Lkboehm's Blog

Urban History Blog

The Age of Context August 15, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — lkboehm @ 6:36 pm
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In 2013, David Scobel and Shel Israel published The Age of Context: Mobile, Sensors, Data,and the Future of Privacy a book that sold millions of copies. Having just written about the digital city for the latter part of the upcoming book, America’s Urban History, I was intrigued by the idea of this new book and eager to see what Scobel and Israel had to say.

The book will soon be outdated, because it showcases “new” technology that will promptly become commonplace in our lives. But the overview speaks volumes to us in the present moment, and we should take a the time to consider the way in which mobile devices impact our daily lives. Technology may already be so imbedded in our lives that we cannot assess it critically. Israel and Scobel’s book would be a good addition to courses on modern urban history and/or the digital city.

A few years back, this team of authors wrote a book on the impact of social media. In their second collaboration, the authors explain who sensors transform computers into contextual assistants; the sensors judge where we are, what we are doing, and impact with the world in which we are located. The authors, while speaking positively about technology for the most part, also caution that we relinquish quite a bit of privacy to contextual devices. Many cultural critics are even more skeptical of this imposition into privacy than these authors. Israel and Scobel also pay very little attention to the way in which contextual devices transform our lives so that we can never fully escape from the office or the pressing demands of home life. Now we can get texts while hiking and answer emails from bed. The book would be interesting paired with Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together: Why we Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other. Turkle is critical of the speed with which we have allowed technologies to impede on our lives.

I do believe authors of this caliber ought not to introduce terms without considering whether they already hold meaning. The authors “invent” the term “new urbanists” to refer to the creative class in our modern cities. However, urban theorists have already employed this term to define those who follow the design principles put forth in the Charter of New Urbanism. A quick literature review could have spared the authors this mistake.

Age of Context