Thursday, August 09, 2007

Tabling the Motion

It felt a lot like watching a game of three-card monte, as I stood in the small crowd around the demo of Microsoft's new Surface at SIGGRAPH. The huckster dealing the virtual cards (photographs, song information, and menu items) and physical cards like rewards cards and objects embedded with RFID coding performed many of the same moves that many have already seen in online promotional videos like this one.

Of course, at SIGGRAPH there was a lot of outrage about allowing Microsoft to present Surface in the "emerging technologies" gallery for two reasons: 1) many of the display and scanning technologies had been shown at SIGGRAPH for years and 2) Microsoft only owned the technologies because it had swallowed up the companies that had first developed the patents. Many in the audience told me with great glee that the system had crashed entirely during one audience. There was also audible chuckling when the poorly-reviewed Zune was shown and DRM-free and magically compatible music sharing was imagined with an iPod.

In my own reflections about Surface, I found myself worrying about the human costs to the people in the service industries in hotels and restaurants who would clearly be no longer needed when the user communicated directly with the kitchen or the resort chain's mainframe. The kinds of sociality that Surface models don't look like much fun to me. This parody ad also comments upon the dark side of Surface.

(Thanks to Ann Bartow for pointing out both videos.)

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