Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What Reddit's April Fools' Prank Teaches Us About Creativity and Collaborative Design.

I don't think many internet commentators were expecting such profound lessons to sprout from Reddit's r/place pixel project. The gist of how the project worked was that Reddit admins began by uploaded a 1000x1000 blank canvas and allowed any account created prior to March 31st 2017 to colour one pixel at a time from a standard 16-bit colour pallet. After a user placed one of a million pixels, there was a 5 minute cool down period. Therefore, creating anything meaningful required collaboration. Most commentators have noted the absence of hate-speech in the project but don't take its conclusions far enough. I agree with Ars Technica about the basic mechanics of why hate-speech didn't arise:
"As online social spaces evolve and become more acutely subjected to exploits and hateful activity, r/place serves as a rare, if brief, example of what happens when abusive voices require a completely different tactic to thrive. An individual social-network user can devote time to creating multiple accounts and carpet-bombing specific targets with emotional and psychological attacks. An r/place user had to unite an army of persistent voices over long stretches of time to preserve a minuscule bit of pixel real estate.Hate speech is harder for the recipient than the sender because it only takes seconds to rattle off a text attack that can be read, re-read, and remembered by the victim. But if creating and maintaining the abuse takes longer than reading it, maybe that flips the tables."
However, the project offers a far deeper insight into the character of these retrograde forces we see rising around the world and the nature of creativity itself. Briefly, the philosophy of these retrograde forces, where supporting others is anathema to their own cause, undermines their own effort to build anything of substance. Architecture can be a wonderful framework in which to contain contradictory forces to creative ends, but in this case, we see the retrograde force's contradictions melt into inaction. The collaborative design skills of this demographic have deteriorated to such an extent it can't even hold a candle to the silly creative streak of Nyan-cat or Star Wars fans. Experience and observations reveals destruction is easier than creativity. That said, it would seem creativity and collaboration are not as powerless as we thought in the face of wanton destruction. The results of this project emerged organically. People to a great extent want to create, and so the topic of building design management should let them.

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