One of the great things about my line of work is that I’ve crossed paths with some incredibly smart, talented and thoughtful designers and technologists over the past few years, some through great events such as Lift, some through association with different corporate design teams, and some met randomly. I've met some of these folks through client projects or conversations in the hallway at conferences as they worked inside larger organizations, but most have now migrated teamed with friends, hung out their own shingle and become the newest crop of visionary workshops charting the path for the rest of us—teams like Urbanscale, BERG, Stamen, Superflux, and many more like them that are just emerging.
I’ve been exposed to an even wider spectrum of thinkers and makers online and on stage, and have seen tried as best I can to absorb and digest their work—whether as ideas in a blog post or strange machines in a public space—as inputs and influences to my own. In many cases, I’ve found their ideas and creations a rich source of weak signals that manifest some of the critical uncertainties we face as a technological society. A common characteristic of these creators is a facility to take a nascent technological capability and bend it around a moral, ethical or social issue, intentionally or as by-product, and thereby provide a useful thinking space to model implications and consequences. They continually ask questions about what it means to attempt to put emotion into technology, and by doing this, they create and explore hundreds of mini-scenarios of a human-technological future. Whether you agree or disagree with particular views of how these futures may unfold, the questions need asking, if only to provide a better sense of the direction(s) we wish to pursue.
Because of this, visiting Talk to Me, a newly opened exhibit at the MoMa focusing on communication between people and objects was like some kind of strange family reunion. I was familiar with so many of the works featured in the exhibition, in some cases recalling the out-loud thinking some of the artists involved have shared over time as they crafted these amazing pieces, and with others thinking of how many times I’ve invoked them as references to explain a concept to someone unfamiliar with this area. And, as Adam Greenfield rightly pointed out, it made me think about how the exhibit signifies a kind of mainstreaming of these ideas and the attention (hopefully) now placed more squarely on the makers themselves.
Many of the works featured are only a few years old at most. Some, like Jack Dorsey's Square and Usman Haque's Pachube, are commercial products already, and as such are important influencers. MoMa's staging of the exhibit—of the actual alongside the speculative—shows how quickly we move from theory to practical consideration of technology’s impacts on our most personal interactions, behaviors and emotions now.
Click the images here for more information on each work. More images from the exhibit are available here.