recap: mediamatic / tag event on Processing.

On: September 21, 2007
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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.


In a series of events organized around the theme information aesthetics, a collaborative effort between Mediamatic and TAG produced a Salon on Processing.
For those who are not familiar with this phenomenon: Processing is an open-source software platform created by Ben Fry and Casey Reas. What it basically comes down to is a platform for visual designers and artists that allows these users to easily access the (often) hazardous and complex world of programming. (because, and I quote Casey; ‘programming is not for geeks, engineers and guys only’).
To be a little bit more elaborate; it is a programming environment on top of java, with a c- based syntax. It allows you to very quickly access image manipulation, text, interactivity (on screen) etc in a very friendly way.
Besides programming, it also allows to export your code into your own apps very easily.
Recent new areas are Mobile Processing (yes indeed, to make phone/ pda apps), and (of course) physical computing, by talking to Wiring and Arduino very easy. Also, the latter two are situated in the same programming environment as Processing.

But what does this environment look like? The underlying idea is that programming is about sketching; about brainstorming, quick ideas, iterations. Where you used to sketch on paper or in your head, Processing is about getting those ideas out of your head and directly into code. But isn’t this a programmers’ complex job? No, in this case it is not; the environment, backed up by the vast amount of examples , thorough reference and projects open-source available on the web, lets you copy-paste-n-code your thoughts into working ‘proof-of-principle’ sketches very effectively. The mayor focus is on the process of creation, not the end result (hence the name – )
In contrast to ActionScript for example, Processing code is ‘logical’ by presenting you not a GUI with menus etc. but by teaching you to see the link between your code and what’s happening on the screen. This provides insights not only in code, but also in graphics and some ‘basic’ HCI principles. Moreover, it is very rewarding to see your code into direct action, instead of some GUI or nontransparent process leaves you guessing if what you “did’ actually compares to what is happening on screen.

since its birth in 2001, the Processing project has proven its relevancy in different contexts;
First of all, the major value became clear within educational contexts; especially within art and design schools that go beyond ‘traditional’ forms of art expression, but later on also within technical universities and workshop-settings, both used by undergraduates (to get acquinted with programming i.c.w. electronics), as graduate education (for more sophisticated apps).
Since the environment is open source, there has also been a mayor development in the ‘pro-amateur’ scene, contributing by writing libraries, fixing bugs etc. This is, despite all the critique on the open source pro-am world, an unmistakable proof that (at least in this case) this model really does work and really does contribute to collaborative work- and knowledge sharing.
Also Karsten Schmidt (installations/ exhibitions) and Aaron Koblin (information visualization), two artists/designers show their portfolio in research- and company projects all based on processing. These kind of projects are really working on the edge of the environments, pushing its limits.
So, from three sides it has been developed and improved, creating a stable and thoroughly tested platform for different purposes.

Within the context of new media you can argue that this is not ‘really’ new, due to the fact that in the essence, the programming language is not new. What is new, though, is the open-source philosophy to this kind of technology and the way in which it developed through the Web.
Also, in combination with (cheap) physical computing possibilities like Arduino, Processing does contribute to what I like to call web 3.0 (or life 1.5); namely the development of interactivity beyond the screen. With programming languages and electronics getting open-source, well documented and affordable, it will open up for a much larger crowd than it is recently, thus contributing mayor to a DIY-Internet-of-things culture.Very new media…

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