Mobile, Ubiquitous and the Sense of Space
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.
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
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.
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.