All posts filed under “Protest

The Convention on Modern Liberty

Barricades, London

Britain’s supposedly on the verge of a summer of rage, and while like Mary Riddell I am of course reminded of Ballard, it’s not quite the same. I don’t think this represents the ‘middle class’ ennui of Chelsea Marina.

Instead I think we may have reached a tipping point where more people than not, are, frankly, fed up (and scared) about what’s happening, whether it’s the economic situation, the greed of the feckless, the intransigent myopia of those who were supposed to ‘oversee’ what’s going on, the use of fear to intimidate away basic freedoms, or a home secretary who treats the entire country like the naughty schoolchildren she left behind. In short: we’re basically losing our liberty very rapidly indeed. This PDF, compiled by UCL Student Human Rights Programme, provides a withering summary. As many have repeated, 1984 was not supposed to be an instruction manual. But, as Cardinal Wolsey warned, “be well advised and assured what matter ye put in his head; for ye shall never pull it out again”.

The Convention on Modern Liberty, taking place across the UK this Saturday 28th February, aims to demonstrate the dissatisfaction with what’s happening, and hopefully raise awareness of just what’s going on right under our noses. It features an interesting cross-section of speakers, and the speeches will be streamed on the site (tickets for the London session sold out very quickly).

I’m a normal person, trying my best to advance the progress of humanity, yet I feel that the government has contempt for me as a member of the public in general, on an everyday basis. Everywhere we go, we are watched, monitored, surveilled, threatened, considered guilty. We shouldn’t have to live like this.

P.S. I apologise for the lack of posts over the last week: my laptop’s graphics card finally gave in – it had been kind-of usable at a low resolution by connecting the output to another monitor for a while, but that too has now failed. Thanks to everyone who’s e-mailed and sent things: I will get round to them as soon as I can.

(Anti-)public seating roundup

Photo by Ville Tikkanen
Single-occupancy benches in Helsinki. Photo by Ville Tikkanen

Ville Tikkanen of Salient Feature points us to the “asocial design” of these single-person benches installed in Helsinki, Finland. In true Jan Chipchase style, he invites us to think about the affordances offered:

As you can see, the benches are located a few meters away from each other and staring at the same direction. What kind of sociality do particular product and service features afford and what not?

Comments on Ville’s photo on Flickr make it clear that preventing the homeless lying down is seen as one of the reasons behind the design (as we’ve seen in so many other cases).

Bench in Cornmarket, Oxford
The street finds its own uses for things. Photo from Stephanie Jenkins

Ted Dewan – the man behind Oxford’s intriguing Roadwitch project, which I will get round to covering at some point – pointed me to a fantastic photo of the vehemently anti-user seating in Oxford’s Cornmarket Street, which was covered on the blog last year. When I saw the seating, no-one was using it (not surprising, though to be fair, it was raining), but the above photo demonstrates very clearly what a pathetic conceit the attempt to restrict users’ sitting down was.

As Ted puts it, these are:

The world’s most expensive, ugly, and deliberately uncomfortable benches… Still, people have managed to figure out how to sit on them, although not the way the ‘designers’ expected. They might as well have written “Oxford wishes you would kindly piss off” on the pavement.

And indeed they were expensive – the set of 8 benches cost £240,000:

Benches in Oxford’s Cornmarket Street will now cost taxpayers £240,000 – and many have been designed to discourage people from sitting on them for a long time… the bill for the benches – dubbed “tombstones” by former Lord Mayor of Oxford Gill Sanders — has hit £240,000.

The seats, made of granite, timber and stainless steel, are due to be unveiled next week but shoppers wanting to take the weight off their feet could be disappointed, because they will only be able to sit properly on 24 of the 64 seats. There is a space for a wheelchair in each of the eight blocks, while the other 32 seats are curved and are only meant to be “perched” on for a short time… Mr Cook [Oxford City planning] said the public backed the design when consultation took place two years ago. He added: “There’s method in our madness. We did not want to provide clear, long benches both sides because we did not want drunks lying across them.

