Development and Promotion of Science and Technology Talents Project (DPST)
Royal Government of Thailand scholarship
Title: Social Touch Suit — Real World Social Media.
“Innovation” is a term for new creations which represent a significant development, either improving a single area or adding value to a discipline as a whole. Most people are familiar with this concept in relation to the economy, business, technology, social studies or engineering, because innovation is praised as a mechanism for long-term economic growth and social improvement. Innovation is not only about new objects or substances however, but includes thinking process, production methods and management systems.
From this concept of “innovation,” I am curious if other disciplines like the visual arts, performing arts and literature, can be seen as creating innovation. Is innovation only associated with creations which benefit science and economic affairs?
I found an eye-catching artwork online entitled, Social Media without the Internet , which was shared on many art and tech social media accounts and website like, Hackaday.com, Adafruit’s blog and Hackster.io. Tracing it back to its creator, I found Thai artist, Tuangkamol Thongborisute or Tuang. After discussing this interesting art project, I learned many new things about people’s views on digital interaction. This creative project definitely makes me wonder if art that uses technologies as part of its production and concept could be considered as ‘innovation’ and how we might benefit from it. In my view, there are tons of festivals around the world, held specifically for, or extending to, this type of art; Ars Electronicas, Festival ISEA International ( International Symposium on Electronic Art) Japan Media Arts Festival and SXSW Festivals.
“Social Media without the Internet” is part of Tuang’s creative research project: Digital Sense . Digital Sense talks about developing a sense besides the five traditional senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and texture. Tuang states in her thesis that the way we understand human senses in groups is practiced distinctly, so we see and understand these senses in different ways, based on what we use to perceive them. Ultimately, in an era in which we immerse ourselves with digital technologies, this ‘digital sense’ is gradually developed within us.
Besides the eye-catching name and fashionable appearance, Social Media without the Internet is a deep exploration of a controversial idea about the lack of face-to-face interaction on the Internet. The wearable piece created for this project is a successful, developed prototype which has been fully tested and been exhibited publicly, both by the artist and members of the public. With this wearable, the person can interact with other people and collect data from each of their interactions. This concept is taken from social media platforms which measure reactions and interactions such as likes, friending, unfriending, following and unfollowing. The data from each interaction is displayed on various screens across the suit, similar to the displays showing number of likes we look at every time we enter into our social media accounts. Furthermore, the suit has a feature to broadcast through tiny cameras, so the gallery audience can watch the wearer’s interactions on monitors in real time. Tuang states that similar to the public nature of your interactions with friends and family on social media, this broadcasting feature lets people see your levels of interaction are going.
In Social Media without the Internet, interactions are given with physical gestures, for example high-fiving for likes. If someone wants to give a person a ‘reaction likes’, as with Facebook’s emoticons, they can do it in-person by clicking on the emoticons on the touch screen monitor. As mentioned before, there are also features for ‘unfriending’ and ‘unliking’ as well and, yes, a person will have to come up to unfriend or unlike the person in the suit in person. Tuang tells me that she has worked on this suit for almost two months, and has worn it to art galleries as well as public areas and learned so much about how environments can affect the outcome of people’s interactions.
Tuang receives stares of curiosity from all the people she passes in public. Maybe because the outfit is unusual – not simply a shirt with LEDs on it – but does not appear to be cosplay. Similarly, at the gallery, people look at her with curiosity, but not as much surprise as outside the art space. They stare at her with interest. The reason could be their consciousness of place; people at an art space expect to see uncommon and extraordinary things, while those on the streets do not. Because of this, gallery visitors mostly approached Tuang by themselves, while people in public areas, although they welcomed her, were hesitant to interact with Tuang. However, no matter where she was, Tuang has observed that most men will avoid any physical interaction outside a hi-five or a hand-shake. Some of them asked their female friends or daughter to give Tuang a ‘reaction like’ for them. Surprisingly, some of them decided to achieve the ‘following’ feature without holding Tuang’s hand, but by pulling a string from the front of the wearable and using it as a leash. The suit is intentionally designed to be unisex but, of course, Tuang (and her other performer) present as female to others and a brief conclusion of this experiment would be that the communities in which Tuang has exhibited her artwork are interested in nontraditional art and are very conscious about inappropriate gestures between members of different genders.
Another interesting reflection on this project is that when it has been shared online, people have contributed their thoughts in several ways: Almost half of the comments are concerned the idea that it could be dangerous for a person to wear it, because it suggests permission to be touched physically. Additionally, some of the commentators opined that if it were developed into a consumer product, it might increase toxic popularity values, especially in teenagers. Others pointed out that the product could also cause bullying in schools. Although the experiments performing with the wearable have shown that things are not as bad as that (although arguably environment, location and social context are important factors here) these comments and concerns are valuable to the development of Tuang’s research. However, seeing as many of the Internet comments make reference to “Black Mirror,” maybe we can conclude that our society is still skeptical about new technology, much like our grandparents, when faced with fresh innovations. Maybe we should have more belief in humanity and trust that when we invent tech we will be able to effectively adjust it to our lives. Social Media without the Internet has been nominated to the Antenna Programme, an art competition at Dutch Design Week 2018, and is one of the masterpieces which made Tuang the finalist of residency programs 72U and Squeaky Wheel 2019. Tuang’s creative research has been mentioned in Thai media such as @Weekly, Bangkok Post, and Post Today. After learning about Tuang’s work, you may see that ‘innovation’ does not live too far from creative industries like the visual arts, especially in the field of mixed media and interactive art, because contemporary artists not only make beautiful things but invent creations that benefit the study of society and human’s behavior.