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 jellevandijk.org

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