In this paper I argue for a concept of synthetic worlds that focuses on the informational substrate of physical spaces we inhabit. This focus aims to elucidate the intricate and varied ways that databases and information systems act not only to describe the complexities of human experience, but also to regulate and participate in the construction of these complexities. I do not discount the value of synthetic spaces such as those that exist within the worlds of MMOGs and virtual online environments, I only wish to emphasize the existing digital landscapes of data with which we coexist. By envisioning these landscapes as coextensive with our embodied experience of the world, we might focus on circular flows between the digital and physical – synthesis – as opposed to outward flows from synthetic worlds.
I present Datascape, an ongoing art project, as an applied way to bring information out from remote databases into everyday lived experience. Datascape is a mobile hybrid environment through which vehicle passengers are enabled to interact with a digital landscape that is spatially correlated to the physical world. Through the development of a dynamic representational ontology – consisting initially of symbols, behaviors, forces, zones, paths, links, portals and sounds – Datascape enables participants to create, view, and interact with a world constructed of participatory emergent narratives. By casting users of the system as authors, diverse perspectives and knowledge traditions are placed in conversation with institutional narratives such as demographic marketing profiles. Datascape’s representational ontology allows the emergence of these conversations through negotiations between databases, authors, passengers, and autonomous datadriven entities that behave and interact in synergy with their environment.
It has been established that positivist scientific methodology and database ontology can act to reduce the complexity of diverse knowledge traditions and cultures. I suggest that they also reduce complexity in representational and interactional terms – specifically in the fields of mixed reality, ubiquitous computing and geographic visualization – by contributing to a focus on the object and coordinate; on what is known as opposed to the process of knowing. Through critical artistic practice, I elaborate an interactive system for geographic narrative that is inspired by theories in human geography, and suggest ways that we can incorporate the rich contributions of this field into the design of interactive computational systems. Specifically I focus on ideas that spatial knowledge production is local, embodied, temporal, emergent, hodological, personal, collective and imagined. Australian Aboriginal cultures believe that, through dreaming, the world can be reimagined, and even re-made. Datascape allows for the creation of a shared imaginary coextensive with our lived environment – an imaginary that can help broaden conversations about our hybrid ecologies and the technologies through which they are experienced.
For more information see http://datascape.info/