Part II: Propose a media art intervention to complement the Smart Nation initiative
Other than the occasional MRT breakdown, train rides in Singapore are extremely comfortable. The carriages are clean, brightly lit and air-conditioned, especially on the newer underground MRT lines such as the Circle line and Downtown line. While riding the underground trains on long journeys, we may feel detached from the outside environment. Many people are familiar with that moment when one exits a train station only to find it’s raining cats and dogs.
This week’s assignment is about the Smart Nation initiative, which was launched in late 2014. Part II can be found here.
A Brief Overview
The Smart Nation seeks to improve the way we live, work, play and interact with each other through the use of data analysis and information communication technology. These technologies are gradually being implemented in our public infrastructure, transport networks, housing environments, businesses as well as healthcare and day-to-day services. These innovative solutions aim to create a sustainable and comfortable way of life, which simultaneously connects members of society and strengthens community ties.
“I think for Singapore, what we really want to look at is how do you use technology, networks, big data to deliver the benefits to citizens in terms of improving their quality of life, to forge stronger communities, to improve productivity and industry and how technology can be an enabler as we move towards an ageing population. At the end of the day, what defines a smart city is whether technology has made a positive difference in the lives of the citizens.”
— Chay Pui San, Deputy Head of Smart Nation Programme Office
A well-designed Smart Nation initiative
I think the Smart Nation tele-health initiative is a thoughtfully designed improvement to eldercare, especially in our aging society. It understands the needs of our fast-paced society where working adults are divided among many commitments such as their career, children and elderly parents. The elderly monitoring systems allows family members to monitor their parents or grandparents remotely. The system monitors movement patterns, notifying caretakers of their whereabouts and any unusual activity within the home through a mobile application.
Elderly can also wear panic buttons around their necks to alert caretakers of an emergency. If they were to fall, the elderly person can immediately signal for help using the button. This is rather well-designed as it is portable, physical and works well regardless of one’s digital competency. Although simple, it makes far more sense than a sleek mobile application.
Connectivity and Openness
Seamless connectivity is an integral aspect of Smart Nation. This ensures reliable real-time data which can be used to monitor transport networks, crowd patterns and environmental conditions.
So what can be done with all this data? It works hand in hand with openness to build a smarter nation and encourage innovation. Businesses and individuals can access government data to co-create solutions. We see these independent initiatives manifest as popular transport applications like SG BusLeh and the Facebook chatbot Singapore Bus Uncle, which can track real-time bus locations, arrival times and measure how packed a bus is. These applications were made in the spirit of open source and their interfaces even have a local flavour.
Apart from being open and transparent, these initiatives can also be improved through continuous community contributions and feedback. Although not everyone can develop chatbots and apps, members of a town can contribute by sending on-the-ground updates (e.g. lift breakdowns, mosquito breeding grounds etc.) to alert agencies about municipal issues.
Becoming a Smart Nation: Potential Problems and Possible Solutions
As a society, we will have to alter our behaviour and way of living in order to fully utilise this technology. To achieve this, we will need bridging schemes to encourage people to embrace these new technologies and way of life. For example in 2016, new modes of contactless payment such as Apple pay and Android pay were made available in Singapore. Exclusive incentives such as timbre+ $1 Good Eats were set up, which encouraged people to try the new system.
More importantly, the technology should be embedded in a seamless and non-intrusive fashion. This is where good, people-driven design comes into play. With the development of a smart nation, members of the community also need to play an active role so as to not feel detached or herded.
Many of these initiatives are implemented using smartphone applications, typically with graphical user interfaces (GUI). Although these are a great start, how will we prevent marginalised groups of people in our society from being left behind as Singapore develops into a smart nation? Perhaps, some of these digital technology solutions should be installed in public spaces for people who lack access to smart devices. Furthermore, to aid members of our community with low computer competency, we should aim to go beyond GUI, and incorporate more tangible media interfaces.
Singapore’s future as a Smart Nation is exciting and promising. Nonetheless, we have to be aware of such limitations and work towards minimising any gaps in society created by technological differences.
In his classic dystopian novel, George Orwell presented a grim vision of 1984 with total surveillance, oppression and the tyranny of technology. Good Morning, Mr. Orwell (1984) is a refutation of this vision and instead shows the positive reality of 1984 where new media artistic collaboration between artists, musicians and dancers in a networked third space can bridge the chasm between different locations and cultures. The work was an hour long, cross-country performance televised live on New Year’s Day.
“[Video collectives during the 1970s and 1980s] attempted to democratize the media by facilitating people-to-people communication, altering the themes and aesthetics of commercial television.” — Randall Packer, “The Third Space Network” (2016)
Similarly, Paik — a pioneer and visionary of video art — used video effects to create a new aesthetic, and challenged viewer perceptions of the commonplace television and its potential as an artistic medium. Some segments of the performance distorted temporal progression and spatial limitations by uniting asynchronous elements into the same plane.
For example, in Merce Cunningham’s segment, delayed footage of the dance was underlaid, creating an illusion of dancing with himself and being in two ‘time frames’ simultaneously. The reenactment of TV Cello by Charlotte Moorman also distorts space when we see the host George Plimpton appearing in both our television screens and in the TV Cello at the same time, forming a new composite image.
Furthermore, Paik’s work was an ambitious collaborative project and arguably an early form of the ‘Do-It-With-Others’ approach with its “collective organization”[i] of artists from “geographically dispersed locations and situations”[i]. It enabled cross-cultural interaction and brought various artistic visions together in a single third space, which was then broadcasted live around the world. The technical difficulties faced during broadcast would become part of the work, lending it a sense of immediacy and equality as viewer’s watch the work unfold at the same time as the artists.