eBay: cloud storage for physical objects

Paul Raven @ 13-05-2011

From the Alt Text comedy column at Wired:

Most of my old games are now eBay-bound — eBound, if you will — as are most of my old books. I don’t think of it as getting rid of them. I still have them, right on my phone.

And if I want them in physical form? Well, I’ve stopped thinking of eBay as an auction site. Now I think of it more as cloud storage for things with measurable volume. I’m putting my possessions into the cloud, and if I want them again I can retrieve them from the cloud for a small fee.

Sure, they won’t be the exact original items I once owned, but that doesn’t bother me any more than it bothers me that the 1s and 0s I retrieve from Evernote aren’t the same electrons I originally stored.

Compare and contrast with the last Viridian Note from Bruce Sterling a few years back:

You will need to divide your current possessions into four major categories.

  1. Beautiful things.
  2. Emotionally important things.
  3. Tools, devices, and appliances that efficiently perform a useful function.
  4. Everything else.

“Everything else” will be by far the largest category. Anything you have not touched, or seen, or thought about in a year – this very likely belongs in “everything else.”

You should document these things. Take their pictures, their identifying makers’ marks, barcodes, whatever, so that you can get them off eBay or Amazon if, for some weird reason, you ever need them again. Store those digital pictures somewhere safe – along with all your other increasingly valuable, life-central digital data. Back them up both onsite and offsite.

Then remove them from your time and space. “Everything else” should not be in your immediate environment, sucking up your energy and reducing your opportunities. It should become a fond memory, or become reduced to data.

Of course, even as a short-to-medium-term storage medium, eBay is horribly clunky and expensive to use (not to mention lossy as all hell), but it’ll have to do until fabbing technology and truly ubiquitous digital media archiving catches up. The worrying thought is what we – as a culture, rather than as individuals – might lose in the period between now and then…

… but given that my ridiculous and ever-growing library of dead tree books contributed hugely to making my recent house move a waking nightmare, I’m starting to wonder whether I care as much as I think I do. Or rather, more than I should.


Streetview, art and atemporality

Paul Raven @ 10-11-2010

I’m having a great morning for internet serendipity*, and I thought this particular synchronicitous pairing might float well here at Futurismic. First of all, Joanne “Tomorrow Museum” McNeil has an essay connected to the New Museum “Free” show that riffs on Google Streetview, daguerreotypes and atemporality:

Someday we will press a button to rewind and fast-forward through the history of Google Street View images. We will watch entire neighborhoods created, remade, destroyed, or left unchanged except in the subtlest ways. And in the course of it, we will find flashes of human experiences like the man standing with the shoeshiner in the Boulevard du Temple daguerreotype.

[…]

The future was once represented in fantastically romantic ways: white spacesuits, buildings infinite in height, interplanetary travel, alien interactions, an abundance of wealth, and robot servitude. Now the future is represented as something more compressed and accessible. The future is on the Internet, in those screens we glance at intermittently at all waking hours of the day. Our expectation is the “IRL” world will look not much unlike what we see today. It is a future of gradual changes, incorporating familiar aspects with new but not too crazy updated technology. What is in abundance is not wealth but information.

The idea of the future is now a distorted mirror. It is the future of screens. Like the daguerreotype, screens contain memory and reflection, as well as an unknown difference only discerning eyes can see. We are overfutured. We’ve reached the point where the past, present, and future look no different from one another.

The Eternal Electronically-Mediated Now; space and time mashed up into one seamless manipulable digital dimension.

And now see here [via BoingBoing]: Streetview-fed-through-Mapcrunch also helps corrode established visual stereotypes about what different countries look like. A sly rejoinder to those who claim that the web necessarily reinforces clichés: not so! It merely feeds them to those who wish to be fed. Novelty, difference, contrast… it’s all there for the finding for them as wants to look. Don’t like the time or place where you find yourself? Just Google yourself up a new reality; it’s all just raw data until we story it.

[ * A few days a friend on Twitter lamented having to choose between her love of beards and her love of cupcakes; and lo, the internet provideth. Does its pointlessness make it any less beautiful to the right person at the right moment? ]


Augmented Reality atlas

Paul Raven @ 24-09-2010

Via Flowing Data, a text-books-and-data-visualization mash-up using augmented reality:

It’s very pretty, but – as pointed out at FD – not particularly useful; the physical book ends up as a very cumbersome interface for data that would be more easily and flexibly displayed as a fully computer-native medium from the get-go. But there’s a hint of promise in there, too; an idea waiting for its “killer app”, perhaps. Which is state-of-the-art AR in a nutshell.


Nation-state gives way to city-state?