But a city guide said the council had forgotten the purpose of seating. Jane Curran, 56… said: “When people see these seats and how much they cost, they are going to be amazed.

“They look like an interesting design, but seats are for people to sit on… the real function of a seat has been forgotten.”

Mrs Sanders, city councillor for Littlemore, said: “I said time and again that the council should rethink the design, because I don’t think it’s appropriate for Cornmarket. People who need a rest if they’re carrying heavy shopping need to be able to sit down. If they can’t sit on half the seats it’s an incredible waste of money.”

David Robertson, the county executive member for transport, said: “They have been designed so that the homeless will not be able to use them as a bed for the night.”

Bench by Matthew Hincman
Matthew Hincman’s ‘bench object’ installed at Jamaica Pond, Boston, Mass. Photo from WBUR website

Following last week’s post on the ‘Lean Seat’, John Curran let me know about the ‘bench object’ installation by sculptor Matthew Hincman. This was installed in a Boston park without any permission from the authorities, removed and then reinstated (for a while, at least) after the Boston Arts Commission and Parks Commission were impressed by the craftsmanship, thoughtfulness and safety of the piece.

While this is probably not Hincman’s intention, the deliberately ‘unsittable’ nature of the piece is not too much beyond some of the thinking we’ve seen displayed with real benches.

Photo of Exeter St David's Station by Elsie esq.
Exeter St Davids station – photo by Elsie esq.

In a similar vein to the Heathrow Terminal 5 deliberate lack of-seats except in overpriced cafés, Mags L Halliday also told me about what’s recently happened at Exeter St Davids, her local mainline railway station:

There are no longer any indoor seats available without having to sit in the café, and the toilets are beyond the ticket barrier. So if you’re there waiting for someone off a late train, after the cafe has closed, you can only sit outside the building, and have no access to the toilet facilities (unless a ticket inspector on the barrier feels kind).

[First Great Western] are currently doing their best to discourage people from just hanging around waiting at Exeter St Davids. The recent introduction of barriers there (due to massive amounts of fare dodging on the local trains) has created a simply awful space.

If you take a look at the stats, FGW has lost over 5% points for customer satisfaction with their facilities in the last 6 months – I wonder why!

Waiting outdoors for late-night trains, with the cold wind howling through the station, is never pleasant anywhere, but I seem to remember St Davids being especially windy (south-south-west to north-north-east orientation). This kind of tactic (removing seats) might not be deliberate, but if it isn’t, it demonstrates a real lack of customer insight or appreciation. Neither reason is admirable.

UPDATE: Mags has posted photos (slideshow) of the recent changes at Exeter St Davids, along with notes – which also show other poor thinking by First Great Western, alongside the obvious removal-of-seating:


Click to see more notes

This is the only seating freely available at Exeter St Davids if you do not have a ticket (i.e. if you are waiting for someone). Note that one of the two benches is delightfully occupied.


Click to see more notes

Exeter St David’s no longer has any freely accessible indoor seating. This is the view of the increasingly encroached concourse area where you can wait for people. The only toilets are beyond the barriers.


Click to see more notes

Having walked into the main concourse, you have to turn 180 degrees in order to see the departures screen, then 180 degrees back to go through the gates.

What an attractive meeting point!

Smile, you’re on Countermanded Camera

IDPS : Miquel Mora
Image from Miquel Mora’s website

We’ve looked before at a number of technologies and products aimed at ‘preventing’ photography and image recording in some way, from censoring photographs of ‘copyrighted content’ and banknotes, to Georgia Tech’s CCD-flooding system.

Usually these systems are about locking out the public, or removing freedoms in some way (a lot of organisations seem to fear photography), but a few ‘fightback’ devices have been produced, aiming to empower the individual against others (e.g. Hewlett-Packard’s ‘paparazzi-proof’ camera) or against authority (e.g. the Backflash system intended to render a car number plate unreadable when photographed by a speed camera). The field of sousveillance – lots of interesting articles by Régine Debatty here – is also a ‘fightback’ in a parallel vein.

