Talkative Technology: When Gadgets Go to the Gallery
Monday, August 08, 2011 - 06:00 AM
Talk to Me, a new design exhibition focusing on the communication between people and objects at New York's Museum of Modern Art, brings all things techy into the gallery space. And it makes the case that design in the Digital Age has surpassed mere practicality and now is chasing human interactivity: "As the purpose of design has, in past decades, shifted away from mere utility toward meaning and communication, objects that were once charged only with being elegant and functional now need to have personalities."
I recently wandered through Talk to Me's nearly 200 design projects. They ranged from whimsical and speculative, such as the "Expressions Dispatcher," a tablet-like mask displaying a range of emoticons and controlled by remote; to more pragmatic devices such as the "EyeWriter," which reads the ocular movements of a paralyzed artist and turns them into paintings. (See images of both projects in the slideshow below.) There are tons of screens to tap and touch. And scanning the QR code on each object's information placard with your smartphone reveals a virtual jungle gym of social networking, launching you into a cyberspace full of related web links and Twitter feeds.
Sigi Moeslinger, David Reinfurt, Kathleen Holman,
and MTA New York City (1999)
Within this labyrinth of virtual information, I found myself gravitating towards a cluster of people in a corner of the gallery. They were gathered in front of a NYC Metro Card Vending Machine. It's an exact replica of the machines you'll find just down the street in the subway station. It's fully functioning, and the crowd couldn't get enough. (I'll admit being tempted to use the machine to check the balance on my own card, but the line was too long.)
In a room full of some of the coolest, most innovative, albeit speculative technology of our time, why did people migrate to the most conventional object in the room? Although I'm guessing it didn't mean to, Talk to Me revealed that we still like our machines functional, especially when that machine is our ticket home.
The exhibition runs through November 7.
Slideshow: Talk to Me