Near Future Laboratory Top 15 Criteria That Define Interactive or New Media Art

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The Julianipedia entry for “New/Interactive Media Art” has been finalized by the guys and gals on the editorial floor here at the Near Future Laboratory officeplex. After several years of review, discussions with leading experts and practitioners we’re finally ready to release our conclusions. And what better place to release them — here, in Linz Austria, and after a 3 year hiatus from Ars Electronica while I was teaching at an interactive media program where I would get in trouble for missing boring faculty meetings and a class or two because I thought it’d be useful to my pedagogy to go to the world’s pre-eminent interactive media exhibition (but no one ever got the business for going to the Game Developers’ Conference, so..there’s that.)

Here at Ars Electronica is where we did an unscientific qualitative test of the criteria devised to define New/Interactive Media Art. Now we deliver to you the conclusive results, and do so in the spirit of the David Letterman Top-10 Countdown, only with a Top-15 rather than 10, cause we found 15 things.

Forget all the New Media “Theory”; we’ve got your empirically derived criteria right here.

The Near Future Laboratory Top-15 Criteria for New or Interactive Media Art are…

15. It doesn’t work

14. It doesn’t work because you couldn’t get a hold of a 220-to-110 volt converter/110-to-220 volt converter/PAL-to-NTSC/NTSC-to-PAL scan converter/serial-to-usb adapter/”dongle” of any sort..and the town you’re in is simply not the kind of place that has/cares about such things

13. Your audience looks under/behind your table/pedestal/false wall/drop ceiling or follows wires to find out “where the camera is”

12. Someone either on their blog or across the room is prattling on about the shifting relations between producers and consumers..and mentions your project

11. Your audience “interacts” by clapping/hooting/making bird calls/flapping their arms like a duck or waving their arms wildly while standing in front of a wall onto which is projected squiggly lines

10. Your audience asks amongst themselves, “how does it work?”

9. The exhibition curators insist that you spend hours standing by your own wall text so that you can explain to attendees “how it works”

8. It’s just like using your own normal, human, perfectly good eyeballs, only the resolution sucks and the colors are really lousy..plus the heat from the CPU fan is blowing on your forehead which makes you really uncomfortable and schvitz-y

7. Someone in your audience wearing a Crumpler bag, slinging a fancy digital SLR and/or standing with their arms folded smugly says, “Yeah..yeah, I could’ve done that too..c’mon dude..some Perlin Noise? And Processing/Ruby-on-Rails/AJAX/Blue LEDs/MaxMSP/An Infrared Camera/Lots of Free Time/etc.? Pfft..It’s so easy…”

6. Someone in your audience, maybe the same guy with the Crumpler bag and digital SLR excitedly says, “Oh, dude. That should totally be a Facebook app!”

5. It’s called a “project” and not a “piece of art”

4. You saw the "project" years ago…and here it is again…now with multi-touch interaction and other fancy digital bells and Web 2.0-y whistles

3. Your audience cups their hands over various proturbances/orifices at or nearby your project attempting to confuse/interact with the camera/sensor/laser beam, even if it uses no such technology

2. There’s a noticeable preponderance of smoothly shifting red, green and blue lighting effects

1. People wonder if it wasn’t all really done in Photoshop, anyway

3 Bonus Criteria!

0. There are instructions on how to experience the damn thing

-1. You can’t “collect” or buy it. Heck, if you did, you’d need to get AppleCare or hire an IT guy in the bargain

-2. Crumpler guy says, “Oh, I thought of that already..”

There it is. The Near Future Laboratory Top-15+3 Criteria Defining New/Interactive Media Art!
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Inconsistencies

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A couple of curious vanity plates seen in rapid succession. The inconsistency between the sentiment expressed in the vanity plate and the sensibilities, politics and mythology/religion captured in these particular vehicle’s brand culture seems almost diametrically opposed.

