TexTales: Creating Interactive Forums with Urban Publics

TexTales: Creating Interactive Forums with Urban Publics

Mike Ananny (Stanford University, USA) and Carol Strohecker (University of North Carolina, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-152-0.ch005
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In this paper, we describe the design and installation of a new kind of public opinion forum—TexTales, a public, large-scale interactive projection screen—to demonstrate how public city spaces can become sites for collective expression and public opinions can be considered social constructions. Each TexTales installation involved different groups of European young people taking photographs of everyday city events and controversial public issues, and then using custom software to invite general public passers-by in urban spaces to annotate the photos with SMS text messages. We analyze the design and implementation of these installations and identify a number of interaction design elements critical for designing expressive urban spaces: starting “intermodal” conversations; authoring for nomadic, unfamiliar audiences; distributing public discourse across mediated and physical space; and editing and censoring dialog to ensure that it reflects the norms and values of forum designers. TexTales is essentially an experiment in understanding how city spaces can be more than venues in which to take public opinion snapshots; instead they might be places that nurture and reveal collaborative, public expression.
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Public forums are spaces where individual perspectives come together to reflect and shape political discourse. Designers of such forums become facilitators whose products can help or hinder different voices, constrain or afford certain kinds of discourse and, ultimately, help people to examine and develop their own opinions and the thinking that gives rise to them. We consider the roles of community members—particularly young people—as co-designers, as citizens who express their views on issues of public concern and as learners who become aware of their own ways of forming opinions.

The question of how to discern peoples’ public opinions and civic attitudes has long been a topic of research. Downs (1956) argues that individuals are “rationally ignorant” of current affairs and policy options because they think it is unlikely that their perspectives will influence large-scale civic issues. Converse (1970) suggests that most people have “non-attitudes” and questions opinion polls’ ability to identify well-formed thoughts, arguing that people usually offer “top-of-the-head” answers to pollsters’ questions to avoid appearing ignorant.

These conditions, if true, would be antithetical to democratic life. Several political scientists and technologists are researching ways to counteract such potential deficiencies. Fishkin et al.’s Deliberative Polls argue that deliberation among a random sample of voters can “produce better-reasoned preferences grounded in evidence about the complexities of controversial public issues” (Fishkin et al., 2000, p. 665). In essence, people who better understand difficult issues will give less arbitrary and more reasoned answers to poll questions. Wyatt et al. (2000) focus on understanding political deliberations that already occur in everyday conversation. After examining how freely and how often Americans engaged in casual political conversations in common spaces, they proposed a conversational model of democracy, arguing that “informal conversation among people who largely agree with each other plays a more vital role in democratic processes than is usually recognized” (Wyatt et al., 2000, p. 72).

Different models of public opinion underly these approaches. Schoenbach and Becker (1995) review various writers’ definitions of public opinion: Habermas (1962) considers it as “public reasoning by those who have the intellectual capabilities to arrive at socially useful beliefs and attitudes and to discuss them publicly” (Schoenbach & Becker, 1995, p. 324). This emphasis on the processes by which people arrive at public opinions is consistent with our view of opinion-forming as a development in thinking and therefore a kind of learning. However we question the presumptions about intellectual abilities and social utilities. Aside from being difficult to enact, identifying and excluding those deemed not to have appropriate intellectual capabilities would raise serious questions about hegemony. Requiring citizens to pass standardized tests that evaluate their intellectual capabilities before admitting them to public forums runs counter to an inclusive and participatory model of democracy (Barber, 1984). Further, those advocating preliminary screening misunderstand the nature of democratic forums: participating in such forums supports individual development, serving “educative functions” vital to the construction of an informed and active citizenry (Mansbridge, 1999; Pateman, 1970).

De Sola Pool (1973 ) sees public opinion as the “opinion held by a majority of citizens,” invoking a simplistic model of majority-rule democracy that does not adequately account for the role of dissent in the public exchanges. In contrast, Price (1992) considers public opinion as the result of a kind of collective epistemology that helps us to consider our own viewpoints and those of our fellow citizens. In this model, both as individuals and as members of collective forums, we separate judgment from fact but may not explicitly resolve differences between them. Price characterizes public opinion as a pragmatic process of dialogue in which individuals come together to form “issue publics.” They do not have to adopt any majority opinion; they simply have to agree about what should be done.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Intermodal Literacies: The social and rhetorical skills associated with: creating and reading intermodal texts that distribute meaning across multiple media (e.g., image, text, video); authoring intermodal forms that start and sustain public dialogues; and negotiating the meanings of such forms with audiences.

Nomadic Audiences: Publics who visit a particular urban public forum for a short period of time to read messages left by past visitors and to write messages for future passers-by.

TexTales: A public, large-scale interactive projection screen with which passers-by in urban spaces develop public opinions by captioning photos with SMS text messages.

Situated Public Opinions: Perspectives on social issues created through interactive, public processes in which individuals speak and listen to those around them through both conversation and mediated representations embedded in their shared, built environments.

Intermodal Forms: Cohesive, expressive units in which meaning is distributed across multiple media (e.g., image, text, video), the combination of which may represent the perspective of a single author or multiple, collaborating authors.

Urban Public Forums: City locations in which individuals create and read the expressions of others; purposefully designed spaces for both synchronous and asynchronous public expression through mediated forms (e.g., image, text, video) and interpersonal conversation.

Three-line Editing Technique: A TexTales-specific form of post-hoc censorship in which participants send three text messages in rapid succession to replace an offensive text; an example of a more general form of in-context public forum censorship in which participants themselves monitor and edit expressions.

Complete Chapter List

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List of Reviewers
Table of Contents
Anthony Townsend
Marcus Foth
Marcus Foth
Chapter 1
Amanda Williams, Erica Robles, Paul Dourish
This chapter critically examines the notion of “the city” within urban informatics. Arguing that there is an overarching tendency to construe the... Sample PDF
Urbane-ing the City: Examining and Refining the Assumptions Behind Urban Informatics
Chapter 2
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Once a city shaped by the boundary conditions of heavy industrialisation and cheap labour, within a few years Seoul has transformed itself to one of... Sample PDF
To Connect and Flow in Seoul: Ubiquitous Technologies, Urban Infrastructure and Everyday Life in the Contemporary Korean City
Chapter 3
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Recent literature on African cities examines the way in which social networks function as critical livelihood arteries in the ongoing survival... Sample PDF
Creating an Analytical Lens for Understanding Digital Networks in Urban South Africa
Chapter 4
Wayne Beyea
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Place Making Through Participatory Planning
Chapter 5
Mike Ananny, Carol Strohecker
In this paper, we describe the design and installation of a new kind of public opinion forum—TexTales, a public, large-scale interactive projection... Sample PDF
TexTales: Creating Interactive Forums with Urban Publics
Chapter 6
Jenny Preece
This chapter describes a small networked community in which residents of an apartment building in Washington, D.C., USA supplement their... Sample PDF
An Event-Driven Community in Washington, DC: Forces That Influence Participation
Chapter 7
Fiorella De Cindio
After more than a decade of e-participation initiatives at the urban level, what remains obscure is the alchemy—i.e., the “arcane” combination of... Sample PDF
Moments and Modes for Triggering Civic Participation at the Urban Level
Chapter 8
Michael Veith
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Fostering Communities in Urban Multi-Cultural Neighbourhoods: Some Methodological Reflections
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Victor M. Gonzalez, Kenneth L. Kraemer, Luis A. Castro
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Beyond Safety Concerns: On the Practical Applications of Urban Neighbourhood Video Cameras
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Colleen Morgan
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The Figmentum Project: Appropriating Information and Communication Technologies to Animate Our Urban Fabric
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Barbara Crow, Michael Longford, Kim Sawchuk, Andrea Zeffiro
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Voices from Beyond: Ephemeral Histories, Locative Media and the Volatile Interface
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Helen Klaebe
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Embedding an Ecology Notion in the Social Production of Urban Space
Chapter 13
Vassilis Kostakos, Eamonn O’Neill
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Cityware: Urban Computing to Bridge Online and Real-World Social Networks
Chapter 14
Katharine S. Willis
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Information Places: Navigating Interfaces between Physical and Digital Space
Chapter 15
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A Visual Approach to Locative Urban Information
Chapter 16
Tristan Thielmann
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Navigation Becomes Travel Scouting: The Augmented Spaces of Car Navigation Systems
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Daisuke Tamada
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QyoroView: Creating a Large-Scale Street View as User-Generated Content
Chapter 18
Hideyuki Nakanishi, Toru Ishida, Satoshi Koizumi
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Virtual Cities for Simulating Smart Urban Public Spaces
Chapter 19
Andrew Hudson-Smith
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The Neogeography of Virtual Cities: Digital Mirrors into a Recursive World
Chapter 20
Laura Forlano
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Codespaces: Community Wireless Networks and the Reconfiguration of Cities
Chapter 21
Katrina Jungnickel, Genevieve Bell
From WiFi (802.11b) with its fixed and mobile high-speed wireless broadband Internet connectivity to WiMAX (802.16e), the newest wireless protocol... Sample PDF
Home is Where the Hub Is? Wireless Infrastructures and the Nature of Domestic Culture in Australia
Chapter 22
Andres Sevtsuk
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Chapter 23
John M. Carroll
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Chapter 24
Christine Satchell
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From Social Butterfly to Urban Citizen: The Evolution of Mobile Phone Practice
Chapter 25
Jong-Sung Hwang
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u-City: The Next Paradigm of Urban Development
Chapter 26
Dan Shang, Jean-François Doulet, Michael Keane
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Urban Informatics in China: Exploring the Emergence of the Chinese City 2.0
Chapter 27
Francesco Calabrese
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Chapter 28
Eric Paulos, RJ Honicky, Ben Hooker
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Chapter 29
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Chapter 30
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