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September 29, 2006

[iDC] Questioning Two Experiences with Situated Technology


Emancipatory Technologies for the 'Marginalized'

On Sep 28, 2006, at 11:34 PM, Matthew Waxman wrote:

In what ways might situated technologies be used as a tool for activating not only the context of user-oriented perspectives but the contexts of non-user-oriented (such as service and 'marginalized') perspectives? And how might situated technologies and architectural form (both together) be able to mix or remix these different perspectives on context?

Great question, and something I've been thinking of for a while as well. I have no answers or relevant projects, but a few more ideas and questions.

(And perhaps others have touched on these points in earlier posts; like Anne I think I've likely missed relevant discussions.)

I've been wondering about the potential (and whether it even exists or not) for some of these situated and/or networked technologies being used for emancipatory situations for those 'marginalized'. Perhaps an example of what I'm thinking about. Take someone who works in a migratory situation. They may come to the US for a few months to work and then return to their families further south. [1] What options do they have for contact with their families and distant communities during these months away? Do many have cell phones? I don't know; but echoing a discussion from earlier in the summer [2], is it possible to use massively distributed transmission of messages over ad-hoc networks to get information to those who are far away geographically? Bypassing the existing infrastructure to create a transitory one that better reflects the person's needs and desires.

On another front, and related to some experiences I've had in co-curating technological fashion shows [3], what ways can we use wearable computing to focus on the needs and desires of the marginalized? Can we use miniaturization technologies to create a system of surveillance that protects the worker? That in a subversive way records illegal, dangerous, or derogatory conditions for presentation to the authorities? Perhaps we can think beyond creating garments that simply "light up in response to x from the wearer". With that said, projects such as the No-Contact Jacket by Adam Whiton and Yolita Nugent [4], the Porcupine Dress by Meejin Yoon [5], and the Aphrodite Project developed at eyebeam [6] are great examples of the potential use of this technology outside of an artistic or responsive context.

Yet what worries me even as I write this is that my suggestions don't begin to question the _situation_ itself. What is the use of ad-hoc networks to send messages if the person is still subservient to an oppressive system? Who cares if we can create the ability to record illegal actions of a land-owner if the reporting of said actions causes the worker to be harmed even further? I don't have an answer to that, and perhaps technology does not either, and perhaps even deeper, we shouldn't be asking or demanding of our technology to do all of these things. We all know situations will not drastically improve overnight, and maybe the development of stopgap measures that attempt to improve an aspect of undesirable circumstances is one thing to do while _in parallel_ we (and others) work to question, deconstruct, and reconstruct.

Finally, and to contradict my previous paragraph, perhaps there are ways to be _proactive_ instead of reactive with our development. It's a question I ask myself often, and if I had something to offer I would, but I'd be curious about others' thoughts.

nick knouf

[1] But as a recent NY Times article points out, because of immigration concerns, there is an increasing decrease in the number of workers coming to the US. (Unfortunately the article is now 'locked', but this is the URL: http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F30D17FF35550C718EDDA00894DE404482)

[2] http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/2006-July/000599.html

[3] http://seamless.sigtronica.org

[4] http://old.siggraph.org/s2006/unravel/Projects/6/

[5] http://www.bookofjoe.com/2005/05/selfdefense_dre.html

[6] http://sexygpsshoes.com/

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Posted by jo at September 29, 2006 04:48 PM