In one minute, 30 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube, 100,000 messages tweeted, and 2 million Google search queries generated. More information is added during this span than a single person is likely to see in the next ten years. Accordingly, search engines and content feeds have long since replaced browsing to become the predominant means of parsing and ‘discovering’ information. As these processes are optimized and personalized, the algorithmically tailored navigation within which we find ourselves imposes a silent confinement, what we know colloquially as the ‘filter bubble.’
What are the hidden effects of a personal internet? The extent to which shaped information engenders shaped behavior on a mass scale is likely unknowable, but Mark Zuckerberg’s now-infamous discussion of the social feed gives us pause:
A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.
This is not to discount the value of an assisted web experience, but rather to raise a concern: that the mechanism by which we create and consume content within the social web necessarily narrows our focus and limits exposure to thought external to our geographically and thematically local communities.
AVANT is a platform that aims to address this issue by providing a space where ideas interact. We support editorial pieces and web projects that connect bodies of knowledge from disparate fields and encourage exploration of the implications that these underrepresented but vital linkages have to our culture.
Why do we need a dedicated space to make these connections? Today, the means by which we obtain information on the web is dominated by a handful of media giants, their social contracts, and their idiosyncratic distribution logics. The popularity of Knowledge Discovery Algorithms, which seek to mine behavioral data in order to detect patterns and surface ‘relevant’ information, has created a new subjectivity in which our way of relating to reality is formed overwhelmingly by the tools we use to shape our world.2
What is arresting about this circumstance is not the prevalence of information hubs1 but rather the constant reinforcement of existing perspectives through mining of personal histories. The precision with which users are tracked across the web is staggering. Apart from social logins, link sharing, and behavior in-site, every page containing a Facebook ‘like’ button or Google Analytics (including this one) allows reporting of user-specific behavior. The result: every Google search one makes is now informed by most recent book purchases or the duration of a campaign website visit. The accumulation of user information across platforms—whether a query for directions, a ‘check-in,’ a page like, or even wi-fi authentication—enables the construction of detailed demographies that include occupation, political inclination, and social class, as well as those of friends and family. The stated purpose of collecting this information is to create services that know what you want before you do. We feel this paradigm necessitates actively choosing to break up patterns of consumption in order to bring about true discovery.
Our goal is to create opportunities where people can share new ways of thinking by bringing together a diverse community of thinkers and practitioners around issues that have cultural significance. Taking care to ensure language is comprehensible to a wide audience, we hope to create a space for inquiry and discovery absent from much of the contemporary web.
AVANT will be treated as living web architecture for the development of new tools that enable excavation and discussion of information across disciplines. Over the coming months we will be releasing new features like ‘threads,’ which will act as a curatorial tool for content series. In the first of these series, our upcoming collaboration with PAN records entitled ‘ANONYMONTH,’ pseudo-anonymity will function as a vehicle for creative expression and institutional critique.
From the AVANT staff, we look forward to bringing together new ways of understanding our world by building a community around productive multicultural discourse.
Barabási, Albert. Linked: how everything is connected to everything else and what it means for business, science, and everyday life. New York: Plume, 2003.↥
Frawley, William J., Gregory Piatetsky-Shapiro, and Christopher J. Matheus. “Knowledge Discovery in Databases: An Overview.” AI Magazine, Fall 1992.↥
• Geiger, R.S. “Design by Bot: Power and Resistance in the Development of Automated Software Agents.” Presented at Internet Research 14 (IR 14). Sponsored by the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR): Denver, CO, Oct 23-26, 2013.
• Grinstein, Georges G. “Harnessing the Human in Knowledge Discovery.” InKDD, pp. 384-385. 1996.
• Hall, Gary. “#Mysubjectivation.” New Formations 79, no. 1 (2013): 83-103.
• Maimon, Oded, and Mark Last. “Knowledge discovery and data mining.” Kluwer Academic Publishers 0 (2001): 2.
• Rousseau, Jean. The social contract. New York: Carlton House, 1939.
• Stiegler, Bernard, and Stephen Barker. Technics and Time, 2. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008.
• Cover image by Alex Gaidouk.