Thanks to Michael Nixon for pointing me at this article on the BBC on social networking and activism.  I recommend reading (or at least skimming) it before continuing.

This is a very interesting article with a surprisingly high-quality discussion happening in the comment section.  I think there are two areas where he really oversimplifies and/or misunderstands the nature of social media.  The first is in point 3 on his list when he characterizes social media as inhospitable to propaganda. The second is in point 6 when he claims that technology has wrought an end to vertical hierarchies.  I’ve seen many people make similar simplifications and generalizations about technology and communication, but given that Mason’s project in this article is specifically about explicating the dynamics of how people use social media to fuel political movements in the 21st century I felt it relevant to dig deeper into his assumptions.

Critiquing this tiny point in a BBC news article is really just an excuse to explore a number of ideas that I think are interesting and important when it comes to what we are currently calling “social media”.  There are two misconceptions about social media that I’d like to discuss here.  The first is what I am calling “the myth of the horizontal”.  The second I am calling “the myth of victorious truth”.

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Re-posted from Fashioning Technology:

I’ve been enjoying the other posts about the Superhero Design Challenge and decided to write a bit about my own experiences designing and building Captain Chronomek.  My wife and I have been designing costumes together for many years: we do this in our limited spare time, and it provides us with a chance to create interesting things without the need to justify them as “research” (we are both PhD students, at SFU’s School of Interactive Arts + Technology).  It seems cliched to say that we were into Steampunk before it was cool to be into Steampunk, and honestly we didn’t get serious about incorporating a historical aesthetic into our costumes until a few years ago.  However, it has always been important to us to create costumes that look and feel like clothing that a character would wear.  For Captain Chronomek we tried to emphasize different textiles and materials: texture was a very important part of our concept for the character, as was a sense that the costume had been lived in.  One regret I have is that we did not have as much time to distress and age the fabrics as much as I would have liked.  As with any project done to a firm deadline, there are always details that one would change if given the opportunity.

The narrative for the character was that he was an Industrial Revolution era machinist who had been chosen by a benevolent group of time-traveling aliens to defend history against an evil group of time-traveling aliens  (for full origin story and a montage of the design process, check out Captain Chronomek on YouTube, where you can read a very melodramatic description of his history).

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TEI11-035In late January we once again took the Reading Glove on the road, this time to the 5th annual Tangible and Embedded/Embodied Interaction conference, held in Funchal Portugal.  We gave a somewhat theory heavy talk on the project, presenting our notion of present-at-mind, and our design ideas gleaned from the studies we have been running. The paper is also available: Experiencing the Reading Glove

Conference highlights included a fantastic workshop on Bizzarro Game Controllers led by Amanda Williams and Eric Kabisch and an exciting demo session with some really fun hands-on exposure to new prototypes and technologies. For those interested, we have posted a TEI 2011 Flickr Photoset.

We also entered into the student design competition, organized by Arduino Lilypad creator Leah Buechley.  The challenge was to create a costume and superhero character concept.  We decided we wanted to do a steampunk time-traveler, using old technology and textured materials.  Josh had wanted to make a Nixie Tube Clock for many years now, and had also been toying with ideas for a new wing design that would improve greatly on the Labyrinth of Jareth Wings he built in 2005.  The resulting character – a superhero called Captain Chronomek – won the prize for inventiveness!

We recently presented work on the Reading Glove at the recent iDMAa (International Digital Media and Arts Association) conference on “The Digital Narrative”.  We presented a paper in the “Narrative Objects” session, and also demonstrated version 1.0 of the Reading Glove system at the Student Showcase, as part of the SIAT graduate student group. The Student Showcase highlighted the work of graduate and undergraduate students from a number of different schools, and was judged.  At the awards banquet, we were surprised and honored to learn that the SIAT graduate student group had been judged the winners and we were presented with the Digital Media Program Award of Excellence. 

