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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Abstract

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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Introduction

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.

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Table of Contents
Foreword
Anthony Townsend
Preface
Marcus Foth
Acknowledgment
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
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Chapter 2
Jaz Hee-Jeong Choi, Adam Greenfield
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
$37.50
Chapter 3
Nancy Odendaal
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
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Chapter 4
Wayne Beyea
Community planning is facing many challenges around the world, such as the rapid growth of megacities as well as urban sprawl. The State of Michigan... Sample PDF
Place Making Through Participatory Planning
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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
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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
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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
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Chapter 8
Michael Veith
Societies face serious challenges when trying to integrate migrant communities. One-sided solutions do not pay tribute to the complexity of this... Sample PDF
Fostering Communities in Urban Multi-Cultural Neighbourhoods: Some Methodological Reflections
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Chapter 9
Victor M. Gonzalez, Kenneth L. Kraemer, Luis A. Castro
The practical use of information technology devices in domestic and residential contexts often results in radical changes from their envisioned... Sample PDF
Beyond Safety Concerns: On the Practical Applications of Urban Neighbourhood Video Cameras
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Chapter 10
Colleen Morgan
This chapter explores how we may design located information and communication technologies (ICTs) to foster community sentiment. It focuses... Sample PDF
The Figmentum Project: Appropriating Information and Communication Technologies to Animate Our Urban Fabric
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Chapter 11
Barbara Crow, Michael Longford, Kim Sawchuk, Andrea Zeffiro
The Mobile Media Lab (MML) is a Canadian interdisciplinary research team exploring wireless communications, mobile technologies and locative media... Sample PDF
Voices from Beyond: Ephemeral Histories, Locative Media and the Volatile Interface
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Chapter 12
Helen Klaebe
This chapter defines, explores and Illustrates research at the intersection of people, place and technology in cities. First, we theorise the notion... Sample PDF
Embedding an Ecology Notion in the Social Production of Urban Space
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Chapter 13
Vassilis Kostakos, Eamonn O’Neill
In this paper, we describe a platform that enables us to systematically study online social networks alongside their real-world counterparts. Our... Sample PDF
Cityware: Urban Computing to Bridge Online and Real-World Social Networks
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Chapter 14
Katharine S. Willis
In our everyday lives, we are surrounded by information which weaves itself silently into the very fabric of our existence. Much of the time we act... Sample PDF
Information Places: Navigating Interfaces between Physical and Digital Space
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Chapter 15
Viktor Bedö
This chapter contributes to the ongoing effort to understand the nature of locative urban information by proposing that locative urban information... Sample PDF
A Visual Approach to Locative Urban Information
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Chapter 16
Tristan Thielmann
Car navigation systems, based on “augmented reality,” no longer direct the driver through traffic by simply using arrows, but represent the... Sample PDF
Navigation Becomes Travel Scouting: The Augmented Spaces of Car Navigation Systems
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Chapter 17
Daisuke Tamada
A lot of street view services, which present views of urban landscapes, have recently appeared. The conventional method for making street views... Sample PDF
QyoroView: Creating a Large-Scale Street View as User-Generated Content
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Chapter 18
Hideyuki Nakanishi, Toru Ishida, Satoshi Koizumi
Many research projects have studied various aspects of smart environments including smart rooms, home, and offices. Few projects, however, have... Sample PDF
Virtual Cities for Simulating Smart Urban Public Spaces
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Chapter 19
Andrew Hudson-Smith
Digital cities are moving well beyond their original conceptions as entities representing the way computers and communications are hard wired into... Sample PDF
The Neogeography of Virtual Cities: Digital Mirrors into a Recursive World
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Chapter 20
Laura Forlano
This chapter introduces the role of community wireless networks (CWNs) in reconfiguring people, places and information in cities. CWNs are important... Sample PDF
Codespaces: Community Wireless Networks and the Reconfiguration of Cities
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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
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Chapter 22
Andres Sevtsuk
This chapter presents the iSPOTS project, which collects and maps data of WiFi usage on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus in... Sample PDF
Mapping the MIT Campus in Real Time Using WiFi
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Chapter 23
John M. Carroll
We discuss the vision, plan, and status of a research project investigating community-oriented services and applications, comprising a wireless... Sample PDF
Supporting Community with Location-Sensitive Mobile Applications
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Chapter 24
Christine Satchell
Early 21st century societies are evolving into a hybrid of real and synthetic worlds where everyday activities are mediated by technology. The... Sample PDF
From Social Butterfly to Urban Citizen: The Evolution of Mobile Phone Practice
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Chapter 25
Jong-Sung Hwang
u-City is South Korea’s answer to urban community challenges leveraging ubiquitous computing technology to deliver state-of-the-art urban services.... Sample PDF
u-City: The Next Paradigm of Urban Development
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Chapter 26
Dan Shang, Jean-François Doulet, Michael Keane
This chapter examines the development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in urban China, focusing mainly on their impact on social... Sample PDF
Urban Informatics in China: Exploring the Emergence of the Chinese City 2.0
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Chapter 27
Francesco Calabrese
The real-time city is now real! The increasing deployment of sensors and handheld electronic devices in recent years allows for a new approach to... Sample PDF
WikiCity: Real-Time Location-Sensitive Tools for the City
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Chapter 28
Eric Paulos, RJ Honicky, Ben Hooker
In this chapter, we present an important new shift in mobile phone usage—from communication tool to “networked mobile personal measurement... Sample PDF
Citizen Science: Enabling Participatory Urbanism
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Chapter 29
Mark Shepard
What happens to urban space given a hypothetical future where all information loses its body, that is, when it is offloaded from the material... Sample PDF
Extreme Informatics: Toward the De-Saturated City
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Chapter 30
Roger J. Burrows
Is it still the case that one can symptomatically read the early work of the cyberpunk author William Gibson as a form of prefigurative urban theory... Sample PDF
Urban Informatics and Social Ontology
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