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Helsinki, FI
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Jarno M. Koponen - designer and humanist, more
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    The rise of the multilinear existence
    Project: Polytopia

    Contemporary human being exists inherently in several environments simultaneously; one’s personality is being visible in multiple environments and channels at the same time. This information about oneself is available with or without one’s awareness or intention. On the other hand, different media environments and interaction methods create social spaces where one can observe the activity of others, taking place both in non-physical and physical worlds.

    Today’s digital media environments are under constant change; continuously updating and changing media contents and elements, and their complex visual, textual and associative relationships form ever-changing unique patterns for endless interpretation. Thus the interpretation of one’s status-message, photo or blog entry can vary depending on the other contents that are visible simultaneously in the same context. Different types of narrative patterns become intermingled in this huge dynamic jigsaw puzzle, in which every piece can change in form, style, meaning and function.

    Multiplicity of emerging personal digital narratives

    Consequently, the identity of an individual is constructed, maintained and developed simultaneously in several socially orientated environments. The representation of one’s identity depends on the particular environment and its functional dimensions since different environments serve different purposes as social realities. An individual’s existence and identity becomes visible through observable and accessible linear or nonlinear narratives that exists as fragments or concisely constructed storylines depending on the given environment (e.g. Google search results, Twitter status stream, Facebook activity history, photo blog). The context of a narrative affects its meanings and possible interpretations.

    All the public and private digitized material deriving from various sources (e.g. one’s profile in Facebook’s profile information, Google search results, Twitter’s micro-blog entries, blog entries, the list of material borrowed from the public library) can and could potentially be used to observe an individual’s existence and activities. Digitized information enables the (re)constructing of concise, comprehensible narratives about an individual. When a person is leaving traces in several digital domains simultaneously, her personality has multiple instances and forms of existence at the same time. Consequently, a person can use these emerging narratives as channels for self-expression.

    With all this in mind, I will propose the concept of multilinear existence which means that an individual becomes visible to others and herself through multiple, linear and nonlinear narratives which exists simultaneously in various dynamic environments. An individual can be seen as a nexus of a parallel yet distinguishable emerging narratives; through these narratives she can be seen as a nexus for various instances of her personality and identity. Multilinear existence is layered existence, consisting of interconnected intrinsic narrative elements that exist both in physical and non-physical environments. Through multilinear existence, unique patterns of human behavior and social practices will emerge. We must understand the meaning, value and importance of this new form of human existence as it substantially affects our future way of living.

    The effects of reconfigured existence

    Multilinearity of existence will affect to basic needs and possibilities of personal expression; it will have an effect on sociocultural behavior, structures and manifestations of the whole society. We must be able to evaluate and analyze the environments and channels of existence in order to analyze the essence and influence of multilinear existence. Furthermore, multilinear existence will affect the design of new artifacts in virtual worlds as well as in the real world. As the importance of non-physical, digital realms increases in ways never seen before, the role of the design of these environments thrives as well. Developers and designers are constantly affecting the mental processes of the human being relative to introspection, social orientation, social awareness and social behavior. At the moment, new unique methods of engagement and technologies of interaction are being designed, developed and tested. Different methods of co-design and co-creation are utilized to let the people actively participate to the development of new products, services and environments. All in all, multidisciplinary design teams will define and design the experience of multilinearity in co-operation with the ordinary people.

    Thus I’ll suggest and emphasize that today and in the future designers are not just designing applications, services, products or devices; designers are also designing future users, customers, clients, their models of behavior and expanded mode of existence – the future human being with a multilinear existence. In the future, the design of virtual environments will have more and more impact on an individual’s experience of reality as a whole. Designers have to be aware of the values affecting their design choices and solutions in general. The influences of design patterns fluctuate back and forth from the physical world to the non-physical environments and vice versa.

    I have written more about the characteristics and qualities of multilinear narratives and existence in my MA Thesis FutureSelf: Reflections on a Personal Future Simulation System (University of Art & Design Helsinki). My research work around the topic continues - more will follow.

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    Wildcat     Fri, Jan 8, 2010  Permanent link
    Thank you for a very good and important post, we definitely share some of the insights you have elaborated upon. I think this is an overwhelmingly underappreciated state of affairs at present and the propagation of these thoughts should be a paramount activity.

