Kasei Vallis &

Sea of thought

Bjørn Tennøe - Helsinki - autumn 1998, spring 1999
- Design Fiction

This text concerns itself with two out of my three subprojects in Design Fiction, namely Kaseii Vallis and Sea of Thoughts. These two subprojects somehow belong together, which is the reason for bringing them together in this document. Between these projects is a common theme: How can digital tools contribute to discussions, collaborations and to interhuman relationships? It is my belief that there is a great potential for electronic tools to make people meet and share thoughts.

This project has its roots in the scenarios and projections (building blocks) presented through Future Media Home / Design Fiction. The project definition and output format is specified in collaboration with the Design Fiction group in general. The text concerns itself only with selections of the themes investigated in Design Fiction '99. For an overview please consult the Future Media Home internet site.

Sea of Thoughts is a look at how digital media can augment intellectual and collaborative exercises through structure generation, factual feedback and visualisation. It describes a secretary-like application that listens to a conversation. As it tries to structure what is said, a "content web" appears. This is a visualised presentation of what the computer believes to be the content of the discussion. The structure is manipulateable, and the users can interact with the application so that the net evolves into a document that contains the discussion. The document is non-linear; unlike a written paper, it has no default beginning and end. On the other hand it might very well contain thorough information about the creation process that lies behind it, a valuable tool for researching past activities.

Kaseii Vallis concerns itself with how a virtual space can connect people. It is a proposition for a virtual city, an applied design for what is often referred to as a cyberspace. The environment that is needed for visual, audible and gestural communication is explored. Attention is paid to the activities that can take place on the borderline of a virtual world. How can the digital world be given a volumous form, what architectural style is needed, and in what way can this influence the physical world too?
Surrounding conditions and scenarios are also discussed.


What were my drivers for this project?

I have been fascinated and spent time on the Internet for many years now, ever since I made my first homepage in 1993. When the opportunity came to join the Design Fiction workshop and project, I thought of it as a way to combine my two fields of professional expertise, namely product design engineering and fairly wide IT know-how. I assume that the subjects I have chosen to study and the nature of the work exposes my background. Although I would wish it otherwise, the text sometimes focus on the tools and not the needs of the future. Also, for a project like this, it would be better to discuss not what emerges but rather its consequences.

How can we know the needs of tomorrow? T

he obvious first thing to do is to explore the trends we suspect will appear, and also to forecast in what way design variables, for instance technology level, will change. Ezio Manzini states that designing by "taking the present into the future (...do something today for tomorrow...)" might not be as useful as to "bring the future into the present (...do today something for today, but which anticipates a possible and appreciable tomorrow...)". Although he wants to apply this methodology in traditional design work and not necessarily for future forecasting, this rule can be used to identify the needs of the people of tomorrow. Therefore, one should ask oneself: "what is it I want for myself or a community I know of today, and which is possible to realise tomorrow?"

When I worked on my Wellness project last year, I realised there was not a good way to compile and structure the ideas I developed myself and with others. Sketchbooks become a mess, especially when working in teams, and computer-aided tools does not yet have the sufficient flexibility, even when it comes to writing down text. This was the driver for the Sea of Thought part of the project. I have tried not to go down on a very detailed level, since my expertise does not allow it and since the consequences of the use matter more than the tool itself.
The reason for me to explore a virtual city like Kaseii Vallis is my general curiosity about what the future Internet brings. The scenario described is a very probable, if not widely discussed possibility. The scenario is done with DF partner HPY in mind, which today investigates a virtual physical world.

Clearly the text is written with the intent to present a more attractive tomorrow. On the other hand one should avoid the pessimistic notion that "everything today is insufficient". In our culture and with our economic system change is permanent, and it is not wise to expect that we will reach an ideal state even in the future.
For me as a product design student, it is important to study the usefulness of the concepts I introduce. I think the Sea of Thought concept by its very nature is highly useful and is the natural culmination of current development (not to say that it is a final solution!). I am more uncertain about Kaseii Vallis, as it is not fundamentally productive, and since the trials that has been made in this field have been only moderately successful.

When the project started out I wanted to explore in what ways full sensory immersion into a virtual city would be appreciable. As of today, I maybe view this setting less favourable than previously. In fact, one can fully enjoy the life of a virtual place without giving up all sense of the world that actually surrounds us.

What is clear is that new markets will appear on the Internet, and the introduction of new services will not slow down. The auction business is an example of an Internet service than blossoms way beyond expectations. In the same way Kaseii Vallis can find its markets and grow in ways one would not expect in the first place.


Thanks to everyone in the DF group, both participants and staff, in particular Kari-Hans Kommonen, the interface group and Raimo Lång, and to Jean Schneider from UIAH / ID for insightful comments.