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February 17, 2006 |

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For the past year or so, I’ve been doing some work with Daisuke and the folks at Intel’s People and Practices Group (Ken, Scott, and Michele) on “mobile kits,” or the stuff we haul around with us in our everyday life moving around the city. Kazys recently pointed me to a Washington Post article on “The Burdens of the Modern Beast” that suggests that are mobile kits are getting ridiculously large. I doubt the urbanites we have been tracking in our studies think of themselves as the vanguard of wearable computing, but in many ways they are. Just like the mobile phone became the popular manifestation of the theories of ubicomp, contemporary mobile kits of urbanites are the real-life instantiation of wearable computing.

After a pilot study last year, we’re in the middle of a three year longitudinal study of mobile kit use in the greater Tokyo area. I feel like its a natural extension of our work with mobile phones, expanding the focus to include all of the stuff that people haul around with them. As the mobile phone has taken on other portable object functions – the camera, music player, gaming, digital cash, etc. – our research space has also expanded from communications to a broader pallette of human activities. Media content delivery over handhelds and economic transactions seem at least at first blush to be the hotspots. I’m particulary excited that we are going to be following the same folks for several years to get a sense of how their use evolves along with life stage transitions and changing technology capabilities.

This work is very much in progress, but I recently posted a paper that Daisuke presented that resulted from our fist round of mobile kit research. This paper just talks about our research in Japan, but we did the study in three cities – Tokyo, Los Angeles, and London. Scott’s paper for Ubicomp 2005 analyzed the work in relation to issues in ubiquitous and wearable computing, and I also have a short rant on portable objects in a forthcoming new edition of Ted Nelson’s classic Computer Lib|Dream Machines.