Time Types and Table Manners

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Perceptual Time: This is the time domain Bergson5 coined qualitative time. Perceptual time is both a function of the possibilities and limitations of our sensory organs as well as an intangible notion of multiplicity of conscious states. As such it is the antithesis of oscillatory time. It is a prolongation of the past into the future. It is duration. It is, as a time type, an intuitive measure and defies quantitative description. In sleep we live, by Bergson, pure duration. Through the idea of duration, perceptual time includes the notion of impatience. While it is culturally encoded perceptual time is a time type all human beings experience. It is the time domain in which human beings can return to an irrational state. It is the time type in which a work of art is appreciated. It includes the dwelling and delay necessary to appreciate complexity or the mind space of another human being. Perceptual time can not be manufactured as machinic time can. However, it can be enabled. Hakim Bey's idea of T.A.Z., a temporary autonomous zone6, can be understood as such a perceptual time enabling circumstance.

Through the intertwining of the narrative track with events occurring around the table, food, drink and more drink, the motion of the figures sliding across the board and the synchronized display of imagery, DinnerTable plays with the experience of perceptual time.

Participation. DinnerTable is a knowledge acquisition machine. It collects audio and visual data from the dinner episode and uses this information to situate itself in between its users. By virtue of its event specificity it can make recourse to the knowledge base on dinner ritual in order to disambiguate collected data. Physically and functionally it meshes into the exchange between the guests and their activities. It is both the connecting link as well as a barrier between two dinner companions.

Just as people distinguish between an intrusive stare and an attentive observation, surveillance technologies can manipulatively collect or selectively filter data (and discard results). DinnerTable employs traditional surveillance technology in an unorthodox fashion. All collected data is fed back into the experience system in a closed loop form. The closed loop observations are transformed and returned, reflected back to the user in the form of narratives spun by the table over the course of an evening spent with the machine. There is a cold form of intimacy that can evolve from this type of exchange. It is akin to the emotionally distant but attentively listening sympathetic stranger.

The present states of speech recognition and image analysis limit the sophistication of the knowledge that can be collected by our machinic table. It is conceivable that the future will allow us to create artworks that can fully and kindly participate in sophisticated forms of social exchange. The result could be called knowledge-based intimacy. DinnerTable is, in this regard, an anticipation of things to come. While the idea of knowledge-based intimacy generates anxiety in many people today, appreciation thereof may become an acquired taste in the future.

1 DinnerTable is the result of a collaborative effort between Michael Mateas and myself. A first work in progress report was presented at the Digital Secrets Symposium at Arizona State University in November 2000.

2 Henri Bergson, Evolution Créatrice, 1907, and Essai Sur Les Données Immédiates De La Conscience, 1889

3 Quantum theory postulates that atoms can only exist in certain discrete energy states depending on which orbits about their nuclei are occupied by electrons. Atomic-beam clocks utilize discrete transitions in the electron energy levels of the lowest set of orbits. For example, a cesium-beam atomic clock is a device that uses as a reference the exact frequency emitted by atoms of the metallic element cesium, in particular its isotope Cs-133 when exposed to microwaves. The frequency produced is a function of the energy absorbed from the incident photons when they excite the outermost electron to transition from a lower to a higher orbit. The integral of frequency is time, so this frequency, 9,192,631,770 hertz (Hz = cycles/second), provides the fundamental unit of oscillatory event space.

See National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), The Time and Frequency Division, http://www.boulder.nist.gov/timefreq/general/precision.htm

4 The present state-of –the-art in consumer fare desktop computers contain processors running at 1.5Ghz. Intel claims that the doubling of processor speeds every 18 to 24 months (Moore's Law) will continue to hold and result in clock rates exceeding 10Ghz within a decade.

See IEDM, 2000 International Electron Devices Meeting


5 For a more detailed appreciation of Bergon's ideas and their relevance to critical theory see:

Gilles Deleuze, Le Bergsonisme, Presses Universitaires de France, 1966.

6 Hakim Bey, T.A.Z, The Temporary Autonomous Zone Ontological Anarchy and Poetic Terrorism, Autonomedia, 1985.

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