Tuesday, December 23, 2003

How Much Happens In A Day

In the course of a day we see one another.
Within a day things grow,
grapes are sold in the streets,
tomatoes change their skins
And the boy you liked
didn't come back to the office.

They changed the mailman.
Our letters are no longer the same.
Leaves turn gold and it is different:
this tree is wealthy now.

Who would tell us that this earth,
with its ancient skin, can change so much?
It has more volcanoes than yesterday,
the sky has new clouds,
and the rivers run in new directions.
And then, how much has been built!
I have inaugurated thousands of
highways, buildings,
bridges, so clean and thin,
like ships or violins.

Because of this, when I greet you
and kiss your sweet mouth,
our kisses are other kisses,
our mouths are other mouths.

Joy, my love, joy in everything
that falls and that flourishes.
Joy for yesterday and for today,
for the day before and for tomorrow.
Joy for the bread and the stone,
joy for the fire and for the rain.

For what changes, is born, grows,
consumes itself and becomes a kiss again.

Joy for what we know of air
and what we have of earth.

When this life dries up
and all we have are roots,
The wind is cold like hate.

Then we change our skins,
our nails, our blood, our appearance,
And you kiss me and I go out
to sell light in the streets.

Joy in the night and the day
and the four stations of the soul.

- Pablo Neruda, 1957

(Thanks to Emilio Mercado, who posted this in the comments on the solstice.)

Monday, December 22, 2003

Celebrating the Solstice

I am deeply in need of rest and rejuvenation this holiday, and so I hope you will forgive me as I repeat what I wrote this time last year.

Today is the Winter Solstice - the shortest day of the year. Scientifically, the sun is at its lowest arc in the sky and your hemisphere is leaning its farthest away from the sun. Culturally, it marks rebirth and the return of the sun. The solstices and equinoxes have been celebrated for at least 50,000 years - intimately linking these celestial events to seasonal passages in the lives of people, animals and plants. Many of these rituals are tied to light (as life) - to creating and sustaining light/life. Each day after the Winter Solstice edges us closer to the full light of the Summer Solstice, and we must take care not to let the light burn out under threat of darkness.

From the intimate rituals of nomadic tribes to the spectacles of imperial celebrations, the solstices have figured prominently in our collective histories. They mark the nomad with her fragility and the emperor with his absolute power over the universe. Songs to the heavens and delicate candle celebrations with kin gave way to monumental architecture and imperial parades. The collective grew and religion gave way to the state. We no longer celebrate the solstice.

And so before next week's onslaught of consumption - I wish you a very Merry Solstice.

May you recapture some of the intimacy of earlier times and sustain your light.

I will attempt to do the same and will be back in the New Year. Peace & Love.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Waiting for a friend and checking email

I was just reading the latest Doors of Perception newsletter on Doors East and choked on my tea.

ETHNOGRAPHY AS RESEARCH
For many of the service designers who came to Bangalore, ethnographic research is a powerful new tool. But an ethical dilemma emerged: who owns the results of research into a lifestyle? Yves Doz, a professor at Insead, has written blithely about "harvesting lifestyles". The consensus in Bangalore is that we need to think first, and act responsibly, before blundering into communities without their informed consent. Perhaps the equivalent of a Hippocratic Oath will be needed as service designers venture into real- world contexts.

Anyone who conducts ethnographic research without informed consent does not deserve to be called an ethnographer. Seriously. I am currently in the midst of getting ethics approval for my research, and let me assure you that this is not simple, but very important.

And this is exactly why I wrote about the difference between ethnography done by ethnographers and the increasingly common - but often enough ethically suspect - use of ethnographic methods by marketers and designers.

Why the hell aren't people asking anthropologists about the ethics of ethnography? We do have over a hundred years of triumphs and failures to draw on, after all.

