Rose Bender
Building community through meaningful digital experiences

THESIS

Throughout 2019 I will be working on my graduate thesis for a Master of Science in Integrated Digital Media at NYU's Tandon School of Engineering. Sounds pretty intense right? Below I'll chronicle the ideation, iteration, failures, and triumphs. Join me, won't you?

If You Build It...

Promoting the Event

I finally booked a space and time for the event and created a Facebook event and Eventbrite registration form. I’ve started promoting the event on my personal Instagram and created some collateral to use in promotions. I intend to submit it to some NYC event listings, but mostly I’m hoping to maximize on my social capita.

Building the Panels

During my meeting with Elizabeth, she helped me to brainstorm a way to stablize the panels to make them six foot. They are built ut of trifold science board and measure 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide. They have a 2 foot stablizer and a 2 foot brace. The initial prototype took about 40 minutes and it took about six hours to make nine more boards

Covering the Panels

I wanted to test how covering the boards with butcher paper using different adhesives would work. I also tested two different types of large scale printing and created a template for the panels.

Building the Diorama

While I was building all of the panels, my kind and talented girlfriend Cassandra was prepping the diorama. We’ll finalize that this weekend.

Rose Bender
Demoing and Demoing and Demoing Well

Demo Day - Monday, March 25

Demo day was great! Six users tested the experience and completed my survey. People seemed generally excited and curiosity and expressed understanding and empathy towards opposing ideas. Some of the responses were a bit of a goof, but I think watching the users was very helpful.

Photos from Demo Day

Key Takeaways

  • The order could have a major impact. this is something to play with

  • Instructions on the redactions need to be better

  • Iteration of the footprint should include all the facets mentioned in the testimony

  • Reading the testimony is a little dull

  • Users want to know the difference between A/B path

DIY Demo Day

Pratik, Annie, and I got together to do our own Demo Day the weekend after the official one. They ran through the separate tracks and di the conversation piece at the end. Here are some photos and a video of their conversation.

Key Takeaways

  • Same as previous demo day

  • May want to add back in the newspaper judge who says which pitch wins (a resolution)

Rose Bender
Preparing for Demo Day (March 25)

This week I worked on the prototypes and survey for demo day.

Scene of the Sightings

I had already created the visuals for inside the box, but hadn’t yet figured out how the box would work. I started off my cutting the four sides and top of the box, and cutting eye slots of perpendicular sides. When I looked in the first time, the box was WAY too dark. i taped twinkle lights to the top of the box, and you can see it made the image much brighter. There are two pictures for View A and one for View B. All of the materials fit neatly into the box for travel. I’m excited to work on the next iteration of this experience and may consider having the alternative views on opposing sides instead of cross sections, to make the viewing angles more natural and also make the construction easier.

Tracks

The second next piece of evidence I worked on was the tracks found at the scene. I was originally going to use clay, btu realized that homemade playdough would be less expensive and more closely resemble plaster. It also really confused my roommate when he opened the fridge. I used my own footprint (wow, I have flat feet) and then shaped it to make it more defined. I baked the piece for about an hour at low heat. Honestly, the back looks pretty tasty. The next iteration will be made to scale and I hope to research some tracks to make the shape more animalistic and better fit the description provided in the narrative.

Police Report

Honestly, I was really dreading the police report because I wasn’t sure how I was going to approach it. The image on the left is the police report with redactions. The image on the right is all of the words available. A certain collection of words will be available to each user.

Write Your Pitch

For the ease of demo day and collecting data, I included the pitch writing at the end of the survey. Below, you can see a (really rough) sketch of what the final paper pitch will look like. There are spots to write in your comments, you’ll have tiles to select the quotes to stick on the paper, and there will be slots to place your evidence photos and press badge.

 
 

Demo Day Survey

Wow! Setting up the logic for the demo day feedback survey was way more work than I anticipated. Once I decided to give people the option to view more evidence I had to create logic branches for all options three levels deep. Track A represents the more mystical side of things and Track B represents the more scientific side of things. You can see the notes when I was testing the logic below.

