Page 1

Type Lacks Tone

by Jessica Gibson-Torbell


Introduction: Man Vs Machine

Chapter 1: Type Lacks Tone

Chapter 2: What makes us human?

Chapter 3: Robot love, and making ourselves more robotic

Chapter 4: Privacy


"People react primarily to direct experience and not to abstractions; it is very rare to find anyone who can become emotionally involved with an abstraction."

-November 27, 1965: A rare interview with Stanley Kubrick (via explore-blog)


Man Vs Machine In an age of ‘information obesity’ (Hall, 2001:1) there is increasing pressure to: know more, do more and be more, changing our approach to communication; its purpose and our relationships. With the ever increasing accessibility and connect-ability provided by the internet and by other forms of technologies such as; mobile phones, email and social platforms, we extend our capabilities as human beings. These ‘devices’ allow us to do things that were physically impossible 20 years ago. We can now talk to multiple people in different countries simultaneously, instantly catch up with friends and family, and even work while walking down the street. We can “harness spare time, or time previously spent in tasks that seem not to require full attention” (Katz, and Aakhus. 2002:2). The scope provided by this, challenges us “to make ourselves as machine-like”. I propose that as a result we are finding it hard to ‘keep up’ (with the technologies we use day-to-day), which in turn is effecting the quality and value we place within the sphere of communication. This brings me to my main consensus; I argue that due to our greater capabilities provided by the technologies highlighted above, we now believe that we can find out more about the world, and each other with greater ease by using a Google search engine than we could by asking a person a simple question. Thus leading me to enquire, what is it about communication that has seen us abandoning traditional forms of conversation and replacing them with digitalised and automated systems. Making it arguably a “less time consuming” and “less emotionally, intellectually and even linguistically taxing” experience. (Direct quote from personal research questionnaire; ‘Agents of networking’, 2013). Moreover I wish to explore how the use of different ‘devise’s’ dictate our perspectives, responses and understanding of one another. So to apprehend why it is that we find ourselves making presumptions about one another based upon digital representations, rather than the information gained from physical experiences. It is my understanding that as a consequence of our societies digitalisation we have adopted

alienating mannerisms, learnt from the design of communicative platforms. Which have manipulated how well we ‘get’ each other, therefore distancing ourselves from others physically and emotionally; placing communicative obstacles in the way.

Cultural Necessity The ‘devices’ used to coordinate, simplify and make our daily lives more efficient have created what I believe to be ‘Cultural necessities’. Instances in which we feel we need to partake in technological consumerism, such as; having a mobile phone, email account, or social media profile, so we don’t feel isolated. Facebook for instance is just one example of a technological ‘device’ that exploits the pressure we feel to update, stay in touch and be connected. Facebook provides its users with the ability to further extend themselves digitally, creating virtual profiles, ‘friends’ cannot only ‘talk’ (leave a message) as well as view (that individuals profile). This condones comparison, criticism and analysis of ourselves and the people around us. An example of this heightened analytical approach manifests itself in the form of applications such as the like button, which encourages instantaneous responses about things that we may or may not wholly understand (O’Neil, 2013:1). This inclination to react with such speed corresponds with societies’ view that, ’Everything is taking too long’;(‘Everything taking too long’ 2009:1) to the extent that we do not feel the need to question the things we show virtual appreciation for. Facebook acts as a continuous reminder of peoples’ lives; what they are doing, how they are feeling, who they are with,and what they like, the list goes on. It’s a space in which the lives of you and your ‘friends’ unfold together simultaneously, (on the aptly named news feed). Collating data about the world around you and the people you care about, all in one place. Despite the obvious benefits of having the power to do more, the information output from ‘devices’ such as Facebook and other forms of instant messaging platforms lack ‘real-time’ context, that face-to-face conversation has. The information we gain from reading a status, a tweet, a text or even a phone call lacks purity and clarity of comprehension. Instead they act somewhat like a filter, defining the content and the way we express ourselves to one another; this can result in gaps of understanding, obscurity and ambivalence. For instance consider a text

message; from it we gain primarily language information, thereafter we rely on our previous knowledge of that person and there circumstances to process and contextualise the message. A phrase such as ‘i’m fine’ as a response to ‘how are you’ can be understood in many ways. This poses the question, when more digitalised methods of communication are introduced where do we gain the ‘data’ or ‘social cues’ we need to respond and empathise with each other in an appropriate manner. This will lead me to look into the factors of understanding, (where we get the information we need to interpret one another)and how this changes dependant on the ‘device’ thats used. Finally I aim to address certain issues of privacy and morality within the design of future methods of communication.

