The culture of speed

The “Accelerated Living conference” took place in Utrecht, last month, and it was part of the Impakt Festival 2009.

As the name may unveil, the conference theme was about the way we experience and how we approach time, speed and space from a number of perspectives given by the panel of speakers: John Tomlinson, Mike Crang, Carmen Leccardi, Steve Goodman, Stamatia Portanova, Dirk de Bruyn, Sybille Lammes, Charlie Gere, Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead.

What are the consequences of this accelaration for our senses and for our everyday life? What is the impact of technology on our experience of time, the blurring of boundaries between work and leisure time? What role played modernity and the rise of capitalism in this accelleration? These were just some of the questions that the speakers tried to answer during their presentations.

The presentation that was the most influential for me was the one by John Tomlinson who focused on two main topics:

  • Modernity, supported by the idea of progress, in addition to the rise of capitalism made the issue of speed emerge as a cultural one;
  • How immediacy and combination of capitalism, and the way communication technologies are becoming the digital mediator of everyday life,  are changing the way we think, and how we experience work and leisure.

Tomlinson’s presentation theme was “the culture of speed – exploring the condition of immediacy”. Tomlinson followed a timeline of events to illustrate the evolution of speed in our society.

The type of speed first mentioned was the “mechanical speed”. Tomlinson started in 1909 with Filippo Marinetti’s Futurist manifesto that proclaimed a rupture with the past and the identification of man with the machine, velocity and the dynamism of the new century. Tomlinson then mentioned Le Corbusier’s idea of the new city, the city of to-morrow: “a city made for speed is made for success”.  What Marinetti and Le Corbusier had in common, besides the period in which they lived, was the longing for a clear cut with the past.

JohnTomlinson_corbusier

The LMS railway poster (with a photograph of a sculpted flying Icarus) shifted the presentation in another subtle direction: it opened the door to introduce a connection between work and speed.

The Icarus figure presented us with an idea of escape, liberation and heroism – the heroic power of speed – but also a sense of dignity of labor in controlling these powerful machines.

JohnTomlinson_LMS

Taming the machinery that came along with the industrial revolution required hard work and was usually represented that way in imagery, as in the example presented of a photo taken in a factory in Stalingrad.

JohnTomlinson_factory

Tomlinson presented capitalism as an important source to understand speed.

The introduction of the concept of immediacy in which we live today was then introduced: immediacy in relation to time and in relation to space. By the increase of connections with other people and/or institutions we become increasingly present and available in our daily lives.

This immediacy promotes a new kind of intensity. An intensity that is promoted by the ease of use (the legerdemain) of the new media interfaces: web, mobile phones, etc.

In relation with this ease of use comes a sense of effortlessness in our work while using these interfaces. This can be contrasted with the hard work that had to be done in the Industrial age, when labor was dignified by effort.

This tendency to hide the complexity of such interfaces grouped with an immediate satisfaction of design is changing the consumer’s set of mind: things will come along; we don’t need to make a lot of effort.

With this argument Tomlinson offered the idea of blurring boundaries between what is work and leisure.

The image of a Blackberry advertisement demonstrated how new technology is being used as a way of keeping pace with the accelerated rhythm of life and how technology can be both the poison and the cure a way to extract more labor time than what was contracted.

JohnTomlinson_blackberry

When we book a flight online or shop something online aren’t we also performing delivery work, of course it is convenient to the consumer but isn’t there a shift from the producer’s tasks to the consumer. Do these practices seem like work or play?

According to Tomlinson, the challenge on responding to immediacy is to try to ensure that existential instances don’t collapse all together.

Tomlinson’s presentation was possibly the corollary of the first part of the semester topics; and is probably the reason why it was so appealing to me. It reminded me of:

–          McLuhan’s arguments around that decisive moment in History, when Gutenberg’s invention and specially the movable type led to a myriad of irreversible social and technological effects;

–          Vanevar Bush’s motivation behind the memex: hoping that more powerful tools would automate the routine aspects of information processing, leaving scientists and scholars with more time for creative thought;

–          And finally Steven Shaviro’s text “Money for nothing” where Julian Dibbell’s concept of Ludo capitalism (the relationship between playing games, having fun and creating value in an economic sense) is mentioned when talking about second life and Ultima online.

What can wii do for us?

“(…) the informational dimension of communication is not just about the successful delivery of a coded signal but also about contact and tactility, about architecture and design implying a dynamic modulation of material and social energies. Information works with forms of distracted perception by modulating the organization of a physical environment.”

