Magic moments vs Technology over-load
An issue that has come up a lot recently: how to successfully exploit technology to create magic and memorable moments. They say “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” Sometimes it’s the technology that fascinates and others it is purely the experience that counts. How to design the next generation of media experiences? What devices work? What emotions can be stirred?
Two recent events - 1) A session with @ubistudio in Palo Alto, CA and 2) Our BBC Trainees Immersive Experience Lab in Manchester – both committed to exploring the tension between hypnotic, connected, powerful, emerging technologies and the personal, unique, emotional experiences that entertain us or help us learn.
And so to UbiStudio. It seems Bristol’s Pervasive Media Studio has a few fans here in San Francisco. Rutger and I were lucky enough to attend a session packed with academics, technicians, businessmen, futurists and the curious who regularly convene to reflect on and project the trajectory of media consumption. With contributions from Intel, Nokia, Stanford University, ex-Hewlett Packard staff, transmedia theorists and casual observers alike, the discussions were both inspiring and mind boggling.
Augmented social interaction…
There were three formal presentations, starting with the analysis of an experience designed to encourage people to make genuine human connections at large events. Zorop is the brainchild of Ken Ekland, also known as writerguy, and used a gentle narrative (people dressed as Zoropians, tooled with iPhones) to bring strangers together in search of common affinities. Results were visualised in real-time on touch-screen tables at the Zero One Festival in San Jose. One memorable story described two old ladies brought together who, after some cajoling, eventually found a shared interest in ceramics. They were no longer strangers having found mutual ground, a shared passion. The interesting point here is that for all the technology that enabled this meeting, the resulting impact and emotional experience had no dependence on technology as it played out.
Gene Becker, UbiStudio director, offered a retrospective on the challenges of developing an AR app using LAYAR, in a short time frame, with minimal technological knowledge. Ultimately we learnt the development was far more enjoyable than using the tool itself. The technology, using GPS enabled camera-phones, though impressive, was too crude and fiddly to support any memorable or useful experience. Again, we see the challenge of striking a balance between visible technology and user experience.
Transmedia that works
In contrast to this, Robert, who spoke on transmedia and augmented reality, made reference to an iPhone app for use in conjunction with a (real-life) comic book, adding to the depth of experience by using QR codes to trigger additional content on the phone such as ambient audio or back-stories. In this example, the extra layer of technology (camera phone, internet connection, streamed content) enhanced the experience despite having to fiddle with the app.
A conclusion of sorts
So the conclusion seems to be a question of context. Horses for courses. At a vibrant street festival it doesn’t enhance the experience watching through a small screen, whether or not it reveals additional content. However, at home, book in hand, additional un-intrusive content accessed quickly and simply can enhance the experience. Perhaps this is because the conventions are more familiar – background music isn’t a ground breaking revelation; but instantly accessing relevant content using a bar-code is pretty cool So in every case it is about finding a relationship that works – balancing an enabling technology with a desired experience, without one over-powering the other.
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