Factors of Understanding

Physical apperance

Genral context and enviroment

Length of time

Previous knowlage Previous knowledge

Facial expression Facial expression

Tone of voice Tone of voice

Emotion/Sentiment Emotion/Sentiment

Gesture Gesture

Relating to design As Norman states in ‘Living with complexity’ Design should reflect life (Norman, 2010) and our increased use of the internet and other digitalised devices is mirrored by a world driven by accessibility and convenience. However is this expansion having a positive affect on our lives, or is it placing too much pressure on us as individuals to ‘keep up’. I deduce that we must make ourselves aware of the implications of the objects that surround us, and how this adjusts how we relate to one another. Professor Noam Chomsky makes a compelling statement on the topic of technological singularity, he says that ‘…without limits we would not have scope. Limits determine what type of cognitive creatures we are…” (‘Noam Chomsky:The Singularity is Science Fiction!’, 2013).I feel this comment illuminates an area which we as a society must address. We now have to start to identify our limits; be it our human capacity, social needs and aspirations, so there is space for positive change, using design to negotiate the limits we assume to be correct at that time.

Brief I intend to explore these factors of understanding further, attempting to seek design possibilities within existing communication systems, as well as new ones. My intentions are to find ways of negotiating current isolating aspects of communication design, which I believe create ‘miscommunication’. I conclude that by analysing how we converse face-to-face, we can find ways to reduce the disparity between man and machine; rather than allowing ‘platforms’ to ‘get in the way’. I aim to do so by conducting experiments looking at tonality of the voice, sentiment analysis, gestures and sound association. I aspire to find focus within the tactile experiences we have with one another. Further more aiming to identify the factors within communication we need, to build the kinds of relationships we want. Be it face-to-face or using interfaces to accommodate an idealised view of conversation.


Type Lacks Tone In this chapter I intend to examine how lexical forms of communication can lack sentiment, why and when our use of written Language falls short. One reason I have identified through my research is; due to our tendency to prefer rapidness within our daily routine, we now look for shorter ways to converse and express ideas. Thus contributing to less descriptive and informative contact. Twitter, for example“…where 140 character limit has made most punctuation seem disposable…” (Crair, 2013:1) subsequently narrows our chances of understanding what and how something is meant to be appreciated; subtracting punctuation, which is defined as one of the primary elements that aid clarification of a text. We have also taken to shortening words, using abbreviations and slang, which for some can be confusing; most commonly for older generations. However this evolution of language, is not a new occurrence; “Texting may be using a new technology but its linguistic processes are centuries old”(Crystal, 2009:27) With evidence of the use of Logograms or Logographs dating back to the Ancient Egyptians. “Similarity between texting and Egyptian writing: The notion of a rebus…in its original definition, consist entirely of pictures that are used to represent the sounds of words, rather than the objects they refer to” (Crystal, 2009:39) Which allows me to predict that this confusion comes from a lack of proficiency, that is gained from being apart of a community or ‘gang’. These communities are born from inherent similarities, which too could in fact, relate to the similarities we share: in having mobile phones, computers, emails etc. This explains why older generations find it hard to follow textisms; because they are less likely to engage with the newest technological devises. The devises used to send instant messages, via our phones and through the internet, intrinsically manipulate the way the users communicate. Like the way Twitter employs a 140 character limit which implicates its use. Effectively dictating the nature of how and maybe even to some extent what we say. Further alienating people who do not use a

specific platform, which again drives the need to cooperate with the digitalisation of society. It is obvious through Twitters adoption of this character restriction that we believe this shortening and clarification is necessary in a world which seems to demand efficiency. Since Marshall McLuhan’s conclusions about the effect of the media on society and culture, in the 1960’s, we have been aware that “…societies have always been shaped more by the nature of media by which men communicate then by the content of the communication…” (MchLuhan, M and Foire, Q.1967 :8) Which suggests that to combat some of the problems I have outlined within my context report I must engage myself with the ‘media’ or rather the ‘platforms’ we use. So as to find out what aspects of their design contributes to lack of understanding. Firstly to do so I must address, how we come to understand one another. Professor Noam Chomsky sheds some light on this, in his book ‘The Architecture of language’ in which he states that in linguistics there are two assumptions made about how we access language information; through ‘sound and meaning’. (Chomsky, 2000:8) When using lexical messages we compute the language information, but ‘sound’ (voice) is all most nearly absent. Meaning we have to look for other ways to convey it. ‘Sound’ in relation to face-to-face communication comes from the voice. Further to this, the voice has qualities which vary dependant on the individual. Making the simulation of sound through text a very hard task indeed. I think that the methods implied to add sentiment to written messages such as; emoticons and even punctuation lack individuality, which in turn makes it hard for us to relate to that specific person. For instance the emoticon; attempts to bridge the gap between faceto-face communication and instant messaging by using representations of facial expressions. Usually found after a sentence which could be ambivalent, or as a marker of empathy. Nonetheless I feel that they curb the variety of expression, by neatly categorising emotions in to the following: happy, sad, confused, etc. Which ultimately homogenises the act of self expression, effecting how we process the meaning.

