The MONIAC was approximately 2 m high, 1.2 m wide and almost 1 m deep, and consisted of a series of transparent plastic tanks and pipes which were fastened to a wooden board. Each tank represented some aspect of the UK national economy and the flow of money around the economy was illustrated by coloured water. At the top of the board was a large tank called the treasury. Water (representing money) flowed from the treasury to other tanks representing the various ways in which a country could spend its money. For example, there were tanks for health and education. To increase spending on health care a tap could be opened to drain water from the treasury to the tank which represented health spending. Water then ran further down the model to other tanks, representing other interactions in the economy. Water could be pumped back to the treasury from some of the tanks to represent taxation. Changes in tax rates were modeled by increasing or decreasing pumping speeds.
“The forgiveness machine was seven-feet long,” she says, “with lots of weird plastic bits and pieces. Heavy as hell.” The idea was that you wrote down the thing that you wanted to forgive, or to be forgiven for, and a vacuum sucked your piece of paper in one end. At the other it was shredded, and hey presto.
Dear Karen Green will you please build a machine for me? ’cause I often thought that I could jumble all things I like the music I like the colours I like the tastes I like the smells I like the sounds I like in a big cardboard box and shak’n’rattle a bit and oops would come out the person I am but it never worked so, Karen Green will you please build a machine for me so that I can see who the fuck I should be? thank you
the “extended dance mix” of Ethan Zuckerman’s talk to CHI in March 2011.
A few choice quotes:
We hope that cities are serendipity engines. By putting a diverse set of people and things together in a confined place, we increase the chances that we’re going to stumble onto the unexpected.
And here’s the point, people:
through the design of the systems we use and our behavior with those systems, I see reasons to worry that our use of the internet may be less cosmopolitan and more isolated that we would hope.
DING. Here we go:
There’s a trend in the design of web tools that seeks to guide us to novel content by examining what our friends care about. Community-based tools like Reddit, Digg and Slashdot have formed communities around shared interests and direct us to stories the community agreed (through voting and karma mechanisms) is interesting and worth sharing. Twitter, and especially Facebook, work on a much more personal level. They show us what our friends know and believe is important.
yup yup yup yup yup. BUT HERE’S THE CLINCHER:
The problem, of course, is that if your friends don’t know about a revolution in Tunisia or a great new Vietnamese restaurant, you may not know either. Knowing what your friends know is important. But unless you’ve got a remarkably diverse and well-informed set of friends, there’s a decent chance that their collective intelligence has some blind spots.
Ethan tells great story. Read on for, essentially, the manifesto of The Serendipity Engine.
The central tenet of this fabulous talk is the way feralness can be used as theoretical lens to talk about technology. Bell draws on a series of pivotal feral moments in Australia - namely camels, rabbits and cane toads - to argue that many new technological experiences can be mapped on feral trajectories. She explores ways in which new technologies are following the path of feral Australian pests – “Devices have proliferated with ensembles and debris collecting in the bottom of backpacks, on the dashboards of dusty trucks and in drawers, cabinets, and baskets”. She explores how “these feral technology proliferations, in the ways in which they have defied conventional wisdom and acceptable boundaries, and, most importantly, the ways in which they have transformed themselves into new objects and experiences.”
Star, S, L. (1999) ‘The Ethnography of Infrastructure’, In P, Lyman and N, Wakeford. (eds) Analysing Virtual Societies: New Directions in Methodology,American Behavioural Scientist, 43(3), 377-391
I’m a big fan of Star’s work. Here she argues that infrastructures are customarily overlooked because they are considered ‘singularly unexciting’ and even ‘boring’ (1999:377). Infrastructures by their nature are often concealed and as a result are often neglected or have become so ubiquitous they are rendered invisible. Although we are fully aware of how these infrastructures furnish essential services we are also content to ignore them until such times as they fail or breakdown.
Hawkins, G. (2005) The Ethics of Waste, Oxford: Roman and Littlefield Publishers Inc.
Writing about sewerage, Hawkins pursues questions about the impact of infrastructures that fail. She writes about how ‘unexpected experiences of waste can disrupt habits and trigger new relations and perceptions’ (2005:16). This suggests that new things happen when you start to see them.
Law, J. (2004) After Method: Mess in Social Science Research, UK: Routledge.
Mess, according to Law, is not something to be tidied up but instead viewed as an interpretive lens into socio-technical culture.He contends that the world is made of uncertain, instable and multiple actors and advocates the need for a ‘broader, looser and more generous’ ways of understanding them that does not set limits on understanding (2004:4).
Law, J. (2011) ‘Insects and the Social Life of Method? John Law on what insects might have to do with the social life of method’, Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC), 24 March, Available at: http://www.cresc.ac.uk/news/news-from-cresc/insects-and-the-social-life-of-method
I’ve not read this yet but I’m liking the sounds of it.
“Thanks to the connective nature of hypertext, and the blogosphere’s exploratory hunger for finding new stuff, the web is the greatest serendipity engine in the history of culture. It is far, far easier to sit down in front of your browser and stumble across something completely brilliant but surprising than it is walking through a library looking at the spines of books.”
Steven’s 2009 blogpost on the Web as a serendipity engine.
He defines serendipity as, “not randomness, not noise. It’s stumbling across something accidentally that is nonetheless of interest to you.”
His arguments suggest that we stumble across things online all the time. I have argued with him in the past about this, saying that our filter heuristics (e.g., friends, agendas, feeds, homepages, navigational pathways) only deliver things that are relevant to us and reflective of our world views. (His response, in the Observer article that I linked to above, that we should choose to have more diversity in the people and world views we interact with (implying activity on the part of the individual [in receipt of?! what is the appropriate expression for the receipt of serendipity?])
The Web offers the opportunity to “follow a trail of associations from some original starting point.”
“I’m constantly stumbling across random things online that make me think: what is the deal with that anyway? And then an hour later, I’m thinking: how did I get here? I can’t tell you how many ideas that eventually made it into published books and articles of mine began with that kind of unexpected online encounter.”
“In a careful unraveling of the fabulous and the false, Eco shows us how serendipities — unanticipated truths — often spring from mistaken ideas.”
from Serendipities: Language & Lunacy by Umberto Eco (Google Books link), a collection of essays about “riddles of history in an exploration of the “linguistics of the lunatic,” stories told by scholars, scientists, poets, fanatics, and ordinary people in order to make sense of the world.”
Includes intriguing examples of creativity and decision-making that stemmed from falsehoods.
Also in the blurb, he comments,
the dangers we face lie not in the rules we use to interpret other cultures but in our insistence on making these rules absolute
Perhaps this is the problem with technologically-enabled (binary-defined) “serendipity”?
“Your Amazon.com is a way of making sure that you don’t miss the perfect item. We determine your interests by examining the items you’ve purchased, items you’ve told us you own, and items you’ve rated. We then compare your activity on our site with that of other customers. Using this comparison, we are able to recommend other items that may interest you. These recommended items will appear in several areas throughout our store.”