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  • Writer's pictureSteven Doughty

Critical Experiences: Project #2 Reflections

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

My final presentation for the consisted of three different projects. I called "Mukbang for None", "Expired", and "Partial Decay". My topic was to explore the idea I what I am calling information decay and how it might be presented in a way that is interactive, tactile, and evocative. Initial research led me to interview some friends of mine who work as academic researchers who work specifically with the transmission and spread of information across historical intellectual networks and modern social media/technical networks. In addition to the interviews I read explored material across the disciplines of socio-technical studies, media theory, and informatics.

I prepared for the interview by reviewing the material provided in the course notes and created some questions. Both of the interviews ended up lasting over two-hours and provided an extremely broad view of the style, methods, and practices used by those working in the humanities and political science when dealing with data and information. I had the interviews transcribed and began working through leads and references provided. Continuing my work it soon became clear to me that the philosophical depth and breadth of the concept was likely too large to approach in a way that felt complete, but I continued to work looking for a way to clearly define and demarcate the difference between the concepts of data, information as well as their relation to time. I worked out a few rough outlines and a simple system map to highlight some basic aspects to focus on. With my attention settling on three moments in the cycle information contextualization(socio-technical construction of information from data), direct information decay (information to data), and general information decay(slower social process).

Information contextualization manifested as the "Mukbang for None". The goal of the project was to create an interactive environment that highlights the material nature of how digital data is processed into information as well as the contextual-social nature of how data is made into information. The inability to playtest and workshop the experience due to Covid left it with a few blind spots. The physicality of stepping over cables, pressing record, and making the decision to modify/delete the digital file afterwards did not carry over quite as well as I hoped and limited to connection to information generation that I wanted to cultivate in the user. The presentation itself was framed as a fringe internet cultural phenomena originating in Korea known as the Mukbang. I felt that this framing was generally effective as I received comments asking for more exposition or context about the Mukbang. I think this lack of context would have been more effective along side the in-person experience and would have pushed people to consider aggressively "Who is all this technology for?" and "Why do they need it?".

"Mukbang for None" is likely a misnomer, as the idea is more a for a single user to interact with the project, exposing them more directly with to the types of physical technologies which are often hidden from sight and that make possible the ubiquity of the modern information/media environment. While also participating directly in a small-scale psuedo-social process that determines if processed raw and recorded data of these technologies is useful or valuable information, by choosing to save or delete each session.

"Expiration" was to address what I am calling direct information decay. When something that is considered information, or a container of information, and it no longer holds its value as originally intended. I found this project more subtle to represent as through my research I had already settled personally that information is processed data and that concept of "processing" is a social and local phenomena. I chose some generally recognizable mediums and looked into when they first appeared in popular culture and then by placing BESTBY or EXPIRED on stickers on them I tried to draw attention to the temporary nature of the object and by association what the object contains. Visually, I think the images are simple, but rich as they provide a very quick snapshot of the idea and concept. The downside is that by not including more some of the more representational items I had initially planned such as books on superseded scientific theories or antique maps the project veered more heavily toward the concept of digital decay ( a relevant material offspring of information decay) than I had hoped. I think that something like a "sample bar" in which users could try out the different mediums/products presented and hear or see things speculative fictions from the past or news reels predicting the results from long finished elections would help focus the experience more conceptually. In an ideal world these objects would be placed either as a sorta of guerilla campaign inside grocery stores or situated just outside the "Mukbang for One" room arranges as a deli counter or snack kiosk.

The final exploration and prototype I worked with was around the idea of general information decay. Whereas with direct information decay the information or knowledge itself is made socially or contextually irrelevant due to the introduction of new ideologies, or technologies. General information decay come when information through misuse or overuse begins to slowly lose contextual markers that place it in a local. I chose to show this by editing small audio and video clips from larger pieces, something that would conceivably be done by a news station, textbook, or archivist for a variety of reasons. Each edit is socially and locally driven and what is left on the edit - floor may be considered identifying or valuable to others in a different space and place. What is left is often still very data dense and highly processed, but depends heavily on specific audiences or publics that no longer exist. I imagine taking this project and placing it in the same waiting from outside the "Mukbang for One" experience, but editing the and framing the selections as looping advertisements and news updates. I was actually very pleased with the two pieces I ended up presenting, I think they showed the excellent potential of the concept. I admit, this particular element still needs the most work and development.

Overall my process with the project has elevated my understanding of information science and information studies significantly. I still have a stack of books I am actively reading and engaged with and I happily look forward to seeing how I can develop these ideas further. Although in many ways I wish that I would have picked a form and focused more intensely on it, in the end I am pleased that I allowed myself to explore my own thoughts and questions more liberally as it allowed me to cover more ground. I think I will develop these three specific projects as a sort of pop-up installation adding the metaphor of a waiting room/snack kiosk outside the larger experience. I am hopefully curious to see how this project will impact future work.

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