But I'll stop ranting now. I should not be so agitated when Daphne arrives ;)

It's raining again

Alex Wilkie has done some interesting sound-related design work. Check out his Pedestrian Leisure Prototype:

N(n)ature is furnished by technology. From the centrally heated house to the air conditioning systems in our car, the climate is under strict supervision. Our understanding of nature also is mediated by technology: nature is a well-engineered model.

Our greater and greater distance from N(n)ature may be seen as a symptom of the exploitative drive, in the rationalist narrative of conquest, domination and control. With the Pedestrian Leisure Prototype I attempt to renaturalise the technological event (acid rain), thereby inviting new aural experiences and readings of our everyday urban environment through interactions between technologies, natures and humans.

The prototype senses raindrops and translates the impact into sound. The handle is a clear plastic torus with water which senses movement and in turn modulates the sound. A pH sensor at the top monitors local pH readings - also modulating the sound output.

I sure wish my umbrella made music in the rain. Thanks Alex!

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Towards The Forgetting Machine

I spent an hour writing a post this morning and then Blogger went down and I lost it. I hate when that happens. So here we go again.

Fabio writes about memory, forgetting and new technologies - and has many of the same concerns I do. (I'm told great minds think alike, amico mio ;)

Since the 80s, social and cultural studies have looked more closely at memory, forgetting and power - and Fabio is right to remind us that the past is only ever (re)created in the present. In other words, actual events are less important (less present) than our recollections of them - or as the old saying goes, history is written by the winners. (Just think of the differences between heritage - patrimoine - and history.)

When I was in Rome in the fall, I became more preoccupied than normal by the idea that machines might unforgivingly record and store all memories. What would we do if certain words or events were not allowed to pass? How would we, how could we, face the present, the future, ourselves and each other without the imprecision of human (social/cultural) memory? Can we even say that what machines remember is what we normally call our memories?

Nietzsche (sorry, I've been reading a lot of the guy lately) writes on history, memory and active forgetting - and reminds us that forgetting is not simply a failure of memory:

"Forgetting is not simply a kind of inertia, as superficial minds tend to believe, but rather the active faculty to ... provide some silence, a 'clean slate' for the unconscious, to make place for the new... those are the uses for what I have called an active forgetting..."

"If something is to stay in the memory it must be burned in: only that which never ceases to hurt stays in the memory."

When I was at UbiComp, surrounded by examples of ubiquitous and merciless memory, I again wondered about the differences between dementia (as forced forgetfulness), nostalgia (as voluntary forgetfulness) and hope (as necessary forgetfulness).

More recently, my explorations and experiments in networked objects have led to me to begin building what I call THE FORGETTING MACHINE - updates will become more frequent in the dead of the Canadian winter when staying at home and playing with electronics seems more fun than going outside.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Recent interests

Oh Canada!

Downloading copyrighted music from peer-to-peer networks is legal in Canada, although uploading files is not.

"Canada has already raised the hackles of some copyright holders through its reluctance to enact measures that significantly expand digital copyright protection, as the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has done in the United States. As a result, Canada could become a model for countries seeking to find a balance between protecting copyright holders' rights and providing consumers with more liberal rights to copyrighted works."

Background here and here.

Copyright Board Canada's Private Copying 2003-2004 Decision / Fact Sheet

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

CHI 2004 Workshops

Reflective HCI: Towards a Critical Technical Practice
Human-computer interaction draws on many disciplines, not only on computer science and cognitive psychology, but also, more recently, on alternative views grounded in social science, design, literary theory, cultural studies, critical theory, and phenomenology. These new perspectives have broadened our view of what HCI might be as a discipline, and they have also broadened our understanding of how it should be practiced. Specifically, influences from domains such as cultural studies and art practice underscore the importance of questioning our fundamental assumptions about the nature of interaction between people and technology and the role of designers in mediating that interaction. These insights suggest the possibility of rethinking HCI as a critical technical practice [Agre 1997], in which technology development can be not only an end in itself, but also a means to reflect on the assumptions and attitudes that underpin our ideas about technology and humanity. This workshop will explore the possibilities for mutual illumination between technology design practice and critical reflection within HCI.

