I do both historical and contemporary research on architecture, design, information, communication, technology and communication. The same themes tend to emerge in my work, regardless of the time period or location.
artificial intelligence, design, and architecture
My book Architectural Intelligence: How Designers and Architects Created the Digital Landscape will be published Fall 2017 by MIT Press. It is based on case studies on Christopher Alexander, Cedric Price, Richard Saul Wurman, and Nicholas Negroponte’s Architecture Machine Group at MIT (the predecessor to the MIT Media Lab), and how their work from the 1960s–80s applied architectural approaches to information systems, and similarly, how they applied informational structures and processes to architecture, such as computer-aided design, heuristics and artificial intelligence. It looks critically at how these figures and their collaborations put in place the foundations of interaction design.
postal services and pneumatic tube systems
It really is a series of tubes. In the late 19th century, major financial centers on all continents except Antarctica used subterranean pneumatic postal services to get telegrams and mail across the city quickly. After 1907, they brought these capabilities inside of buildings. Pneumatic tubes went where capital went (and vice-versa).
- “Interfaces to the Subterranean,”Cabinet 41 (summer 2011).
big data, place and personal identity
How do we develop a sense of place within our own data? Does data have a place? What does it mean to lead an increasingly algorithmed life, in which data mining predicts more about us before we even know ourselves, before we are born?
- “The New Nature vs. The New Nurture: Big Data & Personal Identity,” South by Southwest Interactive 2013, with Jen Lowe, Columbia University, Spatial Imaging Design Lab. In this dual talk, we probe the implications of the algorithmed life on who we are and how we conceive of ourselves.
mobile phones & social networking
- Mobile phone sharing & urban settings: In this study conducted in urban India, people share mobile phones with frequency: it is not necessarily a matter of economics but of spatial context and social situation.
- “Beyond the Personal and Private: Modes of Mobile Phone Sharing in India,” Molly Steenson and Jonathan Donner. In The Reconstruction of Space and Time: Mobile Communication Practices(Piscataway, NJ: Transaction), 2008.
- “Express Yourself” and ”Stay Together”: The Middle‐Class Indian Family,” Jonathan Donner, Nimmi Rangaswamy Molly Wright Steenson and Carolyn Wei, Handbook of Mobile Communication Studies (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press), 2008.
- Social networking websites and friendship: With ReD Associates in Copenhagen for Intel, we studied how social networking was changing the notion of friendship in China and the UK. I was a part of the Shanghai team.
- Mobile technology and fluid time: in 2004, I conducted a study on how people coordinate as they get ready for events, noting what technologies and platforms they used leading up to the event.
- I gave a talk with my then colleague Michael Kieslinger at the O’Reilly eTech conference in 2004. The results are still salient, even though the technologies (landlines! no smartphones!) are out of date.