Archive for April 12, 2010

Long Distance Calling: Reading Response #3

Telepresence, telematics, and telerobotics are a new and unique concept in which artists take the challenge of humans being physically separated from each other and putting them in the same space.  Telepresence is best embodied as the Internet.  It takes millions of people and connects them, allowing people to be in many different places all at once (155).  A person today in Japan can have telepresence in New York City through the Internet.  Telerobotics is where people control something physical from a long distance.

Telepresence and telerobotics have both many positive and negative affects associated with them.  First of all, it allows people from all over the world to participate in something they otherwise might not be able to.  Telegarden by Ken Goldberg and Joseph Santarromana is a good example of this (156).  These two men put together an interactive garden in which people can plant seeds, water the garden, and take care of it.  This brings people from all over the world together for a common and positive goal.  They have to work together to keep the garden flourishing.  They do this through telerobotics in which the users control a robotic arm that does the work in the garden.

However, there can be less desirable outcomes from the use of telepresence and telerobotics.  It could potentially detract from peoples desire to get out and interact with the real, physical world.  PRoP by Eric Paulos and John Canny is an example of this.  A robot controlled by users on the web can explore a space, interact with people and examine objects (159).  If enough of these projects happen, no one will ever have to leave their house to explore a new world, they only have to sit at their computer.  This not only promotes laziness, but it takes away from the necessary visceral experiences that humans need in order to fully connect with each other.  Another gross misuse of this technology is seen within the military.  There has been a lot of talk about using drones more within warfare.  This protects soldiers, but it takes the entire human element out of warfare.  It is easy to kill thousands of people with bombs when it is done through a machine, instead of a person actually having to commit the deed.

Telerobotics and telepresence seems to be connecting the world at a fast rate, but it is also strangely alienating humans from each other and their environments.  In the form of art, it seems to allow viewers to become a part of the piece in a new way.  It is unique, because it is not virtual reality, since people are interacting with very real places, yet they are not physically present.  It brings people into a new reality that if they chose to, they could actually travel to that location and see it for themselves.   Then there are people who do not control the space, but are physically present to witness the changes long distance users are making.  This also connects people on a new level.  They know that someone, somewhere, is affecting the world around them.

This was personally fascinating because I have participated in telerobotics and telepresence.  I worked at Meininger Art Supply for two years, and would frequent their moveable web cam.  I could watch my co-workers, customers and product displays.  It was almost comforting to see the store and take pride in the place I worked.  Now this isn’t a piece of art, but I also like the concept of working together internationally for a common goal.  That is why I was so drawn to Telegarden.  There are community gardens through out neighborhoods in America, and everyone has to work together to keep it healthy and thriving.  This project just takes that concept to a whole new level from local community to international community.  It may be an altruistic notion that people can work together for the common good, but it was a realized notion through Telegarden.