Sweet!

Time Design
The aim of the workshop is to map out the temporal dimensions of the design space by making explicit the time design choices involved in a number of scenarios. This process will be informed by temporal phenomena identified in a variety of research disciplines.

When work gets too serious...

"I know of no other manner of dealing with great tasks than as play; this, as a sign of greatness, is an essential prerequisite."

Nietzsche, Ecce Homo

Friday, December 12, 2003

Coming of Age in 1940s America

So you're becoming a young man ... Do not worry! Just remember that this is how the mind affects the body and you might want to use your mind constructively. As you get older, you will learn to control and direct your impulses to ensure achievement in life - achievement as great as a spirited horse. But watch out! Men who fail to develop self-control can get into trouble - you might bring suffering upon the innocent and that fails to embody the finest feelings of the race! To be a good man the only thing you need to remember is this.

And when it comes time to die for your country - make sure it isn't because of your lack of self-control. Keep an eye out for booby traps and beware the saboteuse. She may look clean, but really she's just a bag of trouble and you don't want to be her pin-up boy now, do you? If self-preservation isn't enough to motivate you to be hygienic - just remember that venereal disease helps the enemy and we know you don't want to let your team down.

(found here, via ORDO)

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Potentials

Of course I have been following the Urban Tapestries public trials from afar - and they have made it easier and more interesting by soliciting user feedback on their weblog instead of (?) through the standard usability survey.

It is worth reading the comments: they give glimpses of technologies struggling to emerge and perform, processes that are too often glossed over in tales of utopian ubiquitous futures. And the comments also begin to point at technology, everyday life and the city. People describe how their experiences with the prototypes involved becoming more intimate with their immediate physical surroundings and one man writes "I've lived around here for over 20 years & the area is full of memories that only I can access, I love the idea of other peoples memories hanging in the ether that I can access too." Some comments really do conjure hybrid cities and mixed realities.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the majority of the comments seem to be from tech researchers and designers - and many are quite thorough evaluations. But I'll admit to being most struck by Tom Steinburg's comments: "Be very very careful, for the sake of people interested in augmented space projects everywhere! If you show this to people who are not aware of the limitations of software and hardware development you may do some real long term harm. So just be careful about who you invite." How strange.

Update 19/12/03: From the UT weblog comes a link to Simon Pope's Notes on Locative Media Blog.

Convivial design

Tomorrow, Hillevi Sundholm and Magnus Ingmarsson will be presenting our paper at this MUM 2003 workshop. Have fun! And if you see them, please say hello.

From Bovine Horde to Urban Players: Multidisciplinary Interaction Design for Alternative City Tourisms
Anne Galloway, Martin Ludvigsen, Hillevi Sundholm and Alan Munro

Abstract | Full Text (PDF)
This paper tells a story of an international and multidisciplinary atelier-based design experiment. For ten days in Rome, the 'White Group' explored a cyclical process of informal fieldwork and intervention, critical reflection, design concept generation, and prototyping to generate two novel, if highly-situated forms of technologically-mediated city tourism. We wanted to 're-design' our experiences of city tourism - both as visitors to Rome and as people who live there. Inspired by Situationist-like explorations of the absurd and sociological 'breaching' experiments, we played in, and with, the city in order to design something playful for the people in it. In doing so, we begin to contribute to existing research on technology and tourism, as well as offer creative ways to approach other design projects.

Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Subtle Technologies

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS - Deadline December 15th 2003.

Subtle Technologies Festival
May 27 - May 30, 2004
University of Toronto

Recognized internationally as a unique forum that encourages new insights and collaborations between artists and scientists, Subtle Technologies challenges physicists, geneticists, engineers, mathematicians, astronomers, architects, dancers, media artists and musicians to contemplate how art and science act upon one another and reshape perspectives. Subtle Technologies' mandate is to build bridges between - and amongst - the arts and sciences. It brings together people and ideas normally confined to separate realms and disciplines, deliberately exposing them - and their audiences - to one another.

