fashion correspondent Abi Buller writes: The power and influence of technology within our everyday lives is certainly not news to most of us. But has anyone really considered how we can begin to rehumanize our digital lives?
The speakers at Saturday’s “This Happened London”, a quarterly event held at the V&A, considered this notion. While not disputing the importance and usefulness of technology, the speakers were creatives simply considering the journey from hands on human makers to a species where everything is accessible and instantly available to us.
Ranging from a university student inspired by the tactility of a polaroid picture, to a dancer trying to hybridize robot and human movement, and a sound specialist who has developed a device to be able to hear wi-fi zones, the discussion was certainly an insightful one.
Saul Hardman, the creative behind a proposed ‘marble answering machine’, is a Digital Art alumnus of Plymouth University whose idea came to him when he considered how he wouldn’t necessarily give a ‘JPEG’ as a gift, but would be likely to give a framed polaroid. Taken by the existing popularity of polaroid cameras, despite the digital takeover of photography, Saul considered the psychology behind making industrial products.
He noted how humans had developed to occupy physical space, knowing how to use tools and construct items; an art which seems to be slowly fading into the technological revolution. When later considering lack of human quality within communication, Saul chose to explore the lack of appeal in receiving a digital voicemail.
Combining his knowledge of electronic development with the desire to construct something physical, Saul was able to create the ‘Message Box’; a wooden box whose function was to produce a marble each time a new message is received. When placed back inside the box, the marble then allows the receiver to listen to the message left for them. Following research into the importance of aesthetics, Saul settled on the wooden box design, and was satisfied with the marble mechanism as a method of retrieval.
When displayed as part of his University’s final show, the message box proved to be successful as viewers enjoyed the interaction the product gave them, this was particularly rewarding for Saul as he drew greater satisfaction from this than if he had created something digitally interactive, such as a website. During the following Q&A session, Saul explained how he could develop the product to be specific for intimate friends and family members, giving the marble a sort of momentum for the receiver.
Meanwhile, Daniel Jones, one of the faces behind sound developers’ ‘Phantom Terrains’, shared with the audience the technical ability behind sound development. With much of his work focused on innovative sound installations, Daniel is able to generate music from natural surroundings. The focus of his discussion was his latest project on the development of hearing aids. When a friend’s health condition led to the deterioration of their hearing, Daniel considered how he could create a hearing aid to allow users not only to hear like the rest of us, but to be able to detect other external sound waves which are undetectable to the average person.
During this development, Daniel asked his friend to walk around areas of London with high wireless interaction. This allowed him to map out data landscapes, asking his friend to report his detection of sound as he explored areas such as the BT tower and the East London line. The experiment proved to be highly informative as Daniel noticed the ease with which his friend was able to detect new wi-fi zones in the area, and to be able to recognize different areas through clouds of density, and differences in sound frequencies.
As he became accustomed to the hearing aid, Daniel’s friend became able to recognise, for example, the sound of his own home wifi network, as well as the familiarity of BT open zones throughout the city. After Daniel’s development of the product assured the sound waves detected were effectively overlaid onto everyday sounds, the hearing aid became a subconscious addition to his friend’s daily life.
During the Q&A session, both audience members and Daniel framed the product as a kind of extra sense allowing for virtual spacialisation. Considering possible development of the product for commercial use, Daniel explained how sound is underused within technology, and how the product could lead to functionality such as the soundwave’s ability to inform a user that a friend is nearby, or that their train is late; even a change in the weather.
Finally, Chryssa Varna, a multi-talented dancer, kinetic designer, architect and engineer, spoke about her desire to create technologically infused artworks.
Having researched the mechanics behind modern robotics, Chryssa chose to explore the idea of industrial improvisation. This led to the creation of a dance performance involving reactive robotic mechanisms.
Inspired by an interactive and sensory dance workshop led by Wayne Mcgregor, Chryssa developed interaction by merging the two parallel gradients of choreography and kinetic design. Introducing an unusual and refreshing beauty to the robotic figures, Chryssa created body fans which ‘performed’ in a complementary relationship to her as the dancer, as well as to each other. This technology resulted in an atmospheric and inspiring display of contemporary dance where the dance partners were fuelled by digital intelligence, rather than bodily reaction.
The concluding Q&A session concluded with audience members wanting to trial the software, and Chryssa responding that she would love to see the result of everyday people interacting with the robotic arms.
Overall, the discussion was inspiring and innovative, leaving the audience with a burning desire to discover more about the future of humanized technology.
Abi Buller is Ba (Hons) Creative Direction for Fashion student at London College of Fashion, with a strong interest in culture, arts and media.