Thursday, December 8, 2011

XFR: Experiments in the Future of Reading

Opening Program by Anne Balsamo, University of Southern California
“Anne Balsamo is a professor at the University of Southern California and Director of Learning at the Annenberg Innovation Lab.  In 2002 she co-founded Onomy Labs, Inc., a Silicon Valley technology design and fabrication company that builds cultural technologies.  Previously she was a member of RED (Research on Experimental Documents), a collaborative research group at Xerox PARC [that] created experimental reading devices and new media genres.  She served as Project manager and new media designer for the development of RED’s interactive museum exhibit, XFR:  Experiments in the Future of Reading.”—from the HLA11 program.
Dr. Balsamo's lecture looked at the exhibit (XFR: Experiments in the Future of Reading) she helped to design while working at Xerox PARC.   The exhibit explored the relationship between reading and new technologies.  Designed between 1999 and 2001, it was initially shown at the San Jose Museum of Tech Innovation in 2000, before touring the country.
The centerpiece of the exhibit was an interactive wall which, when manipulated, delved into the history of reading.  The participant was allowed to see gradual shifts in reading and writing by moving along the wall, thus demonstrating  that new technologies don't obliterate old reading technologies, but build on them.  Balsamo stressed wall writing as the reading/writing of the future, saying that they will take on more important roles.  She continues to experiment with interactive walls, and included various examples including those in Mexico and Singapore.
Other components of the exhibit included:
Tilting tables, which allowed a reader to use his body to manipulate large documents, and to read in new ways.
Hyperbolic Comics:  This was an attempt at creating a new media genre.  Hyperbolic Comics have no beginning and no end.  In the test comic, readers could learn about a young boy's world by following paths that lead away from him, somewhat like concept map structure.
Reading Eye Dog:  used machine reading technology to read a story (scanned text).  Originally the dog was shaped like a person, but its designers discovered that people had too-high expectations for a human-like form.  When the shape changed to that of a dog, users were more forgiving of its faults.
The XFR exhibit is now dismantled, but Dr. Balsamo’s video documentation of it show that it was and is a fascinating look at reading as it was, is, and could be.

-- Stacey Judy

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