So, the topic of the post is Grant's idea of the "Culturematic" machine (is it even a machine? I don't know). The Culturematic is a simple two step process of creating culture that starts with cooking up an interesting premise and then actually, you know, DOING it. Sounds pretty simple. And at the very least, we can agree that the cost of trying stuff out, experimenting, is pretty neglible. I love this slide from the awesome Google presentation, 87 cool things.
This is, of course, nothing new to those of you that have been witnessing the outpouring of creativity and accessibility to the tools of "cultural production" over the last few years. The democratization of creativity and flattening of the means of culture making are pretty clear.
What interests me more about Grant's "Culturematics" is that it gives us a glimpse in to how that democratization and accessibility is subtly but surely changing the types of things we are creating. We aren't just talking about producing the same kind of cultural artifacts and output. Our creative vision is changing. The world is becoming more expansive, more fragmented, we can know everything about any thing, and technology gives us the illusion to dream big and think of the unthinkable. In Grant's words, it starts quite literally with asking, "What if?".
This has massive implications. The ability to ask "What if?" questions, combined with the knowlege and expectation that they can not only be realized but also distributed has been promising to change culture, and in my mind part of that is bestowing the (super) powers of cultural invention to those who want it.
On that note, I love this thought on cultural invention from the Schulze and Webb presentation I posted here a couple of weeks ago.
It establishes "interesting" as the thing that culture does for us. We can release things in to the stream of popular culture, as Grant says, but if they aren't adopted/remixed/used they won't go far. Grant calls the product of "Culturematic" machines "quirky" ("it is the quirkiness of the things produced by the Culturematic that captures our attention. Hmm, we say".
Beyond being interesting and capturing our attention, and beyond the test of interestingness being adoption (which, after all, is the condition dictated by participatory culture), what about the types of thoughts and creative expressions that qualify? How are those being changed?
Skipping back to that Berg presentation for a second, consider the idea of a "macroscope", as the tool with which designers see culture.
Designers, in order to see the very big, in order to see culture, which is much bigger than any one of us personally, have macroscopes.
The way I think of a macroscope is as something that shows you where you are, and where you are within something much bigger — simultaneously, so you can comprehend something much vaster than you suddenly in a human way, at a human scale, in the heart.
I love this, and it really ties in nicely with Grant's idea. Ideas can be macroscopes, and ideas that "put us in our place and let us see a much larger world" are especially powerful macroscopes. Likewise, the "What if?" questions start with me and my experience but expand to reveal a bigger, broader picture. In a way, they lift our creative gaze upward, even as they focus on an individual experience (like, "What if I visited every Grant McCracken in the tri state area"?).
I think of these kinds of ideas as types of "super" powers, in the sense that the Berg folks talk about. The world has changed so much that we need "macroscopic" ideas that help us see the bigger picture. This Twitter visualization tool has made the rounds this week, and I think it's a good example of a macroscope
It maps trending topics across a map, and if you read the description of the project you get a sense of how audacious, bold and ambitious the thinking is
Trendsmap.com is a real-time mapping of Twitter trends across the world. See what the global, collective mass of humanity are discussing right now.
This is amazing to me. When did we start to believe that we can really see what the "collective mass of humanity" are discussing RIGHT NOW? It may be unrealistic and verging on nuts, but yet it's interesting and compelling.
This, to me, is the really exciting possibility of cultural invention in the digital space that we are seeing. It might just be a conceit, and we might just be fooling ourselves, but the ability of technology to offer us the dream of creating the macroscopes that help us see the world differently is pretty amazing. To take the wildest "What if?" question and release it in to the world is a beautiful thing.
And when I think about it, the surge of creativity and cultural invention that the "Culturematic" notion represents suggests that we are all getting a little closer to having the ability to "touch the moon with one's finger tip", in the words of those Berg fellows). However, in contrast to the John F. Kennedy example cited in their presentation (please check it out if you haven't done so already!), which was based on will and determination, I think that the Culturematic is brilliant precisely because it produces, in Grant's words, "frothy" culture. This is more realistic, more attainable and, taken together, it is all the "frothy" small stuff that creates culture (and occassionally creates larger "resonance", love that idea).
In just a few short years, I think our focus is evolving from sheer awe at the ability to imagine things and put them out there to what is beginning to look like a more ambitious cultural vision. Less about cat videos, more about macroscopic ideas, projects and cultural invention. But I'm curious to hear your take on it.