Interactive Art at Electric Forest Festival: Human Avatar Project

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Festivals are an amazing opportunity for interactive developers to get their hands dirty, and the minds behind Electric Forest Festival’s Human Avatar Project know that well.  You have thousands of particularly open-minded people (it takes a real champ to withstand a long weekend without showers) occupying a finite space for four days who all crave interaction–after all, festival-goers are there to participate.  Forest in particular is tailored for the interactive crowd with its forest area chalk-full of synthetic-meets-earthy sculptures  and extravagant light installations.

I don’t know how to describe this myself so I’ll let the project speak for itself:

“You may have met yourself in the Electric Forest last year– your face melting in with a succession of faces.  Projected through time and space, you were a digital apparition.  The Human Avatar Project (HAP) returns to the Electric Forest and invites you to make illusion join reality. 

HAP is a project created by The Experimental Media Team. Seeking to capture as many human personalities as possible; to be everyone and no one.”

Looks like it was pretty successful last year! If you were had to miss it and won’t be able to come this year, check out the video below to see everyone (and no one…):

Sources: Human Avatar Project, HAP Facebook

Mind-Reading is the Future of Interactive Media

Using nothing but her brain, Cathy Hutchinson drinks a canteen of coffee at Brown University.  As the straw touches her lips, you see a quiver of a smile; after she takes a good long sip, her face brightens with a genuine laugh.  Hutchinson has good reason to be happy– now 58 years old, she has struggled with quadriplegia since her stroke fifteen years ago.

As a volunteer for Brown’s cognitive study, Hutchinson had a “computer mind interface” only a few millimeters in size implanted in her brain–specifically, a patch of neurons in her motor cortex.  The interface works by “translating neuronal activity directly into control signals for assistive devices” (Nature).  In this case the assistive device is a robotic arm that moves in three-dimensional space. Researchers hope this implant will one day restore the mobility and independence that many handicapped people must live without. Very exciting technology!

But, of course, I am not handicapped, so why might I be so excited about this? Interactive art, people!! Duh!  As I write this, the people at Google are probably thinking of all the wonderful ways we can implement this to make regular, non-handicapped people even lazier (sorry, not trying to hate on the google glasses, I just think they are mispurposed. And no, that’s not a real word).  I recently read this heart-wrenching Gizmodo article called “Being Deaf: How Different the World is Without Hearing.” I wonder, could this implant create new methods of communication for those who are born deaf?  And what about blindness? Only good things can come from this research.

Since I’m still only on Chapter 9 of my processing book, I can’t quite conceptualize the amount of programming and research that goes into a chip like this. I wonder…one day, will we all have chips in our brains?  Will the interface be commercial, and only available to those in the highest tax bracket? Perhaps the chip will someday be programmed to read other people’s chips, creating a new “internet,” a revolutionary platform for communication and information sharing.

In my last post I discussed women’s proclivity towards mind-reading and speaking in code…this is a whole new level of telepathic communication!  What will we women do when we no longer have to decode thoughts, and can literally just know them instead?

Sounds either really good, or really, really bad.  Until that happens, I think I’ll just appreciate the simplicity of life as it is.

Source: Nature

Women who Help Other Women are Smarter, not Harder

Pictured: Margaret Moth, New Zealand’s first female television news camera operator.

Last night I went to a Women in Film-Chicago event where Ruth Ratny, creator of Reel Chicago, spoke about women helping other women.  What follows are my thoughts on helping other women and breaking down the barriers that prevent gender equality in the film and media industries.

“We need to work smarter, not harder,” Ruth explained in relation to women surpassing males in the workplace.  This is true; a “hard” woman will shut out other women to protect her own position, prevent them from excelling, and ultimately, be a cog in the wheel that is our patriarchal culture.  A “smart” woman will not fear an up-and-coming industry star–in fact, she will encourage her, mentor her, or at the very least, be a helping hand.

Ruth noted that while men hire their “buddies,” women shut out other women out of insecurity.  These insecurities are possessed by all victims of the 2012 economy but are exacerbated by a predominantly female desire to overcompensate for our heightened emotional intelligence–an emotional intelligence that, in the professional field, can be perceived as weakness.

