Since last weeks discussion about ritual I have been trying to understand my own definition of ritual. I am interested in where the difference lies between ritual, tradition, and need. I am interested in learning that there is no single difference or that they all intersect at different points but I have at least concluded thus far that ritual is about meaning-making.
For me, the tradition of thanksgiving dinner is different from the ritual of thanksgiving dinner. I can choose to take part in the tradition of thanksgiving dinner. If I want share a large meal with friends who don’t have work the next day I might make a ritual thanksgiving dinner. An agreed upon choreography for a handshake between friends is a ritual - it is a way of connecting. A regular handshake, the most basic kind, meeting and squeezing of palms and then simultaneously moving them up and down, between strangers is more in line with a tradition. While it might mean something I don’t think its meaning is coming from the place of the people participating rather it is an assumed social norm. In regards to need, when I wake up in the morning I need to eat something. I might ritualize drinking a cup coffee and eating a bowl of oatmeal because I believe that is the best way to start my day. Other days I will simply eat because I need to, if I eat the same things for many days in a row does this make it a ritual? There is a lot of gray area here between what is a ritual and what isn’t but I think the defining factor might be intention.
I have also been thinking about the idea of a third place and how that is connected to ritual. Third places in a sense require ritual because they are about creating space for a sense of belonging and community. If Facebook is a third place then it requires that we ritualize our use of it. If not for the constant, habitual, and addictive scrolling, liking, and commenting what would Facebook be?
I designed two rituals this week. The first one is called “entering a ninth place”. The second one is called “trying to understand my computer”. See below.
trying to understand my computer
This ritual will look like this: Each night I will open my computer. I will restart it for probably just the illusion of a fresh start. All applications will be closed. I will open a text editor. I will set a timer for 5 minutes. I will free write about what I think is going on in my computer. It will probably stray in thought and content but the purpose will remain the same: to become closer to my computer as a physical thing and its interface as metaphor. The following morning I will read what I wrote the night before. I will attempt to respond to the writing with some shallow research and notes.
night 1 feb 10
This is the beginning of my ritual. What is a computer? Why does it look like this? How do each of the keys that I am pressing actually put a symbol or letter on the screen? I am using this particular software. It’s a text editor. Could I do this programmatically? Without a text editor? If I wanted to do this physically as in move all of the switches just so in order to display a letter. I’m not sure that even makes sense. The GUI is necessary for the display of text right? No. No. No it’s not. It’s really not. When computers were just terminals. When computers were just humans. When computers were only solving really long math problems. When did text as in not programmatic text become a thing for computers? When did it become clear that we could use language and send human readable messages that did not care about the computer itself? Is there a marked time when the transition from computer as doing a long math problem transformed into computer as carrier of human message? Is it problematic that we use the same tool to express our selves as to calculate the tip for a waiter at a restaurant? Thinking a lot about the pre-GUI computer. How can I get my hands on one? Can I get my hands to build one? How much can be deconstructed until I realize I have to stop because I don’t actually understand how circuits work yet. I do kind of. But not really.
morning 1 feb 11
According to Wikipedia, a computer is a device that can be instructed to carry out sequences of arithmetic or logical operations automatically via computer programming. The word computer was first used in a book The Yong Mans Gleaning written in 1613. It was, of course, referring to a human computer. A person who could also carry out sequences of mathematical operations through manual programming of switches. By the 1940s, most computers were women. One of the first laptops, which is the type of computer that I am writing on, was designed in 1979. It was the first to have the clamshell design and was inspired by Alan Kay’s design for the Dynabook. It was primarily used by NASA. Computer keyboards use a series of switches and circuits that translate the inputs into computer-readable signals. This specific keyboard that I am typing on is the latest design from Apple. The one that gets all sorts of stuff stuck underneath the keys and has a very loud click sound that is trying to overcompensate for the short travel time for the depression of the keys themselves. Regarding text editors, before this kind of text editor, which exists within the GUI, there were command line text editors. Before command line editors there were punch cards. It’s probably safe to say that the shift between programmatic text and social text is due to the emergence of the personal computer. Although I do wonder about programmers who were using computer text in a social way before the GUI and large networked communication platforms. I guess a raspberry pi is like a pre-GUI computer. More interested maybe in building a computing system like this.
