A sign of a great place is triangulation. This is the process by which some external stimulus provides a linkage between people and prompts strangers to talk to each other as though they were not.[source]
The video below is an extract from William H. Whyte’s ‘The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces’ and at 42m29s there’s some discussion and examples of triangulation. The whole video’s worth a watch if you’ve time, though…
On Monday I attended Museum Camp. As with MuseumNext in 2009 it was a) rather marvellous and b) a stimulating place to discuss ideas that relate directly and indirectly to my practice. Thanks to all involved!
Hello. We are interested in Museums and we want to think about...
I hadn’t intended to lead a session, but as a spur-of-the-moment decision I offered to instigate a session on ‘interesting digital stuff that doesn’t involve screens’. This was largely from a desire to carry on the conversation that had begun with my recent residency at Coventry Artspace linking in with Heritage Open Days, but also fly the flag for this other face of digital that perhaps institutions aren’t aware of.
I was really happy to see so many people come along to take part in the session. Sitting-on-tables-or-the-floor room only! This post is intended as a reference for those that were in the session and those that weren’t able to join us: pulling out the main areas of discussion and linking to some of the examples mentioned.
I started off by talking a bit about my background and why I was interested in interesting digital stuff that doesn’t involve screens: my journey through gradually more expanded forms of people+place and then influences from pervasive games (I like this definition) and the hackspace/makerspace movement.
I sat on a table and waved my hands a lot as I talked about two recent digital installations that encapsulated a lot of stuff I’m passionate about: making people look up; affecting how people interact with a space; instigating collaboration; making people think and speculate and do experiments to try and find out.
Not got a local hackspace? Why not host one? Museum 2.0 post
At the time of MuseumNext 2009 The Life Science Centre in Newcastle had got a long way towards planning to host one, not sure how far they got with implementing it.
Arduino is the platform I use: a small computer but also a community that shares a massive amount of information. A standard board costs about £25 and a lot of the sensors are available now as things aimed at a hobbyist market. It’s probably people’s time that’ll be the main expense.
Secrets, missions, games, small groups of people who are in-the-know and pantomine (as seen with the Secret Police Disco as people who had found it tried to enable others to make the discovery too).
How do you set/stage the space?
How you describe what’s going on and the process by which people enter that activity (or not).
Do I see it as performance? No – mostly because the idea would terrify me! – but I do see it as performative sometimes, and I’m interested in spectacle and different types of audiences that observe it.
I tend not to emphasise art (it’s scary to a lot of people!)
I tend not to emphasise technology (it’s scary to a lot of people!)
Can you pique people’s curiosity? Reward those that seek out the hidden things?
The Heritage Open Day event that Trapeze Monkey and the Secret Police Disco were a part of had a short paragraph and the end of the heritage-orientated handout that said I’d been in residence and things were ‘available for discovery’.
Question from Nikki: How does this sit with pedagogical aims of institutions? Does it matter if only a small number of people make the discovery?
How do you connect these experiences with the outside?
One participant talked about experience using gamification, linking in to people’s online social networks and harnessing the technology people carried in their pockets.
Another reminded us that not everyone has smart phones and I reminded us this was a session about non-screen-based approaches!
We then talked about the urge to share stories/experiences and possibly also how to close the feedback loop and do something useful with the contributions coming in from social media (or I might be conflating that with later discussions).
Education and fun
I noticed a few undertones that seemed to suggest these two are mutually exclusive…
Flows of visitors
Institutions are aware that visitors tend to stay in the areas that are more populated. Can we use interactive installations to draw people into the less well-trodden areas?
We talked about conferring agency, and how this brings people back if they can see their actions are having a direct effect on the space.
Someone talked about the audio piece Shhh… at the Victoria and Albert Museum and how it had enabled things like men transgressing into the ladies loos.
Can I give some examples of exemplary projects?
Um, this threw me a little as I think this is what I’m trying to move towards understanding through getting more of the museums’ points of views. I fell back on describing things I had encountered that had resulted in me having a powerful experience.
Ran on blindfolds, binaural recordings and the gentlest of touches leading you down the rabbit hole.
We talked again about spectacle, and returning to see what things look like from the outside. Also buying in to an activity and submitting to the experience.
Blast Theory were mentioned as the technology big guns. I’d seen some of their control room for I’d Hide You. It’s a lot of tech!
Reminded me to say that things will go wrong. Embrace it! (And design for it!)
This linked us back to an open approach and fostering a sense of agency and ownership – you can playtest your prototypes and people will appreciate it, it doesn’t matter if it’s not polished and flawless.
Hide&Seek’s Sandpit approach (and use of low tech).
I also mentioned the previous week’s Heritage Sandbox showcase and the Ghosts in the Garden project at the Holburne Museum. Smartphone technology wrapped up in an intriguing interface and an engaging narrative.
