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Filter bubble Marcus Foth, Laura Forlano, Christine Satchell and Martin Gibbs (editors).
From social butterfly to engaged citizen: Urban informatics, social media, ubiquitous computing, and mobile technology to support citizen engagement..
Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2011.
cloth, 521 p., ISBN 978–0–262–01651–3, $US50.00.
MIT Press:



From social butterfly to engaged citizen: Urban informatics, social media, ubiquitous computing, and mobile technology to support citizen engagement is a fascinating and engaging collection of research projects in the emerging and fast growing area of urban informatics. The chapters are written by international, interdisciplinary researchers from social sciences, design computing engineering, digital media, and human–computer interaction. The authors explore how the power of social technologies embedded in our everyday lives can be harnessed for social engagement in urban areas.

The focus of the book is engagement with communities, cities, and spaces through digital tools, applications, and devices. It examines how collaborative and open Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, wikis, social networking and photosharing sites and personalizable mobile technologies are shaping new kinds of civic engagement with cities, communities, and spaces. The chapters discuss research in urban technology, digital cities, locative media, and mobile and wireless applications. The theoretical context of the researchers’ questions highlights a new view of the city as a hybrid that merges digital and physical worlds.

Engagement is addressed in five sections: Theories of Engagement, Civic Engagement, Creative Engagement, Technologies of Engagement and Design Engagement. In the section Theories of Engagement, theories which have been cited in urban informatics to analyse the sociotechnical configurations are outlined; the moral and ethical aspects of how information is produced and exchanged is discussed, and new power relations constructed through “smooth” (transparent) mobility and wireless connectivity are highlighted.

Technological innovations for improving global civic engagement are explored in Civic Engagement. This section includes many excellent chapters on a diverse range of topics including climate change, food culture and sustainability, gardening, and citizen science (collection of data by non–expert citizens). Three projects which are particularly interesting are: chapter 7 which discusses a new framework for considering behavioral change, specifically for reducing carbon emissions in the Danish city of Aarhus — a booth was set up where people were encouraged to enter and confess their CO2 sins such as eating reindeer steaks — these were recorded and relayed onto public screens located in the city; another interesting example in chapter 10, reports on the development of a series of mobile and ubiquitous applications to provide real–time air quality on mobiles — one intriguing example discussed is that of a t–shirt which measured and expressed air quality to passersby, and thirdly, Project SmartGarden Watering which designed and evaluated an online application in Melbourne, Australia to help people water their gardens more efficiently, and the subsequent questions raised by the project relating to sociotechnical practice and a form of “suburban informatics.” It was good to see reference to the inclusion of members of the community who are non–users of all of the tools, technologies, and applications referred to, and to the consideration as to how non–users who want to be engaged in community activities can remain so. Connecting the social media users in communities and and non–social media users is cited as an increasing challenge.

In the section on Creative Engagement, the authors consider how users of technology can be encouraged to be more creative. They consider the value of play, culture, and lived experience and discuss how technologies can help creative engagement with families, communities and surroundings. In these chapters, designers are challenged to think about what digital information can and should be layered onto a physical environment and what effect it might have on the environment and people living there. The chapters focus on how mobile technology allows citizens to become more engaged with their physical environment, rather than freeing them from it. Questions considered are: as more devices (e.g., cameras) are in buildings what stories will cities tell about their inhabitants? how will the data be displayed?

Urban informatics scholars use a wide variety of research methods; the area of study offers the opportunity to combine a variety of methods. In the section Technologies of Engagement, researchers demonstrate how they use the technologies they study to devise new research methods. Ubiquitous computing enables cities to become living laboratories for research. The authors describe new ways of using GPS, Bluetooth, social networks, and wireless hotspots. Chapters consider public and private sector partnerships created in order to deploy ubiquitous services; information processing technologies to enhance the social usefulness of user–generated content, and the question of identity to measure and observe the reaction of people to the public, display of identity, communicated via their mobile phones.

In the section Design Engagement, the authors explore a range of design interventions in urban settings and design research techniques including non–human actors and discuss how interactive portals and robots prompt the design of mobile offices and residential dwellings. One particularly interesting chapter describes how public installations attempt to connect different publics across the world.

The book gives us an increased understanding of opportunities and challenges provided by tools, interfaces, models, methods and practices of social and mobile technology that enable participation and engagement. It encourages us to think critically and civically about the social technologies used in everyday life and also considers this in the context of global problems. The book will be of interest to those interested in many aspects of informatics, including community and social informatics, technology development, mobile/wireless computing, networking and telecommunications, multimedia technologies, human aspects of technology, and global information technology. It includes a plethora of fascinating research concerning how people are bound up in the sociotechnical relations in urban communities and spaces and gives important insight into how technology, society, politics, design are indistinguishable. — Chris Hagar, School of Library & Information Science, San Jose State University. End of article

Copyright © 2012, First Monday.

Book review of From social butterfly to engaged citizen: Urban informatics, social media, ubiquitous computing, and mobile technology to support citizen engagement
by Chris Hagar.
First Monday, Volume 17, Number 8 - 6 August 2012

A Great Cities Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago University Library.

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