The Expo-design workshop was a success

Finally the afternoon of January 14th arrived and people began to gather at the entry hall of Citilab. One by one or in little groups of two, the participants of the Expolab Design workshop were entering Citilab. Gradually, the room was filled until we reached 31 participants.

Beginnings are always a bit difficult and even more when people do not know each other. To warm things up, we invited everyone to sit at tables of 7 and 8 people and explain to each other who they were. Ramon Sanguesa, Astrid Lubsen and Irene Lapuente, the Expolab team, also introduced themselves, thanked everyone for coming and explained the goals of the Expolab project, the reason of this meeting and the whole process that will lead to Expolab’s first exhibition. 

Once people were put in context, we asked them to open the envelopes that were lying on each table. What was hiding inside? A lot of photographs on various subjects. Each participant had to set aside between 3 and 5 photographs that he or she liked and then had to attempt, somehow, to try and relate them to technology. After choosing the photographs, the participants in the Expo-Design workshop were further divided into groups of 3 or 4 people and began interviewing each other within their group. The goal was to explain to each other why they had chosen their photographs. With this information, each group prepared a collage of pictures and hung it on the wall. One by one, they presented their collage to the rest of the participants. With this post we will try our best to explain what was said and what happened there and then. We probably will leave a lot of things out. We invite participants to comment on this blog on what we have left and to contribute further ideas and details. In total there were eight collages 

The first collage talked about the evolution from analog to digital. It displayed images arranged as the images themselves were in a meeting. They did so in order to illustrate the change from face-to-face meetings to video-conference meetings. The team also commented on the change from hanging pictures on a wall to hanging them on platforms such as Flickr. An image of a football team led the group to make an analogy between a football team and the possibilities of working together that Internet gives you. They also told us the story about elderly parents who did not connected too much with the technology but instead sent mobile messages that were even more extremely abbreviated than those of their children. So, they had found a bigger barrier in the technological approach to the technological device than in approaching and mastering the new language of mobile text messaging. Finally, we started a small discussion on whether mobility and portability were as real as we would like them to be. Someone responded that the problem is not that we can not work in parks because the sun is dazzling us and making it difficult for us to read the screens of our laptops, but that the cities are not prepared to support people who want to work while waiting for the subway, for example. A few months ago Citilab organized a Breakout session on the tram that links Citilab and L’Illa shopping center. It was a success.

The second poster showed a clear division between the digital and the analog world. Their authors lamented with a bit of nostalgia that technology made them stay away from fields and orchards. Despite the advantages of technology, the analog world showed much more warm and human that the digital world. They commented that they liked to know where their food came from and that one way of achieving this was in the past to actuallytend your orchard or go to the woods to collect cherries. In this poster a world map printed with alphanumeric characters unified these two perspectives.

In the third poster three images of clocks were quite prominent. For the authors of the collage, these watches represented technology, precision, beauty, elegance, and so on. Moreover, this team started a debate on the advantages and disadvantages of e-books. Curiously enough, middle-aged participants defended the use of this new reading technology but older and younger participants did not. The ones in favor mentioned as positive side of e-books the decrease in weight, the possibility of having many books in one single device and the saving of space, in a similar vein as it has happened with music after the introduction of ipods. Other advantages were, for example, the possibility of increasing the size of letters and so to read more easily. Older and younger participants, however, proved to be too nostalgic for accepting easily the change from paper to technology. The issue of video conferencing also appeared here. They also commented on the difficulty of working with technology because it is always changing and so it is like a mountain always there to climb. They stressed that major changes had occurred in the field of communication. They ended their presentation by saying that from time to time they also had to relax and do a “reset yourself”.

The fourth group highlighted the changes that had occurred in the kitchen, the way that cooking is done and how time is spent in cooking. That is how this was in the past and how it is now. This issue also unearthed a story about a hardboiled egg that exploded and splashed all over the kitchen, because the person in charge of overseeing the cooking was completely oblivious to it since she was absorbed in her first experience with chatting with a friend abroad.

The fifth group began by analyzing how technology affects nature and how technologically excluded and disadvantaged people are not always as we imagine them to be in relation to technology. This collage contained a photograph of a lone man walking down a snowy mountain. This image would have evoked a very risky adventure a few years ago, but now, thanks to GPS, iPhones and other gadgets, this risk is reduced. They also showed a picture where technology and pets occupied similar spaces within a kitchen. This introduced the question of what we are doing with technology. The image of a homeless immigrant opened the debate over whether everyone had access to technology and the loss and isolation that this entailed. It also introduced the contrast by the unexpected uses of advanced technology among most disadvantaged people. As an example the case of “homeless” who work with the internet network and mobile cameras to capture celebrities wherever they appear. They also underlined the good and ecological role of new means of displaying information as for example in relation to old paper catalogues for art exhibitions that are often discarded as soon as you are back at home. The image of a man measuring the world inspired the phrase “Today we need to measure everything.”

