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Digital Zen: Interactive Haikus

on Tuesday, Apr. 7th

Every year some of the most interesting interactive experiments come to us courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada, and this year is turning out to be no different.

This month the NFB is debuting a series of twelve short experiences they’ll release as part of the Interactive Haiku project. Each Haiku, which were culled from 162 proposals from around the globe, uses the language and tools of Internet connected devices to create a kind of digital poem. Not quite a game, but not a passive consumption experience either.

The added injunction from the NFB and co-producer ARTE that the experiences be just 60 seconds long means that it doesn’t take much effort to sample the growing buffet of options. As of this writing five of the twelve haikus are live.

The most compelling of the current choices is Life Is Short, by Florian Veltman of France. Key beats from one man’s life play out from birth to death. The interactions are simple, but manage to be emotionally evocative enough that my jaw dropped at one point.

This was, however, on my second attempt to run Life Is Short. I’m not sure why, but many of my initial attempts to run the different experiences were met with failure. Life Is Short seemed to have trouble recognizing my trackpad at first, and Speech Success still refuses to let me give it permission to access my microphone so I have no idea what it’s about.

There are other—little—things that get in the way of unadulterated enjoyment with the first five. Cat’s Cradle features some high-pitched tones that are fine on speakers, but downright piercing in earbuds. Music in the Key of Life says that it is best on a mobile device, but the its web-based interface doesn’t play well with the iPhone for capturing UPC codes.

Which is a shame, because the core of Music in the Key of Life is fun. A UPC code gets converted into a short piece of music, and you can stack a few in order to create a longer sequence. It’s a very neat idea, but the execution is a little clunky. Perhaps this is one that would work better on an Android device.

With each experience being so short there’s no reason not to check out the current sampling, and then set a little reminder to come back for more later. While the individual experiences may have execution issues the whole adds up to a reminder that there are more ways to approach communication online than the tide of text, gifs, and videos that we wade through every day.

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