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Wearable Technology

Speculative Design for Marginalised Communities

And we're off! AoIR 2015 proper starts with a keynote by Micha Cárdenas, who begins with a choice: as the planet is dying, do we want to stay in hell or move to an ice planet? By popular vote, hell it is.

But hell is, well, hellish, and unbearable, and now we're offered a chance of the ocean moon or the ice planet – this time, we're choosing the ocean moon (and this is all highly interactive, with audience members literally racing up to the podium to choose our adventure).

The Push towards Niche Geosocial Data

The final speaker on this first day of "Compromised Data" is Sidneyeve Matrix, who shifts our focus towards geosocial information as generated by smartphones and other mobile devices. Only 12% of US users as surveyed by the Pew Centre posted Foursquare check-ins in 2013, for example, down from 18% in 2011 - but this may mask a greater take-up of other location-based services, not least the Frequent Locations functionality in iOS7.

There is a continuing trend towards the consumerisation of geodata. Geosocial cultural arrangements are explored through the use of mobile communication patterns, but such analysis is notoriously difficult - not because of a lack of data, but because of the difficulties in assigning meaning to the geolocated information which is available from a variety of platforms.

Competing Logics of Emerging Sentient Urban Spaces

The final keynote at AoIR 2008 is by Steve Graham. His interest is in the politics of urban space in the context of ubiquitous computing. He begins by noting utopian projections of the future, where everything is mediated profoundly through digital technologies - what Dana Cuff has called 'enacted environments'.

This includes visions of augmented reality (involving the delivery of location-specific information), and builds on ideas such as the 'Internet of Things', the use of RFIDs, biometrics, tracking systems, computerised surveillance, security discourses about e-borders, geolocation, GPS tracking, etc. This relies also on machine-readable entities, with sensors linked to databases that recognise and track individual objects of interest.

Ambient Video, Locative Audio, and Grounded Media Art

We're on to the second Monday session at PerthDAC. Jim Bizzocchi is the first speaker, and he began by showing us an example of ambient video during the set-up period - here consisting of an assemblage of nature shots of mountains and streams blended into a slow video collage which has landscapes change subtly before our eyes. Ambient video is an emergent form of video expression made possible by current and new video technologies; it should change, but not quickly, and the details of changes should not be critical. Jim focusses here on cinematic versions of such ambient video - made for larger screens (including home theatre); the philosophy behind such video echoes Brian Eno's views of ambient music: 'as ignorable as it is interesting'. Ambient video captures our glance much as a painting might, revealing rich imagery at a time of our choosing.

Palpable Creativity, Cognition, Collaboration

Washington, D.C.
We're now in the wrap-up session for Creativity & Cognition 2007. Programme co-chair Elisa Giaccardi begins by highlighting the range of themes, topics, and disciplinary backgrounds represented here, and introduces keynote speaker Thecla Schiphorst. Thecla begins by noting the increasing miniaturisation of computing technology, and the invisibility of the object which follows from this increases the visibility of our own presence and contributions. She frames this in a field of somatics: the felt experience of the self, through lived experiences, first-person methodologies, tension and movement, and a phenomenological understanding.

Excavating Mobile Media

Erkki Huhtamo is the second speaker in this keynote session. He is a Finn who is now based at UCLA, and will present notes towards an archaeology of mobile media. His full paper is available for download from the ISEA2004 site. He begins by reflecting on the future of mobile media - a nice image of the upcoming Sony Pocket Playstation device (strangely enough with an image of the hand of the alien from Alien reaching for Harry Dean Stanton's head - some ironic self-reflection on Sony's part? Probably not).

On the other and, how do you 'do' the history of the new - is it a kind of 'current history'? Huhtamo is interested in the 'secret' histories of new media (this fits well with the previous keynote). This means digging beyond dominant histories, working against what he calls corporate 'cryptohistories' (idealised versions of history) and looking without a predetermined goal in mind. Additionally, he is interested in uncovering cyclical, recurring ideas or topoi in history. Important to remember in this is that media exist always within the cultural frameworks that envelop them (media specificity may therefore be cultural specificity), and it is therefore also important to pay attention to its discursive dimension.

Back to Wearables

We're now back to talking about wearable technologies, with a focus on embedded devices. Kelly Dobson from MIT makes the start. Some interesting work on human/machine feedback - e.g. a blender whose speed responds to the intensity of how a human operator growls at it. Some anthropomorphising of machines, or mechanomorphising of humans? She's also developed body extensions like a wearable bag called ScreamBody which a user can scream into (without being audible to anyone), thus recording their scream, and the later release the scream elsewhere, as well as HugBody (recording and recalling hugs).

Last Wearables Round for Today

On to the next panel session now. Not sure I'll catch all the panellists' names... Barbara Layne of Hexagram is speaking at the moment. (Also, I have only one more hour of battery power on the laptop!) Barbara has done a project called Fault Lines which converted seismograph data into fabrics. Other work includes weaving LEDs into fabrics - this seems somewhat more pedestrian than the work shown in other presentations, but I suppose we're talking proof-of-concept here...

Also, this raises the question of whether sufficient quantities of materials (e.g. small-gauge wires etc.) are currently available at all. Another interesting point: Cirque du Soleil is a partner of Hexagram, which should open pathways to some imaginative applications. Finally also a live demonstration of a garment with text scrolling across it (as I waited for my connecting flight in Singapore, Inspector Gadget was showing on the TV screens, featuring a hat with scrolling messages - a strange synchronicity...

Wearable ISEA Panel

After lunch, we've now moved on to the second ISEA panel on wearable technologies. Some interesting discussions over lunch, too - someone pointed out that interestingly no-one mentioned nanotechnology at all! I'm also wondering to what extent wearable technology will be accessories (in a fashion sense - wristbands, necklaces, etc.) rather than garments themselves.

Katherine Moriwaki is now talking about her project Recoil which embedded strong magnets in clothes so that the garments would snap to metallic objects and others' clothes (with magnets themselves) as they walk past them. Interesting to see that this is a common theme to both presentations so far: clothes that act autonomously, without the wearer's involvement (also in reaction to body heat changes and other environmental factors, for example)... She's on to ad-hoc mobile networking (or more precisely, "a multi-hop dynamic routing ad-hoc network") now. This is very interesting: people wearing these devices essentially become mobile nodes in the network. Also of interest is how people might use, adapt their movements to, or even try to cheat the network parameters. Her (with Jonah Brucker-Cohen) project also adds a visual footprint for the network since the umbrellas which are the WiFi devices change colour according to their network activity. We're now on to Susan Ryan speaking about the genderedness of wearable technology - from fetishistic depictions of female cyborgs to deliberately asexual wearable tech garments to highly macho combat-style gear. Some interesting images of implanted wearable tech as well - here, for example, your 'enhanced' thumb would become your credit card...

Wearable Identity?

Joanna Berzowska is the first keynote speaker, on wearable technology. An interesting term: tangible computing. Stresses the importance of actual wearability, which will likely require a certain softness to the technology.

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