1.4 Augmented Space

It seems many theorists and practitioners are identifying a coming convergence of several seemingly unrelated technologies into a critical mass that will spawn a widespread revolution in our experience of space.

[Please refer to my Bibliography for the sources of quotes.]

As Lev Manovich explains:

The 1990s were about the virtual. We were fascinated by new virtual spaces made possible by computer technologies. The images of an escape into a virtual space that leaves the physical space useless and of cyberspace – a virtual world that exists in parallel to our world – dominated the decade”¦ By the end of the decade, the daily dose of cyberspace”¦ became such a norm that the original wonder of cyberspace so present in the early cyberpunk fiction of the 1980s and still evident in the original manifestos of VRML evangelists of the early 1990s was almost completely lost”¦ It is quite possible that this decade of the 2000s will turn out to be about the physical – that is, physical space filled with electronic and visual information. (2002)

Such a critical mass is made possible by the market economy. As technologies become more widespread they become mass-produced and thus become extremely cheap to produce. So cheap, in fact, that it has allowed numerous areas of research and development to become more economical. Where they were progressing at a painfully slow pace for years they are now accelerating because sufficient computation and communication capabilities have become affordable. These projects originated from different fields but are now converging on the same boundary between the actual and the virtual. (Rheingold, 2002: 84)

Although it is clear now that they are all related to the promotion and creation of pervasive hybrid spaces there are a bewildering number of labels for the research activities that are approaching the same goal, from a variety of angles. These include Ubiquitous Computing at Xerox PARC (and many others), Tangible Interfaces at the MIT MediaLab, Wearable Computing – principally at the University of Oregon, Context-aware Computing at the MIT MediaLab and the Georgia Institute of Technology and Smart Rooms/Objects, also at the MIT MediaLab.

Whilst there is an array of in-depth descriptions for every one of these research activities, highlighting their various nuances, it is possible to gather them all under the popular blanket term ‘Mixed Reality’. However, the ambiguity of a term based on a concept of reality could result in engaging in extensive philosophical discourse outside the bounds of this work. A term more specific to the exploration of hybrid spaces can be suggested as ‘Augmented Space’. Augmented Space, coined by Lev Manovich (2002), is in itself a derivative of another very specific field: Augmented Reality, which Manovich explains is opposed to ‘virtual reality’ (VR). With a typical VR system, all the work is done in a virtual space; physical space becomes unnecessary and its vision is completely blocked. In contrast, AR systems help the user to do the work in a physical space by augmenting it with additional information.

When mobile phone ownership grew faster than many expected, it became clear that there were definite commercial prospects for the development of ‘lifestyle’ products that could take advantage of society’s positive acceptance of living in Cellspace. It is important to note that ideas of human augmentation are not new; in fact Augmented Space research has produced ideas similar to those that helped spawn computer culture. Douglas Engelbardt envisioned a concept of a computer augmenting human intellect 40 years ago. However, Engelbardt’s ideas and the
related visions of Vannevar Bush assumed a stationary user – a scientist or engineer working in his office. Revolutionary for their time, these ideas anticipated the paradigm of desktop computing. Today, however, we are gradually moving into the next paradigm where computing and telecommunication are delivered to an untethered, mobile user. (Manovich, 2002)

The research departments and companies with a background in engineering that gave birth to our understanding of virtual worlds, through the invention of the personal computer and the Internet, are the institutions and companies that look to be shaping our emerging augmented space. One of the most prominent companies in helping realise our new spaces is Intel. In February 2002 the Chief Technology Officer of Intel announced that in the near future his company would include radio communications technology in every chip it manufactures.

Producing some of the most influential academics in the field of Augmented Space research, the MediaLab at MIT has a very clear understanding of where such research is heading. This is outlined by the Academic Head of the MediaLab, Alex Pentland, who identifies a deep divide between the world of bits, Virtuality, and the world of atoms, Actuality. Machines currently have no senses; they do not see nor hear. They are not aware of us unless we explicitly instruct them. Therefore only experts use machines to their full potential and even they must mediate such use through very specific programming languages. Pentland explains his research goals as merging the actual and virtual more closely by giving machines perceptual abilities. This might result in machines recognising faces, understanding when people are happy or sick and perceive common working environments. ‘Roughly, it is making machines know who, what, where, when and why, so that devices that surround us can respond more appropriately and helpfully’ (2004). Such research is producing ‘Smart Rooms’ and ‘Smart Clothes’ that are perceptually-aware and allow exploration of diverse applications in health care, entertainment and many other areas. It is probably still too early to tell whether or not such products will be successful, however one thing seems certain: there are many research groups both academic and commercial working towards the creation of devices that will create augmented spaces. We need no longer question how such technologies and spaces will be made but when.