"Effective communication is 20% what you know and 80% how you feel about what you know." -Jim Rohn

Is text-speak killing Language? One popular view is that our use of technology is resulting in us losing or maybe even not needing traditional forms of spoken communication anymore. (Chiang, 2013:1) We are bombard by stories in the news of falling literacy standards which condemn the younger generations and their use of technology; saying that their use of abbreviations and textslang is a result of not understanding language, laziness and even stupidity. However David Crystal argues that “If you are using such abbreviations as LOL (Laugh out Loud) and BRB (Be Right Back), you must have developed a sensitivity to the communicative needs of your textees, because these forms show you are responding to them” (Crystal,2011:6) Further more in Bauer and Trudgill’s, ‘Language Myths’ they discuss the popular belief that change in language is ‘inherently undesirable’ (1998:1) and how evolution of word meanings and grammatical structures have and will always change. Therefore we cannot dismiss the use of technology because we think it’s having a negative effect. In fact in a study “children who were better at spelling and writing used the most textisms…” (Crystal, 2011:5), suggesting that using texisms do not inhibit peoples proficiency to express themselves using ‘correct,’ standardised English. John McWhorter outlines another interesting point concerning language evolution, corresponding to the technological advancements of our modern world. McWhorter deems text speak, as ‘Fingered Speech’, describing it as an abandonment of old preconceptions of speech and written language. Whilst doing so he clearly wishes not to condem ‘writing like we speak’, but instead describes it as a new linguistic field. (McWhorter, ‘Txtng is killing language.JK!!!’, 2013) One which strives to convey the ‘sound’ that speech has. However in my view using written language as a substitute for speech, has changed the way we empathise and make conclusions about one another. As stated earlier it lacks actual audible sound, as well as visual information. When we text we cannot see the other person, so have no opportunity to see wether what they are saying corresponds with how they seem to be. My objective is to find ways to combat the lack of context, using language as a material for

expression. An example of a designer who has also expressed a desire to do so is Joel Baker. His project Colloquy, provides a typographic solution to expression, with his typeface that changes form in response to what is being written. Baker identifies font as one of the factors which restricts interpretation. (For more information go to: http://joelbaker. net) I on the other hand want to focus on what digitalised forms of communication lack in comparison with face-to-face communication.

The Internet Effect As we start to talk more about the effect of the ‘devices’ we use to communicate, and more specifically the internet, it is interesting to note that, “The internet is first and foremost not about computers” (Amichai-Hamburger, Y. 2013:1) It is not purely the physical object that changes us, but what it has to offer. Rather, the internet is a concept, we can be in more than one place at a time. This concept has allowed us greater ‘control’, anonymity, as well as vast opportunities to learn new things, which in turn effects our outlook and our aspirations. With people spending ‘One in every 12 minutes on the net’ (Keeley, 2013:1) the increased usage creates opportunities economically, but also socially. Referring back to the idea of time being a contributing factor of stress, technology has allowed us to do more, quicker, but as a result, do we now just have more to do? For instance we have to check emails, update social network sites and even just texting a loved one to let them know your fine. If we return back to the concept of individuality and expression, on the Internet, its apt to consider that sometimes the use of digitalised platforms can conceal more than it should. For instance with our new obsession with the internet comes examples of extremely negative behaviour. The MTV television series ‘Catfish’ (2012) lead by Yaniv ‘Nev’ Schulman is a series which aims to discover people who create false virtual persona’s on the internet with the intention of hiding things about themselves. Sometimes ending in them receiving financial gain. Despite the fact that these are obviously extreme cases of digitalised communication misuse, it does highlight the fact that use of them can lead to a distortion of reality and falseness. In the perspective of Adam Phillips in his book Missing Out, “our unlived lives – the lives we live in fantasy, the wished-for lives – are often more important to us than our so-called lived lives.” (Phillips, 2013:29) So with this in mind, is Fantasy something which should be incorporated within our daily communicative habits, or is it something which should be limited, and kept to ourselves?

