPv6.com). Such developments could have a massive impact on social and business practices that could change our current travel patterns significantly.

However, before we begin to speculate on how enhanced communication between devices can shape practices and travel, there are number of pressing technical challenges to implementing IPv6 on a global scale that could have more impending impacts on travel demand. Importantly, many devices, such as older modems and network cards, were not designed to read IPv6. There is a danger that large parts of the Internet will become incompatible with each other and therefore cause widespread communications disruptions. This challenge could be overcome by a global scale switch or re-configuration of all devices and websites from IPv4 to IPv6, although the practical complications of implementing a switch on this scale make it an unlikely option. It is much more likely that the switch will be chaotic and piecemeal (BBC, 11/11/10).

Global scale Internet disruptions could have a large, if short term, impact on travel demand. The Internet, after all, is fast becoming an essential part of the social and business practices which underpin travel demand. For example, how might important documents be sent if there is a disruption to email services? It is probable that important documents would be sent physically and thus increase demand for postal services in the short term, a service that relies on the movement of bodies and objects through physical space. How might business to business online communications systems cope with Internet disruption? If disruptions persisted, a real possibility according to Internet pioneer Vint Serf (BBC, 11/11/10), companies may change their procurement strategies, vertically integrating supply chains to become more resilient. Such developments could substantially alter the travel landscape within and between countries.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Transport Impacts of Breakfast Cereal

A recent BBC documentary entitled 'The Foods that Make Billions' has provided interesting insights into the morning eating habits of the British population. The breakfast cereal is the classic exemplar of a mass consumed and highly processed food technology. The UK is the largest consumer of these ready to eat cereals having bought a staggering £1.8 billion worth of cereal in 2009. This trend is predicted to continue to a massive £2.2 billion worth of sales in 2014. foodanddrinkeurope.com, 22 January 2010

The BBC documentary gives an historical account of the marketing war between the egg and the breakfast cereal in the 1960's that arguably shaped current British breakfast habits. More recently, the documentary highlighted Ofcom's TV advertising ban of high fat and high sugar products aimed at children on February 2007. parliament.co.uk A significant proportion of breakfast cereals were threatened with exclusion from TV advertising due to their high sugar content. BBC 4 November 2003 However, the food technology was tweaked by adding vitamins, adding wholegrain and reducing sugar, to allow the continuation of the standard marketing practices of the large multinationals thus maintaining the breakfast cereal as the morning meal of choice for many. What was less commented on was how the developments in both the marketing and constitution of this particular food technology have far reaching impacts on transport.

Quick and convenient breakfast meals have partly structured the morning routine, a morning routine that often involves a commute to work or a commute to school for kids. A quick and convenient breakfast combined with regular sleeping patterns and quick showering can free up time for a longer commute to work. In this way the temporal scheduling of the breakfast meal can be seen as shaping and being part of an overall daily life schedule which includes regular travel demand for work or schooling.

Ofcom's decision to ban TV advertising of high sugar and high fat products in 2007 threatened to destabilise these morning regimes by changing the public perception of the breakfast cereal. One can only speculate as to what it may have been like for health conscious families if they had to suddenly spend more time preparing alternative breakfasts in the morning. However, the response by the large multinational food companies was to change the constitution of the product to fit with marketing requirements. This development of food technology has saved families from looking for an alternative morning meal and thus maintaining the current demand for the morning work and school commutes.

In future, breakfast food technology may see the cousin of the breakfast cereal, the breakfast cereal bar, have a greater impact on transport. It seems that pouring milk into a bowl is now too inconvenient for many who now opt for an even quicker meal on the move. Eating on the move could potentially reschedule existing morning schedules and regimes, freeing up even more time for commuting, potentially pushing people further still from their workplaces and further increasing demand for travel in the process. It will be interesting to see how food technologies, morning schedules (including the commute) and eating practices will co-develop under the new health policy of the coalition government that is set to be influenced to a large degree by large multinational food companies. Guardian 12 November 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

'Snurfing' and Winter Travel


The earliest snowfall in Britain for 17 years is no doubt whetting appetites for winter sports leisure pursuits. The demand for travel to winter sports destinations is set to increase from the 2009/2010 season according to the UK's largest travel operator. TUI 4 October 2010 However, the pressures that developments in winter sport technology insert on the demand for winter travel to snow-capped mountain resorts is often overlooked. The snowboard is one such technology that contributes to winter travel demand.

The snowboard has followed a steady trajectory of development since the early tinkering by pioneers of the sport such as Jake Burton and Dimitrije Milovich in the 1980's. Critical to the success of snowboarding was the development of the sidewards binding that held the rider's feet and ankles in place to allowing for more control in turning and stopping. Other developments include the material composition of the snowboard, progressing from plywood 'snurfers' (arguably the first snowboard that was popular in the 1960's) to the fiberglass and foam core that constitutes the new Lib Tech Skate Banana, the latest in snowboarding technology.

