The impacts of the Commsphere

Ubiquitous-computing is a theoretical idea that has come into academic prominence with the advent of network computing. Ubiquitous computing has had an effect on the way that humans interact and communicate with each other. Essentially, it is the theory that networking computers together has allowed humans to constantly communicate with each other, and thus has had an effect on the types of communication we experience.


Ubiquitous Computing

There is a great deal of disparity in the definitions of ubiquitous computing (Greenfield, 2006) which may be partly due to the wide range of daily activities that it seems to cover.

Ubiquitous Computing theory was first published by Mark Weiser in a 1988 paper for the Xerox Palo Alto research centre. The paper said;

“We believe that people live through their practices and tacit knowledge so that the most powerful things are those that are effectively invisible in use. This is a challenge that affects all of computer science. Our preliminary approach: Activate the world. Provide hundreds of wireless computing devices per person per office, of all scales (from 1" displays to wall sized). This has required new work in operating systems, user interfaces, networks, wireless, displays, and many other areas. We call our work "ubiquitous computing". This is different from PDA's, dynabooks, or information at your fingertips. It is invisible, everywhere computing that does not live on a personal device of any sort, but is in the woodwork everywhere.”

What this is describing is “computing without computers” (greenfield, 2006), which is primarily what Ubiquitous Computing has come to mean. This means that a process has to be automated with seamless interactivity between units.

The issue that this raises is one of control. Traditionally in a computing system, there is one agent (such as a server) that is responsible for controlling informational flow and allowing access to other agents (such as PCs) (Reed & Sanders, 2007). Ubiquity requires to an extent for multiple agents to all act together to create one system, i.e. multiple PC’s connected to make one PC. Ubiquity in this sense cannot be achieved through hardware. Hardware can however be tricked into becoming Ubiquitous by creating software that allows multi agent control (Reed & Sanders, 2007). It is in this instance that Ubiquitous Communication is created.


Ubiquitous Communication

Ubiquitous Communication can be described as informational exchange between agents within a computing network, or “Commsphere” (Reed & Sanders, 2007). Ubiquitous Communication is the theory that communication can happen in an automated way, at all times, everywhere (Aarseth, 1997). It is through the use of software that it is achievable. For example, if I a person were to edit his or her Facebook page at 10:00 am and the log off Facebook, regardless of what time his or her 'friends' wish to access the communication, they always can, and from multiple different locations. This creates a ubiquitous presence of their communication on the commsphere.

One way in which this differs to the Ubiquity of Hardware is through the cultural “mash ups” created by the users of the Commsphere (Greenfield, 2007). This is when a user will combine different pieces of software to create a new channel on which communication can exist. This is a closer step towards Ubiquity, as it means that software is working in unison for a common aim. The reason why this matters is because it is a large indication as to who wants communication to happen Ubiquitously. Mash ups are primarily created by the amateur, whist at the same time, use software created by big business. It raises the question of who wants to communicate ubiquitously, is it the user of the products, or is it the companies who create them. Of course there must be some form of praxis in which the user forms what products are on the market. But with brand loyalty it could mean that a user is likely to adopt a product that they normally would not (Stross, 2008).


Societal Impacts

Before the prominence of Commsphere communications, Tubbs & Moss (1994) observed that humans spent 75% of their lives communicating. She also highlighted how the communications were lacking in real quality for the sheer amount on quantity of communications. If we were to consider communication as being ubiquitous, then it could now be observed that a human interacting in the Commsphere does so in a constant fashion, and therefore is constantly communication with other Commsphere participants.

Whilst Mcluhan (1967) might argue that the Commsphere has been an extension of face to face communication, Wood & Smith (2005) observe that the communications that take place in the Commsphere are different to face to face conversation. It is suggested that the Commsphere breeds superficial communication, in the sense that the topic areas are less broad, and inherently ludic in nature (Wood & Smith, 2005). This may be due to the Commsphere primarily being an extension of humans leisure communications. As Stross (2008) would argue, the companies are simply tapping into a lucrative market.

A side effect o this again though, is that the companies are making it easier to isolate oneself in the Commsphere. Eli Pariser (2011) explains using the terminology of Filter Bubbles. This is when software is written to ensure that an individual will easily be able to access information that has been deemed relevant for them, the effects being that they will not be able to access other, possibly more important information as easily. The video below explains this in more detail.

Nicholas Carr (2010) says that communications over the Internet have lead society into a state of impatience, and lacking concentration. Carr (2010) has observed that the Commsphere has also allowed for humans to have multiple communications with multiple channels at once. He argues that this has lead society to demand shorter communications with these multiple channels at once, rather than one in depth conversation at a time. There is also an issue of deleting communications (Meyer-Schonberger, 2009) in which we are now seeing communications such as emails being stored forever to read retrospectively. This is an issue because it creates a Commsphere where nothing can be forgotten, and humans can be judged based on old communications.


Is it all bad?

Marc Prensky (2001) highlights how the alterations of communication and the way we think about communication can be attributed to current students being digital natives. This is to say that students have grown up with technology, so the issue of ubiquitously communicating may not be present for this generation, as they know no different. It may instead be worth considering the older generation, or the digital immigrants who will have to become used to a technology and alter they way they communicate, as in this instance the impact may be greater. Marc Prensky also feels that the result of this ubiquity has altered the way that students fundamentally think and act, his arguments lie similar with Carr (2008) in that they both feel impatience has begun to be seen in users of the commsphere. The need for information in short concise packages is present, and there is less inclination to explore more in depth materials.

Concluding statement

The conclusions that can be drawn from this article are that society is experiencing change, much like it always has. The Commsphere may be recycled ideas on a new platform, in which case it is inherent in the software. It may only be an issue for those not used to the Commsphere, but for those who are natives, it is second nature and already the way that they are living.

References

Aarseth, E (1997) Cybertext: Perspectives on ergodic literature. Baltimore, The John Hopkins University Press.

Carr, N (2010) The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember. New York, W. W. Norton and Company, Inc.

Greenfield, A (2006) Everyware: The dawning age of ubiquitous computing. Berkley, New Riders.

McLuhan, M (1969) The Medium is the Massage. London, Penguin Books.

Pariser, e (2011) TED Talks 2011. [ONLINE] http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf (Date acessed, 20/05/11)

Prensky, M (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants [ONLINE] http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/prensky%20-%20digital%20natives,%20digital%20immigrants%20-%20part1.pdf (Date accessed, 19/04/2011)

Reed, G & Sanders, J (2007) An Ethical Principal for Ubiquitous Communication. UNU-IIST Report No. 373. The United Nations University. [Also available online]

Stross, R (2008) Planet Google: How one company is transforming our lives.New York, Free Press.
Tubbs, S. Moss, S. (1994) Human Communication. USA, Mcgraw-Hill Inc.

Weisser, M (1988) Ubiquitous Computing No.1. Xerox Paulo Alto Research Center.

Wood, A. Smith, M (2005) Online Communication: Linking technology, identity and culture. USA, Routledge.

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