|Future Media Home
Final Report / KHK 26.2.2001
Future Media Home (FMH) was a project of the Media Lab of the University of Art and Design Helsinki UIAH.
The project studied the possible developments in the digital media environment in the home and aimed to develop and describe an idea of what kinds of developments would be desirable from a user point of view. The project was initiated because there was a need to chart the territory in order to develop an agenda for future research activities.
It was carried out between 1.1.1997 and 31.10.2000, and was funded by TEKES and 6 industrial partners: Accenture, Elisa Communications, Helsingin Sanomat, ICL Invia, Sonera and Yle.
This report describes the project and its results in a very compact fashion. More material is available on the Future Media Home website at http://fmh.uiah.fi. In addition to this report, a series of interactive events are planned for spring 2001. Please refer to the website for information concerning their schedule and outcomes.
Activities and Results
FMH was funded as a project, but its nature has been much more like gardening. While a project would aim to produce very well specified products and would produce these in a series of well organized tasks, for this garden we arranged an intellectual space and tried to provide good nourishing soil, we planted diverse seeds, and have tried to nurture the interesting things we have found growing in the garden.
We believe that this has been a good approach and a necessary condition for the growth of insight and the community. We plan to continue gardening in the future, with a special emphasis on those areas which have shown interesting growth in the past.
During the project we have had many people involved in the work as staff, researchers and research assistants. The core group during the final stages of the project has included:
Kari-Hans Kommonen, Maria Koskijoki, Andrea Botero, Katja Oksanen-Särelä, Hanna Holm, Matti Arvilommi, Tuire Karkinen and Iina Oilinki.
In earlier stages the core group also included Raimo Lång, Pirkka Åman and Roope Mokka; in the very beginning, also Yannis Paniaras and Samu Mielonen contributed.
During the project we have also had a collaboration with Mika Pantzar, which contributed to the preparation of his book, "Tulevaisuuden koti", published by Otava in 2000.
The web site and the more detailed reports we plan to deliver later in 2001 will describe more details of the contributions of each person.
For more information, please take a look at the people pages.
An important part of the gardening has been to attract students to consider researching some of the topics of interest to us, for example as their final thesis projects. To facilitate this, each year of the project we offered an interface for collaboration towards students. The extent and nature of this student involvement was different each year, as we learned from earlier experiences.
Altogether we have had approximately 20 students involved for a short visit, and about 20 others for a longer period, between 1 to 3 years. The students have represented a number of universities and departments or study programmes, for example the following:
University of Art and Design: Media Lab, Product and Strategic Design, Interior and Furniture Design, Graphic Design, Film and TV
Helsinki University of Technology: Architecture, Computer Science
Helsinki University: Computer Science, Cognitive Science, Cultural Anthropology
University of Jyväskylä: Environmental Management
Copenhagen Business School
In addition to disciplinary diversity, we also had a number of MA or exchange students from other countries, for example from Colombia, Germany, Norway, Turkey.
For more information, please take a look at the people pages.
Interaction with partners and dissemination
In an attempt to develop the interface to the industrial partners and the research community, we have arranged five workshops. More details on these can be found on the website (workshops). While the workshops were interesting and useful for us, we found that our idea of interesting topics were often found to be too vague or too far in the future to be relevant enough to immediate business intrests in order to justify strong participation by the personnel from the industrial partners.
Therefore, we decided to focus on developing our insight on the whole area so that we will in the end of the project be able to 1) present our findings in a more coherent way and 2) customize a seminar for each partner, where we interpret the materials for them.
The most useful way to apply the results is in interaction, with reference to real world issues, such as "what does x mean to a publisher's future business" or "what kinds of set-top boxes should consumers be offered" etc. Because each of these kinds of questions needs a separate consideration within a complex context, we can't produce a report which could be used as a replacement for an intelligent interpreter. Therefore we have concluded that the best way to offer the results for partners is in the form of interactive seminars with each partner, and for the rest of society, in the form of a public seminar and a series of new activities, papers and publications, based on these results.
