KEYNOTE:
Mobile, Ubiquitous and the Sense of Space

Marco Susani

ABSTRACT Handheld and ubiquitous computing has the potential of disconnecting any computing activity from a single, fixed place of access. Most of the handheld, mobile devices we know and use today risk to generate a kind of "neutralization" of the sense of space. Mobile means, when we deal with portable devices, that we can access information no matter where we are; our territory of life becomes indistinct.
But future mobile, handheld and networked devices are more promising in creating a new relation between physical space and digital information. Mobile and handheld devices, in conjunction with contextualized and personalized digital information, could generate a layer of digital space connected to the physical space of the body, the architectural space, and the territory of the city.

The personalized, social, digital layer around the body

Psychology and architecture define the space around the body in terms of "proxemics". Social behaviors are influenced by the space of relationships around our person, and different cultures could be defined by different dimensions, and different interactions, between these social auras that surround our bodies. When dealing with mobile and worn digital information, the notion of proxemics needs to be updated.
First, we should consider that digital information "worn" on our body could be personalized and contextualized: we are wearing OUR information, and we access different information and different services according to where we are. This means that we are surrounded by our personal "aura" of information. Second, we can also consider that this aura can interact socially; that, in other words, our digital information can be exchanged in proximity of other auras, with the presence of other persons.
All this generates an addition to the social extension of our physical bodies, as described by the rules of proxemics: the intangible space of relation around our persons includes the digital extension of our physical bodies.
This notion of interactive auras around bodies have the potential of dramatically transforming the social space of relation.

The intangible, digital architectural space

Space, in architecture, has always had an intangible dimension. Architects can influence our perception of space using light, or sound, or the dynamic sequence of rooms with different proportions. Also the presence of media has a similar effect: even a non interactive, conventional TV, or a traditional corded telephone, have the power of reorganizing the space of a room with an intangible power of attraction (or repulsion).
Interactive media and telecommunication systems, connected with mobile and wearable devices, increase this power of reorganizing space. Architectural space that can recognize us also becomes active, and reactive, generating new hierarchies in space, attraction poles, as well as a different notion of closure and privacy.

The interactive territory of the city

Public spaces in the city are flooded with information (physical information, such as signs) and also flooded with information infrastructures (the cells for digital telecommunication cover all the urbanized territory) but still the sophisticated use of digital information in the city is unexplored. Ancient cities "spoke" with their walls and their buildings, communicated their history, conveyed the experiences of their inhabitants. Industrial cities are more inhabited by machines than by humans, and populated by signs that have the only functional reason to overcome the lack of sense of space. Future cities could reflect though digital information a new, updated "genius loci", a sense of local space that could deny the homogeneous space in the industrial, modern city. The use of mobile in connection contextualized information could make the city "speak" again, and give back a sense of local quality opposite to the uniform, globalized space of the web. The new interactive territory has the enormous potential to become the interactive media of the future, a place where experiences and knowledge could be diffused and exchanged through collective, participatory media.

Fluid, personalized, interactive, mobile spaces

The three categories of spaces that we mentioned could all be made possible by the new mobile and wearable technologies. But the connection between digital information and the creation of a sense of belonging to space will only happen if the design of the devices, of the information services, and of the new interactive media will acknowledge the need a shared, social, digital space. The theme of handheld, mobile and wearable devices should always be considered in conjunction with the creation of new social, collective environments that could be accessed through these devices. And with the creation of a fluid space that connects and includes both the physical, material collective space and the digital information space: a "Third Space" that doesn't belong solely to the material sphere or to the virtual one, but is the combination of the two that has original characteristics.

M. Susani Marco Susani, Domus Academy, Milan, is an architect and industrial designer. He is director of Domus Academy Research Center, conducting projects, research and teaching on design and innovation. He also is responsible of the research area of interaction design and of the Interaction Design Course at Domus Academy.
His recent research focuses on interaction design, telecommunication, media spaces, multimedia, interface devices, robotics. He participated in writing the selected schema "Connected Community" for the Icubed calls of the European Union in 1996, and is coordinator of the Domus Academy participation to the Icubed projects Campiello, Lime, Presence and Pogo.
His works were shown at exhibitions at Triennale di Milano, Memphis Gallery Milano, Centre Pompidou Paris, Axis Gallery Tokyo, Grand Palais Paris and has been speaker at "Doors of Perception" in 1994, 1995 and 1996.
In the past he has been partner of Sottsass Associati and consultant at Olivetti Design Studio.

Hans-Werner Gellersen
Last modified: Wed Jul 28 16:53:08 MET DST 1999