Social Design using feedback loops: guides and manuals


For Wired Magazine, Thomas Goetz looks at the idea of feedback loops and how they can be used as a powerful tool that can help change people’s behavior in Feedback Loops Are Changing What People Do.

The basic premise is that technology has advanced to a point that sensors have become cheap and powerful enough that data (ie: ubicomp) the key and necessary precursor to establishing a feedback loop, can be captured and transmitted about a wide range of factors. Which creates the possibility of increasing energy efficiency, medication administration compliance or calming traffic. The key however is for the design to be straight-forward. Goetz quotes David Rose

The best sort of delivery device “isn’t cognitively loading at all,” he says. “It uses colors, patterns, angles, speed—visual cues that don’t distract us but remind us.” This creates what Rose calls “enchantment.” Enchanted objects, he says, don’t register as gadgets or even as technology at all, but rather as friendly tools that beguile us into action. In short, they’re magical.

To me this implies a sort of pre-cognitive design. Reptilian or primordially evocative. Something that is almost instinctual affective. Early versions of this sort of interventional designed trigger ie: can be found in the example of  projects like Amphibious Architecture

which submerged ubiquitous computing into the water—the substance that makes up 90% of the Earth’s inhabitable volume and envelops New York City but remains under-explored and under-engaged. Two networks of floating interactive tubes, installed at sites in the East River and the Bronx River, house a range of sensors below water and an array of lights above water. The sensors monitor water quality, presence of fish, and human interest in the river ecosystem. The lights respond to the sensors and create feedback loops between humans, fish, and their shared environment. An SMS interface allows citizens to text-message the fish, to receive real-time information about the river, and to contribute to a display of collective interest in the environment.

How could such designs use feedbacks loops to highlight a psychology of ecologies. Creating social ecologies that are based on visible data, instruments for evolving environment ecologies. Wherein the idea of prosociality has been extended to include all species not just our own? This could result in an experimental altruism of ecological infrastructure(s). Soft infrastructures of resilience.

Next, think about the  idea of gamification. Of social gaming or networked social economies. Non-currency based earnings. Recently I read

A few hours of raking leaves might build up points that can be used in a gardening game. And the games induce people to earn more points, which means repeating good behaviors. The idea, Krejcarek says, is to “create a bridge between the real world and the virtual world. This has all got to be fun.”

Could this idea be applied to infrastructural, urban landscape design? I have wondered before about how one might create a less capital intensive form of maintenance. Could one solution be a form  based more on a knowledge building, community creating, recreational-volunteerism? It seems like one could take the growth of games like FarmVille to the next level.  Applying the concept of gamification to community development or urban ecologies. The result being a sort of social design (by designing social interactions and using social interactions to shape more traditional designed things/scapes) using feedback loops to develop recreational modes of doing and learning.

Finally, their would be in such a program a need for an owner/player, manual of sorts. Every game has one, right? Recently,  faslanyc in Surveying the Field: Guides and Manuals, wrote about the possibilities of the manual.

we are interested in the possibility that landscape and architectural practice might move away from the plan set and capital project as the sole primary document for design and towards a more open arrangement defined by the manual.  As Brett Milligan of F.A.D. and Rob Holmes of Mammoth recently noted, we had a chance to work this idea out a bit in the most recent issue of MonU.

He went on to contrast two genres: guides  and manuals. Whereas “the guide is a commercial endeavor” focused on identification the “emphasis of the manual is technique- the manner and ability of a person to employ the specialized skills to execute specific procedures.  The manual is instrumental and operational”  Then closing with “When the maintenance manual- already a part of traditional design projects, albeit a neglected and unglamorous part- is considered in conjunction with the theoretical and speculative efforts to construct landscapes that are more open, performative, and adaptive over time, the manual might be repositioned in design projects as the primary document, with plans becoming secondary.

 In conclusion what is the importance of manuals?  I would argue that particularly in the current economic times of austerity the importance of manuals is increased. For after all aren’t manuals more about manual (labor) rather than capital (flows). Many people also have more time than money now. Even in my case a manual could be a tool for strategizing. For the manual helps to sort the easily achievable from the more prophetically desired. In the end a manual can perhaps be thought of as a document focused more on the how to (including whens and wheres) than the final what. Yet, I would like to think that the manual can also be a form of critical speculative design as others have already articulated more clearly

re: the concept of animal aesthetics

I learned that all of Prum’s peers are well aware of his work and that many already accept some of the core tenets of his argument: namely that natural and sexual selection are distinct processes and that, in at least some cases, beauty reveals nothing about an individual’s health or vigor…Like the glistening scales on the surfperch and swordtails that Cummings studied, the túngara’s costly mating call did not evolve to convey any pragmatic information about health or fitness. But that doesn’t mean that these traits were arbitrary. They were the result of specific, discernible aspects of the animals’ environments, anatomy and evolutionary legacy…Beauty reveals that evolution is neither an iterative chiseling of living organisms by a domineering landscape nor a frenzied collision of chance events. Rather, evolution is an intricate clockwork of physics, biology and perception in which every moving part influences another in both subtle and profound ways.

