Before the start of our second week in the BA Concept Seminar, I planned to prepare some research questions for my mentoring with Joëlle on Monday morning. I read quite some chapters in Eli Pariser's The Filter Bubble and Cathy O'Neil's Weapons of Math Destruction. In particular, I found a paragraph where Eli Pariser quotes:
David Gelernter, a Yale professor and early supercomputing visionary, believes that computers will only serve us well when they can incorporate dream logic. “One of the hardest, most fascinating problems of this cyber-century is how to add ‘drift’ to the net,” he writes, “so that your view sometimes wanders (as your mind wanders when you’re tired) into places you hadn’t planned to go. Touching the machine brings the original topic back. We need help overcoming rationality sometimes, and allowing our thoughts to wander and metamorphose as they do in sleep.” To be truly helpful, algorithms may need to work more like the fuzzyminded, nonlinear humans they’re supposed to serve.
I found this excerpt very interesting, which is exactly why I wanted to specifically talk to Joëlle about it and how I could transform this into my focus or niche within the huge term of the filter bubble.
Mentoring with Joëlle Bitton
After I showed her the excerpt we came back to the history of the internet, and how these early concepts of the web looked. We talked about how the internet was seen as this utopian space with endless possibilities. Joëlle mentioned that then this initial purpose or general use of the network became more and more commercialized with the rise of companies like Amazon and Google.
The way I see the web today when I compare it to reports of the early usage is quite business oriented. Most sites are either services, shops or sources of knowledge, whereas many of these knowledge sources are a business too. I then remembered a scenario in our atelier. Driven by curiosity we browsed the dark web. To me, that was a very new space in which I felt that Drift, which David Gelernter mentioned in The Filter Bubble. Some sites were ethnically incorrect or served illegal businesses, but that is where I felt that Serendipity, which I haven't experienced in a while.
As a next step, I looked at some of the references that Joëlle told me and tried to organize my thoughts. I then came across the idea of writing Nils Röller, a media theorist which teaches at the ZHdK. In the 3rd semester, he led the main Design lecture on Monday morning.
He agreed to meet me on Tuesday afternoon and even replied "Interesting topic" to the short description of my interests. 🎉! As a preparation for the talk we're going to have, I prepared the following questions as guidelines:
- Would you agree with Eli Pariser's opinion that the personalization of the web has decreased the serendipity?
- In what way does the media guide us in our browsing?
- How could I influence or promote serendipity in a browser?
- How can I make the web less rational?
- Do you know any examples of drift or more serendipitous encounters on the internet?
Talking to Nils
After I outlined my current state of the project, Nils talked about medial changes in general. People have always treated newer inventions or changes skeptically. According to Nils, even Plato apparently despised font, how ironic, considering that we probably would have never heard his name if fonts and writings weren't invited. New things meant danger and warning.
We then continued to talk about libraries and the difference between selection in content on the web and in libraries. In the analog world, the collection of books needs to be curated too, a reduction is at some point essential. Nils then told me that apparently the books of the ZB library are sorted by their admission date, and not their genre. Making a self-experiment, comparing the library at the ZHdK, which is sorted by genre, with the internet and other libraries might be interesting.
Similar to the cross-referential browsing on the deep web, I would like to create an environment, free of search engines. A space where one‘s goal is to wander around without a specific target. The user can only roam and have an impact on where he‘s going, similar to the exploration of a new city, where you might walk around guided by impressions and the hope of finding something worth examining. I would like to let everyday users of the internet regain the admiration for the diversity by creating an object or software that presents the internet as a different ground. Digital content should be more exploratory and less „efficient“. It shouldn‘t be possible to find something specific.
To convey this idea without too much effort, I looked for unique websites. I thought I could explicate the diversity of the internet by showing sites that people haven‘t seen and are entertaining or funny. Of course, this does not really display how my environment could work. But by hiding the different tabs and switching between them remotely, I can display how shifting on the internet could feel or inspire, hopefully.
To be honest, I wasn‘t very convinced of my pretotype. One might argue that I chose the easy route, but the intention was to show people the diversity and look at their reactions. By observing them and their reaction, I could verify if it even makes sense to create an environment where people can roam. To my surprise, there was quite some laughter throughout the exploration of the pretotype, which I interpret as proof that the internet still serves as a platform of entertainment and that there still are things to discover.
What I haven‘t included in my current pretotype is the navigation. I would definitely like to investigate more on the topic of irrational algorithms. How could I enforce drifting and serendipity with an algorithm or technology in general? It might turn out that it is completely impossible or irrelevant, but I came across an article (Lindsay, 2018) which deals with the topic of engineered serendipity. One way or the other, I am looking forward to starting my Bachelor research phase.