CHAPTER 1: CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA
This project is a first exploration into the intersections of culture and technology as a part of the Institute of Culturetronics framework. During the development of the project the approach of culturetronics framework was parctically tested and further developed. The project aims to investigate the potential that arises from current tendencies towards more democratised technology and the possibilities of embracing local production and development through those means. Locally developed technological objects and systems could not only establish themselves in their environment of origin, but also act as an informant on a global level, showing possibilities for alternative approaches towards technological development and adaptation.
The project uses Cape Town, South Africa as a first field study that takes local observations and translates them into a proposal for a new form of technological system.
The project utilises the mode of subjective research within the cultural environment that is described in the culturetronics framework.
I spent 5 weeks in Cape Town, South Africa in August and September 2013 investigating the adaptation of technologies in this cultural environment by visiting designers, artists, hack spaces, universities and activist groups searching for examples of different and new approaches in this cultural environment.
I chose to document these observations visually in the form of photographs and also in text form as short stories telling about personal experiences in Cape Town.
The prototypes presented in the project are a proposal for a modular system of domestic electronics that could be used for many different purposes and is easy to operate with different repurposed as well as custom created software.
The system was inspired by observing the micro economical dynamics at the market on top of Cape Town's central train station:
Observation #04: The Human Ad-Hoc Supply Chain
"When I came up to one of the small market stalls on the deck of the train station the man in the small cabin already made eye contact and as soon as I entered a radius of about 3 meters around the stall he started to offer me different types of cellphones for different purposes. I stopped and asked him for the electronic components I was looking for he seemed to think for a short moment and then said that he would be right back. He ran off to a stall in the same row that was about 30 meters from his own. I wondered how he could just leave his cabin and business alone in this crowded market, but then I saw a small older women just sitting in a corner of the stall. She did not seem to show any interest in me. About a minute later the presumed owner came back and showed me exactly the parts I needed. We bargained for a little while and finally I bought what he just bought from the other stall for 23 Rand"
The construction of the modules reflects my visual research from Cape Town and relies on methods and common practice from the DIY electronics scene.
The electronic products in this proposal exist as modules operated by communities. These modules are owned by the individuals in the community and some members are also involved in the development of new modules that tare then introduced to the community.
All the modules are borrowed from individual to individual within the community, so everyone can take advantage of the total sum of possible applications. The system embraces experimentation to widen the total applications and functionalities as far as possible.
On the software side the modules are programmable via sound that can easily be cut and rearranged by using a tape recorder and can also be transmitted via radio. This makes it easy to copy and introduce new programs to the community.
The system consists of three different types of modules. Input modules that could be sensors, microphones and power supply. Output modules, in this case they are motors. And the main module that is equipped with the main processing unit on it that communicates with all other modules.
There are three different modes that these modules can be combined and used in:
The first and simplest mode works on an analogue basis and can be used without a main module since it doesn‘t require any programming.
The second mode is a live mode where sound waves are used to give a series of commands that will be executed by the microprocessor in real time.
The third mode also uses sound to program the main module but a loop command is added and a recorded series of commands will be run until another sound command is recognised that overwrites it.
The presented prototypes are using motors and LEDs as outputs and light sensors as inputs. The use of these parts is meant almost metaphorical, since those are very commonly used parts in electronic prototyping, so they represent more specific outputs and inputs that could be used in applications of the system.
The modules can be connected in different ways, they could be arranged in one line or all of the could be connected directly to the main module, but also ess organised arrangements are possible. This is enabled by an I2C connections which is run on all modules.
The sound to program the modules is recognised by an input module with a microphone and an amplifier that listens for specific frequencies and then translates them into readable data for the microprocessor using an output comparator.
The shape of the different modules makes them easy to combine in one big object.
For now the system is free from concrete applications and set in a neutral cultural context to leave space for discussion and engage imagination on the side of the viewer.
The prototypes presented will act as a vehicle in the ongoing investigation. They can be shown in workshops or interviews to develop possible applications and explore other approaches inspired by local culture with the participants. This can happen back in South Africa but also in other cultural contexts to explore what such a shift in the paradigms of technological development could mean and how it can be used to reflect on the current status quo.
The current outcome of the project based on the observations in Cape Town are functioning electronic prototypes, illustrations and a book that documents the full development of the project from field research up to the technical details of the developed system. You can view the book as a .pdf