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By Manfred Krifka

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Ubicomp Is Really about Messiness In 1991, and in the intervening years until his death in 1999, Weiser and his colleague Brown made much of the notions of calm computing and “calm technology” (Weiser 1991; Weiser and Brown 1997). Although these concepts accompanied the vision of ubicomp and were frequently paired with it in publication, they have not had the same enduring legacy. It is nonetheless an interesting thread at which to pull. For in our collective vision of ubicomp’s proximate future, the messiness of our local laboratory infrastructures (the nests of cables hidden in the dropped ceiling or behind the closet door; the jumble of Perl, Java, and Python code that precariously conspire to produce results in demos) is replaced by a clean, gleaming infrastructure seamlessly providing well-understood services—the epitome of calm computing.

The same concern with technological futures thus continues to feature in the ways in which ubicomp research agendas are framed, and in which technological advances are motivated and measured. Ubicomp is essentially defined by its visions of a technological future. 2 Even in cases in which Weiser’s own vision is not a driving factor, the idea that ubicomp research is exploring prototypes of tomorrow’s everyday technology and experience is a pervasive one. Whether we look at this from the perspective of the late 1980s, when the dominant vision of ubicomp was being formulated, or in 2010, as we write this, what we want to keep sharply in focus the relationship between ubicomp research and technological practice.

Weiser’s ubicomp technology is still used primarily in workplaces, relies on large fixed infrastructure investments by commercial entities, and is directed toward the needs of corporate efficiency. Other manifestations, like those sketched earlier in this chapter, certainly suggest the possibilities of domestic and other nonwork settings. From the perspective of a ubicomp of the present, we can note that Weiser was entirely correct in one regard: the purposes to which people would put computational devices are not radically new ones but rather reflect existing social and cultural practices.

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Embedded Speech Acts by Manfred Krifka

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