[iDC] Thoughts on Situated Tech

Martin Lucas mlucas at igc.org
Wed Oct 25 13:58:23 EDT 2006

Architecture and Situated Technologies

In the architectural renderings of my youth figures disport  
themselves, slender, frozen indicators of the human, standing around  
waiting to be brought to life in the beautiful building plans of the  
future.   Today those figures are coming to life, and they are us and  
they aren’t.  Like the dolls in a fairy tale, threatening to take  
over…the open color marker scribbles that used to denote clothing now  
suggests our auras, the nimbus of information continuously  
regenerating itself around the individual  (and taking on a life of  
its own) in age of situated tech.

Trebor’s call for the ‘occupation of the technological  imaginary’  
seemed poignant to me.  It seemed  particularly so in the context of  
architecture, which is the most public of design functions, and in  
someways the most expert.  It is also the profession that bridges the  
artworld area of design, and the worlds of materials science and  
engineering, which make it a particularly fruitful region for a world  
which the kind of ‘two culture’ discussions of the 20th century have  
mutated and spawned varieties of zany children.  As speaker followed  
speaker, it seems that, while some of those children are frightening  
and some are funny, there is a general sense that what is important  
is to move beyond technophilia and technophobia to engagement.

There was plenty of material for technological paranoia, as speakers  
evoked models which move beyond  surveillance to constant data  
monitoring as everything becomes a source of information.  Anne  
Galloway noted that putting an RFID chip in her pet made them a team  
both globally mobile, and totally surveillable.  These are the kind  
of bargains that citizens have to examine (and reject) if they are to  
actually ‘seize the technological imaginary’ in a meaningful way.

The two big enemies here seem to be fear which allows the powers-that- 
be to spread technologies of control, and the mystification and  
reification, which encourage people to think that technological  
development follows an unfolding  and natural internal logic.

My sense from the conference is that the tactic for fighting the  
first is in many hands a kind of resistance-through-play.   The  
evocation of a broad  societal understanding of, much less control of  
technological design functions, was evoked as a wish but the broad  
spread of positions and practices was hard to  absorb quickly.  One  
speaker suggested that “Friends don’t let friends buy useless  
technology”, while another talked about deconstructing five dollar  
toys and turning them into laserrobot mausolea…

Intriguing to me was Natalie Jeremijenko’s evocation of the need for  
quantifiable research in an art context.  She was actually looking at  
something more like a science exhibit.  What she was doing reminded  
me of work in the sociology of small groups.  This makes me nervous,  
reminding me of dubious efforts to  make social science more like  
‘hard science’ in times past.

The whole issue of utility and desire seems fraught, and something  
that I  want to look at more.   The discussion of  ‘Magic’ in the  
listserve spoke to this.  Again, there is a way in which as consumers  
we want design to allude to mystery, if not mystification.  How can  
we incorporate desire as well as necessity into our discussion of  
pragmatics (e.g. global warming, etc.)?

Trebor playfully referred to a citizen input panel for the design fo  
the iPod.  Do people care that you have to throw it away when the  
battery dies?  Could they be taught to?  My sense is that people may  
not  learn all the details but that they can very much inform  
themselves about technological systems and the interaction of their  
iPod with iTunes and the Apple Store and control of music in  
particular, and information rights in general, for example.

Intriguing for me was the post-psychogeographical move to find new  
models to emulate in architecture and urban planning.  Gordon Pask,  
evoked by several speakers, was unknown to me and worth knowing.  His  
dynamic of ‘knowing’ seems to offer a pedagogical route away from the  
passivity of ‘information’.

In a wonderful fashion the event moved from the tight lateral passes  
of the opening evening presentations to a finale  at Eyebeam that  
felt as though a group of designers had reverse engineered a Tristan  
Tsara play.  Looking at my copious notes, this was perhaps the only  
way to go  with an  event that evoked hugely different world views  
and practices, groping toward a shared language while surrounded by a  
multiplicity of facts on the ground.

My thanks to Mark, Omar and Trebor.

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