Socialight and The Future

There’ll be the breaking of the ancient western code
Your private life will suddenly explode
There’ll be phantoms
There’ll be fires on the road

– Leonard Cohen, “The Future”

There’s this service that’s been around for a while now called Socialight. If you haven’t already heard about it, here’s the scoop: it lets you tag locations with information which others can use when they visit the place you’ve tagged. Using mobile phones, of course.

I’ve been involved in a number of wireless projects over the past few years, and this urge to tag our physical world with data is something I’ve come upon previously. As one commenter on TechCrunch put it late last year, “tagging physical locations is a natural mashup of del.icio.us and the real world”. We seem to want the spaces we occupy to be meaningful to us, and we also seem to want to leave our own individual marks on them as well.

But what might be the consequences of this sort of activity, if we imagine it accelerated to the point where Wikipedia is right now? Imagine the kinds of tagging we might see in places like Palestine/Israel, where claims to various spaces and buildings are often violently disputed. There are obvious opportunities for tourism industries too, such as personalized celebrity (or peer) tour guides that visitors could subscribe to before embarking on a trip to, say, New York, or Shanghai.

All kinds of crap could erupt, too – what if unregulated tagging became spammy or inappropriately pornographic? How could we manage to keep vulnerable people, and children, out of harm’s way? And might we consider mapping the world into class-based tiers as was recently under consideration for the Internet?

And what about music? Would people drop podcasts in creative places? Secret treasure troves of rare music, waiting to be discovered only by those with a bug to explore and inspect urban environments very closely? Or would we just see lazy graffiti – stupid Youtube vids tossed to the ground randomly, of imbeciles dancing in their bedrooms?*

And how might this change our ideas about the space around us, and our meaning or purpose in it?

*but seriously – go there NOW! It’s Hammer time!

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