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What is so interesting in interactive environments?

These pages titled 'interactive environments' describe in great detail the methodological framework, methods and approach to the practice-based Ph.D. research project conducted between 2003-2007 at the Art & Design Research Centre of Sheffield Hallam University.

What does interactive environments in this context mean? "Spaces equipped with devices, not necessarily computer controlled, that respond to and provoke actions through defined means." Interactive installations that do not predominantly serve a goal or task or are used to get work done or solve a particular problem. Often they are playful and sometimes ambiguous. They usually emerge from an art related background, lately also from design and computer sciences or engineering. Sometimes they are created by interdisciplinary teams and involve designers as well as computer scientists. I am interested in those that use telematics (data from remote places), that transform (or map) data from one medium to other sensorial modalities to create certain experiences that could be described as global awareness, global consciousness, holistic overview or feeling of interconnectedness for participants.

As technology increasingly permeates people's everyday lives all over the world we as people change, our lives change, how we do things, what we expect from the "stuff." around us. Human nature has it that we experience these changes as very subtle and undiscernible. We only recognise that we have lost something long after we actually have lost it. Suddenly a new house stands there, and we cannot remember the house that stood there before.

While we think we are doing something with technology, it is actually technology that is doing something with us. Technology has become something we do - and this changes us as human beings. I am interested in these changes. Do our essential ideals, dreams and desires stay the same - or do they change as well? If so, we change.
We cannot expect a critical engagement with technology and its implications from the industries that create it. Shareholders are not interested in that. And we can neither expect it from the people (us) that consume those technologies. So who is asking the important questions?
I think it is the responsibility of the arts to create (thought-) provoking projects that make us aware of the influence of technology. Technology changes many disciplines which includes genetics, biotech, nanotechnology, climate change ... among others.
Only this critical engagment can give us new and radically different ideas about technology, about society, relationships of power, notions about science and genetics. In fact that is the big responsibility of the current arts, IMO. To raise these metaphysical questions about how we exist in such a world - and how we as human being adapt to these changes.

Kai Krause came to a similar conclusion on Brockman's Edge:
"The new role of technology is a serious philosophical point in the long range outlook for mankind. Most decision makers world wide, affecting the entire planet, are technophobes, luddites and noobs beyond belief. They have no vision for the potential, nor proper respect for the risks, nor simple estimation of the immediate value for quality of life that technology could bring.
Maybe one can change their mind?"

Maybe that's where the arts have to come in?

This also raises many questions. What is an "Experience"? Looks as if we where drifting of into phenomenology. On this website I will try to develop a more or less stringent line of thought towards these and other questions. It as permanently changing and an online tool for thought.

Current Questions & Areas

What is the essence of exploration??
What does exploration mean in the screen-based version of radiomap?
What does exploration mean in the radiomap environment?
Visitors can understand radiomap by exploring it. The actual "meaning" of it could be to explore it until people understand, learn how to play it. Perhaps after that the attraction is gone? Participants may have certain expectations after having watched other visitors interacting, which has an performative aspect. By stepping onto the map they become actors themselves. They may be disoriented by the unfamiliar perspective they experience the map of the world as they are being placed upon it - as opposed to being in front of it.

What does exploration mean in the screen-based version of radiomap?

How does the collaboration-effect contribute to the experience?

Why is it interesting to create experiences of interconnectedness, holistic overview, insight etc.?

Is it at all desirable to use technology to create them? Isn't there a contradiction?
This is a mix of a variety of interesting issues. On one hand we have the classical 2-cultures dichotomy; arts & sciences, qualitative & quantitative. Working with technology as an artist.
Then the contradiction of employing technology to make aware of effects that the same technology has upon society.

A short overview of the interviews conducted at the exhibition has given some evidence that a combination of properties create the "experiental quality":
1. involvement, engagement and a feeling of "control"
(and predictability, transparency)
2. visual apppeal of the map (detail, colours, accuracy, day & night, live)
3. "liveness" of radio program (mundane traffic news, traditional music)
So what? And now?

How is it possible to link this with Heideggers critique on technology and CG Jungs' warning on effects of technology?
For Heidegger art is in the position of enquiring about the essence of technology.
Losing one's identity in an anonymous mass is Jung's nightmare and computers may personalise and individuate us as Blogs have shown.

ambient engagement
What does it mean when an "hot" ambient media such as radio suddenly becomes the centre of an engaging captivating interactive process? How does it change the experience? The content? Will it work at all?

Initial Questions & Areas

What are “interactive environments”?
What do we associate with them?

Is it possible to create useful categories of interactive environments?

Is there a common ”vocabulary“ of interaction and may we speak of “interaction metaphors”? Yes and No. e.g. Gestures are used by some, yet some interpret them semantically others simply by their dynamics. “interaction metaphors” as a term is too general and “interaction principles” proofed to be useful instead.

What makes some interactive environments compelling & successful – and others fail? Its not only the content or the way it is communicated. It’s also how intuitive and vivid its use is and the mental image users acquire.

Questions determining from the questions above:
How does ambiguity and play relate to that?

What are ”experiential qualities“?
How it challenges the imagination. The mysterious? Intensity of experience? How people realise their own body, how intense they perceive their environment through their senses and how engaging, stimulating the interaction with the content is. It could be less important what is actually happening - but how people perceive it.

What do the senses / sensation have to do with it?
Obviously they are essential and this is the area to explore.

What is “media adequate transformation”?
It seems to depend on the needs and purpose. Sometimes a film or a CD-Rom is the appropriate solution, sometimes an interactive environment. It depends on the content or “message” and the artistic content approach how it should be communicated.

What does ”Space“ have to do with it?
A lot, but this is not prime focus of this research.
Actually I read for months' about "Space", only to be really unsatisfied with the results - until suddenly i recognised it's not about "Space", in fact the "Body" is one of the objects of my research.

Is there something like a feeling of insight, synchronicity or global awareness?
How may it be evoked?

McLuhan and O.Grau mention the effect of "numbing" of the audience over time, to the overwhelming qualities of a new technology. Is this a bug or a feature? How can we make the best use of it?

last update: 8/14/02014 10:00

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