A representative of a dot-com start-up is pitching a system enabling the theatre of the future, powered by an algorithm. The system is designed to give a mass audience choice, personalisation and agency over their experience.
Because individual choice is everything.
Individualism in The Coming Insurrection and The Enemy Of The People
There’s a very basic prototype in play for the audience now (using cards rather than buttons or telepathy). The experience for an audience combines an individualised stream, infinitely scalable, together with a comforting illusion of communality.
A gradual reveal. It’s 1997. A time of huge optimism, New Labour elected, we can change the world.
The Millennium Bug is on the horizon, the moment when the system fails.
1997: in the recent past, the near-future is now.
It allows for a more playful realisation of the present, like cheap sci-fi.
It’s also for us to reflect back on 17 years, what we remember, how the world has changed.
The system is like the child of the start-upper (if the internet was born in 1989 then it’s 8).
The start-upper is there to convince the audience. To get their applause, their investment, their love for the child.
They are also the source of the data with which the child will grow.
La Dispute as a reference – the aristocratic experiment to see how will the children turn out? What’s the equivalent of the original sin here being investigated?
A narrative arc from utopian hope to…?
Inside the narrative frame is placed the system.
The system is powered by an algorithm.
“We are here to help you be more like people like you”
It is an aggregate voice, presented by the recorded and live scripted voices of the actors, driven by the aggregated minds of people like you.
It presents people like you with choices, promising them influence and agency in the system.
The actors are the actors of the system, its operators, and its objects.
What are the attitudes and relationships of the actors to the system?
You the people each have a card with a number.
The default choice structure is binary A/B.
You raise the card for A, and otherwise, it’s B.
It’s listening to people like you, the people in this box. But there are other people like you, in other boxes like this. ASH is listening to them too.
This is a simple structure, which allows people to do nothing, but they can’t not participate in the system. There’s a default bias to B (unless the audience become very active).
We want the choices to be very present in people’s minds.
We want a feeling of being gently pushed around. Perhaps a moment where people might collectively refuse to participate.
A moment of perspective shift, where you realise you are but one of very many people in one of very many boxes.
It’s an embodied action, raising your arm with a card.
With eyes open, you can see everyone else, it feels like a collective vote (and that’s part of the communal illusion).
With have your eyes closed, it feels like an individual preference.
The system is based on an ideology of individual choice: presenting the world to you immediately, cheaply and personally.
It might be tuned with eyes closed, to a set of scenarios tapping into psychological dimensions of this child-like capitalism.
You are five years old. You’ve been walking all day, and your feet are hurting. Your mammy offers you can sit in the pushchair, or you can continue to walk despite your mammy’s lovely offer.
Raise the card to walk, otherwise pushchair.
Thank you. Tuning the system, 80% complete.
Sometimes, the system changes the interactive model.
If it’s stuck, then it perhaps throws it open to you – ‘what happens next?’ but can take that back when you hesitate or stumble.
Sometimes it picks an individual whose choices it will represent for everyone.
The system presents you with an intuitive interface as a facade, so you don’t worry about what’s going on inside the system and why you can’t change that.
The system is like the masterful servant, your bestie, your phone assistant. Sometimes, the interplay between the system and the audience might feel like a tussle for agency.
Much like The Stanley Parable.
We use this system to render and represent the world.
We use this system to tell a story.
James Bridle: Waving To The Machines talk
It’s an immaterial world rendered in our imagination.
“it’s a world of the imagination. It’s a world that hasn’t been entirely formed yet. It’s still coming into being. But it’s very much a world that shares boundaries with ours. It’s very close to ours. And you can see them looking around in it, with the same spirit of interest and curiosity that anyone exhibits in a new world.”
The imaginative framing device:
Which inspires you more? A Meadow or A Forest?
High up on the wall of her box there is a framed picture of a [INSPIRATION]. It’s designed to inspire people like her. She imagines walking into the [INSPIRATION].
Which do you hear when you imagine tranquility? A bird singing or a stream burbling?
And when she opens her eyes, she’s on the street outside, looking up at the building made of boxes.
Somewhere in the distance, she thinks she can hear [TRANQUILITY].
She walks towards it.
Digital systems are also the technology by which our choice is scaled.
Our individual choices are scaled up algorithmically, with surprising consequences.
A story of a person like you. Someone you play.
She’s called [NAME].
[NAME] explores her world as we are building it for her.
Her world repeats as we build it for her.
She’s an individual protagonist inside the system. We respond to the individual story, the underdog rising up against the system, but this is a system in which our choices are complicit.
Sometimes you are tuning the system.
Sometimes you are designing new properties of the system, even challenging it.
Sometimes you decide things for [NAME].
Sometimes you are the aggregated moments of [NAME].
Sometimes you are building the world.
Sometimes the choices you make switch on/off objects in the world, or properties of the world, or portals.