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Weekend Gems 002

May 10, 2020

The Myths of the digital space, in defense of dissonance, making sense of a reality in flux and living in a world of stock photos.

This weekend has been an absolute blast: since the launch of this series (and by that I mean the publishing of just the first ‘Weekend Gems’ last Monday), I was pleasantly surprised to find out that a lot of you out there have been reading intriguing essays and pieces that you felt like sharing. Thank you to everyone who reached out and sent me a little something, either an article about AI simulating economic models , Bompas and Parr’s brilliant workanda virus-proof suit that lets you vape and have sex (wait whut). Discussing about last weekend’s readings with those of you who reached out in response to last week’s post was also absolutely fun and challenged my own ways of looking at those readings and ideas (so thank you for that as well, truly made my week!). If you have anything to share beyond this list, were inspired by something in particular or just want to say hi, please do so by emailing me at iosotiri@gmail.com or reaching out on twitter!

On Myths

This reading is coming straight from the vault but it was too good not to share.  A piece that I am currently working on, recently took me back to Peter Schwart’s “The Long View” — a book I am suggesting to absolutely anyone who is even mildly curious about foresight and the power of storytelling and scenario planning. In the book, Schwartz talks about the importance of myths as stories with the power to shape and define behaviors in all aspects and levels of life, be that personal, corporate or national. To illustrate his point, he compares the myths of Japan and the US; both of which countries I have had the chance and privilege to live in. For Schwartz, the myth of Japan is one of resilience and self-reliance, weaved out of the nation’s constant restructuring after repeated natural and political crises. On the other hand, the American Myth for Schwartz is embodied in the all familiar American Dream: a political utopia of individual fulfillment. A myth cannot be right or wrong, good or bad, ethical or unethical and it is precisely this approach that I find the most interesting.

Treating a myth as a moral code which individuals align with and see themselves through, allows one to understand how—and most importantly, why—individuals, systems, legal entities and nations operate the way they do and how they ultimately reach particular decisions.

Re-reading the particular chapter, left me with two questions:
a _ Do digital platforms have their own myths and if they do, how do these affect the users’ behavior within their digital realm? Does Twitch and Youtube run on different moral codes? And what is the agency of the user within the scope of the platform? Most importantly, how do we trace the occasional myth? Is it inscribed in its UI or do we need to dive deep into its big data specter?b _ What is my own country’s myth? Greece has a long history with myths and an even more complicated way of crafting them and re-inventing itself through them. But how many of them are actually defining its identity and how many are stable enough to be turned into prediction models?Highlight:“Myths are “the way things are” as people in a particular society believe them to be; and they are the models people refer to when they try to understand their world and its behavior. Myths are the patterns—of behavior, of belief, and of perception—which people have in common. Myths are not deliberately, or necessarily consciously, fictitious.”-James Robertson, author of American Myth, American Reality2.

Better dissonant than voiceless mute: A story of sonic and spatial agency

In a huge attempt to not sound completely biased (because I am), this piece by the wonderful Chara Stergiou was a very pleasant encounter I had during the weekend. Not only because it brought me back to my hometown and one of the most precious places there are, but because it speaks eloquently about the importance of a concept that never seizes to intrigue me: noise.In the piece, Chara touches upon the modern idea of noise as the disruption of the clear signal as an insult to what is commonly perceived as sonic harmony and order. She then takes its concept outside of its apparent sonic importance; against the fixation with anything measured and quantifiable, noise stands as the error, the invasion of randomness in a system that up until the very moment of disruption was to be perceived as the logistically predictable. By bringing the same argument to the field of spatial design, Chara notes that mental models such as protocols, technical standards (eg. ISO) and other metric systems-as-languages have defined the rules of existing “in very certain terms of materialities that organise and control the realities we live in”. As we are about to enter a world where spatial control will be manifested in every aspect of our lives, I believe it’s a proper time to sit and think of the importance of preserving our right to the random disruption and the value of poor signal, be that sonic or visual.Highlight:Modernity’s endless inventions for proposed metrics and measures systems of the quantified man and its surroundings, or the more contemporary and planetary ISO (International Standards Organisation) overseeing global technical standards from credit card thickness to dashboard pictograms, computer protocols create, as Keller Easterling points out, a “soft law” of global exchanges.3.

ARC Live Project by the From Later studio

This finding fully justified my decision to re-open twitter after a long time of absence from the platform (btw let’s connect). From Later is a foresight studio that, according to their brief description on their website, develops tools and ways of working that augment our faculties for research, problem-solving, and creativity. I am happy to report that they are actually doing that and pretty effectively may I say: ARC is a live project on google slides which documents a plethora of changes we are all collectively experiencing in all possible aspects of our lives. Organized in specific themes, the project provokes thinking and instigates discussions on economic measures, political strategies, the idea of open-source, surveillance in public health, trust in the system and my personal favorite: cultural production online. It does so by bringing forward well thought case studies and extremely interesting references along with a series of uncertainties for each topic. In the midst of a chaotic and continuous bombardment of information, ARC is a well-thought, well-structured, laconic and on-point documentation of the world-right-now and of a plethora of all of our potential futures.Highlight:While I was trying to create scenarios for every uncertainty I was reading (a “game of ideas” that I am highly recommending everyone should try), I found it particularly challenging to provide an answer to the following:“What new risks emerge when the pace of innovation accelerates? How might we ensure that research conducted under the pressures of a tight timeline is adequately vetted and meets ethical standards?”4.

All the world’s a stock photo

I stumbled upon this article by pure accident: apparently, since companies cannot produce genuine content for marketing purposes, the demand for stock footage has risen. Even though at first this fact comes off as obvious or even banal, I am asking you to take a second and entertain the following scenario in your mind: The lockdown continues for much longer than we think and producing new visual content outside of the safe space of our computers is not an option. Every company turns to stock footage which is, despite its ostensible vastness, limited. All of a sudden we start seeing the same guy in a suit giving you the thumbs up, the same girl laughing at the same salad, the same group of friends looking at you while working on a laptop. Suddenly we are surrounded by the same redundant images of a pre-covid world, stuck on a different timeline, trying to persuade us that we are still operating under the same rules (and under the same stereotypes, if I may add). A digital world that accelerates on a different pace than the images it produces and circulates. Bonus RoundJames Ellis Deakins and Roger Deakins have launched a podcast. I don’t think there is anything more to say here other than the fact that beyond the quality of the content (which, I mean, it was expected), James and Roger are absolutely delightful people to listen to. Go listen now - thank me later.