Hub Culture Salon: Barcelona, Living in the Cloud

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2nd Oct 2008

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Set against the backdrop of the GSMA's recent Mobile World Congress, Hub Culture members gathered for a dinner salon to discuss the implications of 'the mobile mesh', a loose reference to the growing cloud of connectivity creating a global 24/7 communication culture. The prospect of living in the cloud, (with ongoing access to not just our friends and networks but their entire private life and daily movements) proved daunting as the group examined the implications of these changes on daily life. Surprisingly, it all led back to our definitions of happiness.

Held at Shanghai 1930, a Barcelona original featuring tapas style Chinese and Japanese which was quickly dubbed "Spajanese", this Salon featured a hyper-intelligent group helping to build this communications cloud, from advertising to mobiles to movies and consulting, and hailing from hubs as diverse as Tel Aviv, Istanbul, Bonn, Spokane, London and New York:

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a US metropolitan city enculfed in cloud
Michal Zeevi-Bender, Practika Tel Aviv

Tony DiCio, Xipto

Alex Fernandez-Cruz, founder of wecanchangeit.tv

Mehmet Mahruki, Mobicom Inc., Istanbul

Nick Arauz, Xipto

Jenny Fielding, Via One

Alberto Sabate, Double Platinum Europe

Arad La Vie, representing mobile companies in Spain

Ted Youngs, Oro Design

Kenneth Lopez, Netthink

The conversation kicked off with Mehmet's visualization of a culture in which our devices introduce us to others while gate-keeping our social life. His firm Mobicom Inc. introduces mobile services into Turkey, a fast growing mobile market. Services and the changes they engender will be completely global, adding a non-western tilt to the emerging mobile cloud.

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Shanghai 1930 restaurant, Barcolona
Location based services appear to be the next big thing, and along with video telephony were the main focus of this year's Mobile World Congress. Mehmet sees a world around the corner in which your mobile will automatically alert you to friends in your vicinity, updating your presence via GPS and web tracking. Others noted silence already descends on trains and subways in Asia as the doors close and people tune in virtual as they tune out reality, and the general feel is that will soon be the reality in urban Europe. The phones are communicating silently as users check each other out using near-field communications.

The group agreed on a resulting big keyword: intrusion - but pointed out the failure of video telephony as a counter balance - TMI, too much information. Just like geo-tracking, many people are turned off by video telephony because we like sitting around in pajamas during that important conference call more than we may admit.  

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Adidas shopfront already using outdoor Samsung speakers!
According to Alberto, the "overcivilized" urban centers are driving a desire to totally disconnect from the grid, and social networks are replacing face to face friendships. "Increasingly people only know their friends through Facebook, not reality" he says.Ted Youngs was an early part of early social networking site Six Degrees and, like Michal (an early part of Urban Oasis) has been in the sector since "cyberspace was really space" [Michal]. They seemed the least enthralled with what the cloud is doing to culture, because everyone hates the idea of walking home past an Adidas and getting a message every day asking you to come in, just because ADIDAS CAN.

Ted in particular can see a natural progression, to where it will all be just a chip implanted in your brain with the sum of all human knowledge just a neuron away. This may be why he now chooses to sell high-end mobile sex toy kits to hotels - the ultimate rejection of " synthetic communications" for the ultimate in "reality communications".

"The turn of the 19th century saw a natural ecosystem supplanted by a 20th century urban ecosystem, and what we're seeing now is the 21st century creation of a synthetic ecosystem." he says.

The thought of a world in which humans retreat from reality to live "inside the cloud" (maybe because its nicer there?) starts to feel plausible for people increasingly trapped in social networks from which they can't escape because they are now too deeply ingrained into their social way of life. When everybody else is doing it, it gets harder to quit doing it because of social pressure. There was once a time (remember?) when it did not seem compulsory to succeed in business without a mobile or email. Today, such an idea is tantamount to lunacy, even if it is driving a quiet revolution of people seeking to live "off the grid" - a harder and harder thing to accomplish.

From here Nick took the question to its logical conclusion - with all these advances, will mankind actually be any happier, or in the words of Ted, do we already live in a "surveillance state?". Nick sees backlash: "We measure prosperity in different ways... first it was financial prosperity, and now we focus on information prosperity. Soon we will focus on emotional prosperity - a measure of how happy we are."

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Aurora Borealis or Arctic Bluetooth mobile friend finder?
That should be music to the ears of Alex Fernandez-Cruz, who is busy building a positive news TV project called wecanchangeit.tv. This operation is designed to encourage positive news and social action through collective media, presumably a happier part of the cloud less concerned with materialism and war reporting.

Florian expanded with a key insight - that our happiness is no longer tied to wealth, but "to the size of our entourage". We no longer keep up with the Jones, we keep up with our network. Replies Nick: "Social networks have greatly expanded the competitive set to social life."

Everyone sighs.

This in turn is creating a schizophrenic society which Michal and Jenny see as newly fundamental: We present multiple personalities inside the mobile mesh targeted to different networks of cohorts (partly derived by the brands of networks themselves - the same person is different on the phone to email to Facebook to LinkedIn.) Alberto, who works for gay targeting agency Double Platinum, sums it up with the follow-up question of our age: "Does my mobile know I'm gay"... or just suspect?"

Ted concludes with an ironic thought: "This is why pharma is there to help us be who we are - the other side of our addiction to technology." The bottom line is that we'll all soon live in the cloud, be tracked by the cloud, and report to the cloud, and everyone else in our entourage will be watching. Pass that little blue pill, Digistazi!