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Mobile Revolution: Part 1 of 2

Mobile devices are opening the gates for a flood of location-based
products and real-time communication tools. At the forefront of
exploring this technology is Artist/Teacher/Technologist Dean Terry. He is currently the Director of the Emerging Media program at UT Dallas and is the head of their innovative MobileLab. Below is my interview with him, part 1 of 2:

People inherently care about communication, but why is "mobility" so profound?

but they also care about information and expression. Increasingly,
these things are shared and related to place.  For a long time the
online world (and its data and resources) was disconnected from the
everyday world beyond the desktop. The traditional Internet experience
assumed you were sitting somewhere and it didn’t particularly care
where you were.  We normally consider the data we create and consume as
being on a hard drive or “out there” somewhere on the Internet. This is
because the Internet was designed around computers that didn’t move,
and were unaware of their location in real world terms. Even laptops
never established a relationship with physical place.  With the
emerging generation of mobile platforms, everything has changed. With
this change brings shifts in perspective and expectation about “where”
our media is, and where we are. It also changes how we think of our
connections to other people, and the nature of these connections. In a
sense, you are carrying your network of people around with you all the
time. You are co-present with them and able to share a variety of
information, both intimate and environmental. In some ways this group
is like an extension of your own mind. Thoughts and ideas can be
developed in real time among a group of collaborators.

I keep hearing the phrase "mobile augmented
reality." What does this mean and what is a simple example of this?

Augmented reality
is basically the idea being able to see overlays of information on the
display of your mobile device. The information is geo located (specific
to your gps location) and can be anything from pragmatic information,
like who is in a building, to game content, to virtual art
installations. All of the data is invisible until you look through your
device, which detects where you are, where you are looking, and then
overlays the appropriate images and text over the scene. When you look
though the device via the camera virtual objects can be overlaid on
real ones based on position and direction.

But augmented
reality is also a way for artists to annotate the world, leaving their own
images, video, text, conversations, and objects in a particular
location. Our own project, called Placethings, is in development and will be a tool for location based art, cultural and historical content.

What new hardware innovations are you looking forward to?

In terms of technology, some of the most interesting things to
look forward to are the addition of a variety of sensors to the mobile
device. This further contributes to the intimacy factor. We recently
did a project with Ericsson where, working with our colleagues in the
Computer Science and Engineering department at UT Dallas, developed a
body sensor network. The network would transmit body data like heart
rate, temperature, and other information though the network and to the
web and mobile devices. The network was installed on people racing
bicycles so they and their coaches could monitor body states and later,
review the information to improve performance. These kinds of sensors,
and many others, will be showing up as bluetooth connections to your
mobile device. I think it is an interesting area for performance and
installation artists to explore.

What are the biggest challenges to this wave of innovation?

Technology is not in short supply.
Creativity and imagination are, particularly collaborative forms. A
creative, collaborative environment is difficult to cultivate and all
too easy to destroy. Our struggle is to encourage a climate of openness
and shared knowledge in an environment that integrates people from
different disciplines both inside and outside the university.

Creativity can be applied in a number of ways. I was trained, like
many who may read this, as a fine artist. This is a particular form of
applied creativity. The way I learned it it was a solitary effort and
people often protected their ideas.  Even the layout of the studios
where I went to to graduate school (Claremont in California) were like
silos, focused on individual achievement. Solo work will continue to be
important, but our charge is to work in the emerging media space. Doing
this successfully requires a shared form of creativity. In the new Arts
& Technology building we are designing on the University of Texas
at Dallas campus there are no solo spaces. Everything is about enabling
group work, public spaces, and encouraging serendipitous encounters
within the community.

I am involved as of this writing in a collaborative art and
performance project that takes place online in social network sites
like twitter and 12seconds.tv.
The group, called inter.sect is run by UT Dallas MFA graduate Christi Nielsen and involves responding to text and video prompts sent over
twitter and 12 seconds.tv. The artists, many of whom have another primary form of work, respond and post videos and audio from their mobile devices.

Conversation about iPhone 3Gs, traditional artists and culture at large in Part 2…

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