Near-field interaction workshop post-mortem

I came back from a very vibrant Near-field interactions workshop in Oslo, hosted and organized by Timo Arnall,Julian Bleeker and Nicolas Nova. This is the third workshop organized of this kind around this subject, the first one, which I attended, took place at LIFT, the second one took place in Geneva again a few months ago. Here is a chronological aggregation of some of what happened over the weekend.

Timo started by asking what the physical link to a virtual connection is. There are those who see RFID as a field worth exploring and that will open the development of a number of interesting projects but there are also some very real concerns around privacy and identity, areas which also were addressed in some of the discussions over the weekend. Katherine Albrecht was mentioned as an anti-RFID activist with the idea of spychips. There are also questions around “near-field” and the concept of “touch” and how these things literally collide. What are the different cultural meanings behind touching? What happens when the web becomes physical and is that even the right question to ask?

Nicolas spoke about bridging first and second life, between a data-bound world online and how it relates to the world of objects. What are the interfaces for these bridges?

Then we moved onto a “5-minute-madness” where each of the participants had to present themselves, why they were interested in this workshop and what their point of view was. I was invited to speak about some of my thoughts later on in the afternoon as well, so was pretty brief in the morning with these 3 slides.

I enjoyed Florian and Stephan’s presentation about the Mobile Prosumer. They were interested in researching whether touching is relevant in the retail environment and what is the relevant technology to support it. They were interested in developing a service-oriented architectures which I think is something very interesting.

Vincenzo Palotta, from the Université de Fribourg, presented his project on KUIjects or Kinetic User Interface objects. Based on the activity theory paradigm, he argued that if you want to avoid interactions between objects, you have to focus on their movement itself as the source of design. There will be incidental interactions that occur without an explicit focus on the object, in short removing objects from the equation of interactions all together.

Janne from Nokia, with whom I had a lot of fun in the group work, had some interesting thoughts about security and RFID. If we assume that near-field capabilities will be accessible to everyone owning a cell phone, what happens when 2 000 million users have access to it. How do you build trust in the technology? He also pointed out that people care about security once it’s gone and it’s in the newspapers.

Ulla-Maria talked about some of the thinking behind her project Thinglink. She spoke about the perception of potential NFC action and how we can either pre-determine these affordances or let the user generate the social affordance. These then become accumulative and organised around shared motives. We connect on a very personal and emotional level with objects (i want, like, hate, own, sell, give) and so we need to equip these objects with personal relationships on a virtual level as well.

Matt talked about the “middleware” of that project and the impact that this has on thinking about global naming and collecting information about objects that are independant of context.
He spoke about what happens when you focus on object-oriented development, literally and open-data.

Then Gil, from Plot, introduced the movie that they produced based on some interviews with “future-casters” in London. When asked to think of future RFID-services they asked some very real questions:

How visible am i? How information-leaky am i?
How close can orgs get to me?
What are the layers of visibility?
What are the implications of having things close to me?
How do we design behaviours that are appropriate behind this?
How do we build-in empathy?
How do we deal with attention span?
What is the level of agency of that technology? How are questions of control engagement, permissions dealt with?
Participation: how do i see it, how am i taking part, how can I self select in and out of this?
Data as a commodity: how are we leaving an information trail that becomes more visible, tangible and tradable?
How are people seen and valued? Are people considered active users and not passive ones?

At the end of the 2 days, Ben made the final presentation, the first time I say him speak, although we’re good friends. It was quite a treat. Some of the points he talked about I will only attempt to list as a bullit list, this will most probably not make any sense to anyone who wasn’t there…

What does nearfield mean from a culture flow: layering space with meaning in a way that we can’t see.

This is something that happens on a peer to peer level.

There will be grouping and rules that will be sorted in the background, messages that will be passed back and forth, what does this mean for civic and architectural structures.

Flow of movement is tracked, leaving information behind.

The flow through architectue becomes erosive.

People’s own awareness is accued. a new definition of personal space…the virtual fields get more physical.

Movement is happening in the heard and self organisation within flicks of people become more visibla ena tangible.

Signification intentions are blurred

Modeling – New Bablyon condensation of social purpose… second life transformation of the city… a social city above the city itself.

What does this do to products and spaces? How do you suggest action because there is no longer a physical interface? How does this influence architecture?

Writing 'Creating a Culture of Innovation' (Out in 2020, Apress)