With Ted Hunt and Hiroki Uokoyama. View full Flickr album
With Ted Hunt and Hiroki Uokoyama. View full Flickr album
Speculative design combines informed, hypothetical extrapolations of an emerging technology’s development with a deep consideration of the cultural landscape into which it might be deployed, to speculate on future products, systems and services. These speculations are then used to examine and encourage dialogue on the impact a specific technology may have on our everyday lives. The familiar and engaging nature of the designed output is intended to facilitate discourse with a broad audience: from experts in the field such as scientists, engineers and designers to the consumers and users of technological products and systems.
— James Auger, http://augerloizeau.tumblr.com, 2013
Our photograph explains a small part of the materials exhibition. You will find the display at the far end of the materials exhibition, on your way to the lifts and exit!
It speaks of innovation and original thinking, but feels more like a footnote than a celebration. 95% of the materials exhibition (sponsored by the British Steel Industry and the British Aluminium Industry) celebrates mass manufacture and our ability to convert minerals and natural resources in to materials, than can then be turned in to designed products, machinery and infrastructure.
Perhaps this was included because it was considered important, but it feels like an afterthought or a token gesture rather than saying something critical about the way we as a society currently perceive and desire materials. To us it feels more like a checkbox labelled ‘sustainable’ can be checked!
Yes, in general sustainable design is advocated and celebrated but as designers is it really considered from the beginning or do we also fall victim to the same ‘checkbox’ mentality? Do we post-rationalise or justify why and how something can be labelled based on public demand? Do we design from the ground up with ethics in mind, or is meeting regulations and standards enough?
Many of my classmates and I have been reading the original copy of Hertzian Tales (MIT Press) by Tony Dunne. As well as describing his working process Dunne uses accessible language and descriptions as well as illustrating each page of the book with successful projects that demonstrate his current argument.
Am I a man or a machine? There is no ambiguity in the traditional relationship between man and machine; the worker is always, in a way, a stranger to the machine he operates, and alienated by it. But at least he retains the previous status of alienated man.
— J. Baudrillard. Xerox and Infinity. 1990
It might seem strange to write about radio, a long-established medium, when discussion today centres on cyberspace, virtual reality, networks, smart materials and other electronic tehcnologies. But radio, meaning part of the electromagnetic spectrum is fundamental to electronics. Objects not only “dematerialise” into software in response to minituarisation and replacement by services but literally dematerialise into radiation. All electronic products are hybrids of radiation and matter. This chapter does not discuss making the invisible visible or visualising radio, but explores the links between the material and the immaterial that lead to new aesthetic possibilities for life in an electromagnetic environment. Whereas cyberspace is a metaphor that spatialises what happens in computers distributed around the world, radio space is actual and physical, even though our senses detect only a tiny part of it.
Along with several RCA and CIID classmates and peers I joined an interested audience for a symposium at the ICA in London. The half-day symposium “examines the integration of the digital in the construction of the ‘self’, asking how this has complicated our experience of material reality”.
Many topics were covered during the talks, many of which I have some opinions about and which are personal interests that I try to explore in my own work. Obvious current buzzwords include #identity #digital #surveillance #personas #avatars #perception #truth. Newer keywords for me – which I’ve yet to explore and build in to works – were #masking #religion #oppression #feminism #totalitarianism.
Some interesting research and case studies caught my interest during the talks. Most notably the history and rituals around Venetian masks.
“As a result of the concealment of identity, however, people naturally found themselves taking advantage of the situation. The society grew ever more decadent. The immense amount of travelers coming through the city meant that sexual promiscuity was commonplace and acceptable. Gambling went on all day and night in the streets and houses, even in convents. Women’s clothing became more revealing; homosexuality, while publicly condemned, was embraced by the populace.”
