Ben Thoma

Creative Director, CreativeMornings


This conversation is closed.

Do you see value in the idea of "Digital Teleportation?"

Recently, I've noticed a number of online experiences that allow users to skip stones in a different place via robot, give a bike the voice to "talk" through a Twitter account, and show pianos that take requests from Tweets. With some basic hardware sensors. thoughtful programming and ideation, and the modern browser, advertisers can create a user experience that changes the digital space from a virtual experience to a real life one—Digital Teleportation, if you will.

I have proposed a topic for a panel discussion at SXSW Interactive 2013 entitled "Digital Teleportation" and if you think it's an interesting conversation, you can vote to make it happen:

Add your questions and musings to this discussion. I'd love to use your thinking to help frame the conversation.

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    Aug 17 2012: I think it is called a fax machine.
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      Aug 17 2012: Not really. A fax machine takes something physical, specifically a sheet of paper, and replicates it somewhere else in the world. Yes, this can be initiated online instead of physically, but it still only repeats something.

      I could imagine that a fax machine *could* be programmed for this purpose. For example, if I wanted to have an art installation where a subject was forced to do only those things that a fax machine told him to do, and those faxes could be initiated by people using a hash tag online—from anywhere in the world—well, that would be a sort of digital teleportation. User's interaction would serve to change the experience or outcome somewhere else in the world.
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        Aug 17 2012: I was playing sweetie.
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        Aug 17 2012: The idea is really artistic and that is NOT sarcastic. I am actually glad you misinterpretted me because I understand it better now.
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    Aug 17 2012: Hmm, I'm don't entirely understand what you mean by Digital Teleportation, can you elaborate?
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      Aug 17 2012: "Digital Teleportation" is a term I'm using to describe when an action on the web (a tweet, a click, any user input) controls or affects something in the real world. For instance, tweeting a music request to a player piano, which then plays that music for you. See other examples at
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        Aug 17 2012: Ah I see, so in a way this could be like "Youtube Likes" or "Number of Views" where each of these actions can affect the video's popularity, and therefore others' awareness of that video. And your example is also analogous to a piano, where when one presses a white key, it plays a certain note of a certain frequency. Except that you're talking more about digital technologies and how people interact with computers and digital services.

        I'm not sure if "Digital Teleportation" is the best terminology in describing this phenomenon.
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          Aug 17 2012: I don't think that's it.

          To go back to an analogy, imagine a piano in the middle of nowhere. It is able to play a song without anyone touching the keys (think player piano: ), but the song that it plays is based on the requests of people hundreds, if not thousands of miles away, who submit their requests via Twitter. In this way, the user who makes a request by tweet is virtually "teleporting" their presence to the location of the piano.

          Make sense?
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        Aug 17 2012: In a sense you can argue that the request of a song is also a musical instrument. You input a button, it outputs a song, just like a piano, where you input a key, it outputs a note.

        While when you push the play button, and it just automagically plays the vid/song, the piano is the same in this respect too. You push a key, and it automagically plays a note, without you directly plucking the string.

        On the internet we have http connections that send/receive or download/upload data/requests that can travel long distances. So essentially using Twitter in the way you described is like playing a piano, but the sounds generated by this piano is on the other side of the globe, or at multiple locations of the globe.
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          Aug 17 2012: Yes! And now think of it beyond just Twitter as an interface. What could the color of an image control? The frequency of Facebook posts? The verbs in a blog post? A simple red button you can click on a site?
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        Aug 17 2012: Well those concepts also apply to preexisting platforms I call "old media". In colors and images, people associate different emotions or thoughts to different colors, and these colors can be put onto paper, cave walls, canvases, etc. The frequency of facebook posts can also tell you the popularity of the platform or the topic matter itself, if you're looking at this on a macro-level. The verbs in a blog post as well as written texts can be written on "old media" like paper, just like color. A red button has many definitions it carries, like red can be associated with urgency, right-pointing triangle shape communicates that it is a "play" button, the text on the button also describes what the button does, the concept of a button itself is also a language/protocol, we know from life that when we push this button, something will happen.

        The internet has really only extended the distance and quantity of which data can travel.

        The way you use the term "teleportation" can be a little confusing/misleading. When I'm talking to you face-to-face, information is "teleported" from my brain, which sends electrical signals to the vocal chords, which vibrates and produces a sound, which outputs from my mouth, which the sounds travel through air and oxygen molecules, which bangs the ear drums of the receiver, which sends electrical signals to the receiving brain, which processes that information.

        You can call it teleportation, I call it simply communication.