Taking the fightback idea further, into the realms of everyware, Miquel Mora’s IDentity Protection System, shown last month at the RCA’s Great Exhibition (many thanks to Katrin Svabo Bech for the tip-off), aims to offer the individual a way to control how his or her image is recorded – again, Régine from We Make Money Not Art:

With IDPS (IDentity Protection System), interaction designer Miquel Mora is proposing a new way to protect our visual identity from the invasion of ubiquitous surveillance cameras. He had a heap of green stickers that could stick to your jacket. Or anywhere else. The sticker blurred your image on the video screen.

“With the IDPS project I wanted to sparkle [sic.] debate about all the issues related to identity privacy,” explains Miquel. “Make people think about how our society has become a complete surveillance machine. Our identities have already been stored as data in many servers ready to be tracked. And our self image is our last resort. So we really need tools to protect our privacy. We need tools that can allow us to hide or reveal our visual image. We must have the control over it.”

“For example in one scenario a girl is wearing a tooth jewellery with IDPS technology embedded. So when she smiles she reveals it and it triggers the camera to protect her. With IDPS users can always feel comfortable, knowing that with a simple gesture like smiling, they are in control. The IDPS technology could be embedded in all kind of items, from simple badges to clothes or jewellery. For the working prototype I’m using Processing to track the stickers and pixelate the image around when it founds one.”

IDPS : Miquel Mora
Image from Miquel Mora’s website

While the use of stickers or similar tags (why not RFID?) which can be embedded in items such as jewellery is a very neat idea aesthetically, I am not sure what economic/legal incentive would drive CCTV operators or manufacturers to include something such as IDPS in their systems and respect the wishes of users. CCTV operators generally do not want anyone to be able to exclude him or herself from being monitored and recorded, whether that’s by wearing a hoodie or a smart black hat with maroon ribbon. Or indeed a veil of some kind.

Something which actively fought back against unwanted CCTV or other surveillance intrusion, such as reversing the Georgia Tech system in some way (e.g. detecting the CCD of a digital security camera, and sending a laser to blind it temporarily, or perhaps some kind of UV strobe) would perhaps be more likely to ‘succeed’, although I’m not sure how legal it would be. Still, with RCA-quality interaction designers homing in on these kinds of issues, I think we’re going to see some very interesting concepts and solutions in the years ahead…

Coercive atmospherics reach the bus shelter

Milk & cookies

Jonathan Zittrain discusses scented advertising in bus shelters: the California Milk Processor Board recently tried a campaign with chocolate-chip cookie-scented “aromatic strips”, intended to provoke a thirst for milk, in San Francisco before having to remove them after allergy/chemical sensitivity concerns.

The use of scent (fresh bread, coffee, ‘new car smell’ etc) as a persuasion method is nothing new in supermarkets and other retail environments – as part of coercive atmospherics, Douglas Rushkoff and Martin Howard both have interesting treatments of various approaches and results – but the balance does begin to shift when the application is so public. I would suspect a lot of the opposition in San Francisco was really more about the inescapable incursion of the commercial message into a public environment than the allergy concerns; as Jonathan puts it:

Unlike the use of even large billboards, there’s no easy way to avert your nose the way you can avert your eyes, making the advertising much more invasive.

Nevertheless, I’m not sure that a less obviously “invasive” olefactory campaign would necessarily meet too much opposition if handled correctly. Imagine an air freshener manufacturer sponsoring a clean-up of a city’s dirtiest/stinkiest bus shelters. Provided it were not overpowering, and not too sickening, would a fragranced bus shelter without a coercive angle be seen as invasive?

Or, to run closer to the milk-and-cookies example, what if, say, Nestlé were to fragrance bus shelters with chocolate milkshake scent in order to promote Nesquik? It doesn’t have the same ‘sneaky’ aspect, though I suspect it would still be pretty irritating.