The Festival does not establish annual 'themes'. Annual programming is shaped by the submissions. Interesting submissions, however disparate are accepted. Previous topics have included quantum physics, quantum computing and other unconventional computing technologies, music, dance, consciousness research, holography, animation, genetics, sonic explorations, sensing systems and devices, social systems, complexity theory, and artificial intelligence.

Teaching (accountability in) networks

Jill Walker recently gave a talk at Brown University on Weblogs: Learning to Write in the Network.

I was interested in what Jill had to say about student weblogs. I've read comments about my course and the mandatory weblog component - including those that simply stated what a stupid idea that is. And you know what? I agree. Actually, what I mean is that it makes sense to me that some people would think it stupid or useless. That's how I have always felt about multiple choice exams, and there have been times in my life when I would have loathed the task of maintaining a blog. But as Jill says, "Some take to blogging, some can learn to appreciate it, while it just doesn't work for others. Ditto for most other workforms." The reason courses have lectures and discussions and hands-on work is to appeal to different types of learners. Same for multiple choice versus research papers versus presentations. No one kind of assignment will allow every student to do her best and evaluation practices need to be flexible.

But what really interested me is that Jill says that we need to teach students about the network - that distributed, collaborative environment that distinguishes writing a weblog from writing in a (paper) journal. This makes sense, but immediately raises more questions for me: are we writing with or for other people? people with weblogs, people without or both? how far do these networks extend? how do we negotiate the boundaries of our weblog networks? We used to teach students to answer exclusively to the academic community - a practice which preserves the ivory tower and kills the public intellectual. How will weblogs intervene in this arena? However, despite its absolute ubiquity, I still think we're a bit shaky on this network(ing) concept.

(I'm sure to the dread of my readers, there is an entire section of my dissertation which looks at the differences between (sociotechnical) systems, networks, assemblages, collectives and communities. Believe it or not, there is substantial disagreement about these things. And in my most frustrated moments I prefer to replace them all with imbroglio - no doubt influenced by an undergrad fave, Pickering's The Mangle of Practice.)

I have always been most interested in the community aspect of blogging - in Jill's network. But over the past two years I have struggled to define this community, the network that (r)evolves around this site. Why do I say struggle? Because it has been impossible to appeal to, to satisfy, the broad range of people who read, comment and email me about the content here. My weblog is often enough too much or too little.

In other words, it is not an infinite network - at least if that means I (as author) can successfully answer to its furthest extension. I suspect that my weblog is read, experienced, used, discarded in as many ways as there are readers, but it is still positioned by one (whatever sort of multitude I may be). This creates tension and this raises ethical questions.

How do we teach students to respect these unstable public networks? What about accountability? To whom should they be accountable? In which contexts? Under what circumstances? How are readers accountable?

Your thoughts?

Thinking about ...

We tend to take the speech of a Chinese for inarticulate gurgling. Someone who understands Chinese will recognise language in what he hears. Similarly I often cannot discern the humanity in a man. (Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, 1914)

Critical design, or design that asks carefully crafted questions and makes us think, is just as difficult and just as important as design that solves problems and finds answers … Its purpose is to stimulate discussion and debate amongst designers, industry and the public … Critical design takes as its medium social, psychological, cultural, technical and economic values, in an effort to push the limits of lived experience not the medium. (Dunne and Raby, Design Noir, 2001)

The speed which is relevant to power is speed in pursuit and speed to grasp ... different from speed in grasping or seizing, though allied to it, is the sudden unmasking of an opponent ... it is pursuit narrowed and concentrated into a small space; speed here has become drama. (Canetti, Crowds and Power, 1960)

Saturday, December 6, 2003

Simondon: complexity theory and sociology

Abe points to Steven Shaviro's recent post on Gilbert Simondon. Fascinating stuff, and yet another gentle reminder that sociologists have been grappling with networks and interfaces far longer than has been in vogue with discussions of "social software".

