Several researchers are working on the Jokebox, an invention intended to promote social interaction in cities:
Mara Balestrini, an expert in human-computer interaction and director of research at Ideas for Change, has been investigating ways to bring shared experiences back into public spaces. She’s been working with researchers from the UK and Mexico on the Jokebox project – an installation that involves separate wooden boxes, each equipped with speakers, sensors and arcade-style buttons, that tell a joke when two people activate them simultaneously.
The key, Balestrini tells me, is that it’s impossible for one person to push both buttons. “The Jokebox is an ice-breaker, an excuse to get strangers to talk to each other or to share a laugh in public spaces,” she explains. “It is also a technology prototype that can help us understand how to design novel interfaces to foster social connectedness in urban settings by encouraging eye contact and co-operation between strangers.”
As part of their study, the researchers conducted a series of tests in the north-western Mexican city of Ensenada. Boxes were set up in a park, a shopping centre and a bus stop. According to the project’s findings, people in those settings reacted in different ways – kids and parents would be more likely to play with the boxes in the park, for example, whereas teenagers were more likely to engage in the shopping centre. Even when people avoided using the Jokebox directly, which was frequently the case at the bus stop, it still provided an excuse for interaction – as is the case in this moment of gentle warmth….
Balestrini tells me future cities will combine different types of technologies, from those that support efficiency by replacing the humans to those that try to foster shared encounters among people. She says it is crucial to enable playfulness and curiosity, particularly in a moment where the discourse around cities revolves around ideas of data-driven automation and efficiency.
It is interesting to consider that it might be technology that could help bring people back into conversation. Is this the best we can do in societies thrilled with technological progress and private space (even when we are in public)? How successful might this be in drawing people out of their private realms or will it primarily appeal to those who are already more interested in social interaction? I’m not surprised that this device uses humor, a social phenomena that can cut across all sorts of social divides. At the same time, the humor has to be broad and affirming rather than the critique and sarcasm that is very common today.
A review of a sci-fi novel uses a joke to help make the argument that sociological issues underlying scientific and technological issues:
There’s an old joke in science: Applied physics is called chemistry, applied chemistry is called biology, and applied biology is called sociology.
The purpose of the joke?
Each is more complex, vague, and unpredictable than the last. The problems Robinson lays out proceed neatly along that ladder of intricacy.
Scientific knowledge and technological breakthroughs may not matter much if social groups don’t know what to do with them or use them well to help benefit society.
It’s April 1st, so the jokes are out in droves all over the web. Groupon has decided to post a fake patent for April Fool’s Day joke:
The present invention relates to performing jocular and misleading activities on an unsuspecting individual during a limited timeframe and, in particular, the present invention relates to a perpetrator generating a false statement based on false facts and informing an unsuspecting
individual of the particular false statement, and deceiving the unsuspecting individual into a false belief that the false statement, if true, would have a detrimental effect on the unsuspecting individual. Then, prior to said unsuspecting individual realizing that the false statement is not accurate, the perpetrator announces, usually in a high decibel voice and within the limited timeframe, that the unsuspecting individual has been deceived or mislead.
Ha ha, but isn’t this a little too close to home? Groupon is currently (counter)suing a small competitor named MobGob, as TechCrunch reported back in November. For infringement of patent no. 6,269,343:
The present invention provides a method and system that allows sellers to communicate conditional offers to potential buyers. The conditions include prices that depend on the aggregate amount of goods or services that buyers collectively agree to purchase by a given time and date.
The invention facilitates “demand aggregation”, that is, aggregating demand by potential buyers (who may or may not know each other), for products offered by sellers. This invention allows sellers conveniently to offer “Demand-Based Pricing”, that is, prices which go down as the volume of units sold in any given offer goes up.
A seller can therefor offer volume discounts to buyers acting as a group, even when the buyers may not have any formal relationship with one another.
Telling jokes and aggregating buyers. Maybe this is why we need patent reform.