September 5th, 2006 | brainjuice
IÂ need to buy a new phone this week.
(Cue groaning that “he’s crapping on about mobile phones again”)
My Nokia 7610 is on the way out — the memory card keeps corrupting, functions are dropping out, the thing refuses to go on the web and in general it’s never worked as well as I wanted it to. So it’s time to exercise the free upgrade option at Vodafone. I’m looking at the Nokia N80 or the Nokia 6280, which my daughter is using right now. One of the two can apparently take a plug-in keyboard — I think it’s the N80, which means that’ll be the phone I get. Both of them are videocall-capable, which is important because my daughter wants to be able to videocall me when I’m on the road.
(EDIT: I ended up ordering the N73 over the phone — Vodafone stopped carrying the N80 because of abysmal battery life.)
It’s two years since I’ve been seriously interested in what a phone can do. In that time, the whole “moblogging” thing has gone a little cold, due mostly to punitive mobile communications costs in much of the world and limited, cranky functionality. This blog is run on WordPress, and the built-in post-by-mail option has stubbornly refused to work for me. And my old Treo 600 (which also needs replacing next year) is now refusing to connect to the blog’s Write Post screen. That’s why this place goes quiet when I’m away. I don’t have a laptop, and my current set-up can only post here via Flickr, which inserts weird formatting into the posts.
So when I get a new phone, I want to look again at how it can interact with the internet.
Which leads me to the notion of informational presence.
With a working moblogging system, there are all kinds of ways to translate physical presence into informational presence. A way to cast my shadow on to the net.
A glogging — “cyborglogging” — solution could have my phone automatically taking shots while I’m travelling and uploading them. You could see where I am in 15- or 30-minute spaces, perhaps. In theory, I could drop Quicktime-playable voice messages on the site whenever I had time to record them on the phone and MMS or email them off. Same with phone video — vlogging. It also seems likely that my GPS-logged physical presence could be placed on the site.
Or I could set up a module-powered site, like Protopage, and have it call RSS feeds from web services. So there’d be a separate page that acted as a snapshot of my presence, right up to running the weather report for the town I’m in.
A live record/recording on the web of where you are and what you’re doing. A collection of the information stream trailing behind me as I move through the world. To the point where someone could check your Protopage or whatever and see where you are, where you’ve been, what the weather was and is like and is going to be, and possibly even text you to let you know it’s going to rain in an hour, right off the page with an Ipipi function.
This partially mirrors some of the current thinking about “blogjects” and the like — wired objects that blog their presence and status. Or, to butcher some writing of Sterling’s, using a gizmo to create spimelike action.
That’s the techie standpoint. The social standpoint is something else. Either you’re stalking yourself, ha ha, or you’re making it disturbingly easy for someone else to stalk you. My girlfriend, navigating through the countryside with a TomTom GPS device, opined that someone with deep unauthorised access to the TomTom system would know when your home is unoccupied and vulnerable to burglary. I think about it every time I choose to let people on the net know I’m travelling. I’m not sure how smart it is to have a page that not only shows where I am, but where I’m not. Services like Dodgeball or the UK equivalent seem to me, on a cynical level, to invite personal disaster.
Look through any list of WordPress plug-ins and you’ll find a hundred things that seemed like a good idea at the time to the coders but are in fact utterly useless. The equivalent of chindogu — “unuseless” inventions that do actually do something, but they’re something you’d never actually want to do, like converting all the dates on your website to Star Trek stardates.Â I suspect that a lot of the tools for mobile informational presence are much the same thing.Â Â You don’t actually need to know that I’m taking a piss in a public toilet in West Stow, and I’m unlikely to choose to pass on that little bit of information.
(Setting up a Protopage in advance of visiting an area, filled with informational feeds about that area, is, however, a good idea, and with reliable phone-web access, I’ll be trying it soon.)
Ultimately, how much information do I need to broadcast?Â How many footprints do I need to leave on the net?Â And also: in an age where privacy is becoming an important political issue once more, how much do I choose to give up just to perform experiments of doubtful interest and practicality?Â Niki already has to drop to 29mph in the car on her way home from her mother’s in order to avoid being photographed by strangers.Â And her mother is fearing the insertion of a chip in her rubbish bin to measure how much waste she’s throwing away, and wondering if she’s going to have to start storing garbage in the house to avoid being charged for tossing broken objects and wine bottles she can’t get to a glass bank.
(Which would ordinarily lead me into a rant about free markets gone mad, and an idiot I saw on a message board a few years ago angrily declaiming that he wanted hospitals to “compete for his business.”Â Wait until you have a cardiac in the street, you stupid fuck.Â Get a good look at what rampant competition does to a health service then.Â In a free market, a business has the right to refuse service.Â But I don’t have time for that rant today.)
I need moblogging tools because I want to be able to produce and publish content from the street.Â The question now, as I wonder what new tools are available for my incoming shiny new phone is: what constitutes content?Â The difference between me and a blogject is that it doesn’t know it’s squirting useless crap on to the web.Â The difference between me and a glogger is that a glogger doesn’t care that they’re squirting useless crap on to the web — or, at least, has set the bar low enough for the term “content” that automatically photoblogging themselves taking a piss qualifies as something worth expressing through a webpage on its way to storage.
A lot of you have commented in email that this site now seems awfully pared down compared to the previous iteration.Â I mean, I haven’t finished rebuilding it yet.Â But there needs to be a conscious difference between being able to just cover it in stuff, and actually choosing where to focus your attention and mine where it’ll do the most good.