Monday, April 14, 2008

Augmented Interaction 1: Cities, Art and Phones

Communicating Spaces

1. As you read
Ling's paper, think about what a phone like device could be that is designed to be used among other people - rather than the private dialog intended by the current phone design. Describe or sketch it.

Much of Ling's dismay with the presence of mobile telephones hinges on the idea that it disturbs previously taken-for-granted notions of public behavior, both in terms of the overtly recognizable level of voice modulation and the related forced eaves dropping, and in the more subtle negotiations of two distinct social contexts.

When thinking of a phone-like device that is designed to be used by multiple people, the first question is whether or not that device would be used in public. Public devices, as Ling clearly shows, create different problems and affordances than private devices. If the device is to be used publicly, what is the purpose of it? In order for it to be a meaningful intervention rather than a disturbance, is seems as though there must be some need.

Would this device be voice-based? Most of the ideas I've had are text-based. Is there a way for multiple people to talk with each other at once via a device? Most of my experience with conference calls and 3-way calling (SO popular in elementary school!) has been less than promising.

I know, for example, that closed-circuit SMS systems are being development for organizing and mobilizing groups, particularly protesters and particularly for use in areas where cell phone coverage may be spotty. This serves a particular need, violates public norms only to the extent that the activity at hand requires norms, and in the case of protest, standard public behavior is subordinate to the ability to organize.

Is there a way to use a device to communicate with multiple people using a device, not disturb behavioral norms, and do more than broadcast? Is selective broadcasting a salient feature of this kind of medium?

One idea that comes to mind is a device-mediated people-matching service. People in a bar or other gathering place could selectively broadcast their information (reminiscent of A/S/L?) and their goal. Others, scanning this information, could identify themselves as interested. Pictures might identify whom among the crowd is who, perhaps at a limited level. As with, one might be able to ask questions before seeing a picture.

The communication device facilitates face-to-face interaction. It does not violate public norms because the people involved have the expectation of switching between two woven social contexts, and those social contexts inform and loop into each other. It provides an in-person interaction layered with metadata about the individuals involves and their goals.

2. Sketch or describe a interactive object, installation, informaion center, etc. that exists in a public space and allows people to interact with it via some communication technology (e.g. phones, SMS, bluetooth, etc) and/or vision. What space do you imagine such an entity? What is its function? What can people do with it? How does it change the nature of the space? This can be a practical implementation or an artistic installation, it can be designed to be helpful, entertaining or provocative. This is meant to get you thinking about these ideas, we'll be following up on this next week - don't worry about a polished sketch - I am much more interested in your ideas at the moment than a finished concept.

Every morning when I take the T into school, I collect two newspaper from the aggressive and charismatic men who hand them out at the foot of the escalator. I skim the content quickly, then, upon exiting the train, deposit both into a recycling bin.

One paper seems to be more self-conscious about its relationship to the T-- social events are presented on the subway map according to their stop, crimes that occur in stations are reported. The other paper seems to take "the internet" as its exemplar-- it labels short assorted columns "blogs" and indeed seems to excerpt much of its content from actual blogs.

This kind of content is telling-- the newspapers foster and mirror a kind of community made of up "T Riders." People-- especially those with long commutes or who move around a lot in one day-- spend a not unsignificant part of their day on the T. The first kind of news item serves as metadata about that experience.

The second kind of content speaks to another, possible conflicting aspect of the T riding experience. People wish they could spend their short jaunts being productive, or at least entertained. Checking in on RSS feeds is good model for this kind of desired experience. When I have a spare moment in between meetings or before class starts, I sometimes quickly check my RSS. I skim entries about fashion, politics, news, more idiosyncratic interests, say, one by a marketing anthropologist. The second kind of content tries to mimic what we would be doing if only we could get a wireless connection and didn't feel weird about whipping out our laptops. After all, it's awkward to set one up for a relatively short period of time, plus the T is thought to (and may well) be a dangerous place.

Subways have long represented an alternative world, one in which "Charlie" was lost, where secret gangs may roam. It's a catacomb, a meta-layer, an underworld, a sub way. These metaphors resemble those of the internet as a Gibson's cyberspace.

For the assignment, I was thinking about a closed-circuit intranet for T riders. The network could either be accessed via a blackberry or cell phone or via mounted keyboard and screen consoles. The blackberry model creates limits to access and the consoles would be expensive and likely vandalized.

The model that first comes to mind is Craigslist. Classifieds would be useful, but probably only if they could be someone saved or transmitted to a permanent space. Personals, though they might be frowned upon by the MBTA, would probably be popular. Certainly, Missed Connections are almost a native form. Craigslist also has vibrant discussion forum communities on a variety of topics.
Some zones might be password protected-- a kids' section, say. Or, perhaps a company with a lot of commuters might create an employees-only area.

Would a meta-layer of information reduce crime by increasing self-policing? Is a message board a panopticon?

We often notice, if we keep a regular schedule, that we seem to see the same people, who Goffman calls "intimate strangers" everyday. Interest-based message boards would create a different variety of intimate strangers-- people whose interests you share, whose opinions you know, but whom you may never see. It would be interesting to see how people negotiate issues of anonymity and identity.
Perhaps a hierarchy would develop of users who are frequent (or longer) riders who are more fully able to participate in the mediated world of the T. Perhaps groups would arrange meet-ups.

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