More over if we consider systems such as the filter bubble, a phrased coined by internet activist Eli Pariser. Who’s book ‘The filter Bubble’ (Pariser, 2012) uncovers the secrets of how, our use of the internet is defined, using algorithms to predict what information you ‘want’ to see. Limiting and even obscuring our options, be it what we shop for or even the newspaper article we read. This system blurs the lines between how our choices effect us and where computers start to dictate our habits. In contrast there are instances where communicative technology are used for good. Technology has allowed there to be more opportunity within the sphere of predictive crime analysis. Using things such as “data mining, text mining, data collection, and statistical analysis—agencies worldwide are able to better understand and predict future criminal behaviour—thousands of incident reports, crime tips, calls for service and criminal databases, as well as attitudinal data gathered through citizen feedback and surveys.” (Haffey, B. 2008:1) This has made finding criminals easier, however Marco Malacarne, of the European Commission said in a BBC news article that “In times of crisis, it is nearly impossible for the police to monitor all the information provided by today’s surveillance technologies” (Moskvitch, 2012:1) So as it stands, technology eventually serves to remedy the problems it creates. In conclusion we can choose to look at these new technological advancements in both a positive and negative way, but for the sake of design we must choose to address these problems accepting that naturally human beings are bound by their curiosity. Technology still has a huge capacity for change, so rather than making efforts to limit usage, we should tackle our approach to it; considering ways we can make digitalised communication systems physiologically healthier, by targeting peoples awareness of the internet effect. As A N Whitehead (18611947) said ‘The major advances in civilisation are processes that all but wreck the societies in which they occur” (‘Medium is the Massage’, 1967:7) So I propose we work to find ways of developing the tools we use for communicative means, that aid us not only as a society but as individual with unique human needs.

Type Lacks Tone, Screen shoots. (Video can be found at the back)

"To handle a language skillfully is to practice a kind of evocative sorcery." -Charles Baudelaire


What makes us human? In this chapter I would like to address the elements of humanity which set us apart from the technologies we use.What defines us as human is said to be our use of language, and alongside that the thought processes and awareness of each other. If this is true then analysis of these ‘human factors’ could aid our understanding of what makes good communication. In my opinion the beauty of verbal (face-to-face) communication, in comparison to digitalised versions, is the natural errors we make: The Slurs, lisps, the rich quality of each individuals voice; their pattern of speech and the organic reactions to one another. With this crucial poetic ‘human element’ comes a more natural representation of ourselves. Talking becomes a valuable way to express thoughts out loud to others around you. Whereas technologies such as phones and computers set us back from ourselves, creating distance from the people we talk to. Chomsky talks about the body as an interface: mouth as speaker, ears as receiver and so on. He goes on to describe the Language system as an “Organ inserted into a system of mind that has a certain architecture; it has interface relations.” (Chomsky, 2000:17) They are a part of us and therefore what comes from them is inherently ‘us’. The argument I wish to develop is that through the use of machines that lack humanity, we lose something within communication. In addition it is important to consider the mind as a tool of cognitive decision making. Whilst in the process of communication we have to make decisions and rationalisations to define what is being said. The emotional content is a key aspect of communication, ultimately we communicate to: be social, make and keep relationships, and show our emotions. In Antonio Damasio’s, ‘Descartes’ Error’ it is highlighted that the reasoning process is directly related to our emotional system. Highlighting emotion as one of the key aspects within communication, and consequently ‘the one thing a computer can never simulate’. When discussing the topic of emotion he states that “we are wired to respond with an emotion, in pre organised fashion, when certain features of stimuli in the world or in our bodies are perceived, alone or in

combination.� (Damasio, 1994:131) If this is how we are hardwired to be, then referring back to Don Norman’s view that design should reflect life, so to must the tools we use or if not, they should allow and not prohibit our emotional reflexes.

Importance of Identity In Dominic Pettman’s ‘Human Error’ he recites an analogy of an answer machine message used at the end of the Glaswegian band Aerogramme’s song ‘A simple process of Elimination’ using it as an example to highlight how “…new technologies complicate the ethical obligation to-even definition of- the neighbour” (Pettman, 2011:112) The message is of an anonymous woman crying out for help “like the penultimate whimper of a dying animal” (Pettman, 2011:111). The way this message has been presented alongside a song; makes us question the morality of it, and whether this is an abuse of the woman’s rights.What I find poignant is the way its been captured on an answering machine. The woman talks to the machine with trust, as if she were talking to a person. This scenario seems to be an example of how technology can deceive us, even make us confide in them. However where trust in a person and trust in machine differs is in the way that information we give, can be withheld, recorded, deleted and saved universally. Machines do not consider the wants or needs of the person interacting with them. Suggesting that our approach to technology should not represent that of the trust we feel towards actual human beings, or at least that some of the designs appropriated by some devices do not deserve our trust. In the book Internet Linguistics, David Crystal talks about this further when posing the question “Whether a machine is talking to us (as with satellite-navigation car instructions or airport tannoy announcements) or are we talking to a machine (as with a telephone-booking service or voice activated washing machine)” (Crystal, 2011:2) This simulation of seemingly human responses shifts our perspectives about them. Yet we can still automatically recognise that these simulations are just that, not human. This recognition comes from an analysis of how that interface reacts to you. For example when talking on the phone with someone we can tell that the person on the other end is real because we can hear their voice, which has tone and other audible variables that respond to question.

