Complex Babbling

Jeff’s last lecture has got me thinking that much of Massive Amateur Culture is about emergence.

Platforms emerge, the things that people create on them emerge and cultural phenomena emerge as people interact with (and even change) those products. The whole thing is one big complex system, whose most beautiful and exciting output is often entirely unintended and unanticipated. Pretty cool.

It reminds me of a story I read about when the engineers at Atari designed the Stella (a.k.a. Atari 2600) game system back in the mid-1970s. Apparently, they thought that at most maybe a dozen or so games could ultimately be created for it. What they didn’t anticipate was that the Atari 2600 would go on to become the first video game platform, for which hundreds of games would ultimately be developed. That was some pretty cool emergence, if you ask me.

And today, platforms pop up all over the digital landscape, all of the time. Some intended, but some unintended (or emergent) as well. And when platforms happen, the things that people create for them are often unintended (or emergent) as well. And as the emergent products of these emergent platforms become part of our collective consciousness in various ways, they begin to inform how we perceive our lives and the world. And that’s just wild to me, that we create HCI stuff for whatever reason and to whatever ends we might imagine, but then we give it to the complex, churning world of culture and ideas and it starts creating all of these new and unimagined emergent things.


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