Ubiquitous computing (aka “ubicomp”) describes the process of embedding computation into everyday things. From smart toasters and smart shoes to smart toys and smart buildings, ubicomp describes user experiences which are both big and small and which operate at a wide variety of scales and gradations in between. However, existing research in new media studies and human computer interaction does not adequately address this question of scale in relation to ubiquitous computing. In this thesis, I propose a more robust theoretical framework I call “network design.” It argues that differently scaled ubicomp systems have their own potentials and challenges, histories and precedents, material affordances and ethical implications. This thesis identifies and analyzes the operation of ubiquitous computing networks at three scales: the body scale, the architectural scale and the urban scale. The case studies for each chapter, respectively, include: exercise wristwatches and quantified self literature, responsive environments like smart homes and smart offices, and smart city initiatives dealing with sensors placed in urban infrastructure. In each scale, I identify common characteristics of that scale, historical precedents, as well what happens when this particular kind of network “scales up” or “scales down.” Thus, although I am interested in describing the unique characteristics of differently scaled ubicomp networks, I am also interested in describing situations when scales interact.
Network Design: A Theory of Scale for Ubiquitous Computing
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