Appropriating Technology

Civics of Modern Media

As the means of communication have changed over the course of American history, so has the way public discourse has been carried out. National radio was a revolution that could put the voice of the president in every living room across the nation for fireside chats. With the rise of television, the firm jaw of Walter Cronkite could relay the facts as millions of viewers tuned in every night.

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Image Credit: 
Tor Even Mathisen - CC: A, NC, SA

Sustainability of Weedy Sociality and Distributed Wilderness

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maja {and} xinwei kuzmanovic {and} sha
FoAM {and} GaTech

The process of globalization is causing a rapid decrease of diversity in the social, biological and cultural habitats, due to the dominant economic powers, such as proprietary communication technologies and transnational 'life industries'. Physical public spaces, as arenas for a wide range of interaction and social change are losing their importance, as the global marketplace has shifted its locus from the accessible public markets to the dispersed and elusive global networks.


In the era of mass homogenization of branded public spaces around the world, we propose a research into the historical examples of sustainable urban spaces that focus on dynamics and diversity in the social, biological and cultural domains. The examples of such public spaces are community gardens and pocket parks, non-institutionalized plaza and street life, travelling fairs and periodic festivals. From these spaces, we learn about ways of conducting an alternative economy based on emergent trans-local actions, rather than accepting the generic, mono-cultural approach of the global free-market.


We propose two projects: Hubbub and GroWorld as case studies for a pattern that deals with sustaining trans-local diversity in the social, organic and cultural domains. This pattern is based on the assumption that social interaction and exchange can take advantage of the information technologies to augment site-specific urban contexts with a layer of pliant digital media, that can be shared between several localities and communities. By developing (elements of) spaces that can be seen as autonomous, 'alive' entities, the public arenas acquire additional layers of interaction (human-human, human-built space, human-media space...), that can yield unexpected social participation.

Hubbub, a project developed in the Topological Media Lab at Georgia Institute of Technology, is an investigation of how accidental and non-accidental conversations can by catalyzed in urban spaces by means of speech projected onto public surfaces. Hubbub installations may be built into a bench, in a bus stop, a bar, a cafe, a school courtyard, a plaza, a park. As you walk by a Hubbub installation, some of the words you speak will dance in projection across the surfaces according to the energy and prosody of your voice. We'll capitalize on recognition errors to give a playful character to the space. Hubbub's success will be measured by the extent to which strangers who revisit a hubbub space begin to interact with one another socially in ways they otherwise would not. Hubbub is a part of a larger cycle called URBAN EARS, which explores how cities conduct conversations via the architecture of physical and computational matter.

GroWorld is an initiative that started within FoAM in Brussels. It encourages multidisciplinary discussions, bringing different research topics into a common focus: 'growth processes' in (physical and virtual) life. GroWorld is currently developed in three parallel trajectories: ecological, technological and socio-cultural. The trajectories are mutually independent, but complimentary, with their results being integrated into several experiments. The ecological strand involves building a trans-local network of public gardens concerned with preserving local bio-diversity, grown by scientists, landscape architects and neighboring communities. The gardens are sites evolving on their own accord - becoming patches of autonomous organic wilderness in the midst of an urban jungle, grown and molded by their care-takers and temporary dwellers. They are devised both as growing environments in which the visitors can comfortably linger, surrounded by specific local flora, and instruments allowing their players to collaboratively shape and steer the environment's processes of growth, decay and transformation. GroWorld's cultural trajectory comprises artists and designers interested in 'biomimetics', learning from nature to design responsive spaces and objects. More specifically, this strand examines growth processes in audiovisual media, textile design and human computer interaction and applies this research in mixed reality installations, a-life gaming environments and smart textiles. Simultaneously, the technological strand develops responsive media, technologies and interfaces for social interaction, information and entertainment. Its results should be accessible to different communities and should be adaptable for several social, biological and cultural contexts - adaptable to both indoor and outdoor spaces, different climates and cultures.

Both Hubbub and Groworld are phenomenological experiments, that are built upon symbiotic collaboration between different cultures and disciplines. The projects should lead towards manifold applications of developed media and technologies, with a high level of invariance. Metaphorically, these practices can be compared to the horticultural, communal patterns of farming, that can function as an alternative to generic or monocultural approach to global economy.

Integration of cultural, ecological and technological studies will move these projects towards a long term experiment in sustainable creative, technological and sociological development, connecting organizations and individuals from various disciplines and cultures in one common goal: growing an adaptive, sustainable habitat for nature, technology and culture.


Minimize borders and maximize edges. The sustainability of public spaces is dependent on an abundant diversity of social, biological and cultural habitats. Their interrelationships will inevitably grow at the edges of dissimilar environments, such as urban-natural, cultural-scientific, physical-digital. The public spaces of the future should merge the context and the meaning of the local, physical sites with the globally accessible digital media and build trans-local events encouraging interaction between communities on both sides of the digital divide.

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Information about introductory graphic: 
from DIAC-2002 paper, Sustainable Arenas for Weedy Sociality: Distributed Wilderness
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