Ben Holliday

Digital as physical objects

In a world where so many of us carry screens in our pockets, does the world need more, and increasingly, larger screens in our public spaces?

Manchester Central Library

This is a picture taken in Manchester Central Library.

There’s an increasingly amount of touch screen interfaces appearing in physical spaces which doesn’t feel very digital to me. The question is how hard are we thinking about these spaces being transformed through digital?

The choice to add new physical objects into already crowded public spaces feels risky and even a little lazy. It doesn’t feel of the internet.

How many organisations simply invest in designing user interfaces and installing self service kiosks as their response to digital?

If you take the example of a libraries, we need to ask the question of how the information they hold can extend beyond fixed physical spaces, rather than how to best condense this information so it can be accessed, or managed, through a screen in a fixed space?

Digital should be an opportunity to open up our public spaces. But all to often this ends with the digitisation of familiar expectations — a screen or display where a person once stood, or a scanning system where the librarian used to stamp and collect books.

Introducing digital as physical objects is a design choice.

Way finding in public spaces like libraries could also be much more interactive in the future. Traditional concepts of how we access, ‘borrow’, or share information can, and should be re-imagined.

Technology is an opportunity and a set of tools that should enable this to happen. The greatest opportunity I think this represents is to open up public spaces and information to those that can’t physically access them at all.

The question: How can we open up our public resources, data, and physical spaces in more meaningful and useful ways using technology?

This is my blog where I’ve been writing for 18 years. You can follow all of my posts by subscribing to this RSS feed. You can also find me on Bluesky, less frequently now on X (formally Twitter), and on LinkedIn.