Real World Instant Messaging

The Real World Instant Messaging (RWIM) is a project which facilitates a new type of service – allowing participants to send messages to each other, not with cellphones or computers, but via an elaborately constructed system of messengers and notepads, live, and real-time. I think of it as a kind of simple, social, human-powered technology. My team (wearing white t-shirts emblazoned with the RWIM logo) function
as ambassadors of the project, telling the audience how the service operates and selling it as something ‘new’ and ‘extraordinary’, in cheerful, upbeat tones. Visually and experientially, the project references information design, traffic guards, Willy Wonka, Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” and “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex”. For the project, I have a team of 5-6 people to act as Messengers. The project works with a captive audience – ie, during a break from another performance, at the opening night party, etc.

A typical scenario: a friendly Messenger approaches an audience member and asks if he/she would like to use the RWIM service. The audience member says yes. The Messenger then produces a large, branded pad, and a large, branded pen, and writes the message on the pad. Once the message has been composed, the Messenger sounds a simple bell or electronic beep, signaling that a message is ready to send. The Messenger then asks for a recipient, turns on a blinking light (an indicator light showing that a message is being sent) and runs the message over toe the chosen Recipient. The Recipient has the option of replying, or not. If he/she does choose to reply, the Messenger erases the original message and writes down the reply. The Messenger then runs it back to the original sender, etc., who has the option of replying again, etc. The process can continue indefinitely. The experience is lively and interactive, with workers in white running messages back and forth frantically, bells going off, lights blinking, and the crowd becoming more and more engaged.

RWIM continues a personal body of work in which I invent various ways to interact and connect with the general public. These projects constitute a suite of socially-activiated living art-works, playful, participatory by design, which are informed by larger cultural trends, including: the desire to articulate and visualize social networks (myspace, facebook); the rise of user-generated content (youtube, flickr); and the triumph of reality over fiction (reality shows, Project Runway, American Idol, etc.). Projects in this suite include: Recombinations, Clusterings, The Sams, Experiential Modifiers, and others. In each project I develop a system and schema for interacting with the public, through various guises and proxies, typically employing commercial and organizational strategies, metaphors, gameplay, and always, a splash of humor.