The Grounds Maintenance crew used flags and cones to mark the boundaries of paths, manhole covers, and sprinkler heads while using a riding mower to aerate the grass a few days ago. (Disappointingly, the different colors did not indicate different things—all flags/cones sent the same message of caution.)

It is easy to physically annotate physical space and thereby augment it; how long until we can electronically annotate physical space and thereby augment it? This has been a dream long in formation for technology pundits and futurists (a dream that saw manifestation relatively recently), but annotation of physical space has focussed mostly on the electronic side of things. Flickr allows users to tag their (electronic) photos; it is possible to use your GPS-enabled cell phone to access Google Street View, so that you can, in a strange hall-of-mirrors turn of events, look at the world around you on your cell phone.

But annotation efforts have focussed less on how we can leave electronic markers for other people to find. There is a barrier to accessibility, not to technical possibility: I can use Google Maps to create a custom route through an area and then forward others the URL so that they may follow the same map, but I cannot use my cell phone to passively create such a map as I walk the route, and I cannot leave the map behind, latent in the environment for others to find. Similarly, I cannot tag the environment as I tag flickr photos. I cannot leave behind electronic graffiti, beneficial or otherwise.

Geoff Manaugh, of the excellent BLDGBLOG, has extemporized on how we might “deliberately construct an alternative visual system inside our cities, legible only to other species.” But why jump to other species, when we have not yet constructed such an alternative visual system for ourselves? How long until we can see electronically?

And how will this material world deal with geographically-linked electronic spam? It will be like Times Square on your cell phone. Town councils and county legislators will be forced to write provisions on electronic signage into zoning legislation, people will move to places without cell coverage to “get away from it all,” and electronic advertisers will take state and local governments to court to force them to allow the broadcasting of electronic advertisements, arguing that such advertisements are no different than radio or television advertisements. The Olympic Games will require cell phone companies in the host country to disallow advertisements except those sent by sponsors of the Games, just as host countries now are expected to cover up the logos of non-sponsors (image above). Exclusive vending rights—at universities or sports complexes—will extend to exclusivity of electronic advertising; what poor form it would be to only sell Pepsi while people in the vicinity receive txt messages advertising Coke!

The separation between physical and electronic will be further confounded; we will no longer be able to speak in terms of “virtual” or “real” when the messages broadcast by the billboard ahead and the billboard in our pocket are equally true. How long until The Grid and the real world intertwine (even further)?

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