(Our new Technology Voice office.)
Through our very being and moving on this planet we create data. A lot of it is easy to see: how far it is to somewhere, how long it takes for something to do, how much energy is consumed for a given action, and so on. But there has been additional data – data overspill – that is also being created and that up until recently has either lacked the means to be quantified or the collation has just been too expensive.
Most of us have music collections, and while the albums and CDs were on our shelves, the only way to assess the quality and range of a given collection was by physically browsing the items. It was the only way to form what could only be an ad-hoc impression of the music owner’s tastes and proclivities. Who knows how many great relationships have foundered on the too-early discovery of one or two of the ‘good idea at the time’ but nevertheless extremely dodgy recordings we all possess? (I feel strangely better now the truth is out.)
But as our collections move to our phones, iPods and other automatic list-making devices, this previously-inaccessible data becomes very accessible for manipulation and expression. Not only will we able to supply others with an infographic or some other representation of our data, we can also (if we trust them enough) supply them with our music collection data and they can interpret our listening pleasure according to their own criteria. Previously hard to get at or redundant information is now cheap to obtain and is more relevant and more sharable.
Music collections are a fun place to start with this idea, but in building and designing the ability to access and manage what up until now could have been called data overspill is adding new dimensions to what it is possible to construct. We are entering the era of the augmented space. This handling of excess information – the data overspill – is taking on more and more significance beyond the instant compatibility check of a music collection (which is important enough.)
Linda Carroll, an interior architecture student at the Sligo Institute, says: “Engineers create the space, the people moving through the space create the data, and the data can be interpreted by artists… In the future, you will have your space but you will also have this intermediate space, this augmented space. You walk around and you have yourself going on and then you have yourself with the building going on as well.”
We are constantly creating increasingly-accessible data as we move around and go about our business. Useful data like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What may seem as of little or no consequence to an engineer might well be truly inspiring to an artist. There is nothing natural about living in little boxes. Most of the buildings we inhabit for work or rest are based on convenient design and construction templates left over from the sudden expansion of towns and cities during the industrial revolution.
Our buildings don’t have to be the way they are, but finding out how people really live has been very expensive and confined and stratified by the narrow metrics of the conventional professions tasked with constructing our environment. As Linda points out: “If you look at urban design, you can’t design a city or a space if you don’t know anything about the people who are going to use that space. A lot of the reason the built environment now is such a mess is that they didn’t take a look at the people who were going to live there.”
How we live our lives in the future may not be determined by the narrow outlook of a particular professional discipline such as architecture. The reason they got to say how we lived is because they controlled the information. But that is no longer true. Linda again: “It’s only when you get electronic engineers together plus artists plus someone in digital design, even sociology, that’s when you really get a result from it.”
The ‘it’ in question is the data that was always being generated but that we now have access to. We now have houses that tweet their energy use, and technologies exists for buildings that reflect the movements of the people inside out to the wider world through light displays on the outside of the building.
The opportunity is here to get away from having our lives determined by a narrow and crude set of metrics – power consumption, water meters, click counts and so on – to a place where the information from our data overspill can be used, not just by the technocrats of our society, but by artists, psycholologists, sociologists and whomever is interested and can contribute to having a much-more rounded look and deeper understanding at how we really live.
We can now access so much quality information about how we really behave so easily and cheaply that while it may still be hard to see how things will change it isn’t hard to see that change will come and things will be different.