The Lib Tech's Skate Banana has a 'rocker' shape that distributes the weight from the edges to the middle of the board ensuring that this board can be used in any conditions, form park to powder, ultimately enhancing the enjoyment and experience of the rider. The 'magnetron' edges, that have been designed with a very slight wave, also allow for more control in icy conditions, making the practice more accessible to beginners.

There has been a surge in demand for the Lib Tech Skate Banana and similar designs of snowboard since the 1990's. This demand is reflected in the fact that in the USA alone snowboarding has increased by a staggering 77% since 1997 (abc-of-snowboarding.com). In terms of travel demand, however, the popularity snowboarding along with other winter sport activities, contribute to the increasing demand for winter sport holidays, which in the UK typically involve international air travel and long bus journeys up to the mountains. These travel trends continue despite the recent snowy weather. The UK is unfortunately a long way off becoming a popular destination to practice winter sports.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Could Portable Digital 'Scrolls' Come Back in Fashion?

The Norwegian comedy TV show Øystein shows a monk calling a medieval help desk to show him how to use this new system that has been introduced: the book (or codex). The monk can open the book, but turning pages, following text across pages, and returning to the beginning are all baffling. The new system, he complains, is stopping him get any work done.
Of course, the humour stems from the fact that many of us have had similar experiences with computers and helpdesks. But an interesting point is raised by the show. Do the format advantages of a book over a scroll still matter within the context of digital media when portability, robustness, and comfort—in short travel concerns—take precedence?
While the tablet was used extensively for practicing and note-taking the demand for more portable, lasting content in a convenient format meant that the scroll came into fashion. But as texts grew in size, so too did scrolls grow in unwieldiness. As this Victorian painting from 1867 by Simeon Solomon shows, carrying scrolls could be hard work!

In fact flatbed designs predate scrolls considerably and remained in use long after the wide-spread adoption (the roll-out!) of scrolls. Wax tablets were used well into Roman times as this Pompeii mural from 79 and an illustration from 1305 from the Codex Manesse show. The tablet, much like the modern digital form, was used extensively by very early writers, who used either the finger or a stylus to imprint cuneiform (the word means wedge after the imprint of the stylus), hieroglyphics, pictographs, and letters on the surface of the wax or clay.

What's the point of an e-scroll? As our ancestors knew scrolls are portable and protected without covers, bags, and other accessories. The major issue with the new tablet forms now on the market is portability and damage from everyday use. The sensitive surface of the rolled screen is protected from impact, scratching, or marking. As space is no longer an issue for e-readers that can change the content appearing on the screen the added expense of doubled screens (to make a book form that can protect the display surfaces) and the unlikelihood of screens that could be 'folded' without damaging components means that e-scrolls are a much more likely scenario.

The elephant in the room here is that no electronic display on the market is yet able to bend enough to be rolled into a scroll. But new technology, a .1mm thin flexible AMOLED or Active-matrix organic light-emitting diode, is being developed by ITRI and other companies like Sony and LG are working on similar e-paper designs. Electronista 29 October 2010 It remains to be seen whether we will all be using scrolls in the future... again.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Eco-Friendly Technologies, Rural Development And Transport


Most governments are currently dealing with the contradiction of tackling climate change and other ecological challenges while maintaining economic growth. In December this year governments from around the world will gather in Cancun, Mexico to discuss how these challenges and contradictions can be addressed at the UN conference on climate change Guardian 15 Oct 2010.


One such challenge is the fact that in many emerging economies a significant proportion of the population still living in rural poverty. The poverty and lack of opportunity in these regions is causing a wave of urbanization that is placing increasing pressure on urban infrastructures and contributing to social, ecological and economic instability. Guardian 17 Jan 2007 As a result of such instability and contractions, many governments in emerging economies are concerned with developing rural regions into economically and ecologically self sustaining communities to stem migration to urban areas, for the time being at least, and to offer alternative and more resilient paths of development than those that have been experienced in economically developed countries Guardian 15 Oct 2010.

It is perhaps fitting that the very place where the UN conference on climate change will be held is itself engaged in alternative development pathways for rural areas that will have postive impacts on the climate, environment and health. The Mexican government, for example, has recently been promoting a set of simple, cheap and more eco-friendly technologies that can be used in poor rural areas. These technologies include the solar water purifier, the waterless toilet that also converts human excrement into fertilizer and drinking water, the solar food dehydrator, and efficient wood burning stoves.


What is less commented on is the potentially massive impact these technologies could have on transport demand. Rural areas in large emerging economies are increasingly dependent on the transport of nearly everything- medicine, money, fertilizer, food and water. These technologies have the potential to reduce the flows of these products either by mitigating the need for a certain product (e.g. by promoting healthy living and therefore reducing the demand for medicine) or by facilitating the sourcing of local produce (as with water, food and fertilizer). Furthermore, by creating more ecologically and economically sustainable communities the rural to urban migration pattern, which itself creates a significant transport demand, will also be stemmed.

