Thursday night at the C3 MIT event in Cambridge, I met Ira Hochman, the CIO of Untravel Media. He was there, I think, to bask in the reflected glory and the greatness that is Henry Jenkins, but he ended up talking to me.
And I couldn’t quite escape the sense that listening to Ira was my chance to experience what it was like to listen to Walter Disney in the late 20s, early 30s.
Ira was talking about his Untravel and the “tours” it gives of Boston through mobile story telling. Untravel Media lets us use a cell phone or a PDA in the streets of Boston to listen to a “voice over” narrative. We can travel the West End of Boston and listen to historical matters otherwise obscure (as above).
Normally, Leora Kornfeld and her Ubiquity Interactive is my guide in matters of this kind. And so I have some rough idea of what this technology can do. For starters, it disintermediates the museum in a big way. Now the work of museological, curatorial exposition can be moved out of the museum into the world. Now, we can learn the story of the Empire State Building while in and around the Empire State Building instead of staring at text and models at the Museum of the City of New York.
One of these days our phones will catch up to Japan, and we will only need to point at a building to listen to its story (if someone has recorded this.) The possibilities are mind bending. A city with all of its history attached and on tap? A world with its history there “in the air.” “Living memory” is a perishable thing. It dies with every generation. But this technology lets it live on, not in a book or a museum, but in situ. A city that never forgets.
Ira was talking about an idea of transparency. The virtual companion could now let us see through walls into buildings. We can think of class as a matter of space and knowledge access. The highest ranking person in a social world probably has rights of greatest access. He or she can go anywhere, know anything. And Ira’s technology, to the extent that it can make the world transparent, allows anyone with a PDA to see and know in ways previously forbidden them. The PDA in this case becomes a sociological equalizer.
But, listening to Ira, you could also hear about extra-historical possibilities. It sounds as if his technology is mostly used for expositional purposes. And you can imagine how readily it come be used for evocational ones.
What for instance if you did the history of the West end of Boston not from the point of view of well told history? What if you told it from the point of view of a Southern Belle in 1840s Boston? What if you told the story of the West end not so much to illuminate the place but the person? Not the story told, but the story teller?
This enterprise is a largely fictional one. We can imagines writers abandoning the printed page for an Untravel media or Leora’s Ubiquity Interactive. Novelists released from the novel. A story could begin at the Harvard subway line and wrap up somewhere near Kendall station, proceeding at the pace at which we walk, unfolding in the streets and buildings as we pass them by. This is a little literal. How about hearing from the god (or is it the ghost) of Longfellow Bridge anytime we pass between Boston and Cambridge on Red Line?
There is a compromise position between the two, something expositional that allows us to glimpse a Boston at mid 19th century and something evocational that allows us to participate in what it might have been emotionally. I believe when bring these are brought together, we may call the outcome anthropological.
Was this what it was like to talk to Walter Disney? Hard to imagine that it can have been this interesting.
See the Ubiguity Interactive website, here.
See the Untravel Media website, here.