As a woman, I do not believe that emotional intelligence suggests weakness; on the contrary. Emotional intelligence is a valuable skill that allows you to read body language, mannerisms, and tone of voice.  This is a vital skill in the professional field, and trains you in the art of “perfect timing.”  Yes, it’s likely women possess this skill set as an adaptation to motherhood; mothers read their children in order to find out what they need before they can even speak!  The skill surpasses the infant stage and continues through teenage years when the kid at risk of sheer stupidity.  At this time, it is the mother’s duty to read her teenager, understand his/her inner turmoil, and do her best to prevent him/her from getting into a sticky situation that could impact the rest of his/her life.

If you have ever been in a relationship with a woman, this situation should sound familiar:

Man: “What’s wrong?”

Woman: “Nothing.”

Ask yourself: what is upsetting the woman in the above conversation, given the context?  If your answer is “nothing,” then congratulations–you are a man.  You live in a world where your receive preferential treatment in every vein.  However, you may also consider yourself emotionally-retarded.  Being able to see past the surface of words to the meaning behind those words is a skill that the grand majority of woman possess and a minority of men possess.

Being a man, you may expect the woman to verbalize exactly how she feels.  However, that is simply not the female way.  And why should we conform to the male way?  Just as we women cannot expect men to understand our words are often spoken in code, men cannot expect women to speak exactly that which they mean.  So there needs to be some kind of compromise here.

Why do I mention all that in the scope of women in the workplace?  I don’t know, it just seemed relevant. It’s not just men who get fed up with speaking in code; its women as well!  Women can turn on other women for this fact of life; I’m sure we’ve all heard some female, at some point, say: “Ugh, I hate girls. All of my friends are guys.”  All cards on the table-I’ve even said that before, and it was a lapse in judgment.  To all the women who say that now: congratulations! You enjoy spending time around people who are nice to you because they want to have sex with you.  If you surround yourself with people like this, ultimately you will find yourself cold and alone.

From an evolutionary perspective, being able to befriend women is a huge advantage.  In groups, you are protected, and I’m just talking pure “safety in numbers” right now.  Show up at a bar alone and men will think you’re there for them; show up with a posse, and most men will be too intimidated to bother you with sexual advances.  Get rejected by a lone woman and you may try again–hey, what’s she gonna do about it?  But get rejected by a woman with four female friends, and you’ll receive five dirty looks that’ll shame you out of the bar.

Furthermore, befriending women has an empowering effect on all women, for in numbers, you also have power.  To divide women is to disarm women, the same way that to unite men is to create an army.  We have many divisive forces in American society: the fashion industry, women’s magazines, advertising, and hypersexualized female characters in film and tv serve to undermine real women’s success every day.  For women working within these industries, such as myself, your moral beliefs can be put at odds with the task at hand–after all, sex sells, but what woman really wants to sell sex?  As Ruth Ratny discussed, a key difference between men and women is that men monetize everything.  For men, everything is about money.  A male advertising executive will sell sex and see dollar signs while a woman will sell sex and see the destruction and ostracism of a gender.

Take this classic beer commercial as an example:

 A man sitting at a bar turns his head to see a thin, beautiful, made-up woman strutting towards him with the beer of choice.  Male takeaway: “hot women and beer-yes please!”  Female takeaway: “how can I become as desirable as this woman?” Or even worse: “I am irrelevant because the only thing that matters is an appearance I do not posses.” This is a HUGE problem, because here you have a woman reading a man-made commercial in code when it was originally written, and meant to be read, in plain english.  Women code and decode everything; it is in our nature, it protects us from making poor decisions and choosing untrustworthy partners.  I consider this coding process the infamous “female intuition”; it is an energy flow that stays with me 24/7, that I have trained myself to be in touch with, and that I always, always trust.  I have not once regretted following this “intuition.”  The trick- and this is pivotal for compromising language with men– is to recognize which situations require this sort of decoding and coding.  Both men and women can and should know this about the opposite gender.

I digress.  As it is, there are so many things to consider when it comes to gender roles as they exist, let alone how they play out in the advertising and media industries.  My head fills up with these considerations constantly as I go through my life, my career, and my relationships.  For every question answered, a new question springs up.  It’s impossible to answer all the questions in one lifetime.  It’s impossible to try to absorb answers from those who lived before you, because real knowledge comes only from experience. So we’re stuck in a bit of a catch 22…but hope is not lost! Read on for the moral of my story.

There is only one takeaway from this conversation that is absolute and concrete: You, a smart woman, will help other women. You will not judge nor criticize them for their womanhood.  Other smart women will respect that, respect you, and in turn help other women climb the professional ranks.  The more women in power there are, the more they can help other women, and the more likely women are in general to take each other and themselves more seriously.  And it goes on-the more women take themselves and other women seriously, the more men will take women seriously because they can see our confidence and self-assuredness.  And there you have it–men are no longer hiring “buddies” over capable women.  You mustn’t harden yourself, and you MUST “smart-en” yourself.  Get smart, ladies.  If you’re a woman in power, look for female ambition around you.  I guarantee you will find it in every corner.