The Impact of a Four Day Working Week on Travel Demand

Until recently the characteristic Monday to Friday, 40 hour, 9-5 work schedule dominated modern business practices in the rich West. A number of factors helped shape this temporal schedule including Judeo-Christian holy days, the conventions and standards advocated by the International Labour Organisation set up in 1919 and the business practices of iconic capitalists such as Henry Ford. Such business schedules have impacted on many other practices in everyday life, conditioning the times and places people shop for groceries, rest, eat meals and importantly commute to work.


In terms of the work commute the standardisation of the work schedule has had the unintended consequence of creating peak traffic times and rush hours. The rush hour has been exacerbated further still by an increase in the average distance people travel to work, partly as a result of urban sprawl and the growth of out-of-town business parks. (Gallup 24 August 2007)


However, recent calls for restructuring the working week to four days, primarily to maintain employment levels and to reduce business costs in times of austerity (see Times Online 11 February 2009 for recent trend), may have huge unintended impacts on travel demand derived from the commute to work. For example, in the state of Utah, USA there are trails currently being conducted to assess the impacts of reducing the working week to four days. What has emerged is that overall employees are more satisfied, business costs are reduced and importantly transport demand is reduced. An interim report by the Utah government posited that shutting down buildings on Friday would be “the equivalent of taking about 2,300 cars off the road for one year". (Scientific American 24 July 2009)


The New Economics Foundation, a British left-wing think tank, also emphasises the social and environmental benefits of a four day week. (BBC News 13 February 2010) The additional impacts on travel demand from a four day week, however, have yet to be fully addressed.

Changing the temporal schedules of work is, of course, facilitated by technological innovation and development that has allowed working hours to be reduced while productivity is maintained (Guardian 10 November 2007) or in some cases increased. (Irish Times 5 July 2010) Future developments in technology may continue to increase productivity, reducing the demand for labour hours and thus having the potential to further reduce the transport demand derived from commuting to work in the future.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dattoos and Travel

Imagine a world where you no longer need a wallet, smart-card, keys, bank-card, mobile; even laptop! Once viewed from this angle, Frog Design's dattoos, or interface-enabled printable tattoos, can seem like a huge jump in user-interface technologies. Gizmodo 10 November 2009

According to Frog Design Dattoos promise:
DNA-reader and identification technology; nanosensors and interactive "touch reading" for finger tips (Braille); pattern and image recognition; self-learning and educational applications; living materials that change shape and feel; flexible OLED displays; full voice interaction, directional laser speakers; bionic nano chips; and cyborg components.
Sure, it would make life easier not to have to carry a slew of objects all the time. And the benefits in terms of security surely outweigh any negatives, for instance arms scrawled with designer ink. Indeed bloggers seem to love the idea of crossing fashion with technology. Tom's Guide 26 August 2010 But what are the implications for travel?

We need to talk here about smart cards. The idea of a one-stop-shop for transport ticketing is the holy grail of intelligent infrastructure, but has only been adopted by a handful of world cities. Many have been beset by contract disputes, operational and privacy issues, and of course funding problems. But what if, instead of printing out a boarding pass on paper, you simply stuck it to your arm? More ambitious possibilities could be surfing the web, booking tickets, and checking timetables on a digital display tattooed on your arm. Ergonomic? Perhaps not, but certainly not such a dead-weight in your pocket as a smart-phone.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Transport Potentials of Mindflex

One of the first widely known consumer technologies to use electroencephalography (EEG) is the Mattel Mindflex. The device allows the wearer of a special headset to control the motor of a little fan that levitates a ball through a number of different obstacles. How does it work? The device reads brain activity and interprets it into an electrical signal. While commercial EEG headsets have been patented and are available the Mindflex makes this technology affordable and also, albeit mildly, fun.
Of course, circuit benders have been quick to experiment with the devices. One notorious 'mod' is the Harcos Labs' hacked Mindflex that offers volunteers a not-so-mild electric shock when the wearer of the headset focuses/loses concentration. Slashgear 5 March 2010 In a similar fashion Robert Schneider has hacked the Mindflex into the Teletron to create a musical controller for synthesizers, which allows control over pitch through brain activity. Gadgetell 8 September 2010 And a student at Georgia Tech in the US, Hunter Scott, has created from a Star Wars EEG toy - very similar to the Mindflex - a sample-playing instrument called the Mental Note. Interestingly, this toy includes a serial out port left over from the development stage on the circuit-board that easily interfaces with computers.

More mainstream applications are also being prototyped. Emotiv systems have pioneered the Epoc: a brainwave interface for computers. Similarly, the PLX Devices XWave makes it possible to control an iPhone through your thoughts and purchase tailored apps as they are developed.

