Bleecker and Haque at Poker Club

Thanks to John Marshall (check out his excellent Designed Objects blog) for blogging the latest Poker Club event so I didn’t have to! The following is crossposted from John’s blog, with my commentary in italics.

The Poker Club at the Beehive Inn in Edinburgh featured Usman Haque (artist/architect) and Julian Bleecker (technologist/artist/think tank leader) to discuss the “internet of things” and “open source architecture”. Hosted by New Media Scotland.

Both presenters took us through a short run down of their work and then there was a lively exchange between everyone present. Hopefully there will be a podcast from New Media Scotland in the near future.

Haque’s presentation was broken into three categories: Invisible Stuff, Collaborative Stuff (produced by non experts – or vernacular creativity) and Social Space. He talked about Architecture as an operating system for the collaborative production of space. He stressed the importance of the necessity of the system (whether an augmented object or space) to have the capacity to build ‘its’ own perceptual categories. Several examples of previous and current work were shown.

Bleecker started with the question ‘Is life hackable?’ He characterised the upsurge of activity as a renewed or second order humanism. The term ‘change agents’ was used and it was pointed out that these are no longer well positioned parties such as New York Times reporters. Several projects were shown which showed how digital networks can shape physical activities in a sort of network practice – social practice continuum. It was stressed that we’re not just talking about data transactions. In an eloquent analogy, Julian also observed that not only are we no longer reliant on major corporations for information because of the blogging revolution, but also we could become accustomed to receiving data from unconventional sources – a pigeon wired up with sensors that output to an RSS feed could tell us more about weather, air quality, etc. than a typical source of meterological data.

Some interesting points that came up in the discussion:
– We are surrounded by invisible information, how do we make this visible or legible?
– Technology extends the zone of our perception/agency.
Is the web of objects the end of subjectivity or a new beginning for subjectivity?
– The role of human beings as filters.
– Do we need to agree on the tags that we use to filter the onslaught of incoming information?

The issues emerging for me are what do we mean by ‘understanding’ in relation to all the information we have access to and how do we have agency within it? One thing that came up over and over was the spatial or prepositional nature of our relationship to the digital networked public. As Bleeker points out in Why Things Matter (PDF download) are we ‘on’ or ‘in’ the network?

2 replies on “Bleecker and Haque at Poker Club”

“Do we need to agree on the tags that we use to filter the onslaught of
incoming information?” – No. The power of tagging is in the openness of the
system. It is dynamic. We can think of tags as ‘boundary objects’ –

“Boundary objects are those objects that both inhabit several communities of
practice and satisfy the informational requirements of each of them.
Boundary objects are thus both plastic enough to adapt to local needs and
constraints of the several parties employing them, yet robust enough to
maintain a common identity across sites. They are weakly structured in
common use and become strongly structured in individual-site use… Such
objects have different meanings in different social worlds but their
structure is common enough to more than one world to make them recognizable,
a means of translation. The creation and management of boundary objects is a
key process in developing and maintaining coherence across intersecting
communities” BOWKER, G. & STAR, S. L., 1999. Sorting things out:
classification and its consequences. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT
Press. pp. 297.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

“In contrast to professionally developed controlled vocabularies (also
called taxonomies), folksonomies are unsystematic and, from an information
scientist’s point of view, unsophisticated; however, for Internet users,
they dramatically lower content categorization costs because there is no
complicated, hierarchically organized nomenclature to learn. One simply
creates and applies tags on the fly.

Again in contrast to controlled vocabularies or formal taxonomies,
folksonomies are inherently open-ended and can therefore respond quickly to
changes and innovations in the way users categorize Internet content. Like
other commons-based peer production systems, such as open source software
development and Wikis like Wikipedia, although the participating individuals
possess varying levels of tagging sophistication, this production process
can produce results that compare favorably to the best professionally
designed systems.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of folksonomy is its relevance in the
information retrieval sense of the term — that is, the capacity of its tags
to describe the “aboutness” of an Internet resource. After all, folksonomies
are generated by people who have spent a great deal of time interacting with
the content they tag.

Folksonomic categories may strike those of a formal turn of mind as
hopelessly idiosyncratic, but therein lies their value: a folksonomic
category arises from an individual’s engagement with the tagged content,
such that the created category is simultaneously personal, social, and (to
some degree) systematic, albeit in an imperfect and provisional way.
Folksonomies therefore convey information on multiple levels, including
information about the people who create them, and they therefore invite
human engagement. If you agree with somebody’s classification scheme, no
matter how bizarre it might seem to others, you are subtly but strongly
encouraged to explore other objects that this user has tagged.”

Why would we want to wind the calendar back and return to a monolithic,
static system? You might as well switch the internet off (oh, you can’t) or
create a multiple tier system (www2 – no porn or commerce in my ivory
tower!) with cliquish enclaves like your smallweb idea (just start a wiki
and put it behind a password). There is a huge contradiction here – if you
are worried about being able to find stuff then why would you want to
exclude potential contributors – isn’t this the same thing that certain
countries are trying to do by making Google selective? Any degree less than
‘open’ is closed.

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