“Learning From the Megaphone: Design Principles for Interactive Public Space Digital Installations” presented by Fortin and Hennessy


Session Title:

  • Location/Space (Papers)

Presentation Title:

  • Learning From the Megaphone: Design Principles for Interactive Public Space Digital Installations




  • Until recently, the foremost digital infrastructure sustaining what Manuel Castells has dubbed “the informational city” – and what many since have called the “digital city” – was largely instantiated through the Internet. Since the early nineties, the twenty‑first century polis was to be continuously augmented and remade within its invisible architecture by an important migration of human activity to the World Wide Web. While in its first decade, the self‑publishing tools of Web 1.0 enabled consumers of content to navigate through a vast offering of new media environments that produced virtual reading publics;     the last decade’s shift towards the social web saw Web 2.0’s array of social networking services transform consumers into prosumers, and reading publics into interactive online communities. If this online world is increasingly becoming the habitual locus of information exchange, media activism and civic life, can it be said to constitute a new form of public space? And if so, is it a substitute for the physical semi‑public and public spaces of action and representation that have borne, since the nineteenth century, the flow of modern city life? As digital practices reshape the hermeneutics of the Internet by supporting new forms of social and political interaction, what roles shall urban space fulfill in the cyber age? These are but a few of the pressing questions and challenges that arise in the wake of smart cities.

    Our empirical research suggests that studied in isolation, social media tell us very little about how online digital practices can support community‑building and civic engagement in real, physical space. According to our field findings, it is the relationship between interaction that occurs online and offline that underpins new forms of civic engagement and city living. Indeed, with the advent of mobile computing and augmented spaces, the online and the offline no longer seem to constitute two distinct sites of action. Instead, it appears that virtual spaces of representation and real world places have become interconnected through digital practices in what we call “emerging digital hybrid spaces”. Using ethnographic research methods, we investigate this new paradigm by asking: How could interactive digital urban technologies be used to facilitate new forms of social, cultural and political interaction in hybrid public spaces?

    Learning from the Megaphone: Design Principles for Interactive Public Space Digital Installations presents an analysis of field data collected in Fall 2013 in Montreal, Canada, during our ten week qualitative evaluation of Megaphone, a site‑specific outdoor digital Speakers’ Corner and agora. This research suggests that locative media and interactive art installations have the potential to bring people back into urban space to communicate face‑to‑face with the support of digital technology, making the relationship between online and offline technology come full circle in hybrid public space. Based on    our field study of Megaphone, our paper offers insights on how smart cities might be designed to better support public interaction, community and culture in the cyber age.

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