Simondon's most thorough English-language champion has been Adrian Mackenzie - in his book Transductions: Bodies and Machines At Speed. I posted on Mackenzie's article Transductions: invention, innovation and the problem of representing technology (pdf) some time back - and more recently took up Rob Kitchin's use of Simondon (via Mackenzie).

As Shaviro explains in his post, Simondon's work on individuation is also at the core of Du mode d'existence des objets techniques - an English essay on this is "The Genesis of the Individual" in Crary & Kwinter's Incorporations (scroll half-way down the page for the section on Simondon).

However, ideas on intersubjectivity, emergence, complexity and collectives have been taken up in one way or another by Michel Serres and Bruno Latour, as well as by Niklas Luhmann. If you're more physics-oriented, Eric Picholle's work also draws on Simondon.

It was a good morning

The sycophant - that servile flatterer, that toady - has always been amongst my least favourite people (excluding Smithers learning Sycophantic German in the Simpsons) - and I find ass-kissing to be particularly annoying in academic contexts.

But today I am not going to let my fear of being perceived as a sycophant keep me from publically thanking my PhD committee - they provide the best support I can imagine.

My advisor, Rob Shields, is one of my intellectual heroes (but he probably doesn't know that because I tend to give him a hard time). I've only ever wanted to be as good a scholar as he is - and when he tells me that I've done well, it lights me up for days.

Phillip Thurtle never forgets to acknowledge the strengths of my work before beginning always-and-only-constructive criticism. That he never stops being excited about my work means I don't stop being excited either.

Gitte Lindgaard has unflinchingly braved the rhetoric of social and cultural theory to find meaning in my work for user-centred design. Without her, I would not believe that multidisciplinary research and collaboration could be so fruitful. And as if that weren't enough, she asks the most difficult questions with kindness.

Thank you all for inspiring me. I'll do my best to make you proud ;)

Friday, December 5, 2003

"There is no state of nature in a social network"

Laura Trippi's essay Power Laws, Discourse and Democracy is well worth reading.

(She teaches cultural studies in the Interactive Arts program at Simon Frasier and her Electronic Culture:Complexity, Identity, Society course looks really interesting.)

Sounds like winter

Mike Buzzard has this nifty MIXTAPE player on his site that I have always envied - but getting to create a mixtape is pretty cool!

Since he lives in California - I thought I would share what winter feels like to me. You can listen to it there too.

Thanks Mike - and happy birthday old man!

Searching PLSJ

This week:

photos and videos of naked men and women in combat or lying around pretending to be dead
wearable or unconjugated or boothite or deruralize or archfelon
photos of pretty white women and dating pretty women
male fantasy threesome research data
homemade biofeedback devices
cilantro dislike gene related
desiring machines deleuze
lying in everyday life
women blog seduce
virtual bodies

Thursday, December 4, 2003

Material, space and culture

What would I do without Katherine Moriwaki? Not know about things like these, that's what!

September's IEE Eurowearable '03 Conference (would it kill them to put the papers online?!) and Wear Me: an exhibition of intelligent garments, wearable technology and smart materials. Wow!

Future Physical: Stretching Technology - research and design for responsive environments (and wearables and biotech and ecotech)

And on the topic of wearables, Beverly Tang's kick-ass blog delivers again with [sub]cutaneous age.

Update: Man! My brain is like a sieve! Katherine just informed me that Beverly had kindly tracked down links for those papers and posted them. Some are still good:

SEAMFUL DESIGN: SHOWING THE SEAMS IN WEARABLE COMPUTING (pdf) by M Chalmers, I MacColl and M Bell

What do we want from a wearable user interface? (pdf) by Adrian F. Clark

A LAYERED APPROACH TO WEARABLE TEXTILE NETWORKS (pdf) by Kristof Van Laerhoven, Nicolas Villar and Hans-Werner Gellersen

The simple joy of BRANDS

Last month I posted on a pair of boots I bought - Icebug Crawlers, to be precise. In the comments I was warned about the "slippery slope" of product placement and lo-and-behold, someone from Icebug found the post and cheerfully thanked me for the product placement. I laughed, and remained pleased with my purchase.

