"But if the Internet of today had a Baron Haussmann, it would certainly be Facebook. Everything allowing for a casual stroll through cyberspace: solitude and individuality, anonymity and opacity, mystery and ambivalence, curiosity and risk-taking has been attacked by this Internet giant."
We didn’t work on anything this week, but met a few hours before the call to discuss ideas. On the call with Will, we discussed the difference between fast and slow content. Sometimes you want to just quickly scribble ideas down without editing them. On other occasions, you want to spend the time to craft your ideas properly, usually with some kind of audience in mind and the intent to publish. What if this tool could have different modes, each tailored to a particular writing style?
The call was useful because it forced us to articulate the impetus behind the project. One motivation is that by publishing your thoughts, you’re forced to be more coherent, and to re-digest your ideas. Throughout our chat, language like digesting, brewing and stewing kept coming up. We thought kombucha was a good analogy – you need to give your thoughts time and occasionally heat (other people?) in order to ferment.
Another idea we spoke about was how to encourage learning from your past. In both of our experience, re-reading past writing reveals that we continuously revisit the same problems, ideas and thought-patterns. We spoke about some kind of autocomplete tool, which would reveal when you’ve started to revisit old ground, or training some kind of AI on our past writing. Any discussion of AI quickly becomes creepy, at least to us, which made us wonder: are these tools inherently creepy, or only because they’re normally snitching to Google? Is it possible to create a calm and personal AI? Could there be little interventions and prompts, like acupuncture, rather than something too heavy-handed? Maybe it could be time-based, like “At this time of year, you usually talk about X” or “Anything you want to say about Y today?”
Potential issues that we spoke about was that tools can often slow down your thinking process if they have too many features or require too much from you. Another big issue, for us, is that dat:// doesn’t yet work on mobile. For the “quick and dirty” writing mode, at least, we’d really like a tool that was portable.
This got me thinking about the internet as landscape, or open space within network infrastructure. The internet was once a wilderness, but has been over-developed, and because of this we’ve lost areas to simply exist. Tools for sharing photos have turned into platforms for sharing things that more closely resemble personal ads. Tools for communicating with friends are used to extract taste profiles and create filter bubbles to encourage constant consumption and endless engagement. I wonder what a conservationist movement for the open web could look like
In published form, the screens appear one at a time, driven by three functions: forward, anywhere, or lines.
Forward moves through the screens in the order they were written. “This type of navigation simulates the process, and captures the mystery,” Cathy wrote. Anywhere calls up a screen at random. Cathy observed that this revealed their interconnectedness even more; “through new juxtapositions, the Anywhere function reveals unintended connections at the merging of our voices.” The final function, Lines, is an interactive tool for building new screens based on keywords, from a database version of the text. In each new composition it generates, the lines link back to their origins, creating paths through the work neither linear nor entirely random.
For having lived in Westminster – how many years now? over twenty, – one feels even in the midst of the traffic, or waking at night, Clarissa was positive, a particular hush, or solemnity; an indescribable pause; a suspense (but that might be her heart, affected, they said, by influenza) before Big Ben strikes. There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air.
I do not see how even the most ethereal technologies promised by electronics and information theory can offer more than the promise of the simplest tool: to make life materially easier, to enrich us. That is a great promise and gain! But if this enrichment of one type of civilization occurs only at the cost of the destruction of the planet, then it seems fairly clear to me that to count upon technological advance for anything but technological advance is a mistake. I have not been convincingly shown, and seem to be totally incapable of imagining for myself, how any further technological advance of any kind will bring us any closer to being a society predominantly concerned with preserving its existence; a society with a modest standard of living, conservative of natural resources, with a low constant fertility rate and a political life based upon consent; a society that has made a successful adaptation to its environment and has learned to live without destroying itself or the people next door. But that is the society I want to be able to imagine — I must be able to imagine, for one does not get on without hope.
The pitfalls of the attention economy can’t just be avoided by logging off and refusing the influence of persuasive design techniques; they also emerge at the intersection of issues of public space, environmental politics, class, and race.
The human social apparatus of the Anthropocene tends to be top-heavy and bureaucracy-prone. Revolt needs other forms of action and other stories for solace, inspiration and effectiveness.
Design is also a way of thinking, learning, and engaging with the world. Reasoning through design is a mode of knowledge production that is neither primarily deductive nor inductive, but rather abductive and speculative. Where deduction reasons from the general to the specific and induction reasons from the specific to the general, abduction suggests the best prediction given incomplete observations.52 Professor of urban planning, philosopher, and scholar of organizational learning Donald Schön put it this way: “Designers put things together and bring new things into being, dealing in the process with many variables and constraints, some initially known and some discovered through designing.
I’m often surprised at how shallow both my attention and my breathing are by default. As much as breathing deeply and well requires training and reminders, all of the artworks I’ve described so far could be thought of as training apparatuses for attention. By inviting us to perceive at different scales and tempos than we’re used to, they teach us not only how to sustain attention but how to move it back and forth between different registers.