In this excerpt Tiziana Terranova is making a reference to the active power of communication by contrasting it with Claude E. Shannon’s Mathematical theory of communication that puts the emphasis on the 5 basic elements of communication.

Focusing particularly on the last sentence, what possible readings can be draw from it? That there is more to information than the 5 elements of the mathematical theory of communication ; when we visit the Van Gogh museum, we apprehend the information/exhibition according to predetermined paths, just to name a few : chronological organization of the exhibition, pictograms that highlight specific areas, audio visit, etc. Information is not the only content of communication; it is just one of its dimensions.

Terranova’s excerpt is focused on communication, and I think that her idea of the active power of communication may also be applied to games, as in the active power of playing. I will make a parallel between this concept and the Nintendo Wii.

While thinking about the Wii, my focus of attention is not so much on a specific game, what is particularly innovative in this console is the interface that remains common to the majority of its games and that incorporates both space (physical environment) and body (sight, contact and tactility) as part of the game interface.

In fact the physical environment becomes part of the game, capturing the movements of the player’s body, taking the game out of the quasi exclusivity of the screen and putting the body and space to the lead.

The way that we emulate reality through the Wii games, for instance tennis or bowling is also another interesting aspect of it: as one has to perform movements similar to the ones of tennis or bowling player, the living room suddenly becomes a tennis field or a bowling alley. The place that is used to watch TV has the potential to become a tennis court.

With the Wii, first we have to prepare and create the space to play: a living room gains a new dimension and is sometimes rearranged for that purpose, pushing tables to the side, etc.

I remember when playing first person shooter games in the past, the place didn’t play an important role in the game, no amplitude of movements was needed in order to succeed and the game was confined to the TV or computer screen and the keyboard.

Just as the space, the body had the same secondary place; we could easily lose track of hours due to the immersiveness of the game but mostly because our bodily action within the game was confined to the action of the fingers on a keyboard or joystick.

There was no real exercise, pain or sweat.

The immersiveness of games gives way to immersive places where space, body and game play an important role of interaction and sociability: people play with their friends or family, they play on the street, online, etc. Our senses mix-up and interplay with the game through a multisensory communication based on tactile and visual languages.

When we play we are forced to combine the rationality of thinking with the sensoriality of the movements made with the body.

A Wii game might be taken as an example of how technology reconfigures places, creating new functions, new dimensions and new relations with our body.

What is also interesting is what people having been doing with several adaptations of the Wii command and/or the infrared receiver taking it out of the context of the game space and putting it in other contexts or how Wii games have been helping people in nursing homes or in rehabilitation of people of suffer from Arthritis, Parkinson’s disease or stroke.

“The new approach called ‘Wii-habilitation’ or “Wiihab” is changing the dynamics of Physical Therapy. Wiihab allows patients to play Wii video games such as baseball, bowling, boxing, golf and tennis as part of their physical therapy routine.”

Excerpt and image from the website Knowabouthealth.

physical-therapy

Image taken from a presentation by Melbourne Health Center.

wiihab

Watch the video – Using the Wii command to mow the loan, from the website Wiihaveaproblem.

wii_lawn_mower

A World of possibilities – Nintendo Wii Rejected Game Concepts

wii_rejected-game-concepts

“This active power of information is everywhere (…) It indicates the material organization of a possible action that moulds an remoulds the social field” – Tiziana Terranova in “Network Culture”

Esther Polak – New cartographies and storytelling of everyday life

robot_esther_polak1

Last Tuesday I had the chance to watch a lecture-performance by Esther Polak at the Netherlands Media Art Institute.

Esther Polak is an artist born in Amsterdam in 1960 that is working in the field of New Media. Her work has been related with the possibilities that GPS tracks offers in creating personalized mappings and also with manipulating and editing those GPS tracks.

She started her lecture talking about the AmsterdamREALTIME project back in 2002, presented together with Jeroen Kee and Waag Society. This project consisted in inviting Amsterdam citizens (around 60) to be equipped with a portable device with GPS during two months, to trace their diary routines through the streets of Amsterdam.  Using satellite data the tracer calculated its geographical position and the data were sent in real time to a central point and the traces displayed against a black background.

The daily routines of these citizens revealed a new map of Amsterdam that was exhibited in the exhibition Maps of Amsterdam 1866-2000 at the Amsterdam City Archive.

All the individual participations when put together gave an extremely realistic map of the mobility within Amsterdam:  “a living map, formed by the use of the city itself and using new technology” – Esther Polak

A print of their own personal tracks was given to each of the participants, their “Diary in traces”. From this experience Esther Polak told us how strongly people reacted to the print even remembering and identifying specific parts of their trace and then telling stories that specifically occurred in those places. A journalist is now interviewing these people who participated in the experience and she is going to write about their stories.

