"Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing" by Adam Greenfield

Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing - Adam Greenfield

“Everything that can be digital, will be”.

A long time ago, I found myself sitting on my bed, breathing in a cloud of card fumes, using a stiletto to pick at the corner of a London electronic travel card (acquired in a school field trip to the UK). After arriving in Lisbon I became utterly fascinated by it. Thus I decided to dissect one of them. After letting the card sit in a nail cosmetic lacquer remover for a time, and after the plastic had softened enough I was able to peel apart the layers within and voilà: inside was a tiny microchip attached to a fine copper wire: the radio frequency identification (RFID) chip.


Now you’re probably wondering. What the heck did he want with it? I wanted to be a cyborg! What else? (Remember this happened a long time ago; I think it was my first trip to the UK). If anyone out there in the Netherworld has been reading my reviews, she or he’ll have noticed that my first love was (and still is) SF. What better chance to put into practice what I’d been reading SF-wise, I said to myself. This is it. I’ll leave this mortal coil and I’ll become a cyborg…


To accomplish that I’d to bury the chip under my skin, so that the turnstiles at the entrance to the London Tube would open with a twist of my hand, as if I were some kind of Open Sesame wizard. Unfortunately I had the chip, but what I didn’t have was a Special Forces doctor willing to do the surgery. On top of that I also failed to get my hands on the state-of-the-art silicone I’d need to coat the chip to prevent my body reacting against it. In this fashion ended my dream of becoming the first Tube Cyborg.


This book aimed to substantiate and formalize (in 2005) what it meant to be able to interact without thinking with our everyday objects. This later became known as Ambient Informatics.  


The ubicomp (ubiquitous) concept really took off with Mark Weiser, who developed the idea of an “invisible” computing (vide “The Coming Age of Calm Technology”), a computing that “does not live on a personal device of any sort, but is in the woodwork everywhere”. In other words, what Mark Weiser described was computing without computers, or as Greenfield states it: “Everyware is information processing embedded in the objects and surfaces of everyday life.”


The book’s structure is one of its main points. It presents 81 individual “theses” on the various subjects at hand. These are further annotated with several pages of discussion and references. Any one of them triggers discussion and reflection. A sample:


Thesis 17: “The overwhelming majority of people experiencing everyware will not be knowledgeable about IT”.


Thesis 24: “Everyware, or something very much like it, is effectively inevitable.”


Everyware has been at the forefront of my academic, intellectual interests and work. In this sense Greenfield’s book was able to fulfil two objectives:


  1.    It’s a book we should read for itself (the theses are by themselves worth the price of the book);
  1.    As a means of getting into many other subjects, many of which are amongst the more pressing of our generation (the book was written in 2005, but the assertions/theses are still quite valid in 2014).


Is there a universal path to Everyware? I don’t think so. Each person makes choices about technology. For instance, I only watch TV when I’m looking for a particular TV Show. I don’t indulge in channel surfing. I don’t need another life-time burner in my life…

Is resistance futile? That depends upon you... According to a Motorola executive, the choice is not ours:


“A Motorola executive, interviewed in a recent issue of the Economist, asserted the rather patronizing viewpoint that if customers didn’t want these conveniences [in this case the mobile phones, but we can extend this to the Ubicomp field], they’d simply have to be “educated” about their desirability until they did manage to work up the appropriate level of enthusiasm. In other words “the floggings will continue until morale improves.” (page 89; bold mine).


NB: By reading this book in 2014, I wanted to validate how many of the 81 theses were still relevant. The book was so ahead of its time that all of the theses are still relevant in terms of discussion of what we mean nowadays when we use the term “ubicomp.” I still consider it to be one of the “bibles” of Computer Science. Well, right off the top of my head I'll list a few other “bibles” worth reading: 

  1. “The Art of Computer Programming” by Donald Knuth;
  2. “The Coming Age of Calm Technology” by Mark Weiser;
  3. “Gödel, Escher, Bach” by Douglas Hofstadter;
  4. “The Inmates Are Running The Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity” by Alan Cooper;
  5. “Don't Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability” by Steve Krug;
  6. “The Design of Everyday Things” by Donald Norman”;
  7. “The C Programming Language” by Kernighan and Ritchie;
  8. “The Art of Unix Programming” by Eric S. Raymond;
  9. “Modern Operating Systems” by Andrew S. Tanenbaum;
  10. “A Guided Tour Through Alan Turing's Historic Paper on Computability and the Turing Machine” by Charles Petzold;
  11. “The Annotated Turing: Things That Make Us Smart: Defending Human Attributes In The Age Of The Machine” by Donald A. NormanTamara Dunaeff;
  12. “The Timeless Way of Building” by Christopher Alexander;
  13. “The Tao of Programming” by Geoffrey James;
  14. “The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering” by Frederick P. Brooks Jr.;
  15. “Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture” by David Kushner;
  16. “How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method” by George Pólya.


Full stop.


Any other suggestions?