There are also many travel technologies around us that could be altered to work with brain activity: traffic crossings, car-doors, the play/stop button on music players. The altering of the built environment to interact with the headsets could open up a whole new realm of possibilities in terms of interactivity (and inactivity!). More ambitiously the same technology developed in the Mindflex is being prototyped to control helicopters and other airborne vehicles. Flight Global 20 September 2010 As EEG technology becomes further exploited in novelty consumer devices as well as gaming and computing, unintended transport and travel consequences are bound to emerge. The next gen of these products could be imagined to translate signals from not only brain activity, but moods.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Mass Roll-Out of Video-Phones is Here

A fifties Popular Science article on current inventions describes the 'New Video Phone' a two-way camera in a specially made telephone booth for both military and social purposes. (1950: 81) Despite the technology's history, widespread video-phone use continues to elude us. A sci-fi staple (Bladerunner, Aliens), video-phones (like jet-packs) are an endearing trope of the future.

But wider adoption of video-phones has been marred by costs. As such the technology has been dwarfed by the continuing widespread use of mobile telephones, with little impact on commuting practices; it's just not face-to-face communication. As a 1973 report to the US National Science Foundation titled 'Telecommunications Research in the United States and Selected Foreign Countries: A Preliminary Survey' made clear: "The Principal impetus for this work seems to be a feeling that substitution of telecommunications for travel can be more readily effected by less expensive audio and visual conferencing arrangements than by person-to-person video-phone". (1973: 27)

Now a new idea that Apple and other mobile companies are championing might see video phones replace audio after all. The idea is video communication via wireless networks and Apple are presenting it through there Face Time software and the latest version of their iPod music player, the iTouch, as well as the iPad 2 and iPhone 4. This means that anyone with a front-and-back camera-enabled device and a wireless network can make video calls: a potentially much larger audience that mainstream iPhone users relying on 3G networks. Competitors are also jumping on board with new portables like the Samsung Galaxy tablet. PC Mag 17 September 2010

The possibility of bypassing telco providers to reduce costs for video is the major innovation here. But more simply, the other innovation is front-facing cameras now standard on most laptops. Video-phones might also discourage mobile phone usage as wireless networks become more widespread. As we all get more used to Skype and Google Chat, as well as unconventional technologies like vid-mail (i.e. Eyejot) where video recordings are sent instead of text, video-phone use might finally become widespread and even substitute for travel. The work contexts are particularly interesting as front-and-back cameras combined with wireless video becomes standard for business and corporate phones. When the costs are borne by organizations then most work users might be expected to use video over audio and perhaps even vid-mail over email?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Banner Blindness

Banner blindness is a condition caused by poorly planned websites displaying an overwhelming amount of content: confusing images, animations, popups, and (especially) banners. In response the user tunes out, often ignoring important content in the process.

Mobility is important in bringing banner blindness to the attention of developers and designers. The fashion for stripped down, minimalist site design is a product of smart-phones with web access requiring low bandwidths and content on the move.

With the increasing popularity and development of Augmented Reality (AR) technologies and practices banner blindness is bound to become a potentially crucial factor in transport demand. Unlike virtual reality, where the user is immersed in an online environment, users of AR actively engage with the real-world. AR is currently restricted to smart-phone apps that layer content over a recorded image of the user surroundings or to in-vehicle technologies that project information on the windscreen. But future technologies are anticipated to be much more engaged, such as AR glasses that completely cover the eyes and display information on the lenses controlled by haptic wrist-bands or remote controls.

An unintended consequence of this revolution in AR is the potential for banner blindness to impact upon travel safety, efficiency, and infrastructure. A spate of recent pedestrian accidents highlights this growing issue. In Australia, where urban centres are often divided by intensive traffic, 'iPod Zombies' - pedestrians that are oblivious to their surroundings due to music players and loud or in-ear noise-cancelling headphones - are a growing issue. Gulf News 9 September 2010 In New South Wales a 25 per cent increase in the pedestrian death toll has been attributed to music players. Herald Sun 6 September 2010

'Podestrians' are at much greater risk than pedestrians due to sustained sensory deprivation in unsafe urban environments. Access Legal 23 August 2010 As information demands grow a range of technologies including games consoles, mobiles, and entertainment devices is changing the behavioural fabric of public space. Guardian 25 August 2010

Thus transport planners face a future world of information-rich but sensory-deprived individuals at risk from the increasingly hectic and unsafe urban environment. No wonder the new British government is seeking councils to remove bollards, advertising and other forms of 'street clutter'. Public Finance 27 August 2010 In a data-rich but under-regulated Big Society AR is sure to be a source of many unintended consequences that impact upon how people travel.



Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Graffiti and Car Customization

What do customizing cars and graffiti have in common? First, they are both active users of spray cans and permanent paint technologies. Secondly, they both take skill and precision. Yet, these two apparently distinct practices are much more closely related than might first be thought despite one being legal and the other illegal. Both exemplify freedom, personal expression, and youth culture.

The idea of art on public space is hardly new. Ancient cave painting in Lascaux, France occurred in 'public' caves that were not places of ongoing habitation, but possible refuges or of religious significance. The aerosol paint can was first invented by Edward Seymour in the US. Use for personalizing cars grew in the US with 1970s car culture as demonstrated in the film Grease, where car customization was a major past-time.

