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Ubiquity/Urbiquity: the B.U.G. and other Ludic(rous) Pursuits
Dr Janet Abrams
Director, Design Institute University of Minnesota

In the last few years, the city has (re)emerged as a vibrant locus of experiment in social computing. Projects by artists, game designers, and new media researchers have attempted to re-imagine urban space - and to illustrate the potential for individual and collective experience therein - by threading various types of digital communication into the physical environment. Are these projects reactions to the numbing anomie of desktop, deskbound computing, a rediscovery of 'meat space' by a generation wearying of the smoothnesses of the virtual realm? Are they ripostes, in fact, to the cherished fantasy of 'ubiquitous' computing which, in its strivings for technology 'everywhere, all the time', tends instead towards a kind of 'no-where'? Taking several such experiments - tentative, flawed, humorous, indeed ludic(rous) - as examples, this talk will ask what this 'return to the city' represents. It will argue that the hitherto segregated tribes of urban design/architecture and of interaction design/communications need to come together, to celebrate the particularities of place, and the richness of difference - between individual lives, between city blocks and neighborhoods, between urban cultures - so as to enable more realistic engagement with the world we actually live in.

Dr. Janet Abrams is Director of the University of Minnesota's Design Institute, which commissions, publishes and produces innovative designs for the public realm, detailed at <http://design.umn.edu>. The DI's major programs include Design Camp for teens, held for the third consecutive year in July 2004, and the Big Urban Game (B.U.G.), held in Minneapolis and St Paul in September 2003.

Janet joined the University of Minnesota in November 2000 after a twenty-year career as a critic and independent producer in the fields of architecture, design and the visual arts, working in New York, Amsterdam, Chicago and her native London. Her writings have appeared, inter alia, in I.D. Magazine, frieze, Domus, the New York Times and The Independent, and in several books, most recently "Profile: Pentagram Design" (Phaidon, 2004) which features her essay on interactive media designer Lisa Strausfeld. She is the editor of "IF/THEN: PLAY - Design Implications of New Media" (NDI/BIS, 1998), published in tandem with the Netherlands Design Institute's fifth Doors of Perception conference, for which she served on the Programming Team. Janet is currently completing "ELSE/WHERE: MAPPING," a 256-page anthology on mapping of networks, territories and ideas, co-edited with DI Senior Editor Peter Hall, and designed by "IF/THEN" art directors Mevis & van Deursen in collaboration with DI Design Fellow Deborah Littlejohn (Design Institute, 2004).

Janet holds a Bachelor's degree in Architecture from University College, London, and a Ph.D. in Architectural History, Theory and Criticism from Princeton University. In her off-hours, she is an avid swimmer, photographer (especially of wildlife, urban and otherwise) and collector of laundry detergent packaging from around the world.