Data-Objects: Sharing the Attributes and Properties of Digital and Material Culture to Creatively Interpret Complex Information

Data-Objects: Sharing the Attributes and Properties of Digital and Material Culture to Creatively Interpret Complex Information

Ian Gwilt
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2961-5.ch002
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This chapter discusses a current shift away from thinking about ideas of virtual reality, towards a conversation around hybrid digital/physical constructs and the notions of mixed or augmented reality. In particular the chapter explores how physical artifacts that are based on data extracted from computer generated virtual spaces are being created as a way of challenging how we read, interpret, and respond to digital information. This emerging trend for the realization of data sets into three-dimensional (3D) physical objects is discussed from the perspective of creative practice and digital information visualization. In these new constructs, digital data sets are concretized into a physical form, remediated from information sources, such as mobile phone coverage records, crime statistics, and temperature patterns. Through a series of examples, the chapter will investigate how these tangible translations can change our relationship to screen-based digital content, in particular statistical data, and seeks to reveal how by encoding digital information into a physical object we can establish a way of reading this data through spatial, temporal, and material variations that sit outside of the computer-monitor and the digital environment. Rapid prototyping making techniques are discussed as a trigger for a conversation around the ontological and epistemological readings of these liminal physical/data objects.
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In the 1990s, the arrival of domestic computing and mainstream digital technologies signaled the start of what seemed to be a concerted effort to digitize all forms of creative, cultural, and scientific content. Since this time, we have seen the creation of all manner of digital archives, and the platforms and interfaces with which to explore this digital content, either as an individual or part of a distributed and networked community. Some ten years on the digital is now a fully integrated meta-form that plays out across much of our communication, social and work practices (Gwilt, 2010). However, after this initial rush of digital migration we are beginning to witness more consideration for the importance of locating our relationship with the digital in respect to our environmental surroundings, material artifacts, and physical bodies. In addition, in the last few years we have seen a marked increase in interest in how we can build stronger relationships between digital and physical practices and experiences. Whether through biological necessities or a long established hardwiring into Euclidian space, it appears that we are beginning to question the singularity of digital culture.

At a time when the promise of a transcendent digital virtual reality has failed to live up to populist expectations, a new way of thinking about and interacting with the digital is beginning to unfold. In the computer games world immersive virtual reality constructs have been combined with gestural interfaces, where players can see the unmediated expressions of their competitors and physical actions become critical to the navigation and interaction with new digital game formats. Biomorphic forms in architecture and product design signal a new urban zeitgeist as digital technologies develop the processing power to visualize and model the complex curvilinear shapes and patterns found in nature. Everyday objects such as domestic appliances, furniture, and automobiles are increasingly enabled with sensor and user-feedback technologies that can respond to and even preempt our individual needs in the physical world. Mobile technologies are moving the capabilities of the digital computer into the street and the public arena where their use is becoming increasingly commonplace, connecting the digital with real-world events, and locating our engagement with computing technologies into real-time social, cultural, and political contexts. The terms augmented and mixed reality are now appearing in mainstream media and entering the public psyche to sit alongside the established technological and perceptual ideas of virtual reality. These emergent constructs allow us to play in and explore the liminal spaces where the digital and material paradigms overlap and interplay.

Consequently, the technological and perceptual dispersal of the digital computer from something that sits on the office desk, to an increasingly distributed and embedded set of multiform devices helps to disarm the established idea that the digital and the physical are in binary opposition to each other. And as computing technologies, and our experience and interaction with these technologies becomes increasingly more located—related to place and social contexts—the potential for the digital to augment and interact with material culture become ever more opportune. The cultural theorist Pierre Levy (1998) refers to this rapid and diverse range of digital integrations as accelerated techno-cultural heterogenesis. This shift in emphasis (back) toward privileging the physical however does not mean that we are about to relinquish the potentials of the digital as accessed through a variety of screen-based forms of interaction, and although the experiences promised by immersive virtual reality have yet to find a place in mainstream engagement with digital technologies, the types of informed digital/material constructs described in this paper are beginning to gain wide spread recognition. Terms like augmented, and mixed reality are increasingly being used to describe a set of relationships, technologies and expectations for a variety of combined digital/material constructs. These neologisms are quickly becoming part of the public and broadband media vocabulary, in a reflection of an increasingly technologized society.

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