But this morning I took the opportunity to contact the Icebug rep and give my two cents worth on my new boots:

1. excellent ankle support, warmth and traction on snow (and contrary to what my sweetie thinks, they look great!)
2. inflexible footbed (I had to add insoles and arch support) and almost no traction on ice

And I got a prompt response:

Many thanks for your valuable thoughts. I have forwarded them to the design department (read: my aunt). We are a small family company in Gothenburg, Sweden and we introduced the brand three years ago, mainly to solve the slipping problem during winter. Therefore it's a bit ironic that you chose our City Crawler line as it's our only product line without anti-slipping technology ("smart" steel studs that disappear into the sole on hard surfaces like stone and asphalt but gripping un soft surfaces like snow, ice, mud etc). For severe winter conditions we recommend our WinterTrek boots, for "serious" walking our NordicWalk line and for winter and/or trail running our MultiRun shoes. These lines all come with our guaranteed non-slipping BUGrip sole.

(While it would normally be fair to say that my fashion sense prevents me from buying boots that don't slip on ice, the truth is that the ones I bought were the only Icebug boots in the store. Figures.)

But right on! I'm pleased to support a "small family company" - especially when they make something as important as good winter boots! I don't expect people who don't live in places without ice and snow for half the year to understand, but trust me when I say that when you find good (or bad) boots here you tell everyone you know. "Slippery slope" be damned! I like my Icebug boots!

And Lalya - I have to ask if you know these nice Icebug people? Göteborg can't be that big, and it's not like asking if you know "This guy I know who lives in Canada" ;)

Wednesday, December 3, 2003

For later (design and creepy ubicomp)

Via doors of perception :

The new issue of Design Philosophy Papers.

Sustainable everyday: scenarios for urban life (Quotidiano Sostenible: Scenari di vita urbana) by Ezio Manzini and Francois Jegou.

"Crispy young white people, their gorgeous bodies wrapped in micro-circuitry, adorn the website of Wearables for Health, a forthcoming conference. This vision of the future features perfect people who don't look as if they need implantable health systems. Creepy words give the game away: these wearables are 'to manage people with risk factors and prevent diseases through health status monitoring and life style management'. Control freaks will also enjoy a US Army session on 'Interactive Textiles for Warrior Systems Applications' and what we take to be new-style straightjackets which feature 'Functional Electrical Muscle Stimulation with Smart Textile Electrodes'. Wearable Systems for Health, 12-14 December, Pisa, Italy."

(I'm with John Thackara: sometimes ubicomp is creepy. Especially "wearables." Joey Berzowska described three types of military research into wearables: camouflage; sensing (biofeedback & environmental); and "exoskeleton" stuff like fabrics that harden to become casts for broken bones. Some of the wearables she described were creepy. And Nexia's work in biotech is really creepy. On the upside, I like all sorts of creepy things.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2003

[grid::brand] When BRAND meets OTHER, or why we shouldn't ignore materiality and use-value

Forbidden Starbuck's

Today is the day for Ashley B's experiment in grid blogging - all participants can be found here - and the theme is BRAND.

I will resist the urge to discuss nothing but Stewart BRAND - although you can't go wrong checking out The Long Now Foundation and the Long Bets Foundation. I am firmly committed to slower/better thinking and to a sense of time that extends beyond how long it takes this page to load.

But I want to think about other BRANDS. The picture above is a Starbuck's in the Forbidden City - an easy target for sure if one follows Naomi Klein, but I think there's something more going on in scenarios like these.

