Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Hybrid Reality: Art, Technology and the Human Factor

I arrived in Montréal for VSMM 2003 last Friday morning and experienced a glorious moment of culture shock as I saw myself surrounded by black turtlenecks, sensuous fabrics and sharp eyeglasses. So not UbiComp ;)

I had the pleasure of participating in a great panel moderated by Marc Tuters (GPSter) on locative media & collaborative cartography.

With the arrival of portable, location-aware networked computing devices, 'collaborative cartography' will enable us to map our physical environments with geo-annotated information. Keeping these technologies within reach, by using open standards and protocols will enable us to map according to our desires; providing artists with tools with which to, effectively, step outside of the box, whereby architectonic space now becomes their canvas.

Marc asked me to introduce the topic, and I briefly discussed everyday life, mobile and wireless technologies in terms of the two things I took away from my conversations at UbiComp: intimacy and play. Intimacy in terms of connectedness, vulnerability and privacy; play in terms of collaboration, identity and subversion. I mentioned Can You See Me Now?, Noderunner, Sonic City & Tejp.

Update: And parkour culture/s. "The art/sport, created by David Belle, in which the participant (or traceur) attempts to move through his or her environment as quickly and fluidly as possible by running, jumping, and climbing past any obstacles that come in their path."

Karlis Kalnins spoke about his work on GPSter, Geograffiti and Songlines - interesting experiments in geo-annotation and collaborative cartography.

Jason Harlan spoke about his Blogmapper project:

Blogmapper lets you associate blog entries with hot spots on a map. When you click on the spots, the entries appear. View the graffiti blog and you'll see exactly what we mean. Blogmapper can be used to map and log anything anywhere, including your travels, and the places and things that interest you. Anyone with access to the web can do this - neither mapping expertise nor software installation is required.

And we also heard from the [murmur] project by Gabe Sawhney, Shawn Micallef and James Roussel. Very nice.

[murmur] is an archival audio project that collects and curates stories set in specific Toronto/Vancouver/Montréal locations. At each of these locations, a [murmur] sign will mark the availability of a story with a telephone number and location code. By using a mobile phone, users are able to listen to the story of that place while engaging in the full physical experience of being there. Some stories suggest that the listener walk around, following a certain path through a place, while others allow a person to wander with both their feet and their gaze.

Since I was only there for the last day, I can't report on the rest of the conference. There appears to have been a bunch of papers on technology and heritage - like using VRML in archaeology to (re)construct cultural remains. I would have loved to have discussed what, exactly, is being mapped in these scenarios. And while there I was also kindly invited to sit on the How Much Information is Enough? Panel. Although quite interesting, we didn't end up talking about this compelling quote in the panel description:

Cyberspace is particularly geared toward the erasure of all non-Western histories. Once a culture has been 'stored' and 'preserved' in digital forms, opened up to anybody who wants to explore it from the comfort of their armchair, then it becomes more real than the real thing. Who needs the arcane and esoteric real thing anyway? In the postmodern world where things have systematically become monuments, nature has been transformed into 'reserve', and knowledge is giving way to information and data, it is only a matter of time before Other people and their cultures become 'models', so many zeros and ones in cyberspace, exotic examples for scholars, voyeurs and other interested parties to load on their machines and look at. Cyberspace is a giant step forward towards museumization of the world: for anything remotely different from Western culture will exist only in digital form. - Z. Sardar 1996

It would have been fun to talk about technology and culture in terms of cabinets of curiosities with the other panelists: Lon Addison, Char Davies, Scott Fisher, Donald Sanders and Bob Stone. But I had a really good time, and also enjoyed conversations with Peter Anders, Joey Berzowska, Sara Diamond, Lorna Roth and others. Cheers everyone!

Update: The Locative Media Lab "explores the possibility that next generation, mobile, location aware devices can transform social, economic and informational relations at the local community level."

To explore these possibilities, Marc Tuters (GPSter) and Ben Russell (headmap) have set up a locative media collaborative blog. Right on.

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