The view from Helsinki

“In contemporary cities, the effects of advanced telecommunications and commodified media exist everywhere around us.”

I had never been so far north in my entire life. I felt it the minute I arrived there– a hazy thickness in the environment, something having to do with fact the sun settled for only 4 hours a day.

I visited Helsinki last week to attend the Media City conference organized by the University of Helsinki´s Collegium for Advance Studies on May 2012. The experience helped me gain a sense on the complicated relation between technology and emerging conceptions of urban life.  But the real lesson was this: when talking about technology and urbanism, scale matters.

I was born in Mexico City, a big town by any conceivable standard. I remember a moment in my life (I was 15 years old, perhaps) when it dawned on me that most of the places that I would visit would be smaller in scale, in population and in size. This was a realization that came back to me at the conference because Helsinki is particularly small. It is a contained city, where everything is within walking distance from everything else.

The conference was organized in a series of small rooms in the Collegiums’ main building. Filmmakers, urbanists, cultural geographers, architects, sociologists and programmers from all around the world gathered to talk about emerging forms of mediatized urban life. The conference was remarkably diverse in topics, with presentations ranging from studies of how people use Ipods in subway commutes  to emerging forms of represent urban space through digital media. There was even a presentation on Zombie films and how they exposed a communication breakdown of city life.

Many of the attendees were coming from European cities and from the US and Australia–few from cities in the developing world. This is an important lack because, as I mentioned in previous post, most of the future of innovation actually lies in  developing megalopolises. They are the future, not the past.

The developing world  hosts some of the world’s biggest cities like Dhelhi, Lagos, Johannesburgh, Sao Paolo. In these cities media helps provide coordination points and create a sense of identity in what would otherwise be a fragmented and disorienting urban experience.

By refocusing our ideas of scale and place, particularly with regards to media and cities, we can recognize new forms of innovation that cater to our new developing urban century.

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