Ubiquitous Computing & Hauntology

22 May

It’s interesting that while reading about ‘ubiquitous computing’ and ‘hauntology’ (the word for the week) and thinking about ‘the future’ I continuously attempted to make sense of things through the science fiction films that I had seen. Ubiquitous computing involves the integration of processing technologies into inanimate and non-human objects. In a world where ubiquitous computing is prominent, users would most likely be unaware of their engagement with such technologies. In the useful summary on Wikipedia, a hypothetical example was provided where personal biometric monitors woven into clothing could possibly control light and heat sources in a room. This immediately reminded me of the Star Trek film that I had watched the previous night (in anticipation of the latest film about to be released) where members on board Starfleet could monitor the location, heart rate, oxygen levels etc. of members who weren’t wearing any obvious types of monitors and were outside of the ship. While witnessing this I actually considered how it would be possible, it seems ubiquitous computing must have been the answer.

‘Hauntology’ is a term that was initially coined by Derrida in reference to Marxism continuing to haunt history despite it often being declared defeated by liberal democracy. What has been taken from this is the idea that the present exists only in relation to the past, and when what he refers to as “the end of history” is reached, society will turn towards the ideas, and aesthetics that are thought of as vintage, curious or ‘old-timey’ (Derrida 1993). This brought to mind the most obvious science fiction example of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, which employs a ‘retro-futuristic’ or ‘tech-noir’ film style. This is similar to Andrew Niccol’s ‘Gattaca’ where, if not for the advanced technologies depicted, the setting could be mistaken for 1950s Las Angeles.

When researching the topic of hauntology I found Charles Beckett’s ideas regarding architecture and design and how they construct and help define ‘futuristic’ extremely interesting (and perhaps this relates to Easterling’s thoughts on the agency of architecture, I’m not sure). Beckett highlights that unlike technology, architecture and design from the 1920s up until the 1960s that were described as futuristic, still have a powerful hold in our imaginations as being ‘futuristic’. An example of this is Frank Lloyd Wright’s design for the ‘Illinois’ Sky Scraper in 1959. What Beckett suggests is that when we refer to futuristic in terms of an aesthetic, we are really referring to concepts related to “simplicity, efficiency, geometrical cleanliness and abstraction” and this is essentially connected to the imagery of a classical era. He suggest that it’s these features evident in the design of the Egyptian Pyramids, that are central to the mythological links made between Ancient Egypt and alien civilizations. Here, we see hauntology occurring (Beckett 2012).

So what will the future be like? Hopefully, it’s like a sci-fi/cyberpunk/retro-futuristic film, where everyone and everything looks like it’s from some period between 1920-1960 and ‘ubiquitous computing’ means that our houses, cars and workplaces will to talk to us, answer our questions and follow our commands. Like Tony Stark’s house in Iron Man. (I’ve realised now that I watch too many movies).


Anon. (n.d.) ‘Ubiquitous Computing’ on Wikipedia < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ubiquitous_computing >

Anon. (n.d.) ‘Hauntology’ on Wikipedia < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hauntology> accessed 19/05/2013

Beckett C. (2012), ‘Hauntology’ on How to think about the future.com < http://www.howtothinkaboutthefuture.com/?p=75> accessed 19/05/2013

Derrida J (1993), Specters of Marx, the state of the debt, the Work of Mourning, & the New International, translated by Peggy Kamuf. Routledge: NY

Keller Easterling (2011) ‘An Internet of Things’, e-flux journal, < http://www.e-flux.com/journal/an-internet-of-things/


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