In order to explore how the topics of our interest can be discussed with the public, we arranged two exhibitions in Lasipalatsi, in June 1999 and June 2000, in collaboration with the Nykyaika project, run by SITRA, the Finnish National Fund for Research and Development.
In the first exhibition we showed the output of the Design Fiction project. The second was organized more like a "summer camp"; we arranged a number of discussions with different people about our topics. The discussions were taped for future use (see below).
Methods and tools
In studying the future, we have gathered and studied a lot of materials, but instead of trying to analyze what others seem to believe, we have developed our own insights, relying on the subjective interpretation and understanding.
We have strived to develop a coherent view of the future through continuous discussion within the group. However, everyone has been allowed to have a subjective conviction.
We have explored several ways how to inspire people to think about the future. One of the most promising ways seems to be to use scenarios - stories which present some aspect of or event in life in a way that includes some features which highlight the difference between the present and the future. We have developed a large number of scenarios of different kinds, and with different qualities.
In a project we did together with VVO, we used scenarios that grew out of FMH work, and interviewed informants about their ideas about the future. This worked quite well, and seems to show that with an appropriate set of materials, people can be facilitated to discuss future design.
In future projects, we will further develop our scenario approach towards a design language.
We have explored a number of ways of studying people, and their relationship with everyday life, design and technology. A central theme has been to apply ethnography in some appropriate way, and to gather material in audio, images, and video.
Interviews and discussions have been digitized and the texts transcribed with a tool we have developed, and in the next stage we will store them in a database which allows searching and coding of all material together, and the creation of new collections across the material sets.
We have also been able to offer research data and services in this area for other researchers. We would like to develop these activities and the tools further in the future.
Starting points and principles
we want to find the individual's point of view
we want to study individuals instead of generalized types
we believe that maintaining and understanding diversity is important - everyone belongs to a number of minorities
we encourage subjective point of view
we look for interesting ideas, not for the truth
we attempt to identify what is desirable, from the point of view of people and the society
The web site of the project is at http://fmh.uiah.fi. The site contains a lot of material which can't be inclued in the report. The site will still evolve after the delivery of this report.
Insight, community, agenda
The most important results of the work are the insight we have developed, the agenda for further research we are proposing, and the community we have gathered to begin working on the new initiatives. The insight and the new initiatives are explained in the next chapters.
During the project, the group running FMH was stabilized and organized as an entity called "Future Media Home research group" in the organizational structure of the Media Lab. This means that we have the department's blessing for developing new activities, and a fairly autonomous opportunity to pursue them.
When the new initiatives are launched, the name of the group will probably also change.
Key conclusions of the project have been the following:
Digitalization affects eventually life at all levels
The digitalization process changes very much the society and the survival conditions of all people, in a global scale. It is therefore not sufficient, nor relevant enough, for a project with a goal set to study long term future, to only observe and consider developments that relate closely to the interests of today's consumer product businesses which seem to focus a lot of their business offerings to people who have surplus available for new convenience and entertainment spendings; a wider perspective is essential.
We have used the following tool, the hierarchy of product needs, to focus attention on the kinds of needs which digital products can be offered for:
Digitalization affects life not only in convenience and pleasure related matters, but increasingly in management and survival related matters, as it proceeds. It will become essential for everyone to be able to take advantage of digital ways to operate in society. Survival is at stake, when we must find ways to make a living, and compete with others who are digitally very competent. We will elaborate this to some extent below.
Also, if the perspective is too narrow, it is possible that the work becomes completely useless very quickly, if escalating global problems cause sudden changes in everyday reality. As an example of such already visible changes we can mention the BSE development, which has dramatically changed the way people relate to food, food production and the related issues, processes and businesses.
