“ This installation was developed at the University of Southern California in 1995 under the co-direction of Ken Goldberg and Joseph Santarromana. In 1996 the Telegarden was moved to the Ars Electronica Center in Linz, Austria, where it remained online until August of 2004 [12, 27]. The garden itself is a small plot encircling an industrial robotic arm. A web-based interface allows users to activate the robotic arm, view the garden through a camera mounted on the robotic arm, change the view, plant a seed, water it, and (if one is a successful gardener) water the resulting plant on an on-going basis. Many thousands of remote users have interacted with the Telegarden in such ways.”
Extracted from 2005 IEE International Workshop on Robots and Human Interactive Communication
So this installation seems like a simple project with a robotic arm, which might be the most impressive part. However, after reading through their use of investigation, data collection and coding for interaction, I wouldn’t use the word ‘simple’ too loosely . The 13 weeks they used to consolidate 22 952 posts before it was relocated from Untied States to Austria. The whole model for relationship was based on the previous project by Friedman, Kahm and Hagman who analysing the relationship between humans and Sony’s AIBO robotic dog. The methods for developing systems of interpretation were based largely from the developmental psychology for coding qualitative interview data (P.H Kahn Jr, 1999). Hence if a post included several instances of a single category, that category was coded as used only once, thus accounting for the expression varying in a range of topics and attitudes within one statement (P.H.Kahn Jr, B.Friedman, 2005).
So what are my thoughts about this? The mediated and telerobotic interaction that goes from vitality to time-based reality ( 3 months in short). The point is to create a ecological relationship through interconnected infrastructures, between our natural environment and users of the ‘unnatural’ world ( I think the term ‘unnatural’ is awesome in this context ). Beyond the virtual (cold environment) to physical (warm environment) interaction, there is a form of attachment that creates for users to make sure they water or plant the environment with new seeds etc. I think achieving this attachment as humanly as possible is an achievement itself. It does engage participants toward a betterment of a purpose. Imagine the thousands of facebook users who play the virtual community garden virtual games having a real garden in the process that blossoms as the game progresses.
However, lets be critical about one thing. Interaction. Ken Goldberg wanted to play with the juxtaposition of having a robot do the last thing you could imagine or want a robot to do, which I think he did perfectly. But we beg the question of whether we trying to share some light on how we are able to connect to our environment even behind our keyboard and screens? If yes, it does sound so enriching and positive. But at what cause? Does it sound natural or we trying to redefine what is natural? Have we grown to be so pre-occupied with the world we have created around us that we cannot appreciate the small yet development process of planting? Thus, as an art form, this sounds superb of virtual to ecological systems. But from what I read, people are serious in making this a scientific study that will bridge the gap between the ‘absented’ human and its surroundings. If so, we are at a hopeless end of trying to create the world just for ourselves that things like plants and other living things are perhaps no longer worthy of our physical affection and presence. Imagine nursing a loved one in coma, retrieving him from his critical stage through a recorded voice of yourself everyday and when he finally recovers from his unconscious state to realize it was a recording and not a real person speaking to him and making him come to live, he might not mind it but the recording only serves as a treatment not a test of the relationship you have with your loved ones. Interaction is the word cause through interaction are things like dedication, trust and importantly love can be felt- true love that is, not the ones that cyber criminals imitate and deceive against 16 year old teenage girls. Hence, this is a worrying question. Have we become so cold that we are trying to find ways to balance the socio-ecological environment as we sit behind our (cyber)gated community? Don’t let me get started with the potential commercialization of this that will counteract the efforts of the primary meaning of this installation.
Overall, I think we should leave it as an art form that just tells us that is possible and that we are at the attempt of emerging a cold environment like the web into a warm environment like the ecology that keeps us alive. Its fine the way it is. Some things don’t need to improve or progress- they are good the way they are and best kept as such.