We find ourselves in a cultural moment that is particularly fraught with the impulse for instant gratification as online social networks have us “plugged in” and busy narrating our lives online. So many have become wholly accustomed to certain forms of digital interactivity by seeking approval and amplification in online forums. Jaron Lanier has effectively dubbed certain social media platforms as “behavior modification empires.” The hazards are now plain to see. Open communication platforms profit from the data generated from our human interaction, making us take pause. Free and open interactivity exacts a certain cost.
In addition to the larger implications of that cost for democracy and society as a whole, our habitual reach for an “interactive fix” also leaves many participants of daily online life struggling to apprehend truly connected experiences. Often, the nature of our social media interactivity has been reduced to performativity. In contrast, profound listening, co-learning and co-creativity remain more elusive experiences, despite the fact that they are also rooted fundamentally in interactivity. In the face of this, perhaps interactive art can provide for us some much needed inspiration regarding the difference between interaction versus collaboration. I have found that in my own attempts to start a significant conversation, the medium of interactive art installation has aided me in my effort to reflect a deeper reciprocation and proactive involvement. In interactive art practice, it is often the experience of the audience that becomes the true object or subject of the work. Interactive and participatory art forms invite the audience (both physically and intellectually) into the art itself. In this sense, public interactive art can model a different kind of interactivity that may in turn resonate more deeply with us. I believe interactive art practice has a role to play in modeling connected learning and meaningful co-creation.
A design for inclusive experiences allows for (or necessitates) the viewer’s physical interaction while showcasing his/her creative contribution to a larger conversation. As a case study in proof, I would like to share an interactive art installation entitled Textransformations. Textransformations is both a sculptural installation and an interactive reading experience.
The Textransformations installation serves as an open invitation to reflect on the transformation of textuality from analogue to digital form. Laced throughout the Textransformations installation are hotspots marked by QR codes. Each hotspot is a clue to new forms of textuality and digital storytelling. The viewer is invited to use their cell phone to search and interact with the installation. Scan these hotspots to discover the influences and forms of narrative transformation. In the far corner installation web, the participant can also compose (or remix) former literary texts anew. Cut-up poetry, and black-out poems become a living wall of further transformative reflection.
If the result of the significant shift from analogue categorization to open digitized networks can be realized in the very way we tell our stories, then this story of change is also about new forms of collaborative and interactive expression. And, as this interactive installation is also a component of a larger connected learning network (an open connected course called Networked Narratives or #NetNarr), the installation in turn also becomes a cultural artifact that is generated by the collective creativity of the interwoven learning network (while it simultaneously pays tribute to that connectivity).
Connected learning is often considered first and foremost a pedagogical approach. But, the potential for interactive public art practice is indeed another critical entry point for this work. Textransformations, thus, serves as an inspiring example of reflective interactivity and connected learning that pushes beyond performativity, allowing for co-learning and co-creation that transforms a public commons.