making books The outside world: people publishing scientification
by Harry Connolly
There was a great piece on Morning Edition yesterday about art that becomes popular versus art that doesn’t. Is there some quality that makes some art successful and preserved forever or is it all just random chance?
Obviously, the big problem with a question like that is that you can look at only one timeline; there’s no way to look at an alternate world where the Potter books never took off (or they did, inevitably).
For those who haven’t clicked the link (you can listen to the short news piece or you can read a transcript of it) a Princeton professor decided to create a number of alternate virtual worlds to test the hypothesis that popular art becomes popular because of its inherent qualities rather than random chance. He created a database of music by unknown, unsigned bands and invited thousands of teenagers to listen and download their songs for free.
Those teenagers were randomly sorted into nine different “worlds.” In one control group, the teens did not get the chance to see which songs other teens selected. In the other eight, they did.
Try not to be wildly surprised, but different songs became popular in different virtual worlds. A song that was number 1 in one setting was 40th (out of 48) in another. Further experimentation established that there was a minimum level of quality below which popularity was not possible, but after that there was no predicting what would be successful and what would not. Read it yourself if you’re curious.
My problem with this is not the assertion that popularity does not come solely from quality, and that a piece of art that is well-known is not inherently better than something obscure. It’s always been perfectly obvious to me that wonderful and excellent books could/should have been popular but weren’t (I’m not talking about me, now).
My objection here is that the good professor chalks popularity up to “chance.” In fact, he (or at least the reporter covering his work) hits the idea of chance very hard. But that’s a black box.
I’ve talked about this sort of thing before, but there are a lot of effects that people attribute to chance simply because they are not well understood. What I would like to see is an experiment that examines the way those songs became popular in each virtual world. Was it an early surge? Was there an early surge that faced a backlash, with the more popular work getting a secondary surge? I’d like to know, and by that I mean that I’d really really like to know.
Via fastcodesign, the folks at MIT have tried to create a book with a crude virtual reality component: a programmable book and vest that supposedly makes the reader feel what the protagonist feels.
Follow the link if you’re curious how it’s supposed to work. There’s an embedded video, too, which I didn’t watch.
Personally, I would be embarrassed for any writer that used this technology. Text will already made the reader feel what the protagonist feels, if you do it right. That’s the point of books (well, one of the points) and having a vest that constricts, warms or cools to simulate emotions is just a distraction from the work a writer’s words are meant to do.
My wife is on the steering committee for the 2013 Seattle Science Festival, which starts on June 6th. This is only the second year they’ve run one, and last year was pretty cool. I took my son to a physics demonstration at the UW (I thought I’d blogged about it but now I can’t find the link) and he loved it.
This year will be even bigger. On June 8th there’s going to be a huge expo at the Seattle Center, and from the 6th to the 11th there will be events happening all over the Puget Sound area, from presentations on becoming a game creator at the Microsoft store to
Anyway, I’ve copy and pasted a note the festival organizers have asked me to share letting folks know briefly about what’s on the schedule and how you can get involved, if you feel so moved.
I would like to take this opportunity to invite you and your organization to the second annual Seattle Science Festival. This year, the region’s largest celebration of science will take place June 6-16, 2013 to celebrate the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to our community’s culture and to its continued growth and prosperity. The Seattle Science Festival will consist of the following components:
- Science EXPO Day, Saturday, June 8, will feature exciting, engaging events all day long throughout the grounds of Seattle Center. Over 15,000 students, parents, scientists, educators and other community members are anticipated to take part in this FREE event. Science EXPO Day will showcase over 150 hands-on activities and demonstrations; it will also feature live science performances on the EXPO Day Stage. FREE BUS PARKING IS AVAILABLE ON SCIENCE EXPO DAY! Contact Jordan Adams at email@example.com for more details.
- Signature Programs, June 6-16, will provide events developed by our program collaborators specifically for the Seattle Science Festival. Signature Programs include behind-the-scenes tours, science adventures, field trip opportunities for classrooms, workshops, screenings of science-themed films, a Cool Jobs Series at the Seattle Public Library on June 9-Computer Science, June 12-Green & Clean Technology, and June 13-Biomedical Science, plus many other events held at venues all over the Puget Sound region.
- Opening Night at the Paramount Theatre, June 6, 8 – 10 PM Beyond Infinity? The Search for Understanding at the Limits of Space and Time. Featuring Brian Greene, Sean Carroll, Adam Frank and the West Coast premiere of Icarus at the Edge of Time, and music by Philip Glass, conducted by Marcus Tsutakawa and performed by the Garfield High School Orchestra. Avoid service charges by purchasing tickets IN PERSON at the Paramount Theatre Box Office at 911 Pine Street, Seattle, or for 10 or more tickets, contact their Group Sales Manager at (206) 315-8054.
- Closing Night at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, June 15, 7:30 – 9:30 PM Our 11th Hour: Straight Talk on Climate Change from People Who Know. Featuring Kevin E. Trenberth, Richard Alley, Andrew Revkin and a performance of Seattle Opera’s Heron and the Salmon Girl. Buy tickets at www.seattlesciencefestival.org.
These high profile events will present some of the greatest scientific and creative minds of our time and weave together science, music, art and philosophy for two inspiring, thought-provoking and engaging evenings.
How can you get involved?
- Sign up for the Seattle Science Festival E-Newsletter
- Coordinate a group of students to bring to a Seattle Science Festival event
- Become a Seattle Science Festival Ambassador and help spread the word
- Sign up to be a Seattle Science Festival volunteer by May 22
Visit www.seattlesciencefestival.org to learn more about how you can get involved and I hope to see you there!