Digital technologies for data collection

28Apr13

Digital Darwinism: Mass Collaboration, Form-Finding, and the Dissolution of Authorship

Mario Carpo

design; he just makes and feels, and finds form by trial and intuition. Likewise, some current theories of “design by making” — always popular among architects, and particularly among architectural educators, but today enhanced, promoted, and almost vindicated by the power of digital tools — often favor a silent and even sensual experience of design without thinking: reason and speech are of little use to the maker who senses his making through his body — and, increasingly, through the body’s digitally mediated prosthetic extensions. Digital tools are a powerful ally of design by making, because digital simulations can make and break in no time more models than a physical craftsman could in a lifetime, thus making intuitive, heuristic form-finding by trial and error a viable design strategy. And when a model works, either a physical model or its digital equivalent, there may be no need to know or tell why.

Digital technologies for data collection and information retrieval offer increasingly functional alternatives to the analytic, predictive approach of modern positivistic sciences: what happened before, if retrievable, will simply happen again. And for designers, digital simulations provide an additional treat — the appearances of a holistic reenactment of reality. Of course, digital simulations are based on analytic tools, and the data they process, causal or statistical or other, must have been picked and ranked and their programs scripted, at some point, by someone. Yet in this instance too digital technologies and their use may curiously foster a wide swath of vitalistic beliefs, and the notion — sometimes the fantasy — of the computer as a nonlinear machine has been a strong component of digital thinking from the very beginning. While traditional phenomenologists abhor computers — which, with some reason, they perceive as machines — many digital theoreticians in the course of the last 20 years have become phenomenologists malgre eux. From the proprioceptive science of the digital sensorium and of the digitally extended body in the 1990s to today’s neoromantic theories of making by intuition and by computational simulation, digital phenomenology has been and remains to this day a surprisingly strong component of digital thinking, and an often hidden or even concealed source of inspiration for many digital makers.

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