What Kinect Technology Means To Me: The Poetry of Machines

There may be a bunch of lazy kids out there who don't get enough exercise, but the future trend is pretty clear, even in a digital age, we are moving into an age of kinetic discovery, communication and relationship building. Creativity will be a standard by which we will have to be measured, because our future is one where decisions will have to be made creatively. It's not just hype. It's a matter of course. 

Yesterday, the Microsoft Accelerator for Kinect had a demo day for eleven companies, and the experience left me thinking really hard about how we are using technology these days. All of these companies use the Kinect technology to solve problems.

The Kinect program capitalizes on something Microsoft observed after the launch of the device in November 2010. People developed unexpected uses for the Kinect, which was sold as an accessory for the Xbox 360 gaming console.

Microsoft dubbed that the "Kinect Effect," and launched a program for established businesses, as well as startups, to develop commercial Kinect applications.

Microsoft managers expected to get maybe 200 applications for the Accelerator for Kinect program. They ended up with 500 from 60 countries.

It's the first time that Microsoft has done something like its own Accelerator program, and the interaction they have with TechStars should give you insight into how the consumer experience in technology is taking a massive leap from sitting at a desk or sitting in your classroom consuming media through technology, to one that is about making things, influencing people, and creating ideas through kinetic interaction with media and technology.

We are basically talking about a fundamental change into what I think is a more construction-of-reality future. Just look at this 3-D model of Dave Drach's head. It's made using the Kinect and some application coding put together by Manctl, one of the Accelerator teams at Demo Day.

Okay, the rest is about poetry, so be warned.

Have you ever heard or read anything by Gerard Manley Hopkins? Hopkins was a British poet who wrote prolifically during the first world war. The battered concussive impact of artillery; the deluge of death and the slaughter of innocents during war time must have impacted his writing. He writes with a syncopation and intensity that is very much like a blending of machine and spirit. Here is Richard Burton, another poet, reading the Manley Hopkins poem, "The Leaden Echo & The Golden Echo." yeah, it's poetry, but if you can spare two minutes, just listen.

Words Can Be Just Like Hammers, Hands and Snare Drums

I'm going to make an illogical leap here. But bear with me.

Most people think that language is superficial; that it has no physical property. True. Language is a sort of invisible thread that explains the world. But so too is scent and sound. You can't see it.

But language is like computer code. it makes physical objects movable in the mindscape of the platform. It puts something abstract within the grasp of human interaction so that it makes SOMETHING happen. 

KINECT Is a New Language and Its A Modern Day "Kinetic" Machine Poetry

Take what you heard in Manley Hopkins' poem and abstract that. Think about what the Kinect technology does that eleven companies were using at the Microsoft Accelerator for Kinect yesterday in Seattle. They are pairing human spirit, human action, with programming language and optical / light interaction. 

People are using the human body to create a kind of instant programming language, in some case. Take FreakNGenius, for example. They have an application that lets you layer a two dimensional human body experience onto a one dimensional graphic experience, to create animated stories with your body. 

Photo courtesy of Sam Rosenbalm, Microsoft

This tool can help kids learn, because, in my mind, it let's kids get up out of their chairs and express things they are thinking through stories. Stories re-frame what we are learning into something we understand. Stories are metaphorical pathways for our own experiences. When we are learning, we like to pair up our experience with the new things we know (I was a teacher, if that sounds fruity).

Let me put this perspective:

I hated parts of the school day. We were molded as students to be receptacles of media in the way that media, at the time, was commonly made or received.

That meant that you sit in a desk and use a calculator to count beans, or faced the front of the class to look at a chalkboard and then transcribe what you were learning.

But my body and mind knew something different was happening. I wasn't "learning" what I was reading on the chalkboard. My body and mind were memorizing, while my other subconscious mind was learning how to be a student. Yet, I resisted. This was not the way I wanted to learn. I didn't like learning this way.

I was a horrible consumer of learning. You have to listen to the teacher talk and then, if you find a discrepancy, you sometimes had to deal with a teacher who didn't want you to question it. You have to be able to spit back out what you have ingested. You have to fill in bubble sheets to prove you have learned what needs to be learned. You do not "make" as much as you "receive." You do not "encounter" knowledge, as much as you are "fed" knowledge.

I always felt a sense of spiritual shackles in the classroom. I liked to move. I liked my language to bounce and to shimmy. I needed to explore and discover through words and numbers, and, even in the classroom (and at home), I had to move in order to understand things. 

My two nephews love Kinect. You should see them at my sister's house in St. Louis. They jump up and down and move white water kayaks through torrents with their entire body. Through a virtual landscape they hunt for turkeys and act like ninjas. And you know, it's not just happening in the experience of the game. I pay attention to how they talk to me and their father, and mother. 

They use their hands a lot. They lean and pivot. When the youngest one -- five years old -- wants to talk about something, he'll run over to you and slam into you, crawl on your lap, and then flip over on his back to start chatting, all the while holding a truck or a car in his hands. Everything is always moving and hustling. 

What Does This Have to Do With Poetry? We Are Energy Made Into Matter and ANY Kind of Language is a Transmission Platform for Mental Energy

There is the known that we know, like filling out TPS reports, doing accounting, and putting together a lunch buffet.

But then there is the Uknown, which we kind of Know, because certain things and activities remind us of it. I am thinking here of: humor, love, friendship, loyalty, morality, longing, pain, solace, and loneliness. Basically, common emotional experiences that remind us of our humanity.

In the age of the book, and pre-book (when troubadors walked the earth), poetry became the transmission of this deep human experience; this sacred, creative and imaginable emotional experience, and it it brought it into the realm of the present.

I think that the Kinect helps us articulate this subconscious in a way that we have never experienced before. Look at this video of what FreakNGenius does.

Matter is a super-condensed form of energy. Moving images and the light show of technology startles us into creativity; it helps us make sense and make things for the world.

To my mind (and I have an MFA in creative arts), it make sense that we react to light and we move to express ourselves, because we are striving to interact with something deeper in our human experience.

It makes sense that things like spreadsheets and tablets appear to be two different and very glaringly opposable things. With the rise of the Kinect, we are approaching an age where we might be able to more often put down the tools of our manual labor, and invent with our minds in a way that is communicable to common human sense.

If you want to work with the Microsoft teams on building the future, applications are still open for the next Microsoft Accelerator for Azure (and yes, you can still use the Kinect). 

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