Weekending 10302011

Oh, okay. Last week I was in London.

There was some fun, cool Nokia stuff going on — besides Nokia World, which I didn’t attend only because there were also other things going on, including this event at the Design Museum called People Made in which a well-curated exhibition of Nokia’s contribution to the world of mobile social networked stuff. Despite assy and snarky remarks on the influence Nokia has had on the design of these sorts of things, I thought this was quite good, quite legible and just small enough to be digestible and large enough to note the important bits, like the evolution of mobile picture taking, degrees of portability and things to come in the near future.

There was a swell two day workshop for Project Audio with the fine folks at the Really Interesting Group. That included some days inside at Whitechapel Gallery and a field trip to the Science Museum, which has a great exhibit of audio things from the early 20th century into the networked age. Old radio sets and things with knobs are great for thinking about what the future holds for sound design and audio devices and talking to people. And, it was fun to see Listening Post there — I didn’t know that the science museum had bought one. That’d make the third exhibition space in which I’ve seen it — first at The Whitney when it premiered, I believe way back in the day. Then at the San Jose Museum during ISEA in 2009 I think it was. It holds up remarkably well. It’s quite prescient, too — in particular as regards this idea of “trending topics” in some sense. I’m not sure precisely what algorithm Mark Hansen is using to extract content (obviously chats and discussions in text) — but one gets the sense that the statistics is identifying things of import or interest. Now — it might not be what *most people are talking about, but they seem to become poignant statements indicating states of mind. There is also quite excellent use of silence in such a way that one is not thinking — huh..is this thing broken? Some ambience and machine noises give the device its mechanistic quality that is nice and sculptural and real and that of a thing with momentum. Which is very much unlike most digital/computational devices. I really like the machinic character of this thing, Listening Post.

I had a visit with James Auguer over at Design Interactions at the RCA. Nick Foster was there as well. That was fun. I’d never been. It felt like an art college. I gave a little impromptu talk to a clutch of students. And Noam Toran was there and gave me some lovely documentation of his projects. I especially like the series of objects he made called The Macguffin Library. It beautifully captures the way Hitchckock’s use of these opaque plot devices are objects to move a story — which is a concept that can be directly applied to the Design Fiction notion. These are things that are props that stand in for whatever it is that motivates and moves a story along. They’re nice as a concept because the thing itself matters even less than its functionality — except insofar as its functionality is to motivate a story.

There was a nice afternoon spent with the partner-in-crime Nicolas Nova discussing the future of the Near Future Laboratory and some exciting evolutions of our activities that will happen quite soon. Expect more to be going on here and some new folks coming along to make more things and create more weird implications and provocations. All discussed over toast, beans, sausages and eggs.

I was super excited that Geoff Manaugh rang to see if I’d be around to participate in this event at the Architectural Association called Thrilling Wonder Stories. I don’t know how to describe it except to say it was a full day of a seminar of presentations and discussions on a variety of Thrilling Wonder Story-like topics. I shared some thoughts and perspectives on designing with science fiction at the end, together with Bruce Sterling and Kevin Slavin. That was swell — fun and a great way to end the week in London.

That was pretty much it, except for one little thing that Bruce left me thinking about after that four hour dinner the last night. Venn diagrams. Evidently done by this fellow called Hugh Dubberly and the diagram contains the three circules and one is “DESIRABLE” the other is “BUILDABLE” and the other is “PROFITABLE”. The overlap in the center is what markets and capital understand as “real” stuff. You get these annoying debates within making-industries where that is the “real” deal. It was the introduction to my brief 15 minute talk at Thrilling Wonder Stories — people get shy and apologetic when they discuss things outside of that center “sweet spot” of things that are all-of desirable, buildable and profitable. “Oh, sorry — this is just an idea” or — “Oh, this is only a demo” or — “Oh, this is just a concept/video/bit-of-fiction”

Needless to say — we here in the Shameless Speculation Department of the Near Future Laboratory think that position is rubbish. There should be no apologizing for the imagination. Everything counts. I’d say even that the things outside of the sweet-spot even more than those in it. That sweet-spot is modifiable. Just cause something can be built does not make it “more” than the thing that can be massively manufactured because it fits in someone’s measure of what that sweet-spot consists of — what its parameters of “sweet-spotiness” are. And then this introduces a discussion about those parameters and scale and what profitability consists of.

That’s it.