Whenever I find myself staring at an object these days, my inner nerd starts trying to calculate how many datastreams are imprisoned inside it waiting to be liberated into the cloud.
Naturally, the first and easiest datastream to unlock is the physical appearance of the object in the form of images and videos. This is now happening on a massive scale thanks to the growing ubiquity of cameras and smart phones, but is only the first step.
The next is the content stream in the form of basic information about the object, including who made it, when it was made, and even what it represents. Then things start to get even more interesting and complex when it comes to teasing out the supporting narrative streams.
Take these two tableaux of famous – if probably apocryphal – scenes on the Lingxing Gate at Taipei Confucius Temple. Both of them are made out of Koji ceramics, a form of pottery indigenous to Taiwan. How this is created is the first potential narrative stream, particularly if this is a subject you are interested in.
Then there is the question of whether the meeting between Confucius and Laozi portrayed in the picture above actually took place. The answer is probably no, by the way, but that only serves to open up even more interesting questions about the historical connections between Confucianism and Daoism if you are of a philosophical bent. Despite the large volume of digital and analog data that is available on the subject, it hasn’t yet been synthesized into a coherent format that can easily be consumed on a tablet or smart phone.
The same principle applies to the second tableau portraying an old story of Confucius meeting with a child prodigy called Xiang Tuo.
We are starting to move towards freeing up the narrative streams of objects through technologies and techniques such as augmented reality and (the horrible sounding) transmedia storytelling but these are still very much baby steps. It’s going to be interesting to see how quickly they develop in the coming years.