But, in contemporary transport policy terms graffiti is a form of vandalism. For example, the notorious Sheffield artist Bloodaxe recently unleashed a spate of new material that cost Network Rail thousands of pounds to remove. The Star 1 September 2010 Graffiti is seen as impacting upon both travel aesthetics and transport delays and because of this graffiti provokes zero tolerance responses. The now famous graffiti artist Banksy is a case in point. Many of Banksy's public works have been removed accidentally by councils. Regional Press 1 September 2010 Yet for Banksy the discovery and danger of public space is also part of the appeal as continuing discoveries of his work demonstrate. Culture 24 26 August 2010

How does graffiti culture impact upon travel? The UK Department for Transport Case Study Report on Graffiti (2003) highlights graffiti as encouraging vandalism and other 'environmental nuisances'. Similarly, the DfT report 'Better Rail Stations' (2009) approaches graffiti as an issue of cleaning standards. While bans on aerosol cans have provoked outcries from suppliers a general, but ineffective, solution has been to ban sales to minors who can't drive cars. The Times 19 January 2003

Spray can technologies are intimately linked to transport and travel and both the practices of car customization and graffiti continue to impact on society in unintended ways. Further policies that are designed to combat one can impact upon the other. It remains to be seen how these different interests are reconciled in future.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Digital Ascetics

Transport and travel is opposed to residence and dwelling. In between these distinctions are a range of liminal exceptions that defy this dualism: sleeping rough, backpacking, caravanning, camping, sleeping in the car, renting, couch-surfing.

Those who travel continuously are considered outside of social normality: homeless, nomads, gypsies, and itinerant workers. As well, homelessness has historically been affiliated with divinity: Jesus, Buddha, and Confucius all lived without dwelling.

Yet, what has been termed a 'cult of less' now appears to transgress this basic building block of late modernity. BBC News 16 August 2010 In today's world property reflects the greatest status item and also the most expensive consumer item possible to own. It is also the storage centre for many of the other assets we cherish.

Yet, now many people who cannot afford to own a home and find that most of their assets are digital, are adopting a distinctly ascetic lifestyle that still conforms with society's expectations. These digital ascetics are not anti-consumerism nor anti-work like vagrant beat-poets such as Jack Kerouac. Instead, digital ascetics consider the modern ownership of physical objects as an obsolete practice in favour of 'superior' digital equivalents. Such a belief is naturally more mobile and demands more flexible quarters. For instance, Mark Boyle, the "man who lives without money" cannot live without his laptop nor his caravan. Guardian 9 November 2009 Interestingly, the number of caravan travellers rose significantly under New Labor in the UK. Daily Telegraph 22 August 2010

Combinations of homes and vehicles seems to be
a growing trend for the cult of less. For instance, the "bloggers ideal mode of transport" is little more than a rickshaw with an internet connection (more important than a toilet it seems) and a bed. Gizmodo 23 August 2010 The grander, more middle-class version of this is the Terreform Homeway - a huge house on tank treads that circulates never-ending highways. These mega-vehicles are a far cry from the asceticism of the cult of less! Either way, this version of dwelling pertains to a range of new values linked to digital technologies.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cool Biz and Business Casual

While perhaps surprising to some proponents of formality at work, business fashion has changed over time quite remarkably. For example, in this Dutch painting from 1663 Governors Of The Wine Merchants Guild by Ferdinand Bol, important businessmen can be seen at work sporting long hair, beards, and more dramatically shorts and tights!

Nowadays shorts at work is considered a "career killer" even, confusingly, on casual Fridays according to Dana Casperson's Power Etiquette: What You Don't Know Can Kill Your Career 1999: 32. The distinction has led to a new oxymoron, 'Business Casual', being advocated by companies such as Deloitte. Yet, what is the cost of formality in terms of energy efficiency and travel work practices?

There are two major unintended consequences to business attire in the workplace. First, is the need for air-conditioning to support formal dress habits. Secondly, the emphasis on presentation and generally uncomfortable clothing - ties, high heels, and suits - leads to a preference for driving to work over cycling, walking, or even public transport.

Oddly it seems that climate has little to do with business attire. A recent poll Reuters 4 August 2010 has shown that chillier parts of Europe tend to dress less formally than India, Saudi Arabia, and Australia where full ties and suits for men are common even in temperatures over 30 degrees! It also seems that the more neo-liberal the country, the more inappropriate (or appropriate) the work attire: America and Great Britain both also see higher rates of formal dress.

