Wireless Stories: New Media in Public Space
Published on the Sandberg@Mediafonds Wireless Stories website
26.05.11 Trouw, Amsterdam
End presentation - 11th edition Sandberg@Mediafonds Masterclass
The image on the flyer shows a frame around an empty image. It is a photo of an advertising billboard, the ones we see around the city of Amsterdam. It is against a background of little blocks, the pixeled, blurred image. It suggests an empty space, ready to be filled with stories.
The end presentation of this masterclass was a day of critical stories and possible narratives in public space.
After watching a juggler make music, performance by 'STEIM', Dimitri Nieuwenhuizen and Syb Groeneveld made their introduction by stating that the way our brains work has changed and therefore the makers of media and the audience. We are witnessing "the digitization of public space". The question of the day: How do locative and mobile media influence the content and form of the stories we tell each other?
"Everything is information" Robbert Dijkgraaf said in his introduction, "society currently counts a zetabyte, 1 and 21 zeros, of information". But how we feel about things today is not so much different to how people felt during the Vertigo Years, (1900 - 1914), when electricity, automobiles and psychology were invented; The feeling that everything is going very fast and we don't know what is coming next. As Robbert Dijkgraaf concluded: "New communication brings the world together".
During the course of the day we, the audience, listened to proposals about online and offline storytelling. The proposed spaces for interaction with the stories varied among the projects.
The story of 'Codes Of Life' by Henrik van Leeuwen and Willem Baptist presented an intriguing view on of the first patented form of life, pseudomonas putida; the first cell on the planet who's parent is a computer, cynthia; and their relation to biopreneurs, or molecular millionaires. Speculating that synthetic lifeforms are going to play a bigger role in our daily lives, questioning the ownership of the same, this team created a content platform where the audience (visitors of the website) can create synthetic life in an accessible way and discuss future applications and possible ethical implications.
The projects '201212' and 'Play@Hoi' combined interaction in the virtual and public space.
The interactive channel '201212' tells the stories of 'survivalists', and their fear of the end of time predicted by the Mayas in 2012. The proposed project consists of brief episodes online in which a community of survivalists in Aalten, (with 17 followers, 6 of which are children) are followed into their daily lives. After watching a weekly episode, the viewer is asked to describe and imagine disaster scenarios. The stories told and additional images (which users can also contribute to) merge into an online, interactive, audio-visual channel.
'Play@Hoi' is a playful environment developed in cooperation with the fans of the series "How to Survive Youth" (broadcast 2011, AVRO) . The site is designed for girls aged 10 to 14 years. On the site viewers are assigned tasks through which they discover who they are and how their own stories and experiences relate to their heroine of the series and her friends. "How do I survive myself?", and "How do I survive new media?".
The projects 'Survival of the unfittest', 'Me machine' and 'Saving face' took a more critical approach on the perception of identity in the digital age and its relation to public space.
Stefan Schäfer and Noor van Eekelen (Sandberg Intituut design department students) asked "Why would you leave traces of yourself daily?" This team launched the platform of the Community Unfittest, consisting of a growing collection of instructions for the 'unfittest', a critical response to the existing registration and monitoring networks in public space.
'Me Machine' is a trans-media format that outlines a future scenario of a digital age, where information flows will be complex and frequent. The team proposed to follow a girl and a boy through their sensory clothing, while they are having fun at Lowlands. Intelligent clothing which says "I share therefore I am, I am known". Wearing it asks: "How does it feel if everyone is watching at to me?'
"I am part of the networks and the networks are part of me. I link therefore I am." Hermen Maat, Karen Lancel and Matthijs ten Berge wanted to know "Who are you really?". 'Saving Face' is a visual form of Critical Play, with user generated content. The participant plays with questions of identity and virtual meeting. Its intimate gesture of caressing the face of the participant appears public and online. "How do you shape your own digital identity?".
The projects 'Meet your stranger' and 'Saddists & Rabbits' implement storytelling back to public space.
Sander Veenhof and Andre Freyssen created a flash mov. 'Meet Your Stranger' is an online suffler for an interactive theater which requires one to make direct encounter with a stranger. With 4 characters and 6 scenes this proposal hopes to allow users to have a shared experience and do things together, but 'not a Facebook experience'.
Daan Roosegaarde, Ineke Smits & Paul Swagerman's initial question was: "What kind of possibilities do you have in the public space that you don't have in a cinema?" This resulted in a non-linear journey ('Saddists&Rabbits') between two cinemas, where the audience initially thinks to learn more about a 'Society of rabbits', but is eventually faced with the conclusion that they are the ignorant. It is a moving story where the audience is the main protagonist and (story)telling becomes experiencing.
As a participant of the previous, 10th edition of the Mediafonds@Sandberg masterclass, I know how the process of collaborating with makers from different media can be complicated and sometimes challenging. But I couldn't help but notice the high quality and good cooperation of this years teams. Furthermore, each team was very aware of how locative and mobile media can influence content. This knowledge allowed for very critical approaches to solving problems. What I learned from these presentations is that storytelling can be transferred again from the virtual into physical space. This time instead of collecting around fires we can walk around physical spaces enhanced with the technology we have created and experience an enhanced, richer reality. Doing this we can observe that our roles as audience and as users of public space have changed and there is no going back.
"Can we still check-out?"
Is There Milk in my Fridge?
Guest blog for Kolabo.org summer lab
The interface: We need technological enhancements because the world is complex. But sometimes the complexities we encounter are a result of the technologies themselves.
Good design augments human possibility and reduces complexity.
When we have problems interacting with technologies, it's a direct result of our not having asked the right questions in the design process.
To be effective, we must shift our focus from the techno-centric to the human-centric.