Rose Bender
A Spark: Mapping & a Prototype (FINALLY)

Mapping

This week my main focus was to get a game plan in place and begin prototyping. The problem was, I was feeling extremely blocked. Liz suggested that I match the background sections of my paper to the conspiracy traits I hope to explore in my experience. During an informal brainstorming session, things started to take shape.

On the left is the first draft, on the right is the working draft. Orange post-its represent chairs, yellow post-its show action items for each station plus the introduction and conclusion.

Okay, But What Is It?

Strange things have been happening in Small Town. Your partner and you have been sent from The City Paper to uncover what’s going on and break the story. Upon arriving to the town, you collect your notebook, press badge, and debriefing before splitting up to cover more ground. You’ll each visit four stations where you’ll collect evidence and put together your findings. Which of you will uncover the scoop?

[It’s an interactive experience led by a game-type narrative].

Materials Details

The four stations explore: missing information, visual perception, scientific research and expertise, and use of language and persuasion. I’ll use tri-fold presentation board cut in half to create the stations and present each person with evidence.

Visual Perception

The first station I’m prototyping is the visual perception station. Both users will look into the same box, but will their point of view influence what they see?

First Iteration

Second Iteration

Next Goals

  • find a space & schedule pop-up

  • circulate survey for visual test

  • prototype exercises: redaction , footprints, newspaper

Rose Bender
Methods, Methodology, and Ideation

This week I worked on the method and methodology portion of my paper.

I was feeling really blocked as far as what I’m going to create goes, so I did some car sorting to try and generate a few ideas. This week, I am going to start just building things for each of them and see what resonates with users. I also need to create a survey for these different interactions.

Blue are the quality I’m hoping to inform about and the light purple as ideas of possible ways to achieve it. Some group together and the order is still TBD.

I also begin generating a list of conspiracy-related words for use in some of these projects. I started a free-form pinterset board to pull CT-related design that I’ll draw inspiration from.

Rose Bender
Presentation Prep

This week was a bit slower than usual as I went out of town. I’ve prepared a presentation to share during the advisor critique this week.

This week, I’ll be working on some initial prototypes, interviewing some teachers, and writing the methods and methodologies section of my paper.

Rose Bender
Scrambling: a background, advisor meeting, prototypes of dreams.

Background Draft

With the loss of a week to work on the background draft on my paper, I scrambled to reorient and reorganize the information I hoped to include in my background draft. The draft as it stands right now can we found here.

Meeting with Advisor

Lauren Petty and I met for coffee. We had an invigorating discussion and it was helpful to explain my project to someone who is coming from a totally blank slate. She helped walk through some of the final project, determining that it will be more of a thought-provoking artistic experience rather than a museum that presents actual scientific findings and asks users to share the conclusion.

Prototypes

Unfortunately, I spent every moment this week working on the background, so I was unable to work on my prototypes. Here are the four prototypes I have in mind to iterate on next week.

  1. Conflicting Shadows, Lunar Landing second phase of testing

  2. Perception and visuals create a photo that tells two different stories

  3. REDACTED Can you tell different stories using redcations?

  4. CONSPIRACY: The Game Cards Against Humanity-style card game that will test what you’ve learned so far

Teacher Interviews

Also have two interviews with high school teachers set-up, but had to move them as I was too swamped working to finish the background draft.

Rose Bender
Giving Things Structure

Outline

I worked on a draft of my paper outline, but am still unsure the most logical order for the background. I was happy that this assignment made me sit down and think of the methods and methodologies I will use.

Advisor

Elizabeth introduced me to Lauren Petty, who will be my project advisor. It was nice to have to summarize my project, which I haven’t done in some time. Here’s what I wrote:

My project explores the impact that technology has on the propagation of conspiracy theories and the digital communities that form around it. I'm exploring if a return to tactile exposure to conspiracy theories can increase comprehension, curiosity, and empathy. I am interested in building a pop-up, interactive museum or experience. I'd like to educate people on the archetype of conspiracy theories and the techniques used to propagate them. Then, I'd like them to apply those techniques to create, proliferate, or explore existing theories or their own. This last part is still very nebulous to me.