Thinking more on the topic of artifice Vs organic I look to examples of public figures who’s voice and tonal abilities, are essential factors which define how they are perceived by the world. Margret Thatcher for instance being the first female Prime minister had always been very conscious of the image she projected. When speaking to the nation she of course wanted to project the right sentiment. After receiving criticism for her ‘shrill’ voice she decided to seek professional voice coaching so to lower the tone of her voice, making her sound more assured. (‘How the Iron Lady changed her voice’, 2012) Therefore changing our reaction to what she had to say. Within my project I explored this factor further videoing various people simulating different sentimental tones to investigate how the relation to what they said and the way they said it changed our perspectives. I found that the tone of voice and way in which something is said takes priority over what is being said (Videos can be found on a disc in the back). Then of course there is Stephen Hawkin’s; world renowned scientist and author who’s computer generated voice has become his trademark, setting him apart from all others. Despite the fact the technology used to fabricate his voice has advanced, using much more realistic tones of voice Hawkin’s chose to keep the same robotic sounding system developed back in the mid’s 80’s. In an article published by the Guardian entitled ‘Is Stephen Hawkin’s voice music to the ears?’ Dr Christopher Newell of the university of Hull explains that “sounding more human isn’t necessarily the answer” The science of robotics has found that when devices become too human like people’s positive reactions quickly turn to feelings of deep unease and even revulsion. Newell believes that this may also apply to artificial voices attached to real people. Although this is not the case for Hawkins, due to “advantages of being able to expound the secretes of the cosmos” it is hard with a computer generated voice to command listeners attention. (Newell, 2012:1)

Instances such as this can be classified within the Uncanny Valley; Which is a dip in positive reactions to robotic or machine like technologies, identifying the line between a good use of technology which goes unnoticed and the bad use which makes us feel uneasy. In the article, Newell goes on to explain that it’s more about finding an acoustic formula that gives a person a ‘sound’ or voice worth listening to. (Newell, 2012:1) This research has lead me to believe that within the sphere of communication, sentiment and the emotional quality of communication is an extremely key aspect of what makes good communication. This then brings me to a few of my own brief design ideas. One being the sentiment analysis watch. Used to pick up data from the body directly relational to that persons health and mood. This data can then be stored by the wearer and used to dictate and inform communicational practices. For instance a mini update of how that person actually is can be sent to a person who asks ‘how are you?’ this alongside language information could enhance the physical connection between participants. (To find out more go to


Robot love, and making ourselves more robotic In this chapter I look at instances where man and machine overlap; relationships we build based upon, and supplemented by technology. As well as other forms of non-verbal communication and their effect on society. An example of the response that technology is having on the types of relationships we adopt is clearly represented in an article published by the BBC on ‘Japanese men who prefer virtual girlfriends to sex’. (Rani, A. 2013). The article describes one sub cult of males as having “…taken on a mole-like existence and, worryingly, withdrawn from relationships with the opposite sex.” Preferring the company of the Nintendo computer game, Love Plus to a human woman. One Japanese male (Yuge) interviewed by Rani is said to take his virtual girlfriend on bike rides and takes photos of them together. This suggesting it is easier than considering a relationship with a ‘3D woman’(real woman). In a sense I feel this devalues relationships, providing ‘easier’ alternatives; encouraging isolation from others. It further changes the classification of a relationship, as there is only one human participant, which in turn creates egotistical behaviour. A contributing factor of this new trend could be the ease and sense of control the user gains from having a cyber girlfriend. The ‘owner’ can conduct their relationship how and when they want, furthermore allowing them to terminate it with ease. Similarly there are connections between this and the perspective that, “…According to several online forums, the easiest way to tell someone that you no longer want to go out with them” (Crystal, 2009:109) is via a text message; arguably not facing the negative aspects of having a human relationship. The question is why choose a virtual girlfriend over a real one. Regardless it is clear that this choice is one that has effected society; with the reproduction rates in Japan“…shrinking at a rate of one every 100 seconds…” (‘Falling birth rates mean Japan ‘won’t have any children under 15 by 3011’, 2012:1) I believe that we have a lot more to gain from the somewhat messy and complex relationships we have with people.

