Today someone had searched for ‘peer review makes me cry’ – and ended up on my blogpost ‘statistics makes me cry…’. Sweet. I love this. Search engines hold the key to secret thoughts, sentiments and moods – how often do I take a look at the statistics of my blog and smile? Yes, I resort to the very same strategy. Whenever the initial search produces rather poor results, I find myself typing entire sentences, in a sort of let’s-see-what-the-machine-makes-of-this mood. Surprisingly often I am presented with very interesting links I would otherwise not have found.
Tagging, categorising and other lablling practices are often subject to temporary and arbitrary, individually shaped, highly selective patterns – or no recognisible patterns at all. What’s beneath the keywords and the hunt for information that responds to my fragmented questions is then, perhaps, a more empathetic approach. I take a step back, focus on what I actually really look for or feel in that very moment, and here we go: someone else thought it at an earlier point. And blogged or twittered or videoblogged about it.
It’s a moment when the machine becomes more human…an illusion, I know. But I love it, this kind of imagined and part-real connectivity.
Do you want to get your hands on some serious budget work? Shift a few millions here, half a billion of Dollars there? California’s State Budget is available online, i.e. the Interactive Budget Planner, with a $24 billion deficit is waiting to be tackled. The dilemmas start when you look into the proposed cuts – which social group deserves to keep their funds, who could live with less? So, are you going to slash grants for developmentally disabled people or raise the tax on alcohol?
Governor Schwarzenegger does the right thing by resorting to harness the power of millions of citizens (and non-citizens in- and outside the state’s boundaries) in this attempt source all crowds imaginable. It is a way not only to tap mass intellectual and creative power but also to educate at the same time. The pop-up windows linked to each key category such as law enforcement, health, human services etc deliver further information and figures that inform the decision-making, give a sense of the wider picture. It’s certainly a way to also make everyone feel a bit more responsible and in charge, a bit more part of the nation. When does Europe begin to learn from such participatory approach?
In Coming of Age in Second Life, Tom Boellstorff argues that virtuality is actually an ‘ancient human practice and that many media have given us leave of the here and now: cave paintings, Jane Austen novels, Howard Nemerov poems’ (2008). His words in mind I went to see Inkheart in Berlin and could not have found a better illustration of the notion that virtuality is indeed ‘older than sin’ as Boellstorff quotes Plato. Assuming, we imagine our deeds first, then act – although, there is an element of awareness implied that might make all the difference.
Boellstorff’s extensive ethnographic research in Second Life provides us with a richness that won’t allow to dismiss virtual communities as less real as it would mean to miss the key point: what makes them real is our imagination. Equality of imagined and non-imagined places, communities and actions is probably what we can argue for now, having access to so much information and proof of what people imagine and how they imagine.
New social media are the places where a considerable amount of our daily interaction and non-verbal communication take place. Where happiness and depression have a lot in common and reproduce themselves. Without imagination there is little beyond routine: the future is a child of your creative imagination, imagination can destroy, combat crime or start wars. Imagine fear and the cold hand taking hold of you is not far. In this sense new social media is actually not new at all. Interacting with others, forming sustainable and healthy social relationships as well as learning from conflicts are subjects to our imaginative powers and just as Inkheart illustrates so colourfully: escaping from inside the written words into the world declared as real or being pulled inside a book – remember The Neverending Story, Peter Pan’s Neverland, Pippi Longstocking? – it all does seem to be very real. We used to be skilled in imagining whole worlds and futures before we internalised what we were told then: to be realistic, to not get lost in imagined and fantasized worlds. Imagination has become highly status-related: certain literature, music, opera and theatre are encouraged and socially rewarding whereas some popular culture, certain video-gaming and virtual interaction do not enhance our social and cultural capital, so far at least a still dominant argument brought up by many who don’t think much of virtual communities.
Whose reality is it anyway? Imagined readers and writers are closely tied together in Inkheart, escaping from outside into the other world becomes possible by reading the words to an audience, a listener. Do we imagine the other and their world when addressing someone in a letter, an electronic message, on the phone or in Second Life? Perhaps we need to ask when we do not imagine an audience and when we are not imagined as part of the visible or invisible audience…in online and offline worlds full of CCTV, cookies and user statistics leaving traces just as bold as tinkerbell’s fairy dust.
We would benefit from a more holistic approach, I believe, when it comes to understanding the real impact of our imaginations upon our manufactured ‘real worlds’. Imagine, all the people, sharing one virtual world – with many virtual sub-worlds, of course – in awareness of their imaginative powers….imagine all the people understanding the responsibility that comes with such powers…
I got stuck in the Northern Line this morning, 8am, on the way to work. So the conductor from within his separate space got in touch with the crowd: [tired voice] ‘would the person leaning against the door please move away…otherwise I will have to check all doors, and that’s going to take ages’. How was he imagining his audience, I wondered. If he was imagining us at all that is…
In front of me a lady in pink – applying make up, lots of make up to be fair. She managed to do that with a very quiet hand in the totally crowded tube, standing in move-with-the-speed mode. Impressive. Obviously, she was either used to audience, desiring ‘us’ as onlookers – or totally ignorant of all those around her attractive self.
Last night I discussed with a friend who wants to write a travel guide – and my own blogging experience came up. Again, audiences sprang to mind. Who are ‘they’ – are they groups, individuals, no names, blurred or simply a grey invisible mass?
Finally, I saw a tap show with friends on stage at the white cabaret [Inn on the Green, London], sitting on cushions in touching distance to the stage, and again: audiences. How did the performers visualise/imagine and perceive the audience/s – blurred in the shadows of a 1920s style purple/black ambience? Or did they ignore us in order to concentrate? Audiences – who are you? Frequently also of importance, perhaps even more so: where are you?