Esther compared GPS recording with the first steps in photography, as new form of realism, that at first was used as a tool and then evolving to storytelling.

After the Lecture, Esther did a performance with two GPS drawing robots about her most recent work based on the herders’ and truck drivers’ tracks collected in Nigeria.

The robots, used as visualization tools, made sand drawings on the floor of the Netherlands Media Art Institute based on the GPS recordings of the herders while moving their cattle, and of the truck drivers moving from Lagos to the capital Abuja.

These sand tracks are a bit coarse but the important thing is that people recognize their tracks and associate them with the places they had been before, so sometimes Esther Polak needs to edit these tracks and this is what gave her the idea of developing a software for editing the GPS tracks.

While attending to Esther Polak conference I remembered another project called cabspotting I saw in 2006. This project involved cabs instead of people, in San Francisco; they also had GPS trackers and created a living and always-changing map of the city.

@MOM, twitter #addmeaning or #losemeaning?

Last week we read Vannevar Bush’s essay “As we may think” and one aspect I truly found fascinating was the purpose for what he came up with the idea of the memex: an effort to arrange a mechanism to automate the actions of saving, indexing and retrieving the human knowledge.

“The investigator is staggered by the findings and conclusions of thousands of other workers— conclusions which he cannot find time to grasp, much less to remember, as they appear.”

Another aspect of Bush’s essay was the division of human thought:

“For mature thought there is no mechanical substitute. But creative thought and essentially repetitive thought are very different things. For the latter there are, and may be, powerful mechanical aids.”

In a way, it’s comforting to acknowledge that information overload is not a concern exclusive of our times and this can also be seen with other concerns such as medium shaping the way we write.

Bush wrote “As we may think” in 1945 on the Atlantic magazine; in 2008 Nicholas Carr wrote on the same magazine an article posing the question “Is Google making us stupid?”.

The article is very thorough and presents us several examples of how writers or philosophers felt through time with the introduction of new mediums and threats they may pose:

For instance in the book Phaedrus by Plato, Socrates laments about the development of writing: “He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.”

The same kind of concern was shown by the Italian humanist Hieronimo Squarciafico after the event of the Gutenberg press “worried that the easy availability of books would lead to intellectual laziness, making men less studious and weakening their minds.”

Another example is the one of Nietzsche, who saw his prose become more telegraphic when he adopted the typewriter: “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.”

Raising the same kind of concerns towards Twitter would the obvious next thing to do, after all, according to a study by Harvard published on the bbc site there is an estimate of more than 10 million users.

While trying to answer the question “Will meaning increase with the shortening and acceleration of text-based conversations or are we losing something with this acceleration?” I remembered a remark one conference presenter at PICNIC made while opening his talk:

“What a wonderful event, so many talks being exchanged over twitter and blog entries, there are more people talking there than there are actually here on the event”

Inside the Picnic Club there was a huge screen displaying the feeds of twits that were being released under the hashtags #PICNIC09 and boy were they updated by the second.

So what we saw with all these tweets of the event was the birth of a parallel event, a second layer of discussion that brought a wider audience into the Picnic event and that made it go on the web even after the event itself has ended: the event ended on the 28th of September but 8 hours ago there were still people tweeting about it .

Maybe not much meaning can be added with a stream of 140 tweets, but that stream can offer a real time stream of thoughts and links to the people who didn’t attend the event , comments from the inside to the outside. Of course that this cannot be a labour of the mature thought Bush talked about. In my opinion this is food for our increasing crave for entertainment and distraction.

The more the technology provides us ways to be connected the more ON we seem to need to be.

And for the users who actually were on the event, the possibility of commenting allowed them to personally follow/make the heartbeat of the event ; you can’t get much closer than this.

Another study presented by Nielsen in April this year reports that more than 60 percent of U.S. twitter users fail to return the following month. It would be interesting to understand the reasons why people don’t come back.

I have a Twitter account, but just like my friends, I don’t pay much attention to it and yet we struggle to understand why the 40% that keep coming back and do use the service make such a fuss about it!

Yesterday (Sunday) one of the Trending Topics was #iminchurch in less than a minute 32 tweets were added to the thread, in one hour 2025!

Maybe it’s because we haven’t update our mobile phones or maybe because we haven’t yet adopted this new language.

iminchurch
I wonder what Shakespeare tweeted if he had a Twitter account and someone did a very nice post about it.

