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12.17.16 Interactivity Project, Response from N.B. Aldrich

Blue – My responses.

Purple – Research

 

I spent 45 minutes or so with your project yesterday. Here is a quick set of observations:

Engaging this piece in tandem with the piece shown at the final crit review gave me a much fuller sense of where you are at this point, which is great. You seem to be settling into a practice centered on information and data analysis. I think this is a very interesting and potential rich avenue for you. I wonder if you have in the past, or might consider currently, looking to psychology, sociology or anthropology for coursework in statistics? These fields are often thought of as hybrid sciences that develop and depend on a lot of the same types of data research and analysis you are starting to employ.

 

Yes, I am interested in data analysis in general. I took Anthropology courses in Research Methods and Statistics in undergrad. I have forgotten some of it but not all. Of course, I also did extensive work in data analysis as a teacher. I don’t know how much you are aware of the kind of data that is used in public education but it is really quite enormous (if the school is doing what they are supposed to do). I was in charge of quite a few special projects that involved processes data for thousands of students across multiple subject areas. I was given these projects because I was both willing and good at it. I always enjoy the process of sorting large amounts of information into small manageable pieces. Completely aside from the conceptual usefulness of the process, I find it psychologically soothing. I would probably like it even if I didn’t care at all about the subject in question.

As it relates to art, I am interested but I am not sure my work this semester actually reflects it as much as I would like. The data collection on these projects was really quite simple. There were not enough variables to be challenging. I hope that in the future I find something more interesting to manipulate because I am sure that I would enjoy it. I saw a class in data visualization and I think that if it is open at a later date I will take it. I want to wait until I have more ideas about the kind of data I want to visualize.

 

Regarding the interactivity piece in specific, I was accompanied by Eleanor for about 20 minutes and we roll played with the iPad’s as the characters to see how it all played out. Here are my thoughts:

You said you got unexpected results in retrospect; indeed this is part of any experimental process, so that is important. I read the documentation you provided regarding premise, process and implementation. I wonder if you discovered what Eleanor and I did as we assumed the characters of online activity, which is there was no difference in our results, or very little. I would be curious to hear why you think that is. I have a few suspicions.

Yes, that was exactly the unexpected result I was talking about. I do have theories about it. The first is that the project was not capable of the kind of scope needed to create the differences in results. The second is, that if a large amount of scope is needed to create serious deviations in results, then the filter itself probably isn’t that much of a problem.

This was somewhat unexpected but also conformed some of my initial instincts about the Filter Bubble. I understand what Parsier is saying in his book, but my very first instinctive response was a sort of “so what” response. It is obvious to me that the internet is filtered through our preferences and through actions that we are not fully aware of. Sometimes one person will get different results than another. I don’t think it is even a question worth arguing about. It exists. I think it is also quite safe to say that it has both negative and positive results. I don’t think there would be any point in arguing that either. It does have some influence on our thinking process.  The question is really about the extent of those results. How much does it matter? Is it enough to influence the critical thinking ability of society in a meaningful way. I think the answer to that is “no.”

I do not think the influence is significant. I think the primary result of filtering is simply to make information easier to access and to sell things. I don’t think that is particularly harmful. If anything, it is helpful in that it saves us time spent looking for what might interest us. When we sit down to look up the answer to a specific question, I don’t think the filter bubble has very much impact on how we go about answering it. The difference in information that is given to us is simply not significant enough to have very much control over our thinking.

If people are losing their critical thinking skills, I don’t think we can blame the personalization of the internet.

This ties in with my general world view. Technology doesn’t fuck up our lives. We do. People like to bitch and moan and complain about technology causing this or that social problem but the technology didn’t do anything. It is just there. It exists because we made it. People are the ones who decide how to use it and it is their choice that decides whether it will help or hurt. If people don’t know how to think, the answer is not to change the technology. It is to change the way people use it. Stop whining and complaining and stop fighting the development and implementation of technology and start learning how to think and analyze so that the technology can be used more effectively.

