The examples in our cookbook are from different fields, Music, Dance, Performance, Heritage, Gaming and Education. Pervasive Media is an approach to delivering content in new ways that can be applied in lots of different contexts. But how does the Pervasive Media approach make us feel ? What can it deliver to audiences that other forms can’t ?
We know from testing Pervasive Media experiences that they can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, they can surprise and delight you or make you lonely and tearful. They can connect you to other people or leave you in sweetly melancholic isolation. When designed with care, embedding content into everyday objects and situations can produce powerful feelings in users. Hiding media content into the fabric of everyday life to be discovered by chance or design is a kind of enchantment; objects and places are augmented by the creator’s vision. The normal objects and places of day-to-day reality become materials for digital illusionism. Every banal object is a potential toy, every mediated communication a kind of trick. Users often speak about how the work produces distinctive ‘magic moments’, when the data world and the real world connect to produce illusion and excitement. This might be, for instance, when you’re not sure if the data is in the real world or not – is this sound in the app or in the world ? (eg footsteps in Escape from the Tower). It could be when the design brings together unexpected elements – the family archive documents in the drawer of the Theatre Jukebox combined with a perfectly matched projection and sound. This fascination comes from the unexpected conjunction of objects, content and interactivity. Familiar devices (phones, laptops,) can be used to control unfamiliar objects (like the mini cinema in the Curzon Memories application); or objects can be used to produce media (like the sound producing bottles in Surreptitious Soundplay). Pervasive Media projects begin to exploit these new conjunctions between the world of objects and the world of data. This ability to make the inanimate animate is a kind of magic, offering us the ancient pleasures of illusion through the affordances of embedded computing.
Because this work happens anywhere and everywhere it is often about ‘augmenting’ the world, adding content to our day-to-day lives. This might be adding mystery (Our Broken Voice) or adding knowledge (Escape From the Tower). You can aim for the fleeting pleasures of life caught, perfectly, ‘on the wing’, and left as traces in the environment. Pervasive Media applications become a way of delivering delight and distraction in the midst of day-to-day experience.
Applications using headphone audio have their own set of effects. The very particular physical intimacy produced by listening to ‘site specific’ sound in public through headphones creates both an attention to, and a mild alienation from, the surroundings. The promptings to attend to the world, to look out for this or that, to really spend a moment or two remembering an event that happened in a place, or feeling spooked out of your skin, these experiences will change forever the way you feel about a space. Strangely, for a form that involves wearing a pair of headphones, work like this can produce an immersive state of mindfulness – an intimate attention to the world in all its mysterious detail.
For 20 years (or more) we have been building virtual worlds, data environments that take up more and more of our attention with screen-based activities. Pervasive Media offers us some hints about how the next stage of technological development might feel. Here the virtual world is rematerialized in the real world, our environments become interactive, entertaining and diverting in new ways. So far we know a little about what Pervasive Media can do with us – the question is how can this new world of connectivity enrich human experiences of the future?