We surely must expect profound movement in our perception of the spaces in which we live when such evolution of the spaces in which we live occurs. When spaces themselves respond to our constant interaction the mental construct that has remained relatively unchallenged for millennia will be drastically and irrevocably broken and recombined. Thus, in our cellspaces, we are in the first throes of a landslide of technological and social change that will gather momentum over the coming decade as more Augmented Space technologies emerge.

Posted by Sam at February 29, 2004 06:58 PM

1.3 Heterotopias, Drifting and other Social Products

It is important to stress that considering the extension of our models of space is not the sole reserve of scientists. There are several noteworthy cultural theorists from the arts and philosophy whose writings augment our understanding of actual and virtual space.

[Please refer to my Bibliography for the sources of quotes.]

In the 20th Century, several theorists have enabled us to move beyond our Cartesian-bias in to a deeper understanding of space and ‘our view of the world’. Post-Cartesian space is a model in flux that is supported by Foucault’s heterotopias, the social sensitivities of Lefebvre and the dérive of the Situationist International (SI) – particularly Guy Debord and Asger Jorn. Although most of these ideas were conceptualised before the advent of computers and the Internet – let alone mobile phones – they bring philosophical and social insight into the exploration of our new hybrid spaces.

The global exploration of the last century highlighted many similarities, as well as many differences, between the various cultures that populate our planet. As Foucault points out, an interesting commonality is that:

There are”¦probably in every culture”¦ real places – places that don’t exist and that are formed in the very founding of society – which are something like counter sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which “¦ all the other real sites that can be found within the culture are simultaneously represented, contested and inverted. Places of this kind are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality. (1967: 2)

Such counter sites are completely different from all of the actual sites they encompass and reflect. They are in complete contrast to the modern concept of one common vision of a perfect form, utopia, held by many to the extent that Foucault termed them ‘Heterotopias’, many visions of a common place juxtaposing and coming together to form a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Thus it can be said that our common hybrid spaces are a perfect realisation of heterotopias created through modern technology. Just as in cellspace and augmented space, Foucault asserts that the heterotopia is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place, several spaces that are in themselves incompatible. He gives the example of the theatre as, over the course of a production, the stage is transformed in to consecutive places that are foreign to one another. This is not unlike maintaining multiple conversations between cellspace and actual space. Palen et al. (2001) highlight the theories of Erving Goffman explaining that people subconsciously assume different ‘faces’ and that the interleaving of multiple activities necessitates assuming multiple public faces. There can be conflicts between the different faces assumed for the remote and local activities. This is central to what those who dislike public mobile telephone use find disturbing or even offensive.

With the continued explosion of urban living across the planet most people’s view of the world and their understanding of space rests firmly in the man-made: the city. For some, the reality of such living, the imposition of a common model of space from above, was unacceptable. Methods and strategies were formed to reinterpret common space. One such practice is the dérive – literally ‘drifting’ – “a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances.” (Debord, 1958: 1) Dérives, or drifts, “”¦were radical rereadings of the city”¦ They linked the city’s ‘chunks’ in new ways, creating a subcultural knowledge versed as much in radicalism and literature as in the distillations of guidebooks and geography.” (Sadler, 1998: 99) Therefore, drifting affords participants a completely new view of the spaces they inhabit, often shared, arguably resulting in a heterotopic view of space. The similarities between dérives and modern practices spawned by mobile phone usage become apparent. Just as “”¦from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into and exit from certain zones.” (Debord, 1958: 1) mobile phone users follow currents of data flow and signal strength. Like dérive participants, the inhabitants of cellspace increasingly allow mood and circumstance to dictate their actions. Whereas with fixed point telephone access meetings are pre-arranged, with a set time and place, mobile phone users allow meetings to evolve. Vague times and places may be suggested and details are established and agreed in transit, thus the practice of approximeeting has emerged.

