Sunday 11 April 2010

Time, it's a funny thing

I did a Peachy Coochy - the live art world's version of Pecha Kucha - on request of Tipping Point last summer as part of a night of reflections on climate change. A friend just requested I share words and pictures, so all follow.


I've never done a Peachy Coochy before. I was invited a week ago to do this one. I did a first burst of writing for it last Friday. Then procrastinated. And most of these slides I made this afternoon. Pretty much at the last minute. Then timed how many words I can speak in 20 seconds. Near enough.

What do you worry about? Recently I was researching happiness and wellbeing in teenagers. Some of that research was just asking them straightforward focus group stylee questions. Each group was asked collectively to arrange these particular concerns in order of importance for them. What did they worry about even? Could they agree?

Here's the typical answer for a group. The top for all groups were friends and family, followed by relationships. Social. That's important to remember. One kid actually laughed "Is anyone worried about the environment?" It was even beneath 'what's in the news?' because a couple were freaked out by swine flu.

John Berger on the procrastination of smoking. ‘A cigarette’, Berger said, inhaling deeply, ‘is a breathing space. It makes a parenthesis. The time of a cigarette is a parenthesis, and if it is shared you are both in that parenthesis. It’s like a proscenium arch for a dialogue.’”

I once designed a social game about The Tragedy of the Commons. This is a thought-experiment published in Science in 1968, the year before I was born. Imagine you're all shepherds grazing sheep on common ground. Where's the tragedy in that? Here it comes.

You get richer as an indvidual the more sheep you graze. But the more sheep collectively are grazed by all shepherds, the common ground is ruined. In the game, one group turned it into desert. You're always telling yourself that if the others are cheating, why shouldn't I?

In 1985 when I was a teenager my favourite film was Rumblefish. nd my favourite scene was a monologue on time by Tom Waits. I couldn't find it on the interweb, it exists only in the dark past of human knowledge. All I can remember is it starting 'Time, it's a funny thing'.

Here's a little test. For the duration of the next slide. I'll buy a pint for the first person who stands up and waves their arms. But if you all stay seated and still, I'll donate £10 to Plane Stupid. I promise. Ready Steady Go.


As I write this a couple of hours ago, I don't know what's just happened in the future. I suspect that someone may have shot up and then sat back down again protesting that they don't want to spoil it. Or that everyone sat expectantly, their gaze a gentle pressure. Are we ever otherwise aware of that gentle pressure?

50 years ago a Disneyland episode called Magic Highway predicted the future of transport. Here's a shot of the tubular highways that should have been criscrossing the globe. What struck me was just how few cars they imagined in the future. Some of their gadgets - like the cliff elevator - only worked for one family car at a time. They didn't show any waiting traffic.

50 years ago, here is a family in their camper van. We're often told that it's our grandchildren who will pay for our treatment of the planet. I wonder about the alternate reality in which everything happened 50 years sooner. Where our grandparents fucked up and we are their grandchildren.

Here's another experiment. If you ask people how happy they think they will be in a month's time. It matters what the weather is like when you ask them: if it's sunny when you ask them the question then they are more likely to imagine they will be happy in the future than if it is raining.

I was googling for an image of a snooze alarm because I snoozed a lot this morning. I found this gadget. It's called a Snuz N Luz. Everytime you press the snooze button it automatically donates money from your bank account to a charity that you hate. In this case, for, the Republican Party.

There were plenty experiments I found in my research that demonstrate we're happier when we make quick decisions that satisfy us, rather than agonising over decisions. Agony. That's the word we use. And we like to make choices from limited options. Two or three most. Not the freedom of choice so much as the tyranny.

Here are three choices.
Experiments reckon that in a choice of three like this we look for two that we can compare and take the one that's better. So here we'd most likely choose the bottle that's £8. But if we took away the option of the £15 bottle, choosing between the top two only, we'd choose the £7 bottle

Here are another three choices. Of course I constructed this rather rhetorically. But still, I wonder if these are the three choices we always are presenting to ourselves in our minds. And of course, I'm still sticking with the middle of the road choice.

In 2007 an alternate-reality game called World Without Oil asked people to write on the interweb the imagined stories of their own lives. As if oil was running out here and now. I thought it was a brilliant idea for a game. But then it didn't look like much fun to keep playing. Rather like a lot of hard work.

Sometimes I have a solipstic fantasy that everyday I am dying. In one way or another. But that a couple of minutes before I die in one universe, I skip into an alternate reality and avoid death. In my fantasy, it's exactly like slipping into the next lane on the road and overtaking myself.

As an epilogue. I'm writing these slides 2 hours ago and I can't help but worry that I am sounding worthy, preaching to the converted. Here's an image I found by googling crazy preacher to put a face to my fear. It's the Reverend Billy. Thanks.


Leigh Caldwell said...

Nice. Can I borrow the Snuz n Luz bit for a paper I'm writing? I'm trying to build a mental model of precommitment that explains why we even have snooze buttons.

TS said...

Of course you can. Here if you hadn't found it already: