Editorial #12: Bodies of interaction


A collaborative project realized by Jan M. Sieber and Ralph Kistler
The documentary film was made by Susann Maria Hempel

In the last decades, since the computers became portable and ubiquitous, the everyday life of people changed drastically. How we communicate and socialize, the way we gather for fun or work, the concepts of entertainments and occupations changed and are still mutating. The continual introduction of innovative interfaces as experiment or as product in the market impact thoughts and actions. The relations between the human and the non-human bodies are in a constant dialogue, re-discussion and contradiction. The facts and actions in the virtual world regulate and organize in a different manner the actions in the physical world. The digital appendices alter the life in the city and its fluxes. The control of the electronic extensions of our body increasingly involve the gestures of the natural body and cause its modification.

The fact is that these digital artifacts influence our behaviors and a critique of the trigger factors must be encouraged and increased. The focus of the 12 issue of Pad journal is on the interactions between digital artifacts and human behaviors. In specific on the relations, influences, modifications between these devices and the human body viewed as physical, virtual and/or social. The body of human relate with and through artifacts in a continuous extension of their potentialities, those abilities, possibilities of action, faculties of actualization[1]. The potentiality of the human-artifacts belongs to the two individuals as well as to their relation. The potentiality of talk to someone farther than our voice can reach, the potentiality of see farther than we otherwise could, the potentiality of recall to memory and so on; as much as the potentiality of functioning in mobility, the potentiality of being carried in a pocket, the potentiality of recognizing human movements. These that we can call technical potentiality can support greater potentiality for human-artifacts activities interfering in the social and cultural context as well as the identity of the now redefined individual. The technological innovations offer a constant expansion of tools to be applied for the creation of these potentialities and the role of the designer is to understand the how of the affection of these new tools on the potentiality of our bodies, being them physical, virtual or social.

The limits of the human physical body are challenged by artifacts and redefined. As an example the race of the Natural User Interface (NUI) or Tangible User Interface (TUI) or as we can say better today the touch and gestures based interfaces, brought great innovation in the daily technologies in the form of smartphones and tablets. Although defined for their use of tactility these interface rely richly on the vision and are in many cases bare of other feedback. The topic of vision-independent technologies is addressed by M. Bengisu “From screen readers to tactons: vision-independent technologies for accessible products”. A path that start from extended accessibility conditions can be proved fruitful in specific context of use (for example complex tasks, or sport activities) as well as in more generics daily applications. The use of auditory and brain interfaces, a technology today in vast growth and daily more accessible, is a step towards the critiques of consumer electronic standards in which the issue is not yet tackled. The negative potentiality of a not-to-see open to the many potentialities of hearing, touching and feeling.

The physical body and the concept of tactons, the tactile icons, meet with the materiality of artifacts that are becoming “active” and “changing”. The research on new materials with dynamic and interactive potentialities is explored by M. Ferrara in her “Smart materials based research for tangible user interfaces”. Smart material interfaces, responsive environment and communicative clothes are the three core topic discussed in the article. The body and its physicality is a crucial perspective on the actual turn in interaction design towards materiality. Materials are getting dynamic, changing, somehow computational, the next interfaces will be physical and tangible in a totally renewed and yet to define way.

The body digitized become virtual and so the space around it. How our surrounding affect us and how can we describe them using the tools of vision of memory, and of digital representation? P. Lee Lucas sets a three perspective picture on describing a place and its alterations in “Sense of place: sense of tele-place?”. In a google-map-mediated-world where a place it is because it can be digitally reached, leaving tracks of its past in the digital world is an increasingly interesting subject that sits next to the digital archives and digital museums and galleries that are populating the Internet. Can our architectural past be digitized? What will survive now the book, the architecture or the digital representation?

The world of past digitized places can be considered a world of abandoned realities that can be inhabited only by ghosts. Virtual ghosts of people that really existed in the place and that now are not there anymore, people that didn’t survive their digital representation, or at least the representation of their spaces. These ghosts of the past can lean next to other digital ghost: the render ghosts. The concept of render ghost presented by Antonio Palacios in “An Ontology of Render Ghosts” is that of people inhabiting render spaces. The render ghosts, defined by James Bridle, are unknowns citizens of places yet to come. In opposition of the ghosts of a past city these are ghost of the future, a future that does not exist other than in the virtual representation. They are potentialities of citizens, users of a digital space that if realized will enable physical people to act inside it replacing the rendered ghost. This short circuit define ghosts from a present registered in the blueprints of a potential future. People will realize their machine dreams, will substitute their avatars, citizens will replace their own props and reiterate their representations. The virtual lose its virtuality or shows its never-virtual-purity mixing with realities of different times.

The body of social interaction is a body that relate itself through and with technologies. The time is in fact the dimension of dynamism that more affect the computational objects and their different realities. The concept of “fourth dimension” is addressed by Chiara Lecce, starting from the work of Lucy Bullivant and her 4dspace, in “The Post-digital era: towards a relational and sustainable approach”. The so called dimension of digital technologies shapes our everyday life through the object we use or as we should say the objects we live with. This population of computational artifacts is growing exponentially in experiments and installations having a wide affection on our visions but still a limited impact on our houses.

For the cover of this issue we present the project “Monkey Business” by Ralph Kistler and Jan M. Sieber. The awarded project is constituted by a toy monkey that reacts to the movement of the person in front of it. The mechanical animal duplicates the human body creating a physical dialogue that start with a greetings and doesn’t finish in a dull imitation. As the designers state “In a subtle way, the monkey asks for another move, you have never ever performed before. Playing the game, you will lose control unconsciously”. The bodies of monkey and human start replicating each other and influencing each other to the point of reaching a seamless interaction and choreographed performance. The bodies becomes one, the machine becomes human and the human becomes a monkey.

The door of contemporary is open to computational things, ghosts and shape-shifters; a world of potentialities is ready and waiting, it’s time to make things that help us to think, it’s time to make things that make us do, it’s time to make things that make us, better.

References

Agamben, G. (1995) Homo sacer: Il potere sovrano e la nuda vita. Torino, Giulio Einaudi.

Bridle, J. (2013, February 27). Balloons and Render Ghosts. Domus. http://www.domusweb.it/en/architecture/2013/02/27/balloons-and-render-ghosts.html [1-12-2014]

Bullivant, L. (2005). Architectural Design, Special Issue 4dspace: Interactive Architecture. Academy Press.

Sieber, JM. and Kristler, R. (2011) Monkey Business in:

Turkle, S. (2011). Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York, Basic Books.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. The concept of potentialities refers to the notion proposed by Giorgio Agamben in Homo Sacer.
About the author(s):

Daniele Savasta is a lecturer at Yaşar University, Faculty of Communication, Department of Visual Communication Design. PhD in Interaction Design at Iuav University of Venice. He is art director and editor of Pad Journal and art director of Ais/Design.

daniele.savasta@gmail.com

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