The many aspects of a new post digital era

We have moved into a post digital era. 2011 could turn out to be a year where digital is definitely become default in everything we do. Drivers like the smartphone use and tablet computing causes a new behavior; nearfield services; services and products that adapts to the one user and moment of use. In a few events the last months different aspects of this new era where touched and the first foundations for the coming of age in the next year is set.An interesting little conference took place during the well known STRP festival in November: Playful Post Digital Culture. It was composed around the inaugural speech of Ben Schouten, professor at the Eindhoven University of Technology specializing in playful interactions. It stretched further than the playful aspect, however this is indeed an important asset of our 21st post digital culture, I agree. Some call it the Ludic Age not for nothing.

But first, what do we mean with post digital. Dries Verbruggen gave a presentation in which he defined the new era with some examples. In essence the concept is built around the idea that we are now entering an era where digital context is common and part of everything. The special characteristics of digital products and services are now adopted in everything and shapes our role to products. Digital is becoming tangible in that sense.

Dries showed some more conceptual examples from the art scene like the teapot shaped like a rendering that you could see as an archetype of this post digital thinking. Much more interesting is it when we use the digital benefits like easy reproducing, profiled services to real products. In that sense the views of Evgeny Morozov are interesting. He was interviewed in NRC a month ago and could be seen in a TV documentary earlier. His skepticism towards techno utopia was the central theme and relevant for sure, but his concluding remarks on our grow into atomized individuals in stead of the hallelujah networked social concept is interesting. We growing into a society where everything is personalized and fitted to the me, with a danger that we disconnect even more.

This hyper personalized tangible product is also very present in the examples of Russell Davies on the conference. He showed of course his very interesting project of the Newspaper club where you can print your own newspaper in small numbers. And the latest product FRSTEE is a special-for-you printed snowman that is shaped based on the number of twitter followers you have. As Bruce Sterling kicked off with a model with four types of art-tech combinations, all shaping some scenarios. High tech and low art for instances, or low tech with high art. Russell Davies introduced CrappyComp as a definition for cheap stuff made smart. Low art with high tech in a way. The new project of BERG could be considered as low tech and high art. A simple printer prints small paper notes based on the connections with online services. Very sweet and smart in the execution of the concept but using rather basic tech at first sight. Which is of course not really the case, it looks easy but is very smart technology if you take the platform in account. It is a complete system that will grow into a plug and play data driven cloud for smart and sweet products. Something where we will see a new competitive field emerge. Who will rule this new domain of products and who owns the inbetween products that are appearing in the cloud.

At TEDxDelft Theo Jansen showed also how his quest for evolution of his Strandbeest has moved and supported when others make 3D models and prints from his creatures. The very tangible feel becomes enhanced with a digital thinking and will lead a new life. Literally.

At TEDxDelft the work of architect Kas Oosterhuis showed that we are entering a new phase in computer shaped buildings. Where his work is already known for years, with shapes that are only made possibe by using the computer to draw the buildings. Now he adds an realtime adaptive aspect. An example is the sound barriers for trains that react on the train and only operate when the train passes.

Ben Schouten closed the day of the conference with his inaugaral talk on playful interactions. A good story with some fine statements. Play bridges us with the new context and our identities are in constant flux and play as key to our culture. As the game space becomes a personal space. A game space is the ultimate definition of a game, spaces of interactions. Intelligence products mean interactive products. Ben showed us that play will have a very important part in making post digital culture possible by creating new structures

Post digital principles will also get a place in mass products. Like the new Apple TV concept that might be introduced next year. You can expect a product that will take the best of digital inventions around the old technology of watching TV. Things like Peel that makes your guide really personal and the second screen experiences with twitter and so on, will be integrated I expect. Apple will have the clue to disrupt this market by using the best of our digital achievements into the analog experience of doing mass TV consumption.

But more interesting will be all the new tangible products that embody smartness. Like the Nest thermostat and the Sphero ball that is introduced not so long ago. Post digital will stand for hybrid products and cross overs that we gonna use and will evolve into so called New Aestheticwhere we will see that digital behaviour is defining our expectations on how things work. And we will live more and more in a context of systems of things and people as was stated at the Internet of thing conference with the things as the mediators.

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I am a design director at Structural. I curate and organize ThingsCon Netherlands and I am chairman of the Cities of Things Foundation. Before I was innovation and strategy director at tech and innovation agency INFO, visiting researcher and lab director at the Delft University of Technology coordinating Cities of Things Delft Design Lab.

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