Back in the Game?

Posted on Thursday, May 7th, 2009 at 1:05 am by Jeremy in prototype | 2 Comments

We have decided to take a short hiatus from the project during these few last hectic weeks of the spring semester in order to deal with the requirements of the academic calendar. As a result, we will be extending this first phase of the SMSC project into the summer months, a move which will give us the much needed extra time to focus more exclusively on our work and culminate with something more substantial. In my opinion, this pause has been helpful; a chance to let go of some of my own frustrations with the sluggish pace of our work, but more importantly a chance to reflect on our discoveries to date and determine our next steps. As I indicated in my last post, the problem of designing social media better conducive to civil discourse is complicated and slippery and there are so many interesting aspects and ways to enter into it that we’ve had a difficult time establishing proper constraints. Jethro and Nick have encouraged us to return to the game structure that we’ve previously developed and I absolutely agree. In my eagerness to get our hands dirty so to speak with some of the social media technology, I had moved us prematurely away from the game strategy partly because the logistical questions of organizing and recruiting the scenarios seemed too daunting given our capacity.

Perhaps I’m just a bit slow (or distracted, more likely), but I finally have some clarity about how to tie together a few loose ends of the project — hence, the above diagram which describes how the game can be organized in a public space with or without any prior recruitment of participants. Here is a structure that builds off the initial game outline (an inner circle of engaged discussants surrounded by bystanders and potential participants) but inserts itself right where we want to be: the Commons. The space of discourse delineated by the circle of chairs is messy, provisional, temporary. Why does someone enter it? Why do the stay or leave? What do they say and how do they say it? Various communication scenarios can be iterated, starting with purely verbal but then introducing other means of communication (perhaps technology, perhaps not) and limited vocabularies. Do traces of these discussions get documented and left behind, adding an asynchronous thread to the discourse? No doubt this will need to be refined and the rules and incentives more carefully worked out, but I’m really excited about this direction. It gets us out there in the world and it’s messy cuz that’s the nature of the Commons, physical or digital.

(It’s curious but completely obvious that this scenario is related to other projects that Nick, Jethro, and I have created and participated in as Directors in the Think Tank that has yet to be named; Publicly Held Private Meetings that operate in a very similar fashion.)

2 Responses to “Back in the Game?”

  1. # On May 7th, 2009 at 7:01 am Jethro Heiko wrote:

    Oh, this is very exciting. And I love the drawing, it is worth some number of words, possibly more than a thousand.

    Looking forward to coming back to the project and experimenting. Very interested in exploring the messy as it seems to be the more challenging part of envisioning the digital commons. Great work.

  2. # On May 7th, 2009 at 9:27 am Nick Jehlen wrote:

    This scenario sounds great – I think you’ve mapped out a really clean way to try this out. I’m thinking that paper versions of technology might be the easiest way to try out different communication methods quickly. From our experience with the red phone hotlines to Iran, I think we’ll need a high-traffic area with a mix of people – perhaps a festival or other public gathering that is unrelated to whatever topics we choose?