To address these illogical practices Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi launched Cool Biz in 2005: a dressing down at work to match the climate rather than notions of cosmopolitanism. He took the extreme measure of setting government office air conditioners at 28C, thereby forcing changes in dress. Many companies in the private sector have refused to comply, despite the policy impacting on energy companies' profits by 175 million. Bloomburg 16 October 2005

Some workers have responded to the policy by stripping down to their underwear to cool down: research by Shinichi Tanabe, a professor of Architecture and Environmental Engineering at Tokyo’s Waseda University, claims that each degree the temperature is raised above 25 degrees cuts worker productivity by 1.9 percent. Bloomburg 23 July 2009 Perhaps businesses could do more than supply air conditioning to make their workers comfortable: recently, the Japanese Labour Standards Office confirmed that a young Chinese office worker, Jiang Xiao Dong at Fuji Electric Industries, was yet another victim of "karoshi" or death from overwork! New Zealand Herald August 14, 2010

As companies are increasingly forced to cost their carbon emissions the simple fix championed by Koizumi might have an incredible impact on how people not only dress for business but also how they commute.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Creeping Automatization of Shopping

Across the world over the last couple of years a silent revolution in shopping has been rolled out. While scanners, universal bar-codes, scales, and electronic tills are all part of the everyday landscape of the store, the completely automated store checkout - a service entirely devoid of human intervention - has so far only been a science fiction concept.

Self-service machines are now prolific in our everyday lives in ticketing, libraries, vending, banking; even toilets now offer automated services. But the supermarket checkout has had an almost symbolic sanctity.

Many of the issues in the auto-checkout stem not from the technology, but rather the social aspects of interaction, practices, and everyday life. Auto-checkouts require patience, precision, and tolerance - traits that only some shoppers appear to nurture. Guardian 23 August 2010 They also remove the conveniences of bulk buying. Negative perceptions of auto-checkouts are vague and nondescript - often just a general sense of 'frustration'. Telegraph 22 August 2010 Some users even feel 'bullied' by the machines! Telegraph 24 August 2010

What has been termed a 'revolution' at the tills Independent 23 August 2010 is hardly new technology. Entirely automated factories have been possible for decades. In 1932 a Harvard business student, Wallace Flint, submitted his masters thesis proposing an automated grocery store using punch cards. The idea of 'robot retailing' was discussed throughout the 1950s. The Billboard 18 October 1952 In 1950 Edward Benjamin Weiss claimed that "The day of robot retailing is here"! Business and Economics 1950: 146 Similarly, Jeremy Rifkin in The End of Work (1995) highlighted the threat of automation to jobs in the service sector.

But the current determination of supermarket chains to adopt the technology could precipitate a less obvious revolution in how stores operate. By removing the human interactions that users value, stores might force users into online e-shopping alternatives, thereby reducing shopping-related traffic. Like banks with ATMs, automation might be a precursor to reducing the number of available human tellers, thereby giving clients no choice but to self-checkout. Facing the burden of large amounts of self-service, the convenience of the supermarket is reduced and thus the attraction of weekly shopping trips.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Affects of 3D Printing On Travel Behaviours

Many of us have sought to cut down on printing in order to preserve paper. But now MakerBot Industries have introduced the 3D printer that prints objects from base materials. It now seems that one possible future scenario in retail is decentralized manufacturing: 'off-grid' DIY consumer product creation. Get to the Future 17 August 2010 The futuristic vision of consumption is vastly at odds with how shopping is currently imagined by most retailers: consumers travel to product-hubs (malls, shopping squares, city centres), often by car, and then purchase stocked goods and take them home with them.

But small-scale decentralized manufacturing has much in common with current e-shopping practices: a product is ordered online and then delivered by mail (inevitably when you're not at home, leading to a further step of travelling to the central post-repository to collect the item, often by car). But with 3D printing the user merely downloads a template, adds the base materials to the printer, and lo and behold a product is born! No waiting and crucially no travel, until you need to stock up on base materials.

The model of business has obvious attractions for flat-pack retailers like Ikea - it seems a natural progression for their business model. But Ikea are now seeking to take the technology one step further by promoting a 3D food printer or 'Cornucopia Digital Fabricator'. Shiny Shiny 12 August 2010 The device mixes food canisters to create "the creation of flavors and textures that would be completely unimaginable through other cooking techniques". Soylent Green anyone? Of course, the idea of mixing components to make food for space travel has already been become a trope in science fiction movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It remains to be seen how off-grid food and product generation affect travel. A whole gamut of possible impacts can be imagined, from a reduction in leisure-shopping trips; reduced, or standardized, freight and cargo deliveries; and of course no more weekly shopping trips.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Will Jelly! Kill the Office Party?

Once upon a time, or so the story goes, everyone worked in offices from 9-5. If you stayed in the same organization long enough; were punctual, well-dressed, and polite; and you worked hard, you would eventually get promoted to the top tier of management.

Then things became a lot more fluid. Suddenly, people were moving jobs - a lot. Workers were rewarded not for loyalty, but for experience. Suddenly work could be outsourced, or better cheaper talent could be parachuted in. It suddenly became much harder and more competitive to rise to the top and, as a response, organizations formalized the processes of promotion and the management of work performance in the form of human resources. In order to do this a whole range of tiers were introduced and many more middle and sub management positions. While this meant that workers could be easily rewarded by being promoted quicker, it also led to vastly increased scrutiny and much less trust on the coal-face.

