above: image of a dinner i missed Tangibly, but
experienced visually thanks to my tech-savvy dad mailing the digital image.
eating together is a common human thing. being able to lean over and try a bit of
what your loved one is having, or stealing fries without asking- an expression
of personality. you can learn about a
person from how much food he leaves on his plate. how willing she is to share
her precious cake. whether she likes
the mushroom sauce that you made. two nights ago i split pie with my
grandmother. you are watching footage of this if you are viewing the attached
an old friend and i have a tea drinking ritual-
brew the water, sink the beads of dry tea to the bottom of a deep mug, lean our
faces over the steam and inhale, watching
the beads unfold into long, curly jasmine scented leaves. We are silent as we test the water
temperature, and test the strength of the tea. Familiar expressions communicate
whether we feel it is satisfactory, no words are required. It is possible to sense the relaxation of
another person, by their brow - lids half closed, smooth muscles in the
forehead, eyebrows unclenched.
we also have cooking rituals. when carla made
her marinara sauce, i’d climb up onto the windowsill of the kitchen, bracing
myself on the ceiling and leaning down to taste the sauce off the spoon she’d
hold up. we would critique. carla would
add more herbs. a few weeks ago, from
across the atlantic, i had a craving not for the sauce, but for those
moments. i asked her to email me the
recipe, and as i prepared the sauce, i spoke to carla on the phone. i didn’t bother to describe the sauce. it
would not have been sufficient, there was no point. this is the current state of the art as far as i know.
is there a way to communicate the smell, taste
and texture? the temperature of cold ice cream or hot sauce? the dynamics and
navigation of a single piece of banana cream pie between me and grandma?
a video screen would be a start. what if there was a ball I could drop into
my sauce, that would measure temperature and take video images? carla could have a networked bowl on the
other side. a nice comforting wooden bowl, filled with water. an image of my sauce could be projected from
below onto the water, making it look like sauce, or projecting an image of my
sauce pouring out of a spoon. the
outsides of the bowl could warm up to the right temperature. Smell is crucial. I am uncertain whether there is currently technology that allows
a smell to be fabricated on the other side. Maybe if I trapped some sauce in a
bottle, and mailed it...
case studies: see above text
a cup of tea
* an expression of trust: an agreement
to share germs, and precious food resource- tastier food can make a more
impressive sharing experience
* a shared intimate sensual
experience: everyone who shares is having the same intimate sensual
(literally- warm or cold, different textures) experience, together, at the same
* relaxing social experience: things
like steamy ginger tea or velvety chocolate mousse are relaxing. its like
having a massage in the same room with friends who are also getting a
massage. i’ve never done that but i’d
* this relaxing activity makes it socially
acceptable to enjoy a moment of silence
* it is a Universal thing. everyone
eats, and eats socially. it can connect
anyone who happens to be randomly eating together.
* you can determine mood and personality
by someone’s eating styles and preferences
* sharing a single batch of food requires navigation
and cooperation (see video)
So what should be simulated then, to get this
experience over distance?
its impossible to replace the charming intimacy
of sharing food in real life, together with people in the same space.
* the smell of the food. we all know how powerful smell is.
* steam rising from the food, or frost
or dew around a glass. more shared sensory stimulus.
* the texture of the food: soup, bread,
ice cream. they’ve all got their own special texture and feel.
* temperature. again, shared relaxing,
* taste: hazelnuts in chocolate, mint
tea, a fried egg on toast. i’ll say no more.
* sharing a single physical object or
batch of food: each dish is unique, a once in a lifetime chance. and you must
cooperate to peacefully consume it.
Solution: how to make it happen remotely
* one person cooks, talks about it over the
phone or IM, describing how it tastes and is coming out (ref. case study:
making carla’s sauce from across the Atlantic)
* both people cook over the phone, agreeing
upon a dish and ingredients, and talking over a phone, video conference or
IM to coordinate and compare notes.
first two are a pain because you drop the phone or drip sauce on the
keyboard. for tea its ok.
* video or still images of dinner, to at
least share in the visual joy and imagine the rest. (see inserted image: my
father mailed me a picture of a dinner I missed.)
* wiring up a comforting wooden bowl or nice
mug to the network with a temperature sensor and to a similar object in
your friend’s house. they can sense how warm your mug is, or the reverse.
also, add a visual layer: an underwater web cam records my tea leaves unfolding
and inking dark tea into the water, and the projector in the bottom of my
friend’s teacup projects the image onto the surface of her water.