Saturday, February 24, 2007

The future of urban space

Urban space is defined by the configuration of the various opaque barriers which restrict our lines of sight. However, two technological developments will transform the concept of urban space within our lifetimes: terahertz sensing and organic LEDs.

Terahertz sensors can see through masonry, plastic, wood, ceramics and clothing (although they cannot see through metal or water). They are currently being developed for use in asymmetric warfare and counter-terrorism, where it is necessary to distinguish between civilian and combatant. Inevitably, however, like infra-red technology, the price of terahertz sensing will drop to the level at which it becomes commercially available. If there is sufficient consumer demand, the technology will then become ubiquitous. At that point, many of the restrictions to our current lines of sight will evaporate. Unless your house or place of work is made of metal, you'll be visible at all times.

'Organic', or polymer-based transistors and LEDs enable the construction of wafer-thin television screens upon the contours of any surface. Any wall, any roof, any floor, interior or exterior, will become a potential site for a television screen. If television is indeed a device for transporting the mind elsewhere, then every line of sight will intersect devices capable of transporting our minds elsewhere.

Perhaps urban designers will respond to terahertz technology by building metal shielding, or by constructing baroque three-dimensional water structures around solid architecture. Or perhaps government legislation would deem such measures inconsistent with the fight against terrorism. Given the potential for advertising, it seems unlikely that government would legislate against the spread of ubiquitous organic-LED billboards.

It seems that the dystopic visions of Philip K. Dick will be coming to an urban space near you.


Neil Forsyth said...

I don't like the sound of either of those technologies. Call me old-fashioned, but generally speaking I like my lines of sight being restricted, if only for the sake of perspective and modesty. As for the prospect of television images at every turn, it is an abominable thought - may I die quietly in my sleep in a home for the bewildered before that happens. A television should only be in the corner of the room in which one spends the most time with one's loved ones (or family). And nowhere else (except, perhaps, also in the room in which you all eat together, if, in fact, that isn't already the same room in which you all watch televison together. I'm showing my age now. Oh, and I forgot: the marital bedroom. If, in fact, that isn't already the room in which you all eat and watch television together).

Gordon McCabe said...

Very good Neil. Although shouldn't there also be TVs in the bedroom of every child so that they can be stimulated into growing up quicker?

Neil Forsyth said...

Yes, Gordon. I forgot about the kids. They're easily forgotten if you have a television in every room, especially their bedrooms. There is no doubt that television stimulates children to grow quicker, in fact kids who watch a lot, balloon in size after the age of about four. So, I suppose, they don't grow up as such, but just out.