These days, we probably spend too much time glued to computer screens, tweeting, updating our statuses, tumbling, pinning things to Pinterest, or doing whatever it is we do on the growing number of social networks we belong to. We spend so much of our free time doing these things, it seems, that we’ve almost forgotten about that fabled, fairytale world that apparently is all around us but that we no longer see: The Real World.
Is there a way around this though? A way to still keep our socially networked lives intact without sacrificing a day at the beach or dinner with friends the process? Perhaps—technologies such as near-field communications, augmented reality, even the arduino are making it possible to translate the metaphors of the virtual world into the physical space, without forcing you to be staring at your phone 24/7. How about “friending” people in a way that retains all the fruits of adding them online, but in a way that’s more meaningful?
While many of the projects playing with this idea are more conceptual or humorous than they are actual commercial products, it does foresee a future of so-called “passive computing” where attention is diverted away from these “glowing rectangles” and back to physical reality, where we’re surrounded by “smart” objects with computing power embedded inside.
The Like Belt
It’s so easy to “like” things and “friend” people on Facebook. A click of the button and it’s done, relegated to the annals of our Timelines. Our interest in things and our bonds with people should harbor more importance than a mere click. Enter the Like Belt by Deep Local, which uses Near Field Communication technology to turn liking, friending and checking-in into an actual physical act. This is done by thrusting your pelvis at tags or people equipped with the same tech. It’s a slightly awkward gesture, that’ll make you think twice about how important it is to “like” that link and adding a bit of gravitas to an act that’s becoming devoid of any real meaning.
Instagram has given us a social means of interacting with photographs, but this interaction largely occurs via an endless stream within the app. Photos are supposed to help us remember things, but this function is obscured when they disappear in a thread of all our friends’ uploads. Instaprint by Breakfast NY is a solution that transforms our Instagram images into physical photos. By choosing to print them, we are deciding that certain photos are more important than others, thus imbuing them with added value.
How much use does Foursquare REALLY have? We’re all check-in zombies at this point—pulling out our phones to leave a digital footprint of our time at a place, but how often do we stop and think about the purpose it serves in our lives? With this hack, at least checking in becomes functional. When you check into your apartment, it will unlock and open the door for you. Imagine if checking in anywhere had these kinds of corollaries—and no, we don’t just mean beer specials.
The Poking Machine
As we mentioned above, friending and liking are lacking real value in the Facebook domain, largely due to the simplicity of the action. So what about poking? What does this even accomplish besides a passive aggressive means of getting someone’s attention? The Poking Machine by Jasper van Loenen and Bartholomäus Traubeck is a wearable device that gives the virtual act of poking that satisfying physical manifestation. If nothing else, at least this form of poking would get annoying enough to elicit a real response from the wearer.
This one is more conceptual commentary than it is functional, but it still gets to the point of how we think about online metaphors. Traffic or “hits” on websites are the definitive means of tracking popularity these days. Alerting Infrastructure shows how this presence online is slowly degrading our actual presence at the (destructive) expense of the real world. The more time we spend online, the more time we aren’t inhabiting real spaces with real people.
Email is overwhelming. We are inundated with fleeting messages from friends and coworkers, as well as the ever-infuriating influx of spam. Email doesn’t really have any aesthetic appeal and thus loses the warmth of receiving a letter from a personal connection in favor of immediacy. The Tableau by John Kestner is an antique-looking night stand that prints out emails and photos within its drawer that allows us access to our email without forcing us to commit to staring at our computer screens. It will print out messages and photos and even upload what is put in the drawer. It isn’t something we’re constantly connected to, but we nonetheless remain connected. It blends into our rooms and our homes instead of distracting us from them.
We inundate ourselves with content daily. We want to have access to this information but when we immerse ourselves in it online, we become overwhelmed and exhausted. Surfing is hard work. BERG‘s Little Printer acts as a physical intermediary to that content by giving it a more manageable, easily digestible form. It’s harder to focus when it’s too easy to click around. By printing our social content or articles, we still get the physical object and are less inclined to divide our attention since we only have a single piece of paper to focus on.
What other devices bringing virtual actions into the physical world have you encountered? And do you think any of them hold any real appeal? Or are they simply poignant artistic commentary about the realities of our digital era? Let us know in the comments below!