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Digital (physical?) revolution

26 Aug

I recently went to Digital Revolution, an exhibition at the Barbican in London looking back – and forward through digital technology and our relationship with it. I was lucky enough to be invited to a talk by Jim Boulton, the curator of the Digital Archaeology section of the exhibition that explores the hard and software of the last 40 years, and the impact that this has had on culture (or, indeed, the reverse; how did our evolving culture affect the development of consoles, drum machines, art software and games?).

As a self-confessed nerd when it comes to tech and digital, I couldn’t wait to get stuck in and see loads of cool stuff. It didn’t disappoint.

Jim talked about how digital wasn’t confined to the last 40 years (even though that’s the timescale that the Digital Archaeology section spanned). Some of the stuff he showed us was from way back in the 1950s – like the Manchester University Computer Love Letter Algorithm that was used to write notes of affection that were then left around campus, always signed M.U.C. (xo <3!)

 Digital Revolution Gemma Critchley MUC love letter algorithym

Going into the Digital Archaeology section was like jumping into a deep, dark pool – the effect of all the video and sound was immersive and almost overwhelming; kind of how I’d imagine it would be to time travel from 50 years ago and end up confronted by a world of tablets, smartphones, video calling, contactless technology and augmented reality.

Two things struck me about Jim’s talk. First, I was surprised to see how far technology has come in those 40 short years. Second, I think most of us get how much this technology had impacted on our lives, but it was eye opening to see how much it had done this and how quickly.

Jim’s talk was limited to the history of digital tech, and the rest of the exhibition branched off to explore immersive and interactive technology, film, music, gaming and wearables.

It’s the first branch that really interested me – immersive and interactive technology. Interactivity was something that flowed through the whole set-up of the event; touching, playing, taking photos and sharing was all encouraged. I won’t share too much as I’d suggest you go and experience it for yourself if you can, but there were some really awesome exhibits.

I had a go at controlling the ‘street folding’ scene from Inception, experienced the 3D graphics of Gravity, called up some birds made out of old mobile phones to make them tweet, controlled a game with my mind (yes, really – this freaked me out a bit but was pretty rad), changed the design of a skirt thanks to interactive LEDs, played some awesome indie games like Thomas Was Alone, went to what I can only describe as a sensory rave in the basement of the Barbican and saw some pretty sweet neon art:

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One of my favourite exhibits was wwwwwwwww.jodi.org – part of the Digital Archaeology section. This was an art project that was launched in the 1990s, using code as art (there’s also a big section on DevArt in the exhibition itself); but what I loved about this was the subtly subversive nature of it. What looks like pages of broken code are actually very cleverly put-together sites that have a message buried in the source code. Kind of using destruction as a form of creation – I like the idea of pulling everything apart and seeing what emerges…

wwwwwwwwwjodiorg

I’ve always been fascinated by escapism of all kinds – why do people play games, read fiction, watch films, drink alcohol, dress up? I won’t try to answer that now but what I will say is that this exhibition made it clear that the desire to escape – or to enhance – reality is very much alive and well.

You might have seen people sharing photos on Instagram of themselves as ‘digital birds’ or with smoking eyes… (if you follow me on IG you will have, nestled in between snaps of hipster food and nail art). Basically, there were several parts of the exhibition involving cameras that visitors could interact with to create an alternative version of themselves. These seemed to be the parts of the exhibition that people appeared most rapturous about. Does this show narcissism? Maybe. A desire to explore an alternate reality or other self? Perhaps. What I think it does show is that people are actively looking for next level digital tech – where it can transform us in a way we haven’t been able to achieve before, and where the physical and digital converge to elevate our experience.

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There were opportunities to whisper a wish into a flower and watch it emerge as digital text before transforming into a butterfly and visitors had the chance to design their own piece of 3D art, with the potential for it to be selected for 3D printing which would then be added to the exhibition. 