Massive Change - Bruce Mau and the institute without boundaries, 2004, Phaidon press limited pg.99
*I arrive at the fourth day of the Kolabo Summer Lab workshop. Just as I am sipping my welcome cup of coffee with Bruno, a young man walks in. He introduces himself as Rob, an interaction designer. He sits down, and thinking back to the difficult evening they had all just had the evening before, begins talking about George Orwell's "1984". Rob is thinking about the fear of his emotions and facing change, since he is already very comfortable with the way the tax system works for him in The Netherlands. During his confession the other participants of this workshop walk in one by one. I learn that they have had a confronting long talk the evening before with the person that gave them this challenge. His name is Rob van Kranenburg. He is the writer of "Internet der Dingen" or "The Internet of things" which was a mandatory read to all participants to this workshop. "Internet of Things" is a strange future scenario. In this scenario, the ideology which makes the internet so great right now, combined with RFID technology, is taken to the offline reality. It describes one day in the life of a family whose house, neighborhood and society is all full of sensors that wire and measure everything they do. This makes their lives simpler, more organized and connected. For example their fridges are wired to know if there is milk, what their neighbors have in their fridges, and what needs to be bought at the supermarket.
Whether I find this scenario a bit creepy or actually a really good idea, within the setting of this workshop this is a fact of the future. The reason why everyone is together during these two weeks, is to put heads together and start thinking how we can develop tools that can help us and everyone else embrace and be comfortable with this future.
After the first few days of brainstorming the group has chosen to talk about metadata, identity and process design; within the context of the 65+ population.
I find this to be a bit of an odd twist.
For me, this Next Nature future belongs to
the new generation who adapt automatically to it.
To today's children that is reality. There hasn't been anything before.
I have grown up with paperback books and fixed telephones. But I also had a computer since I was 8. I saw my father's (a linguist and journalist) first pager. Very soon after, his first mobile phone. My mother holds a Masters degree in genetics and population studies for more than a decade now. A projector beams television shows and movies on our wall and we have a fridge that makes and crushes ice with pressing of one button. We have radio player built in the shower. This is my reality.
When I think about the 65+ population, I think about my grandmother, who is in her 70-ies at the moment and has lived through a war or two. A decade ago, she would do the daily groceries at the market, a kilometer away from our house, walking. She would then come back home, and spend the rest of her day cooking for the whole family and reading books about plants, nature, health and nutrition. She enjoyed watching television, and having telephone conversations with her living friends and close family. With the coming of age, not being as fit, she stopped doing the groceries her self. She cooks a lot less often, and barely ever leaves the house (or her bed for that matter). She now has a mobile phone but she finds it too complicated to use. She only wants to know where the red and green buttons are and has only 5-6 telephone numbers on speed dial. We placed an old-fashioned TV in her room. We have a second shower in the house without radio. My grandmother is also not very excited about all the crushed ice, because she only drinks warm herbal tea.
Coincidentally, right now, next to me as I sip my medium latte in a hip fair trade coffee shop, sits somebody else's grandmother, in her 70's, sipping a latte as well, and reading a book on an e-reader. However, I can only assume about the experiences of other elderly.
This was also my first impression of the proposals of the 7 member team of the Kolabo Summer Lab. They seemed to have a lot of assumptions about "the elderly". Assumptions about what they need, what they should need, and how we could make that possible for them. I have my doubts about these ways of speculating. There are two ways to find out. Either talk to these "elderly", or begin thinking about ourselves.
What would I want when my hair is all gray, I am very slow and my body isn't as fit as it used to be? I personally, have an old-fashioned bohemian dream of a crib in nature, with a big library, and a lot of time for cycling and yoga. This is perfectly possible without much technology.
Which brought me to the following questions:
Is the question of the elderly in the Internet of Things scenario relevant? My own grandmother lives together with my parents, in a house full of modern technology. But her own life hasn't become significantly better with today's technology, compared to the past 15-20 years. Are we only trying to familiarize the elderly with all the technology available? Are they even interested? Do they need this? Do we need them to need it? Would we need it, when we are old? Is this a technological or social issue? How about the idea that this is a social issue due to technology?
What does remain timeless, is our respect for the elderly. Respect for their knowledge and wisdom. The stories they tell around the fireplace in winter. The stories my grandmother told me while sitting on her favorite kitchen chair. Her stories were my pre-school education. Those stories had a big impact on the shape of my character. I like to think I adapt to new technology very fast. I will keep adapting for a few good decades before I "retire" and enjoy my bohemian dream. Every person of my generation has a similar or different dream; with or without technology. The elderly have passed on their knowledge before the Internet Of Things. Have done so, just fine for a matter of fact. Admittedly, their lives are made more comfortable due to technology. But we, the young generations are at the forefront, directly anticipating the new technological developments. Rob, the interaction designer, is hesitant about grasping new change and at the same time is very excited about "what is coming" in the age of the internet. He, with his technical skills, can discover and build new interactive experiences. I, too, am very excited about "what is coming" and how this is going to change the ways we communicate. My grandmother, however, with her stories and her wisdom, reminds me of where I come from, of reality and of the now. It is her that reminds me how happy I am to be aging in this new era. I can hardly wait till I tell my grandchildren what my time looked like.
In conclusion I would like to come back to the direct link made between identity, metadata, process design and 65+ generation. To go back to my grandmother, I don't think her identity is radically affected in any way due to the technology around her. I don't dare to assume the same about the lady in the coffee shop. I have a big mental database of her memories and experiences carved on my character. But, I wonder if a bunch of sensors around my grandmother would make her feel very comfortable. To make her life easier, I do the groceries for her instead. She can still walk up to the fridge, and check if I should get some milk as well.