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weblog archives
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Thursday, October 16, 2003
How many seconds do I save each day by using my new Oyster card? Not very many, I suspect, but by not fishing an old-style travelcard from its plastic wallet, inserting it in the side of a barrier and snapping it up at the top (all in one fluid, practised movement, admittedly) I somehow feel a little bit better about travelling by tube. Perhaps it's just the glow of using a new technology before anyone else. Even Transportblog doesn't seem to have passed comment on the system yet.

But there are other issues. The card itself is very 'smart', yet there is no visible smart chip. What does the innocent-looking Oyster store? Quite a lot, it turns out. Oyster cards use RFID technology - Radio Frequency Identification (FAQ). As Spy Blog notes, this means that good old London Transport will soon hold a complete record of your movements around London (see 'No Pearl in this Foul Oyster'). Of course, privacy advocates worry (quite rightly) about the ramifications of vast commuter databases gradually building up, unknown to the generators of the data. It's just one more way people have of tracking your movement through the city - credit card purchases, cash withdrawals, mobile phone records, journeys on public transport, CCTV cameras.

The paradox is that this kind of mapping - of paths and directions dictated by our desires and obsessions - has long been an obsession of the avant garde. We turn to Nicolas Nova's icon's blog, with its focus on spaces, real and virtual, and the 'traces' left by movement, be they from journeys through the city or drug-addled spider webs. As previously mentioned, Nova has created Psychogeographical Maps of his movement around Lyon and Lausanne - a contemporary update of Paul-Henri Chaumbert de Lauwe's iconic map plotting the trajectories of a Parisian student.

A meaningful journey through a city's various atmospheres and physical effects was known by the Situationists as a dérive (see Douglas Spencer's article in the forthcoming things 17-18). Technologies such as the Oyster - and GPS systems - create endless psychogeograms: combining all this data would produce perhaps the best illustration yet of how each person experiences the city as an individual. Only this avalanche of new data, one must assume, is not - and perhaps should never be - freely available. The mysterious databases of our information overlords have become the ultimate Situationist project - an all-knowing system from which there is no escape.

Elsewhere. fatal.no is a good architecture and design portal (via coolstop). Related: there were a surprising number of architectural websites back in 1997 / Stella Maris, ‘Catholic raga space music from Walthamstow’, connected somehow to the cloud23 weblog / Benesse Island, a cultural village in Japan, rich with architecture new and old / Drawing Power - get everyone drawing / a huge collection of links at My Secret Garden.

Are our cities shrinking? (via ArtKrush). We're certainly growing. The RIBAworld news letter brings up a set of links on the impact of burgeoning global obesity on architecture and design. In Australia, stadium seats are getting larger (related: the world stadiums database, what not to do if you get one of the best seats in the house, via mystery and misery). Will cars need to be redesigned? Are airline passengers getting heavier? Are children? There is apparently an ambulance for the obese in Denver, and even the funeral industry is upsizing.