Thus, alongside this managerization of the workforce came a widespread trend for workers to leave their jobs, but retain their contacts and clients. Enabled by new technologies and greater connectivity contracting became a viable and respectable alternative to the rat-race. By starting their own businesses and becoming their own bosses, workers could remove accountability, scrutiny, and particularly managers from the equation. Instead contractors dealt with clients. If something goes wrong, the contractor simply finishes the contract and moves on. Job done. Sometimes workers can even be rehired on a contract by the companies they previously worked for!

Contractors are often managed by trust and thus stand at arm's length to organizational processes and governance. They also manage their own resources and usually office times and spaces. Flexibility in the form of contracting and even sub-contracting is now the norm in many organizations. As Janine Wedel describes in her book Shadow Elite (2009) "Flexians" pervade the private and public sectors. Oddly, this has achieved something, rather covertly, that many commentators have repeatedly asserted was a myth: a trend towards the remote, flexible, virtual workplace.

In the ICT sector, where this phenomenon has boomed, casual coworking, or Jelly!, has arisen to provide the large number of contracting self-employed a place to work. Jelly! was founded by Amit Gupta and Luke Crawford in New York in February 2006. Urban Omnibus 3 June 2009 These stripped-down casual coworking groups bear more resemblance to conferences or internet cafes than offices and offer collaboration, resources, colleagues, and coffee, but crucially no managers and no attachments.

Is Jelly! the future of the office? Will this new form of office-culture, pushed by practices as well as new technologies, impact upon the holy grail of transport planning - the commute? Is Jelly! the painless office party?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Changing Mobility Baselines: The iWallet

The wallet is one of a number of core mobility baselines. How important is it to travel? Anyone who has lost or forgotten theirs will know that not having one makes access to all transport except walking and cycling impossible. Transport planning generally assumes that this base level barely shifts. But in fact, wallets have been following their own trends in relation to social needs.

Who invented the wallet? Wallets, or money purses, have been around since the invention of coinage. Take, for example, this stunning 6th or 7th century Anglo-Saxon purse from the Sutton Hoo burial: Frank N Minetti of Cincinnati, Ohio is certainly a contender for the invention of the modern wallet. In 1928 he filed a patent for a 'pocket wallet' US Patent 1699,064 8 May 1928:

"The objects of my invention are to provide an efficient, practical and highly desirable and serviceable Pocket Wallet capable of receiving various articles such as bank 10 notes, a bank book, a check book, personal and business cards, stamps, small change etc."

Minetti had invented the swiss-army knife of purses, sporting compartments for all imaginable social practices:

"Not infrequently considerable embarrassment is caused an individual who unintentionally issues a bank check when having insufficient funds in the bank to guarantee payment of the amount of money specified on the check and so which embarrassment may be avoided by the proper application and use of my invention".

Modern expressions of the mobility baseline are much more novel. take, for instance, the bacon, toast, and cassette wallet Oddee 24 March 2009. Many who hate carrying a large wallet can opt for the Jimi or even the recycled bicycle spoke clip.

Now Apple are aiming to co-opt the wallet with projections of their iPhone 5. If all goes to plan the iWallet will replace all of the functions of the contemporary wallet. To do this Apple would need to make the contents obsolete. Computerworld 4 May 2010 The success of the iWallet would hinge on secure near-field technology that would allow a transaction to be made through the phone as a paperless, and crucially, cardless payment. It would effectively render not only cards but ATMs and (in the long run) paper and metal coinage redundant. A tall order indeed! While many of the compartments that Frank Minetti imagined for his patent have been rendered obsolete (bank cheques, bank books, cheque books) others remain stubbornly current, even though alternatives are available (stamps, business cards). The iPhone-as-payment-system would obviously be a paradigm shift for the wallet as well as for commerce and for transport.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Unintended Consequences of Mobility Scooters

Images of travel in the future often appear stream-lined, faultless, and automated. For instance, in many science fiction genres (vintage Dan Dare for instance) the future is a carefully orchestrated world of personal light vehicles guided through high-tech byways. London Heathrow's new guided taxis certainly give the impression that the airport works like an automated machine, despite the cars being described as 'creepy' by users. Fast Company 12 August 2009

But another form of light, personal urban transport out in the 'real world' continues to expose the inconsistencies, inconveniences, dangers, and obstacles that make up our usual experiences of travel. In 2007 a 90 year-old pensioner was caught on the M27 motorway in his mobility scooter, oblivious to the lorries and coaches roaring past him at 70mph. Daily Mail 12 June 2007 In 2009 an 89 year old man was stopped on the M20 in similar circumstances. Telegraph 23 April 2009 And this month a pensioner in a wheelchair was escorted by police off the A23 Südost-Tangente motorway in Europe. Austrian Independent 05 August 2010

