A Chat With Martijn De Waal (The Mobile City)

Next week, on Thursday 4 October, we’re bringing Europe’s finest city, design and culture bloggers to Amsterdam for Blogging the City, a one-day festival where the ‘blogosphere’ discusses the urban future. Ahead of the event, we’ll introduce you to some of our speakers through a series of short interviews. First one is Martijn de Waal, Amsterdam-based journalist and researcher and one of the founders of The Mobile City, a blog run by an independent research group that investigates the influence of digital media technologies on urban life, and the implications for urban design.

1. What puts your city on the map?
“I love Amsterdam for its livability. It’s small enough to get almost everywhere on your bike in less than 20 minutes. But although it’s a small city, it’s big enough to host a number of major cultural institutions and happenings that give the city a cosmopolitan atmosphere.”

2. A topic that really needs to be more discussed in the European urban world is “…”, because “…”
“We really should extend the debate about smart cities. So far, it is mostly framed in terms of efficiency and personal services. That is: new media will help us run our cities more efficient, with ‘smart’ public transport, ‘smart’ roads etc. Or it will help us to personalize the experience of the city, guiding us to our destinations as quickly as possible, or advising us where to go. Now, in essence there is nothing wrong with that. It’s great if this can improve our public transport and reduce our emissions. However, a city is much more than a bunch of infrastructure that we need to run as economically as we can. A city is mostly about people and their social relations. So we should also ask the question how can we make use of these same new media technologies to make our cities more social, rather than just more hi-tech.”

3. As a blogger, how does Amsterdam inspire you?
“It has to do with what I mentioned above: it has a great number of institutions in the field of new media culture. Mediamatic, Waag Society, NIMk, Virtual Platform, Submarine Channel, Appsterdam. It also hosts great events ranging from Picnic and The Next Web to smaller and more edgy events such as the Fiber Festival. It’s great in the sense that there is vibrant under ground or alternative culture, as well more established institutions and the link between those two is fairly well developed as well.”

4. Do you ever go ‘offline’ without mobile devices? Or do you always take these with you to be connected to the Internet?
“Of course I am usually connected, and it’s almost scary how dependent we have become on tapping into the cloud. When I am on a holiday and there is no wifi, that means I cannot read my newspaper, no access to my music, etc. On the other hand: it also feels as a luxury to be unconnected, not to be continuously distracted by the stream of incoming emails, Facebook event invitations, etc. etc.”