California State University, Long Beach

Plugging Into Real Life


Steve Boyer leverages his skills as an artist, designer and educator to question the world around us, particularly the digital world. He asks how do computers, phones and other such connected appliances change the human experience?

“The internet of things and digital technologies are becoming so embedded in everyday life that product design and industrial designers really need to understand electronics and how the web works,” he said. The effects of digital media caught Boyer’s attention when he saw that more people were paying attention to their screens than their physical environment, and he wondered how a digital world can seem as real as the physical environment once it is committed to memory.

Steven Boyer looks at cell phone screens
Steven Boyer works with computers, cell phones and other connected devices to study the effects of technology on users.

That led Boyer to create a new course called, “Technologies for Hybrid Experience,” or how to use new technology to create better interfaces between digital and physical environments.

In 2013, he organized an evening digital art display called Colorfields Glow. Thousands of smartphones were synchronized, creating a 200-square-foot light and sound show on the beach in Santa Monica, California. To see the effect, participants had to turn away their phones, thereby performing the act of sharing with others rather than withholding.

Boyer recently received a Faculty Small Grant from the university to create a complex video window that allows viewers to see a common space in a different way.

“The project is an array of video monitors that creates a single point you can look at and extends the space on the other side of the screen,” Boyer said. “It’s basically a window. You’re not looking at content, you’re looking at the space you’re in.”