Interviews & Audience

When my girlfriend asked me who the audience for the project was, I realized I had no idea. So I did some brainstorming and decided my target audience will be late adolescents. I have scheduled interviews with three highschool teachers to learn about their teaching pedagogy.

Why Adolescents?

  • Open to new ideas

  • Heavy internet users

  • Native internet users

  • Becoming politically active

  • Require education to consume consciously

Additional Thoughts

In an effort to work out the more nebulous aspects of my project, I will be building projects to play with the following ideas:

Teaching Method

  • Lecture (video)

  • Written

  • Interactive website

  • Exhibit

  • Interactive experience

Conspiracies

  • MKULTRA

  • Majecstic 12

  • JFK Assassination

  • Roswell Crash

Steps

  • Provide summary

  • Contemporary Context

  • Techniques

  • Questions

  • Activity (break it down, make it more convincing without altering the truth)

    • How would you change one that seems false to make it real (reptilians)

  • Reflection

Rose Bender
Back in the Saddle Again

It feels impossible, but it’s been nearly eight months since I was last actively working on my thesis. In that time, I’ve focused on reading books about the history of conspiracy theories and taken a course exploring the exhibition of difficult history on digital platforms. While I didn’t find the course as inspiring as I had hoped, I did get exposure to some new topics.

Creating Digital History

  • General museum exhibition techniques

    • curating the big idea or question

    • developing visitor flow

    • differentiating between your collection and your exhibit

  • Best practices and issues of digital exhibition

    • platforms and technologies (yeesh, some of these are straight out of 2002)

    • metadata standards

    • translating and displaying a traditional exhibit online

    • identifying and reaching intended audience

    • copyright concerns

  • Issues of discussing difficult history

    • respecting affected populations

    • providing historical context

    • cautioning privledge of modernist perspective

I intend to use these lessons as I move forward in developing my final project. At this point, I envision myself putting together an exhibition conveying the impact of exposure to conspiracy theories in the digital realm vs the real world. Knowing the techniques used by exhibitors and museum curators in both the tactile and digital space will allow me to play with the two and best achieve my goals. Conspiracy theory as entertainment and it’s larger implications (politics, empathy, community-building, and violence) is a difficult present that is fueled by its difficult history and surrounded by many challenging and complex societal, cultural, and technological issues that are still developing and changing. Over the past year, I’ve visited interactive and historical museums whenever possible and hope to continue to do so over the next few months to gather inspiration for my project.

Getting the Expert Opinion

In an effort to hear from museum curators and exhibitors, I am joining online groups for museum professionals.

  • https://www.reddit.com/r/MuseumPros

  • https://www.facebook.com/groups/nempn/

  • https://www.facebook.com/groups/nyc.emps

Finding an Advisor

I’ve selected three advisors from those suggested by the program. Two are focused on the interactive, temporary installation portion of the project (which I will definitely need help with) and the third focused on hostility in digital community and virality for her thesis.

  1. Emily Conrad

  2. Vanessa Harden

  3. Lillian Warner

Collecting References

After re-reading my pre-theis paper, I had two thoughts: 1) damn, I sounds smart and 2) where did I get all of these ideas from!? Collecting my resources and references has been HUGELY helpful in diving back into the world of my thesis and reminding me the topics I’m interested in and the experts I’ll build from. It also provided me the opportunity and thought starters to search for new articles, books, and references about the areas in which my thesis has grown since last Spring.

I decided to include the type of media and the topics that it covers as related to my thesis so that I can easily sort and find related references when needed. As I begin to read deeper, I hope to label each with a reference number and create a dialogic journal in a second tab so I can quickly reference these resources for my paper.

All references can be found here and there are more being added regualrly.

