Bionic Noticing on Irving Street

Irving Street

Didn’t manage to get to designengaged this year in Montreal, but it seems they continued the tradition of an afternoon walk, semi-guided to immerse oneself in the city your visiting, and do some deep noticing.

There’s been a flurry of writing on the skill, innate or learned of noticing. I like to think I have a little bit of the innate, but I’ve been *ahem* noticing that my increasingly mobile personal-informatics tool-cloud seems to be training me to notice more.

Location tracker and sports-tracker on my N95,  Fireeagle, Dopplr, (+ Paul Mison‘s excellent mashup ‘Snaptrip‘) and of course Flickr are the main things helping me build up my own personal palimpsest of places.

I recently renewed my Flickr account. I have 19,404 pictures at time of writing from 4 or so years, and, though slow starting, now 1,507 geotagged. This to me, represents a deep pool of personal noticing.

Adam Greenfield recently has been presenting a fascinating flip-around of the original Eno conceit of the Big here and the long now.

Adam talks of the ‘long here, big now’ where information overlaid on place creates a ‘long here‘ record of interactions with the place, and a ‘big now’ where we are never separated from our full-time intimate communities.

The long here that Flickr represents back to me is becoming only more fascinating and precious as geolocation starts to help me understand how I identify and relate to place.

The fact that Flickr’s mapping is now starting to relate location to me the best it can in human place terms is fascinating – they do a great job, but where it falls done it falls down gracefully, inviting corrections and perhaps starting conversation.

Incidentally, I’m typing this with tea and toast in a little cafe on Irving Street called La Chandelle, accross the street is a cafe called Little Italy.

Next door is “The Italian Restaurant” – is this london’s little italy? Why such a concetration of italian restaurants here? how did it start? That statue is of Henry Irving, the actor at the end of the street. So, what was it called before being rededicated perhaps to him?

What is the Long-here of Irving Street?

Robert Elms would have a field day. I use to love listening to his phone in show, which was really, all about ‘noticing’ between the music. Maxwell Hutchinson‘s roving reports, taxi drivers, lovers of mother london and it’s tapestry of histroy and trivia all contributed to a wonderful shaggy-dog style story that would assemble about a place or a custom or a thing every morning. Perhaps the BBC and it’s new controller of archives will start investing in geolocated bionic noticing and storytelling?

But why the Little Italy on Irving street? Why the clustering? I can’t ask Robert Elms’ future-bionic noticing community yet. I wish I could – the playful aggregation of the story of a place that tumbled through his shows would be just the sort of thing I would love to read right or listen to now, right here.

Apart from the tools of bionic noticing, this play of noticing is amplified by the web beautifully – flickr,, placeblogging, things like – and increasingly ARGs and ‘BUGs’ – Big Urban Games making use of the increasing locative abilities of our devices, and perhaps more importantly – the increasing ownership of those devices.

For instance, I’m on Irving Street, noticing all this stuff for instance because my friend Alfie has staged a wonderful, casual locative game to raise awareness for XDRTB, where people follow clues embedded in blog posts like this one, to places where they can find the game rewards. Alfie’s hoping the time is right for a whole lot more people to participate in these types of games with the advent of mass adoption of location-aware mobiles like the iPhone.

I’ve written before about the dearth of casual BUGs before. Til now, often necessarily they have required an awful lot of staging and concentrated participation from a dedicated few.

Area/code’s Plundr was an early inflection point away from that. Alfie’s game isn’t quite at the Slow Urban Game stage I hoped for a few years ago but it and things like “And I saw” by Jaggeree point the way towards a slower, more inclusive play with the city, based around the rich rewards of noticing, rather than competitive and basic game mechanics.

All of this though leaves me again reminded of Stephen Johnson in Emergence, building on the thinking of the late, great Jane Jacobs on the way that cities iterate on themselves, encouraging the clustering and gathering of businesses and communities – and hopefully through Alfie’s efforts for, a community made aware and inspired to take up it’s cause.

As Johnson, Jacobs and Greenfield point out, our cities themselves are slow computers, but quickly our personal computers are becoming mobile and embedded within them, and as we play so our noticing superpowers grow…

6 thoughts on “Bionic Noticing on Irving Street

  1. Of of all the Geo tagging and complicated location services available it’s funny that Flickr should be so useful, but that’s probably because the visual is so helpful as a memory aid.
    For instance Chris once broadcast a tweet, "no internet in the office. Need flickr to do expenses." Likewise, my Flickr 366 has been a better aid than any diary, mapping service, this year. Flickr is also blissfully easy, easier than +51, 30 35 etc etc.
    I’m sure that’s nowhere near the point of what you’re saying, but there you go.

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