[iDC] Questioning two experiences with situated technology

Matthew Waxman waxman.matt at gmail.com
Thu Sep 28 23:34:00 EDT 2006

Hi iDC,

I have two questions for the list and conference about the relation of
situated technology and architecture which approach the topic from a more
'bottom-up' perspective, as told from two personal situations:

1. Re situating the context of 'back-end' perspectives:
When I arrived at ISEA 2006/ZeroOne, after checking in, I headed to my first
volunteer site: I was to work at the Interactive Cafe. Stoked, I headed to
the San Jose Museum of Art.  Inside the Interactive Cafe, amid a giant
spoon, video projects, and changing mood lights, I was asked if I could help
clean the floor.  With eager eyes I asked the cafe for a broom.

Maybe this wasn't that great of a volunteer job, I wondered, despite
recognizing the fact the floor seriously needed to be swept.  As I swept
away, brushing crumbs and dust from under tables, out under crevices below a
box of throbbing-hot computers, and around the feet and paths of customers
enjoying the joys of interactive, electronic, communication art, something
hit me: I realized that none of the interactive art in the Cafe dealt with
those who maintained or serviced the cafe. All the art--befitting the cafe
context--was geared towards the cafe users.
In what ways might situated technologies be used as a tool for activating
not only the context of user-oriented perspectives but the contexts of
non-user-oriented (such as service and 'marginalized') perspectives?  And
how might situated technologies and architectural form (both together) be
able to mix or remix these different perspectives on context?

2. Re technology and educational spaces:
I currently work at a high school where one of my main responsibilities is
to manage the school's computer labs. The school is aware that mobile
technology would prove to be very helpful in education... there are some
schools now with mobile laptop labs, there are wifi enabled campuses, and
then there is the ability to give all the students in a classroom Palm
pilots and networked them together.  There are rich benefits when computing
becomes further situated in the classroom... untethered computing arises new
opportunities for tethering computing to a particular class context and the
teacher's needs and wants...

But an interesting architectural problem arises, too: with computers more
able to become part of actual classrooms, there might be less reason to have
an actual "computer lab" in the high school.  Does this suggest that a room
for computers only exists because of the size of old computer hardware? Will
networked, situated technologies mean the demise of rooms meant for computer
use, particular contexts dedicated to (and with meaning attached to)

On the other hand, computer labs, as a distinct space, can function like an
internet cafe and spawn discussion and physical interaction in situ with
computing.  What if the relationship of situated technology and architecture
is reorganized: rather than seeing situated technologies as mostly tools for
helping the user become more context-aware, how about also using situated
technologies to help situate an architectural context for computing itself?

(Wish I could make the conference!)

Matt Waxman
waxman.matt at gmail.com
teaching: http://www.modro.org/film42j
blog: http://mwax.blogspot.com

On 9/28/06, Christiane Robbins <cpr at mindspring.com > wrote:
> Dear Mark –
> Thanks so much for your clarification and the differentiation which you
> are seeking to address in your forthcoming conference.  While I also
> appreciate your bifurcation of screen based digital design and
> pervasive/embedded/locative/context-aware technologies (computing as
> environment,) I ask if this binary is as firmly ensconced as you may
> presuppose? Or, conversely, is it really necessary?  I embraced the
> digital realm as one from which to negotiate and re-negotiate
> conventional boundaries and territories – whether they be technologies,
> media or cultures themselves.  I sense that you would agree with that
> position.
> However, your bifurcation is one that invokes an aesthetic legacy
> inherent to "electronic arts" (now that certainly is an old phrase
> dating back to what - the '60's!) Relative to digital-time, this
> division seems simultaneously antediluvian and totally appropriate to
> the early 21st c.  It is a division that couches itself in the cover
> stories attributed to the categories of digital, generative tools (as
> aides to structural elements of the materialization of "things" – i.e.
> CAD, digital cinema and graphics) and to a modernist notion of
> technologies, which are (arguably) deemed intrinsic to technology
> itself.  And, I have to admit that I find this designation somewhat
> arbitrary.  I also find it a curious division that might evince an
> older, covert academic and socio-economic bias of science and
> engineering as opposed to the humanities  – a bias that we see played
> out time and time again in our cultures.  The disparities inherent in
> academic funding is but one clear example of the differing exchange
> rates in currencies brought to the table.
> Be that as it may, I believe the importance to look at legacies
> informing your conference cannot be underestimated.  My disclaimer here
> is that, as Trebor is aware, for some reason I am not receiving all of
> the IDC posts and, as such, may be working with only partial
> information, as in the case of citing Laura Kurgan.  I'd like to think
> that , as opposed to that I might not be reading these posts as closely
> as I should!
> It strikes me that there is a wealth of experimental projects/research
> that has transpired prior to 1997 that could be helpful to this
> discussion.  By way of example, Douglas Davis's book from 1973 " Art
> and the Future" (not easily accessible to be sure!) takes a look at
> Gyorgy Kepes, and the "environmental exhibition" which he organized at
> the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, or groups such as ZERO and GRAV
> and see that their practices predate and greatly inform the work that
> is being put up as examples on this list.  EAT's Pepsi-Cola pavilion in
> the 1970's World's Fair in which they designed the "environment within
> and without the Pavilion from the cloud that floated above the dome
> (designed by physicist, Tom Mee) to the responsive sound, light and
> mirror systems inside, most of them triggered by the movement and
> behavior of the spectators."
> .
> I guess this is all to say that we have always gone along for the ride
> ….
> These "futurists" seemed to have envisioned large-scale installations
> which draw very strong parallels to, what is termed here as,
> interactive architecture.  Theirs was primarily for entertainment,
> leisure or tourist services and attracted the backing of such corporate
> entities as Pepsi-Cola.  Today the merging of these elements can be
> seen in the widely-accepted appreciation of such forms in the
> commercial theme parks such as Disney or Universal where interactive
> environments and role-playing are scripted by central casting.
> I don't intend to hang myself on what may appear to be an argument of
> technological determinism that argues that these technologies
> unilaterally inflate the hegemonic control by a technocratic elite.
> That's a tired, if not totally inoperable refrain, to be sure.  Without
> doubt, technologies have a limited agency in our world.  But at the
> same time, one cannot deny that these technologies are inscribed with
> specific cultural narratives that resituate dominant power relations
> and dynamics, as do the topologies in which they are situated.  Hence,
> when I am discussing notions of "situated technologies" these are two
> aspects to which I refer.
> And to your last, point, my own work has involved issues and
> technologies associated with what you are termed interactive
> architecture and what Karmen so thoughtfully offered on embodiment.  In
> 2002-3, my project, Blue-Screen_MOTO received a COLA Individual Artist
> Fellowship award ( descriptions below) but the interactive part of this
> was sidelined by Disney which is actually  quite a story!  In any case,
> my current project, I-5_PASSING had a beta installation in the group
> show, Edge Conditions, at the San Jose Museum of Art which some of you
> may have seen during the recent ISEA
> ( http://01sj.org/content/blogcategory/65/84/) or at the Beall Center
> Technospheres show that just closed.  The more developed large-scale
> installation and public siting is scheduled for premiere next year in
> CA.
> Most importantly, thanks for the on-going discussion, Mark et all –
> All best,
> Chris
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