Bruce Schneier : Architecture & Security

The criminology students at Cambridge have an excellent view of dystopian architecture

Bruce Schneier talks about ‘Architecture and Security’: architectural decisions based on the immediate fear of certain threats (e.g. car bombs, rioters) continuing to affect users of the buildings long afterwards. And he makes the connexion to architectures of control outside of the built environment, too:

“The same thing can be seen in cyberspace as well. In his book, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, Lawrence Lessig describes how decisions about technological infrastructure — the architecture of the internet — become embedded and then impracticable to change. Whether it’s technologies to prevent file copying, limit anonymity, record our digital habits for later investigation or reduce interoperability and strengthen monopoly positions, once technologies based on these security concerns become standard it will take decades to undo them.

It’s dangerously shortsighted to make architectural decisions based on the threat of the moment without regard to the long-term consequences of those decisions.”

Indeed.

The commenters detail a fantastic array of ‘disciplinary architecture‘ examples, including:

  • Pierce Hall, University of Chicago, “built to be “riotproof” by elevating the residence part of the dorm on large concrete pillars and developing chokepoints in the entranceways so that rioting mobs couldn’t force their way through.” (There must be lots of university buildings like this)
  • “The Atlanta Fed building has a beautiful lawn which surrounds the building, and is raised 4 or 5 feet from the surrounding street, with a granite restraining wall. It’s a very effective protection against truck bombs.”
  • The wide boulevards of Baron Haussmann’s Paris, intended to prevent barricading (a frequently invoked example on this blog)
  • The UK Ministry of Defence’s Defence Procurement Agency site at Abbey Wood, Bristol, “is split into car-side and buildings; all parking is as far away from the buildings (car bomb defence), especially the visitor section. you have to walk over a narrow footbridge to get in.

    Between the buildings and the (no parking enforced by armed police) road is ‘lake’. This stops suicide bomber raids without the ugliness of the concrete barriers.

    What we effectively have is a modern variant of an old castle. The lake supplants the moat, but it and the narrow choke point/drawbridge.”

  • SUNY Binghamton’s “College in the Woods, a dorm community… features concrete “quads” with steps breaking them into multiple levels to prevent charges; extremely steep, but very wide, stairs, to make it difficult to defend the central quad”
  • University of Texas at Austin: “The west mall (next to the Union) used to be open and grassy. They paved it over with pebble-y pavement to make it painful for hippies to walk barefoot and installed giant planters to break up the space. They also installed those concrete walls along Guadalupe (the drag) to create a barrier between town and gown, and many other “improvements.””
  • I’m especially amused by the “making it painful for hippies to walk barefoot” comment! This is not too far from the anti-skateboarding corrugation sometimes used (e.g. the third photo here), though it seems that in our current era, there is a more obvious disconnect between ‘security’ architecture (which may also involve vast surveillance or everyware networks, such as the City of London’s Ring of Steel) and that aimed at stopping ‘anti-social’ behaviour, such as homeless people sleeping, skateboarders, or just young people congregating.

    Some links: miscellaneous, pertinent to architectures of control

    Ulises Mejias on ‘Confinement, Education and the Control Society’ – fascinating commentary on Deleuze’s societies of control and how the instant communication and ‘life-long learning’ potential (and, I guess, everyware) of the internet age may facilitate control and repression:

    “This is the paradox of social media that has been bothering me lately: an ’empowering’ media that provides increased opportunities for communication, education and online participation, but which at the same time further isolates individuals and aggregates them into masses –more prone to control, and by extension more prone to discipline.”


    Slashdot on ‘A working economy without DRM?’ – same debate as ever, but some very insightful comments


    Slashdot on ‘Explaining DRM to a less-experienced PC user’ – I particularly like SmallFurryCreature’s ‘Sugar cube’ analogy


    ‘The Promise of a Post-Copyright World’ by Karl Fogel – extremely clear analysis of the history of copyright and, especially, the way it has been presented to the public over the centuries


    (Via BoingBoing) The Entertrainer – a heart monitor-linked TV controller: your TV stays on with the volume at a usable level only while you keep exercising at the required rate. Similar concept to Gillian Swan’s Square-Eyes