Interactive Web Show “Dirty Work” Makes You Partner In Crime

It seems like the new interactive web show “Dirty Work” will stop at nothing to get you to pay attention, calling your phone, texting you, emailing, and Facebooking you at pivotal moments throughout the series.  Though it sounds overwhelming, it’s not–the show’s creators were inspired by the fact that we’re always fiddling with our smartphones and tablets while watching television anyway, and managed to bring all of these forms of communication together in “Dirty Work.”  The show follows a group of comedic 20-something year olds who work the night shift cleaning up bloody crime scenes.

Viewers can watch the show at Fourth Wall’s Rides.tv website, and if they log in, they will receive all sorts of various-platformed messages while watching the show.  Apparently Fourth Wall will debut 8-10 similarly styled shows later this year.  As Angela Watercutter of WIRED Magazine writes:

“Interactive bits like having characters call you to share their inner monologues becomes a welcome bonus. You might receive a text message sent by a character in the show (often with clues others in the scene may not be privy to) or get an e-mail from the Bio-Tidy company the main characters work for. As viewers interact more with the platform, they can be rewarded with unseen clips.

Because Dirty Work is entirely web-based (as are the other shows on Fourth Wall’s upcoming slate), the new series is not beholden to standard TV schedules. Even though Rides.tv is intended as a platform for the studio’s shows, the creators said the website could be pimped out to other networks that want to add its features to standard television programs.

If the concept takes off, actors and actresses may soon have to work on their methods. Actress Clayton, who plays Michelle on Dirty Work and notes that the show’s interactive 911 call “scared the shit out of me,” said the interactive elements of the show lead to scripts unlike any she’s ever seen before.

‘I remember when I first got the script, I had to read it three different times before I finally understood what was happening — it was hilarious,’ Clayton said. ‘Literally, you’re reading it and it’s like, ‘Viewer’s phone will ring,’ and I was like, ‘What?!’'” (WIRED)

I think this means exciting things for interactive television and web shows–mostly because it is employing alternate reality games as a method for interactivity (like NIN did with Year Zero).  After all, this is just an alternate reality game that takes place only within the time of the show (as far as I know–I have yet to watch an episode! It’s on my to-do list.)

Source:WIRED

Webby Awards 2012 Showcase Best Interactive Websites

The 2012 Webby Awards showcase some of world’s best, most innovative media projects. Check out my favorites below, browse their websites, and participate!  Each of the following projects was nominated for an Interactive Webby Award in one of the following areas: Augmented Reality, Banner Campaigns, Banner Singles, Best Copywriting, Best Integrated Media Plan, Best use of Online Media, Best use of Social Media, and … ok there are quite a few more, but I think you get the point (or a full list of these categories click here).

“The Inside Experience”  Interactive Advertising Campaign for Intel and Toshiba

SPENT – Interactive Advertising for Urban Ministries of Durham by McKinney

Red Bull Formula Face” – Video Game Advertising for Red Bull by Buzzed Monkey

This one is a favorite – I bet Mario Kart makers are kicking themselves for not doing it first.  You control your gokart’s movements by small facial movements. And you were wondering why your coworker is making strange expressions today…

Dear 16 Year Old Me – David Cornfield Melanoma Fund Advertising by Evidently

Androp “Bell” – Interactive Music Video

I’m a huge fan of interactive music videos, even though I was awful at the above mentioned game.  Which brings us to the point where it’s necessary to mention Biophilia, Bjork’s interactive album that, being an app, is the first of its kind.  I have yet to actually download and try out the app, so more on that later.  For now, you can have a taste of the interaction by going to Bjork’s site: http://bjork.com/.

“The Chase” Nexus Productions by Smith & Foulkes

“It will never be the same” – SOMA by Proximity Colombia

As a way to make marketing and promo emails more relevant, SOMA created 15 hours of music, art, and technology in an email.  As a result of their interactive emails, more emails were opened than before and way many more links were clicked in those emails.  Good job guys for making spam more fun to read!

All of these projects lead me to ask a question: what is the difference between entertainment and advertising in the 21st century?  The line begins to blur…think about it. What are you selling, and what do people actually want?  Can you make them the same?