18 Tweets You Might See, If Shakespeare Used Twitter

  1. Need Photoshop expert with mad skillz in hiding Adam’s apples. DM me if interested.
  2. Is it realistic that a king would be convinced his wife is unfaithful based only on a misplaced handkerchief? Pls tweet yes or no kthanxbai.
  3. I’m not comfortable with the title of bard, yet. I think of myself as an OG Soneteer, really.
  4. Told @BenJonson I’d be in his play, as long as it wasn’t another freaky masque about mice or some shit. Dude needs to cut down on the absinthe.
  5. Just unfollowed @GuyKawasaki, dude still hasn’t put me in Alltop, and he updates too damn much about sidewalk chalk & other useless shit.
  6. Pshaw Virgin Queen! Virgin Queen my ass!
  7. Of course @KennethBrannaugh is too old 4 Hamlet! Was a 2-film deal w/ Sony tho. Still bitter about @MelG, too. @&%! Hollywood
  8. So, then, I was like, we can talk all you want about hacks for increasing productivity, but I don’t see anybody coming up with something better than a feather for me to write with.
  9. Added @CMarlowe to my blogroll, now that I’ve removed the no-asshats policy.
  10. Mtg at Koi 2nite w/ network execs re 12th nite pilot–wondering if I should lose the flavor-saver?
  11. @PornGirls69 Thanks for the follow back! Let’s keep tweeting.
  12. Haven’t tweeted in ten days. Fucking Twilight series!
  13. RT help @QueenE help you: theaters closed again #plague.
  14. Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Nah.
  15. To those that unfollowed after the @CMarlowe tweet, whatevs, I’m just saying what everyone else is thinking.
  16. Looks like somebody’s got a case of the Mondays. I’m looking in your direction @SWRaleigh.
  17. Anybody ever notice that the Spaniards are always dressed in all black? What’s that about, do you think?
  18. Like the new album, but yeah, #KanyeWest is a total douchebag.

Pecking in the Picnic #2

There were a lot of interactive experiences during the PICNIC, the virtual sightseeing scenic viewer by Ydreams was one of them.

Even though this unit at a first look resembles like a kiosk, when you start swinging its screen to get a closer picture of the surronding landscape, you get an augmented reality with superimposed information over points pf interest.

Watch the Ydreams R&D director explaining how it works.

YDreams

Another interactive experience was the Multitouch table brought by Iconomical and Studio Sophisti. This table aggregated photographs and blog entries and displayed them in a time line fashion.

On this video you can watch a demo of how it works.

multitouch

From social networking sites to social experiences

While thinking about what the future of social networking sites might be, I became curious about what Wired or Forrester think on the topic, what’s the trend?

In this article, Wired acknowledges what has become common sense: people are flocking to social networking sites in record numbers “as Facebook now boasts over 200 million users worldwide, and Twitter has grown 3,000 percent since last year” so, in this article the next step on the evolutionary road of social networking sites is to bring down the walls that separate these services, their users and everything they create. Today the content that we upload into all social networking sites and services pretty much stays there and we can only share it with friends unless they also register in those sites.

Wired also mentions that Google has taken a step toward bringing down those walls, when they announced the Google Wave and the promise of a single log-in open platform for real-time communication and sharing media, where any user content poured into a Wave based system will be accessible by anyone that the user has granted permission to.

According to Wired’s article the future has single sign-on and is a myriad of services built on an open garden platform that depends only on what content users want to share and with whom.

As I see it, this might lead towards the googlization of social networking sites, pretty much what Google has been trying to do with Android on the mobile market.

Then I found out a Web Strategist article on this subject that portraits users as consumers. It also mentions a disjointedness of their social experiences because of their separate identities in each social network they visit, and once a step in technology is done to enable portable ID, begins the transformation that will create an evolution of social networking sites, going from separate social sites into a shared social experience, transforming ecommerce and advertising.

During the PICNIC event I experienced the way participants worked and played together, using an RFID device, which allowed the PICNIC website to publish the results of such joint venture online in real time, and moreover connecting instantly those participants in a social networking way.

It was based on this and on the previously mentioned concept of a portable ID, that I thought about how much I love the idea of RFID as a tool that helps users to meet new people in a different way. A new kind of social networking sites and a new kind of experience for the users.

A kind of a reverse social networking experience: you connect with someone based on a physical world collaboration, not shared interests per se (like music, professional experience, etc.), someone whom you might after the collaboration not even know the name/nickname of, and then, if you are interested in knowing more about that person or even contacting him/her, you have the online connection to find out.

