Because We Can: Students Speak About The Need for Digital Technology

25.11.2011, 15:10
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Natalia Chamayeva, Strelka student: «Yesterday during the 3D scanning workshop with Adam Pruden, a research associate for MIT SENSEable City Lab, we had a conversation about why we need digital technologies and new experiences at all.

Adam and his colleagues are currently working on a project Flyfire. It sets to change the physical reality of communication by introducing a new type of self-stabilizing synchronized pisplays floating in the air. I asked Adam, why they decided to develop this particular direction of technology when it seems that another direction is developing so much faster. I’m talking about virtual / augmented reality that is already making a huge change in out day-to-day communication and perception of the world.

The main difference between two approaches is that for virtual / augmented reality one needs a mediating device to allow him to walk into an additional pre-programmed dimension of the world. And it’s only a matter of time (and not too far away), when this device will become as simple and cheap as contact lenses in our eyes. So why is it exciting for Adam and his colleagues to work on a much more complicated level of changing the actual physical reality, where you need no special equipment for extending your experiences? Adam says, because it’s a totally new approach to integration of novel communication expereinces in the daily life of the city. What also matters is that it means working on a physical level of reality and implies a wholesome and totally real experience, not limited by visual dimension only.

Carlo Ratti, head of the Lab, adds that the question «why» is always being asked when a new technology is introduced for the first time. He gives an example of Bell brothers. When they introduced a device for making long-distance telephone calls from one coast of USA to another, people felt puzzled and sceptical about the idea of calling someone who lives in another state. «Why would we do that», they marvelled. 20 years later telephone calls became an integrated part of daily routine that most Americans couldn’t imagine themselves without. The story was pretty much the same with microscopes, video cameras and all that jazz. It just takes time for a new practice to establish and for people to grasp its advantages. Generally, it seems that big technology breakthrough always comes ahead of a practical use. You start with «how», and it takes time to understand, «why» and «what for».

So why do all that? Because we can. As simple as that. To me, that’s probably the best answer to the question»