‘To add something’

Interview with media pioneer Klasien van de Zandschulp

, Elja Looijestijn

The world is changing and the media is changing with it. Makers are using new technology and strategies to bring their stories to the public. VPRO is a sponsor of this progress, which can most keenly be felt in the field of technology, media and storytelling. This progress also creates new professions. VPRO Gids presents the forerunners of modern media in a series of interviews.

The first portrait in this series is Klasien van de Zandschulp, an interaction designer who deals with the future of media on a daily basis. VPRO Gids talked to her at VPRO Medialab’s Conference for the Curious during STRP Biënnale in Eindhoven, where she was one of the speakers.

If someone asks you at a birthday party what you do, what do you say?

‘That depends a little on how old the person is. I am an autonomous interaction designer and co-founder of Lava Lab. More specifically: specialised in mobile storytelling. For instance, I work a lot with augmented reality* to tell stories on location.’

*AR: Augmented reality

A digital layer that is laid over the real world. For example, through using an app to look through the camera of your telephone, you see the outside world with added elements. AR can, for instance, add extra information to the buildings in a city, or create a game like Pokémon Go. The difference with virtual reality is that VR takes you into a completely different world.


What do you see as the most significant developments in the world of media today?

‘I have been designing augmented reality experiences for years. These are becoming increasingly more relevant, through the development of AR goggles. I find this very interesting. New developments often only take flight through commercial applications. Take Pokémon Go, for example. Numerous similar apps have been developed, but it took a commercial brand to really bring it into the world. That game has really helped AR become more mainstream, so that people better recognise and understand my work. Designers and artists play an important role in questioning these developments. Artificial intelligence is also a really hot topic. Chatbots, robots applications for machine learning, are undergoing rapid development.’

Who is your audience?

‘I am only truly happy when I see my audience actually using my work, and then preferably different target groups. A few years ago I made a piece in AR about the Second World War, at the Dam in Amsterdam. It was used by a lot of older people, which was a first for AR. It resulted in a very emotional moment, whereby they went back in time and were able to virtually experience a story about the Resistance on the Dam. The younger people were more experienced in using the technology and helped the older people with it.

I enjoy working for a wide audience, but I sometimes focus on a specific target group, as with a collaboration with the Amsterdam Museum. Together with them I made an application for mobile storytelling. There was a very specific target group: young people aged between 16 and 25 years. We deepened our understanding of their behaviour and use of language. Based on this, we then set up an app to allow communication between them and the painters of the canvasses in the museum using the language of social media. It worked really well.’

How is artificial intelligence being used already in the media?

‘Through chatbots, for example, that are used for customer service. Some chatbots have self-learning capabilities and become increasingly better in communicating with people. Other examples are talking robot services such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. The line between reality and robots and virtual reality is becoming increasingly blurred. It is therefore very interesting to carry out research into the ways in which people communicate with robots, and vice versa.

Another application of artificial intelligence is that Facebook and Netflix, for instance, offer users updates, adverts and films based on the results of an algorithm. This is a defining factor in how we use media. I think it is also dangerous that such a network can decide what we see. Young people can no longer recognise where a message comes from today, so they are not able to determine what’s true and what isn’t. The influence of these companies on providing information is so great that it worries me. Apple also has very strict guidelines about the appearance of apps and how they work. I believe that this inhibits creative innovation and renewal and makes such companies too powerful.’

And what about other forms of social media?

‘I find it encouraging that Snapchat, which is very popular among young people, didn’t allow a takeover by Facebook. This app uses photos and videos that disappear again after 24 hours. This changes the way these young people use media. They are very used to this transience. I see more and more children and young people going ‘live’. They share information with their friends, and then it disappears again. They are fine with this temporary state, they do not feel the need to keep things.

We perhaps find it important that something is permanent, but the younger generation is different. Technology often develops so rapidly that many things you make disappear again.’

What kind of media consumer are you?

‘I have lots of apps on my phone that I hardly use. I watch TV every now and then. I find it important to watch some reports or documentaries in their entirety, without multitasking, but it takes some effort. I read a lot, but mainly digital articles. I do still read paper books, even though I have very little patience for them.’

How do you see the media landscape in fifteen years’ time?

‘I think we will not be using screens like we do now, but that technology will become increasingly more physical. I think we will use goggles or lenses to gain information via augmented reality. We will navigate through this using speech recognition or hand gestures. This technology is big and heavy now, but it is constantly developing. Perhaps we will wear special lenses or integrate the technology into our bodies. And yet I think the paper book will remain, as an escape, to provide a break from the virtual world.’

'And yet I think the paper book will remain, as an escape, to provide a break from the virtual world.’

Klasien van de Zandschulp