Even though it might appear to be just a slight change of the social experience, it opens possibilities for different types of interaction.

So I searched for some examples of what such enhanced version of Social experiences would be and found some interesting examples.

On the 25th Chaos Communication Congress that took place in Berlin last year in December, the congress attendees had RFID badges and there was a system that featured a real time proximity detection, so the attendees could see which other users were nearby, and then a web interface provided participants with the ability to find people with similar interests, see where they’ve been, what they’ve been doing and with whom.

A step forward on this type of social experience that links the physical world to the online world in real time was the one that took place in the Hypertext Conference in Torino this year. The attendees of the event enrolled in Live Social Semantics (LSS) by volunteering to wear a RFID badge that detected face-to-face proximity.

RFID-contact-network

The physical world identity of an attendee was associated with multiple online identities (Facebook, Flickr, Delicious, and Last.FM) of their choice by creating a user profile in the LSS web interface. After having created the profile, the system gathered data from these systems in the background and recorded online friendships and shared interests.

By acquiring and integrating all this information from the attendees, mashing up physical world social contacts and online friendships and interests, in real time, and showing it on a live web-based visualization chart, offered the attendees a new level of networking services.

This experience provided the visualization of real-time social interactions of the attendees during the conference, and they could for instance invite to Facebook other attendees that they met face-to-face earlier. It also enabled them, before the conference, to have access to the list of persons within their social networks that would be attending.

Surely these experiences have a very well defined context and serve a purpose: to enhance the experience of the attendees in a certain event. On the other hand there are also issues about privacy that might prevent this kind of experience to jump from a closed environment to other and wider contexts that would bring together our physical world experience with our online experience, where we could share our thoughts, friends, consumer preferences, etc.

It would be interesting to explore if, when using an open platform that aggregates applications with different purposes, having RFID as one of its information gathering inputs, what kind of privacy issues such system would raise, based on how much have we already given up on our privacy with the social networking sites as we know them today; how much the governments might legislate and how much are we still willing to give.

Pecking in the Picnic

picnic091

Yesterday was the last day of the PICNIC event, and even though the “main course” was only acessible to conference ticket owners, there were still plenty of activities to be involved in, people to meet and games to try out.

The people from Mediamatic had a handful of Interactive Social RFID games going on indoors and al fresco, and people who played along really seemed to have a good time. Once you got into to the registration area you were given an ikTag, a plastic pink heart shaped RFID, that had the information you gave about yourself on the Picnic website, and it served as an interface between the games you played on the Picnic event (offline) and your profile (online), an interface for social networks . It seemed a very innovative and playful application of RFID technology.

One of those games was the ik-a-sketch, the world’s largest sketching tool, just like with an etch-a-sketch you have two handlers, but in this case they are just too far apart for one person to operate, so you need a friend to operate it with you.

After finding a friend, you just need to swipe the ikTag on the ik-a-sketch, you also have to be able to coordinate with him/her because one handler only draws vertical lines (up and down) and the other handler draws the horizontal lines (left and right).

While you are drawing there’s a lot of interaction going on between the two ‘designers‘: you really have to be in sync with the other person in order to get your mission accomplished. The final results may vary depending on the level of interaction and engagement you put in it, but they all seemed pretty much like a 5 year old’s sketch and diagonals are just out of question!

But that didn’t distract people from the fun of having something done in a collaborative fashion. The process and not the final result was important thing.

Once you’re done, your picture is automatically uploaded to your Picnic profile page without a computer being necessary and also you become instantaneously connected with the profile of the person you drew it with. To clean the ik-a-sketch for the next team you just have to quickly jump in front of the screen.

The whole experience of getting to draw with a perfect stranger from Mediamatic,  and having our profile and work connected online in real time and afterwards finding out  his name and other contacts; was one of the most refreshing moments at Picnic, because of the new dynamic of getting to know people:  We didn’t knew each other before, we got connected through a collaborative task and after that it was able to access to each others email address, contacts and works. Swiping your RFID tag is so much more fun than card swaping!

picnic02-iktag
The ikTag

picnic03-gabi-ik-a-sketch
Gabi and the drawing we did together. Watch him explaining how it works.

picnic04-profile-picnic
My Profile page at the Picnic website, with the drawing I did with Gabi and his contact connected to my page

Another RFID game was the ikspin: Two teams, two frisbees, four targets and a lot of people watching and having fun (watch the movie of Mark Wubben from Mediamatic talk about how ikspin works)

picnic05-ikspin1

picnic06-ikspin2