Randomly Generated Social Interactions, autocratic speed dating

randomly-generated-social-interactions

What do we gain or lose by “giving up our social agency to a computer program?” This is the central question of Randomly Generated Social Interactions by Anastasis Germanidis. The resulting project incisively reveals how social exchange survives the onslaught of formal restrictions, how we struggle as social beings to maintain a shared understanding of what it means to converse. Randomly Generated Social Interactions tasks participants to engage in a perversely autocratic game of speed dating. Participants use their smart phones to access a project website which serves a randomly combined identity consisting of a name, age, occupation, and “personality quirk.” They are then compelled to interact with others, in role, receiving commands for exactly what to say and do during the interaction. These commands are also randomly combined from a predefined list of possibilities and include not only verbal exchanges but physical activities with some poor souls tasked with completing press-ups or being asked to scream, faint dramatically, dance or jump up and down. Germanidis’ work abstracts the content of conversational exchange and de-contextualises it. In doing so the work aims to provide a temporary and mutually accepted no-one’s-land for deeper modes of connection. What is viscerally apparent from documentation of the performance is how sociality will find a way. That is how, in the face of the unfamiliar, the discomforting, the embarrassing or even the downright boring, we will negotiate our actual communication around the constraints of an activity. Participants in the performance constantly engage in social cues fighting around the borders of the interaction. The tiny interactions of eye contact betray an on-going seeking of consensus, “we are doing this together,” “this is ridiculous, do you understand me!” in contrast to the sometimes abrasive or uncooperative content of the actual text. Participants occasionally break role to issue instructions or seek confirmation and when in role, take it on with varying degrees of commitment or resistance. In some senses the results of this work are not news. The sociologist Harold Garfinkle working in the late 60s early 70s demonstrated the constant maintenance work we do as communicators in making sense. During so-called “breaching experiments” participants broke the rules of normal conversation, for instance by asking for unnecessary clarification on commonly understood idioms. In Germanidis’ work we see a similar principle deployed, the grounds for exchange are unnaturally shifted and the participants engage in a tacit and subtle repair job as they negotiate its demands. What is original of course about Germanidis’ piece is its relationship to the varied forms of contemporary communication: the text-field identity; the selection of answers from a dropdown menu. The dissatisfaction we feel with constraining our communication to preconceived and inappropriate avenues is matched only by our creativity in attempting to work around them. Just as new technical products or digital services are wound in to unexpected conventions of use so Randomly Generated Social Interactions reminds us of how much exchange conforms to “none of the above.”

 

Anastasis Germanidis – Randomly Generated Social Interactions