Fleabilly – the extraordinary in the ordinary

I have just written a new article for Desktop (Issue 200) about photographer, artist, compositor, Ray Lewis. The boyfriend of my lovely pal Rachel, he’s been amassing a really beautiful portfolio of photographs of the special moments from everyday scenes. This one is from a trip on the Greyhound bus. He has some interesting things to say about his process:

“I just have found that the older I get, the more I find myself devising procedures for me to create. With my photography I find myself not wanting to take credit for shots. Sometimes they are really amazing, and I find it hard to imagine that I did that on purpose. The confidence has grown based on the consistent level of good shots, but nevertheless I usually can only produce them if I arrange a procedure that allows me to not feel so responsible for the final image.”

It’s interesting this idea of creating processes to remove oneself from the process of creation and it reminds me a lot of some tactics used in interactive works. Often the work itself is about setting up systems and seeing where they go, except that many of those projects tend to be technically stunning but incredibly dull. But Lewis’s work is really fascinating. He did his MFA with George Krause at the University of Houston and has been inspired by Bruce Gilden with whom he had the chance to shoot one summer. You can see the link between them, but I find Lewis’s photography less of a moment of startling his subjects and more about capturing private moments. I really like his images in which the subject is cropped (as above), there’s something about that process that feels voyeuristic I suppose, but it’s very haunting.

Connectivity, privacy, porn and the generational shift

I thought I’d post a new entry in response to the comment by Euph about not having any personal space any more with regards to the Sound Pryer post. So, just to clear up a more or less technical question first, Euph asked:

“how do you tune in to another channel if you are picking up what every one else if listening too ?”

Well, from reading the blurb about Sound Pryer, you would obviously be able to switch it on and off. But, hey, even with 10,000 songs on your iPod, you might get bored. So they describe Sound Pryer thus:

“The metaphor used to guide the design of Sound Pryer is that of a “collaborative” MP3 player. A user can play his or her own music, but also tune into rear mirror”

Euph also mentioned that porn is what all connectivity boils down to. Well, yes and no in my opinion. Porn, or rather sex, has always been a major driver of new technologies, almost all of them when you think about the biological imperatives that living beings have. Now, aside from the morality of porn and your opinion of it (which is a different discussion), one thing the porn industry understands is human nature and they understand it in a way that is way more sophisticated than most industries. They were way ahead on rich media content online, secure access and billing, video-conferencing, etc. Partly this is to do with the easy economics of it – people will always buy it, so investment is a pretty safe bet. Also, there are few industries that tailor their offerings to customer tastes as much as the porn industry. In general, the globalised company wants customers to buy into whatever they are selling and use their marketing to try and change the customer (because that’s much cheaper than making lots of different things).

All of which has had a lot of positive trickle down (no pun intended – well, okay, maybe a bit of one) into other areas of contemporary culture, many of which aren’t so controversial and which benefit a lot of people. In essence, the porn industry is a testing and proving ground for a lot of technologies because they can afford to try things out.

There’s another, really complex can of worms that Euph mentioned too:

“It’s getting to being at the point of being able to know what everyone is thinking just by waking past them “I really don’t want to know what everyone is thinking or what music they are listening too unless I choose too and the other person has given me permission and not just electronic permission (and yes we know today people don’t give permisison and they still take stuff but) “It’s becoming way to close to having no personal space “Yes conectivity is good but don’t forget the human……you can get to much connectivity “Ask any mother who has looked after kids all day there comes a point where silence is needed and you can’t even cope with any more touch. How do you get this if everyone keeps tuning in to you”

Now I completely agree about the need for moments of silence. Personally, I practice Iyengar Yoga fairly regularly as well as write. Both of which are my moments of silence, both internally and externally. Perhaps it is because I’m currently in Australia and all my family and old friends are in Europe, but I really enjoy the relatively connectivity of instant messaging, SMS, etc. Presence technologies such as ICQ and AIM, which tell you when people are away, busy, available, where they are, etc. can be slightly “stalker-like”, but on the other hand it is comforting to feel like friends and family are only a quick message away.

When I had my first mobile phone back in 1994, I remember thinking that I really needed it for all those important offers of freelance work. I soon realised I used it like everyone does, for trivial little things, often sending a text message to a loved one just to let them know what I’m up to and that I am thinking of them. So I think there can actually be more of a human connection, not less. I certainly feel less distanced from my family thanks to email.

The other thing here is permission. Presumably if you let people tune into you, you’ve given your permission. It’s like a blog, people are free to read what they like and, if commenting is turned on, free to leave their comments. The same deal applies to the Sound Pryer. However, presence technology has an unintended downside, as anyone with a mobile phone knows. When you’re not available, people get suspicious. “Why didn’t you have your phone on? Where were you?” Etc., etc. Spamming on a mobile feels much more offensive than via email (which, I hate, but feels less personal). I think this is because the mobile is one of the few pieces of technology that feels like an extension of our personal space. The only other item that I think really feels like that is the car. It’s something I’ve written about at length elsewhere. I think this is probably a transitional period as we become more accustomed to this kind of connectivity – technology moves much fast than society and culture’s ability to assimilate it.

