Reality: To Augment or Mix?

One of the things I’ve been struggling with lately is the premise that the addition of the virtual onto individual consciousness somehow alters that consciousness such that it cannot integrate the virtual into its horizon. Let me try putting it another way: when we interact with screens, we are simply experiencing reality within some context of mediation. However, when we add the element of the virtual (read: virtual world), the real, as a state capable of assimilating mediation into its fold, becomes something that collapses to the point of having to ‘augment’ itself into something different, or mix (sit alongside) something discreet. Why isn’t a singular reality capable of dealing with “reality representations” (in the form of virtual worlds) without having to compromise its integrity or ability to deal with mediation? I think it is. This might sound mundane, but perhaps we should shy away from using terms like reality to define information-enhanced spaces and/or virtual environments. Digital media, like all media, comprise the perceptual material through which we assemble our individual understandings of reality. They don’t sit along side it, or augment it, in ways different from “traditional” screen media. So, whether a narrative is displayed in an urban square, or an urban square is recreated in a virtual narrative space, we continue to assimilate these representational modes in a reasonably cohesive environmental knowledge. In other words, I understand my neighborhood and my city in a particular way – whether it is influenced by virtual immersion, cinematic representation or information, or simply conversations with neighbors and strangers, it is manifested, in practical terms, into a single understanding, or lifeworld.…

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User-Illusion

User-illusion, a term dreamt up by the good people at Xerox PARC desribes the manifestation of metaphors in the experience of interface.  For instance, desktop, rooms, shopping cart, etc, are illusory metaphors that make the interface legible.  I wonder if calling the experience of metaphors illusory is accurate.  It would imply that there is a possibility of experiencing interface outside of metaphor, that there is such a thing as “authentic user experience.” 

It has become increasingly clear to me lately that all interaction with space is mediated through interface.  There is a framework (cultural, logical) that everyuser carries into every interaction.  User-illusion suggests that interaction is possible without interface.  It seems high time that we abandon the notion of illusion in describing interface; every interaction is mediated, but not every interaction is illusory.  By altering perception or background or design, I can manipulate a user’s experience. This is true with video games just as its true with the neighborhood park. …

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Culture and Technology

Friedrich Kittler argues that “culture cannot be had without technology, and technology cannot be had without culture” (“The Perspective of Print“).  This seems like a fairly simply idea, but Kittler makes it complex.  What he’s trying to get at here is that they these two discourses (technology and culture) are always already the same thing.  Technology doesn’t emerge from culture (as a response to cultural needs and desires), nor does culture emerge from technology (as Internet culture or gaming culture that corrupts the minds of youth); rather, culture is a kind of technology (or system) and it is simply manifested through machines.

In Geoffrey Winthrop-Young’s article called “Silicon Sociology, or, Two Kings on Hegel’s Throne? Kittler, Luhmann, and the Posthuman Merger of German Media Theory”, he explains Kittler’s position this way:

This does not mean that computers are artificial human brains, or that they digitally ape specifically human ways of thinking.  Rather, they optimize certain patterns of information processing that were also imposed on human beings but subsequently were mistaken to be innately human qualities.  Where subjects were, there programs shall be because programs were there in the first place.

This gets to the crux of the matter: programs were there in the first place.  We mourn the loss of some pre-technical reality, or what Kittler calls the “ecologically sound Stone Age,” but it is just a myth.  Human beings have always been engaged in systems, and with each technological change the preceding system has been seen as natural. …

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Community PlanIt in Boston Public Schools

How do you convince people to take time out of their busy schedules, leave their home around dinner time, perhaps get a babysitter, all in order to participate in a slow-moving conversation about something very abstract? It’s not easy. While the debates in local community centers might be invigorating; and in the best of situations, they represent meaningful deliberation about important issues in people’s lives, they also represent power inequalities (both in terms of who shows up and who is comfortable speaking).

Digital media have irreversibly changed communication patterns within most communities. People are increasingly accessing local news on mobile devices, reading the newspaper online, interfacing with government websites, and sharing opinions on social networking services (SNS) such as Facebook and Twitter. That these forms of communication are not widely incorporated into planning processes demonstrates a bias of one exclusionary tactic over another. It is typically understood as more effective and equitable to have 20 people in a room discussing the recent school board decision, for example, than to have 200 people online discussing the same thing. The assumption is that the “digital divide” excludes people. And it does. But the assumption is also that limiting the engagement process to face-to-face town hall meetings does not exclude. And it does as well.

There are limitations of access to both physical meetings and technologically mediated connections. If there were a spectrum from totally mediated to totally unmediated, there would be power differentials on either side. The solution, as with most solutions, is found somewhere in the middle.…

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Games and Risk Management

The game consists of a total of six 3-minute levels, each getting progressively more difficult.  The game takes place on a fictional planet named Alora, one that is constantly threatened by incoming comets. The player tries to develop their city on Alora within this context of risk and they need to make decisions about when to invest finite resources in development while managing protection, research and insurance. The game encourages players to invest in all three modes of risk management, but is open to user discretion and the critical assessment of individual risks or circumstance. For example, in the first level where threats from comets are less substantial, there is less need for insurance. But it would be near impossible to pass the fourth level without insurance.

The game consists of a total of six 3-minute levels, each getting progressively more difficult. The game takes place on a fictional planet named Alora, one that is constantly threatened by incoming comets. The player tries to develop their city on Alora within this context of risk and they need to make decisions about when to invest finite resources in development while managing protection, research and insurance. The game encourages players to invest in all three modes of risk management, but is open to user discretion and the critical assessment of individual risks or circumstance. For example, in the first level where threats from comets are less substantial, there is less need for insurance. But it would be near impossible to pass the fourth level without insurance.

When the World Bank Institutemade plans for a Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) about the 2014 World Development Report, they decided to include an online game to explicate and frame the course content, believing that risk management is a very playable, highly complex system of decision-making introduced or amplified by climate change. The Development Report itself served as the centerpiece of this activity.

With an accelerated two month timeframe and a partnership with The Engagement Lab at Emerson College, the project was taken from conceptualization through production; the end result was Risk Horizon, a real-time strategy game about the balancing of three major variables in the development context: protection, insurance, and research. A success by any measure, it was released in October 2014 and within a week was played over 9600 times by 7184 players in 167 countries.…

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