We see then, that models of space are inextricably intertwined with social activity, as Lefebvre notes, “at once the medium and the outcome of social being”¦ simultaneously mental and material, work and product – such that social relations have no real existence except in and through space.” (Borden et al. 2001: 6) Our emerging hybrid spaces are also therefore social products, as can be seen in the emergence of cellspace. All of our hybrid spaces in the future will fundamentally rely on this relationship. Unlike the very individual experiences of early virtual reality, augmented space is social space and therefore social strategies for interaction and navigation, explored in chapter 2, will become as important in our new hybrid spaces as they are in actuality.

Posted by Sam at February 28, 2004 03:04 PM

1.2 Cellspace: The Prototype for a New Society

Society has recently gone through a popular technological leap. There has been a widespread and rapid adoption of mobile phones over the last ten years and they have swiftly migrated from work tool, or emergency communications device, to becoming the beating social heart of the lives of the majority of the developed world. This has not only had major economic ramifications but also a social and, more importantly in this context, spatial impact.

[Please refer to my Bibliography for the sources of quotes.]

With the advent of mobile phones our portals to ‘bridging space’ have become unbound. We exist in a constant potential of becoming tele-present: existing both in the location where we physically reside and in the location of the person with whom we are speaking on the telephone. ‘Many mobile users have become adept at operating as though in two worlds”¦ in a way the mobile has created a new mode in which the human mind can operate, a kind of bi-psyche’ (Plant, 2002: 4). Our minds take us outside of the spaces we physically inhabit, instead residing in a hybrid space in which the conversation takes shape.

By simply possessing a mobile phone we now have the ability to slip in and out of such spaces at will, wherever we are – as long as we are within signal range of a mobile phone mast. These ranges of ‘magical’ communications spaces that now exist, in blanket form, across vast swathes of our cities – and increasingly countryside too – allow us to remain in constant contact with every part of our lives. There is often a fanatical search for a better signal, characterised by waving handsets through the air, fishing for that elusive extra ‘bar’ on the signal meter. It is now a daily occurrence for many people across the planet to witness someone seemingly talking to themselves on the street.

We have unquestioningly accepted the permeation of every part of our lives by the constant potential of communication. We allow our lives to be in constant risk of interruption. ‘A ringing mobile will often take precedence over the social interactions it disrupts: the need or desire to answer a call often outweighs the importance of maintaining the flow of face-to-face conversation’ (Plant, 2002: 1). This is equally true for the use of SMS (Short Message Service), commonly termed text messaging or ‘texting’. Beyond ‘texting’, our existing, traditionally wired, virtual spaces are penetrating the wireless mobile phone network, enabling the use of email and simple web pages of text. David Bennahum describes such spaces as ‘Cellspace’. This simple hybrid space is a forerunner to a more profound change described later in this chapter.

Although cellspaces remain temporal, time is often skewed and squashed according to mobile phone usage ‘”¦the mobile introduces a new sense of speed and connectivity to social life, establishing new kinds of relationships.’ (Plant, 2002: 6) These relationships span complex social networks over a range of distances across space. People share what they are writing and even collectively draft messages to others.

[Teenagers]”¦often use their mobiles collectively, sharing information and showing each other messages, as well as comparing the frequency, the nature, and the variety of the calls they make and take in rather competitive ways: did their last 10 calls come from parents or from friends? How cool are their stored text messages? (Plant, 2002: 3)

Cellspace has provided society with a new set of social tools with which to make sense of the ‘leakage’ of virtuality into our actual world. These tools are the ideal preparation for the continued and more prolific overlapping of our actual spaces with rich virtual spaces.

Posted by Sam at February 28, 2004 03:03 PM

1.1 Our Hybrid Spaces

Our everyday lives are governed by the three-dimensional model of space. A model we accept without question, through the evidence of our own experience and ‘”¦our instinct to impose Cartesian geometry on our mental models of the space around us’ (Lang, 1999). Rene Descartes defined Cartesian geometry in the fifteenth century, but our subconscious bias towards it evolved long before that as a special case of story-telling bias – our innate tendency to twist the truth to make it easier to relate – a device we regularly use to fool ourselves into believing the world looks simpler than it is. (Lang, 1999)

[Please refer to my Bibliography for the sources of quotes.]

In the late 19th Century with the advent of telegraphy, radio and then the telephone, technology enabled us to operate in interactive spaces outside of our experiential three dimensions. These spaces allow us to bridge vast distances and project our presence instantaneously to another point by carrying our voices there. Through such ‘bridging spaces’ we are being forced to unravel our Cartesian bias due to the increasing complexity of the mental models required to interact with new technologies. The telephone asks us to project ourselves in to an in-between space.

