Power out

Posted on | April 19, 2015 | 1 Comment

When do you charge your mobile device, tablet and/or laptop? Do you have a ritual, or do you only do it when the power runs out? Are there places that you prefer to charge? Where? Why?

Are you the kind of person who is always battling a red battery signal and dwindling percentages? Do you carry a charger with you? Since when? Are there times when you are more or less anxious about power? How does it feel?

These are some of the questions we’re asking in a new project on charging practices and power use. We’re interested both in the nitty-gritty of charging habits (when, where, for how long, using what) and broader questions about power infrastructure. For example: Who allows access to power, on what terms? Do users have a right to power in a world that is increasingly dependent on mobile devices? Who should provide that service: a state or commercial entity? Does it depend on the cultural context? Is access to power one of the new demands we should make of a ‘smart’ city?

This work involves in-context research around transit zones – airports, hotels, train stations and the like. If you do any amount of regular travel you probably harbor an ambient awareness of where power sources are likely to be found in a bar, which airlines have charging sockets in their seats, and whether or not there is a chance to stay longer than the time of your laptop battery in a cafe.

These are the stories we’re collecting over the next few months. I’m writing this in the hope that you’ll share yours! And: next time you are waiting somewhere in transit and you see people charging, send me a photo of the setting. I’m keen to get a broad visual landscape for the sorts of international audiences this study needs to address.

The sockets pictured below are from a bar amidst the stunningly tablet-centric layout at JFK Terminal 2. There’s a lot more to say about this, and when it comes to the ramifications for e-waste and obsolescence, others will do it better than me. Almost every available surface in the terminal contains an iPad at the center, beckoning customers to order a lottery ticket or a glass of wine and – in the requisite air travel parlance – ‘relax’. But how exactly one relaxes when a screen is constantly flickering in your face telling you to do so is beyond comprehension.

The belief that efficiency comes at the expense of human interaction is just one of the design principles taken for granted in this vision, in which fulfilling shopping involves nothing more than a credit card and a ‘complimentary’ iPad. In the airport, like other domains of mass governance in the US, what would be most helpful is if you could simply stay in your seat and consume. More concerning: the future of work implied by this architecture is that hospitality employees will soon join knowledge workers in suffering the fate of a job that is not much more than creative device attendance and maintenance.

CocktailFree to charge


One Response to “Power out”

  1. Justine Humphry
    April 29th, 2015 @ 9:29 pm

    A post script to my previous comment: if you’re interested in reading more about the research you can download the full report here:


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