Strange Frequencies: Book History in the Age of Sensors
Presented by Kari Kraus, associate professor in the College of Information Studies and the Department of English at the University of Maryland.
Books—as librarians and archivists know—have always been the record keepers of readers’ interactions with them: a book read by candlelight is likely to retain telltale drops of wax on its pages, for example, while one transported in the rain will acquire foxing stains. In this workshop, we’ll explore how much more can we learn about a book once we’ve endowed it with tiny digital prosthetics that document ever so much more of its history. Properly preserved and maintained, a book outfitted with sensors could enhance book history as a field of study by magnifying our ability to tell a story about its past, such as the precise date, time, and place it was opened or read aloud or subjected to the mishaps of a careless reader who spilled coffee on it. At the same time, by registering detailed information about human lives, such sensing books raise potentially troubling issues around privacy and surveillance.
Through discussion, scenario building, and prototyping, we’ll investigate four inter-related questions: 1.) What types of sensors are the most interesting and revelatory to embed in physical books? 2.) What can we infer about the past by analyzing the activity traces captured by these sensors? 3.) What are the most compelling ways to visualize and display sensor data collected from books? 4.) How we can ensure that anti-surveillance values are reflected in the design of such digitally augmented books? Participants will have the chance to experiment with a variety of sensors, including those detecting motion, temperature, sound, and humidity. We’ll also go beyond the usual repertoire of commercially available technologies by examining some non-digital sensors, as well as a few gadgets that have achieved notoriety as “ghost tech”, such as ultra-sensitive vibration and electrostatic sensors: the "strange frequencies" of the workshop title.