Yet, the fixed-point nature of telephones, the devices providing portals into the ‘bridging’ space, meant that people were largely comfortable in projecting themselves through space because they usually knew the people and the places that they are connecting with. In many cases the user could visualise the person and the location at the other end of the telephone because they knew that person, and they had seen that place. In other cases, such as in business, the user created a mental picture modelled from experience of many other places that have built up over time. In every case the user was certain that when they dialled a number they always spoke to a person at a specific fixed location.

Now communications technologies are untethered from a fixed place. They ubiquitously exploit ‘other’ spaces particularly through the overlapping of our actual space with new virtual spaces that have developed over the last 20 years. We are confronted with the need to interact not only with these other spaces but also through them, in a social context, everywhere. The comfort of ‘knowing’ the space, in which the person at the other end of the phone exists, is removed. The eye is no longer dominant in these new hybrid spaces.

Originally posted by Sam at February 28, 2004 03:02 PM

Undergraduate dissertation bibliography

Here is the fifth edition of my bibliography. I have reorganised according to the medium of publication, which is how it shall be formatted in the final document. I shall keep updating it here, so the date will continue to change on this entry!


Anders, P. (2001) Extending Architecture through Electronic Media in Speed, C. Grinsted, G. (eds.) V01D, I-DAT, Liquid Press, Plymouth, UK

Axelrod, R. (2000) On Six Advances in Cooperation Theory, Analyse & Kritik 1/2000, pp. 130-151

Benyon, D. et al. Editors. (1999) Social Navigation of Information Space, Springer-Verlag, London

Borden, I. et al. Editors. (2001) The Unknown City: Contesting Architecture and Social Space, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, USA

Bronowski, J. (1973) The Ascent of Man, Little, Brown, Toronto, Canada

Burrell, J. and Gay, G. (2001) Collectively Defining Context in a Mobile, Networked Computing Environment, CHI 2001 Extended Abstracts

Chwe, M. S. (2001) Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination and Common Knowledge, Princeton University Press, USA

Dahlback, N. (1998) On Spaces and Navigation In and Out of the Computer, Towards a Framework for Design and Evaluation of Navigation in Electronic Spaces (pp. 15-29), HUMLE Laboratory, Swedish Institute of Computer Science, Sweden

Debord, G. (1958) Theory of the Derive in Dahou, M. et al. (eds.) Internationale Situationiste 2 (1999) tr. K. Knabb, Paris, France

Dourish, P. and Chalmers, M. (1994) Running out of space: Models of information navigation, Proceedings for HCI ’94, Glasgow, UK

Gibson, W. (1981) Neuromancer (1995), Harper Collins, London, UK

Goffman, E. (1984) The presentation of self in everyday life (1959), Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, UK

Hardey, M. (2002) Life beyond the screen: embodiment and identity through the Internet, Sociological Review, Nov 2002, Vol.50, No.4, pp. 570-585

Hardin, G. (1968) The Tragedy of the Commons Science 162, pp. 1243-1248

Kortuem, G. et al. (2001) When Peer-to-Peer Comes Face-to-Face: Collaborative Peer-to-Peer Computing in Mobile Ad hoc Networks, International Conference on Peer-to-Peer Computing (P2P2001), Linkoping, Sweden, 27-29 August 2001

Johnson, S. (2001) Emergence: The connected lives of ants, brains, cities and software, Penguin Books, London, UK

Manovich, L. (2001) The Language of New Media, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, USA

Mitchell, W J. (2003) ME++: The networked city and the cyborg self, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, USA

Negropente, N. (2000) Being Digital (1995), Hodder & Stoughton, London

Norretranders, T. (1998) The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size (1991) tr. J. Sydenham, Viking Press, Denmark

Palen, L. Salzman M. & Youngs, E. (2001) Discovery and Integration of Mobile Communications in Everyday Life, Personal and Ubiquitous Computing Jounal, Volume 5: pp. 109-122

Rheingold, H. (2002) Smart Mobs: the next social revolution, Perseus Books, Cambridge, MA, USA

Sadler, S. (1998) The Situationist City, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, USA

Schneider, J. et al. (2000) Disseminating Trust Information in Wearable Communities, 2nd International Symposium on Handheld and Ubiquitous Computing (HUC2K), Bristol, UK, 25-27 September 2000

Smith, D. ‘Amazon reviewers brought to book’ The Observer 15 February 2004, International Section pp. 1

