[EI] Reading 3: Telegarden (1995) by Ken Goldberg

The Telegarden

Image source: Goldberg.berkeley.edu. (2018). The Telegarden Website. [online] Available at: http://goldberg.berkeley.edu/garden/Ars/ [Accessed 3 Feb. 2018].

The singular activity of a very personal form of individual expression, to a collective activity is highly collaborative: all publishable instantaneously to a global audience.

– Randall Packer, Open Source Studio, IEEE Spectrum, 2015

The Telegarden is an art installation headed by Ken Goldberg, a professor who specialises in industrial engineering and operation research. This project enables web users to use an industrial robot arm to plant, water and cultivate living plants in a remote garden. The quote above is used in a social media and online collaboration context. However, I believe that it can be applied in the Telegarden’s context too. Gardening is stereotypically viewed as a personal solo activity, where one finds solitude and peace by being one with nature. However, this project turned gardening from a DIY activity to a DIWO activity. It uses the open source concept as it allows many users make curate the same garden in any way they like.

This project proves that the first and third space can collide and work together alongside each other. Many individuals from around the world are taking part in real-life gardening through a virtual platform, allowing thousands of people to care for the same garden. Some of them even got emotionally attached to the plants that they had planted, like how they would if they were to care for a plant in their own backyard. In the video ‘Telegarden Description’, Ken Goldberg mentioned that users went beyond just gardening. They started chatting with one another, asking about their days, as one would do in real-life. The third space had allowed these users to form a virtual gardening community. 

One of the subtext of the project is a reminder that maybe it’s time to get off the Internet and get out into the garden.

– Ken Goldberg

The project also serves as a commentary on social issues that rose due to the Internet, such as instant gratification and Internet addiction. With high-speed Internet nowadays, we are used to getting information immediately, making us more and more impatient. This is contrasted by gardening, which requires time and patience since there is no way to accelerate the process. It can also cultivate gardening interests in the users, encouraging them to take a break from the third space and spend more time in the first space by gardening in their own backyards.

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