So many great ideas in the transcript of Ethan Zuckerman's CHI 2011 keynote Desperately Seeking Serendipity: keynote, it's hard to know where to start:
Online spaces are often so anxious to show me how my friends are using a space that they obscure how other audiences are using it. In the run up to revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, an enormous amount of reporting (and a not-insignificant amount of organizing) took place on Facebook. If you didn’t have friends in those countries, and specifically in those movements, that activity was entirely invisible. It’s possible to find out what’s popular on Facebook to an audience broader than that of your friends. The Pages directory shows stars, bands and brands with audiences in the hundreds of thousands and millions – strolling through it is a pretty fascinating tour of what’s popular in the Philippines, Colombia and Nigeria, as well as in the US or Canada. Facebook has the data on the desire lines, but they bury it deep within a site rather than bringing it front and center. Twitter’s Trending Topics in an example of making these desire lines visible – we may not know what “Cala Boca Galvao” means when it shows up as a trending topic, or care that #welovebieber, but at least we get indications of what matters to those outside of our list of friends.
Whether we click on an unfamiliar Twitter tag or explore someone else’s annotations of a city map, we’re choosing to stray from our ordinary path. Cities offer multiple ways to wander, as well as a philosophical stance – the flâneur – that prizes wandering as strategy for encountering the city. I think two particular forms of structured wandering have strong potential to be useful in wandering through online spaces.
A few weeks ago, I met an old friend for lunch in New York City. In the twenty years since we’d last met, he’d become a leading figure in the US Communist Party (an organization that, I confess, I thought had disappeared sometime in the late 1960s). As we walked from a restaurant to his office, across from the legendary Chelsea Hotel, he pointed to otherwise unremarkable office and apartment buildings and told me stories about the unions that had built them, the tenants’ rights struggles that had unfolded, the famous Communists, Socialists and labor activists who’d slept, worked and partied under each roof. Our twenty block walk became a curated tour of the city, an idiosyncratic map that caused me to look closely at buildings that would otherwise have been background noise. I begged him to turn his tour of the city into an annotated map, a podcast walking tour, anything that would allow a broader audience to look at the city through his lens, and I hope he will.
One of the reasons curation is such a helpful strategy for wandering is that it reveals community maxima. It can be helpful to know that Times Square is the most popular tourist destination in New York if only so we can avoid it. But knowing where Haitian taxi cab drivers go for goat soup is often useful data on where the best Haitian food is to be found. Don’t know if you like Haitian food? Try a couple of the local maxima – the most important places to the Haitian community – and you’ll be able to discern the answer to that question pretty quickly. It’s unlikely you dislike the food because it’s badly made, as it’s the favorite destination for that community – it’s more likely that you simply don’t like goat soup. (Oh well, more for me.) If you want to explore beyond the places your friends think are the most enjoyable, or those the general public thinks are enjoyable, you need to seek out curators who are sufficiently far from you in cultural terms and who’ve annotated their cities in their own ways.
Another way to wander in a city is to treat it as a game board. I’m less likely to explore Vancouver by following a curated map than I am by searching for geocaches. Within five kilometers of this conference center, there are 140 packages hidden somewhere in plain sight, each containing a logbook to sign and, possibly, mementos to trade with fellow players. As a geocacher, it’s something of a moral imperative to find as many of those caches as time allows during your visit to an unfamiliar city. In the process, you’re likely to stray far from the established tourist sites of the city, if only because it’s hard to hide caches in such busy places. Instead, you’ll end up in forgotten corners, and often in places where the person who placed the cache wanted you to see something unexpected, historic or beautiful. Geocaching is its own peculiar form of community annotation, where the immediate goal is leaving your signature on
This is a painting of Nyai Roro Kidul, Queen of the Southern Sea of Java in Indonesian mythology. This image is fan art essentially, painted by a 33 year old physical trainer who studied art abroad, and blogged about it. Notice the motion blur and lens flare that seem to radiate out to the viewer. As Karen Strassler, author of Refracted Visions: Popular Photography and National Modernity in Java, said at a talk at MIT in April, the image "literalizes the strong affinity between the religious miracle and technologic effect...Mysticism is now represented by media."
