On the value of the built environment to attention practices, amid a new stage in the history of information.
The world is filling with ever more kinds of media, in ever more contexts and formats. Glowing rectangles have become part of the scene; screens, large and small, appear everywhere. Physical locations are increasingly tagged and digitally augmented. Sensors, processors, and memory are not found only in chic smart phones but also built into everyday objects. Amid this flood, your attention practices matter more than ever. You might not be able to tune this world out; to do so might just leave media as your only world anyway. So it is worth remembering that underneath all these augmentations and data flows, fixed forms persist, and that to notice them can improve other sensibilities too. In Ambient Commons, Malcolm McCullough explores the workings of attention though a rediscovery of surroundings. Not all that informs has been written and sent; not all attention involves deliberate thought. The intrinsic structure of space–the layout of a studio, for example, or a plaza–becomes part of any mental engagement with it. Without claiming how neuroscience proves “we” think this way or that, this book may help you understand embodied cognition. McCullough describes what he calls the Ambient: an increasing tendency to perceive information superabundance whole, where individual signals matter less, and at least some mediation assumes inhabitable form. He explores how the fixed forms of architecture and the city play a cognitive role in the the flow of ambient information. As a persistently inhabited world, can the Ambient be understood as a shared cultural resource, to be socially curated, voluntarily limited, and self-governed as if a commons? Ambient Commons invites you to look past current obsessions with smart phones to rethink attention itself, to care for more situated, often inescapable forms of information.
Malcolm McCullough is Associate Professor of Architecture at Taubman College, the University of Michigan. He is the author of Abstracting Craft and Digital Ground, both published by the MIT Press.