It takes a generational shift for the real change to happen. I’m of the TV and videogame generation – I grew up with them, they were always there (just about, I remember our first videogame console, a Prinztronic Tournament from when I was about 7 years-old). So I treat them differently to my parents generation who can remember, gasp, a time before TV. So the thing is, any child under 10 now, will have always known the Internet and mobile phones. My niece, for example, finds it odd when she sees a phone with a cable; she’s grown up in a household of mobiles and cordless phones. We think it sounds like a shocking indictment of the future and the world going to seed at a fast pace, but it has always been the way, my grandparents used to tell me about ducking in and out of horses around Piccadilly Circus in London. The under-tens generation will no doubt make some interesting things with all this new technology precisely because it will no longer be new technology to them. It will hold no novelty for them so they’ll use it in different ways. I’m looking forward to seeing what artists and designers will do. It’s something that Mark Pesce goes into in some fascinating detail in his book, The Playful World.

Lastly, the idea that you can know what someone else is thinking, or at least into, just by walking past them is already underway. Cute Circuit in Italy plan to do exactly that with their Identity Service. Basically it boils down to a wearable device which is plugged into a massive database of your personal information, which you choose to share elements of and filter, etc. I interviewed Francesca Rosella a while ago and she said that the idea was about reclaiming your own personal data that is harvested by corporations and authorities anyway, largely without your explicit permission (it’s in the small print of your credit card contract that you never read). The Identity Service allows you to connect with people you might be interested in but would otherwise miss. Fora simple example, if you have either bought flights to Italy or registered in some way that you are into Italy or speak Italian and you walk past someone with similar interests, then you get an alert (in your ear probably) that they share your interests. Of course, you could ignore it, but then I wondered what kind of social etiquette would be required if the other person also got the alert and saw you ignore them.

There are still questions to be answered and cultural practices to adjust to, but they can happen surprisingly fast when the technology is something people find fills a gap. In the short life of mobile phones (really not more that about 12 years in mainstream culture) we’ve become quite used to seeing people talk on phone publicly, a far cry from the old phone booth. We’ve even become fairly used to people talking into thin air with handsfree headsets. One thing is for sure, none of this technology is going away and my feeling is that it is, in general, getting better at fitting around what people want to experience, but it takes time. I would argue that we actually get a sense of just how connected we really are with these technologies, far from losing the human connection. Perhaps it is just quite a scary revelation.

Find out what the person next to you in traffic is nodding their head to…

Regine from ever fascinating and brilliantly titled We-Make-Money-Not-Art has just posted a story about the SoundPryer from the Interactive Institute in Stockholm.

Basically using a WiFi card and a PDA playing MP3s you can share your music with others who drive past you in the car. By the same token, when somone drives past you, you get a blast of their music. So you can finally work out what that gorgeous girl or guy is bopping their head too.

I like ideas like this that answer a common social question and help to reinforce the sense of the human dynamic and connection between us all. It’s rather like a musical equivalent of the Blogosphere’s trackbacks.

Boring 3D far from boring.

I’ve just been checking out Jimmy Maidens’s Boring 3D website which is far from boring and has some beautiful 3D “cartoons” I suppose you would call them. His one liners are pretty amusing too.

This one is called This party would be a lot more fun if we had arms.:

He’s now over at PDI/Dreamworks, which he deserves to be. Unfortunately that means he’s not had the time to update his gallery so often (they must work them hard there!).

Playpen renamed and rebuilt

I’ve just re-built the entire blog with MovableType now instead of Blogger and renamed it Playpen, which I felt was more apt and less pretentious than “Sandbox of the Mind”. So, it looks a lot less beautiful at the moment, no Douglas Bowman template sadly, but I’ll fix that up soon and MT is much more powerful. Oh yes, the comments, such as they were, got deleted in the process. So if you made one, make it again…

I had masses of permissions problems with the files for some reason, something to do with the zip archive on my server I think. Anyway, I set everything up locally and then uploaded it and it’s all fine – I recommend others do the same and save several hours of pain.

I hope to upload more of my writing and interactive work now that hectic semester at work is almost over. But I’ll need to edit the CSS to get it looking all fancy schmancy and have a chat with the folks over at Desktop about what I can and can’t post online (because they own the publishing rights to a lot of my work sadly).

COFA Annual (2004)

COFA Annual 2004 interface

COFA Annual 2004 interface

Interaction Direction and Producer for the Annual CD-ROM of over 320 collected student works for the College of Fine Arts, UNSW. This interface worked on set-theory, allowing you to select subject areas and see the appropriate thumbnails. We wanted to show the range of work in one glance, hence the giant array of thumbnails. It was built with Flash and used an XML structure to describe all the works (which had been uploaded via a Web interface). Each student submitted nine works, resulting in over 2,880 entries – the logistics were complex.