“The ubiquity of phone booths is interesting because they are completely obsolete, unevenly…”

“The ubiquity of phone booths is interesting because they are completely obsolete, unevenly distributed in outlying neighborhoods and they carry a strong sense of nostalgia with me. They’ve already evolved from their original function as person-to-person communication technology into their second iteration as pedestrian-scaled billboards. I wanted to see if there is a third option in that, yes, they get our eyes for advertising dollars, but they can also give value back to a neighborhood. I was most interested in turning what is perceived as an urban liability into an opportunity.”

The Atlantic Cities – How New York Pay Phones Became Guerrilla Libraries

Transforming Community Through Pervasive Play

Transforming Community Through Pervasive Play

Detailed presentation of Reality Ends Here, with remarks on the methodology underlying pervasive placemaking interventions of all kinds. Originally presented February 2, 2012 at the Berkeley Center for New Media.

GDC and DML Panels: Gameful Layers for the Freshman Experience

I will be presenting at the Game Developers Conference and the Digital Media and Learning Conference in the first week of March, 2012. These presentations are a part of a panel series jointly organized by the University of Southern California, the Rochester Institute of Technology, and Microsoft Research. The panels, entitled “Gameful Layers for the Freshman Experience”, discuss two very different approaches to using game systems to impact post-secondary education. More details below:

DML
9:00 AM March 2, 2012 Cyril Magnin Ballroom, Wyndham Parc 55 Hotel

The transition to college is a difficult experience for many young people, marked by rapid change as well as social, emotional and intellectual challenges. Additionally, today’s students may feel disconnected from traditional university classroom materials and structures, spending the majority of their out of class time interacting via text and web. This session will look at two very different experimental games which attempt to scaffold that freshman experience, allowing digital natives to bring their existing communication and media skills to bear on the building of college-level social groups and 21st century skills such as team-building, problem-solving, creative and critical thinking, brainstorming, experimentation, etc.

The two case studies were both launched in Fall of 2011 and each team has worked to assess and evaluate the outcomes so far. Just Press Play, from the Rochester Institute of Technology, is funded by Microsoft Research, and is an achievement-based system that encourages students to think of the obstacles in their path as part of a narrative of their educational development. Reality Ends Here, from the University of Southern California, is an internally funded project from the School of Cinematic Arts. Structured as an alternate reality game, the experience introduces students to the culture and history of the school, encouraging them to become part of that tradition from day one. Designers and evaluators from each project will discuss learning goals, design strategies, assessment approaches, preliminary outcomes and next steps for these innovative digital learning environments. (DML 2012)

GDC
10:00 AM Tuesday March 6, 2012 Room 2004, West Hall, 2nd Fl, Moscone Convention Center

DESCRIPTION: A comparison of two experimental games that each attempt to scaffold the first year university experience. “Just Press Play,” from RIT, an achievement-based system that encourages students to think of the obstacles in their path as part of a narrative of their educational development. “Reality Ends Here,” from USC, is a DIY media-making ARG that introduces students to the culture and history of the cinema school, challenging them to become part of the school’s storied tradition. Designers and evaluators from each team discuss learning goals, design strategies, assessment approaches, preliminary outcomes and next steps for these innovative digital learning environments.

TAKEAWAY: Attendees will learn design strategies, assessment approaches for creating innovative digital learning environments. From-the-trenches reports of technologies of play interacting with established curriculum. Outcomes for these experiments that point the way to new and exciting design solutions for games in educational settings. (GDC 2012)

Reconstructing visual experiences from brain activity

Despite its length and hard-to-pin-down clunkiness, I always liked Until the End of the World, Wim Wenders’ rambling near-term sci-fi film about (among other things) the psychological impact of a technology that enables the recording and playing back of one’s dreams. In the film, the characters become addicted to the technology, recording their dreams every night and spending more and more of their waking hours reviewing the recordings until their lives are consumed by reflection.

Other movies, like Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days, explore the unsettling social implications of a technology that enables people to digitally capture and play back what their brain sees and hears and feels. More recently, Charlie Brooker’s brilliant Black Mirror (episode 3, “The Entire History of You“) presents a plausible vision of how such a technology could become ubiquitous, and the devastating effects it will have on privacy, intimate relationships, and the way we remember our lives.

And so it was somewhat disconcerting to come across this research conducted at Berkeley’s Gallant Lab. The researchers describe the project as follows:

As you move through the world or you watch a movie, a dynamic, ever-changing pattern of activity is evoked in the brain. The goal of movie reconstruction is to use the evoked activity to recreate the movie you observed. To do this, we create encoding models that describe how movies are transformed into brain activity, and then we use those models to decode brain activity and reconstruct the stimulus. (UCB Gallant Lab)

Right now, to capture these recordings, the subject needs to be positioned inside a giant fMRI machine, so we’re a little way off from the dystopias described by the narratives of Strange Days and Black Mirror. But as the researchers at the Gallant Lab write, “both the technology for measuring brain activity and the computational models are improving continuously. It is possible that decoding brain activity could have serious ethical and privacy implications downstream in, say, the 30-year time frame.”

Strange days, indeed.