This comes up a lot. And yes while I am fully aware that I’m a white male who’s lived most of my life in the United Kingdom and therefore only have a limited perception of other peoples experiences in the world. I still converse with many, many people who vary in age, race, sex, religions and ideals. And I cannot fully see the dangers or issues in many arguments that are raised around feminism and the highlighting of ‘key’ issues. Before I start a flame-war let me provide an example. “70% of Google employees are male vs 30% who are female!” My response being “and…”? For me that statistic tells me that 70% of the people interested in working for Google are male. If they advertise a role and receive 1000 applications, 700 of those could be male while only 300 of those are female. Statistically there is more change of them hiring a male than female for the role. Obviously depending on the job requirements and applications suitability. If the most suitable people are male and Google hire’s them, what does that sa about Google? For me it’s just statistics. I imagine some roles have more female applicants and some more male. If less females are apply for jobs it’s not the fault of Google. They are just trying to run a business. Please don’t think I’m pro-Google either, I’m just using this as an example because it was quoted at the talk.
There are many, many reasons for these statistics. And I feel it’s often unfair and bias for people to stand up and say it’s unfair. Based on my experiences and the women that I know, if they wanted to work for Google they would apply, and some would probably succeed. However I don’t know many female friends who ‘would’ apply in the first place, because the idea of working for a global corporation and being one cog in a giant machine, balancing their professional and social life with work politics isn’t’ so appealing. So perhaps what the statistic really shows is that 70% of all females have higher goals and aspirations for themselves, vs only 30% of men.
Also while I’m on the subject the idea of alienation comes up a lot. Women wanted to be included and considered equal to men. I am mostly aware of this within the design, programming and technical industries because that my area of focus. Unfortunately I find the approaches many take as counter-productive. If you want to be considered equal to another party, why would you label yourself as different and make such a spectacle of the fact? While I acknowledge the efforts and work that organisations like Girls Who Code do, the title alone is enough to tell me ‘girls doing something special that they are capable or supposed to do normally. Internally fostering an idea of collective-identity, like-minded people who support each other – fantastic until you realise that you need to deal with a world were 70% of your colleagues are male. It’s not a problem, girls and guys are capable of doing anything they want if they put their minds to it. But I find the motivations sometimes questionable. Are you doing this because you enjoy it or to prove a point that you can do it? I might suggest that a more inclusive solution would be to teach coding to a younger generation – during primary and secondary education for example – with mixed classes. At this point the gender divide is hopefully less evident and individuals can be exposed to new ideas and opportunities before other experiences start to shape their views of the world and their role and possibilities within it.
On #identity and #avatars
I find it hard to join debates and discussions around ‘how authentic my digital-self and real-self are’. After some reflection I realised that this has no impact on my day-to-day life at all. I wake up, do many things, meet friends, eat, enjoy life, work hard and hopefully get some sleep. If I do decide to upload something to the internet it is most often to archive a link, project, idea or photograph for my own personal use.
If other people see this and build up a representation of myself based on my digital-self … great. Good for them. But their interpretation of me in no way influences my activities of decisions. Perhaps my ‘digital-self’ is much more important to others, than to me!
The question was raised “when does authenticity in my digital activities and profile really matter?” Perhaps with more research and example that answer this question I can build up more critical views around this topic. But right now I don’t care. I’m very aware that my Facebook profile most probably describes “a 30 year old male, who’s living in london and studied in Denmark last year, and doesn’t really use Facebook much”. In which case, that’s a pretty authentic representation of me – but do I really care?
I hate this term. We still seem to refer to actions and information that appears on the internet and through social media channels as “the digital” and this is in contrast to “the real” or “the physical” world.
If in the same breath we argue that mobile phones, Google glasses, embedded and wearable technology and the “internet-of-things” have been bridging the gap between digital and physical for such a long time. Then surely we are contradicting our first argument.
The digital and the physical are all part of the same thing. It’s information about actions that can be shared between individuals through a plethora of channels that include digital, physical, plastic, glass, soft, hard, liquid, light and metal, sound, voice, speech and written language.
We need to stop trying to thing of them as two completely separate spaces or ‘worlds’. Especially if we state that in a post-internet world the behaviours of people in the utopian vision of the internet have turned out to be pretty much identical to the behaviours of people in the real world.
Looking over the PhD thesis and viva presentation of James Auger.
The examples that served to fuel our desires and whet our appetites turned out to be mostly red herrings; products of complex motivations and hidden agendas never actually intended for application in our homes.
The existential criteria for a robot in the academic domain are therefore completely different from those in the corporate world, in science fiction, and in everyday life. And it is by the last set of criteria that robots need to comply if they are to succeed in entering our homes.
