Feb 15

Elfoid: The Medium Has a Message

Last March the Elfoid P1 phone was unveiled.

From Pink Tentacle:

The Elfoid phone is a miniature version of the Telenoid R1 robot developed last year by a research team led by Osaka University professor Hiroshi Ishiguro. The current prototype measures 20 centimeters (8 in) long, is covered in a soft fleshy urethane skin, and has the same genderless and ageless appearance as the Telenoid. The control buttons are embedded in the chest, which glows green when the Elfoid is in use.

What keeps this from being a mere gimmick is that the phone will, in later versions, be able to read the user’s expressions and recreate them. So, let’s say you’re talking to Mother about the woman you plan to marry. When Mother frowns and snarls, Elfoid will do the same.

Unlike video phones that allow you to speak to an image of the person, Elfoid puts the actual object into a position of visible primacy. The medium is the message.

We already communicate with each other through platforms like email, twitter and Facebook. This flattens everything to one thing. The screen.

Someone’s twitter account might be different from others but it is, first and foremost, a twitter account. Hence the confusion and pages of nonsense about self-branding. When people appear in/as a medium that has ads or celebrities, it’s easy for people to view others or themselves as being ads or celebrities. This is the residue of old views on new realities.

And residue is always a bit gross.

When communication comes through a humanoid mass in the form of telepresence, it will invest the medium with a personality of its own. Openly. Like cubicles, each one will be personalized.

And named.

Medium is surely the right word. These are dolls possessed with the souls of our distant friends. How they filter that information will be of interest.

They’ll be built with different races and genders. A person will have no choice about how they’re represented by someone else’s phone. The self will get some of its crutches kicked out. What becomes of racism and sexism in a world where we spend considerable time dressed in the robot drag of someone else’s choice? It’ll become overtly ridiculous. I would hope.

Telepresence is an act of translation –body language into a mass-produced humanoid– and, when translation occurs, things that were invisible or taken for granted, suddenly jump into sharp focus. This robot foetus should birth whole new categories of miscommunication.

Maybe even accidental truth.

Just as our communication alters based on the medium we converse in (twitter made the epigram the dominant poetic form of the day and some people actually think, if not say, ‘lol’) this sort of device will alter how we physically express ourselves.

There will be articles about how to tilt your head to convey certain meanings, what type of smile is best rendered and how to express happiness.

These habits will become ingrained.

We’ll become walking emoticons, pantomiming expressions to clearly communicate them. The young people of today, old tomorrow, will complain that the kids don’t know what an authentic smile is. The young of tomorrow will shake their heads and furrow their brows. Rendered in humanoid.

The old won’t get it. But they never do.

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