I don’t talk about my other thesis project a lot and there’s reason for it. Most of my time has been focused on getting the ‘Paper Balloons’ App developed and ready for submission to the iTunes Store. Even the theoretical side has focused majorly around the App. For one, virtual interactivity is the medium I’m most comfortable in and where most video game development takes place. Another reason, though, is I admittedly haven’t completely thought through and figured out the “why” behind the ‘Whisper Stones’ installation.
Early sketch of 'Whisper Stones' interaction
To update any newcomers, the ‘Whisper Stones’ installation is a square space of about 8-10 feet in either direction. Within the space are 5 pillars with varying size white stones on top. Originally the idea was to enable the stones to be able to record and play back a “whisper” from a user, much in the same way as the ‘Paper Balloons’ App enables users to write down a fear, worry, etc. to release to the wind. ‘Whisper Stones’ uses the metaphor of hiding something under a rock to leave for later. The same idea is there, but carried out in a physical, tangible form as opposed to a virtual one.
First functioning version of 'Whisper Stones' Installation
Why physical interface though? What affordances are offered by whispering under or listening to a stone? Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist & founder of Jungian psychology, wrote of symbolism in dreams, as well as among Native American tribes. In this study of psychological symbolism, he found stones often represented people and that people connected with certain stones in some unexplainable way. This was a starting point in using stones to cover up whispers. Stones can be trusted. They are resolute, unyielding and uncompromising. If you hide something under a stone, the stone will not give your secret away willingly. From developing the iPhone App, I’d already seen emotional power in writing down a problem and knowing that someone, somewhere out in the world would read it and know what that there was a person dealing with this problem, even if they didn’t know you. There was a psychological feeling of release that corresponded with the physical gesture of releasing something. Following along that thought path, I wanted to see if the same feeling of release could happen with another gesture. Hiding something under a stone is another gesture of release. What if you could hide a feeling under a stone? What about whispering a secret and leaving it under the stone for someone else to hear? This is a fantastical gesture, making intangible emotions, feelings, and memories “tangible” in a way by allowing them to be captured in a physical space. Perhaps this is what brings about the psychological significance in these actions.
Different material sketches
Where the ‘Paper Balloons App’ is about releasing a fear, hope, or worry to the wind, ‘Whisper Stones’ is about capturing an emotion, crazy idea, or moment in time. Some people may want to save an emotion for later. Others may want to leave an event or moment in time under the stone and be able to walk away from it. Does this radically change the thesis direction? Both projects, in a way, give a “tangible” form (or perhaps visual form is a better term) to intangible feelings and memories. They both create intimate spaces for introspection, whether it’s the close interaction between the user and their iPhone screen or picking up a white stone to whisper or listen to the small, dark space underneath.
But why a stone? Why a physical interface? Why not simply go to a confessional or temple or interior of your car for a quiet space to look inwardly and release fears, regrets, etc. One reason is an obvious one and that is absence of religious belief or of organized religious belief. The devout & the atheist should both be able to look introspectively though. They are both human. Zen gardens and meditation rooms are sometimes available as well, though meditation takes a large amount of focus and time. A rancher in the middle of Montana may not feel as confident looking inwardly in a meditation room.
Later iteration of stones
But again, why a stone?! Because there is something about touching and moving a physical surface that engages our minds more than pointing and click with a cursor. The disconnect between our actions and the reactions we see on a computer is gone when the user is lifting a white stone, feeling all of the texture and weight of it, lowering their ear and listening to a quiet sound speaking out from a small, dark space. The action and reaction are immediate and connected. There’s something fantastic and magical about that interaction that stays with the user. Technology can be used for more than just streamlining our lives. Adding in whimsy and new mythologies to our daily interactions can enrich us as human beings. The ‘Whisper Stones’ is not meant to replace temples or priests or the solitude people find in their own secret hideaways. The ‘Whisper Stones’ is an exploration of how technology and media design can create an introspective space that is different from those previously mentioned. In that exploration, what can we learn how to create more meaningful interactions with ourselves, with others, and with the technology and world that we live in.