The Always-On Telephone Club

Pick of the week #77

Arcade is an an interdisciplinary design studio formed of William Coleman, Keiichi Matsuda and James Alliban. Arcade work at the intersection of physical and virtual, to expose new problems and opportunities from emerging technologies. They design apps, interactive installations and immersive environments.

Arcade met through Alpha-ville during the commission for CELL in 2011. The interactive installation brought designer and film maker Keiichi Matsuda together with artist and interaction designer James Alliban, who finally teamed up with William Coleman from Microsoft for their new design studio.

KM: We all come from quite different backgrounds, but we share a fascination in how people interact with their environments. With Arcade, we want to explore what new opportunities and hybrid architectures emerge, when you combine physical and virtual experiences. That’s the premise that lies at the heart of the studio and underpins all our projects, whether they are installations, interiors, apps, performances or events.

Arcade joined up with Nokia’s Alphalabs to create ‘Node Garden’, an open source app which connects multiple handsets and allows an entire network of phones to be connected in one visualisation. The exhibition ‘The Always On Telephone Club’, held at Modern Jago, showcased the original idea along with 13 developers creations using the original code.

KM: For Alphalabs we wanted to ask ourselves a question: what if we were always connected to everybody we know? You might have thought that would be exhausting, but it doesn’t have to mean a constant barrage of information or an invasion of our privacy.

JA: We’ve built an app that’s constructed of interconnected nodes, each one of those represents a user that’s currently connected to the network. Each user can move his or her node, and as they do so their actions are mirrored across the connected devices. These devices can connect either through the local network or remotely through the internet. This means that all the users can see the other users move around the space in real-time wherever they are.

KM: Imagine you’re given a window into each of your contacts through which only a tiny amount of information can pass. The window may be so small that you might not even be able to see their face or hear their voice… But you might be able to see what colour clothes they’re wearing. You retain your privacy as much as you want, but you get that feeling of inter-connectedness.

Now imagine that you’re able to expand any of those windows as and when you need them to allow as much information as you want to pass through. That means that if you want to talk to somebody you can do so just by pulling one of these windows open. It moves things from a world where things are either off or on, to an always on world of communication where we are able to choose the exact amount and nature of our interactions. From virtual presence at one end, to full blown tele-presence on the other, you now have a continuum of communication instead of the old model which is either off or on. We think could be the way people could communicate in the future; it’s filtered, it’s graded and it’s always on.

Node Garden allowed creative coders to exhibit their own propositions for how to visualise the app, which meant that Arcade was able to be the link in the chain between emerging coders and larger companies like Nokia.

JA: Without the open source aspect, the creative coding community would be much smaller and far less interesting place. It would be populated by a few experts continually reinventing the wheel. The contributions of libraries, frameworks and projects by generous, talented people allow creative folk without a strong technical background to quickly realise their ideas. If it weren’t for these individuals I certainly wouldn’t be doing the sort of work I’m currently engaged in. In a world where large tech companies excessively patent their output, it’s encouraging to be part of a community that aids rather than hinders progress. This makes it feel like we’re all on the same team instead of rivals.

Take a look at more of the creations that were exhibited here.

On the topic of advice for upcoming artists and programmers, Arcade had to say:

JA: Becoming an active member of the creative coding community is vital. Getting involved in the conversation, attending events and meetups, sharing code or tutorials all helps to get your name out there. If you have talent you will eventually find yourself collaborating with your peers on larger projects. It’s definitely worth getting involved with community led projects and approaching upcoming events with a view to contributing work. These endeavours are usually unpaid but they provide an excellent platform and can lead to new opportunities.

The Alphalabs Node Garden site can be seen here
Extended film can be seen here