Collaborative Culture and EmergentC's

An essay by Sher Doruff in the context of the "Collaborative Culture" master class, during DEAF03.

A remarkable, if contentious, trend of the past few decades, has been the trans-disciplinary current of complex system theory running through and between all fields of research practice, from physics, biology, neurology, the social, computer, political and cognitive sciences, to philosophy and art. Though interpretations and assessments vary, there is an appetite for models and methodologies that reveal elements and conditions of non-linear dynamic interaction in systems: in cells, in brains, in social networks and human-computer convergence. It is a study of the interaction and organization between things in their environment and the processes that emerge from these conditions.

The dynamics, the enigmatic inter-ness - flow, dynamic, movement, process, synapse, circuit, stigma, information - "between" organisms, nodes, individuals and societies is the stuff of life. Complexity provides a provocative contextual topology from which to approach a discussion of collaborative practice in new media and live arts. The focus here is on practice that extends well beyond the conventions of working relationships in inter-disciplinary arts projects and moves towards a synergy that marginalizes individual contribution over the relational dynamics and emergent possibilities of the collective. That same collective that can only flourish from diversity and difference among its group; that looks towards the inter-authorship process as viable artistic expression; that builds and uses media technologies that both reflect upon and engender new types of social interaction and critical discourse.

The implications of emergent social behaviors, communication skills and aesthetics arising from collaborative interplay and its dynamic properties is potentially far-reaching, given the cross-cultural breadth of informatics. Much of this discussion in theoretical practice is old news, worn thin from cybernetics to rhizomatics. The vivid plausibility of empowered, emergent networks sits uncomfortably on the utopian/dystopian dialectical fence. Global political trends, as a case in point, contribute to the dualism between neo-19th-century hierarchical colonialism and the bottom-up revisioning of 20th-century social democracies.

Distributed real-time interaction strategies and negotiations for data sharing and processing are examples of dynamic systems with a high degree of complexity, just as culture itself can be viewed as a highly complex system. I will point to contingencies that appear relevant with respect to issues and phenomena that address emergent behavior and distributed cognition within collectives that are connected and facilitated by malleable media. The unpredictable, elastic modification of this media by multiple users is essential to this discussion.

As the term "Collaborative Culture" suggests, this essay and the master class at DEAF03 in March 2003, are an attempt to provoke both critical and playful investigation into tools and techniques that incorporate social networks, live mediation, synchronous co-creation, real-time access to and transformation of databases and living archives. The technology enabling the practical interplay for the class was KeyWorx (Waag Society); the theoretical topology was complexity.

Excerpt by Sher Doruff, 2003

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