Tribal Futures

Social theorists predict that traditional units of society such as
the family are becoming less dominant, and instead - elective, tribal groupings are on the rise.

The Tribal Futures project undertaken by Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art over a 4 week period, and in collaboration with Vodafone, enquires into the changes technology will make to our behaviour in groups - both mundane and extreme. It proposes design interventions to support, subvert and celebrate our tribal connections.

Royal College of Art


This project deals with collective holding on the telephone. Inspired by examining the group dynamics and social etiquette found in the elevator, I am fascinated by the transient groups that are continuously generated in transitional spaces such as these; how do we position ourselves both spatially and socially?

In much the same way as we battle with public and private space in the elevator, our experience of being put on hold creates isolation as we bear the musak, but a knowingness that we are not alone in doing so.

In my audio experiment, Vodafone callers put on hold were given the opportunity to join other callers in 'constructive hold spaces' through which they could engage in activities such as cooking classes, counselling or discussing topical events whilst they wait. With other options, such as online dating and listening to other callers whilst on an online date, the project exposes the potential for a form of audio architecture. This would allow a host to manipulate and control holding spaces by denoting boundaries and hierarchies. These could cater for much more complicated needs as well as offering pragmatic tasks through exploiting their own options.

By opening a creaky door to enter a group, sounding an alarm, or crashing through the ceiling, the group dynamics can become completely altered. These groups exist in their own transient spaces, therefore sound becomes their walls, windows and doors; it gives them a sense of where they are.

With the 'collective complaints forum', authority became an issue - How can one voice dominate a thousand others? Can we develop a telephone language that would allow us to break into sub-groups, much in the same way as we would do in physical space? How can this audio architecture exploit its callers? And in turn, how might they exploit it?

  •   Typical lift positions, from left to right: The Controller, The Backstander, The Jealous Bystander
  •  Map of the Constructive Hold Space with caller groups and online professionals.
  •  A possible call hijack situation- this is a caller listening to other callers worrying about smelling a gas leak in their home.
  •  The online newsroon space