City as potential interactions and potential for interactions.
Rules are unwritten …but can be bent.
Interactions with strangers as a mechanism for connecting to place.
Strangers are good for your brain. New people; new ideas.
The importance of interesting things (points for conversation) happening in public places.
The importance of providing spaces for strangers to interact.
How the rules are relaxed in transitional spaces (train stations, elevators etc).
The unexpected works!
The value of conversation.
The value of making interactions where there was none before.
How does it change things if we go about the city knowing we are somebody else’s stranger-in-waiting?
Can we lower the barrier to interesting interactions?
What would a signalling system look like to enable others to see if we were open to new encounters or not. (update 03/10/2011: This question’s been bugging me as being too obvious, so I’d like to use it as a starting point Signtific style to get somewhere else.)
Thinking there’s an empathy barrier analogous to an enthalpy barrier. What novel catalysts can we provide to lower the barrier?
The relationship between activation energy (Ea) and enthalpy of formation (ΔH) with and without a catalyst, plotted against the reaction coordinate. The highest energy position (peak position) represents the transition state. With the catalyst, the energy required to enter transition state decreases, thereby decreasing the energy required to initiate the reaction
After the workshop I stopped to help a man measure a bit of sidewalk that was longer than his tape measure.
Last Autumn I started playing around with Tony Messina’s Simple Bat Detector circuit. I made a few boards and got as far as sticking one of them in an mp3 player armband …before the local bat population went into hibernation!
After being in the park one evening recently with bats swooping low overhead, I decided it was time to dig out the circuits again and get them tested and used.
Over the winter I’ve only been able to test with the ultra-sonic rangefinder I use in my sonar goggles, so I knew the circuit works, but I needed to see if it worked with airborne moving targets!
Simple bat detector
I rehoused the armband detector into something more sturdy and finally managed to coordinate with dusk and dry(ish) weather the other night to give it it’s first testing in the field.
I wandered around the park the other evening and found a bat flightpath that was conveniently located above a bench. I was able to use the detector to pick up a few clicks each time the bats zipped past. A really nice moment of making the invisible audible. If you know what I mean.
Bat gloves in progress
Meanwhile, however, I’m really unhappy with the crystal earpiece as the interface through which to experience this somewhat magical thing, so I’ve been working with some soft circuit techniques to develop some bat gloves.
There’s still a lot of sewing to do and, I expect, quite a lot of testing down at the park as well, but I’m really happy with the early experiments and how these transform the whole interaction.
Technology as the tools we use to communicate with other people.
Making technology accessible is: looking at something, knowing it, understanding it, taking it apart, putting it back together, remaking something new.
Understanding the technology as having come from somewhere: as having an origin, as being made.
I do a lot of work with technology, but I’m not actually interested in technology – I’m interested in people.
Technologies of various kinds have the power to change our relationship to the world, to other people.
Not having to allocate technology to an expert. Community is the biggest thing that’s motivating. The tools themselves are boring.
Development practice in some ways is as meaningful politically as protest and voting.
The maker movement is portrayed as something that’s new, but it’s not: it’s a return to knowing how things work.
We’ve been through this era where things got kind of abstracted and sealed off, where we weren’t looking at them. [The technology inside things.]
It’s very hard for people to connect with a mentor – with a master, if you will – and the information share from generation to generation …we’ve let technology get in between that.
The separation of language and action. When we describe something linguistically, it’s very easy for us to form what that thing is and it doesn’t necessarily resist us very much. When we make something, the thing we make doesn’t always do what we want it to do.
When we’re doing critical making we’re not doing craft. We use making, not to come up with some kind of object for display, and not to come up with some kind of product to be sold, but as one way of guiding a shared experience. So we make together, and we think together, and we talk together…
The MakerBot is something that’s like, even though it’s digital, it’s kind of pulling us back to that to that time before the Industrial Revolution where people truly took time to figure out how things were made and what they were made from.
Objects with no traces of their production process are the wrong goal.We need to figure out ways to see the traces.
The great revolution: it’s not going to be people actually doing, it’s going to be that people understand what people that do, do
Those ideas around traces of the making process and understanding the origins of technology were in my head as I walked around Eastside this afternoon collecting data for Uncertain Eastside.
It’s important to the work, and to me, that the two GPS units are carried around the city by hand, and that I push myself physically to do this (I do two circuits back-to-back, 7 and a bit miles). That those screens of numbers, of data, have an origin in human toil.
Disintegrating shoes (after a day gathering data around Nottingham)
update: And then, as if to prove the point, I processed the data from the day’s walking and got this, so I’ll have to do it again:
:( That's 7.32 miles I'll be walking again next week, then... #badGPSday
Since I started this circuit-bent Furby project, people have been nudging me to do some sort of a performance with it.
