This article was written by Jon Lebkowsky in October 2007. We're republishing it here as part of our month-long editorial retrospective.
Earlier this month I wrote a column about a DIY (Do It Yourself) home showcase I was helping to create for Maker Faire Austin. Here's more of the story and a report on our success.
Derek Woodgate of Futures Lab and I have been meeting regularly over the last couple of years to consider the prospect of doing a showcase, which we've been calling "Futurama," that would give some sense of the impact of digital convergence on lifestyles in the near future. We'd considered doing it at various conferences, such as South by Southwest Interactive and Innotech, but when we heard that Maker Faire -- an offshoot of Make Magazine, the bible of the DIY movement -- would be coming to Austin, we saw that as an ideal opportunity. Maker Faire brings diverse people together who make things – many kinds of things – and who want to show their stuff and share their knowledge and practice with other makers.
You might not think this would be the ideal context for a futurist showcase, but we saw the creative chaos of the first couple of Maker Faires in California, and knew the guys at Make would be receptive. Sure enough, Dale Dougherty, publisher of Make Magazine and the lead on Maker Faire, totally got our high-level concept: we were inspired by the famous "Futurama" exhibit and ride at the 1939-40 World's Fair in New York, which took visitors on a tour of the world 20 years into the future. While this Futurama featured visions of suburbia and superhighways, our effort for Maker Faire would be the "DIY Home of the Future," a concept that worked well as a representation of the convergent future, and as a manifestation of several converging paths in Derek's recent thinking. We saw our effort, while not quite so grand as the World's Fair exhibit, as the first of many -- allowing time to pave the way to our vision of Tomorrowland.
In his research for various companies and projects, Derek has gathered material about different aspects of the home of the future, from which he has derived three general attributes:
For Maker Faire, we focused on immersive media. Front and center we placed Brian Park's Flogiston Chair, which was designed "based on the idea that you didn't need a body in cyberspace, just a presence, so the chair was a place to leave your body" (it was featured in the film "Lawnmower Man"), with a curved rear projection screen for gaming. We projected a high definition, high-intensity Xbox game as part of the demonstration. In addition, David Demaris, the wizard who did much of the actual production work, brought in a massive screen and combined ambient music with visuals that could be manipulated by moving one's hands over sensors -- a kind of visual theremin.
To give a sense of the potential for interaction between the digital environment and mind/body, we ran a demonstration of Wild Divine's "Healing Rhythms" biofeedback software, a system that includes several guided meditations with audiovisual environments that you manipulate by controlling your own physiology, with heart rate and skin response sensors attached to your fingers.
The DIY aspect of this rests partly in the control you, as the occupant, have over configuring digital systems as well as physical architecture, and partly in the sense that you can (re)invent yourself as you reconfigure your environment.
Our DIY House of the Future isn't too far out from current reality. There's already a proliferation of large screen, high-definition displays in the consumer electronics market -- and they're getting cheaper -- so whole-wall displays aren't hard to imagine. Embedded sensor networks are the wave of the very near future. The immersive game environment Derek and I suggested would be relatively easy to build and market, and it drew enthusiastic crowds at Maker Faire (it helped to have game play in the mix).
Photo: Gaming with the Flogiston Chair. Photo by Jon Lebkowsky.
Convergent Media and the DIY Home of the Future is part of our month long retrospective leading up to our anniversary on October 1. For the next four weeks, we'll celebrate five years of solutions-based, forward-thinking and innovative journalism by publishing the best of the Worldchanging archives.