Best paper award TEI’14

I have just heard that I have won the Best Paper Award at the ACM conference on Tangible, Embodied and Embedded Interaction, in Munich, (Feb 16-19, 2014). The paper has the rather cryptic title: Beyond Distributed Representation: Embodied Cognition Design Supporting Socio-Sensorimotor Couplings. It is mainly a summary of chapter 2 in my thesis and my supervisors Remko van der Lugt and Caroline Hummels are co-authors.

The main point of the paper is to show that tangible interaction can be more than creating physical interfaces to digital information, and that Embodied Cognition on a more fundamental level means that cognition is very much grounded both in sensorimotor couplings as well as in social coordination. And the challenge is to design interactive technology that connects to these couplings and coordinations, rather than to implement representations.

This is the website of the conference link:
The paper can be found here link

Social Life of Small Urban Spaces

This monday I’ll be talking in Rotterdam about the ‘smart city’. In preparing I stumbled upon this fantastic (and famous) documentary, I had never seen. (I reached it through the website of Dutch philosopher Erik Rietveld, who combines Embodied Cognition theory and Architecture, together with his brother, who’s an architect). I agree with Erik that this documentary is a must see for anyone interested in ethnographical video observations of everyday behavior’s of people (in this case, in the urban, public space).


Today I was at the Postgraduate Embodied Technology Symposium organised mainly by Robb Mitchell of SDU Design in Sønderborg Denmark, for which many thanks to Robb!! The goal of this day was for students to practice giving talks and responding to them at a conference. But at the same time it was also a way for the researchers, together with the students, to explore this strange new topic we chose to name Embodied Technology or even Co-Embodied Technology. It was a nice day with talks and activities and demo’s. I will miss all these people when I go back to the Netherlands! It’s been a great time here in Sønderborg, with lot’s of space for thinking, doing, exploring, creating and interacting. Let’s try to create environments where there is much room for that: thinking, doing, exploring, creating and interacting. Think about how many spaces and situations there are in our lives where there is practically no room for any of those things. What you think is denied or forbidden. What you do is ignored or counter-acted. What you explore is deemed irrelevant or stupid. What you create is laughed at or broken. And the people you interact with seem to do everything they can to obstruct any smooth form of interaction. Too bad. At least in Sønderborg I experienced none of that. Something to be cherished!


ELRO wants to play!

When I get back in the Netherlands I will start working on an interesting project in collaboration with rehabilitation centre De Hoogstraat in Utrecht. Kids have to learn to drive their wheelchair, which apparently is not so easy, and it involves quite some practice. The practice is no fun, and a project has been set up to involve game design bureau’s to design interactive games that help these kids to learn to control their wheel-chairs. As part of a larger initiative, together with a student from Denmark, who is coming with me to the Netherlands for his masters’ thesis, we will explore a bit more conceptually and fundamentally what it means to augment a physical wheelchair, and or the environment the the wheelchair is in, with new interactive properties. Personally I would like to see the project addressing such basis questions as: how can you develop an identity as being in a wheelchair: how can this piece of technology become part of your body, part of who you are, instead of just a functional tool that compensates for a handicap? This project could in principle address fundamental questions of being (who am I and who do I want to be, how can technology be part of that?), if we think beyond the usual technical problem solving (how can the child learn to control the wheel-chair interface). I think that, especially when we add digital interaction, people in wheelchair could do very cool things that non-wheelchair users cannot. For example, just put two webcams close to the ground on each side, add some stereovision software, and you get a view of the world that nobody else could ever have from just walking. If all goes well we will broaden up this research to include more societal/public organisations, tech- and design companies, and investigate in all these cases what Embodied Technology might actually mean in practice.

(Ehm, well I don’t mean this sort of stuff, exactly:)

Everyday social situations: where’s our body?

In preparing for a workshop we had to come up with an everyday situation that we could use for an acting-out exercise. We wanted the situation to be social, that is, multiple people in face-to-face contact. We also wanted the situation to involve explicit bodily movements, so, let’s say, some work activity, or something else in which people would be moving about the space.

To our annoyance, it actually proved quite difficult to come up with a suitable scenario. In everyday work situations, for instance, people in our developed Western world work quite individually when it comes to using the body. We sit and type on a computer, we construct, build or repair something, as a craftsman does, but this is all rather individual work, even if it is done together with others in the same space. The social interaction, in contrast, involves all kinds of nonverbal communication, but is not often directly connected to actual physical activity. So we stop what we are doing, and then talk to each other for a while, and then carry on again. Two painters would each work individually, and then at some point stop to negotiate who does what for the remainder of the job. And much of that talk is done sitting. We sit in meetings, at lunch-tables, in our home environment. When do we socially engage with one another while using our complete body in interaction with each other and the environment? As long it is not sex, there’s not much to consider.

Yes, the coctail-party. But here there is no active task, nothing ‘has to be done’ other than be there, and ‘socialise’. In that sense the coctail-party is an artificial construct, designed to be about socialising, just as is the conference, the exhibition, and so on. Interestingly the more fun situations I could think of all would involve kids, not adults. Kids build huts together in the wood, which is a very social event, and also very physical. It is an activity where the participants have to negotiate social relations as well as the mechanical properties involved (e.g the working of gravity), both at the same time, in one integrated fashion. For the adult activities that may do, we could only think of traditional socially situated crafts, like hunting together, and then skinning the bear and processing the meat.

There were some exceptions, like surgeons in the operating theatre, or dancers or actors rehearsing, or police officers investigating a crime scene. In such cases some goal-directed activity is driven both by social demands and by the more ‘physical’ properties of the task at hand. But the problem is with these kinds of activities is that one cannot sensibly act them out if one does not in fact possess the actual skills involved. If one is not a surgeon, or a dancer, or a police-man, improvising theatre would very quickly become very difficult. While everyone can enact an office meeting, once the body and the social are truly coupled in action, it seems that very specific skills and experience are needed, the kind of stuff you cannot ‘fake’ as an actor. Anybody got some alternative ideas for situations?

Moving back in…

So, it is good to be back on this weblog. I need to find a good theme, unpack the boxes, put some colour on the walls. But at least I’m back here. For the past couple of years I had forgotten about how to reinstall the software, and I was lazy, and I was busy, and I was on Facebook. That took a lot of my time, Facebook. But now I have deleted my Facebook account. Dave Egger’s The Circle had some influence. This weblog has quite a different intention. It is not meant to be in social contact with everybody all the time. It is a place where I keep my thoughts, and invite others to respond, and think along with me. It is not meant to an ever present ‘online’ parallel world to the real world. And it certainly is not meant to be more relevant or real or meaningful than the real world. This is my thinking space, which is different from the physical-social embodied reality that I live. It is a derivative of it, a reflection on it, and I will make do perfectly without these reflections when things really matter. You could say that when nothing is happening on this website, then this probably means I am living my life, and therefore I have no time to be here. But when I take a step back and reflect on my actions, this could be a good place to do it. It is more like a notebook. Or a book. Or a paper. The text I will write here is intended to function like text used to function, and like what writing used to be about, before written language was hi-jacked and turned into this erupting vulcano of blurb that is Facebook and Twitter.

The only question is whether you will be able to find me, and refind me, within the social media haystack. I would like to avoid posting these posts on Facebook or Twitter to grab your attention, but then will you ever actively decide to visit this website? We’ll see. Perhaps if you don’t, you had no need for it, and then who am I to bother you with this? Perhaps there’s other options. For now, this was my Hello World, the first post in this new-old

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