Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Technology plays in Cardiff centre

A new light on the church tower
Over the weekend the first Cardiff Festival of Technology and Creativity finally took place. Chris Evans’ text based adventure game was played out with mobile phone input from the public on Friday Saturday and Sunday nights. The course of the game was displayed using a video projector on the south face of the church tower, which provided a big clear 15 foot by six foot screen display on the wall. Interestingly, Saturday night it rained and the water streaming down the surface of the tower absorbed rather than reflected the light display and the screen became invisible – simple physics, unplanned for.
I caught up with Chris after Evensong on Sunday. He showed me his ingenious link-up of mobile phone to computer and video projector, in the upstairs room of the pub opposite.

The message is the medium or vice versa?
Then we wandered over to St David’s Hall where there was a huge sized video text display (used normally to display winners on racecourses). This had been set up with another laptop computer to receive phone text messages. Well, someone first fielded the messages and checked them for offensive content, of which there was relatively little. Everyone was delighted and intrigued when a marriage proposal was texted in. When we stood there a message arrived in Italian wishing Cardiff a happy centenary. It turned out there had been texts displayed from Holland and Brazil as well. How come? Well, apparently some of the weekend events were based at Chapter Arts Centre in the neighbouring district of Canton, and these included a live webcast. People with similar technical creative interests out there across the planet were joining in through the festival website (, and then sending text messages of greeting, to display on screen in front of the Old Library.

Learning through play – a new angle
The whole business of computer games is big business, and its development has spawned technical advances in the way usually it seems only war can do. Well, I suppose war is only a rather big and very nasty sort of game anyway in which nobody really wins). The idea of playing with technology sounds like the kind of thing that gives luddites nightmares, yet play is vital for both learning and creativity – not only in children but also in adults. Conventional computer games are one strand of development. Flight and car simulation programs can be fun, but also useful in training when they reach a high level of sophistication and are linked to real handling equipment. But it seems to me that there’s a huge amount of play potential yet to be exploited, where social interactions involving electronic media are involved. Think of how communication and word-play using text messaging has skyrocketed in less than seven years. Playing around with things imaginatively reveals hidden potential, for good or for ill. It puts us all on the spot when it comes to considerations of moral responsibility for the content of our interactions with each other.
Anyway this consideration was not particularly strong in my mind when I started wondering what else could be done with our possibility for putting interactive displays on the south wall of the church tower. I mused about displaying sermon text on the wall inside while it’s being preached inside, but rejected that as being as naff as PowerPoint in church. The PowerPoint subverted me from inside. Why not display a sequence of Nativity images in the run-up to Christmas? Chris and I started chatting about this. Then we thought, why not display Christmas greetings texted in? Why not sell advertising space for charity – like commercial breaks in between image displays. A few seconds of playful thinking had us the making of another creative technology project that may extend our opportunities to get people thinking about what that good ol’ church tower stands there for.

We live in interesting times, that’s for sure.

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