My trusty partner, Jonathan Nachum, and I headed out for a stroll around NoHo the other day to document people interacting with digital technology. Unsurprisingly, this was a very well connected area so to speak, since the neighborhood is chock full of stores. Some of these stores peddled technology, of course, such as Best Buy, but it was the clothing, shoe, and furniture stores that turned out to have the most interesting pieces of technology for people to interact with.
For instance, our first stop was at a clothing store called UNIQLO. It is basically a Japanese take on American Apparel, but done much better (of course). What on earth could a clothing store have to do with digital technology you ask? UNIQLO’s answer to this is the amazing robot known as Wakamaru. Wakamaru is the flagship store’s biggest draw because it speaks to the customers and reacts to what they say and do. If you hold its hand, it will walk and talk with you as you shop. If you ask it the time, it will tell you the hour. It even has opinions on New York City. However, getting one on one time with the robot is difficult because dozens of people come to the store JUST to see it at work. Basically, Wakamaru interacts with people via touch, sound, and sight using an array of sensors.
The next store that we went into was the Scholatsic store. You know the company that publishes everything from the Magic School Bus to Clifford the Dog. Anyhoo, there was tons of kids in there playing with digital toys, such as globes that speak when a connected pen points to a location, and Leapfrog devices that use buttons to play various mind games that make our old Game Boys look sad. There was a little too much going on in this store, and I dislike children so I wanted to leave. Jonathan expressed envy at the children’s set for making hydrogen powered cars and said, “They are ALREADY in ITP basically!” And so we shoved on….
On the street, of course we encountered the masses using their iphones, smartphones, ipods, and even the ancient walkman. You can give voice commands to your smartphone, use the multi-touch screen on your iphone or ipod, and press various buttons on your CD player to get some sort of reaction out of them. You can’t however smell or taste them into action. Maybe someday. Outside, we saw tons of cars with GPS units and fancy user interfaces. Cars themselves are quite interactive. Aside from the analog mechanism of driving, there are plenty of digital interfaces and inputs to be found in a modern whip. Tom Toms and Garmin GPS units for example use touch and your voice to take and issue commands.
The next cool things that we stumbled upon were in the Adidas store. In there, there was what looked to have previously been a dentist’s chair. It was transmogrified into a shoe creator, by what could have been an ITP alum. The contraption had a keyboard, screen, and a giant TRACKBALL! How vintage is that?! At the behest of one of the store attendants, I took a photo of the thing, and she flippantly explained that the machine will design a shoe of your liking when you input various things. We rolled our eyes and promised not to take photos, then moved around the store more. There was a live DJ there, so naturally, I took a photo of him secretly, and a magic photo wall was behind him. Sure, the DJ interacts with his turntable and computer via touch and its all instant and good, but the photo wall behind him was quite interesting. There was an array of digital photo frames arranged into the shape of the Adidas logo. To our surprise, there was a set of cameras in the wall as well, that randomly took photos of passerby and posted them on the frames. Neato! In this way, by merely standing there, a person is able to interact with the photo wall. Hottness.
Next we made a pilgrimage to the nearby Apple Store. iMac this, iPhone that, nothing you really haven’t heard of already to be found. But, just as I gave up my search for something different, Jonathan had an idea that the wifi routers there were interactive. YES INDEED. For example, apple fanboy A wants to visit Youtube at the Apple store; he then puts in the URL and POW, magically the signal goes from the iMac to the router, to the net, and then next thing he knows, he is at the Youtube homepage. Its all quite instant! Naturally, all of these stores had point of service registers, with card readers, keyboards, and monitors to make your money spending quick and painless. All in all, our observation session was a blur, since there was so much going on to take in at once. It is crazy to think of where we would be without all this technology though. Oh yeah, 1980.