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Notes from LIFT | Asia

LIFT | Asia in Jeju Island, South Korea was a fantastic event that did for me what all good conferences should do: connect people with their tribe, provide interesting and thought-provoking content, and leave attendees with a sense of hope and inspiration that we can carry with us out into the world. Here were some of [...]

LIFT | Asia in Jeju Island, South Korea was a fantastic event that did for me what all good conferences should do: connect people with their tribe, provide interesting and thought-provoking content, and leave attendees with a sense of hope and inspiration that we can carry with us out into the world.

Here were some of the highlights:

Eric Rodenbeck of Stamen talked about how flows of information in real-time on the web is providing opportunities that are less about analyzing data from the past and more about visualizing something that is happening in the present. He talked about how the folks at Stamen are interested in data that is live, vast, and deep and how their work on projects like Oakland Crimespotting and CabSpotting that visualize real-time data in urban spaces resemble organisms.

David Birch and Bruce Sterling gave thought provoking presentations on virtual money systems. David outlined how cash systems impose the highest transaction costs on the poorest people and how in places like Kenya, people use a SIM card as their money because its secure and less dangerous to carry than cash. Virtual financial systems like M-Pesa and Hello Money are creating the mental space for experimenting with money but the mobile device is almost always involved in as the platform. Bruce talked about how virtual money systems are the financial services for the new urban poor. They are a disruption, an invention of anti-bank or anti-money systems for the poor.

Raphael Grignani, presented his work from the Nokia Homegrown project. My favorite piece was the Remade phone - a device made from no new materials - and a beautiful interpretation of recycling embodied in a phone. Raphael cited the statistic that in emerging markets, an increase of 10 mobile phones per 100 people translates into approximately 1% growth in yearly GDP. Because of these kinds of statistics, the UN has established the goal to have half the world with access to telecommunications by 2015. Raphael encouraged us to consider the cultural, social, economic and environmental implications of everyone in the world owning a mobile phone.

Scott Boone, a professor from the Appalachian School of Law, gave a talk entitle Control Issues in Highly Computer-Mediated Environments. Scott made some powerful points about the possible implications of ubiquitous computing on the rights of individuals. His perspective was clearly U.S.-centric, and one attendee asked what the implications might be for Koreans. Obviously, they would be different. The U.S. is fixated on our individual rights because they are central to our culture. Koreans have a different set of values. Scott highlighted that as much as we consider technology as a science centered around engineering or the programming of bits, technology is a cultural practice. Adam Greenfield added that while ubiquitous computing presents itself as global, it is profoundly local.

Jeffrey Huang shared his thoughts on interactive cities, and shared some beautiful examples like organic sculptural forms that changed shape based on news stories from Beijing and an installation that showed walls that listen. Jeffreys perspective is that just as architecture effects the type of communities that exist in urban spaces, so too will the digital experiences we design. He said that we can learn from the evolution of the web and strive to create urban digital experiences that move beyond blanket advertising into a space that fosters creativity, co-creation, and a better sense of the community.

In The Long Here, the Big Now, Adam Greenfield shared his thoughts on how ubiquitous computing in contemporary urban environments will influence the way we live. He shared a visual of people riding a bus, completely engrossed in their mobile phones to demonstrate how there is no sovereignty of the physical. When people use their mobile phone, theyre physically in one space but mentally engaged in a ubiquitous space. They are in the space of their mobile device. He talked about the soft wall - places where people are actively denied access to a space. Flirting, cajoling and pleading are the differential permissioning that people use to access to these spaces in the physical realm. How will we instantiate the human quality of differential permissioning without effective recourse in the digital realm?

I was proud of my colleague Alexa Andrzejewskis presentation on the Wonderful World of Make Believe where she shared her experiences and insights from a design exercise Kate Rutter designed for a recent project about envisioning the future of mobile interfaces.

Finally, I left the conference inspired to travel to the remote corners of the world by myself despite my gender after hearing Sarah Marquis share stories from her walking adventures in Australia and South America. She is truly a phenomenal woman.

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