Archive for December, 2006

technologies to enhance social relationships

Friday, December 29th, 2006

about ten days ago I walked past a classroom where the instructor was overheard starting class by asking individual students how they were: “morgan, how are you?” something about the tone of his voice made me think that he was sincere in wanting to know. i imagined him beginning his talk and then deciding to integrate the students into the discussion by simply asking them how they were. i further imagined him then discussion the students’ responses in relation to the class material. i have an active imagination.

as the classroom experience is often an exchange of unilateral transmissions by people comfortable speaking in public surrounded by people who aren’t, but who no doubt have a lot on their minds, i got to thinking about how to augment the classroom practice by giving the silent majority an opportunity to contribute without having to raise their hand first. to somehow make the ideas on the margins more available to the center.

in wondering how to augment the process by allowing the somewhat private and often fragmentary ideas often suspended in the minds of many in any group to become public, i realized that most of us have cellphones and/or access to the web in our labs (i’m now writing specifically about my work at my institute), so messaging into a projected tag cloud seemed like something to try.

i’ve written a few scripts over the past week and will use them in my classes next semester. the idea, again, is that as “we” talk, participants can freely and anonymously submit a word or phrase to the evolving tag cloud. the script scales font size to prevalence, so, one might want to amplify a certain tag, or add a new one. the most recent tag is in red. the interface for the tag cloud is in a few flavors, one for the desktop and one for the cell phone – i’ll get around to writing an sms version prior to the start of school.

here are some screen shots:

above: this would be projected in class.

below: current browser interface – works well on phones, provides recent cluster of previous three tags.


Thursday, December 7th, 2006

…lightrail, headed southwest, around 2pm. I noticed some interesting shadows and light movement on a wall I was facing when light passed through a window that had been scratched. I haven’t edited this at all. i held my cameraphone (nokia 6682) still while filming. i find it interesting to watch as a portrait of various elements and their movements within an environment that includes me, but focused on a surface that allows me to experience them abstractly. The information within the environment is focused on the wall, that wall is a sort of screen that permits me to observe some of the information in the space – the wall is also a “channel” in that it is capable of containing specific amounts or types of data – what i see on the wall is a subset of the information focused on my body, another surface, another channel. suddenly space seemed to be more about area than volume – an array of surfaces/channels, each with its own tuning that allows various elements to become focused/observable/information as they resonate “there”. a geometry not about space but about information? “light” as space, “temperature” as space, “density” as space…

last night, while headed home on the lightrail, i watched these on my phone and they created an interesting collage with the “live” elements within the train. there were many blurry moments, based in large part on the relationship of the recorded sound to the live sound. might be interesting to view this while traveling in other systems.

portrait of impulsivity in the industrial world

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006

found this scene as is on the street in downtown baltimore

phantom limb

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006

I’m going to climb out on a limb and suggest that space is real (epistemologically – it is a genuine aspect of my experience) and true (ontologically), and time is real and false – which is to say that when I experience something as being in the past that feels utterly correct, yet it is actually a description of a spatial relationship I have with something that I am connected to but is somewhat physically distant from me.  Things really change, but whether they change in relationship to an invisible, intangible framework such as our common understanding of time makes me wonder.

I’ve been thinking lately about sight vs. scent; how sight is though to be somehow tied to short-term memory (which is, physically, where exactly?), and scent is not.  Perhaps whatever we experience as visual is something that we can describe because it is somehow archived, however briefly, in what we call our short-term memory.  I’m wondering if this sensation of an ability to think about, to consider, to archive, doesn’t suggest a physical/experiential distance – whereas something we smell (again, our sense of smell is understood as having minimal to zero short-term memory, this is why it is so difficult to imagine a scent the way we can imagine something we’ve seen), or something we experience intuitively, even impulsively, is much physically closer, so there isn’t enough spatial separation – it is too close to describe or memorize.  When we see something in our mind, when we remember something it is “simply”, perhaps that much farther away from us – and distance is a measure of the degrees of complexity to which the elements in our environments can affect us. The qualities or “suchness” (the latin root of the word quality can be translated into “suchness”) of viewing something are different than the qualities of touching or smelling something.  To me, at least, the qualities of touching and smelling are more complex in that, generally, they seem to induce less controllable, and more intuitive or impulsive responses – a mixture of the anticipated and the unimaginable, it is much more difficult to accurately predict my response to that which I touch or smell, and it is much more difficult, in turn, to remember haptic or scent experiences at will.  Scent and smell seem to be significantly more immediate and my experience of them seems less controllable. Of course one can learn to avoid touching something really hot, or that, in general, smelling certain things will, probabilistically, have higher potentials for inducing a pleasant experience or not, but I seem to lack an ability to internally and remotely conjure up scent, and touch memories as I can with something visual – like my recollection of the apartment I grew up in.  These differences suggest, to me, a gauge of proximity to a focal point within a shared space that we understand as “I”.

