I just love this video clip. NYTE, the New York Talk Exchange, “illustrates the global exchange of information in real time by visualising volumes of long distance telephone and IP (Internet Protocol) data flowing between New York and cities around the world.”
What fascinates me is the grouping, the concentration. Somewhere in my mind’s eye, New York is twinned, in IP terms, with a bunch of cities in the rest of the world. And the grouping is different for different cities. The top ten cities that New York twins with will be different from the top ten cities that Boston twins with. And it is in that difference that we learn new things.
I remember reading a study some time ago on the use of mobile phones, and finding out just how habitual, how predictable, how localised we really were. The study, by Marta Gonzalez and Cesar Hidalgo of Northeastern, along with Albert-Lazslo Barabasi (of Linked fame) looked at understanding individual human mobility patterns, proving that there is a “high degree of temporal and spatial regularity” in “human trajectories”.
We may have conquered time and space, so to say: we can Tivo-ise anything, record for later playback, and the web allows us to assume the death of distance. We’re heading towards ubiquitous affordable always-on connectivity, in a device-agnostic open-platform world. But. There’s always a but.
But we still assume people will use these devices in specific ways, based on models deeply ingrained with “hit culture” notions of “content usage”, ways that themselves pave the way for draconian DRM and content management solutions and regulation and even legislation.
It’s as if Hollywood and the music industry are the only reasons people would ever want to be connected, anywhere, anytime. It’s as if everyone will only use their ubiquity and affordability of access to consume entertainment. [Heavy accent on the word “consume”.] It’s as if it’s okay to seek to criminalise everyone as a result of the models. Intriguing.
Soon, we’re going to take these debates more into the open. Base them on data. Data that will suggest human beings are creatures of habit, they move around in predictable loci, they talk to the same people at the same time, they belong to a number of overlapping networks, they rely on trusted relationships, they exercise long-tail taste in their entertainment choices once they have that choice, and they are actually qualified to create and share “content”, not just consume it. And they’re not criminals.
In the meantime, studies like the Gonzalez paper and the NYTE simulation help me feel good about the future.