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This convergence of the physical and the digital is not just a futuristic vision that’s confined to a museum, though. Games like Ingress and James Frey’s new novel, Endgame, are real-world location-based experiences that tie story, community, digital and physical worlds together to answer this desire to anchor digital interactions in the physical, but to disconnect from reality. Oculus rift achieves something similar, but perhaps the games/story elements for this piece of hardware aren’t quite there yet to make this stick as well as things like Ingress. Facebook clearly sees its potential and is looking for ways to use it to help people feel more connected, as it recently bought the company behind the virtual reality kit – I can’t wait to see how this pans out. 

There’s been a lot of talk in retail and marketing for the last few years about how to combine social and local elements to drive action (and a few murmurs of it are rippling through the learning community, too), but few seem to have been able to get this right. The advent of games like Ingress, the level of sophistication of today’s mobile devices and the evident appetite for combining physical and digital worlds might mean that the time is right to combine these and open up doors for those looking to exploit the sweet spot between community, location and storytelling. Provided they’re good enough at harnessing the power of all three, of course…

If you’re interested in how the future (or even present) of digital looks set to play out, I’d definitely recommend going along to the exhibition and letting your mind wander. Digital Revolution was part art, part tech and it all made me think.

I reckon that the next frontier in tech/digital/innovation (call it what you will) is the relationship between the physical and the digital. The next digital revolutionaries will be those who are brave enough to explore these connections and who dare to exploit them to make messages stick with users. 

The Design Fiction of Black Mirror, via Made By Many

7 Jan

Well, it’s been quite a week for stuff what I done gone and wrote getting re-posted elsewhere on the internet. My friend Greg over at Mount Analogue alerted me to the fact that one of my tweets had been used in a recent blog from those wonderful Made by Many chaps.

made by many madexmany blog gemma critchley social media facebook Black Mirror charlie brooker twitter willow grain

made by many gemma critchley blog black mirror charlie brooker facebook social media willow grain

Granted, it’s not the most eloquent thing I’ve ever tweeted but it felt good to have it included in a blog that I look to when I want an interesting or an inspiring read.

Did you watch Charlie Brooker’s (well, Jesse Armstrong’s…) Black Mirror? What did you think to it?

Google Fuss

17 Jul

So today I joined Google+.

I’m usually really excited to join a new venture in the wonderful world of digital, but after being so badly let down after my excitement for Google Wave, Google Buzz, etc. I’m a bit standoffish about this one. Google do some things brilliantly (search, mail, docs) and they should spend money, time and effort polishing the stuff that they’re great at instead of bandwagon hopping.

I love Google Docs and think it has a huge potential to completely negate the need for any sort of office package, but at the minute it’s still a bit buggy and lacks a lot of features that they could easily add.

We shall see, though. I’ve got an open mind about Google+ for now.

What do you think?

Cathode Narcissus

19 Jun

I’ve just finished reading Dorian: an Imitation by Will Self.

As always, I was blown away by Self’s intricate and knowingly clever prose, and the fact that story was built on one of the best-loved books of my adolescence – The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde – just added to the mix to make it all the more enjoyable. Disturbing, heartfelt, evocative, provocative, saddening and terrifying in equal measures, the book serves to recreate Wilde’s dandies as a portrait of the Gay scene in London and New York in the 1980s and early to mid 1990s – the hedonism and cultural liberation of the fin-de-siecle art world swirling together in the grip of the emergence of AIDS. It’s a gripping read and splendidly told at the bedside of several of the characters, sucking you into a sordid underworld of drugs, sex and vanity; but at the same time having Self’s telltale wry sprinkling of humour. I absolutely loathed some of the characters but loved the book and on more than one occasion found myself stopping to re-read a particularly well-crafted sentence.

Will Self Dorian An Imitation post it notes wall ideas author cathode narcissus

Every book I read by Will Self inspires me to get my pen out, or put fingers to keyboard and create something. If you’ve read the book recently, or re-read it in the context of now and not of the ’80s/’90s, you might draw parallels with any of your own user-generated content and Baz Hallward’s Cathode Narcissus, which forms the centrepiece for the novel. The image below is as close as I could get, it’s Nam-june Paik’s video installation, ‘Moon is the Oldest TV’. No one seems to have made an actual Cathode Narcissus yet – I was sorely disappointed when I discovered that www.cathodenarcissus.com a) did not exist and b) did not even pretend to exist – maybe I should create it? Maybe I really shouldn’t – maybe that’s the point? I loved how one of my other favourite writers, Joe Stretch, intertwined both Friction and Wild Life with the real world and the virtual one, but then again I suppose Dorian was written in 2002, right before or even on the cusp of the explosion of mini-Cathode Narcissi sites like Facebook and Myspace, so it is perhaps to be expected.

