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Thesis Abstract v.0.5.

Written by on 28th October 2011 in "Official" Papers, Thoughts with Leave a comment

Fun in Function (a working title)

We live in a networked world with increasingly blurry lines between our physical and virtual lives. Our computation-centric society is more orderly, more systematic, and more governed by algorithms than ever before. Technologists often rush forward, in the name of progress, without looking back to reflect upon the effects (or missed opportunities) in their wake. Focusing on the “how” instead of the “why” these new pioneers develop faster and better ways of systemizing, quantifying, streamlining, and tagging our world. As new algorithms get pumped out faster and faster, ubiquitous networked computing pervades everything from our built environment to our front pockets. What effect does this have on our lives?

Technology has fundamentally altered the separation of work and play.(1) The idea of work was once confined to the tangible real world, while play was allowed to exist in the intangible imaginary realm. For many of us who work in the world of the intangible, work is often no longer bound to the rules of reality, making it particularly ripe for hacking. What was once a serious and quantitatively true system can become a space for collaborative interaction, especially within the context of our rapidly advancing technology. Our algorithms already create questionably objective “truths” that shape our real world, from finances to culture to terrain.(2) Thus, a new system can emerge that is open to a wide range of “truths” created by humans that also shape the world we live in. But because the systems we’ve created work faster than us as individuals, we’ll have to work together to keep up with them.

Within the ordinary world, both physical and virtual, there are already “magic circles” (3) ripe for the picking everywhere. Being subject to arbitrary (and often absurd) rules and constraints, these areas are subject to new possibilities bound only by imagination. But what kind of possibilities are we aspiring to create? Within these new systems that make our lives more efficient, what will be the role of the human? As algorithmic thinking becomes an increasingly valuable skill, we must create space for capricious thinking to flourish as well. With the inconveniences and obstacles of life being “cured” away with technology, will there still be space for human intervention, improvisation, and interpretation? What type of work will we value?

While we seem to believe that play is the opposite of work, a good game actually invites players to do more hard work by tackling unnecessary obstacles in an interesting way. The creativity of play comes not from removing constraints but by reinterpreting and finding new possibility within the constraints.(4) Looking at our real world “magic circles” through the lens of potential opportunities for play, we can find new ways to reshape it, with goals other than just profit and efficiency. Since people’s behaviors are heavily influenced by their environment, with this power we also have to take responsibility for the type of values or behaviors we’re promoting.(5) It’s also important to keep the system open enough for individual agency, allowing new possibilities to emerge and raise new questions about what we currently accept as fact or normalcy.(6)

With these values in mind, I want to mash up our everyday spaces and technologies as a way to create alternative uses for them, challenging arbitrary systems of so-called technological and cultural progress. I want to hack together our existing real and virtual worlds as way to explore (and exploit) the absurd assumptions that both hold these worlds together and keep them apart. By encouraging the co-existence of creative free play in both our digital and physical lives, I am hoping to create new spaces of possibility for others to build upon and reshape.

1 Margo Hilbrecht .Changing Perspectives on the Work–Leisure Relationship.

2 Kevin Slavin. Ted Talk: How algorithms shape our world

3 Johan Huizinga. Homo Ludens

4 Jane McGonigal. Reality is Broken

5 Jonathan Harris. World Building in a Crazy World.

6 McKinzie Wark. A Hacker Manifesto.

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