The Week Ending 050210


Looking back on the calendar to see what notes I have from the week ending last week and poking through the notesbook, the thing that stands out is an engaging discussion with Kurt that, as it turns out, was about communicating ideas. You know *how do you enroll someone into your conversation and evolve intellect into action and materializations? Originally planned as a meeting to share with him the material of the project itself, we ended up spending the two+ hours talking about various strategies to make an idea compelling to someone who is perhaps not entirely inclined to ingest a rather unusual project, with (*quite potentially) rich implications. In an organization with the inertia of a planetary body, shifting trajectory and adjusting priorities is an epic task. (*With, here, only modest expectations here as to doing this, and certainly not alone.)

The conversation obviously perpetuated thinking about the theater, drama and story telling techniques that can benefit from a mix of design and fiction. How do you tell the story of *Trust through exemplars first rather than the usual front-first build up. As a story, could it be more intriguing to start *at the police line-up, for instance, tell the story as a knot of associations, linkages, encounters, coincidences — in other words, show the Latourian *knot and then walk folks through its unknotting — it’s *denouement? More of a story than a linear, beginning-to-end explanation. Do you start with the outcome, in the form of peculiar, confusing, provocative *evidence/*objects/*exemplars and tell the story backwards? Doing so could certainly begin to shift the conversation, to be a provocation that is not the ordinary tale that one sees in the usual suspect — mundane, boring, creaky, poorly crafted, baroquely illegible PowerPoints?

And then the *prototypes shift more into the role of *props — behaving as a different sort of story telling device. Somewhere along this rough continuum are *canonical prototypes (doing as they do, to test a proposition, idea, technique or technology), *diegetic prototypes (David A. Kirby’s formulation for ideas run through a story, simultaneously achieving their function to contribute to conversations about science, for example, that exist outside of/alongside of the film’s story, as well as serving a role as a bit of narrative glue in the film itself), and *props as used in films that serve no specific function except insofar as they help move the story of the film along (as in the Macguffin which need not be anything particular or have a legible meaning or function outside of anything except the film — the suitcase that all the characters want, for some reason we need not worry about — so long as our characters create drama that is the final source of enjoyment of the film.)

An exciting consideration that requires as much consideration, crafting, production as telling a good story. But, also — as difficult, if not more so, I am certain. What we’re ultimately trying to do is turn good intellect into something more than just that. The communication should be more than a rejuvinating *brown bag lunch chat. It should call people and things to action.

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Drama, Boredom, Simply Infovisualized

Found on this blog by David Sivers.

A sketch in 2D of real life as David Sivers reflects on remarks and a drawing done at a talk by Kurt Vonnegut where he is explaining his perspective on why people like drama. The conclusion, summarily: life is boring and without change. Drama brings that rollercoaster ride into our experience. And, if I remember my high school biology correctly, the human sensory apparatus responds to change more so than steady state. Which may be the biometric quantification of boredom. You know..”quantified-self” in its most fundamental, meaningful sense. Whoever’s graph does not normalize out to “boredom”, wins.

So the question here that is intriguing circles around this question of communicating ideas, socializing ideas by pumping them into the circulatory system of human meaning-making, human ear-listening, creating knowledge and insight from ideas and then inciting the will in such a way as to bring about material change in the world. A “boredom” graph won’t do this. There is no change, no inflection into other experiences and other possible near future worlds. What sort of change and inflections might one (or me, I suppose) strive for? The kind of change that creates more habitable ways of living. This is the change that matters, and why design is, from my mind, so important in shaping the world into a richer, more meaningful, less boring place. Objects, let’s say for the moment, that can create these dramatic stories around themselves. Certainly not by themselves, but like the MacGuffin, something that takes you on a pursuit, or makes something meaningful and ultimately rewards you in a way that makes life more worthwhile to live.

This is called bios [bible] by robotlab (Matthias Gommel, Martina Haitz and Jan Zappe). A machine in the ritual action of inscribing perhaps the world’s most widespread dramatic stories — the Bible. This machine will inscribe, as a scribe, in this style of drawing letters, the full text. It will take seven months. The plain motivation by the artists comes down to this: “The installation emphasizes scripture as the elementary function for religion and science — two cultural systems that are fundamental for societies today.”

A bit bland, and arguable, of course, but this only comes from the “wall text” found in the exhibition documentation, which always limits the discussion out of production constraints. That’s fine.

Whatever it says in this brief remark, being the sort to invest more attention in systems of meaning-making and knowledge circulation, to me it is less the script — the ritualize handwriting — than about stories that activate the imagination and thereby the will to make material change in the world.
Why do I blog this? Story telling is not only intriguing to us here at The Near Future Laboratory, it is a crucial socialization ritual. A friend remarked recently that we tell stories to remind us of who we are, or, variously, to refashion our own image of who we are — even if they are the same little silly “small talk” chatter about some experience. Okay, this may not be the insight of the year or anything like that, but it helps with the comprehension of various things — like, why an idea or object or something needs to exist in time, over time if it is to become comprehensible. Even if we see some weird designed fiction object that has no previous relationship — it’s foreign in a way — a story must be told about it that brings it into the quotidian, “boring” everyday. This is why I am intrigued by this sort of design fiction style of representation where the thing that would normally be exciting — a new gizmo, or something that indicates an evolution of today’s interaction rituals into a near future — that thing is made ordinary, or even burned-out and chipped and broken in places. So the fantastic exciting dramatic thing of today, has moved into a near future and become either ordinary, or underwhelming in a way. It reflects the graph of promises of great new things, and great new ways of interacting, or making toast — whatever — and then just fulfills the inevitable conclusion of — “ho, hum” present tense worlds, with your klunky, problem-prone, Ono-Sendei Industries Super Deluxe Near-Time Traveling dongle (the one you got from the Sky Mall catalog) asking you to update its firmware..again..and then shutting down, leaving you stranded and making you late for your meeting three days ago.

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