Which might not always be perfect, but they are an essential part of what makes us human. Stanley Kubrick was recored in interview saying that, “People react primarily to direct experience and not to abstractions; it is very rare to find anyone who can become emotionally involved with an abstraction.” (Kubrick, 1965) This was a reaction,addressing issues Kubrick had with the invention of the atomic bomb which he believed has become an abstraction within society and not a problem which needs to be addressed immediately. Similarly I too feel that we as a society have become blind to the influences of technology and therefore how we relate to each other. Taking a different stance and considering the advantages we now have due to enhanced communication technology regarding real life relationships; We can now conduct long term relationships with greater ease than ever before, using platforms such as Skype and other video chat interfaces. We are seeing more products on the market designed for these platforms, for instance the Kissenger, by lovotics, consisting of two robots, which when kissed sends the other a corresponding simulation of that kiss. Its said to provide “…a physical interface enabling kiss communicationfacilitating intimate human tele-presence…” (http://kissenger.lovotics. com) Another product which describes itself as “enabling real-time, remote sex with unprecedented realism” is Teledildonics (Denning, 2012:1). Remote controlled dildos that allow partners to have intimate relations with one another when apart. Providing a way to be physically intimate with one another without actually being together. Proving that through technology we are finding ways to bridge the gap between virtual love and physical love. Reviewing my findings I conclude that there are ways in which technology can aid our relationships in positive ways; by making it easier for couples who can’t be together physically, to share some of the important aspects of being in a relationship. For instance the makers of Kissenger believe products such as these play “…a crucial biologically motivated role in allowing prospective mates to smell and taste each other’s pheromones for detecting compatibility.”

( In addition encouraging people to place more value on the relationships they have with their partners. However in instances where people have adopted relationships with non-human technology, where there is an absence of a partner, there is physiological and economic implications.

Changing perspectives In Guy Deutscher’s ‘Unfolding of Language’(2006) we can deduce that human kinds structural representation and perception of Language has undergone many vast leaps from its birth (which is unknown). Deutcher describes language as a organism bound to develop ceaselessly. With that in mind it is interesting to consider whether it possible for us to no longer need what we class as verbal language. Kevin Warwick of The University of Reading suggests that this could be the case. In a lecture he conducted for ‘TEDxOxford’ (Warwick, 2012) he described Communication as it stands, as a “Pathetic trivial serial coded pressure way.” Stating that our, out of date human ways should and could be replaced by cyborg adaptive implants. So far he has achieved an alternative communication method, involving himself and wife; connecting their nervous systems together, resulting in shared nervous system signals. Further to this, he is developing technologies which deal with connecting brain activity, other wise know as telepathic communication. Which could see us communicating using colours, images, and even emotions in the years to come. With the possibilities to connect with one another in such a ‘raw’ way, how will our ‘language’ (way we communicate) have to evolve in order to accommodate this new approach. The question I pose is how do we as a society feel about this seemingly ‘unnatural’ advance in biometamorphosis. I feel that the answers lie within how we ‘use it’. The intentions we have and the ways we mediate the design, so to protect the fundamental elements which make us human.


Privacy Further to the idea that sometime in the future we may have the capability to communicate via our minds; what then becomes of privacy. How do we negotiate what we share and when.This may be possible through brain training or even through technological filtering devices. However this could take time to develop and even now with the increasing access to data comes issue of how to protect the things we deem to be confidential. In an article published by The New Yorker, entitled ‘Privacy in an age of publicity’ Jill Lepore (Lepore, 2013:1) discusses the relationship between privacy and secrecy. Tracing it back to 1844 and the case of Giuseppe Mazzini, a Italian revolutionary plotting the unification of an Italian republic. Whilst Living in London Mazzini’s post had been intercepted, he knew this because he posted letters to himself, in which he concealed substances such as sand, poppy seeds and strands of hair, so that when they were returned to him, he knew that they had been opened because the concealed artefacts were no longer there. Today we do not have these advantages of finding out when we are being watched, because the use of technology is less tangible, and conceals more. Instead we live in the knowledge that it is possible for people to observe us; be it on CCTV, monitoring phone calls and things like data mining. Most people do not have a proficient understanding of how technology actually works, so more commonly then not, people do not protect themselves sufficiently. Lepore goes on to talk about the definitions of these two terms, saying that, “Secrecy is what is known, but not to everyone…(and)… Privacy is what allows us to keep what we know to ourselves” Further more she identifies that, “the defence of privacy follows, and never precedes, the technologies for the exposure of secrets. In other words, the case of privacy always comes too late” (Lepore, 2013:1) For instance when you log on to websites such as Amazon, recommendations and a history of your purchases are uncovered wether you are ‘logged in’ or ‘out’. Other examples of cases where privacy is interrupted by technologies