    You wrote that:” Different types of narrative patterns become intermingled in this huge dynamic jigsaw puzzle, in which every piece can change in form, style, meaning and function.”

    The question in this respect concerns the different types of narratives, and more specifically the coherency of these narratives, if a change in form , style, meaning and function occurs, what keeps the narrative together? In other words, in a multilayered, multilinear existence what is the glue that holds this vortex of information together? (if at all)
    When describing the future self machine on your site you write:” FutureSelf creates future simulations using the digitized information about the individual and her surroundings (e.g. social data). The system utilizes automatically the available information that is stored and processed in digital networked environments.”

    If you could elaborate on how these simulations are created (reminds of Caprica- the movie) and to what extent can the user integrate these simulations as a tool of self-reflection on possible future actions. The analysis part appears to me to be the most difficult issue here, are there any metrics for this?

    klaitner     Sun, Jan 10, 2010  Permanent link
    "In other words, in a multilayered, multilinear existence what is the glue that holds this vortex of information together?" (if at all)

    The rest of us. Using the tools at our disposal to enhance collective memory (oral tradition, records, digital representations over history).

    A human being is an expression of the ephemeral self-reflective universe.

    Posthumously, a named conscious existence (a person) becomes nothing more than a grouping function, to the extent that it is useful to retain. While alive the label is incidentally tied to a piece of flesh but useful as a label for its predictive qualities due to the constraints of our current existence (per Xaos: "influenced at each stage by the finite composition of possible paths").

    The technium is currently allowing the fragmenting of identities, culminating in the singularity proposition, whereby human conciousness transcends its physical form and becomes thereby infinitely fragmented. In this case hopefully my first answer holds.

    Now from the point of view of the information. Artifacts now can be disjoined, co-opted, reinterpreted, recontextualized and inspire something entirely different from what they began as. In this infinite recomposition with multiple actors, does the continuing use of a self make sense at all? Or as in chaos theory do we replace self with attractors, representing stable forms in an otherwise chaotic system?

    Ilparone     Mon, Jan 11, 2010  Permanent link
    Wildcat and klaitner, thank you for your insightful comments and questions. Thanks for all of you who have had time to read this brief collection of my thoughts considering the multilinear existence.

    I see a self as an ever-changing and virtual "center of a narrative gravity". As thus the self can be seen as an entirely abstract entity which is not located (or even tied) into any specific organ or neural structure of an individual, or any other connected natural or artificial structure or system.

    In my interpretation, the self becomes aware of itself through a conscious introspective dialogue that has both personal and collective, internal and external consequences and manifestations.

    An unprecedented amount of traceable personal narratives - created, generated, modified and shared both by the individual as well as others - are "preserved" in digital environments. An individual, as a self-aware interpreter can access her personal narratives and thus she 1) will be able to process and affect them, 2) connect her personal narratives to a larger whole and 3) use the multilinear narratives for the benefit of herself as well as her environment.

    In the process, an individual becomes conscious of the various instances of her existence. An individual, a self, as a social construction, can thus become an active nexus of the multilinear narratives that are attached or somehow connected to herself.

    Regarding the Futureself system: We generate and create an accumulative amount of qualitative and quantitative personal data. Our life patterns are digitized. Due to their digital format these personal life patterns can be accessed, processed, analyzed and interpreted in an unprecedented manner. This creates a possibility to process and analyze personal patterns (as a system) as a part of a larger social, cultural, political, economical and ecological whole (other systems). Through the analysis of rich personal digital patterns and related systems (e.g. an individual's social sphere) it becomes possible to create personal future narratives or simulations.

    Naturally, the analysis, interpretation and extrapolation of contextualized human behavior requires very sophisticated algorithms and data models. But as our understanding of the qualities and characteristics of digitized life patterns evolve, we will be able to develop such algorithms and digital instruments. Currently, I'm researching this specific domain and I hope to be able to share my insights and results in the near future.

    In my following post(s), I will continue to develop my ideas considering multilinear existence as I will focus on the processes of self-expression and self-reflection enhanced and intensified by the digital presence/existence and our emerging multilinear existence.
    klaitner     Fri, Jan 15, 2010  Permanent link
    if we are processing artifacts into selves, do we end up with the same set as that of physical selves? if such a self reflective machine existed would it make a physical self irrelevant? what use to the physical person is this awareness of irrelevance?