I want to kick things off, not with a specific trip account, but with a question. The question of the value of experience vs the documentation of an experience. This is a perennial conundrum that’s increasingly puzzling as our capability to capture our experiences becomes more accessible, seamless, and of higher quality. With phones that have near-professional quality photo and video features on hand at all times, the capturing of the adventure is intertwining with the adventure itself. With the instant ability to share these documents via blogs, Instagram, Facebook, etc, it can feel like we are constantly curating an ongoing slideshow of our lives. Because, essentially, we are. I’m not so concerned with debating whether this is increasing the value of our experience or diminishing it (I think that argument is pretty well summarized here).
As designers we need to begin to consider thinking about the experience, the capturing, and the sharing as a seamless single activity. They are all intricately connected now. Are we more engaged or less engaged to the present through this multi-layering of activities? It’s fair to make the argument either way, but our feelings on this subject may begin to affect how people relate to the buildings and spaces we design.
But what I’ve begun thinking about on this trip, is how considering both the capturing and presentation of an experience affects the experience itself. We are always watching and now being watched. Looking specifically at traveling and tourism, the standard for many decades, particularly in a pre-digital era, was to capture documentation at will-- photograph, journal, sketch. Then after the adventure concluded, process, evaluate, relive, compile, share. This all happens nearly seamlessly now, in just a few steps, on fly. In the old paradigm, I imagine that many never followed through passed the first step or two. Many photos ending up in boxes, journals on shelves, seen by only a few, if that, and then archived for all time. With this as the standard workflow, the incentive for thoughtful and thorough documentation was small and the payoff potentially equally small. Now we have Instagram and Facebook to instantly share these images and ideas, so now we contemplate how we want to present ourselves not just presently in the moment, but for the world forever.
Uncovering an image from my own archive
Ultimately what we connect to as humans, is story. So much of my own design school experience was practicing the development of narrative and learning to imbue that mythology into my work. There is worth in anything that amplifies the value of stories as the sharing of them seems uplifting to the human experience. And maybe it is time to accept, that likely most of use don’t see added value in engaging with strangers in public, we just like them being there with us to fill the voids. The reality is that most of the people we actually care about connecting with-- our friends and family-- aren’t nearby when we have something to share with them. So while we are temporarily removing ourselves from a space or event we are also bringing all of those people into it.
So how can a building, a public node, or an entire city facilitate this new layering of activity and blurring of physical/digital experience? Or are there circumstances where, as a decision of design, we limit the use or functionality of these devices?
We can point to ideas that have been implemented on both sides of the issue. In the limiting case, many museums, galleries, and venues limit photo taking to ensure the value/copyrights/etc of their artists or products, and the State of California has outlawed cell phone use while driving for safety-- though these circumstances are usually considered an annoyance or frustration by the public (or just outright ignored). In the progressive instance, we can look at QR codes as an initial attempt to integrate connected digital devices into public space. However these are more of a marketing implementation than a design value implementation. There’s much to deride about QR codes, but at least in Europe, their use is on the rise. If Apple and Android implemented this functionality in their core operating systems, their use would likely increase exponentially as well. But one of the most glaring shortcomings with QR codes is that they add little to no value. Most codes are merely links to websites which are accessible easily through other means (they’re like electric scissors! *warning: probably some profanity in this link). This is just one implementation, but we’ll likely need further innovation before we have meaningful analog/digital relationships with buildings and public space.
I got in trouble for this one...
In the comments, lets discuss what inspiring spaces you have seen that innovate within this burgeoning paradigm. And how can our ability to seamlessly document and present our lives add value to human experience in the public realm?
Living measures across the landscapes of Earth, rolling along the asphalt incision of world wilderness. Exploring the diversity of global urbanism from the ground. An intimately personal inquiry of lifestyle and limits, architecture and agriculture, organization and entropy, climate and cosmos. Point of embarcation: Los Angeles, California. First Destination: Chiang Mai, Thailand. Final Destination: Unknown. "I have no special talent, I am only passionately curious." _Einstein