Speed, C. (2003) Extending Social Navigation, methods and strategies for overlapping digital and actual environments, Mphil/PhD Transfer Report, School of Computing, Communications and Electronics University of Plymouth, UK

Stephenson, N. (1992) Snow Crash (1994), RoC, London, UK

Svensson, M. (1998) Social Navigation, Towards a Framework for Design and Evaluation of Navigation in Electronic Spaces (pp. 75-88), HUMLE Laboratory, Swedish Institute of Computer Science, Sweden

Wellman, B. (2001) Physical Place and CyberPlace: The Rise of Personalised Networking, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research Issue 25: pp. 227-252

Wurman, R. (2001) Information Anxiety 2, New Riders, IN, USA


Perella, S. (28 November 2002) Hypersurface Architecture: Existence Within Planes Of Immanence, University of Plymouth, UK


Adar, E. and Huberman, A. Free Riding on Gnutella visited 24/03/04.

Aula CoolTown. Visited 12/11/03.

Cellspace, MEME 4.03, David S. Bennahum, visited 30/01/04.

New mobile message craze spreads, BBC News, World Edition, updated: 4/11/03 11:53 GMT, visited 6/11/03.

Demos Location-aware mobiles will be ‘killer app’ visited 14/01/04.

Dodgeball A location-based social networking application, visited 9/01/04.

Of Other Spaces (1967), Heterotopias Michel Foucault, originally published in October 1984 by French journal Architecture /Mouvement/ Continuité. Visited 15/01/04.

ImaHima: A mixed reality portal. Visited 03-04/04.

Predictive Deduction: Expanding the Arsenal of Science, Chris Lang, 1998-1999. Visited 5/02/04.
The Poetics of Augmented Space [word document]. Manovich, L. Written in 2002. Visited 19/12/03.

Mogi: A mixed reality collection game. Visited 03/04.

Online Journalism Review, Moblogs Seen as a Crystal Ball for a New Era in Online Journalism, posted by Rheingold, H. 07/09/03, visited 16/02/04.

The Dance of Bits and Atoms Pentland, A. Personal profile page, The MediaLab, MIT. Visited 13/02/04.

On the mobile Plant, S. receiver, issue 6, Vodafone, 2002. Visited 16/10/03.

Rafael, V. The Cell Phone and the Crowd: Messianic Politics in the Contemporary Philippines, visited 3/02/04.

Mobile virtual communities, Rheingold, H. receiver, issue 6, Vodafone, 2002. Visited 16/10/03.

A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy, Shirky, C. Published July 1, 2003 on the “Networks, Economics, and Culture” mailing list at http://www.shirky.com/. Visited 19/01/04.

Slashdot visited 11/02/04.

Social Networking Software, A VC: Musings of a VC in NYC, visited 3/11/03.

Thackara, J. Pervasive Computing, receiver, issue 5, Vofafone, 2002. Visited 16/10/03.

Towards a Framework for Design and Evaluation of Navigation in Electronic Spaces, HUMLE Laboratory, Swedish Institute of Computer Science, visited 30/10/03.

Urban Tapestries. Visited 14/11/03.




Viola, B. Going forth by day, Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin 2002, J. Hanhardt and M Villaseñor Organisers. Visited at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum NYC, USA, November 2002.

Speed, C. Spacelapse, University of Plymouth, UK, 2001.

Speed, C. The Random Lift Button, The Cybrid at Portland Square, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK, 2003.

Posted by Sam at February 27, 2004 02:47 PM

Dissertation Introduction

[Please refer to my Bibliography for the sources of quotes.]

Reality is a construct, a ‘view of the world’, which we perceive spatially owing to the nature of our physical existence. With regard to our spatial perception of reality I am inclined to agree with Peter Anders in his supposition that: “Space itself has long been a subject of philosophical debate and we won’t summarise it here. (2001: 58)

Bearing this in mind, it is important, in exploring the changing nature of space, to provide context and a focus to this work by referencing some of the more helpful and prominent arguments and theories. One key point of reference in understanding space is noting that ‘”¦a critical landmark in its history was the determination by Kant (and subsequent others) that we are complicit in creating our reality – our view of the world [Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena, 1996]. Our ‘view of the world’ includes the totality of sounds, mental images, and the products of perception and cognition.’ (Anders, 2001: 59)

As our ‘view of the world’ relies on our sensory input, our perception of reality is mediated; even at the most basic level. There is a scientifically documented half-second interval between a stimulus and the brain processing it, therefore ‘”¦consciousness lags behind what we call reality. It takes half a second to become conscious of something, though that is not how we perceive it’ (Norretranders, 1998: xi). Thus, we ‘”¦create space – our holistic ‘view of the world’ – to manage awareness’ (Anders, 2001: 59).