Ferris Jabr here via NYT (Sunday) Magazine

Meme-watch: parafiction

the parafictional.12Fiction or fictiveness has emerged as an important category in recent art. But, likea paramedic as opposed to a medical doctor, a parafiction is related to but notquite a member of the category of fiction as established in literary and dramaticart. It remains a bit outside. It does not perform its procedures in the hygienicclinics of literature, but has one foot in the field of the real. Unlike historical fic-tion’s fact-based but imagined worlds, in parafiction real and/or imaginarypersonages and stories intersect with the world as it is being lived. Post-simulacral,parafictional strategies are oriented less toward the disappearance of the real thantoward the pragmatics of trust. Simply put, with various degrees of success, for var-ious durations, and for various purposes, these fictions are experienced as fact

via Carrie Lambert-Beatty

h/t Aaron Betsky piece on a new hut/shelter by a student at Taliesin

re: Donna Haraway

The cyborg point of view is shaped in part by social movements around labor, race, gender, sexuality and indigenous rights. The cyborg point of view is shaped in part by the sciences, by struggles to produce objective knowledge of the world, complete with substitutions transposed into it from the dominant forms of organization.

The cyborg point of view has at least one other component: the point of view of the apparatus itself, of the electrons in our circuits, the pharmaecuticals in our bloodstreams, the machines that mesh with our flesh.

via McKenzie Wark at Public Seminar

re: the form (and meaning) of the landscape film(s)

But how precisely does this experience of viewing the filmed surfaces of landscapes create meaning? And why has this form been sustained across time, geography, and medium format? To the extent to which these works rely upon, even demand, patience and curiosity from the viewer, and generally eschew overt narrational devices (such as voice-over) to direct the viewer’s attention or interpretation of the images, what knowledge do they propose to offer the viewer via the lens-based capture of landscape?…If images of landscapes are always surfaces to be penetrated in pursuit of extractable knowledge, then landscape film—and perhaps documentary cinema as a whole—might be conceived as part of the same alignment of optics and power that Macarena Gómez-Barris calls ‘the extractive view.‘…Above, this essay posed a question: what do landscapes tell us? In fact, perhaps the more relevant question would be: must landscapes tell us anything? In a historical epoch in which physical space is increasingly privatized, enclosed, and excavated—rendered unlivable, immaterial, or monetizable—what are the ethics of representing landscape, and does this activity necessitate a further exploitation of space as image, data, or form?

via ‘Theories of the Earth: Surface and Extraction in the Landscape Film‘ by Leo Goldsmith, World Records – Vol. II

Meme-watch: AI Urbanism

Professor Benjamin Bratton examines the possibilities of Big Data urbanism and argues for a future wherein environments are not just data sources for programs of AI urbanism but cybernetic, synthetic users.

The garment being cut and sewn is not only for us to wear; the city also wears us…The lesson from the cuttlefish for how we should imagine a rich ecology of urban-scale AI is profound…I advocate that technologies that augment the capacities of exposed surfaces, whole organisms, or relations between them should extend deeply into the ecological cacophony…augmented reality for crows, and artificial intelligence for insects.

Via ‘The City Wear’s Us


And yet, for the Air Force drone pilots, it is precisely this safe remove from combat that causes distress. Rapidly and repeatedly switching back and forth from war zone to home life, the drone pilot experiences a breakdown in the semantic register of both. Suburbia, a signifier of domesticity, becomes a battlefield. The inoculation proves poisonous…The development of this context, of the city and its suburbs, of securitization as well as drone warfare, constitutes a set of fundamentally related autoimmune processes within the body politic.

PIN-UP 24 published ‘Suburbicide‘ by Nicholas Korody with artwork by Khalid al Gharaballi.

September, 2018, in Places

Brent Sturlaugson onthe supply chains of architecture” and “networks of materials, energy, power, money“. To wit;

In describing some of the processes by which coal mined in Wyoming comes to supply a coal-fired power plant in Georgia, which in turn provides power to a nearby plywood manufacturer, I have sketched only the most basic components of the supply chains of a single resource and single commodity. And likewise, in tracing how the profits from energy generation and product manufacturing can then be deployed to influence electoral politics, which in turn affect our national policies and personal lives, I’ve offered but a glimpse

Shannon Mattern (as part of her self-described “urban data and mediated spaces” beat) examines “the hardening of American borders and the spread of new technologies of recognition and identification that are changing the way we appear to one another.” Particularly “In Trump’s America“.

Ultimately, laying out “a final object lesson, which proposes a new way of responding to the border, an embodied transnationalism“.