Aaron Koblin & Karsten Schmidt


Aaron Koblin:

I had previously seen Koblin‘s House of Cards project, which is an amazing visualization and a generous offering to the open-source data-visualization and “music video without video” community. The street scenes are particularly useful and the one of Thom Yorke is somewhere between haunting and eerie. The “video” ran impressively in my browser.

I was most intrigued by Ten Thousand Cents. This project reminded me of the artist Santiago Sierra, who amongst other things, hired day laborers to support a piece of Sheetrock at a 65-degree angle for an entire day. Despite being a representation of a $100 bill, Ten Thousand Cents does not have the heavy political overtones of Sierra’s work. The concept is neatly squared and the use of web labor seems entirely unproblematic, even healthy and worth encouraging. The sheep project did not capture my interest as much. Unlike the $100, the sheep visualization did not have a culmination, a big picture. Choosing one of the tiny images for enlargement was a bit arduous. The presence of an overarching image encourages closer inspection, while a scattered array feels like the end of the road. Ten Thousand Cents was a perfect illustration of how cheap, anonymous online labor can be used to build complex systems or visualizations. $100 is quite cheap for all that work. On the whole, I think these projects indicate a great potential for many wonderful uses and misuses of Mechanical Turk.

Karsten Schmidt:

There seems to be the growing belief that Twitter will finally tell us who we really are, what we care about, etc. Of course, to gather this sort of information, we must learn how to programmatically distinguish what we care about from what we talk about. This is the hard part. On a certain night each year, American Idol would appear to be the nation’s chief concern, its central value. This is an illusion. It trends to the top, but that’s all it is – a brief conversational fad. Schmidt’s Social Collider is realistic about this, its mission is to “visualize how memes are created and how they propagate.” The meme, rather than the content of a meme, is the subject at hand. The Social Collider seems poised to show how a meme moves, but I wonder if there might be a programmatic approach to the consideration of why a meme moves, why particular ones take off and others fade. I enjoyed the aesthetic influence of the LHC – the visualization was beautiful. This reference seems to imply that there is a Higgs-Boson of the meme universe, a secret particle which brings matter into existence. Given this reference, we should also consider whether the Observer Effect and Heisenberg uncertainty principle apply to memes. Drawing upon the tools and the aesthetics of particle physics is a bold move and it seems to me that this comparison must be drawn to its logical ends, if it is to be utilized at all. The events of particle physics occur on an imperceivable temporal scale. How does this relate to meme instantiation and perpetuation? In any case, I found this to be a great visualization project and I look forward to seeing how it develops.

The works of Schmidt and Koblin are quite different from one another. In Koblin’s, the anonymous internet user is an active participant. Though he or she does not know the exact purpose of their contribution, they are aware of their making one. Schmidt’s project on the other hand, sends a drill into the ice – a probe into nature, which takes a reading and does not try to situate itself within the system. Social analysis and action each have their purpose and these two works serve as excellent examples of this difference. As a work of art, I was most taken with Koblin’s project because it drew upon the power of the internet to build something new, rather than to frame or contextualize what already exists. In college, I had a new media professor who urged that we keep our use of Google image search in check. Go outside, make new things. Visualization is always at risk of becoming a wholly spectator sport. In a sense it is that by definition, yet Koblin shows it may be something else too. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle does not only guide our understanding of how we look at nature, it is a force of nature in itself and therefore deserves to be studied for its own sake.

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