night 2 feb 11
Here I am. I decided to take advantage of restarting my computer this time by updating my software to Mojave ten point one point something. It took 15 minutes. During that time I just stared at my computer. I thought about school and how asking questions with the intention of getting answers as opposed to more questions is annoying to me. To ask questions without the need for answers. I think this is anti-patriarchal. I asked so many questions in last nights writing. This morning I was excited to at least research some of the things I was asking. I found out some things I had never known like the design of the first laptop. Before the software update I opened an email which I immediately recogonized as spam. It had a subject about rare earth elements. I opened it without really thinking. Then I realized it was spam. Then I changed the password to my email. Then I did the software update. I feel dumb for doing all of these things as a reaction to a piece of e-mail whose affects I might never know.
morning 2 feb 12
It’s funny to me that Mac operating systems are named after California landscapes. I didn’t even know Mavericks was a place. Before 2013, the year Mavericks was released, the operating system releases were named after wild cats, the first one being Cheetah. World War II German military tanks were also named after wild cats. There a like 80 species of wild cats but Apple stopped after four in order to switch to California specific landmarks. Was this a shift to make Apple as a company more U.S. centric? Are we meant to be reminded of the American landscape as “frontier” and “free”, the same problematic way that Silicon Valley thinks about the technological landscape? I think I still agree with this idea of not needing answers as also operating in a non-patriarchal mode. Shoshana Zuboff writes here that Google has exploited this very human need for dealing with uncertainty. She explains that while uncertainty contributes to anxiety it is also a means for social connectedness and organization. I guess I am happy to ask questions that can’t be googled. For example, with the intention of finding some kind of theoretical reference, I just tried to google this idea of asking questions without answers. Google did not get it.
night 3 feb 12
Thinking about my computer. If I am actually closer to understanding it on night three of this ritual. I do think I have demystified the operating system just a little bit. It’s arbitrary aesthetic. Or at least arbitrary to me. Computers are metaphors. Is this obvious? I actually don’t understand what’s going on here. This is just a screen the magically displays the things I like to make…like text and images. I might like the computer as much as I do because I like to archive things. I like to move stuff around. I like to organize things in one way and the re-organize them in another way. This might be why I don’t like most software because it’s too deterministic. I like to have flexibility with the files I am working with. Is everything just files? What are folders? Are those files too? How do folders really work? If I were to design a GUI what would it look like? I’m still so curious about pre-GUI computers. What would a pre-gui social network look like? I guess echo.nyc is a pre-gui social network. I’m having trouble free writing tonight. Maybe it because I spent 10 full hours looking at my screen today.
morning 3 feb 13
I am actually liking this ritual a lot and am hoping to continue with it throughout the semester ~ its been a fruitful way for me to ask questions of the things I’m interested in while also dedicating time to research.
entering a ninth place
The first ritual I designed this week was to try and enter a ninth place. A ninth place is a third place, like Instagram, inside of a third place, like the ITP floor. To do this I am going to only engage with people who have Instagram accounts. While I am talking to them I am going to scroll through their profiles and like all their pictures. If the person does not have Instagram the conversation will immeadiately turn to why they don’t have it. If I don’t follow the person yet I will simply ask for their handle and the conversation will go from there.
What does it mean to silently validate and engage with someone’s digital presence in a digital third place while also verbally engaging with their presence in a physical third place. Does it mean anything at all? I am also interested in going against the urge to not take out my phone while I am talking to someone. Will people even notice that I am on my phone while I’m talking to them? Am I already always performing the ritual of taking out my phone when I talk to people?
The image below is from a conversation I had with Dana. We discussed a project she is working on. I listened to her and simultaneously like around 30 of her posts.
I found that while doing this ritual over the course of three days I did enter some kind of alternate reality. I was able to “see” the person I was talking to in multiple places at one. In my peripherary, because I was looking at my phone the entire time, I could see their body and hear their voice. I could see past versions of themselves and the things that they saw, even before I knew them as students at ITP. I also all of the sudden had character and the sound of their voices to give the pictures of them and the linear nature of their instagram feeds.