 I realize that I need to consider these ideas further.  I write them now as they seem to have come up in an association with the dream I described below.  I think that my will to touch things in the dream as a means to determine whether I was awake or not is significant in this regard.

 Lastly, a few months ago I saw a film called investigation into the invisible world (enquete sur la vie invisible). It is a French film shot in Iceland about the apparent, and general (of course there are skeptics) , cultural acceptance of various paranormal activities, ranging from ghosts, to sprites to ufo.  I found the film interesting, and the title extremely apt.  I have no clear opinion on the so-called paranormal, but what occurred to me while watching the film is that there is often a call for proof when someone experiences something unusual, and that proof seems to often be requested in the form of a photograph of something that someone describes as having seen – a “ghost” for example.  We all know that photographs of such apparent visual phenomena are rare or perhaps non-existent.  What occurred to me is that we privilege the eye, and seeing, to such an extent in our culture (I realize Icelandic culture has its unique components but we share quite a bit) that I wonder if we don’t describe certain experiences as visual, to ourselves, when, perhaps in fact, they are not solely or specifically experienced via the eye.  What we do is “remember” and describe such experiences as visions, when in fact they are complex, perhaps multi-sensual responses to stimuli in an environment that we describe (and even remember) as visual simply because we lack the language to describe them more accurately.

 Our current belief that our senses gather specific frequency data somewhat independently of each other (which really sounds more reptilian than mammalian, doesn’t it?) might need some further study, especially when there are experiences, perhaps many experiences, that are simply being dismissed rather than actively considered in such a way that would encourage a broadening of our understanding of ourselves towards an increasingly accurate description of our experience.

“joint otherworldliness situation”

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006

 That’s how a friend of mine described the following experience:

 Last Wednesday morning I dreamt I woke up from a dream and found myself in another place that I didn’t recognize.  When I awoke in the dream the trigger seemed to be conversation coming from another room.  I attributed that conversation to friends that were actually visiting, but as I listened carefully to the voices I realized that while they sounded familiar, they actually weren’t.  Opening my eyes in the dream I looked around and found myself on a bed in a wood paneled room on the ground floor of what felt like a detached house.  I realized I wasn’t in my apartment and thought that I’d gone away for the weekend, had fallen into a deep sleep and was having one of those complicated awakenings in unfamiliar surroundings where you don’t know where you are for a moment or two. The sensation of waking in this dream was so “real” that, as I came to consciousness, I was convinced that I couldn’t remember the surroundings; I became very concerned.

 I began to touch things in the environment to ensure that this wasn’t a dream.  There was a clock on the wall – an analog clock that fit with the “woody” décor.  It read 7:42 (approx.).  I looked out the window and noticed it was dark, and concluded I was waking from a nap.  I felt a bit woozy and wondered if I wasn’t in bed because I was sick.  I became increasingly concerned as I was convinced that this wasn’t, in fact, a dream – but was an environment that I was a part of but couldn’t recall.  I got out of bed and began exploring the room to determine if I really was awake, and if so, where I was.  I had memories, in the dream, of my real life, and was comparing the two – carefully searching for any information that would clarify my current state.

 Noticing a door at one end of the room, through which I could hear conversation – perhaps a small party, I walked down an opposite hallway into a small room that at first reminded me of a small laundry room in an apartment I lived in as a kid – but realized that it wasn’t that room.  I was touching everything that I could, touching, tapping, rubbing – trying to figure out what was going on, and thinking that if I could feel things with my hands that meant I was, in fact, awake.