Cathode Narcissus Dorian An imitation Will Self The picture of Dorian Gray Nam-june Paik’s video installation, “Moon is the Oldest TV

My interpretation of Dorian: an Imitation was made all the more resounding by an article I read in today’s Observer, by Aleks Krotoski, about the ever-blurring lines between online and offline identities. It talks about how online we have the power to create ourselves as we wish to be seen, rather than how we actually are; but due to the fact that technology and ‘real life’ are becoming more and more intertwined, that polished version of ourselves has inevitably become more real. Our Facebook pages, our Twitter feed and our blogs (yes, including this one) are increasingly brighter, shinier versions of our own lives. We can edit out the undesirable bits and amplify the good parts of ourselves. We can curate our interests, leaving out our guilty pleasures and instead tailoring our personalities to be the version of ourselves that we want the world to see. We are effectively leaving the digital world strewn with billions upon billions of our own versions of Baz Hallward’s Cathode Narcissi.

I’m not a morbid person – for the most part – but I do sometimes wonder what kind of eulogy I’m building for myself online.

Are these banks of links and pages of profiles really the only legacies that we want to leave in our wake?

#oneaday 126: Leeds Digital Festival 2011

20 May

Last night I went to a get together upstairs in The Midnight Bell, a rather lovely watering hole in Leeds to meet up with some fellow digital enthusiasts for a catch up on #LDF2011. The idea was to talk about ideas for the next Leeds Digital Festival which is going to be held in Novemeber at a load of different venues throughout Leeds.

Leeds digital festival 2011 midnight bell leeds

Leeds Digital Festival 2011

What I liked most about the event was the idea that this festival isn’t about being better than Manchester, or Birmingham, or London. It’s not about this agency or that agency. It’s about celebrating the digital community in Leeds. It’s an opportunity to show everyone in Leeds what digital means to us and to share ideas and inspiration with each other. There’s no money or funding available for this year’s festival so it’s going to be a proper DIY job and so it’s only going to be as good as our ideas are… So the more ideas and action, the better.

The meeting was really inspiring and the fact that it’s open to everyone to get involved is ace. The next meeting is upstairs at the Midnight Bell on Thursday 16th June at 6pm. If you live/work in Leeds and you’re passionate about digital, come along and join us.

#oneaday 67: Chicks rule the Internet

8 Mar

In Celebration of my fellow ladies and International Women’s Day, here’s a nice little infographic showing that girls rule and boys do, in fact, drool. Or at least they aren’t as prolific when it comes to the useage of various social media channels.

Why do you think this is?

girls rule the internet, international women's day 2011

This infographic is taken from one of my favourite websites, Information Is Beautiful. It actually talks about data from 2009 so this may have changed quite a lot in recent months but I still thought it was quite interesting, especially considering that Digital seems to be quite a male-dominated world. Even though I find this interesting, I’m not one to perpetuate stereotypes and I don’t like to harp on about feminism as I think clinging onto inequalities between men and women just enhances them. But I’m still immature enough to go ‘ner ner, girls are best’.

Because we are.*

*May or may not be tongue in cheek.

#oneaday 30: Short Story Sunday – Limerick edition

30 Jan

There once was a girl living in Leeds
Who loved websites and RSS feeds
She wrote in her blog
(which is short for web log)
About her other geeky needs.

(Sorry it’s poop but I have man flu today)

#oneaday 25: Dedicated

25 Jan

Saw this today, it struck a chord. Think it’s time for a digital detox! #oneaday excluded, natch.

stare at the monitor all day fuck yeah helvetica

Dedicated to wonderful folk for being wonderful.

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