Notes from: Laura Forlano on Digital Materiality

Notes from Laura Forlano’s talk for the Creative Industries Faculty Research Seminar Series 13 March 2012. These are transcribed from my handwritten scribbles and include a lot of comments to myself along the way, shown in [square brackets].

Research Framework

  • Social Construction of Technology (Pinch and Bjiker)
  • Actor Network Theory (Latour)
  • Socio-materiality (Orlikowski, Leonardi)
  • Affordances (Norman)
  • Digital Materiality (Dourish)

Mobile work practices

Example: Victor and the Ad Hoc Incubator

Victor, a graphic designer has three different Starbucks he visits as different parts of his project. During pre-production he goes to a Starbucks in a B&N. During production he goes to a Starbucks where he is known and has visitors who will give feedback on his work in progress. During deadlines he goes to a third Starbucks where he is not known so he is not bothered or interrupted.

A brief critique of the idea that wifi leads to an anywhere/anytime work environment. Place still matters.

Description of some “experiments” where people worked in public spaces. Researchers coded photos in public at a cafe. People held a meeting on a tram.

The different ways that people appropriate space or use technology to help them create space/place.

Digital Materiality

…or the way that “digital” infrastructure” still depends on physical stuff and face-to-face interaction. The example of community wifi projects or networks that provide the intangible but depend so heavily on routers and servers and wires. [Somehow this was linked to urban screens — a connection I missed…]

[CF Odile in Gibson’s Spook Country “Cyberspace is everting”. To quote the ‘pedia:

One character proposes that cyberspace is everting; becoming an integral and indistinguishable element of the physical world rather than a domain to be visited. During the book tour for the novel, Gibson elaborated on this theme, proposing that the ubiquity of connectivity meant that what had been called “cyberspace” is no longer a discrete sphere of activity separate from and secondary to normal human activity, but that those increasingly less common parts of normal life free from connectivity were the exception.

Something that I am interested in is the idea that real stuff will depend even more on virtual stuff.]

Forlano asks a question: what sort of materialities do digital technologies take on in fields of design?

[Don’t forget: Every extension is [also] an amputation — McLuhan]

From the comments: Someone studying architecture at QUT says that he worked on a project where the A1 plan became marked up over the course of a several month project and it became a sort-of repository of knowledge in and of itself. He said something along the lines of “paper isn’t just going to disappear” which in the context meant that digital files sometimes do disappear. [My comment in my notes is “as if files aren’t also physical”, meaning that in the end digital files end up as bits of rust on spinning platters somewhere and that the difference between paper artefacts and digital files is less one of permanence than of mediation. Paper is immediate; digital files are mediated through so many layers of intervention: the filesystem, software, display surfaces.]

Fixed vs Fluid artefacts

Transmutation of objects. Physical to digital [and back?]

Stories about how people [web designers? service designers?] use post-it notes and then take pictures of the post-its at the end [?] of a working session.

From the comments: Jared made the point that the value of post-its isn’t in their fixedness but in their fluidity. He said that the practice of using post-its, in that designerly way, is more valuable than their ultimate configuration at the end of a working session.

[Why make such a fixed/strong distinction between physical and digital. Why not ask about how the physical and digital co-shape each other? (I think this was in relation to Forlano’s example of designers who normally dealt with GIS data being particularly inspired by a hand-drawn paper map — the idea being that the hand-drawn map was valuable to those designers purely because it wasn’t digital — I think Forlano was making this point, too.) Or how changing from physical to digital brings new affordances at the expense of others (cf McLuhan).]

Forlano then asked us, or the designers in the audience, to reflect on their experience of going from physical to digital (and back).

[Unclear (or I wasn’t paying attention, which is more likely) if Forlano’s research on digital materiality includes observation of designers process or only asks people to reflect on practice.]

[And one last thought: How does the process of going from CAD to 3D printing compare to the process of going from code to compiled code?]

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One thought on “Notes from: Laura Forlano on Digital Materiality

  1. Pingback: Weeknote 10 | Not Easily Obvious

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