Mobile city conference – Panel discussion

On: March 1, 2008
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About Tjerk Timan
During the last couple of years, I have been involved in Industrial Design at the Technical University of Eindhoven, both on the theoretical as well as the physical/practical side, always working on the boarder between the digital and physical. After an internship at Mediamatic, I wanted to get more involved in the digital side of new media. Currently, I am investigating the complex realm of new media [at] the master course New Media, UvA. With a thesis focus now on ‘objects that blog’ within the context of an internet of things, the challenge is to investigate the agency and influence of things. Especially when these things, being digital or physical, are capable of sharing, posting, editing, deleting content. And on who’s account? Within that same line of thought, the digital is often taking itself for granted maybe too much, where often the step towards WHO and HOW data is manipulated is left out of the loop. Taking these things back into the (design) loop is one of my missions, with the statement in mind that the way content is created and consumed has at least as much importance as the technology driving it. Furthermore, I am currently active within the Digital Methods Initiative at the University of Amsterdam. Also, I do some occasional freelance work, where disciplines differ from web-design to workshops to product design.


An interesting panel discussion was held during the mobile city conference “Designing for Mobile Media & Urban Spaces: between Theory and Practice”. The goal is to pose different perspectives on locative media – from practical to theory. Get some people from different disciplines to filter out key issues on how to go from here. The following people took part in the discussion:
– Nicolas Nova (user experience & foresight researcher, Media & Design Lab, Swiss Institute of Technology, Lausanne),
– Rob van Kranenburg (Waag Society Amsterdam)
– Marc Schuilenburg (Free University Amsterdam; Studio Popcorn)
– Joris van Hoytema (BBVH Architects, Baas op Zuid).

As an introduction, one or two slides are presented per person on their vision.
Nicholas: Continuity of experience in locative media. There is an assumption that space is homogeneous. This is not really the case. First slide shows our relation with technology. Technology breaks down, accidents happen and so on Different protocols keep emerging, leaving people clueless about what is happening. Different representations with different level of granularity. Peoples reaction to this is problematic. So, again, visualizations and their impact on perceiving what is happening are of great importance. In a slide about a mapping project wifi antennas, it becomes clear that distribution of antennas is far from homogeneous, so you never have the same access. This affects the experience of media. Holes in networks, in getting content etc.
A solution can be found about teamwork- getting people aware of this behavior of the network.

Rob: Shows a performance artist – picture of somebody driving into the canal with a bike. What about unexpected behavior and poetic autonomy of space. Rob is fearful about strange link between internet and locative media, just mirroring off line and online world. While this space is inherently different. The notion of seemingless-ness is also scary. Do we need screens? Where is the poetry in this space? Hardware vs software – where is the criticisms. There is a huge amount of agency nowadays to the average user. Can he/she handle that?

Joris: How can we use complicated new technology in simple applications where people can really benefit? ‘Baas op zuid’ project is mentioned. This is a platform of meeting and discussing, giving control to the people. Feedback and learning via digital layer. The true challenge is the massive interactiveness – communication both ways. On the other hand, not everyone wants to communicate and be available. He is focussed on the translation of complicated matter to easy-to-use applications.

Nicholas: Participation is very important.
Joris: A huge benefit when you can cater a low-threshold discussion, to re-invent interaction.
Nicholas: It is very problematic to involve large group of people into these kinds of projects.
Joris: We want to reach people in the area online, the bases should be; how can we reach our neighbour digitally? Do you know his ip, his or her email address? Probably not. Why not give every physical space an IP address?
Marc: Wiki-like idea of planning on how to develop a planning. Old ideas of art and design is always the genius. Wisdom of the crowd-argument is mentioned (which is debatable) that we see in smart-mobs and so on. Another aspect is mentioned – no genius anymore, but a senius intelligence and creativity is not bound to an autonomous individual, but via locative media it is mixed.
Rob: it is about agency and hardware and so much about software.

Marc: makes a point about citizenship and locative media. He gives a short intro in what citizenship means? Bound to public space is the original meaning, open-accessible for everyone etc. What consequences does CCTV have? What is still public and how accessible is this space. Public space is losing its coherence archipelago- separated spaces, isolated spaces. These spaces are guarded by locative and fixed media. collapse of this space means we also have to re-think to be a citizen?
Two new notions of citizenship: denizens and marginals. Denizens are people without political rights. Gated communities, own cultural and social rights, no political rights. These right are being replaced by private contracts, guarded by locative media and new media. We have to talk in a more political way about citizens, within encapsulated spaces. What remains out of sight when we undergo this transformation? Then we are left with marginals – digital divides- fallouts. Technology unites, but also divides. In our everyday, it raises questions about control, freedom and citizenship.

Chirstian responds by arguing that these things are not that easily solvable. Communities will evolve in finding a way to solve their social relations and their standards. Now, via property relationships communities are getting social.
Rob: do we still have time for theory and practice in the here and now? We are not in the zone of comfort anymore. There is an urgency.
Marc: the question is not what it is, but rather how does it work?

Joris: as a man of practice is making things rather than theorizing. Addition to the discussion is the consciousness of the technology, and to turn thing towards the good. “Woophy” project is mentioned, which is a feel-good projects. We fill the map of the world with nice pictures. (what do we think is beautiful?). It started when trying to make Google earth. You can travel the world and upload nice pictures, thus filling the world with your vision.
Nicholas: on both points, mobile software and location based services need a kind of serendipity. it is not about people, but again a gated community, with often a techno-geeky vision. There is a paradox between how the services are presented versus only exchange messaging. It shows that there is a problem.

Audience: designers are also not neutral: there was a question of good versus bad in choosing your goals as a designer. Also, is network noise necessarily bad? We (designer red.) constantly make biassed judgment. History of KAI and user studies is mentioned, where 90 % was on students and males. So what does this say about the value of these studies? In locative media, there is a collision between Cartesian versus knowledge traditions – creating participatory actions, re-considering our role as designers is big to-do. Framing the issues.

Rob: lots of experience in interaction design research and teaching. Basically, there is no more interaction, but only residence. How do you design residence. This requires a different mindset. They still design on the last moment. In England, the design council, bringing designers into new processes of technology- development of product-and service companies. Rob thinks we must not overdue the value-thing. For the past ten years, in Holland, the missing link is guts. There is a tendency to disappear into 2.0 and networks. Weiser’s text is really saturated, but we still need people with vision. It is now driven by logistics, control, and functionality, but we miss a vision.
Nicholas: It is sadly the role of designers that HCI started from optimizing functionality work flow etc. and that is boring. People want something else.

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