ecological approach to the designs in technological world

October 6, 2007

I woke up in the morning to read more thorougly Anatole’s post about Action potential and urban fiction about Xing Danwen’s works.

What came to my attention was this part:

Danwen maintains that «people live in cubes that are squeezed next to one another, separated only by thin walls. This physical proximity, instead of leading to greater closeness and intimacy between people, can often create psychological distance and loneliness. The sculptural form of these new residential buildings, the floor plan of the apartments, and the various interior designs are all related to the inhabitants and their “individual” taste and needs. The models of these new living spaces are perfect and clean and beautiful, but they are also so empty and detached of human drama».

Then Anatole comments that:

Hence, an ecologically grounded approach emerges, since issues as proximity and spatial closeness and, interestingly, they are asymmetrically paired with psychological correlatives as intimacy, distance and loneliness.

We have been recently discussing this ecological approach with him, where objects from external environment in correlation with our internal goals will start affording certain activities and certain emotions.

Could we state that these new interior designs would entail certain culturally defined potential affordances that would trigger us to actualize only our certain goals in these urban spaces and then perform certain selected actions and feel emotions of lonelyness?
Or can we say that our internal urban lonelyness actualizes certain correlates in the environments (specific affordances) and repeats more and more these goals and actions that lead to urban drama and seclusion?

Or is it about interaction of externally embedded potential affordances, which we defined by culture and our internalized culturally defined mindsets that leads to evoking certain affordances in the environmental objects?.

Anatole’s blog post also mentions that if we add something from ‘alive’ environment to this sophisticated and cold modern realm, it will change the whole setting.

Danwen offers that «when you take these models and begin to add real life–even a single drop of it–so much changes»

I am questioning, why then we don’t add this real life part to the ‘cold cube world’? to prevent that the interrelations of our lonely being in technology and the external correlates of it, which we have created, would lead us towards greater and greater human solitude? And how could we add this real part.

Can we do it, shifting our internal imaginations of ‘ other warm life’ external as new objects and items and designs – basically toolizise our intentions to change the culture?
Or can we instead actualize our goals so that we ignore certain culturally defined technological design elements and their potential affordances and we would encode these objects into ‘warm’ and ‘alive’ emotional feelings and actions. This means we do not need to add certain ‘different’ real objects to the environment to trigger different affordances. We can add them sort of in our imagination and it would work the same?

I think this is already what we are doing in the technology world. Mart gave me to read the PhD thesis of Elza Dunkels “Bridging the Distance: Children’s strategies on the Internet”. She did a lot of online interviews in chatroom to ask about how they perceive the Internet environment. She writes:

From 8000 words in the interviews kids actually mentioned the word computed 19 times, and only at 2 occasions this was initiated by the child. Communication and fun themes, rather the use of technology per se prevailed.

On my opinion, the actualized affordances of Internet seemed not to depend of the objects, computers, technology with its functionalities and limitations, but instead these ‘information age immersed kids’ externalised real life and very warm and alive activity goals and perceived in the technology environment other affordances that the grownups from earlied generations. And accordingly these ‘communication and interaction affordances’ they sort of shifted to the technological world replaced the affordances of the technology as a technology. Kids totally forget that technology is there as a mediation tool!

Having this thought in mind i was going with my thoughts to monday, when we are having Lev Manovitch visiting our group and having lecture in Tallinn. He wrote about similar things in his paper: Friendly Alien: Object and Interface (2006). It talks about certain misfit of the technological content and activities and fashionable ‘old world’ designs that some modern artifacts (cell phones, etc.) are packed in luxury shops (eg. encrustation, silver textures, ”art deco” patterns).

Manovitch wrote:

cell phones, PDAs, portable game players, portable music players, portable video players all contain interfaces – most often a screen for output and input and a few buttons, and sometimes also a trackwheel, or a small built-in keyboard. And behind the screen lives a whole separate world with its logic, aesthetics, and dynamics. And when this electronic screen and the world it presents to us ends (I am talking about the physical boundary of the screen), this creates visual and psychological feeling of discontinuity. Suddenly we are in a different world – that of non-interactive, “dead” surfaces which enclose the screen. And typically the design of these surfaces does not have much to do with the design of the screen interface.

Thinking of Elza’s ‘Internet kids’ – do they perceive it the same as we ‘old generation’? Somehow i think they don’t.

Ok, then Manovitch writes about how the technology would change the objects we are used to see around us:

as computation becomes incorporated in our lived environment (the trend which is described by such terms as “ubiquitous computing,” “pervasive computing,” “ambient intelligence,” “context-aware environments,” “smart objects”) the interfaces slowly leave the realm where they safely lived for a few decades – that is, stand-alone computers and electronics devices – and start appearing in all kinds of objects and on all kinds of surfaces, be it interior walls, furniture, benches, bags, clothing, and so on. Consequently, the forms of all these objects that previously lived “outside of information” now have to address the likely presence of interfaces somewhere on them. This does not mean that from now on “form follows interface.” Rather, a physical form and an interface have to learn how to accommodate each other. Beyond the traditional requirements that the material forms have to satisfy – a chair has to be comfortable for sitting, for example – their design is now being shaped by new requirements.

In short, today the interface and the material object that supports it still seem to come from different worlds. The interface is a “friendly alien” but it is still the alien. The task of rethinking both interface and objects together so they can be fused into a new unity is not an easy one and it will require lots of work and imagination before aesthetically satisfying solutions will be find.

The surface of an object can become both an output and input media, bringing together the physical and the screen-like – form and information – in surprising ways.

Manovitch deals with ‘interfaces’ enclused to ‘objects’. Both trigger currently different potential affordances for action. Implicitly, he worries that the separation of hidden action potentials technology offers through ‘interfaces’, and the action potentials that the objects had in another previous culture, would be contraversial and causing certain battles between what action to carry out and evoking necessity for grounding contraversial affordances. This would result in not using these new devices most effectively as planned by the designers and visioners of new technology, because we would be triggered simultaneously by the affordances evoked by two different cultures.

Basically what we need, is immersion of cultures, becoming these new ‘immersive technology generations’ and we will no more distinguish the potential affordances the objects evoke as old and new activity potentials. Rather we will shift out internal immersed and augmented intentions into the environment activating combined affordances.

Do we need new designs to obtain the new culture or would the new culture emerge in using currently not ideally integrated technologically enriched objects and augmented reality? If so we will just start evoking different affordances in this environment and the design and immersion of old and new should not necessarily be melted to each other organically, we would do it by ourselves, with our perception and imagination.

In this case we can act in the current environment we are used to, but we can see if we want so in this environment also this virtual, technologically added space – we will get hybrid, augmented or ecologically defined environment for totally new activities, where we can go or not go depending our intentions.



  1. […] benwilson wrote an interesting post today!.Here’s a quick excerptThe sculptural form of these new residential buildings, the floor plan of the apartments, and the various interior designs are all related to the inhabitants and their “individual” taste and needs. The models of these new living spaces … […]

  2. […] Weaver24 wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptCould we state that these new interior designs would entail certain culturally defined potential affordances that would trigger us to actualize only our certain goals in these urban spaces and then perform certain selected actions and … […]

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