Global changes in the environment, economy, and social atmosphere may change our beliefs and convictions about the way how technology, business and the political machinery further the good of humankind and ourselves, and what kinds of rules and principles need to be followed, surprisingly rapidly. We may suddenly realize that we depend on the same boat with people whom we did not know anything about just a little time ago.
Digitalization contains many promising potentials which may be crucial in our ability to cope with the future and realize a better world, and better quality life for ourselves and other people around the world.
Together with the mounting global environmental, social and economical problems, the current rules of global trade, the economy, and intellectual property protection, to name a few key factors, do not seem to provide a believable combination of circumstances that could lead to a sustainable world - that is, to a world and way of living which can continue into the foreseeable future without fear of depleting resources and war over them.
Therefore, a change is necessarily ahead, whether we like it or not, and how to deal with that change is one of the most central human interests for all people and nations on earth.
We propose that
we need to be prepared to re-evaluate and redesign many of the structures, systems and rules in the world,
we should begin to do that seriously as soon as possible in order to minimize the catastrophy ahead,
digitalization and its results, especially the mediaspace, will probably be a central facilitator in the process of dealing with and developing necessary global consensus in this issue
The interest of people
The interest of people, usually referred to as the users, is not sufficiently well represented in the development process, because development processes are framed according to the interests of other actors, and because people can't participate in the development.
The lack of attention to user interest produces problems, such as wasted development, business and product investments, and closed and obstructive, often dead end designs.
However, the interest of people seems to be a goal for evolution: business which can realize the interest of people, will eventually be more successful.
Therefore, it seems that a better understanding of the interest of people and development processes that take it into account would lead both to a better society and to better business.
We propose that
users' interest need to be represented,
development needs to become more democratic,
participatory future design would help to bring in the interest of people.
The various electronic equipment and communication networks are converging into a seamless Digital Dimension (DigDim).
At the same time, the functions we today connect to certain devices, such as the CD-player or the mobile phone, transform into the behaviours of independent software entities, DigThings, which are freed from specific devices. In a subsequent rapid process of software evolution, generations of DigThings will look for the shape, character and interface which is most compatible with the needs and interests of people.
The physical devices will transform from the exclusive guardians of specific features into extremely compatible components of a universal seamless platform, and their importance and excellence will be in the particular way they function as the interface between the physical and the digital dimensions.
Structures move into DigDim
Anything that can become digital, will, because of cost efficiency.
The structures and systems which make much of our world (bank, money, trade, administration, ...) will move as much to the DigDim as they can. Of course, anything that benefits from also being physical, will also have the physical form.
Many systems will, however, try to discard the physical/material form of operation, or only preserve it as a backup for emergency or malfunction situations. The non-digital interaction is typically radically slower, less efficient, often unavailable, and much more expensive.
Therefore, people will become very dependent on their abilities to interact with digital systems and structures. Those who must rely on the non-digital ways will be at a disadvantage. Those who can build their own ways to interact with the digital interfaces of structures and systems, can gain advantages.
One of the central anticipated results of the digitalization process is the emergence of such a global Mediaspace which will eventually contain practically all the media in the world, and dissolve the past differences in delivery channels and packaging between the present media formats.
The Mediaspace will not only house public mass media, but also the diffrerent kinds of communications between individuals, groups, as well as personal memories and digital traces.
The global Mediaspace will form a nervous system which links all humankind, or those who have access to it, to each other. Such a mediaspace can have enormous consequences because it makes it possible for new ideas to travel and grow much faster, and new global social partnerships to emerge. It will become the central vehicle for influencing, for enforcing accountability and responsibility of instutional actors and representatives.
All kinds of media creators will design Mediaspaces and components for them, and new content formats will be developed which will offer viewers/users full advantage of the hypermedia structures and features which Mediaspaces make possible.
We propose that rapid advancement towards Mediaspaces and the breaking of the barriers resisting that development is very important for democracy, for people's ability to join together and influence society, for increasing awareness of the state of affairs both in global and local settings, and for increasing accountability and responsibility in the world, as well as for the advancement of business which can take advantage of the added value of Mediaspaces compared to the current channels.
