Getting circulated in the twittersphere is a 7 minute video displaying front “pages” of the NY Times website across 11 months. There are 12,000 screenshots, generally displayed for a fixed period of time (with some punctuation in the form of quick holds on a screenshot). For the first minute, I thought this was just another data stunt. I stuck with it, though, curious to see if anything popped. There were a handful of images that popped even though they appeared once (Obama’s frowning face the day after the election, Jared Loughner’s disturbing head shot, World Series and big sports game shots). News stories that crossed several days (the Arab Spring, Chilean Miners) created some persistence and lasting impression. The most persistent, and memorable, parts, however, were the advertisements. Brands that bought the masthead banners for extended periods of time, and take-overs just below the masthead (also for extended periods), became visual foundations for the crazy flow of seemingly disconnected stories, nuggets, and factoids racing underneath. As someone who has grown up believing that advertising doesn’t effect me and that it’s the stuff between the stuff we really want, that odd sense of solidity in contrast to the important stuff of the real world was jarring.
Great TED talk by Moveon.org founder Eli Pariser on how the personalization reflex/mandate/standard of content on the web keeps us in a bubble. Couple great slides/moments:
- an examination of his Facebook feed which, over time, as FB’s algorithm’s started to weed things that appeared not to be what he wanted, started suppressing the display of statuses from conservative friends.
- showing how two people Googling “Egypt” during the uprising get vastly different results based on what the Google algorithm concludes each person wants. One person got news links about the uprising, the other got travel information!
- a fun, but spot-on mock-up of what useful personalization choices should look like:
The Google search screen is possibly the most unsettling. From the beginning, much of Google’s algorithm has been focused on following the herd. In addition to attempting to understand what a page was about, Google cleverly added in the power of “this is what other people think this page about” (because they clicked on the result with a similar query) and “this is where influential linkers (content providers) think you should go.” So already, you’re getting knowledge that is pre-validated (or pre-sanitized). But now, by personalizing the results, you’re narrowing the results even further: this is what people who think, spend, and live like you believe is the best result.
The fun of the internet is to see things that surprise you, connect laterally to your existing thinking, create serendipity, or just put things in front of you that you should know as a member of a community and a polis. The “service” of personalizing – while valuable – reduces that function, makes the user work to be exposed to new things. This line from Eric Schmidt, suggests that there is an end state goal for the algorithm to manage everything you see: “it will be very hard for people to watch or consume something that has not in some sense been tailored for them.” Oi, oi, oi.
Parisi ends with a rousing, but almost disturbing plea to programmers to stop programming us:
we need the new gatekeepers to code that kind of responsibility into the code that they’re writing … I know there are a lot of people here from Facebook and Google . . . wq really need you to make sure that these algorithms have encoded in them a sense of the public life, a sense of public responsibility, we need them to be transparent enough that we can see what the rules are that determine what gets through our filters . . . we need you to give us some control so we can decide what gets through and what doesn’t.
Got an email from Canvas Replicas at work yesterday. I had forgotten these companies existed:
In general, I think most game players don’t follow stories closely, but there are some for whom the game story is their main dose of fiction:
I’ve long bought into Nicholas Carr’s argument that the surface-skimming behaviors created by Google/the web are changing and ultimately reducing my cognitive chops (so I use language like “cognitive chops” instead of “making me stupid” to compensate). But, last night, I experienced a new dimension of Google’s diminishment of our brains: the reduction meaning and culture to whatever the crowd says it is.
I had started reading Roger Martin’s book The Opposable Mind where Martin is setting up the argument about developing minds that can hold two opposing ideas at once and come up with a third. He leads with a semi-famous line from F. Scott Fitzgerald:
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that that things are hopeless yet, be determined to make them otherwise.
Martin develops the idea that we need to develop the capacity for “integrative thinking”, a mindset which, when confronted with two options, creates a third so that, and he quotes Wallace Stevens, we evolve to point of having “the choice not between, but of.”
Loving that Stevens line, I decided to Google it and find the original poem. Here are the results I got:
Every single result on the first page (and the second page) is a reference to Martin’s use of the line and integrative thinking.
Notice that that the search phrase is just for the line (and I tried a version with the word poem in it as well). For Google, our entry to knowledge, this line is no longer a line from a poem, but an argument from a business book. Wallace Stevens is irrelevant and his work is obscured in favor of Martin’s rhetorical deployment of it.
