Opinion | Experiencing smart play in a smart city | Christopher Saunders

A SELFIE AT THE SELFIE FACTORY: Christopher Saunders ready for his close-up.

A SELFIE AT THE SELFIE FACTORY: Christopher Saunders ready for his close-up.

At the launch of the Hunter Innovation Festival, the head of UON School of Creative Industries, Paul Egglestone, introduced SMARTPLAY.

Initially I thought he might talk about wearing sunscreen and a hat when going out to play – but no. SMARTPLAY, it turns out, is an opportunity for the community to engage in some of the benefits of Newcastle becoming a Smart City.

This Smart City talk has had people confused since it was rolled out a couple of years ago. For a long time, we were selling Newcastle as a Creative City. That concept seems to have been shelved.

The Baby Bulb is a new work.

I wonder if calling ourselves a Smart City is putting the cart before the horse – to use a 19th century metaphor. Saying “putting a one before the zero” doesn’t have the same impact. (That was a 21st century attempt at a binary code joke). Wouldn’t it make more sense to roll out the technology and then start the rebranding?

Cue SMARTPLAY – one of a number of initiatives being rolled out.

What is SMARTPLAY?

“The immediate goal of SMARTPLAY is to make data accessible and meaningful by translating it from different sources into beautiful physical and mediated interpretations; performances, events and forms of storytelling that make sense within Newcastle. The broader objective is to demystify the ‘smart city’ concept and encourage play and experimentation by Novocastrians as a means to enhance community life, wellbeing, intimacy and safety. SMARTPLAY is helping to shape the public imagination around a Smart City. Our Smart City doesn’t have to constitute soulless algorithms, invisible efficiency gains and alienating technology ... so, let’s play, ignite curiosity, learn and improve together as a community with SMARTPLAY.”

Well that clears that up then. Perhaps a few examples might help.

The Baby Bulb is a new work that will soon go on show. This beautiful light up installation will illuminate every time a child is born in a Newcastle hospital. With each flash of the light bulb viewers will be reminded of the delight, wonder and potential that surrounds a new birth.

Check out the Selfie Factory installed in NewSpace as part of the Hunter Innovation Festival. It offers a tangible representation of the scale and quality of online data, using a real-time stream of Instagram selfies printed on receipt paper. The Selfie Factory creates a temporary visual experience of online behaviour and aims to raise awareness of the contemporary phenomenon of the digital self-portrait. 

The Selfie Factory has triggered some valuable discussions on the subject of personal data and the responsibilities that we carry when engaging in online activities.

Join the conversation by heading into the NewSpace foyer. Go on – you know you want to – but don’t forget the sunscreen and a hat.

The Hunter Innovation Festival runs at various locations around the city until May 18.

Christopher Saunders is general manager of Renew Newcastle