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A couple of years ago I visited Laurel Riek at the computer-lab in Cambridge. Laurel introduced me to some of the stunning humanoid robots she was experimenting with. One application for those robots, she said, could be homes for the elderly or homes where people live on their own; those robots could keep these ‘singles’ company.

At a recent meeting of the Digital Sociology Study Group (British Sociological Association) I met Ciara Garattini (@LifeDeathTech) who runs a blog called Life, Death and Technology. On the blog you’ll find a curious collection of items from a link to a photography collection by David Lynch to a notes on a Seminar on Death at Columbia University.

chen

The item that drew my interest was an art installation by Dan Chen, “A Robot that Comforts you at Death’. Like the robots I encountered at the lab in Cambridge this robot is designed to replace human intimacy with technology. Although Chen said he had no plan to commercialise the robot the deployment of these kinds of technologies seems attractive.

Related work has been undertaken in robotics, where for example, Kobayashi and colleagues (2011) developed robots “that provide assisted care, such as serving tea to the elderly in care facilities. They (2011) also experimented with a robotic wheelchair that automatically moves alongside the caregiver. The motivation for the development of such a device is to facilitate easy communication between the person sitting in the wheelchair and the caregiver. At the same time, the caregiver who now can walk alongside the moving wheelchair is not so much seen as the person caring for the wheelchair user but as someone who is with the wheelchair user.

The development of technologies like the robotic wheelchair demonstrates a growing concern in robotics and human-computer interaction to develop technologies that facilitate and support social interaction between people. Another example for technologies designed to enhance cooperation and interaction can be found in museums. For long, technology designers have focused on enhancing the experience of exhibits for the individual viewer or spectator; examples for such ‘individualising’ technologies are audio-guides and PDAs as well as many touch-screen systems. Fairly recently however, technologies have been deployed and experimented with in museums that facilitate cooperation, interaction and discussion. At the Tate Britain the exhibition of Constables landscape paintings was augmented by a large-scale projection that allowed multiple visitors to real the X-Ray image underneath one of the paintings and discover features that Constable had hidden by painting them over with bushes and treas.

In a very way, and this brings us back to the use of robots in museums, Yamazaki and colleagues (2009) deployed a robot in a major art museum in Japan. The robot was designed to draw visitors attention to particular features of a painting and encourage them to examine those features. The robot thereby monitored visitors’ responses to the information it was giving and produce subsequent actions in alignment with the actions of the visitors.

We therefore see two parallel development that might be worthwhile observing over the coming years as they might dovetail as robotics and human-computer interaction take further notice of sociological research of the organisation of interaction: first, there is the development of robots, robotic devices and other interfaces that facilitate interaction of individuals with technology. And second, there are developments that attempt to situate technologies like robots, gesture interface, and the like within social situations. These novel systems and devices are designed with particular care to fit in emerging social interaction, rather than interrupting it.

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Participations: Journal of Audience and Reception Studies

 

Special Issue: ‘Researching audiences in digital mediated and interactive experiences’

Part of the AHRC Funded Project http://affectiveexperiences.com/

Co-editors:

Irida Ntalla (Schools of Arts, Cultural Policy and Management, City University)

& Dirk vom Lehn (Department of Management, King’s College London)

Participations is the online Journal devoted to the broad field of audience and reception studies, and has been running for ten years now, to be found at www.participations.org.  It aims to bring into dialogue work and debate across all fields involved in examining all areas of media and culture.  Participations has pioneered a system of open refereeing for all contributions, designed to encourage open, critical debate among researchers.  This has been widely welcomed by contributors to the Journal.

Call for Papers

New media technologies and digital mediated environments bring histories and events close to audiences by offering a wide range of resources that provide them with opportunities for social, cognitive and emotional participation and engagement. At the heart of the development of new media technologies is “interactivity”, a characteristic ascribed to objects and systems that engage people in ways that go beyond traditional feedback procedures. These technologies facilitate sustained engagement and participation, allow for the communication of information and multimedia content, and often encourage people to produce and curate digital content.

Such interactive technologies and environments have become a familiar feature of many cultural institutions, such as in museums, galleries and science centers. Interactive exhibits, immersive installations, digital interactives, virtual games and online platforms engage cultural audiences in new ways and at the same time challenge the concept of the audience per se and their experiences; for example, they invite visitors not only to view and examine curated content but increasingly involve visitors in the production and curation of it to create personal museum collections, user generated content, etc.

These technological developments therefore challenge the relationship of audiences with artists, curators, museums and heritage sites’ professionals, educationalists as well as exhibition and interactive designers. Their effectiveness as tool for interpreting and representing exhibits and as educational technology is often argued for but also ever so often challenged and criticized. Evaluations of new media technologies in cultural institutions arrive at contradictory findings, some arguing for their ability to increase people’s engagement and participation with content and exhibits whilst others warn that they distract from the original objects and disturb the sacred relationship between visitor and object, user and content. Indeed, research suggests that at times these technologies become the reason for people’s frustration and disorientation in online and physical environments.

This Special Issue will contribute to these discussions about the increasingly complex technological mediation of the relationship between social practices, cultural institutions, their cultural offerings and their audiences. The issue aims to add to debates in a range of disciplines such as audience and visitor studies, marketing, digital humanities, interactive design as well as museum studies and practices. The co-editors invite submissions of papers that investigate the relationships between audience, cultural institutions and content and the ways in which these relationships are being influenced by the increasing pervasiveness of new media technologies. We particularly welcome critical considerations of the concept of the audience and the user as well as of interactivity in cultural institutions and encourage the submission of short articles and reports that reflect professional and practical experience of technology deployed and used in exhibitions.

Amongst others, we hope the contributions will address questions like:

  • what are the issues of interactivity in relation to participation and engagement for online and offline audiences?
  • how does interactivity and interactive technologies in these settings influence the experience of visitors, audiences or users?
  • which are the elements that constitute and influence these experiences?
  • how are interactive technologies used to represent and interpret information, histories and narratives in cultural institutions?
  • what is the relationship of academic research on audiences, interactive media and professional practices?
  • how does a researcher capture interactive audience experiences? Which are the research methods used in the various disciplines?
  • what does “effectiveness” mean for different stakeholders in cultural institutions, and what are suitable research methods to evaluate, assess or measure the “effectiveness” of technology deployed to interpret cultural objects and enhance people’s experience and learning from these objects?
  • how different users such as specialised audience utilise online material, information and personalised collections?

The Special Issue will be constituted of research papers, theoretical and methodological investigations as well as of relevant reviews, short articles and reports by cultural institutions’ professionals, designers and consultants.

 

Deadlines

Paper Submission: 1st November 2013

Acceptance Notice: 19th December 2013

Final Submission: 21st March 2014

Final Publication: End of May 2014

Submission Guidelines

http://www.participations.org/submission_guidelines.htm

Please submit your papers to:

Dirk.vom_lehn@kcl.ac.uk

Irida.Ntalla.1@city.ac.uk