Paul Raven @ 08-06-2010

More future politics, courtesy SlashDot: excerpts from a speech by John Perry Barlow, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (and former Grateful Dead songsmith), in which he states that the mechanics of national government in the US is failing because it’s swamped by too much data, and that a move back to the city-state model may be on the cards:

“The political system is broken partly because of Internet,” Barlow said. “It’s made it impossible to govern anything the size of the nation-state. We’re going back to the city-state. The nation-state is ungovernably information-rich.”

[…]

Barlow also said that President Barack Obama’s election, driven largely by small donations, has fundamentally changed American politics. He said a similar bottom-up structure is needed for governing as well.

“It’s not the second coming, everything won’t get better overnight, but that made it possible to see a future where it wasn’t simply a matter of money to define who won these things,” Barlow said. “The government could finally start belonging to people eventually.”

[…]

“There is a circle of fat around the Beltway that is incredibly thick” Barlow said. “We can no longer try to run this country from the center. We’ve got to run it, just like the Internet, from the edges.”

I expect Barlow’s quintessential hippie credentials will invalidate his ideas for some, but I think he’s on to something here. I’m no mathematician, but I suspect that the resources needed to maintain centralised control of any system will rise exponentially in proportion to the complexity and size of said system; in effect, we’re trying to run huge nations using software that can’t scale up effectively enough to cope.

However, I’m not naive enough to think that governments will be keen to devolve into federations of city-states; large systems gain a sort of momentum, and develop subroutines to protect their integrity and position of control. But perhaps the economic phase shift that some pundits are saying is just round the corner will leave them with little choice; at some point, it may simply be the path of least resistance (not to mention least resource expenditure) to let small communities hive off and self-manage within the loose framework of a (global? continental?) federal constitution. As Barlow points out, we have the technology to make such a world possible; it’s the lock-in compatibility issues of the current socio-politicall operating system that will prevent such a change from happening.

Related: responding to the UK government’s sudden embracing of transparency, Aditya Chakrabortty at The Guardian wonders whether it’s going to do as much good as its advocates hope:

Who could be against see-through government? After all, it feels so democratic and bipartisan (civil servants privately admit that they had already prepared the pay document for former Labour minister Liam Byrne), and it feels so modish and internet-friendly. But the mistake that is being made here is assuming that merely pumping out information is an end in itself, which doesn’t require context or any consideration of what it’s in aid of.

That might sound odd coming from a journalist, but it’s an argument that’s gaining traction in other quarters too. Last year, the American legal scholar Larry Lessig wrote an essay called Against Transparency. It made precisely the opposite case that you might expect from a stalwart of the transparency movement. In the face of all Barack Obama’s promises of greater openness, Lessig argued that more and more information released “unqualified or unrestrained by other considerations” would be harmful both to political debate and in the end to the ability of government to get things done (the example he used was campaign donations).

[ We talked about the Lessig article here at the time. ]

Beyond the bash-the-public-sector headlines, all this transparency is most helpful to those who are already able and willing to use it – that is, with the internet connections and time to sift through all the data. And, researchers have found, those tend to be the same relatively well-off and highly educated people who are already pretty well served by the public sector. As Tobias Escher at Oxford University puts it: “You end up giving more of a voice to those who already have pretty good representation.

There’s also another concern, namely the sizeable number of people who simply don’t care to find out how their government works, though one might argue that they’ve dug their own hole. But the point remains – transparency isn’t going to be a panacea to the problems of large-scale nation-state governance. If anything, it’s just providing greater amounts of evidence for the underlying problem: a system too large and complex for anyone to fully understand, let alone begin to fix. That said, I’d rather the data was available than not, even if it’s analysed primarily for pillorying the public sector for headline-worthy misdemeanours (while more complex but fundamental issues are ignored because they lack a narrative hook or easy non-partisan explanation).

The times, they are a-changin’


Human skin as broadband data conduit

Paul Raven @ 17-03-2010

Forget broadband-over-power-lines or wi-fi; how cyberpunk would it be to transmit 10mbps of data through the human body itself? Very cyberpunk, fo’ sho’.

The researchers placed two electrodes 12 inches apart on a subject’s skin and were able to clock data transmission rates of 10 megabits per second. The technology may pave the way for ultra-efficient implantable body monitors that cut energy needs by 90%.

Transmitting data directly through the skin is much more efficient than current wireless transmission technologies (bluetooth, wifi), since it requires much less energy. The body is an excellent medium for the transmission of signals, and researchers found that low-frequency electromagnetic waves encounter very little interference when sent through the skin.

It’s unclear how useful this research is for those of us living in the real world… unless, perhaps, you have a short Cat-5 lead at your LAN party, and a flatmate who’s willing to stand with one hand jammed in the router ports while the other one grips the stripped cable ends…


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