In the first case, I see Gaia as probably related either to the Gaian hypothesis, which sees the earth as an organism in itself, shifting the perspective of human(ity) from masters to mere specks. Sort of the selfish gene taken to shift the relationship where the earth, well — we’re just a virus perhaps, or another of zillions of species, and perhaps the most damaging. But, either way — the earth will continue on in various forms, and humanity may indeed just wash away, barely a footnote in the time-scale of the universe. In this case — might not a fracking Cadillac Escalade be a particularly noxious expedient to the eradication of humanity what with this, you know — ecological carbon crisis?

Ian reminds me that the Gaia hypothesis states that the earth is an organism that will self-correct any damage inflicted upon it. So, we might better read the first inconsistency as a kind of expression of vanity in its purest form: “If the earth’ll fix the problems we inflict upon it, even if it means getting rid of humanity, then I may as well drive this ridiculously obnoxious, completely oversized, hell-mobile, even though I’m a 5′ 1″ miniature little valley blonde wearing ridiculous $500 sunglasses..the relative scale between my bird-like frame and this mansion-on-wheels make is feel like I’m driving the enormous, wasteful, ticky-tacky house my husband bought us to overcome the sense of inadequacy he has because he feels he’ll never be as successful as his dad? all the damage my idiotic lifestyle inflict upon this sacred rock will get washed away just like the bird crap that was on my windshield? that I had a homeless guy wipe away? and I only had to give him one of the dollar bills I had crumpled in my ashtray that’s overflowing with the half-smoked Marlboro Lights I sneak sometimes to help control myself from eating like a normal human being.”

The second one — a plate that expresses the owner’s commitment to peace and the block type car brand “Patriot” seems pretty far apart, especially these days where the patriotism idiom has been fairly well worked to the advantage of hawkish neoconservatives and such, who are probably the least likely to be 4PEEACE, at least insofar as peace would prevent them from conspiring to maintain an unstable state of world affairs for their own nefarious purposes.
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Aspirations

Curious expressions of status through social practices. For those unfamiliar with the kind of bumper sticker — for which this instance is an ironic, long-overdue kick in the ass — they typically will express how well one’s child has performed in school, or sport, or other cultural affair for which parents can be proud. Example: My child received High Honors at Hugh G. Jackman Elementary. Or; My Child Swims First Team for Lando Calrissian Junior High School. All well-intentioned, but annoying in the way they assert a kind of status that is sure to plague children all the way through their middle-management years. Actually, what do I know..I only have a pocket full of nieces, nephews and godchildren, and the random collection of friends’ children for whom I play an avuncular role. It may all make sense and do good.

The question here is — what matters in the age where, for example, South Korean popular television shows hours of Starcraft competitions, all moderated by a trio doing color, stats and play-by-play? Who are our cultural heros? What are our the aspirations of digital kids as defined by their peers? By their parents?
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Thoughtless Acts — Improvised Holsters



Shuttling around San Francisco in a cab, I found this intriguing set of improvised holders for a mobile phone and a bluetooth headset. California just began enforcing a law requiring that drivers use a hands-free device when they take a call while in the car. Anecdotally, we’ve seen many people continue to hold the handset to their ear while driving, and the debates continue in cocktail party conversations about whether this law makes sense. Which is more important, the physical interface between one’s driving hands and the steering wheel? Or the interface between your brain and the oftentimes cerebrally taxing levels of concentration required to watch out for, or anticipate, janky manuevers and surprises introduced by drivers/bikers/bicyclists/pedestrians/pets/bouncing balls?
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Signs of Local Pride

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A few interesting contrasts here. This is the sort of expression of familial/local pride that seems particularly New England-y, not to mention the fascinating and huge Safe and Vault store. The contrast of material, rather than digital, protected storage is curious, and the fact that there is a store to sell vaults and such reminds us that the ephemeral world of bits and atoms still has some material anchorages, whether protecting data centers, or other material — disks or flash storage USB sticks, they are all still material objects.

The other thing of course is the sign that a grandmother — perhaps owner of the store — has placed in the window, telling passersby that her granddaughter will be competing at the Beijing Olympics this summer. I was struck at the contrast between the pride of the grandmother and its expression in a rather rag-tag sign.
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Security

Security in Peru is all over the place. I don’t know much about the history of things that may cause security concerns — I can imagine — but it’s like driving through a neighborhood with lots of bars on residence windows and security grates in front of retailers. Here, police and militia toting automatic weapons tell their own story.