When discussing our models of space ‘reality’ is a problematic term. The aim of this work is not to answer profound and deeply debated questions such as what is real? Instead, this dissertation focuses on our mediation of space through the vast array of technological devices we use to extend our senses, as ‘we are increasingly dependant on such technologies to sustain our social and cultural reality. They are part of being human in our time’ (Anders, 2001: 59). Such extension of our senses, through technological mediation leaves society in a ‘mixed reality’. We live in an era in which we not only extend and project ourselves through the actual and in to the virtual, but have begun to marry the two together in complex, overlapping hybrid spaces.

Actuality is the physical space we inhabit, which is commonly understood as having three dimensions – as described by Rene Descartes and hence actuality is Cartesian in its dimensions. Important to note is that ‘”¦geographic [or actual] space has a stable Euclidian [or Cartesian] geometry, making spatial relations between objects stable and permanent.’ (Dahlback, 1998: 17). Being physical in nature, measurement of actuality can be considered in its most basic units of existence; atoms.

Virtuality is the perceived or imagined space that rests entirely in electronic form; the rudiments of which are bits. Constantly in a state of flux according to how we perceive and attempt to measure it, virtuality can shift between the hyper-realistic three dimensional worlds – popularly known as ‘Virtual Reality’ and most commonly experienced in computer games, such as the Quake series by ID Software – to the flat two dimensional world of the world wide web (www) and email. Many terms have been coined to describe the variety of worlds that go to make up virtuality: William Gibson’s ‘Cyberspace’ (1981), Stephen Perella’s ‘media space’ (2002) and Neal Stephenson’s ‘Metaverse’ (1992) to name but a few.

The first chapter will explore the marriage of these forms of space and the spaces that are created as a result of their overlapping. This chapter will examine existing hybrid spaces presenting definitions and explorations of the terms used to define these new digital borderlands. The chapter will seek a common lexicon for describing these spaces.

Inherent in the concept of space is our need to navigate through it. As social beings we share our spaces and thus have formed complex strategies for navigation within social systems. Our experience in virtual space has been largely an individual one. I feel it will be important to expand upon what little social experimentation we have already done in the fixed, screen-based, virtual realm and compliment this with the methods we have in the actual realm to reach a synthesis for our new hybrid spaces.

Spatial models of navigation have been applied in many aspects of our virtual worlds. In fact, the application of spatial arrangements has led to our understanding of the navigation of information systems. In their provocative paper ‘Running Out of Space’ (1994), Dourish and Chalmers suggested two main areas of application of spatial models of information. The first is the ‘inherently spatial’, which equates to the likes of computer-based maps. In spatial navigation a user will move from one item to another because of a spatial relationship – above, below, outside. The second, and more common, is a ‘semantic’ relationship between information objects mapped onto a spatial arrangement. In semantic navigation users move from one object to another because of a semantic relationship – bigger, alike, faster – even when that relationship is expressed spatially.

However, when the navigation of information systems is extended with collaboration a third model arises. Dourish and Chalmers claim this is social navigation. Social navigation is the navigation of information spaces through social interaction. Traditional Human-Computer interaction studies put the user in a one-to-one relationship with a computer in which the user must navigate all of the information alone. Dourish and Chalmers (1994) introduced social navigation as ‘navigation towards a cluster of people or selecting objects because other people have been examining them’.

Social navigation then is a more intuitive means of navigation. Taking clues from other users of the environment and using these clues, whether they are gestures, exclamations or the routes they take, users navigate their own way through space.

The second chapter will examine methods and strategies of social navigation in our new hybrid spaces. The chapter will examine forms of social navigation and investigate the application of Game Theory. Drawing upon a new lexicon for describing spaces and strategies for extending our existing social navigation systems the chapter will examine emerging technologies and assess the social implications of our technologically mediated future.

Originally posted by Sam at February 7, 2004 04:54 PM

Production of Space

Between October and December 2003 I worked on a site-specific project as part of the module “MEDA324 Production of Space”. As a group students were introduced to a site from which we were expected to develop and individual project.

