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May 24, 2009

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Two Visions Of Our Asian Future

Looking to the east for clues to the future (or the past) of the west isn’t the least bit new, but these two recent takes (both in the NYT, as it happens) offer some interesting contrasts.

First, Paul Krugman looks at Hong Kong:

Hong Kong, with its incredible cluster of tall buildings stacked up the slope of a mountain, is the way the future was supposed to look. The future — the way I learned it from science-fiction movies — was supposed to be Manhattan squared: vertical, modernistic, art decoish.

What the future mainly ended up looking like instead was Atlanta — sprawl, sprawl, and even more sprawl, a landscape of boxy malls and McMansions. Bo-ring.

So for a little while I get to visit the 1950s version of the 21st century. Yay!

But where are the flying cars?

And Choe Sang-Hun shows us South Korea:

In the subway, Ms. Kim breezes through the turnstile after tapping the phone on a box that deducts the fare from a chip that contains a cash balance. While riding to school, she uses her mobile to check if a book has arrived at the library, slays aliens in a role-playing game, updates her Internet blog or watches TV.

On campus, she and other students touch their mobiles to the electronic box by the door to mark their attendance. No need for roll call — the school’s server computer logs whether they are in or how late they are for the class.

“If I leave my wallet at home, I may not notice it for the whole day,” said Ms. Kim, 21. “But if I lose my cellphone, my life will start stumbling right there in the subway.”

It has been a while since the mobile phone became more than just a phone, serving as a texting device, a camera and a digital music player, among other things. But experts say South Korea, because of its high-speed wireless networks and top technology companies like Samsung and LG, is the test case for the mobile future.

“We want to bring complex bits of daily life — cash, credit card, membership card and student ID card, everything — into the mobile phone,” said Shim Gi-tae, a mobile financing official at SK Telecom, the country’s largest wireless carrier. “We want to make the cellphone the center of life.”

It was easier in the 1950s for Americans to imagine flying cars than it was to imagine cashless subways. Hell, it may still be easier.

Height or distance? The billboard ad or the cellphone ad? Physical mobility or mobility of information? The skyscraper or the network?

Tim-sig.gif
Posted May 24, 2009 at 12:36 | Comments (5) | Permasnark
File under: Cities, Object Culture, Society/Culture, Technosnark, Worldsnark

Comments

NB: the skyscraper actually IS a network, based on physical proximity, vertical hierarchy, the elevator, and the pneumatic tube.

Yeah, I love that: the skyscraper's various tubes, once high-tech and a huge competitive advantage, were made obsolete by the more-sophisticated tubes of the internet.

For what it's worth, SK is entirely vertical, too. More than that: So many of the tall residential buildings look literally stamped out of the same mold. They sit side-by-side, rows of identical buildings differentiated only by the big number -- '4', '5', '6' -- on the side. It looks like SimCity come to life. I've never seen anything like it. "We need a dozen new living pods in the north-eastern-most sector!" "Coming right up."

My personal dream of the city of the future has shifted, though. I want a city that's invisible from the air: a city of underground parking lots & skinny tram lines, where every building has a lush green roof.

Yes -- nice little hobbit holes, with broadband. :-)

It reminds me a little bit of this Huber and Mills article, "The End of the M.E.":

One might say that the age of mechanical engineering was launched by James Watt's steam engine in 1763, and propelled through its second century by Nikolaus Otto's 1876 invention of the spark-ignited petroleum engine. We are now at the dawn of the age of electrical engineering, not because we recently learned how to generate light-speed electrical power, but because we have now finally learned how to control it.

The basic conceit is that all of the problems we expected mechanical engineering to solve are now being addressed by advances in electrical engineering. Which of course means that our visions of an all electrical, networked Technium future will instead be replaced by, I don't know, nanoorganibots or something.

"Hobbit holes with broadband"... wow. My brain just went off like a tuning fork. I did not consciously realize that yes. Yes. That is exactly what I want! :-)

I don't mean to be too self-congratulatory (me? never!) but your description of a mental tuning fork reminded me of this passage in The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas:

"I may say that only three times in my life I have met a genius and each time a bell within me rang and I was not mistaken, and I may say in each case it was before there was any general recognition of the quality of genius in them. The three geniuses of whom I wish to speak are Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso and Alfred Whitehead."

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