Friday, July 30, 2010

Re: [Yasmin_discussions] hybrid city as an interface

Dear Molly, Martin, Daphne, Roger, dear all,

I am not sure if we are drawing closer to some definitions of the "hybrid city" as a result of this discussion. A series of very relevant issues, however, have been raised by several messages, regarding this subject and Martin very well has attempted to identify the key issues around which this discussion has been evolving: real depth of audience engagement, the radical potential of these new technologies and the quality of existing examples of interventions.

With regards to the definition of the "hybrid city" term, the way I understand the term, it relates to the urban environments which incorporate ICT systems which support hybrid spatial experiences. I agree with some who have put it in their argumentation so far, that we can mostly refer to a "hybrid experience of an environment" that may or may not be urban. Sophia Drakopoulou has very well stressed the focus on a hybridized spatial "lived" experience, probably implying the need for a phenomenological methodological approach in her message. In this message, Lefebvre's social conception of space is very appropriately brought up and indeed is very useful in this research thread, however, when I was referring to the concept of "presence", to be honest, what I had in mind was the direction of research about "presence" in the context of virtual environments. I believe we can learn al lot from this research conducted since the middle of the 90s when investigating the use and experience of hybrid environments too.

Examples of technologies that we refer to here are: mobile augmented reality, mobile mixed reality systems, locative media, interactive urban screens and other kinds of displays and other types of context aware systems, whether they are accessed via mobile spatial interfaces, via the web or via display systems situated in our immediate physical surroundings. For example: a mobile AR game that takes place in the urban context may place the player in a hybrid kind of space simultaneously comprising the electronically mediated spatial context as well as the surrounding physical settings.

Souza e Silva (in her 2003 article titled: Mobile networks and public spaces: Bringing multi-user environments into the physical space. In R. Ascott (Ed.), Electronic Proceedings of the 2003 International Consciousness Reframed Conference. CaiiA STAR, University of Wales College) was one of the first to suggest the significance of these interactive communication environments, through which "virtual worlds immigrate from the Internet to urban spaces" and to refer to their "hybrid" nature. While the Internet allowed physical meeting places to immigrate to a virtual spatial context, the introduction of mobile location-based communication networks relates the concept of a "meeting place" to the physical space of an urban environment. Thus, social computing, which was previously restricted to the Internet, is now brought back into the urban realm. Indeed, the emergence of locativeness reintroduces the parameter of real location in the activity of mediated communication, thus mapping the virtual mental space of communication to the physical space, inhabited by the real bodies of communicating participants.

The city becomes a very relevant arena for discussing this issue, since (as Daphne suggests when quoting Negri and Hardt) "the city is the source of the common and the receptacle into which it flows." And this brings up another key issue that I would like to add to this discussion: the social interaction aspect of the use of these technologies and media. This refers to the use of location – based systems which support synchronous or asynchronous multi-user access to the activity taking place in the hybrid context of the representation. Although the rules dictating the manner in which this activity takes place are usually not very open (they are pre-defined by the system's designers, I believe that the activity of communicating (by appropriating the interface and the use of the system) implies a very active way of using such a system.

A series of central research questions which have been the main driving force behind our research group's work on this subject are the following:
• How can these techno-social systems be designed and used to facilitate new ways of social interaction and activity in the urban context?
• How can we enhance technology-mediated group communication and possibly the formulation of communities by the use of these systems?
• Which are the factors that should be taken into consideration to improve effectiveness, enjoyability and performance of mobile group communication engaged in social communication?
• How (and to what extent) does locative media use affect the users' perception and experience of the environment they navigate?

Howard Rheingold in his "Smart Mobs" book has discussed the potential of mobile communication media for creating new forms of social activity in the urban context. Some other useful references in this area are:
• "Shared Encounters" (Computer Supported Cooperative Work) Katharine S. Willis (Editor), George Roussos (Editor), Konstantinos Chorianopoulos (Editor), Mirjam Struppek (Editor), Springer.
• "Digital Cityscapes: Merging Digital and Urban Playspaces" (Digital Formations) [Paperback], Adriana De Souza E Silva (Editor), Daniel M. Sutko (Editor), Peter Lang Pub Inc.

The index city concept that Dimitris Papalexopoulos discussed is very useful to take this discussion further. The database reference brings to mind the differentiation between database and narrative structure that Manovich has discussed in his "Language of New Media" book. Judging from our recent experiments investigating the use of multi-user locative media by small groups of subjects, I can suggest that: a database structure may not adequately aid the involvement of people in such an activity. You probably need some sort of a narrative as a means to structure geo-located content, in order to get people involved into searching, navigating, "writing" and "reading" this content. This was certainly the case in Blast Theory's "Uncle Roy" pervasive game experience as well as in the "Third Woman" mobile cinema experience (but maybe Martin can say a few more things about that as this project has evolved and been exhibited in many other places too). But my suggestion above refers to a case of locative media, where the social aspect of the activity is more important than the actual environmental representation which provides a part of the context within which it takes place.

I would also like to agree very much with Martin in that we need a longer period of artistic development and better tool-sets for artists to realise the potential of locative media. If we are indeed entering a period of disappointment after the overhyping period, this reminds me a lot of the case of virtual reality in the beginning of the 90s. But I hope that this masks the process of consolidation, because in the case of VR this was probably not the case.

Finally, I would like to mention that this discussion was scheduled (for various practical reasons) to continue till the end of this week. Since I see such a great interest and great contributions from many of you I would like to propose to continue this discussion in September. In the meantime I will make an effort to invite more potentially interested artists and researchers who may contribute to the discussion too. We still have a couple of days to go though, so I m looking forward to your next messages

Best wishes

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