The laws governing the use of mobility scooters are vague and expose the dangers inherent in transport infrastructure. Many mobility scooter users frequently ride on the road to avoid uneven pavements that can throw the occupants. Evening News 17 August 2010 Users who are forced onto roads are more likely to be noticed as a problem by other road-users. As with pedestrians and cyclists it is assumed that cars and other vehicles have right of passage. One article has described "drunk" and "drug-driving" pensioners on mobility scooters as a "menace to society"! Daily Mail 13 August 2010

As society ages and the numbers of pensioners increases (a French poll recently identified the typical British man as wearing a flat cap and riding a mobility scooter Telegraph 5 August 2010), it can be expected that personal light vehicles will come into direct competition with conventional road-users. Rethinking how these vehicles (along with bicycles and other light transport) might be integrated into other forms of public transport such as trams might be a good start to addressing the dangers and obstacles in our travel experiences. BBC News 27 July 2010

Monday, August 16, 2010

Refrigerator 2.0 to Impact on Travel Habits?

Before freezers shopping was enacted on a daily, rather than weekly, basis. Local, specialist suppliers (butcher, baker, candlestick maker) provided for local people who cycled or walked to the shops. Food was stored and kept cool in pantries and cellars. Meat was smoked and fruit and vegetables were preserved or made into alcohol.

Yet, the home freezer changed all that. With the freezer came vast sub and ex-urban supermarkets away from the centres of towns and cities. Trips in cars to stock up a week's supply of food became the norm. The altered land-use and travel practices of the refrigerator have been well-documented, but is this all about to change?

Two crises, the world's growing population and fossil-fuel dependency, are being reported as inciting a spate of new inventions around food storage and collection. Guardian 12 August 2010 One, the Hyundai Nano Garden, is essentially a fridge that grows as well as stores food, eliminating the need for shopping. If this notion of a fridge that grows its own food could be extended to in-vitro meat production Telegraph 16 August 2010, now being touted as a major solution to growing demand by experts such as John Beddington, the UK government's chief scientist then large-scale shifts in food practices could indeed take place oriented around micro-farming rather than travel.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Decabinized Travel


A century ago a lot of travel was conducted in demarcated cabins, carriages, or compartments. It was cabinized for comfort, hygiene, and privacy. Uncomfortable situations would be restricted to only a handful of people (Alice only had to contend with a man in a paper hat), rather than the scrums we have grown used to on urban metros.

Nowadays 'open-plan' is the model of choice in offices, shops, hospitals, and of course in transport design. Travel on trains, planes, and even in coaches is mostly demarcated into three open-plan groups: first class, business (second) class, and economy (third class). Open-plan is great for security, surveillance, collecting tickets, serving refreshments, and of course for increasing space and thus profits (often at the cost of comfort and convenience).

Yet, an unintended consequence of this open-plan culture is a greater exposure to disease. A popular meme in the media is the idea of the 'end of antibiotics': a new class of penicillin-resistant super-bugs threatens to converge on society. This begs the question, do open-plan spaces have to be revised in light of this threat? Guardian 12 August 2010

How might this revolution in transport space play out in terms of design? It might be anticipated that the sorts of broad restrictions on free movement seen in recent epidemics could push a rethink on open-plan spaces. Blanket measures might include a total lock-down of travel or phased restrictions on movement. Maybe open-plan will prove to be a passing fad and cabinized travel will make a comeback?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Travel Agents and Guides


It appears two staples of leisure travel, the travel agent and the travel guide tome, are threatened by new smart-phone apps. Apple has been reported to have filed three patents for apps that allow the user to make reservations, create an itinerary, and view airport guides and information all from a smart-phone. NDTV 10 August 2010

While it is unclear how much travel agents have accommodated new technologies into their business models, travel agents are becoming more vulnerable. Two of the most well-known agents in the UK - Tui Travel and Thomas Cook - both downgraded profit forecasts after a dramatic slowdown in business this year. The downgrade has been attributed to the volcanic ash-cloud as well as the rising interest in staycations due to job insecurities. Guardian 11 August 2010

Meanwhile, the era of lugging a heavy travel guide appears to be threatened by the trend of ebooks. Guides by Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, Time Out, Frommer's, and Fodor's are all now available through sellers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes. TravPR 11 August 2010

Does this mean no more arm-ache on the road? As long as power-points are available to charge devices. One side-effect of the increasing reliance on portable devices is a dramatic rise in lost power-chargers at hotels. Last year, the Fairmont Waterfront in Vancouver used its huge stash of forgotten chargers as Christmas decorations! Wall Street Journal 7 August 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wearable CCTV

Police
The next stage in surveillance technologies are wearable devices. While CCTV has become an omnipresent fixture in British society, the new generation of surveillance technologies will be sported on police helmets; in lanyards; and even embedded in uniforms. But what are the legalities of this practice? Officers on Glasgow's subway system will now see their recordings used as evidence in court, perhaps paving the way for a wider roll-out of this wearable technology in a move to document crime as it happens on the body. Thus we can expect a slew of new reality TV shows showing crime in an even more intimate fashion.

BBC News 9 April 2010

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