Thanks to the sixth poster we embarked on an entertaining journey through the history of the automobile. The former Simca 1000 where everything was mechanical was a car that represented modernity at the moment. Then. we passed on to cars with a very high software content, and moved on to a future made of cleaner and driverless cars. One member of this group, spoke in first person from his experiences as a car mechanic. He said that today you can not work in this profession without computer skills. He himself saw the thrill of his own professional advancement in learning through digital technologies. Many participants showed their willingness to purchase hybrid cars as soon as their prices come down. This group also used the image of a woman staring into the horizon to make a metaphor with the surprises that digital technology can still give us.

The seventh group made a fishbone diagram to tell us about the changes undergone in different environments such as biotechnology, food, logistics and distribution, training, entertainment, communication and integration, but also expanded on the impacts of these changes and the load that we carry from the past and old materials. Here the current discussion on how technology in general is seen as positive but could also attract negative results reappeared. The case of what happened in the industrial age that brought us air pollution was maentioned. We discussed how technology had no other alternative now but to work for sustainability and “cleanness.”

Finally, the eighth group talked about the macro-transformation suffered by the concepts of time and space. Right now we can talk and see someone who is at present in Sydney, something that was once unthinkable. On the other hand, they also reflected on the theme of modernity, a concept now very ephemeral. As an example they showed an image of an old ad for a Simca 1200 that read: “If you built a car, it would sure be like this one” Obviously this is no longer true. They also remarked that technology would give us more leisure time. There was also a short discussion about the sense of chaos that all this created. People take sides with advocates of chaos, people who were at ease with it and find it a positive force being more vocal. In that moment the explanation of posters reached their end with the personal anecdote of one of the participants who had broken his arm and was very surprised with the digital technology used by his doctors that were able to zoom in on the area affected with a computer instead of inspecting a backlit X-ray image of his fracture, as was formerly the usual practice. He also commented that technology was “like oxygen that was everywhere and we needed it”.

Once the eight collages had been presented, the visitors enjoyed a short break to refuel energy eating biscuits, potato chips and tangerines and then went back to work. Each had to choose the story that he or she liked most among all what they had heard, share it with other members of his or her group, choose one of all the stories and build a three-dimensional representation with the help of his team. In just a few moments all groups were picking cards, colored ribbons, beads, clay and a variety of materials we had prepared for the occasion. For half an hour imagination and creativity run higher by the minute at each table. Everyone was busy cutting, pasting, drawing, modeling and the results were exceptional.

Based on the story of the broken arm, a group modeled a mechanical arm that had articulated movement possibilities. You could see all parts of bone and muscle as they could have been seen through the doctor’s digital equipment.

A second group represented the story of a team member who, thanks to the Internet, discovered he had a cousin of the same age who he had never knew of before. Three green cubes represented family members, a network linked the three members and the reunification of the family was represented by the fact that each cube could be enclosed within each other, as in a Russian doll.

A third group wanted to play with the concept of time and built a giant clock with yellow cellophane paper. Within this clock onecould find a container where you could try to drop balls inside. These balls would grant you an extra hour or ten minutes for your days… too busy thanks to technology.

The fourth proposal was very conceptual. Based on longing memories of orchards of yesteryear and of the touch of things. This team created a hybrid being that had the senses that the Internet had failed to mimic, at least up to now. Digital technology impacts us very well on our senses of sight and hearing, but smell, taste and touch are often forgotten or lost. So it was a “three sense” person.

The fifth team created a model of a modern office with video-conferencing rooms. It offered the opportunity to cook and to eat in the workplace. It also had a Jacuzzi and a shower to help relax and be clean and spotless. The shower was there to inspire you ideas while being alone under the water and the jacuzzi created opportunities for collaboration. An expandable table was there just in case the number of people in the staff increased. A roaming robot supplied wifi according to the needs of connection … And, the best of it, there was a robot that was a combined system of documentation that recorded the meetings, took photographs, collected important points and created a printer output. Thus, workers should flow, think, talk and machines would be responsible for creating the corresponding documents and deliver results. Not a bad prospect!

The sixth proposal was related to the world of telephone communication. Vintage two-piece phones were close to current mini-computers capable of processing all types of information. In addition, this group created a sort of double-sided sculpture that only was able to phone call himself and to talk to himself about himself. They called it the “technological dunce”.

Finally, the seventh team (and the winning one) created a dual piece representing on a face the brutally massive Internet interconnection between all hyper-connected nodes versus the actual connections of everyday life: small groups of two, three, and even isolated individuals. In the end, we all have our partner, family, friends with which we are really connected.

The jury was formed on the spot by all those attending the event and was a popular vote by raising hands which awarded the prize. The best two teams wereselected and they were awarded a bottle of champagne to be shared with attendees. Everyone got a Citilab T-shirt.

The day ended outside, well beyond the gates of Citilab. Everyone was very happy and we enjoyed the experience. It was a success! Successful participation, creativity, contribution, creations …Total success!

Now the Expolab team is trying to synthesize all this information. We are working nonstop to get everything as soon as possible on the Second Life island that the Tech Museum has prepared for us. Once all requirements, results and anecdotes are introduced, everyone will be invited to submit proposals in Second Life. This will opening the doors of the design contest!


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