Editor’s Note: Daniël van Gool, an administrator at the Unfiction forums, was on the scene at PICNIC ’08 on behalf of ARGNet. We were impressed with Daniël’s work covering PICNIC ’07 and, as media partners of the annual cross-media festival, were invited to a number of special events in addition to the speaker sessions. This is the third part of Daniël’s comprehensive look at this year’s event, still focused on the first day of conference speakers (the first part is here and the second part here). All pictures are courtesy of Daniël as well.
Next up on the first day’s schedule was Stefan Agamanolis, formerly of MIT, now working at Distance Lab, devising creative ways to deal with distance, giving a talk called Duelling the Distance. His rather bizarre but interesting address concerned itself with the communication analogy of fast-food versus slow-food: it’s efficiency versus quality, generic versus personalized, and so on. A mobile phone has the same ‘design mentality’ as fast food, meaning it facilitates ‘anywhere, anytime’ versus specific communication, it’s generic, and it’s the same device for any type of situation.
So Stefan and his colleagues had been thinking about what ‘slow communication’ would be like and tried to build a system based on those design principles. It would have to be free of distractions, like the concept of a phone booth pushed to an extreme.
What they ended up with were two people, submerged in two different swimming pools, each one’s head encased in a helmet that completely blocked their vision, taste and smell, while the water they floated in diminished their sense of touch. At the same time, their helmet, fitted with ultra-high-quality speakers and a microphone so the two test-subjects could communicate, was attached to three flotation devices so that they wouldn’t have to put effort into staying afloat. They called this concept the iso-phone. The experiment resulted in a lot of gestures under water by people who completely lost track of time.
This is a rather non-practical concept, of course, but it does provide insight into different aspects of the fast vs. slow analogy. We use the same communication device to call our lover as we do to talk to our lawyer or the pizza delivery guy, and this brings up the topic of intimacy. Another setup devised by Distance Lab tried to tackle this topic: a subject wears a ring on their finger that is detected by an overhead camera, which makes you able to draw in the air. The drawings are then communicated through projections of colored light onto someone else, creating an intimate way of communicating. Check out more about this project, dubbed Mutsogoto, on Distance Lab’s website.
Another few less intriguing objects were discussed before Agamanolis finished with a project called Remote Impact, which was described as a ‘boxing interface’ that lets you hit a mattress that’s mounted on a wall, where a silhouette of your opponent (potentially across the world) is projected. This setup proved especially popular on several games-related conferences over the past few months.