I struggle with this idea, I think for two main reasons.
The first is that I’ve never been to a performance that even remotely indicates to me what a circuit-bent Furby gig might be like. What might a circuit-bent Furby gig be like?
The second is that, as Danny started to get close to with his questioning of how I relate to the Furby as I’m messing with its circuits, the interesting thing about this kind of object for me is how people interact with it.
'Furby & Thingamagoop' by Katchooo on Flickr
Fiona asked me to bring the Furby along to her recent birthday party. Brilliant! A chance to see how other people play with it!
It was great to just sit back and watch as different people responded to the thing in different ways. Also good was how people responded when the Furby failed to respond …and the different ways in which frustration, anger and dominance were expressed! This is the stage where I start to find out what it is that I have made. Up until then, it’s just been a learning project as I try and improve my electronics skills. It starts to come alive only once I put it into the hands of other people.
So, the idea of a performance and therefore of an audience is quite an alien one for me. I’m more interested in participants; in audiences of one.
I seem to have already covered most of the stuff I was originally going to write about in this concluding post, so instead I’m just going to put down a few thoughts responding to this report by Agent Muhammad:
Security Level: 1 To: Agent A From: Agent Muhammad Message:
During the last 2 days I have learnt that being an Agent is hard but fun. We have completed the humming path. Then we tried to call Scats to our planet but he didn’t come. The next day Scats came to our planet. He said he was from Northsaxon. All of us thought he was fake. After we did some activities with Scats. First I went into 3BG cloakroom and worked out how shadows are big and small and how they have come to life. Then we tried to make the spiders work which Scats brought to our planet. They were solar power spiders so first I put a torch near the spider but it didn’t move. Then I put a big light and it did move. After we put transparent, translucent and opaque material near the spider
I love the way that “All of us thought he was fake.” is plonked in the middle there, but doesn’t affect how much he was absorbed into proceedings.
Other than a couple of children asking me if Skatz “was real”, I witnessed very little in the way of scepticism in the the story we were weaving. …but that’s not to say I think they believed it was all true.
I mentioned the use of slightly shonky, unrealistic-looking props in an earlier post. I think it’s important to signal that projects like these are something to play along with, that they’re not real. This offers protection from things that might otherwise be scary, but also opens up an ‘anything goes’ approach to responses that don’t necessarily have to be correct in order to be good.
The aim is to create a situation where the pupils are allowed to be wrong and where they are encouraged to frequently review their ideas and adapt them in response to new developments. Also where they are not afraid to be wrong and are therefore more free to suggest imaginative, innovative ideas. This is very much my interpretation of promoting creativity, especially within education, where I feel it is desperately needed.
In wow projects I like to set things up so that the characters and teachers don’t have a definitive right answer, so the children are free to follow their own trains of thought. I’m curious as to how this looks from the outside though.
I don’t really feel I have enough facts to be able to comment on whether the children actually were traumatised, and if so, to what extent, but the articles serve to highlight something we talked about a lot with both the Pod in the Quad and the Song for Skatz projects: what will the parents think? What happens when excited kids go home and recount their tales of adventure?
For an immersive experience, one of the powerful techniques at our disposal is that of disruption: allowing the school day/week to start off as usual and then to disrupt it by suddenly steering it off into the project narrative. How do you balance this against forewarning parents and guardians that something unusual will be happening?
One possible solution is to wrap it up in the process of getting permissions for the all-important project documentation. Ideally, permissions need to be established near the start of the planning stages, so maybe this allows enough of a buffer zone between the paperwork going out and the project delivery starting? I’ve also wondered about the possibility of making the parents complicit in the project too, after all, why should the experience be confined to the school grounds and the school day?
My observation session right at the start of the project planning was done in character: I spent about an hour moving among the pupils during an IT session, introducing myself to them individually as someone doing an investigation and asking them a) if they’d seen anything unusual happen in school recently and b) what what the most unusual thing they could imagine happening in school? I left them with a request that if they did see anything unusual in the future, that they should let me know about it. What if some of the pupils had received a letter from me at their homes? Maybe something along the lines of “Thanks for saying you would help, we’ve found out that something is about to happen, please keep your eyes peeled and ask your teacher to phone us if you see something we should know about.”
I love the idea that the project could leak out of the usual school boundaries, and also that a call from a pupil could kick-start the main action, but how do you work with parents to steer the child’s response to the receipt of the letter? It would necessitate a lot more time (and therefore money), but I’d like to think the returns would be high!
I know this is the sort of technique I’d go for if I was designing a game, but maybe it’s different in education? Is it?
So, I suppose my closing thought is a question: where do we go from here?
My main area of enquiry is centred around interactions between people and place: often using tools and strategies from areas such as pervasive games and physical computing to set up frameworks for exploration.
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