Peculiar Dog Driving Practices and Other Mobile Daring-Do

Definitely not a viable near future human social practice, especially with gas approaching its inevitable $5 USD per gallon prices, here in the US. This non-staged dog driving was seen recently in Lima Peru in the Barranco district, which reminds me of New York City’s Upper East Side (aka “Planet of the Apes” bizzarro land), only on the ocean. It’s a desirable, fancy district with new tall apartment buildings, lots of ground-floor security operatives, clean and well-manicured. Very quiet area compared to the rest of Lima which is as noisy as it can be — lots of cars honking as a matter-of-course, belching incredible amounts of exhaust fumes, general bedlam, basically. While wondering about, I saw this zaniness while basically waiting for a red-eye back to the US. I am not really sure exactly how to make sense of this peculiar dog driving practice.

What is most curious is that I first saw this car-dog-human hybrid and, as slow as they were going (no more than 5 miles per hour) I couldn’t get my camera out and change to an appropriate lens quickly enough, so I missed the shot. Somehow I knew they’d be coming back if I kept walking along this road and, sure enough — here they are. It was barely drizzling, so I can’t say that this is what lazy hydrophobes do to walk/drive alongside of their dog. Also, the dog didn’t seem to really have a chance to be anywhere except in the asphalt-y road — no real play time, just managing to keep up with the car.

Another peculiar driving routine is this maneuver on the boulevards of Lima, Peru. Drivers switch back and forth between the parallel “local” bit of road (or, heck..just the sidewalk, why not?), lined with small shops, etc, and the main thoroughfare. And do so by whatever means necessary. It is also routine to honk your car horn aggressively, often, and seemingly without reason or justification.

There appear to be an exceptional shortage of proper intersections and stop-lights to go along with them. There are more of these speed bumps than there are stop-lights. On one trip, we seemed to speed up as fast as possible and then downshift/brake abruptly for a speed bump about every 100 meters. There was a palpable frustration that you couldn’t just go for a good bit, which is almost worse than having a network of lights that sometimes can be timed. I think the speed bumps were likely responsible for avoiding the many near-close-call pedestrian accidents. The protocol for pedestrian street crossing is basically to just do it and not flinch when cars swerve quite close to you. It’s a delicate dance between pedestrians and large, heavy vehicles.

Traffic cops (armed, I should add), were stationed at particularly fast-moving areas to help manage the inevitable flow issues, including illegal left-hand turns made from the far-right lane and such all. There signalling mechanisms were incredulous shrugs, bird-like whistle-blowing and no-no-no finger waving gestures — as if to say, “what’re you thinking!?”

Territory

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A cordon of "road turtes" repositioned to define an area for a vendor’s cart of refreshing fruit cups. The road turtles stake out an informal, semi-permanent "home" for the vendor’s cart, but closer to permanent in that they’re nailed into the softer material between the broad cobblestones that make up the street. I found this practice in a couple of instances. Semi-permanence in a bustling context where finding a place to conduct business probably requires some sort of territorial negotiation, including making material adjustments/improvements to public space.

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Mixing Realities

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Human Frogger

Can I imagine an interface consisting of computational elements, digital semantics, networks that bridge and connect social elements that do not consist of screens and keys? Can the imagination of digital kids imagine a different set of interaction rituals that are not just about touching little plastic squares and staring at glowing, power-hungry screens? Or is it just inconceivable that digital kids could know anything else — the ones who have only ever known millions of colors and 1280×800 and learned to touch-type when they were 4. Can human-scale time, physical movement through urban paths, suburban cul-de-sacs or backcountry trails contain elements of possibility for digital experiences that are not just the hackneyed PDA/GPS/GSM tour guide blindly explicating the relevance of this or that locale? What do you even call that, when all the possibility for anything new has been bled out from all the idioms surrounding computation? Does anyone else think it’s positively moronic and fully lacking in any foresight that “mobile computers” are just little, battery draining desktop computers?? I heard of a project meant to research mobile computing that was precisely a mindless projects to get mobile phones handle advertising presentation technologies. I mean..