From: Norman J. Jacknis (email@example.com)
Date: Wed Sep 06 2000 - 22:13:40 EDT
An interesting report, even for those urban planners and architects among us ...
Mobile Phones Redefine Cities
by Michelle Delio
3:00 a.m. Sep. 6, 2000 PDT
Mobile phones have been declared pariah by pedestrians and dubbed "yuppie
teddy bears" in Finland, but their biggest long-term effect may be in how we
view and define cities.
According to "Life in the Real-Time City: Mobile Telephones and Urban
Metabolism," mobile phones are changing the world more profoundly than any
other new technology.
"The 'real-time city,' in which system conditions can be monitored and
reacted to instantaneously, has arrived," said Anthony Townsend, an
associate research scientist at New York University's Taub Urban Research
Center, which released the report last week.
Townsend believes that the productivity gains associated with the
proliferation of mobile phones -- if measurable -- would be far greater than
the gains attributed to the personal computer or the Internet.
Janos Kovacs, professor of economics at Magyar Tudomanyos Akademia in
Budapest, agrees. Mobile phones have contributed greatly to the economic
boom, although there is no way to prove it with statistics, he said.
"Even Alan Greenspan can't figure out what is driving the current economic
expansion in the United States, and to a lesser extent, globally," Kovacs
said. "I believe the boom is being fueled by new ways of sharing knowledge,
but you cannot prove it with classical economic methodologies which measure
static processes. It is becoming clear that our old ways of measuring
progress are sadly outdated."
Townsend said the widespread use of these devices is quickening the pace of
life around the world, which will result in significant changes in city life
"The mobile phone might lead to a dramatic increase in the size of the city,
not necessarily in a physical sense, but in terms of activity and
productivity," he said. "No massive new physical infrastructure will emerge;
rather it is the intensification of urban activity -- the speeding up of
That urban change is a combination of planned and unplanned catastrophic
events, along with cultural trends and people's reactions to them, he said.
Modern urban planning was conceived in an era when big institutions --
churches, government, large corporations, and unions -- controlled much of
our lives by controlling information, Townsend said. He believes those
institutional controls have largely been erased by social change and
"Anyone who is now designing a public space needs to find ways to allow
people to exist in both the physical world of the 'town square,' as well as
the 'information space' accessed through mobile phones, PDAs, and whatever
else Nokia and Palm can throw at us over the next decade," Townsend said.
He said much of the behavior and structure of the city at an aggregate level
is based upon individual behavior.
"So the introduction of this cute little device (mobile phones) would slip
under the radar of urbanists, even though it fundamentally changes the way
individuals interact -- which consequently alters the behavior of the entire
system," he said.
Townsend believes that the architecture and urban design of an information
society ought to revel in data, information, and experience.
He also thinks that smartphones with voice recognition can serve the
billions who have no ability to read and write. In fact, cell phones are now
appearing widely in the squatter communities that surround many Third World
cities -- places where conventional wired phones have never existed,
Kovacs agrees that mobile phones are "equal opportunity" devices, and can
deliver information to grassroots organizations and people more quickly.
Mark Mucarno, a Staten Island, New York-based community activist, says that
mobile phones are one of the best tools in his organization's arsenal.
"Communication is our best and sharpest weapon," Mucarno said. "One of the
ways that society robs people of their power is to disconnect them from
freely receiving and sending information.
"Handing someone a mobile phone with pre-programmed numbers of people who
have power in this society - lawyers, journalists, folks with connections --
is one good way to level the information playing field," he said.
Townsend said that the same readily available personal information networks
that permit cell-phone-toting taxi drivers to out-perform a central radio
dispatch system can also let criminals outfox police.
"The ability of this technology to let groups of people to stay tightly
coordinated can be very dangerous. Don't forget that after executives the
first group to truly embrace mobile phones were urban drug dealers,"
"And when was the last time you saw a pusher on the corner?"
Townsend said mobile phones increasingly add an element of uncertainty about
physical location to our personal interactions, pointing out that "Where are
you?" is frequently the first question asked of callers.
As many as one-fifth of cell-phone users lie about their location when
talking on a mobile phone, Townsend added.
Fibbers and filibusters aside, Townsend said the most surprising thing he
learned while conducting the study was how emotionally attached people are
to their mobile phones.
He estimates that at least three-quarters of cell phone users are
"hopelessly addicted" to talking on their mobile phones.
"Individuals now live in this phone space and they can never let it go,
because it is their primary link to the temporally, spatially fragmented
network of friends and colleagues they have constructed for themselves,"
"It has become their new umbilical cord, pulling the networked society's
digital infrastructure into their very bodies."
[The report is at http://www.informationcity.org/research/real-time-city/ ]
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