User:Lucia Dossin/Reading Writing Research Methodologies/Assignment 7/Essay
Last year I have been working on projects which aim to put user passiveness, user awareness and consumerism in the spotlight, by sometimes unveiling the structure running behind the surface, other times by disguising the critique into something digestible and fun to play with.
The Free Association Index. The index in this case is a set of subjective relationships among words, accessible through a Google-like interface. Let me think is a browser plug-in that interferes in the online shopping experience at Amazon by canceling the 'buy in one click' feature. Print Cake is an on-demand print shop installation/performance where visitors can buy cupcakes.
The Free Association Index works just like Google. The difference is, of course, that you get another sort of results. You search for a word and you get a list of other words. These words were connected to the search term by using a subjective criteria. When you click on a word in the results, you get another set of corresponding words. Besides that, each word you click is recorded within the sequence started in your search. If you want, you can print the whole word sequence of your search and see your free association path.
Also, by clicking on a word (and thus excluding all other displayed results for the searched term), it will be given a rate that could be used to modify the results in future searches. The criteria for this is not defined yet. There are multiple parallel indexes, each one being made using different input material. This way, the same search term would show different results, depending on the index you're using.
It will be possible for users to add entries to the index by suggesting connections to words. These suggestions, when accepted, will be displayed differently in the page. It is important to emphasize the origin of the entry.
Let me think is a browser plug-in, which means it has to be downloaded and installed. It requires that the user performs some action to make it happen.
Once it is installed, when user visits the Amazon.com website, the 'Add to Cart' button is removed from the page. In its place, my own button is used. This personalized, truly customized button does not behave as the original one: instead of putting the products in the shopping cart immediately, a pop up screen is displayed, with a question such as 'Do you really need to buy a [name of product]?Take your time and think about it.' User can then Cancel the plug-in and go back to Amazon's regular website or keep thinking about the purchase. The pop up screen will be withdrawn in any case, but if user chose to keep thinking, by clicking on the modified button again, a new question will be displayed and the purchase is postponed one more time.
By adding time to the shopping cycle, I'm trying to break this automatic, almost unconscious behavior that web shops wants us to engage with. Just clicking on things and buying without reflecting on what we're doing.
Print Cake is an installation/performance where cupcakes are decorated with a snippet of William Morris' News from Nowhere printed on edible paper and edible ink and sold for customers/visitors.
There are two kinds of cupcakes: the standard and the customized. The former costs less than the latter. For the customized version, customers choose a color and a word, through a simple interface (a one-page website running on full screen browser without navigation bars). The word generates a snippet of text (taken from News from Nowhere). This text is placed onto a designed template and in combination with the chosen color is printed on edible paper and placed on top of the cupcake. In the standard version no choices are possible – they all have the same color and just a few variations on the text snippets.
Two of the projects share a common wish for bringing awareness to our online experience. By rejecting a position in which the user reacts automatically and/or unconsciously to the system or by playing with the idea of a subjective index which mimics the way Google works, I believe I am questioning structures which are taken for granted most of the time. By being aware of how a structure works it gets easier for us to see which values are underneath it, allowing us to act more critically towards it.
In Print Cake, there are noticeable differences in relation to previous projects – first, there is a big shift in my role in the project. In Print Cake, I am physically present. Second, there is a change in the place where the project happens: the web not only is a side tool, less visible. The interface is not even recognizable as something running on the browser, because all elements that could indicate that were removed from the screen. It looks like a standalone application – it could even run on a local network, actually. But there are also commonalities, such as the call for participation and access to the 'production-line' space.
Ideology as a script, technology as a framework
In “Pervert's Guide to Ideology”, Zizek states that ideology is what (strongly) influences or conducts the way we behave in society, by obscuring the real (material) forces behind the mechanics of this society and letting us believe that this obscured, new meaning is a natural law. It is ideology that determines the values and principles that will be considered by us as our own.
Classic Marxism says that material reality – that is, the economic forces, structures and interests – is the power behind this human construction, the society. The ruling class – the one in charge of economic power – determines not only the terms which ideology will define, but their own definitions as well. According to Marx, 'the ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance.' (Marx, 1846, The German Ideology) Is fighting against an idea strong enough to shoot down the economic structure behind the idea?How does public awareness get the chance to effectively change the conditions where exploitation occurs? Capital has proven to have an extraordinary ability to annihilate possible threats to its authority by incorporating them as mainstream trends. It may be impossible to change that. That doesn't mean though that nothing should be done by the concerned ones.
Web 2.0 and us, the Users
The web pre 2.0, an environment dominated by personal homepages, each one being radically different from each other (the 'web with flavor'), showed to be working 'rather well without a business plan'. (Lanier, You are not a gadget, 2010, p. 15) Even when 'Google came along with the idea of linking advertising and searching', that had only indirect effects. It was only when Google's next idea started to be implemented that things began to change. This idea consists of digitally representing people so that they can be matched to ads.
The digital representation of a person implies a gigantic amount of reduction and simplification. Not only to make this representation possible and valid, but also because it causes us to behave like a simplified digital representation. From the design of a Facebook profile and possible (or expected) interactions to the key concepts of web usability and user experience (which are in the foundations of Apple's design, for example), we are treated as rudimentary units, possessors of binary minds. Ambiguity is out of question.
There is no exterior position possible, no seats to 'spectator-only'. We are all part of this structure, whether we like it or not.
Roudinesco E. and Plon M. (1997) Dicionário de Psicanálise, Jorge Zahar Editor
Melvin J. (Apr-Jun 2013) An interview with Joshua Oppenheimer, Inside Indonesia
Marx K and Engels F. (1846) The German Ideology, online
Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw (Oct 2011) Auditorium Moscow. Renzo Martens: Enjoy Poverty. Episode III