My research this year has been around social navigation. Social navigation, simply put, is about taking clues from other users of the environment and, using these clues, whether they be gestures, exclamations or the routes they take users navigate thier own way through a space. [Munro et al. 1999: 2]

I approached the site project with social navigation of space in mind. I decided that I would ask my colleagues to record when and where they spoke to other people about the project/visit. I created and distributed a simple form.

Social navigation data form

I realised, fairly quickly, during the site visit that the amount of inaccuracy in the recording made by the group would result in such disparities that the data set would be relatively meaningless.

Data recording failure


I recorded video whilst at the site and reviewed this afterwards. A striking interaction between two people sparked an idea whilst reviewing the video footage.

Nathan Shedroff has formulated and written extensively on a data-wisdom “understanding continuum”. He classes data as untranslated and relatively meaningless, information has a context but still needs to be referenced,knoweldge is information that you understand, can apply and articulate without reference and wisdom is second nature, knowledge that you have become expert in.

Nathan Shedroff's understanding continuum

I realised that I didn’t want to operate on the level of data with this project, I wanted to operate at the level of social navigation, at the knowledgelevel.

Nathan Shedroff's understanding continuum - Knowledge

I reviewed the video footage I had recorded at the site and was fascinated by the interactions I observed. Such intimate recording of everyday life put me in mind of the work of the video artist Bill Viola and the photographer Jeff Wall. Both artists, Viola particularly, have been influenced by religious imagery.

Bill Viola's Going Forth by DayJeff Wall

Religious imagery is full of rules, its based on rules that are designed to enable the depict the divine, to bring the most holy and significant moments before a congregation. The meticulous staging of the most important religious events became the accepted view of how these events actually happened. The perfectly formed highly designed versions of the last supper and the crucifixion re-wrote our, western Christian, epistemologies. The rules in these paintings have given us a concept of sacred geometry, the idea that certain proportions reveal the divine.

A famous and well-studied example is Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”. You can see the various interactions happening across the painting within a wider context as the lines of sight and speech form shapes on which the painting is based.

Da Vinci's Last Supper


In approaching the documentation I took of the site I am asking whether we can apply such geometries to innocuous ‘found’ spaces. Viola and Wall have both made reference to religious imagery having its basis in everyday life. Perhaps we should be able to apply these rules to our everyday lives.

I am interested, in this case, in mapping what I see as knowledge transfer, which to a degree we take part in everyday by discussing information we have sorted and sifted from our environment to expand our personal knowledge base. Conversation is an important part of our accumulation and processing of knowledge. Speech intelligibility research suggests that the average length of a word in spontaneously produced speech patterns – conversation – is around six phonemes, which take just over a second to form. I have taken one word to represent a minimum indicative unit of knowledge transfer.

In the final piece I have slowed down time by a third to enhance the ability to discern the delicacies of interaction taking place. I also have appreciated the detail this has brought to Bill Viola’s work.

The two screens of the finished piece serve to show a comparison and contrast between life and its ‘sacred’ measurements. By studying the piece the viewer comes to understand that the strict rules of the, highly staged, imagery of the divine break down in the reality of our environment. I hope this gives the viewer cause to re-evaluate their own ideas of their relationships in space.

The final pieceThe final piece

The two screens would be projected on to a wall in a darkened gallery space facing the entrance/exit. Stereo speakers in the corners of the projection wall would play the sound.

Posted by Sam at January 16, 2004 04:09 PM

Migration Messenger

Following on from the Prototype collaboration piece I continued with my interest in social interaction and navigation with a purely digital project “Migration Messenger”.

I am really pleased that I seemed to spot an emerging, now prolific, market: Social Software. I feel that Migration Messenger would possibly overcome some of the problems with Social Software through its unique distribution method.

Migration messenger was a continuation of my investigation in to social interaction, which started with the ‘Prototype’ project. “This project requires you to set a problem as well as provide a solution. Projects are to be negotiated with your tutor through an initial proposal. It is essential that the production of work is informed by a critical debate that you have identified.”

I identified two parts to my critical debate: The ‘Macro’ and ‘Micro’ aspects of social navigation. Prototype was informed by the conversation that took place between the ‘actual’ and the ‘virtual’ user, thus exploring the advantages and limitations of the implementation of augmented reality and its effect on the sensory aspect of social navigation. The very personal, in fact one-on-one, relationship between users demonstrates the ‘Micro’ level of human social interaction. Our lives are full of these intimate moments of interaction.

