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Ambient Commons: Attention in the Age of Embodied Information [Kindle Edition]

Malcolm McCullough
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

The world is filling with ever more kinds of media, in ever more contexts and formats. Glowing rectangles have become part of the scene; screens, large and small, appear everywhere. Physical locations are increasingly tagged and digitally augmented. Amid this flood, your attention practices matter more than ever. You might not be able to tune this world out. So it is worth remembering that underneath all these augmentations and data flows, fixed forms persist, and that to notice them can improve other sensibilities. In Ambient Commons, Malcolm McCullough explores the workings of attention through a rediscovery of surroundings. McCullough describes what he calls the Ambient: an increasing tendency to perceive information superabundance whole, where individual signals matter less and at least some mediation assumes inhabitable form. He explores how the fixed forms of architecture and the city play a cognitive role in the flow of ambient information. As a persistently inhabited world, can the Ambient be understood as a shared cultural resource, to be socially curated, voluntarily limited, and self-governed as if a commons? Ambient Commons invites you to look past current obsessions with smart phones to rethink attention itself, to care for more situated, often inescapable forms of information.

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Product Description


Ambient Commons is quiet, patient and profound; through 12 pithy chapters, it asks us to ponder information contexts. Times Higher Education Ambient Commons sizzles with provocative ideas: attention theft, right to undisrupted attention, peak distraction. It's a call for responsible urbanism... Given the recent hype about the rise of the 'smart city' -- courtesy of large technology companies pitching solutions to innovaton-hungry mayors -- McCullough's advocacy of technologically mediated but humane urbanism is timely. -- Evgeny Morozov The New Yorker The book is both a delight to read and a call to action in two ways. Civilized human beings need to disengage from their glowing rectangles and appreciate the world around us, and design professionals need to pay attention to the information content of our environment. User Experience Magazine

About the Author

Malcolm McCullough is Professor of Architecture at Taubman College, the University of Michigan. He is the author of Abstracting Craft: The Practiced Digital Hand and Digital Ground: Architecture, Pervasive Computing, and Environmental Knowing, both published by the MIT Press.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 5282 KB
  • Print Length: 368 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (22 Mar. 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00C0X5N70
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #311,804 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I had to punch myself 19 Dec. 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book was a very weird buy for me. Never bought anything like it and I didn't really understand the title at all. But there was a good review in New Yorker which got me into it. And the book isn't too long. Which is good.

The book is unashamedly hard-core intellectual. Malcolm M does not dumb down his topic or compromise for readers like me who are new to this whole field. So there was an intelligent delight in reading something which pushed me hard to understand it.

And then there were the total jaw drop ideas. Like this one. What's the difference between road markings (like parking restrictions, or stop signs painted onto the surface of the road) and street graffiti? Both involve the same technique. One is prohibited. The other prohibits disobedience.

I have been looking at all sorts of signs, both fixed and moving, both placards and on LED screens, with a new wonder. As a city lover this book opened my eyes to a new classification of what I see every day.

I would recommend this to someone like me, who likes a challenge sometimes. It's more of a short story which needs you to focus than a long novel which forgives the page flipping.

And I'd like to thank Malcolm very much for inspiring me.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Requires careful reading, but includes many easily understood gems 31 Aug. 2014
By Dr. J of The Social Network Show - Published on
As information becomes plentiful, attention becomes scarce. That truism from Herbert Simon, a pioneer of cognitive science, has many implications for us as humans in “the information age.” Advertisers also vie for our attention—and the competition is fierce. Those who want your attention are progressively filling up every nook and cranny with information. Ads, links, and notices are placed in any spec of unclaimed real estate. Remember when you first heard someone speaking to you from a little gadget attached to the gas pump? Or first saw a video explaining the advantages of a product hung on the end aisle at the supermarket? The same is true of virtual real estate, as when ads are crowded onto websites. As computing goes mobile, our outdoor attention is not only grabbed by billboards and other signage everywhere, but our mobile devices simultaneously demand our attention be directed toward tiny screens and whatever is going on in the online world.

At this point we must ask how our situational awareness (SA) is faring. Do we know what is going on around our body in the physical world? Do we notice our surroundings? Obviously, SA is essential if we are to avoid accidents such as walking in front of a vehicle or falling into a ditch. How many times have you seen a pedestrian walking, even in a busy parking lot, with eyes glued to his or her mobile phone? How many bags or cases have been snatched while the carrier’s mind was distracted with a phone call or text? Yes, SA is important for our safety, but something else is at risk as well. It is our ability to be fascinated with aspects of our surroundings.

Professor McCullough observes that, for the most part, we enjoy the superabundance of information in modern life. But perhaps we can use technological advances to better filter it. There is evidence that giving conscious attention to our situational awareness can help us. Attention is not limited to a spotlighted area, nor does it need to be effortful. Recent concepts such as “nature-deficit disorder” and ecopsychology reflect growing awareness that human mental health, indeed, human sanity, depends upon attending to our environment. Professor McCullough would argue that the built, as well as natural, environment can provide valuable structure and be restorative to our frazzled selves.

Those steeped in the academic discourse of architecture and design will find it more easily understood than the rest of us (hence the missing fifth star), but if you are looking for an intriguing challenge, you will be rewarded for your effort. When I needed a quicker intro to the whole topic, Professor McCullough recommended starting with the journal article “On Attention to Surroundings” in the November/December, 2012, issue of Interactions (published by ACM, Association for Computing Machinery), pp. 41-49. The concepts are more fully explored in Ambient Commons. The references at the end of the article and the endnotes of the book are wonderful. Prof. McCullough shows great courtesy in crediting original sources to the degree possible, even when ideas have become "common knowledge." It is also a beautifully designed book; even if I couldn’t read English, I would love this book for its visual and tactile delight, inside and out.

Disclosure: Much of this review also appears in connection with Professor McCullough's interview on The Social Network Show in August 2014: The website for the book is
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening. As a graduate in ICT and looking to ... 27 May 2015
By S. Olavi - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
Enlightening. As a graduate in ICT and looking to enter interaction design, McCullough's work opened my eyes to questions that anyone who is studying place-centric design & place specific computing should consider.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book 9 Dec. 2013
By Douglas W. Turner - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Wonderfully written book on a topic that is important right now to understand what is happening to us a culture. Neither cheerleader nor cynic, he has interesting insights about this world of social media, et al.
Very readable
0 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star 21 Feb. 2015
By Han Wu - Published on
A piece of s***..
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