Physical spaces are made meaningful to us in a number of ways – by their form and materials, by the activities that take place in them and through social interaction with co-occupants of the space. Increasingly, we are now encountering hybrid electronic and physical spaces where computing capabilities are embedded into the environment or are mobile, personal and networked– environments known as ubiquitous computing. How do we create meaning for these hybrid spaces?
‘Situated action’ describes the idea that actions are contextualised by the location in which they take place. This has implications for ubiquitous computing as it suggests that not only do choices about input devices and display technologies (human/computer interfaces) affect interaction but so does the spatial configuration and physical context of the entire system, including the participants. Situated displays in the form of information boards, public notices and advertisements are common in the city. As these displays begin to incorporate electronic elements and become capable of being reconfigured by passers-by how do choices of position, input device and display technologies influence action and interaction with these hybrid electronic and physical spaces? Can these displays become catalysts for the creation of meaningful places?
We have been investigating these questions through an installation called Joe Blogg in which MMS and SMS messages are sent from mobile phone to a socially situated, public display. A critical aspect of this system is that participants and audience are implicitly colocated in the same physical environment. Joe Blogg is an initial investigation into how situated technologies might also affect behaviour of people in the surrounding physical space. We designed the interface to allow participants freedom to direct the use and content of the system. We were interested to see if a collective sense of purpose or narrative would emerge from the individual contributions.
In conclusion, our preliminary observations suggest that while picture messaging has the potential to engage participants with a situated display there are many contextual and interface factors to be considered. The location of the system, the motivation and reward for participation and the interface design all influence participants spontaneous interaction with a situated system. Despite these difficulties we feel this is an area worth investigating further.