I'm Aza Raskin @aza. I make shiny things. I simplify.

I'm VP at Jawbone, focusing on health.

 

Ambient Bias: Reading the City

As I walked home today, gazing at the houses around me, I wondered who lived behind the walls. And what political biases they had. Sometimes you get a sense of a neighborhood — candidate signs in the lawn and bumper stickers on the cars — but I’d love to be able to hear the silent whisper of money speaking its political will; to see the hidden color of bills in the leather embrace of back-pocket wallets.

With modern technology, that’s possible.

Here’s the mobile app I want: a screen of color that fades from red to purple to blue, depending on how Republican or Democratic the place I’m standing is. To figure that out, the app can use the FEC public record of all contributors that give more than $200 to a single Republican or Democratic presidential campaign or national committee. Match that with GPS location and you can literally read the air — sniff it for political bias.

If one wanted to get fancy, along with the amount of the donations and their donator’s occupations, I’d love to see the demographics of the neighborhoods I’m walking through. Stats like the median income, average rent, price of an entree, and the number of muggings for the block. Perhaps even hook it into Everyblock for deep hyper-local knowledge.

Really, though, it’s that simple colorfully ambient display of the political will that I want. With it, I’d spend hours wandering around the city learning, playing, and guessing. It would make our phones into a tricorder for sociopolitcs.

If anyone is interested in building the app, let me know.

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I wonder if “spying on your neighbours’ political preferences” can really be called sociopolitic. I’m quite sure that we don’t have such things as your FEC public record in most European countries, and I’m grateful for it : )



Michael M. Butler

It’s an interesting app, but I think you’re intoxicating yourself with the Deep Meaning of what is basically data (not even information!) that will likely be outdated by the time it is reduced and presented. A [notional] tricorder _senses_ things that are in front of it. It’s not a Kindle plus a GPS.

Me, I think it’d be interesting to be able to actually get a beep every time I cross another stupid gerrymandered representation district boundary — or perhaps a musical motif for each district as I occupy it — and perhaps correlate that with GIS data. But I’m not sure what I’d discover, though I imagine I’d be able to use my actual senses to tell me if I thought the district felt fairly “representable” or if I could detect heterogeneity that might lead to interesting further hypotheses about who might not being well served. That leaves the _sensing_ with the party capable of doing it; me.

Overall, your notion buys into the red-blue one as useful. There’s too much implied in that for me to think it’s much more than confirmation-bias-soaked folderol.

Love much of your other work, but this one–meh.


What happens when you walk past an apartment building with 10 floors, and 10 apartments on each floor? Do you see a rainbow with more emphasis on one color?

Might be tricky to take in all that data when walking through NY.


This would be awesome. I bet it could be done all browser based (mobile safari) with the new geolocation via javascript spec in iPhone 3.0. I found this demo from someone at RTI and tried it on a 3.0 iPhone and it loads location quite well…

http://people.rit.edu/~acjvks/wadfip/location/js/v1/



Abi

Very cool idea!


What color would it turn when you’re around Libertarians?



maureenhanratty

Interesting topic (reading the city) but, as others have already pointed out, your example is deeply problematic. Though it protects individuals privacy it is a gross simplification of a community’s political beliefs. When you get more specific as this map does showing Prop 8 donors in SF (http://sfist.com/2009/01/09/mash-up_map_of_google_maps_and_prop.php) you run into problems of threats or vandalism acts.

In the age of information it is important to be aware of our own biases and understand the implications of what we build.

If you are interested in reading the city you might want to check out Malcom McCullough’s work (http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mmmc/). He teaches a course on urban computing called Networked Cities.


I don’t understand why you’d want to do something like this. The effect of a system like this is easily seen in Protestant vs. Catholic neighbourhoods in Ireland. Why go back there?



Justin

Or you could ring people’s doorbells and talk to them.

This reads like a problem that’s not asking for a solution. If it’s asking for anything, it’s restraint — if not regulation.



Justin

Rephrased: a solution without a problem.


@Justin and Michael: It’s meant as something fun and whimsical, with no real purpose (yet). I can think of some games to build around location-based access to that information, though :)


I would love to help. If you need any programming help just drop me an email. Maybe you could also have other demographics (race, ethnicity, religion, others) so there could be an option to have a cross for an area of mostly Christians, or a Star of David for a Jewish population, etc.

Or maybe a cross would show most of the time…


EPIC WIN!



Shreya

Hi…

Interesting idea… more than learning about the statistics on politics or ethnicity, it would be great if I could use statistics that can help in real life tasks. Some I can think of would be
1. I am lost in an unknown locality, i want to know how safe it is based on crime rates in that location
2. How many people in my neighborhood are on twitter (for ex) v/s FF; may be they know of some local concert coming up and can help me buy tickets to the show if I can link to them on twitter or other social connection. Or help me get car pool to my office
3. How many football lovers around? Or I am in a theater watching movie. I find it boring… are there people like me who want to move out of the place?
4. Any body in this locality involved in cancer walk coming up in Aug?

hope i am not off topic…



Justin

Aza, I understand things like this are already happening and will happen more, but seriously — does ambient findability plus demographics not creep you out? Even a little?

As a developer, I think I get the appeal of such a project, and part of me itches to dig into the code with you. On the other hand, as a student of literature and religion, I see some pretty serious ethical issues that demand equally serious reflection. There’s a point where original intent doesn’t matter, and that point is when the technology leaves your hands — from there it’s all reader response and, God forbid, cleanup (cf. David Humphrey’s comment.).

I can’t shake the image of Dr. Frankenstein chasing his fugitive monster through the Arctic. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein still has a lot to say. And Amartya Sen’s Identity and Violence is a strong, if unreasonably hopeful case against demographic categorization of the sort you describe; he calls it “miniaturization.”

Mark me as a troll if you must, but I urge you to please give this more thought before you make it happen.



elegantcourtier

Essentially, you’re a nosey pucker…


Awesome idea!!!!!!!!!…Interesting topic (reading the city) but, as others have already pointed out, your example is simply superp…



Visualizations

interesting app


Hi…

Interesting idea… more than learning about the statistics on politics or ethnicity, it would be great if I could use statistics that can help in real life tasks. Some I can think of would be
1. I am lost in an unknown locality, i want to know how safe it is based on crime rates in that location
2. How many people in my neighborhood are on twitter (for ex) v/s FF; may be they know of some local concert coming up and can help me buy tickets to the show if I can link to them on twitter or other social connection. Or help me get car pool to my office
3. How many football lovers around? Or I am in a theater watching movie. I find it boring… are there people like me who want to move out of the place?
4. Any body in this locality involved in cancer walk coming up in Aug?

hope i am not off topic


As a developer, I think I get the appeal of such a project, and part of me itches to dig into the code with you.


Men, this is amazing, imagen the possibilties …


Do you see a rainbow with more emphasis on one color?


I believe you have a cool blog here… i just happened to find it doing a google search. anyway, great post.. i’ll be bookmarking this page for certain.


I am just experiencing grateful to read this particular one like that maybe what I want during Internet , one never knows how much of an remarkable inescapable fact you’ll find out there the very next time!


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