This greatly relates to a current project I’m working on and informs more of my own opinions on the acceptances and integration of technology in to the everyday.
The first official project on the MA Design Interactions course. A group project with first year and second year studios working together.
“Exploring the liminal space between reality and fiction, locate your tour both in a physical and non-physical space, while responding to one of London’s social, political or environmental trajectories.”
If we look at common living situations across London we find many millions of people sharing houses together, sometimes with more than 10 people living under the same roof. But what if systems were designed for that? What if we made better use of our spaces? When I leave my house and go to work, my room is empty, while other people struggle to find a place to stay. When a car leaves a garage in the morning and doesn’t return until late in the evening how is that empty space best used?
In a group of three we developed a fictional service called Locality, that manages and organises the co-habitation and movement of London residents. Based on hourly periods instead of monthly or yearly contracts, all rooms and space are shared among citizens of the London boroughs. Your belongings exist in temporary destinations and can be relocated easily with the help of local residents. All logistics are organised by Locality who is aware of every members current location and next destination.
The main aim of Locality or NLS England is to improve the living and working arrangements for people in England by maximising co-residential and co-working space usage in the country.
An Italian novel written by Italo Calvino whereby an explorer recites his experiences to an eager emperor. The book is written in conversation format between the two main characters and the reader is frequently taken in to the imaginary worlds and cities that are described.
The city, however, does not tell it’s past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.
…it’s [building] very form and the position it occupies in the cities order suffice to indicate its function: the palace, the prison, the mint, the Pythagorean school, the brothel.
It is not so much by the things that each day are manufactured, sold, bought that you can measure Leonia’s opulence, but rather by the things that each day are thrown out to make room for the new.
the more Leonia’s talent for making new materials excels, the more the rubbish improves in quality, resists time, the elements, fermentations, combustions.
Digital Natives is a term I recently encountered whilst reading You Are Here. It refers to a book by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser, Born Digital: Understanding the first generation of Digital Natives. This post is the follow up from my comments during a Q&A session at this years Kinetica Art Fair.
There is much research and many projects – particularly from Interaction Designers or Digital Artists – which focus on the affects of technology on modern culture. As an example, the new behaviours many people have adopted now that they have a small mobile device in their pocket that enables them to stay connected to the friends and family, wherever they are.
While I do find these projects interesting I am concerned with our general ‘fear’ of and for these people. That somehow they are ‘affected’ by a compulsive disorder, they are no longer in control of their own actions.
Obviously there are times when such behaviours may be causing harm or distress to themselves or to the people around them, and it may be necessary to intervene. But on a global scale this seems unfeasible and in my opinion unnecessary. For me it’s about our perception of what is the agreed ‘norm’ for using technology in an everyday context. More importantly ‘who’ are the people making that decision. We live in an interesting period with three main types of people, the digitally illiterate, digitally literate and the digital natives. But it seems the ‘digital literates’ are the norm, is it also surprising that they are also the people making decisions and passing judgements on this?
I’m not saying that all technology is good, I certainly don’t have that opinion. My point is, who are we to judge?
I will use TV dinners as an example. As I was growing up we had a television set and perhaps when I was 6 or 7 we started sitting in front of the TV whilst eating our dinner. Occasionally at first but eventually this was part of our everyday routine. The Technology of television had changed our behaviour. And not only us but many families in the UK, new broadcasting content, revised TV programmes and fast meals all built up too, simultaneously enforcing and capitalising on this change. Ask an elderly person or even people from other countries and cultures and they might expression confusion and sympathy, their own family meal times were conducted quite differently to ours. But I still received a good education, our family dynamics are great, I’ve travelled and met the most amazing people. And it’s these differences between us that are often the most fascinating points of good conversation – the differences and similarities in opinions and beliefs based on different cultural experiences.
So which approach to eating dinner is correct? I want to put to one side diet, nutrition and health concerns for now, my argument it’s about a difference of opinion and culture, not how much exercise you get in a day.
Many of us look strange and act unusually through the eyes of a stranger. Does this necessarily mean we’re not normal? Do we need to be institutionalised or treated with sympathy? This is a growing concern of mine, as I see more and more drastic measures of integrating the illiterate or intervening with the natives.