Collapse VII: Culinary Materialism "brings together work that explores, from many different perspectives, the multifaceted question of cookery. In this volume, a range of contributors - scientists, philosophers, chefs, anthropologists, artists - explore how philosophy and proto- scientific theory and experimental practice was linked at its outset to the culinary arts." From the introduction by Robin Mackay and Reza Negarestani (pdf):
Cookery has never been so high on the agenda of Western popular culture. And yet the endlessly-multiplying TV shows, the obsessive interest in the provenance of ingredients, and the celebration of ‘radical’ experiments in gastronomy, tell us little about the nature of the culinary. Is it possible to develop the philosophical pertinence of cookery without merely appending philosophy to this burgeoning gastroculture? How might the everyday, restricted sense of the culinary be expanded into a culinary materialism wherein synthesis, experimentation, and operations of mixing and blending take precedence over analysis, subtraction and axiomatisation? This volume, drawing on resources ranging from anthropology to chemistry, from hermetic alchemy to contemporary mathematics, undertakes a trans-modal experiment in culinary thinking, excavating the cultural, industrial, physiological, chemical and even cosmic grounds of cookery, and proposing new models of culinary thought for the future.
Proto-scientific thought and experimental practice, particularly in the form of alchemy, was linked to the culinary arts’ vital engagement with the transformation of matter. Indeed, how could empirical inquiry into nature, seeking to determine the capacities of matter on the basis of what lay to hand... be anything other than a culinary endeavour? Yet with the increasing specialisation of the sciences, philosophy has misplaced its will to extend such inquiry into a speculative philosophy whose power resides in its synthetic ambition as well as its analytical prowess.
Hellenistic references in new media art might appear at first as a clumsy way to position digital work in the timeline of art history. But there seems to be more to it than that. As arguably the world's most famous sculpture, the Venus de Milo is from a moment in time that seems as abstract and far away as a future world of martian space colonies. The juxtaposition of antiquity with new technology often appears to disengage the former's historicity. In such context, the Venus de Milo is an icon as neutral as robot — it does not offend or politicize, but instead speaks only of its endearing beauty.
In Kill Screen, Kyle Chakra finds the plumb line from Fauvism and Yoshi’s Island:
Fauvist pictures burn into your retinas. Derain’s The Turning Road at L'Estaque (1906) is a dusky mix of reds and oranges, but the shadows of the trees set into the road cast deep-blue shadows, tinged with green. It’s the light of an intense sunrise or sunset.
The favored technique to create this burn was to set two complementary colors against each other. The classic combination is red-orange on blue (clearly apparent in The Turning Road referenced above), but any opposites on the color wheel—pink and green, yellow and purple—all pack the same punch. Derain’s same technique is clear in Yoshi’s Island: check out Level 1-1 and see the yellow hillsides dotted with cool-blue rock outcroppings, jutting out into a pale-blue sky and clouds tinged subtly with orange and pink. The trees of 6-1 are bright orange-red, but their shadows, silhouetted in the sunset, are deep blue. In 3-2, yellow leaves stick out against a dusky purple background. The palette is strikingly similar to that of The Turning Road.
It’s not just the game’s colors that recall Fauvism. Yoshi’s Island’s aesthetic is painterly, displaying individual brushstrokes. Neither the paintings nor the game display a need for gloss or perfection; they’re messy, embracing a loose sense of serendipity, colored collisions. Shigeru Miyamoto, the iconic Nintendo designer who has noted the influence from Impressionism on his games, pushed Yoshi’s Island to look hand-drawn, emphasizing the scratchy crayon strokes that make up the game’s backgrounds and the rough outlines around its sprites.
Gamers don’t need to just take my word for it that Yoshi’s Island was influenced by Fauvism and its contemporaries. Just ...