are; instances when you can find pictures of yourself on the internet without having put them there yourself, and someone knowing where you went to school or work before even meeting them. Is not all this sharing and data collection a breach of our human rights. We are protected somewhat by the ‘Human rights act’ in the UK in which it outlines 10 basic rights, one being “Respect for privacy and family life … (which)… protects against unnecessary surveillance or intrusion into your life…” (Liberty, ‘The Human Rights act’ [online]) but due to our societies digitalisation the lines between privacy have become blurred. Which can be seen with our change in view about the definition of harassment. Primarily harassment pointed towards physical or verbal forms of abuse, but now it is common to consider harassment with regards to: email, texting and Facebook. This has become a topic of interest in the media and there is increasing pressure for Government bodies to address laws to safe guard our privacy, but has this all come too late like Lepore puts it. In the state of California the new ‘Right to know act’ (Cohen, 2013:1) will see that, “Companies such as Google and Facebook have to reveal what personal information they have collected and how it’s being used”. The large companies who will be effected, argue that this new bill will have a negative impact on their ‘business models’, consequently will stop them from being able to provide services such as Google and Facebook for free. Which I do not consider to be a wholly negative repercussion; maybe if we had to pay for the use of Google and Facebook we simply would not use them. Facebook has already seen a huge decline of users, in a report published by the Guardian in April 2013 Juliette Garside states that; “In the UK, 1.4m fewer users checked in last month, a fall of 4.5%. The declines are sustained. In the last six months, Facebook has lost nearly 9m monthly visitors in the US and 2m in the UK.” She goes on to announce that this trend will continue, with users looking for “…alternative social networks…” (Garside, J. 2013:1) Suggesting that despite our initial infatuation with Facebook, we are already starting to lose interest.

Favouring new fads such as; SnapChat, WhatsApp, WeChat and KakaoTalk, which seem to provide their users with a seemingly more private communicative experience, which relates more to real life, “Instead of passively stalking people you barely know on Facebook, messaging apps promote dynamic real-time chatting with different groups of real-life friends, real life because to connect with them on these apps you will typically already have their mobile number.� (Olson, 2013:1) This suggests that we value private communication over more public forums. So I can deduce that privacy adds value to the act of conversation.


To summarise what I have gained from this context report is: that Technology is putting pressure on us to be more ‘machine like’. Resulting in us as a society, adopting less humanistic approaches to communication. Secondly that the lexical forms of instant communication, that we have used to replace face-to-face contact, (due to pressure regarding time), can lack sentiment. Sentiment that we need to rationalise the conversations we have. Thirdly living in a society with less digital privacy, has heightened the value we place on private conversation. As a response to my findings I aim to further my final major project, by looking at ways to design interventions, which divert peoples attention away from there devices and back to each other. A way to do this could be to design interventions which incorporate some of the elements of face-to-face communication, when using digitalised platforms. For instance a mobile phone which reacts to the amount of eye contact you have with the screen. We are constantly distracted by the world around us, which sees people attempting to multitask. We often observe people walking down the street on their phone, but by enforcing eye contact with the interface we are demanding the full attention of the user. Creating a system which responds directly to the users behaviour like a person does. If the eye contact wavers then the user might have to start over again. This concept is only a prototype of an idea, but it frames the area I wish to explore, with the intention to create similar interventions that encourage better communication. In conclusion what I deem to be one of the largest problems with the topics I have covered within my report is that, “The judgements about the technology stem from its transparency and presumed noninterference with human communication” (Katz, Aakhus. 2002:9) I believe that transparency within design can be a good thing but not always. Within the area of communication for example there are lines we must draw between consciousness of our actions and the use of systems which manipulate the way we respond and perceive each other.

Finally I would like to draw upon Duane Elgin’s ‘Voluntary simplicity’, in which Elgin identifies ‘a new global challenge’ in which he preaches the ways of living more simply, in order to counteract the strains and pressures that surround us, brought on by ecological and social change. He states “To live more voluntarily is to live more deliberately, intentionally and purposefully- in short, it is to live more consciously. We cannot be deliberate when we are distracted from life” (Elgin,1981:24) I think that the distractions mentioned above can be directly related to the distractions new technological systems and instant forms of communication create. He goes on to explain “To live more simply is to live more purposefully and with a minimum of needless distraction”(Elgin1981, 24) I feel that we have allowed our world to be filled with constant interferences and I wish to seek out these interferences in the sphere of communication, so to relieve undue stress during acts of conversation.


Amichai-Hamburger, Y. (2013) The social net. England: OUP Oxford; 2 edition. Bauer, L and Trudgill, P. (1998) ‘Language Myths’, England:The Penguin Group. Baudelaire, C, and Athena.(1984) ‘Screech Owl’:White Pine Press. ‘Catfish’, (2012) [Television series]:US, Catfish Picture Company and Relativity Media: Series 1-2, All episodes. Chiang, T. (2013)’The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling’, Subterranean Press[online] Available: fall_2013/the_truth_of_fact_the_truth_of_feeling_by_ted_ chiang:[22.01.14] Chomsky, N.(2000) ‘The architecture of Language’, India:Oxford University Press. Cohen,A.(2013) ‘Internet Privacy:A new Bill Finally Offers Protection’, TIME magazine, [Online] Available: internet-privacy-a-new-bill-finally-offers-protections/[09.01.14] Crair, B.(2013)‘The period is pissed-When did our plainest punctuation mark become so aggressive?’[online] Available: article/115726/period-our-simpilest-punctuation-mark-has-becomesign-anger[27.11.3] Crystal,D. (2009) ‘Txtng: The gr8 db8’: OUP Oxford. Crystal, D.(2011)‘Internet Linguistics-A student guide’: USA and Canada, Routledge. Damasio, A.(1994)’Descartes Error’, US: G.P Putman’s Sons, New York. Denning, B. (2012) ‘Technologasm?! The Rise of Teledildonics and

