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The good and bad of sharing online

posted 29 Sep 2011, 06:18 by Jamie Condliffe

First, Leonard Nimoy falls on me. Then 1980s band The Shamen, swiftly followed by the inhabitants of the ancient civilisation of Syracuse. Scrabbling around on the floor, I find I'm surrounded by celebrities, video games, films, and plenty of things I've never heard of.

This isn't another day in the New Scientist offices, though. I'm standing in an east London exhibition space at post-digital festival of culture Alpha-ville, as printers suspended from the ceiling spit out edits being made to Wikipedia pages in real time. Falling on those walking beneath and accumulating in a pile, the chits literally bombard me with information. This is a statement about the digital lives we lead, an installation called Edits, created by Dean McNamee and Tim Burrell-Saward.

"Everyone uses Wikipedia, often daily," explains McNamee. "But very few have a grasp of the magnitude of activity constantly swirling behind it. So the basic premise was to expose all of the activity, and how the knowledge of Wikipedia is actually created, maintained and improved." The tangible, constant stream of user-generated content tumbling through the air reflects the vast quantities of information contributed to the online encyclopedia project, revealing it as an evolving system, ever changing.

"I think a huge part of the beauty in Wikipedia is that there are so many potential problems, so many things that make it an imperfect system," explains McNamee. "Yet as a whole, things work themselves out, and the quality tends to be surprisingly high." Undoubtedly, what Editsdoes so well is to contrast how data, so chaotic in physical form, comes together to form an intelligible whole in the digital realm. It highlights the power of combining information in huge quantities - simultaneously reflecting how commonplace sharing digital data has become.

Indeed, that process has become so naturalised that it is easy to forget just how much we do share, and with whom we share it. Other works at Alpha-ville draw on this, some warning about the dangers of not questioning our digital lives.

Continue reading at New Scientist...