The nothing that is
A travelling wind chime
Intro One thing the stream of digital data and the wind have in common is their invisibility. Both withdraw themselves from being visible with just the human eye. Yet, their effects can be seen and felt, either as pixelated signs on a computer screen or as the cold morning breeze on our skin.
These small translucent devices catch the wind and displace it to somewhere else. They are like digital leaves, moving in the wind. And they are also devices for travelling, because you can travel to any place with them.
Concept Non-place is a neologism coined by the French anthropologist Marc Augé. Following his argumentation, non-places are anonymous places of transit like roads, airports or shopping centers. Places without significance and historical meaning which are just passed through. And these places have quite a dreary connotation: "The space of non-place creates neither singular identity nor relations; only solitude, and similitude. [...] What reigns is actuality, the urgency of the present moment" .
Now, does meaning and the connection to a place only evolve through presence? Or can that distant, other place be transported to the here with the help of technology? These little translucent devices follow up on this question and reflect on the omnipresence of digital information and on devices of the internat of things. Not visible – yet there. With our digital interconnectedness everything can easily be accessed from anywhere. Like these digital wind chimes: they let you travel places without leaving your current whereabouts.
Technology and Fabrication The devices use real-time weather data, namely the data of the wind speed. According to this speed, the leaves are turning slower or faster. You enter the place you like to travel to and – go! The wind chimes are moving according to the received data.
Each device is connected to a servo motor, which is connected to an Arduino microcontroller. To get the data, a weather-API (OpenWeatherMap) is used and accessed via Node.js. Websockets manage the communication between the interface and the microcontroller. The wind chimes are made of translucent acrylic glass and cut with a laser cutter.
In-depth The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and connectivity which enables these objects to connect and exchange data. The main point is: digitally connecting the world. Be it the connection between two machines or between human and machine. The figures of IoT-devices are steadily increasing. There are themostats which measure the temperature and start the radiatior when it drops below a certain threshold. And there is the weather application which informs you on your mobile phone whether to take an umbrella with you or not.
Now you could say that all of these devices and applications are useful. But you could also say that they are demanding too much of our attention and distracting us way too often. So, what should we do with all these devices which are beeping and blinking and demanding our attention? Could there be another way of interacting with digital devices, which is less attention-seeking?
Let's consider attention in a general way. Whenever you see or hear something new you pay special attention to it. Because it is new and humans are naturally curious (or cautious) to new events. Remember, when you learned to write and read in elementary school? You had to concentrate very much so that you could write the right letter or decipher the word correctly. But as you got used to it, writing and reading became less complicated. It became natural. It disappeared. Mark Weiser explores this relationship in The Computer for the 21st Century as follows: "Whenever people learn something sufficiently well, they cease to be aware of it". You can consider writing the first information technology. It is ubiquitous: there are books, magazines, street signs and billboards. We live in a world represented by written letters and spoken words. "The constant background presence of these products of literacy technology does not require active attention, but the information to be conveyed is ready for use at a glance" .
Could technologies become like letters? Disappear? Because disappearance is a fundamental consequence not only of technology, but of human psychology. Technology-wise you could say, that "the most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it".
Technologies which encalm and transport information are called calm technologies. They are situated at the periphery of attention. This is the main difference between traditional technologies which demand all of our attention. For example, when working with the computer you pay full attention to it. Calm technology, on the other hand, engages both the center and the periphery of your attention. It moves from the periphery of attention (not deliberately paying attention), to the center (deliberately paying attention), and back. We can see this shift of attention when driving a car: when driving a car, our attention is centered on the road, but not of the noise of the engine. But an unusual noise is noticed immediately. The attention shifts from the periphery (not hearing the noise of the engine) to the center of attention (hearing the noise of the engine when it is unusual).
"We live between two realms: our physical environment and cyberspace. Despite our dual citizenship, the absence of seamless couplings between these parallel existences leaves a great divide between the worlds of bits and atoms. At the present, we are torn between these parallel but disjoint spaces"write Hiroshi Ishii and Brygg Ullmer in Tangible Bits. Besides their coexistence, the physical space and cyberspace are disparate. This gap could be overcome by coupling graspable physical objects with ambient media and background awareness. People are constantly receiving various information from the periphery without attending to it explicitely. So, technology could be situated in a calm and unobtrusive way right there, at the edge of attention. Until it disappears.
Augé, Marc. Non-Lieux: Introduction à une Anthropologie de la Surmodernité. Éditions du Seuil, Paris, 1992. English translation taken from: Augé, Mark. Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. Translated by John Howe. Verso, London and New York, 1995
Weiser, Mark. The Computer for the 21st Century. In Scientific American 265 (3), 1991, 94-105.
Weiser, Mark; Brown, John Seely. Designing Calm Technology. In PowerGrid Journal 1.1, 1996, 75-85.
Ishii, Hiroshi; Ullmer, Brygg. Tangible bits: Towards Seamless Interfaces between People, Bits and Atoms. In Steven Pemberton (Ed.): Human factors in computing systems. CHI '97 Conference proceedings, 1997, 234-241.
Type internet of things, calm technology
Tools Arduino, Johnny-Five, Node.js, Socket.IO, OpenWeatherMap-API, laser cutter
My role concept, design, coding, fabrication