BA Concept Seminar I

The goal of the BA Concept Seminar is to narrow down the previously handed-in disposition of our BA thesis. More specifically, we're sort of writing a mini-thesis over the course of the next two weeks.

20 things I hate about my BA

We've kicked the module off we started an exercise which was about writing or sketching 20 things on our topic. A thing could be a possible outcome, an issue, a notion, an idea, or basically anything that has a slight connection to our project. Some of us have put some thought into the disposition we've written over the holidays and weren't too convinced anymore, whether they liked their idea or not. I also felt like that to some degree, which is why I called the 20 things I hate about my BA.

Followed by this exercise, we presented our 20 things, where the group, including Joëlle and Karmen, gave some feedback on interesting aspects. In my regard, I felt that the main issue with filtering content lies within the fact, that the content which is filtered, is entirely hidden. Of course, perception completely depends on a person, but the difference is that the individual in physical space still has the possibility to see things outside his/her first perception.

Topic Space

Our goal is to create some sort of Matrix of existing projects or ideas which deal with our topic. It is a little similar to the Related Work mind-map which we did in December but serves a bigger goal. While sketching existing work, we should look for dimensions, things to categorize or rate existing work, and then apply these dimensions to our Design Space.

As I first thought about the dimensions that lie within my previously selected projects, I thought about the medium. Sentinel, for example, is a news app, whereas Hi from the other side is a service which encourages people with different political standpoints to meet and understand other opinions. The dimension of the scale would judge the overall 'size' of a project.

The second dimension I chose, was the intention of the work. Some artists had the approach to solve the issue by, for example, providing an alternative service which would display unbiased content, or tell users how to distract an algorithm on a social network. On the other hand, there are many visualizations or symbolizations of the topic filter bubbles, which almost entirely serve the purpose of creating awareness or conveying a message.

After a while, I realized that the dimension of the scale was rather unimportant. Of course, the parameter would enable me to logically sort different project, but not really set a focus for myself or further research questions. Karmen then encouraged me to take a step back, and look at the initial 20 things I hate about my BA and look for another dimension. We picked up three examples I made on the first day.

  1. The person that is virtually trapped in a bubble X, but realizes that in reality, there are much more people which believe in Y. In this case, the person can't possibly take a look at the topic Y in the virtual world, unless specifically looking for it.
  2. A person which is interested in motorbikes might hang out with friends that share his interest. Furthermore, he might even spend most of his time in a biker bar. Of course, this person won't directly see things outside his bubble, but he could if he changed his physical location or talked to people outside of his normal group.
  3. Two people who go hiking might see the exact same view, but one might initially look at the lake while the other looks at the mountains. This difference in perception is completely normal, but in this scenario, both people have the opportunity to see the bigger picture. Resulting in a completely unbiased setting.

 Design Space

After yesterdays issues with finding perfect dimensions, a good night of sleep helped me to organize my thoughts. I swapped the matter of scale with the matter of physicality. In contrary to the scale, the physicality showed how depending on the real world the existing project is.

I chose this dimension due to the fact that I wrote in my disposition that I want to observe the impacts of the filter bubble phenomena transformed into a physical object. This connection still interests me. How can I bring the relation of the very personal data into an object, preferably some 'smart' object?

We then went on with the ideation phase – 50 ideas were demanded. I started writing down random ideas and as it got harder and harder, I joined Carlo and Aurelian with their efficient method of writing one idea in one minute. This resulted in many more ideas, which, to my surprise, weren't as bad as expected. Here are a few simple ones:

  • By detecting what users like on social media, each member is assigned a political party. An algorithm chooses merchandise from this party and sends it to the user, of course on their costs. The user may then agree with the chosen party or realize how he's not who he is on the platform.
  • A software automatically tracks arguments on the web. If there is a large argument, the software automatically rents a space in a gym or fight club and organizes a meeting for both of the party to let off steam by having a physical fight instead of debating on a screen.
  • What if political votings were automatically evaluated according to their political activity on a network? The auto-voter would unsolicitedly fill out the ball paper, which the user would only need to sign.

The BA bubble

As I came home from a productive day, I turned on the TV and came across the news. Interestingly there was a report about microtargeting on social media platforms for votings or political parties. They explained that they could exactly target people with interest in those topics and therefore create more efficient advertisements — the filter bubble.

The day after I did not feel as productive anymore. I struggled with the question of what to do next. So I took a look at my previous work and the related work that I noted. More specifically I looked at Ben Grosser and his small software designed to confuse algorithms on Facebook and Twitter.

Still wondering what I should continue with I read some passages of Eli Pariser's book The filter bubble. He described how the internet was so different in the days it was not as popular. When there were no search engines and people had to know what to look for, and were browsing more or less unguided and unbiased through the net. This made me thinking. There are many physical activities that correlate to this phenomena. When people engage in less digital activities, they are less surrounded by the same things. When I look for something on the web, the page I see is widely populated with the things I want to find. But if I were to look for a topic in somebody's bookshelf or the local library, the chances of me finding something which seems unrelated at first, but is actually interesting too, are much higher.

What if Wikipedia were a library?! it would change how we look for things and definitely what we find.

Road Map

On Friday morning, we started with an exercise where we tried to come up with 10 different ways of manifestation. These could be concepts for larger things or ideas which we'd produce in the following week. I didn't quite achieve to get 10 valid ideas but had some interesting approaches. In previous tasks, I wrote about how to make the issue of filter bubbles more physical.

„Learning is by definition an encounter with what you don’t know, what you haven’t thought of, what you couldn’t conceive, and what you never understood or entertained as possible. It’s an encounter with what’s other—even with otherness as such. The kind of filter that Google interposes between an Internet searcher and what a search yields shields the searcher from such radical encounters.“ – Eli Pariser.

I thought of this phenomenon in a physical environment. By making the internet a more physical library, I'd like to create these radical encounters again. Afterward, we talked about our Road Map, and how we'd like to proceed in our seminar. I plan the following:

  1. Read more in Eli Pariser's book, as well as in "Weapons of Math Destruction", a book about the wrongful doings of algorithms by Cathy O'Neil.
  2. Unpack my research questions and define the aspects that interest me the most.
  3. Based on step 2, I might contact people that work in such an environment or have experience with the aspects I'd like to observe.
  4. Parallel to the other tasks I will start with the short essay that is due in a week.
  5. Production of the pretotype.
  6. Hopefully do a great presentation and having a nice holiday/preparation for the real BA thesis.