Skinterfaces

Assignment 2: Skinterfaces, Major Studio 1

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As the second assignment for Major Studio, we were split into teams and assigned readings. Tongwen and I were given to read ‘Skinterfaces’ by Richard Cavell.

It is an article studying the theories of media theorist Marshall McLuhan and comparing them with those of some other theorists. The article compares biology to technology and says that the human body is like the hardware environment.

The first theory is that technology is transformational rather than representational, as man and machine are symbiotic. Technology has two ways of entering our world, one is by itself with support of humans and the other is introduced by humans. Thus, McLuhan calls humans as the sex organs of technology.

Being transformational, it is a theory of displacement where nature displaces into culture and embodiment displaces into disembodiment. Technology, earlier considered a prosthetic environment to humans, has displaced into the actual environment. Nature is not different from technology. Technology is nature.

Homo sapiens began with biological evolution of species and continued till one species decided to overpower the rest and thus, began a cultural evolution of a single species. As technology displaced into the environment, technology has become a cultural evolution. Integrated into economics and politics, it has become a feedback loop of subjectivity and objectivity.
The last theory is that of the genome theory or green technology. According to this theory, the world is going to run on technology based on 3 components:

  • the sun which provides the energy required
  • genome which uses this energy to create chemical fuels cheaply and effectively
  • finally internet which ends intellectual and economic isolation of the rural population

He concludes with concept of biomedia. In biomedia, biology is considered the medium which contains a message. And this message is a molecule in the environment. So there is no prosthetic environment. Technology is the environment.

To understand his theories better, we did a little research on the life timeline of Marshall McLuhan and a little about the author. As the main aim of the reading was to create a prototype, we got to working on our concept and physical prototype.

What we understood from the article was technology is the environment. But we cannot really see it. There is data flowing all around us with the increased use of computers, mobile phones and other connected objects. So we though what if you could physically experience this environment and see what is not usually visible? As data is stored in binary in our computers, what if you could see that in person? What if you could stand in a computer’s hard disk and experience matrix?
With the concept ready, we looked for inspiration to create the prototype.

The first idea came from Manuel Acevado’s conversion of military codes into beautiful graphics. The second was a still from the movie ‘Prometheus’, wherein the aliens try deciphering radios of our world in a radio simulator. The last being a gif image online.

With the concept and precedents in hand, we began working on the paper prototype. We asked a few people from our batch to describe technological environment in one word and converted those words into binary.

Usually, binary is written in ‘1’ and ‘0’. But they can also be written using ‘|’ and ‘-‘. Taking ‘|’ in blue and ‘-‘ in green, we created the paper prototype.

Once all the words were placed and box was complete, it was placed together.

If this were an actual installation, people visiting it would be allowed to enter one word to describe technological environment. As they entered characters, their binary counterparts would show up in the installation. They would also be able to stand inside the form created by there binary codes and experience data. It would help in explaining their interaction with technology and effect they have on it.

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