A Mediascape relates to the Mediaspace, but as the Mediaspace describes a certain offering of content, the Mediascape describes a point of view which picks out a collection of material from the Mediaspace.
Without digital tools, we form Mediascapes in our minds and in our homes, on our shelves. Together with other experiences, we use media to make sense of the world, and build a personal worldview, based on which we act.
Today, our ability to manage media is fairly limited, but with Mediaspaces and digital tools, we will be able to manage our Mediascapes much better.
We propose that the Mediascape is a central concept for understanding how a future media user wants to interact with the Mediaspace and incorporate new media things into her life. A central design goal for media products will be how they can become good and wanted citizens in as many viewers' Personal Mediascapes as possible.
The convergence and combined effects of the DigDim, Mediaspaces, and the move of structures and systems into the DigDim, will have significant consequences in the competitive landscape.
If the society continues on its current track, to externalize people from organizations to become entrepreneurs, to encourage automation as opposed to hiring people, to increase competition, and to push the responsibility of each individual's ability to make a living on their own shoulders, people's survival will become radically more dependent on their ability to compete against everybody else.
Personal competitiveness will depend on the ability of the person to take advantage of digital potential. Digital creativity and ability to create software solutions may increase one's efficiency dramatically. One efficient and creative person may put out hundreds of others out of business by creating a software solution whose ability to serve customers can easily be multiplied without requiring new people.
We propose that it is important
to recognize the anxiety many people are developing over the directions of development, to take it seriously, and listen to their concerns;
to consider the societal consequences of the current trends and maybe consider some fundamental changes;
to develop the ways how digital technology can help people to be creative and in control of their own futures;
not to allow a development where those who can in the short term take advantage from the rapid digitalization get to benefit in an unfair way at the expense of the others.
Competitiveness of citizens
Governments must reconsider their support for development, and shift their focus from supporting businesses to supporting the competitiveness or capabilities of citizens. In tha past it was clear that a thriving business brought wealth to its local population. Today, businesses may move around globally and use resources wherever they are cheapest. The best way to ensure that support stays in the country which gives the support, is to support the people. What's best, this form of support also benefits the businesses in the best way - they get competent and creative people.
Intellectual property protection vs. open source
The DigDim and Mediaspaces are a new kind of an environment for business. The web and the internet, as their precursors, have emerged as a result of open development, based on a culture of sharing. In general, evolution seems to create platforms, and successful platforms are usually open, supported by a community. On the other hand, when some actors try to create proprietary platforms, they are often met with resistance, because other actors do not want to become dependent on some other actor's intellectual property.
The DigDim and Mediaspaces have an enormous potential for memetic evolution which depends on the way we interpret and regulate concepts such as intellectual property. There is mounting opposition to the current policies of IPR protection, such as software patents. On the other hand, there is a growing open source movement, and examples of new kinds of business models which are based on it.
We believe that IPR protection in the current form will not prevail, and that open source or a culture of sharing will become more efficient and quickly favoured over the old culture of proprietary, secret software, by the experts as well as customers. One reason for this is the lack of resources and redundant work, which is unbearable in a situation where there are not enough development resources.
The culture of sharing also extends to Mediaspaces. Media which can't be shared, re-edited, re-used and redistributed conveniently, has less value to the users compared to media which is easy to use and repurpose in any way necessary. Public discussion needs to be able to refer to any piece of media and offer the possibility for a viewer/reader anywhere to see also the original, with its roots and ancestors also visible.
This shift will create a huge problem for businesses, publishers and investors who bet their future and competitive edge on IPR protection. Instead of a valuable asset, the proprietary intellectual property which their offerings are based on may become a liability, if its protection obstructs reuse and ties the company to a dying business with angry customers.
Agenda for further research