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Ambient Commons: Attention in the Age of Embodied Information Hardcover – 19 Apr 2013
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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.
Top customer reviews
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.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
If you already have a copy, instead of reading it go outside and think about the ways technology changes us while lighting the book on fire and watching the flames.
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: http://thesocialnetworkstation.com/the-battle-for-your-attention/ The website for the book is http://ambientcommons.org
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