In 1994, Michael Moore's show TV Nation aired a brilliant story about Avon Ladies in the Amazon "who sell cosmetics to women by promising lighter skin, even greater height, when they buy Avon products that cost up to 13 times their daily wage." At first glance, this is a lovely example of brand imperialism - but almost ten years later I remember two things that deserve greater exploration: 1) the Amazonian Indians using bright red Avon lipstick to create traditional tribal face decorations, or more precisely, putting lipstick on every part of their faces except for their lips; and 2) middle and upper-middle class Brasilian women in suits travelling by dugout canoe to some of the most isolated communities on the planet.

First - and global economics aside for a moment - despite promises of greater height and fairer skin, it seems the Amazonians really only wanted to look like themselves. Anthropologists have long debated whether traditional culture is some*thing* that can be preserved and protected in museums and monographs - progressive thinking has always had something in common with paternalism - or whether tradition is always changing, always adapting to internal and external forces. (There is a great Far Side comic where the Natives hide their VCR and such before the anthropologists reach the hut.) And I suspect that since Amazonians don't consider themselves to be primitive, it doesn't occur to them to remain primitive.

The use-value of a commodity emerges only through its use or consumption (see Marx on that one) - and it seems to me that discussions of BRANDING too often ignore use-value or the active participation of users in creating meaning and value around commodities and BRANDS. In other words, just as designers cannot predict every way their products will be used, we cannot make easy arguments for how BRANDS are used. A BRAND-in-use is different than a BRAND-as-representation, its meaning separate from its actual use; what a BRAND represents is different from how it acts.

A Starbuck's in the Forbidden City is different than one in downtown Seattle. And Avon cosmetics in use in the Amazon are different from Avon cosmetics sold in American suburbs. The BRAND is never stable, and arguably only becomes (contextually) meaningful in use. To speak of BRANDS as invasive and oppressive neglects people's everyday strategies and tactics of resistance and reappropriation. In more religious or mythological contexts, syncretism refers to the practice of merging different beliefs and practices. We do the same with material culture.

Similarly, the people who sell BRANDS - like the Avon Ladies in the Amazon - are also actively (re)creating what the BRAND means in use. When she travels into the rainforest by dugout canoe, our Avon Lady and the goods she pushes are not the same as when she puts on a sales-party for her girlfriends in the city. (Her encounter with the Other - including the material other - cannot help but reconfigure what the Avon BRAND means and who she becomes in relation to the BRAND.) And of course, the BRAND will act in positive and negative ways in each context.

And there you have a terribly long way of saying that BRANDS comprise shifting assemblages of people, ideas, objects and practices - and my belief that we need to ask how BRANDS act, and not (just) what or who they represent.

Your thoughts?

Monday, December 1, 2003

PLAY

Smithsonian exhibit: Invention at Play. Getting a feel for the shape of the world. Learning to manipulate the world physically. Experimenting with materials and pushing their limits. Learning to navigate with ease between real and imaginary worlds while learning the differences between them. Being able to recognize patterns and find new ones. Being able to break out of patterns and fixed mind-sets.

LEGO SERIOUS PLAY. Why does work need play? Why does play need work? Play. Constructionism. Imagination.

Bo Kampmann Walther's Playing and Gaming: Reflections and Classifications.

David Miller: In 1969, I had written a book on play entitled Gods and Games: Toward a Theology of Play. It included a brief commentary on the philosophical analysis of the notion of play by the Heidelberg philosopher, Hans-Georg Gadamer.

Not long after the book's publication, Gadamer came to be a visiting professor at Syracuse University where I was teaching. Every Thursday afternoon, after his seminar on Aristotle, he and I would go to a local country club bar to drink German beer and to talk. I knew that he had read my book, and it is not difficult to imagine my growing anxiety when week after week went by without him saying a word to me about it.

