Displays for disasters, or what sensors have to do with survival.
In just a few short months this year, the world has seen more disasters than its fair share — devastating earthquakes, floods and a destructive oil spill, each requiring different strategies of emergency management. And this month, Organizing Armageddon, the excellent Wired article by Vince Beiser about lessons learned from the Haiti earthquake, exposed the many and worrisome shortcomings of disaster relief efforts. From infrastructure to technology to tactical coordination, today’s emergency management is in dire need of an upgrade.
Luckily, Precision Information, a division of Homeland Security’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, is developing ambitious new first-response cooperation environments that focus not on a single piece of technology but, rather, on a suite of interconnected tools that offer targeted access to information and sophisticated decision-making aid for emergency response.
From predictive modeling to automated recommendations to augmented reality, this concept video is designed to serve as a blueprint for research in the next decade, exploring some of the possibilities in addressing key research challenges.
For a closer look at the many emergining technologies and concepts alluded to in the video — including ubiquitous displays, crowdsourcing, pervasive sensor networks and adaptive user interfaces — be sure to see the annotated version.
Equilibrium, apathy and what John Stuart Mill has to do with medical marijuana.
You may recall filmmaker Temujin Doran from The Art of Protest, a cunning short documentary about the democratic deficits of today’s political protests. Doran has just released his latest film, Market Maketh Man — an ambitious analysis of several models of liberal democratic doctrine — and today, we sit down with him to talk about democracy, innovation, and the cultural responsibility of filmmakers.
What do you think will be the single most important social or cultural shift, trend or innovation to define the course of democracy in the next decade?
I think that most people are confident in the power of the internet to be a tool that champions our individuality and be a strong force for a more democratic, pluralist society. In some ways this is defendable; social networking, blogging, and online forums can very quickly marshal together like-minded people with potential to bring about dramatic governmental change.
Never before have these tools been so prominent in election campaigns, and in the future they will increasingly define these events and perhaps too, the course of governance. But I think in the coming decade, the internet may be revealed as something that has in fact homogenised society, and stunted our freedoms.
Our thirst for individualism in our lives has become, in a sense, the new conformism; and this has made us predictable. It will be interesting to see how politics and business will attempt to exploit this.
What role do you see documentary filmmakers playing in the past, present and future of democracy? How has this role changed over the past decade?
Perhaps the biggest change in this role is the increasing number of people can do it. It used to be a somewhat privileged position; but thanks to the affordability of film equipment nearly anyone can be a video commentator or journalist on matters that they find important. Via the internet, they can also reach a wide audience. But is this always a good thing? I find it a very troubling question, as it is something that I am also directly part of.
In the same way online commentary functions, it seems perilously close to the world of celebrity culture,; in which an individual’s opinions are marketed as media commodities.
If you look at news channels, they now all rely heavily on eyewitness videos shot from mobile phones or hand held cameras, as well as emails and texts from viewers — what they call “user-generated content.” News groups flaunt this as a kind of open democracy, but it can dangerously simplify the complexities of the modern world with melodramatic “human interest” angles.
How do you think capitalism has altered the vision for and practice of democratic rule?
For much of the western world I think Democracy will always be seen as the route to liberty, but what capitalism has done is to change the meaning of liberty, change the notion of what it is to be free, in both the eyes of the politicians and the electorate. It has replaced any sense of altruism, with selfish individualism, and established the “empire of the self,” turning the world we inhabit into one enormous advert for the life we are apparently lacking. In doing so it has handed the powers of authority to systems of control outside of government, and paralysed the ability of politics to transform the world for the better.
I think the most important thing to understand is that, in many ways, the greatest proponents of the capitalist framework have now become its audience – in short, us.
For more of Doran’s work, including drawings, photography and other films, see Studiocanoe, his creative project. And for a closer look at the evolution of capitalist propaganda, be sure to revisit the excellent BBC four-part documentary, The Century of the Self.
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What Sandra Bullock has to do with Tennessee traffic law, British election results and the future of news sensemaking.
Last weekend, we stopped by the annual ITP Spring Show, showcasing the best of interactive sight, sound and technology by students at NYU’s Interactive Technology Program. While the festival was brimming with fascinating installations and projects, we were particularly taken with Current: A News Project. Created by Zoe Fraade-Blanar, the project uses data visualization — a chronic favorite around here — to explore the life cycle of internet memes in reaction to news media in real time.
Current is essentially a snapshot of “hivemind,” offering a collective portrait of what America’s entire internet user base has been concerning itself with in the past 24 hours via their collective search history. Keywords are distilled into memes, which Fraade-Blanar treats as “living ‘thought organisms’ that act as though they have agency, control, and a selfish motivation.”
An active meme with medium coverage
A meme with two submemes
The project aims to expose something we too believe is one of the information economy’s greatest follies — “Digg mentality,” or the tendency for certain types of news to be regurgitated and pushed to the top by groupthink, while more niche yet important and fascinating content sinks to the bottom of our collective awareness — and, in the process, reclaim news readership lost to sensationalism.
News relies on soft stories like horoscopes, celebrity gossip and restaurant reviews to subsidize the important but less sensational stories that keep democracy running. At base, any solution to News’ present problems must address the balance between the hard news we need and the soft news that drives advertising dollars. By visually anthropomorphizing the capricious nature of public attention Current can spotlight these missed opportunities in news coverage.
A saturated meme
Fraade-Blanar, who worked at the New York Times Analytics Group last summer exploring ways to analyze incoming traffic behaviors, was inspired by the disconnect she noticed between the kinds of stories that caused spikes of traffic and their cultural footprint, with superficial stories often rising above reporting on important political events.
An unsuccessful news item published outside the Memescape
A long-lived meme in the Memescape
At base, any solution to News’ problems must offer a path to financial success in addition to advice on maintaining journalistic integrity. Current seeks to fulfill this purpose by supplying the ability to differentiate which news items are most likely to draw web traffic to a news source.
Current comes as a free desktop app for both Mac and PC (though make sure the Read Me on the Mac install — it’s not as seamless as we like our apps), allowing users to track and examine custom memes.
A highly carnivorous meme
The project reminds us of a more visual, minimalist version of Zoetrope, another brilliant news visualization concept you may remember from a couple of years ago, and illustrates the increasing necessity for a sensemaking platform for news data and meme propagation.
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