1 March 2009

Adam Greenfield towards a newer urbanism

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Adam Greenfield
Adam Greenfield, Nokia’s head of design direction for service and user-interface design, is frequently featured on Putting People First as his thinking is close to our own interests.

According to his Twitter feed, he is not entirely happy in Finland, but having lived up north myself, I have to share with Adam that the long dark winters have a way of getting at you. Patience, Adam. The bright, light summer is coming soon.

In a lengthy interview (12,500 words) by Tish Shute, Greenfield talks about augmented reality, virtual worlds, Usman Haque’s Pachube project, the networked book, the networked city, and what to do at the end of the world.

“You know what I’d really like to see interaction design wrestle with? I would love to see a rigorous, no-holds-barred examination of the complexities of the self and its performance in everyday life, and how these condition our use of public space (and personal media in public space). I would love to see the development of ostensibly “social” platforms informed by some kind of reckoning with issues like vulnerability, dishonesty, the fact of power dynamics. In other words, before we deign to go about “helping” people, wouldn’t it be lovely if we understood what they perceived themselves as needing help with, and why?

I’d also pay good money to see talented interaction designers turn their efforts toward tools for the support of deliberative democracy, for the navigation of complex multivariate decision spaces, and for conflict resolution.”

Another quote I enjoyed, is Adam’s thinking on the role of everyware in reducing carbon footprint/energy management etc:

“I’m not skeptical about the potential of ubiquitous systems to meter energy use, and maybe even incentivize some reduction in that use – not at all. I’m simply not convinced that anything we do will make any difference.

Look, I think we really, seriously screwed the pooch on this. We have fouled the nest so thoroughly and in so many ways that I would be absolutely shocked if humanity comes out the other end of this century with any level of organization above that of clans and villages. It’s not just carbon emissions and global warming, it’s depleted soil fertility, it’s synthetic estrogens bioaccumulating in the aquatic food chain, it’s our inability to stop using antibiotics in a way that gives rise to multi-drug-resistance in microbes.

Any one of these threats in isolation would pose a challenge to our ability to collectively identify and respond to it, as it’s clear anthropogenic global warming already does. Put all of these things together, assess the total threat they pose in the light of our societies’ willingness and/or capacity to reckon with them, and I think any moderately knowledgeable and intellectually honest person has to conclude that it’s more or less “game over, man” – that sometime in the next sixty years or so a convergence of Extremely Bad Circumstances is going to put an effective end to our ability to conduct highly ordered and highly energy-intensive civilization on this planet, for something on the order of thousands of years to come.”

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