Finally, after many weeks--what seemed an eternity to a young professor in the thrall of a wise mentor--he turned to the topic of my book. I was full of fear and trepidation, as it turned out that well I should have been. He said: "Professor Miller, you almost got the point!" I was crushed! What was wrong? It did little good for him to aver that it was not entirely my fault. "English," he explained, "has a doublet for the idea: play, the verb, and game, the noun, are different words in English, whereas German says it with one and the same word, ein Spiel spielen, as does French, jouer un jeu." So, he explained to me that I had wrongly thought that play has something to do with fun and games. "Very American!" he said in a way that was not at all reassuring.

So what was the point of play? Gadamer asked me if I rode a bicycle. I said that I did. Then he asked me about the front wheel, the axle, and the nuts. He remarked that I probably knew that it was important not to tighten the nuts too tightly, else the wheel could not turn. "It has to have some play!" he announced pedagogically and a little exultantly, I thought. And then he added, " . . . and not too much play, or the wheel with fall off." "You know," he said, "Spielraum."

So that was it: it is not a matter of games (which are the domain of specialists and not of bricoleurs). It is rather a matter of what we, in English, call "leeway." "Lee" is the sheltered side of any object, so it is the side of a ship that is turned away from the wind. The point is to have som leeway, some play, as in a bicycle wheel, a little space, some distance, Gelassenheit: education and teaching without why.

G.T. Karnezis' Gadamer, Art, and Play.
Jean Grondin's Play, Festival and Ritual in Gadamer (pdf).
Madeline Sonik's Gadamer: Riffings and writings on transformation and The Ontology of the Works of Art and Its Hermeneutical Significance.

Craig Strobel's bibliography of performance studies and theory.

Bodies in Motion - Pt. II

Ever since I stopped working as an archaeologist, my physical condition has been in decline. Daily hikes at 12,500 feet above sea level have been replaced by sitting at my desk. Despite very much enjoying what I do now, everything I know and feel tells me that my body was built to be in motion - not sitting in front of this bloody machine. And it's going to take way more than mobile computing to solve this problem.

Despite predictions of almost unbounded mobility, most people in industrialised nations are less physically active than ever before. Certainly not all forms of mobility are equal: being able to take our laptops into the park to work doesn't change the fact that we work at something that requires our bodies to remain relatively still for eight hours a day. And that we often enough play at the same tasks only increases the duration of that stillness. Are we forgetting that we have bodies - and that all live creatures move?

I have always despised exercise - especially aerobics or anything involving a gym. I am a hedonist - and working out in a gym offers more suffering than pleasure for me, so it only makes sense to avoid it. And since I no longer have a lifestyle that requires constant physical activity, my daily exercise has dwindled to walking the city. No way I could hike over the Andes now!

Anthropology taught me that bipedalism is a liability as much as an asset - and in August 2002 I injured my back and got confirmation on that. I didn't walk for weeks. Pain killers made me sick. Physiotherapy didn't help. Then I found a Chinese doctor who, through herbs and acupuncture, eliminated the constant searing pain - and she became my hero and saviour. But the pain never entirely went away. This past spring I went to a chiropractor, committed to a daily stretching regimen and started getting regular therapeutic massages. Things have improved, but the pain still lingers. For the past 4-5 days, I haven't been able to sit for longer than 20 minutes before my spine and legs start screaming. It sucks.

The problem when you are injured is regaining strength - but your body hurts all the time and exercise causes even more pain. (Did I mention that I am a hedonist - and hedonists hate pain?) So my semi-regular lack of exercise has been compounded by an inability to do all sorts of exercise. Not surprisingly, I have slowly but surely gained weight over the past year or so, which puts even greater strain on my bones and muscles. Add to that working on a PhD - which can be rather stressful and demanding, weakening the body as much as the mind and spirit. Now, whenever I get upset, my back hurts.

And so this week I realised I am losing the battle and - before inertia takes over - I have to do something. (How dramatic!)

Enter Pilates - exercise to strengthen my body rather than exercise to make me look better in a thong. These folks are decent: they only care if my body is properly aligned and balanced and strong. And work to become properly aligned and balanced and strong is what I shall do.

Here's to the ultimate beauty of bodies in motion.

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