[Pause] an algorithm PART II (bloody algorithm)

Consider this a confession.

I remember feeling under the weather. I had a head cold. I remember the taxi driver, quite well. I remember the feeling in the taxi, like I was very far away from the driver. Too far. It felt hierarchical. What did we talk about? I remember it was sunny, really bright and sunny, and very blustery. I don’t hear that word used anywhere else except in Ireland. I reckon it must be an Irish word. Blustery. Like blowing on soup. Cheeks puffed. Sheets to the wind.

I remember the day being long, and filled with people. Lots & lots of strangers and fruit. Lots of fruit and vegetables. And there were also very nice cakes on display. And the icing was far too rich, but quite delicious. Sugary appreciation. Tea in paper cups. Never quite satisfying and usually resulting in a burnt tongue. I was connected by radio mic to a camera, held by a man who works for RTE. The strangest experience, to know you’re being listened to at every step. Or maybe not listened to, but heard. Those terms are weirdly slippery and interchangeable. I’m not sure which infers the most understanding or empathy. It’s a bit lost on me. I heard the phrase the other day ‘I was alive to them’. The same person said she’d ‘turn the air blue’ in work with her dissent. The man with the camera said that it was the hardest thing to record the simplest of actions. The simplest things were the hardest to record. A paradox. You might as well just climb everest. Why bother with Brandon at all? Get up the big one, just go for it altogether. Scale it all out, think big, add by Differences like that Babbage chap.

The algorithm is supposed to help you solve problems. But you have to admit you have a problem. What if you’re not sure at all? Algorithms are applied to every thing, every part of my life is no doubt touched by an algorithm in some way. And that doesn’t necessarily involve electricity. It’s not always about electricity. Though it certainly feels like it when you’ve a radio mic on your lapel and a digital camcorder in your hands. I was supposed to be an unassuming visitor. My instructions were to follow the instructions and maybe chat about them as I went along. That was the requirement. Talk to yourself, or the camera man, about what you’re experiencing. That’s the funny thing about thinking and talking. You can’t really do them simultaneously. Another paradox. The world is full of them.

I’m not the best at solving problems. I was once given the gift of a Decision Hat. The ingenious giver of the gift was on a par with that ancient Chinese text the i-Ching, and also, come to think of it, the magic 8 ball. How can two things so similar be so different? Baffling. The Hat guided my erratic moods during a time of academic stress. Should I take X or should I wait for more? What if the more never comes? What if I make the wrong choice? What if my decision ruins the rest of my life? What if? If, then, else. There are always options. This is a momentary existance. Somehow human psychology just can’t cope with this fact. Momentary. Sniff. Gone. Choices and Decisions. An ill-fitting luxury. Choice, the land of plenty, falling at my feet as I strolled through ranelagh. Camera man in tow. They gave me envelopes with a sense of direction. More than I could say for myself. Neat Brown Envelope. Fair play. Three of them, and I went through them all. And I felt as though the Babbage Engine was turning me through some motions – adding me up. You go to here, then go to there, wait for the  signal, when you see something, move. When you hear the ring, answer. When the man gets tired of discussing algorithms and rubiks cubes, leave. There’s a queue of people waiting to have the same explanation thrown at them. How many cogs were in the process? A cruel analogy. The people are not cogs. They are actors. They have functions and roles. They are part of an algorithm. That’s right. But the algorithm doesn’t know what the problem is. It’s problem is that it doesn’t have a problem. And so the steps to solve the problem are somewhat harder to discern. So they have to be invented a bit. There’s a bit more invention to this. We’ll let in a bit of human imagination here. It’s not just about numbers.

Lets make it about perception, and understanding, and empathy. Lets personify everything we can – that will lead us to some deeper connection with the world. How can I relate to plastic? I really don’t know. The phone box was trying to identify what I could see through it’s cloudy windows. We tried and tried to share, we tried and tried to communicate. And then the time was up and that was that. Gone. Sniff. Momentary. The receiver wouldn’t tell me, even when the game was up. That’s not fair I think. I probably told the Camera Man that, but he was busy crouching and getting me in shot, and looking at the context. Probably observing all the shapes, and colours, and frames, and visual puns around me. And all the people too. All walking around, with tasks in mind. And here was I in a phone box, left hanging. Caught up in a algorithm with an identity crisis.

At least it was sunny. And there were lots of silly hats about the place. Apparently the Mad Hatter was having a tea party down in the park. The lonely park. All sad about itself. As if tucked into it’s own pocket. Very sad really. I just walked through it and listened. That’s all I was asked to do. Well I wasn’t even asked, I just went and did it. Human behaviour. When you’re given some thing use it. Here’s an mp3 player. Listen. Here’s a camera. Shoot. Here’s a gun… that’s a bit extreme.

You see the point I’m making. Algorithms are dangerous. They act like they know what the problem is, but there’s a very good chance that they haven’t a clue. No idea at all. And we’re totally one hundred percent relying on them. In this little country of ours. We think everything is an algorithm. We think we’re bloody algorithms. If, then, else. Except, leave out the else. We don’t even have an else in our national algorithm. We just have a circuitous If>Then>If>Then>If>Then… Else would imply somekind of foresight and we seem to have left that somewhere in the 1920’s. As far as I can remember anyway. And I had a head cold that day. But I walked around the whole day and never got to Nama, and I never got to the rick-shaw – but I could have easily broken my route and gone exploring but I didn’t because I like being told what to do. I think I respond well to instruction. It makes me feel like a good girl. Bloody National Psyche.

The above text is written to accompany the videography response to the [pause] event, curated by Cleo Fagan, as part of Ranelagh Arts Festival, 2010. You can find Part I here.

2 thoughts on “[Pause] an algorithm PART II (bloody algorithm)

  1. Pingback: Pause | Cleo Fagan

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