So, If I had had time to write a conclusion (which I guess I just did) I would have summed it up as: “So What. Use Your Brain.” In fact, I did start both an essay and a sort of Word Art collage to that effect. I would have liked to include it because I think it will be very interesting when I am done, but there was no way I could get it done. I will try and work on it over the holidays.

 

I had the opportunity to work with members of Metahaven years ago when they were developing ideas about how web searches operate and how they might be structured to provide different feedback systems. Really smart guys. One thing I took away from this was the idea that low level connectivity provides variety, high level connectivity creates self-referential systems. This means you may not want to structure systems with most common traits (name, income, ethnicity), but with least common traits. This forces reconciliation of many variables instead of reinforcing most common traits. In that light, maybe rethinking what weight your character stats might provide from the outset.

 

I understand what you are saying and I am sure it is true. I am sure that if  picked characters with more deviation then I would have gotten stronger results. I actually considered that in the beginning but I did not expect using common traits to completely negate the results. My issue here is that if the experiment would only produce different results if I use least common traits and therefore create extraordinarily different characters, then it doesn’t matter. It might matter to some other experiment, but it doesn’t matter to this one.

If the virtual environment only becomes truly alien with extreme outliers, then that doesn’t affect its general usefulness. Extreme outliers will get outlying results no matter what you do because they will exist so far outside of the standard patterns.

I probably should have clarified this thinking in both the premise and the description of the process. I made my initial question too simple. I said “How do we experience alien environments.” I did that because the book suggested that the personalization would be strong enough that even similar people sitting near each other would get different results. That suggested that two different characters with a different et of interests and backgrounds would also get different results. They obviously didn’t.

I should have made the question: “Does the Filter bubble create personalized virtual environments that discourage critical thought by decreasing access to conflicting points of view” The answer would still be “no” but the total project would make more sense.

 

I also believe this piece operates on a much longer timescale. For the kind of character ‘development’ you are trying to achieve, long term activity is required (I received e-mail to my father for years after his passing!). Also a broad spectrum of activity is required, especially economic activity. Remember, the Internet is in many ways a giant marketplace. It would be interesting to see what transpires over 12 or 18 months.

yes, a longer time scale would be interesting. I was also bothered that economic activity had to be removed. I think that it would show what my computer probably shows about me. There would be lots of adds about things I buy and things I search for. There would be spam mail from email addresses they respond to. They would probably get lots and lots of spam related to their interests and to extreme versions of those interests. Their search results would be somewhat customized, but a couple of pages in they would become unfired again. I don’t think it would be enough to change my final thought that while it has some influence, it isn’t enough to influence critical thinking.

I think that the results of that kind of project could be interesting in a different context than what this project was supposed to be. It might be interesting to analyze all of the data over a long course of time to simply show  how many times each character is confronted with certain concepts. The visualization of a year of information bombardment would be worth seeing regardless of other questions. It would also be nice to see how the information correlates to the real interests of an individual and to the algorithmically generated predictions. They seem pretty damn good to me!

I probably won’t do anything like that because I am ready to move on, but it would be interesting to see.

 

I don’t know if you are familiar with Deleuze’s idea of the “dividual”, but you might find it interesting and informative in context.

Paper Advancing Deleuze’s Ideas on “dividual”

“dividual”—a physically embodied human subject that is endlessly divisible and reducible to data representations via the modern technologies of control, like computer-based systems.

This paper is quite good.

 

What Is Becoming of Deleuze?

This was also enlightening.

 

The impact of standards-based reform on special education and the creation of the ‘dividual

I can’t get more than the abstract but it might be interesting if I can access it.

 

Thank you. This could be potentially useful to my work next semester. I will give it a deeper reading over the holidays.

 

Also, Stephen Wilson’s book Information Arts might be of interest.

MIT Overview of Information Arts by Stephen Wilson

I will check the library. If we don’t have it I will try to order it.