Authored by: Paul Dourish

Routledge Handbook of Digital Media and Communication

Print publication date:  November  2020
Online publication date:  November  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138672093
eBook ISBN: 9781315616551
Adobe ISBN:


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The term ‘ubiquitous computing’ names a program of computer science–based research that originated in a fabled Silicon Valley research laboratory located in California, USA, in the late 1980s. Articulating a singular and compelling vision of an alternative to then-dominant paradigms of personal computing, Mark Weiser, who directed the Computer Science Laboratory at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), published in Scientific American an article that was partly a manifesto and partly a progress report (Weiser, 1991). Weiser noted that early computing efforts had been characterized by large-scale mainframe computers that were shared by many users through so-called time-sharing technologies. In the 1970s, the time-sharing paradigm began to be displaced by a new paradigm of ‘personal computing,’ in which each person could use a computer on their desk that was dedicated entirely to their own use. Given the trend-lines of both computing capacity and digital communications, Weiser suggested that a third ‘era’ of computing might be just around the corner, an era of what he called ‘ubiquitous computing,’ in which a single user’s needs might be met not by a single computer but by a whole host of computational devices – some large, some small, some encountered in the environment, some worn or carried on the body, some broad in purpose, some narrow in scope, and all communicating together in order to create a rich computational experience that might displace and update the vision of personal computing.

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