The projects presented were:

Synesketch by Uros Krcadinac

The Reading Glove by Karen Tanenbaum and Josh Tanenbaum

Tarotception by Aaron Levisohn

The Talking Poles by Lorna Boschmann & Vicki Moulder

The newest version of the Reading Glove has recently been deployed in a set of user studies.  This version is augmented with a tabletop display that helps guide the user through the story.  An intelligent reasoning engine generates recommendations based on the reader’s path through the objects, helping them out by filling in holes or pushing them to the next stage of the story.  Via the user studies, we are investigating questions of adaptivity and the perception of artificial intelligence within an entertainment experience.

We have been running user studies with the system at SFU-Surrey and are about to launch a new round at the Great Northern Way campus. Many thanks to our great participants at both schools for helping us complete this research!

We have also produced a new video for the new version, which is viewable on YouTube:
Reading Glove 2.0

We just wrapped up a very successful conference experience at the 2010 Foundations of Digital Games in beautiful Monterey, California.  We presented a paper on the Reading Glove, “Authoring Tangible Interactive Narratives Using Cognitive Hyperlinks” at the INT3 (Interactive Narrative Technologies) workshop, and then were graciously allowed to show off our system at the Saturday demo session. All of the sessions we attended and conversations we had were interesting and thoughtful, and the conference food and drink was delicious and plentiful.  It doesn’t get much better than that!
We were particularly impressed by the work coming out of the Expressive Intelligence Studio at UC-Santa Cruz, just up the road.  Their grad students were out in force, and we had some great conversations with them.  We may even have convinced them to make their own Reading Glove, for their own nefarious purposes. Can’t wait to see what they do with it!

We have been talking a lot about the Reading Glove at conferences and events, and are trying to get more people to make gloves of their own to play with.  In the interests of providing the most up-to-date information possible to potential collaborators, here is the most recent version of the glove circuit.
Glove Diagram v.5

Reading Glove AH Slide

Josh just got back from presenting the paper The Reading Glove: Designing Interactions for Object-Based Tangible Storytelling in Megeve, France.

After several months of trial & error we have finally completed a working first prototype of the TUNE glove, recently re-named the “Reading Glove”.  The Reading Glove combines an Innovations ID-12 RFID reader, an XBee series 2 module (on a Lilypad XBee Radio), and Arduino Lilypad, and a simple homemade power supply to transmit RFID tag information wirelessly to a Laptop running Max MSP.  Read on for specific details on how it works, what it does, and how to make one of your own.

The complete circuit

Overview:

Watch our Video of the Reading Glove in Action
The Reading Glove is an RFID based interface for interaction with tangible objects.  It allows interactors to manipulate and handle tagged objects in order to access digital information that has been “embedded” in them.  Each object in this interaction is marked with a unique RFID tag.  These unique identifiers allow the object to be associated with specific digital information, in the form of audio, projected visualizations, and text.  The glove is comprised of an Arduino Lillypad Microcontroller, an Xbee Series two wireless radio, and an Innovations ID-12 RFID reader, embedded in the palm of a soft fabric glove.  The Reading Glove transmits the Tag information to a computer running Max MSP, which uses the tag information to trigger digital events.

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The DiGRA list is currently batting around another retread of a debate that I feel has actually grown quite tired.  Given that this conversation has already touched on games as art, games as education, and games as moral and ethical systems, I think we can safely say that we are involved in several political and (dare I say) religious debates about what games are, and what they do to us as players (and researchers/designers).  The letter that kicked this debate off, from within the game studies community, included this gem:

“Contrary to novels and movies,  players do not merely observe the unfolding story, their sensory-motor  system is highly active while pursuing whatever goals, changing the course of events within the game space provided. They do not distance themselves from the situation at hand. Players of those games are not challenged to enlarge and deepen their empathy.  This notion is quite unsettling, providing the high potential of games in this regard. GTA-type games may  from a technical viewpoint look artfully designed.  They are not art. Therefore, the communities of gamers should treat entertainment games as toys.”

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