After the success of the collaboration on ‘Prototype’ I decided to further investigate what social interaction on a broader scale means to users across the largest scale of digital communications we currently have: the Internet.

I observed that most communication occurs as a point-to-point process. I know who I am sending a message to, they know who they are receiving a message from and neither of us are aware of the gulf that lies between us. This gave me the idea of creating a medium of communication that integrates the ‘journey’ of the message in to the communication process. The most popular systems of messaging at the moment online are ‘instant messengers’ such as MSN messenger or Yahoo messenger etc. So I decided to borrow the users’ semantic knowledge of these applications to coax them in to a different way of sharing ideas and information. Strongly influenced by the A-Life work of Karl Sims and Craig Reynolds, Migration Messenger uses the analogy of carrier pigeons in the digital realm. The user creates a message, which is represented by a ‘bird’ that is launched in to their personal aviary. These birds then ‘flock’ in the user’s aviary until specific criteria are met which allows them to migrate to one of the nearest neighbours on the network, taking the message and details about themselves and their author with them.

This process requires the user to download the Migration Messenger Client software, in to which they enter their details, which are carried by every messenger that the user creates. The software connections run through Shockwave Multiuser Server enabling rapid transmission from node to node across the network as the messengers migrate.

Due to time constraints and the need for a steep learning curve I was only able to develop a prototype of the Migration Messenger software. I hope to be able to return to this project when I have a firmer grasp on the technology needed, so that I can test out this new medium of mass communication.

Screenshot of Migration Messenger Screenshot of Migration MessengerScreenshot of Migration Messenger Screenshot of Migration Messenger

Posted by Sam at January 16, 2004 02:34 PM


Prototype was a collaborative project I engaged in during 2002. I was responsible for writing a 3D spatialised sound engine and navigation system in Macromedia Director/Shockwave 3D.

Post-rationally I see this project as the beginning of my research interest in Social Navigation. This first experiment in the overlapping of the actual and the virtual, or atoms and bits, ties in very neatly with my current research in to our changing models of space. Prototype is an installation piece that is a very succinct example of theories such as Peter Anders’ Cybrid, Lev Manovich’s Augmented Space and a first step into how the overlapping of the digital and the actual could change our strategies for, and possibly aid, social navigation.

May 2002

Prototype arose through the ‘mixreal’ collaborative project between MediaLab Arts students and Dartington College of Arts students. I worked with three other MLA students: Neil Pymer, Kim Hughes and Lee Richards.

Presented with the theme of interactive spaces, by the tutors, our initial ideas developed from discussions on presence and surveillance, which drew strongly upon video artists such as Nam June Paik, Bill Viola and particularly Bruce
Naumann. Much of Naumann’s work is concerned with the body in relation to space or a specification. These installations were “based on the field of tension between private and public spheres of experience.” Take for example ‘Public Room, Private Room’ in which the viewer’s encounter with their body in relation to the art object is a physical and perceptual experience. The parallel with Prototype is clear in that as digital presence is extended into physical space the translation between the corporeal and the digital forces the user to mentally construct the space around them, which is essentially an artefact of cognition. Much of the initial impetus also came from the analogy of placing a hand on a sheet of glass. Once the hand is removed an impression is left, which gradually fades away. The symbiotic relationship between a virtual space or environment and the realisation of that environment in real space raises interesting questions of social navigation within virtual environments. The Prototype experience involves mapping a virtual environment on to an actual space, but the interconnectedness of the two spaces draw attention to the physical
limitations of the actual compared to the greater (and potentially unlimited) freedom of movement within the virtual.

The presence of both the actual and the virtual user will be experienced through sound in both spaces. Thus the panning and volume adjustments will ‘spacialise’ the parallel users locations, creating an immersive sonic environment in which to navigate and explore. We aimed to explore the representation of user presence through physical and non-physical zones and to draw attention to how we differentiate simulation from actual spaces.
Initially the Prototype model involved the use of a laser grid positioning system to detect the location of the user in the actual space. The user’s location would have then been relayed to a shockwave 3D space to enable the spacialising of
the sound in that space. Time limitations meant that we had to use contact microphones instead. These responded to a foot press, thus locating the user when they step on one. The MIDI interface we used limited us to 12 microphones, therefore we placed them in a grid of 4 x 3.

image for prototype image for prototype image for prototype image for prototype

Posted by Sam at January 16, 2004 02:10 PM