Sunday, 22 March 2009

Wearable technology and extra sensory media

UEL's SMARTLAB hosted a Show and Tell evening on Friday exploring a range of artist-created sensory performance based technologies encouraging creativity and new ways of interacting.

The evening was kicked off by Sara Diamond, formerly of the Banff Centre and now President of the Ontario College of Art.  Sara discussed her wearable creations containing sensors reacting to touch and movement by lighting up or changing shape.

She has also created clothing responding to bio-feedback that assists flirting by sending physical signals to one's object of affection and Company Keeper a fetching outfit providing emotional responses and support in the form of words and music. 

MIT Europe's Elena Corchero showed beautiful items such as parasols and broaches containing solar panels acting as lights when they are used at home in the evening. Her work combines traditional craft skills such as embroidery with the latest smart materials.

Also worth noting was Camille Baker's Mindtouch mobile media performance utilising supercharged sensory costumes which will be featured in an upcoming BBC programme.

If this is the future of fashion, then fashion is set to become much more interesting than it has ever been. Check out Smartlab's website to find out about upcoming events - well worth the journey to the campus based near City Airport. 

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Us Now

Kudos to up and coming filmmaker Ivo Gormley for creating Us Now, a thought provoking documentary about the social and commercial transformations catalysed by internet technologies.

Screened to sold-out crowd Wednesday evening at the Barbican by the LIDF, the film highlights popular online services like Couchsurfing and Mumsnet which Gormley suggests, indicate the potential for greater grass roots participation in public institutions and government
. These businesses in their different ways both demonstrate the efficacy of peer-to-peer networking and collaboration around common goals and interests ( and parenting respectively).

A who's who of the internet intelligensia - including Clay Shirky and Don Tapscott - support Ivo's thesis with lots of talk of potential. Labour politician Ed Milliband interviewed for the film seems less sure. Good thing then that the successfully fan-managed community-owned Ebbsfleet Football Club is heralded as a model for future government. It is highly evocative case study- if only we could get people to be as passionate about government as many are about football.

In contrast, the post-film panel suggested a recent participatory US government trial run by highlighted potential pitfalls of participatory democracy; the legalisation of marijuana dominated online discussions about desired legislative changes and consequently was slated for it.

My view is we need to think about how on and offline activites can work in harmony whilst being clever and committed to finding new ways to get people interested in politics. An example of participatory budgeting in Morecombe Bay presented in the film (drawn from a methodology from Brazil) seems promising, however this excercise took place offline in the form of a public meeting. Links with citizenship education should also be explored.

So how do we get governments to seriously consider these new approaches? Does it take, as I suggested on the panel, a crisis? The Kent town of Wye mobilised over a threat to their countryside via the internet-enabled Save Wye campaign led by two former journalists. Kent Council now has a social innovation lab.

Although the film raises more questions than it answers, it is a great conversation starter especially for the digital generation about the future of politics as well as a reminder to people like me about why I got involved in the first place.