Deutscher, G.(2006)’Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind’s Greatest Invention’,Arrow. Elgin,D. (1993) ‘Voluntary Simplicity’, US: William Morrow; Rev. Ed edition ‘Everything taking too long’ (2009): Issue 45.13:The onion, [online] Available,2688/[08.01.14] Garside, J. (2013) ‘Facebook loses millions of users as biggest markets peak’ [online] Available: apr/28/facebook-loses-users-biggest-markets [10.01.14] Haffey, B. (2008) ‘Police departments fighting crime with predictive analytics software’[Online]Hendon Publishing, Available; details?id=2456[06.01.14] Hall, S.(2001)Writing:Explicating and Unfolding Condensed Textual Practices in Art and Design [Not published] ‘How the Iron Lady changed her voice’, (2012) BBC archive [Video]:En gland:Available:[02.01.14] katz, J E. and Aakhus, M. (2002) ‘Perpetual Contact; Mobile Communication, Private talk, Public Performance’, Cambridge: University Press Cambridge. Keeley, A. (2013)‘We spend one in every 12 waking minutes on the net: Surfers spend 43 hours online a month - double amount of three years ago’ [online]Available: article-2447713/We-spend-1-12-waking-minutes-online-double-3-yearsago.html#ixzz2qE0D6Umc[10.11.13]

kubrick, S.(1965):Brainpickings,[Online}Available: http://www. source=buffer&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Buffer[12.01.14] Lepore, J. (2013) ‘Privacy in an age of publicity.’ [Online] Available: lepore [10.01.14] MchLuhan, M and Foire, Q.(1967) ‘The medium is the massage’ Marshall MchLuhan Quentin Foire, co-ordinated by Agel, J. England:The Penguin Group. McWhorter, J. (2013) ’Txtng is killing language.JK!!!’.[video]Available: language_jk.html[10.11.13] ‘Noam Chomsky:The Singularity is Science Fiction!’, (2013) Danaylov,N,[video]Available: watch?v=0kICLG4Zg8s[12.01.14] Moskvitch, K. (2012) ‘Predicting crime - a step towards a safer world?’ [Online] Available: technology-20068722[10.01.14] Newell, C.(2012)’Is Stephen Hawkins’ voice music to the ears?’, England: The Guardian[alpha], Available: education/2012/jan/16/research-operatic-singers-speech-generatingtechnology:[20.01.14] Norman, D. (2010) Living with complexity, US:MIT Press. Oliver, A.(2012) ‘Falling birth rates mean Japan 'won't have any children under 15 by 3011’, [online]Available: article-2143748/Falling-birth-rates-mean-Japan-wont-children-15-3011current-trend-continues.html:[22.01.14]

Olson, P. (2013) ‘Teenagers say goodbye to Facebook and hello to messenger apps’, Guardian [online] Available: http://www.theguardian. com/technology/2013/nov/10/teenagers-messenger-apps-facebookexodus:[22.01.14] O’Neil, L.(2013) ‘THE YEAR WE BROKE THE INTERNET; An explanation. An apology. A plea.’ [online] Available: http://www.esquire. com/blogs/news/we-broke-the-internet?src=soc_fcbks:[02.01.14] Pariser, E. (2012) ‘The Filter Bubble’, US: Penguin. Pettman, D (2011) ‘Human Error’,US :The regents of the University of Minnesota. Phillips,A. (2013)’Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life’, US: Penguin. Rani,A. (2013) ‘Japanese men who prefer virtual girlfriends to sex’., BBC news-magazine. [Online]Available: magazine-24614830:[09.11.13] ‘The Human Rights act’: Liberty, [Online]Available: [12.01.14] Warwick, K. ‘Cyborg Interfaces’(2012):TEDxOxford[Video] Available:[15.10.13] Wheeler, B.(2012) ‘Give social networks fake details, advises Whitehall web security official’[online] Available:[12.01.14]

Other sources

Images png Alice_Arisu_whose_culture_is_this_3-777x582.jpg waiter_photography-4633965-600x450.jpg

Context Report 2014

Type Lacks Tone  

This is my context report, written for my final year submission at Goldsmiths University of London. Whilst studying on the BA Design course....

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you