[iDC] Questioning two experiences with situated technology

nick knouf nknouf at MIT.EDU
Fri Sep 29 15:24:35 EDT 2006

On Sep 28, 2006, at 11:34 PM, Matthew Waxman wrote:
> 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?

Great question, and something I've been thinking of for a while as  
well.  I have no answers or relevant projects, but a few more ideas  
and questions.

(And perhaps others have touched on these points in earlier posts;  
like Anne I think I've likely missed relevant discussions.)

I've been wondering about the potential (and whether it even exists  
or not) for some of these situated and/or networked technologies  
being used for emancipatory situations for those 'marginalized'.   
Perhaps an example of what I'm thinking about.  Take someone who  
works in a migratory situation.  They may come to the US for a few  
months to work and then return to their families further south.  [1]   
What options do they have for contact with their families and distant  
communities during these months away?  Do many have cell phones?  I  
don't know; but echoing a discussion from earlier in the summer [2],  
is it possible to use massively distributed transmission of messages  
over ad-hoc networks to get information to those who are far away  
geographically?  Bypassing the existing infrastructure to create a  
transitory one that better reflects the person's needs and desires.

On another front, and related to some experiences I've had in co- 
curating technological fashion shows [3], what ways can we use  
wearable computing to focus on the needs and desires of the  
marginalized?  Can we use miniaturization technologies to create a  
system of surveillance that protects the worker?  That in a  
subversive way records illegal, dangerous, or derogatory conditions  
for presentation to the authorities?  Perhaps we can think beyond  
creating garments that simply "light up in response to x from the  
wearer".  With that said, projects such as the No-Contact Jacket by  
Adam Whiton and Yolita Nugent [4], the Porcupine Dress by Meejin Yoon  
[5], and the Aphrodite Project developed at eyebeam [6] are great  
examples of the potential use of this technology outside of an  
artistic or responsive context.

Yet what worries me even as I write this is that my suggestions don't  
begin to question the _situation_ itself.  What is the use of ad-hoc  
networks to send messages if the person is still subservient to an  
oppressive system?  Who cares if we can create the ability to record  
illegal actions of a land-owner if the reporting of said actions  
causes the worker to be harmed even further?  I don't have an answer  
to that, and perhaps technology does not either, and perhaps even  
deeper, we shouldn't be asking or demanding of our technology to do  
all of these things.  We all know situations will not drastically  
improve overnight, and maybe the development of stopgap measures that  
attempt to improve an aspect of undesirable circumstances is one  
thing to do while _in parallel_ we (and others) work to question,  
deconstruct, and reconstruct.

Finally, and to contradict my previous paragraph, perhaps there are  
ways to be _proactive_ instead of reactive with our development.   
It's a question I ask myself often, and if I had something to offer I  
would, but I'd be curious about others' thoughts.


[1]  But as a recent NY Times article points out, because of  
immigration concerns, there is an increasing decrease in the number  
of workers coming to the US.  (Unfortunately the article is now  
'locked', but this is the URL: http://select.nytimes.com/gst/ 

[2] http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/2006-July/000599.html

[3]  http://seamless.sigtronica.org

[4]  http://old.siggraph.org/s2006/unravel/Projects/6/

[5]  http://www.bookofjoe.com/2005/05/selfdefense_dre.html

[6]  http://sexygpsshoes.com/

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