Making Contact

Dis-Armor Project, Krzysztof Wodiczko, 1999-present

Interacting with technology can be unsettling, unpredictable or even frightening. Designers are trying to create stronger, closer and more tangible connections between us and technology, and between us and other people. But is the need for physical contact with products disappearing? Or are designers rediscovering the potential for all our senses to provide richer and more intuitive experiences?

Technology is not just a tool. New technologies are creating new patterns of behaviour. From the way we communicate using mobile technologies to the often impersonal experience of using email or the internet, interactive media is changing not only the way in which we live and relate to each other, but also the way we view ourselves. IDEO's range of SoMo prototype mobile phones and Hayat Benchenaa's Sfera teasing alarm clock experiment with unusual interactions. They are designed to provoke discussion about the social impact of modern gadgets. Tomoko Hayashi's Mutsogoto Bed installation is an intimate communication device for long-distance relationships. Mutsogoto explores the language of touch using your body as the canvas.

The social context of our use of these technologies is also changing. Computers do things for us, but they also do things to us. What kinds of relationships are appropriate, desirable or imaginable? Perhaps technologies can encourage nurturing relationships. Furbys, Tamagotchis and AIBO entertainment robots have been joined by Paro - a cuddly robotic baby seal developed to provide therapy for the growing numbers of Japanese elderly in nursing homes. Could these objects begin to supplant human contact?

Designers are also exploring how technologies can enhance our existing human relationships. The Dis-Armor Project by Krzysztof Wodiczko is an ongoing public project in Hiroshima, Japan. Wodiczko experiments with prosthetic equipment to assist sensitive communication that may be difficult undertaken face to face. The film shows the wearer overcoming shyness to express her personal story in a public encounter. Noriyuki Fujimura's Remote Furniture rocking chair series is designed to prompt accidental encounters between passers-by in public spaces.