Tinnell, Techno-Geographic Interfaces

Tinnell, John. “Techno-Geographic Interfaces: Layers of Text and Agency in Mobile Augmented Reality” Design, Mediation, and the Posthuman eds. Weiss, Propen, & Reid (2014) (20 pages)

Tinnell is centrally interested in the overriding paradigms that contribute to the design of mobile and wearable technologies, i.e. ubiquitous computing (ubicomp). He defines, via Mark Weiser, ubicomp in opposition to the desktop computer and “the demands of [the desktop screen] makes of people: to stop whatever activity they might otherwise be engaged in, in order to interact—stationary and isolated—with clunky and conspicuous computers via specialized commands and technical jargon” (69). As he writes, such desktop computing operates on a machine-centered design: “it requires humans to interact with it on the basis of its own limits—desktop must remain stationary and so we must remain stationary if we want to us them” (70).

For ubicomp, he notes that contemporary researchers and designers see an opportunity to make human-centric designs, but Tinnell further notes that this has not typically been the case thus far. In fact, mobile and wearable technology operate in much the same way as desktop computers: the interaction with the mobile device demands the user’s attention, to engage with the it by immersing oneself in the “virtuality of the screen” (70). As Tinnell notes, these kinds of computing is a kind of virtual, immersive reality that takes up the users full attention. Rather, if we begin to embrace techno-geographic interfaces that privileges augmented reality (AR), we can begin to see designs that exploit context-awareness of the built, physical environment. He summarizes his goal here: “the general aim of this chapter is to examine the techno-geographic scene of writing afforded by geo-information and mobile AR, engaging these technological developments as key sites for interrogating foundational oppositions at the core of human-centered approaches to design, rhetoric, and textuality” (71). He evokes the phrase “scene of writing” in order to refer to the “spatial arrangements of signs, traces, or gramme—the Greek word for written mark—across any surface of inscription whatsoever, from paper to the psyche” (71).

He takes some time to fully define the aspects of techno-geographic milieu. In one sense, it refers to the ways “machines establish an unparalleled degree of interlocking with their surrounding environments: they assign a multitude of technical functions to the geographic flows that they have been designed to accommodate if not exploit” (72). He initially points to the ways that modern technology exploits natural resources for their exploitable properties: (such as water’s ability to cool down machinery). Those such as Heidegger refer to this see view of technology as technics and can also be used to refer to the inauthentic means of dwelling: to only see nature and the natural environment as exploitable for modem technologies.

However, Tinnell operates on an expanded understanding of techno-geographic to refer to “ways in which digital networks have begun to converge with geographic flows…’the digitization of territories’ now occurring with emergence of geo-information” (73). In this way, a techno-geographic interface allows us to see the epistemological intersections between networked media, everyday objects, and geographical flows. Geo-information, made available on ubicomp, allows for site-specific information which distinguishes it from the Web via desktop computer. As Tinnel writes, “until recently, online information was not sensitive to place; …the contents of webpages did not account for a user’s actual location at the time of browsing” (77). However, site-specific information is not sufficient to distinguish Web via ubicomp and Web via desktop computers. As Tinnell notes, there still exists a gap in how ubicomp makes visible objects within the environment itself. For instance, he uses the example of texting (or scrolling) and driving which greatly impedes one’s sense of environment. While ubicomp is, thus, site-specific, it does not take into account the features of the environemtn. As such, he values work done on the textuality of augmented reality. “The techno-geographic scene of mobile AR suggests an alternative media ecology, which may potentially facilitate the development of digital cultural practices that circumvent the unintended consequences of human-centered mobile interface design” (81).

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