 While in the room I thought that if I could find one familiar object it might form a basis from which to construct an array, however small, of associations to form, perhaps, a memory – something to anchor me to the environment.  While racking my brains the door at the end of the hall opened and a woman, approximately 5” tall with long, straight, black hair tied in a ponytail walked in.  I looked at her and she didn’t seem surprised to see me.  Something about her behavior suggested that she worked as a cleaning person in this house.  I remained in the small anteroom while she made up the bed I had been in.  Not wanting to alarm her by strange behavior, I walked down the hall toward the bed with the intention of getting back into it, acting as if everything was as it should be.  We passed each other in the hallway and I nodded – and she barely acknowledged me but didn’t seem surprised to find me there – she seemed clearly to work in the house.  I noticed she was wearing a yellow sweater.

 I got back onto the bed and as I did I extended my arms on the blanket – which was a gold/brown/black knitted item.  I remained on top of it and, as I ran my hand along the surface found a small pin with a black plastic top that was bent in the middle.  I took the pin and ran it along my fingertip, gently pushing it in to my fingertip – again attempting to generate a haptic experience that would indicate this was, in fact, real.  Again my experiment created an effect that seemed to verify my situation as having woken up in another place.  I shut my eyes and tried to relax.  I again noticed conversation – this time from a bit closer to the door.  Again I attributed the voices to some friends but, as I listened more carefully, realized I couldn’t identify them.  I began to feel like I could sleep a bit and looked again at the clock, it was now 7:50 (approx.).  I shut my eyes, hoping that when I awoke I would be able to orient myself.

 I awoke in my apartment seemingly moments later.  I opened my eyes and, noticing the similarities in the way I experienced both environments was again unsure if I was now in a dream or actually awake.  I felt concerned that I was caught up in something that I couldn’t understand but told myself that if I took things in slowly I could definitely familiarize myself with whatever was going on and build up from there.  I sat up in my bed and knew that I was, at least, “home”.  I walked into the apartment and thought to check to see what time it was: 9:53 am.

 I don’t ever remember having such a vivid dream.  I’m not sure how well I have conveyed the experience here, but the experience of being awake while in the dream was, well, real.

 And there’s a bit more.

 Two days after this dream I was participating in a workshop in downtown Baltimore.  During a break from our activities I was standing around chatting with a few participants and began recounting the dream.  As I went over it, I looked around and noticed that the warehouse space we were in was very “woody”, reminding me of the wood paneled space I woke up in during the dream.  I also noticed that a woman named Beatrice, with whom I had been working, had, while I was speaking, borrowed a coat from someone in preparation to go outside and do some field recordings. As I spoke about the dream she put the coat on and I noticed that it was predominantly yellow.  Beatrice had long, dark hair tied back, loosely, and is approximately 5” tall.  She was standing to my left and I remembered that as I passed the woman in the yellow sweater during the dream I glanced down at her across my left shoulder.  I didn’t share any of these details with the group.  I gave them, essentially, a synopsis of the experience – not wanting to come off as a boar (like now…).

 Later that day I spent some time with B doing field recordings outside.  As we walked she began telling me that her thesis project (she is a photographer) dealt with an exploration of making connections between significant elements in dreams and analogous things in waking life.  I had not, and have not, shared with her all the details of my own experience.  She said that, for example, she might have a dream in which she vividly experienced a blue “something” – she would then, while awake, note which objects seemed to connect to those dream elements and explore the contexts of both the dream thing and its real life complement.

 A friend of mine’s father has a special term for dreams: “brain poop”.  Another friend suggests that there is always “slippage” in our perception of the world, and what we come to understand as reality is that which is most consistent, most probabilistically significant – the rest is, essentially, noise.  I think I understand these points of view. I’m interested in thinking about relationships between the things I experience and learning to integrate in such a way that I may have a better understanding of the present.  I think that in order to do this I might have to suspend my will to judge their significance and accept their presence, then work out the cloud of associations from there, the resulting form being a description of here.

via e. 22nd st.

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006

here is an audio clip from this recent project that exemplifies some of the material in the previous post. the voice is mine. if you follow the link to the project and click on the links to the various maps you’ll hear other ideas about time and urban development.