What if you could use social media to transform your neighborhood into a habitat built just to your liking? What if every time you checked in to a new location on Facebook or Foursquare, that restaurant or park took up just a little more space in your neighborhood? Eventually, your favorite places would take over, forming your own personal utopia!
Stefan Wagner, an interaction and motion designer based in Würzburg, Germany, can imagine such a phenomenon, and created a tool that can help you see it, too. Generating Utopia is an app that visualizes personal utopias using real-time checkin information shared over social media.
Wagner believes that the online personas we form over social media are not representations of our true selves. Rather, he believes that we use social media to create ideal versions of ourselves, the versions we’d like the world to see. Wagner writes on his website,
Although current discussions might indicate otherwise, the pictures we draw of ourselves within todays’ social media channels are no reliable representations of who we are in real life. We select what others get to see from our reality, and mostly, we share and publicly like only what considerably leaves a good impression on the rest of the world. We build an utopia, telling the story of what we think our lives should look like.”
Creating Utopias Using Open Source Tools
If it’s true that our online personas represent an ideal version of ourselves, Wagner reasons, we should be able to take the information we share online and use it to create our ideal worlds. Using the Foursquare API, Wagner gathered the check-in information from a set of users in Germany and paired it to building information of the corresponding coordinates using OpenStreetMap.org. Wagner then mapped the check-in information onto 3D renditions of the check-in locations and created textures using satellite imagery from geodaten.bayern.de.
Wagner’s program simulates check-in frequency through two methods: topographic growth and virtual tubes. The more often users check into locations or geographic areas, the higher that location will grow in Wagner’s model. To map users’ paths through their utopias, Wagner created tubes that loop through the users’ check-ins. The tubes are color-coded, reducing Foursquare’s nine categories to just three basic functions: work (red), recreation (blue), and transport (yellow). For a more than categorical understanding of a person’s utopia, it’s possible to turn on labels for all the places visited to see the name of the check-in location, how many times the user checked in there, and the place’s category. The labels also show a city’s borders.
As Wagner points out, glancing at a user’s utopia map will signal what they find most important in their public, online personas. For users who like to show that their jobs are important to them, work places will grow into huge hills, and the area will fill with red tubes. For users that like to show they are constantly on the run, doing a variety of things, the landscape will fill with many small hills and the tubes will feature all three colors. Using Wagner’s visualization, you can also easily distinguish between users who tend to stay in one part of their city and users who like to visit places all over their city.
Creating Futuristic Visuals
To emphasize his utopian theme, Wagner illustrated his maps in a style that makes them look futuristic. Even the tubes mapping users’ paths give off a futuristic, utopian vibe through the blurriness of their edges and their neon colors. Wagner wrote on his site,
The colorful growing tubes are not further defined, yet they might be a hint at how transportation might look like in a utopian future: they might be light rails for self-driving vehicles, or Futurama-like tubes for transporting people with air pressure – the interpretation is up to the viewer.”
For lighting, Wagner created a sense of sunset by using OpenGL features in the Processing programming language and other designers’ model calculations. This is why you’ll find a smooth balance in lighting no matter what viewing position you use to visualize your utopia.
For more information on Wagner’s project, visit Generating Utopia.
What would your social media-based utopia look like? Share with us in the comments section!
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