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The digital gestures of everyday life

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  February 18, 2013 01:17 PM

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On a micro level, changes in technology affect the physical positions we strike on a daily basis. For example, people probably spent a lot less time running their palms along walls before electric lights (and light switches) were invented. And by that same token, it's now rare that we find ourselves walking through our homes with one hand cupped around the flame of a candlestick: technological change has obviated that pose.

A trio of designers at the Art College of Pasadena and the Near Future Laboratory has put together a fun book called "Curious Rituals," which illustrates the "gestures, postures and digital rituals that typically emerged with the use of digital technologies." The book was released in September as a free PDF. It is a delightful experience to see these subtle moments we all recognize from our everyday lives captured and universalized. Here are three of the many poses described in the book, along with text from the authors explaining what's going on:

"Referred to as 'Cell Trance' in the Urban Dictionnary this way of moving
back and forth is often seen in public venues such as hallways, sidewalks, train
platforms, bus stops or shopping malls. To onlookers, the erratic perambulation
looks aimless, as if the caller is detached from his surroundings, absorbed in a
private sonic universe."


"'Baboon’s face' is is a gesture where the speaker covers both his mouth and the phone throughout the entire conversation. It keeps the conversation private, yet also shows consideration for both the speaker on the other end of the line and others in the vicinity of the speaker."


"The original plan was basic: the passenger swipe her ticket at the gate or turnstiles. Over time, however, this changes as commuters discover easier ways to get the job done. They simple swing their wallet or handbag over the scanner, without bothering to take their cards out. Besides, who has the time? Commuters who do the wallet-or-handbag-swipe don’t even break their pace, they just learn to swipe in full stride."


My other favorites from the PDF, which you can read here, are "Waving at Sensors" (while on the john), "Lazy Viewer," and "Halfway Courtesy."

Images courtesy of Nicolas Nova

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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