In fairness, this is less about Google and more about that much-celebrated crowdsourcing. This line has no cultural meaning except inasmuch as it captures a business idea. The most frequently accessed and linked-to references to the Stevens line are about integrative thinking, so maybe that’s what it means. Sad, sad, sad.
Ben’s profile pic is of him, very coolly/very dramatically, kicking a cinder block’s ass:
For her profile pic, Ben’s wife, Christie has a shot of her kicking his ass:
How much do I love this/them?
The fact that some one person, somewhere, or some bunch of kids being surveyed would convince people that a movie with owls as heroes (forchrissakes) would fly seriously gives me hope. Ferrealz.
Way too many Venn diagram sweet spots and quad graphs (up and to the right!) in my life right now. For the next month, I will not reduce any thinking, people, or concepts to a two-axis or four overlapping point construct. Watch the awesome take-down by Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society:
GS&P just put out a gorgeous and inviting teaser/trailer for the Adobe Museum of Digital Media. It’s a beautiful, well executed virtual museum. The creatives have done some interesting things around conceiving of a virtual building that could live in any real city (or virtual rendering of a real city), and how to move about and recreate the sense of sight lines and movement of a real place.
The whole exercise is a preview, so it’s hard to know what we’ll be seeing in August, but I tend to be pretty meh about virtual anything. It seems like an easy impulse that we’ve lived with for many years: put the word virtual in front of anything and you have a concept for digital, along with a baseline for solving most of your design problems.
I did a talk last weekend to museum and art publishers about where e-Readers and interactive reading were going. To prep for the talk, I grabbed a bunch of art books for the iPad. In general, the results were far from magical. The interactions were banal, click and play kind of stuff. But, one of the books that horrified me was “The Art Authority”:
Seeing this screen gave me flashbacks to early CD-ROM designs and BOB from Microsoft. Back then, we used metaphors and virtualizations because, I think, computers were new to people and we wanted them to feel comfortable and grounded. To do that, we tried to give them a sense of physicality.
There are all sorts of problems with physicality in designing interactive/digital/screen-based experiences: 1) you use a lot of real estate for the interface-metaphor and therefore less space for the content; 2) the interface-metaphor behaves in an insistent way, continually making itself the center of attention, rather than fading back into the role of facilitator/quiet mediator of content; 3) interface-matephors pull you into a level of specificity that can actually break rather than create an illusion of physicality. As a result, most of them are cheesy or childish.
To be clear, GS&P have gone farther and built something virtually that would be impossible in the real world. Already, we’re in the realm, then of speculative architecture rather than simple virtual thinking. And, as I mentioned above, the experience is beautiful and the space is interesting, so the speculative architecture aspect of the project is quite teh awesum.
But despite the coolness of the building, there’s still a need to justify the overhead of the interface-metaphor. In the physical world, you need a physical museum to show art. That physical world has requirements that make museums great architecture: the environment to protect the art, how crowds are managed, what the space for art encounters is like, what kind of art can be shown, what the building says about the art within, what an art viewing session is like, and what the building does for the viewer as a piece of art itself.
The internet is already a ‘place’ where art is displayed. So, what do we get out of putting a virtual building in between the internet and the art that would normally live there? And is it worth the costs of the overhead (especially if people are viewing it on an iPad or something smaller)?
The part that’s really interesting to me, is the way the video for the interviews was handled. There’s a satellite transmission aspect to the video, the purpose of which is unclear:
If I ventured to guess, I would say the idea was to stylistically degrade the reality of the real talking heads to dial up the reality of the virtual building. But that graininess goes away when the trailer shows team meetings, so I can’t be sure. Leaving aside the motivation, however, the degraded scan lines do highlight, even or create discomfort with the larger metaphor by once again calling attention to what’s being done rather than than the art that will, eventually, be displayed.
In a real museum (or I should say a Real Life Museum), the trailer would be about how the curators and the museums conceived of the show — how did we choose the themes and the art, what popular and academic understandings of the artists did we want to explore or explode, how did we arrive at the final works, what collaborations and personalities came to bear on the final product — not how the space was conceived.
Enough. Twitter version:
When we do virtual things, we need to ask, what’s the star of the show, what’s the point, is there balance, and are we serving the content?