BXMC Process Site

As a part of the NYU Tandon community, I will create a process website (much like this blog) that will document my journey through thesis. Honestly, I kind of snoozed on setting this up assuming it would only take a minute to establish the page and make my documentation for the week live. Unfortunately, I was wrong. i’m hoping to get the site live over the next week and will move this documentation there (though I do hope to duplicate it here for my MANY, MANY followers).

Research Questions

My project has morphed in a lot of ways. Here are the key questions for my thesis as I see them now.

  • What social structures are unique to conspiracy theorist communities?

  • How is knowledge transfer and community-building different in the digital space?

  • What impact does digital learning have on idea ownership, empathy toward opposing points-of-view, and understanding of scientific claims?

  • What similarities exist between pseudoscience and conspiracy theory?

  • What are the cultural and societal impact of easy access to conspiracy?

  • Do we have a better understanding and empathy of different points of views and claims when we are forced to explore them offline?

Pop-Up Space

The trouble with installations is, like, where do you store everything? I’m lucky to have a walk-in closet and outdoor space to build and store, but I will need a place to display. I’ve started to look into pop-up spaces (ahem, I’ve simply started googling). Here are my resources:

  • https://www.appearhere.us/destinations/new-york-city

  • https://www.thestorefront.com/

  • https://www.peerspace.com/

  • ttps://198allenstreet.com

  • http://openhouse.me/nyc-popup-storefront/

Rose Bender
A Meeting with Gwen

I was honestly really nervous for my meeting with Gwen! I felt like I didn't know what I was going to need to say, but as we chatted I realized how much about my paper already lives inside of my head and just needs to be articulated.

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The meeting felt like when Dumbledore pulls memories out of his brain and puts them in the pensieve. Except Gwen was Dumbledore, my ideas were the memories, and the whiteboard was the pensieve.

As Gwen parsed out my thoughts, I realized that I am not really focusing on the impact of children's gothic/horror media at all. I think that it is an interesting trend and can help to establish the framework and narrative of my project, but will make the research too extensive and unfocused to complete. 

At the end of our meeting, I had an order to my narrative that will act as an outline to my paper and help me to begin organizing my research.

PAPER OUTLINE

  1. Conspiracy Theories
    1. Proliferation Online
    2. Harmful vs. Innocent
      is there a difference? is it the same line for everyone or personal? what is the harm of some conspiracies (9/11, sandy hook, jfk assassination). focus on "innocent" conspiracies: lunar landing, cryptids, chemtrails, hollow moon/earth, MKULTRA.
    3. As Entertainment
    4. Subversion
      adventure, exploration, self-discovery. the idea that things are not always as they seem or as you are told. survey of website mockups. reception, listening only, visuals, production quality, sonic branding, manor of delivery, factual vs. screaming.
    5. Online Communities
  2. Rise in Conspiracy Theories
    1. Production Quality
      what is the impact of how a conspiracy theory is delivered?
    2. As Entertainment
    3. "We are in on it"
      by using conspiracies an entertainment, there is almost a feeling of being a part of an "in" crowd. we feel that we "get it" more than those who truly believe the conspiracies.
    4. Why do others believe?
  3. Impact of Conspiracy as Entertainment
    1. What is the social impact?
    2. Do we stop listening to others?
    3. How can interacting with conspiracy theories in a tactile way help us to understand?

CREATION

I will create an interactive installation that encourages tactile exploration of claims that support conspiracy theories. People are encouraged to play with the scientific concepts in an attempt to support the conspiracy theory or break it. By taking action, individuals are able to experiment and reach their own conclusions, resulting in a greater feeling of ownership of ideas. 

Rose Bender
Little Meeting, Big Thoughts

Below, please find some spastic thoughts from my 1-1 with Dana.

  • Children's Macabre Media
    • Juxtaposing children's horror within each exhibition
    • Identifying language trends in children's media and exhibitions
    • Use these things as a design constraint for the physical interaction with a conspiracy theory
    • How does this type of media influence a children's way of learning, entertaininment/ method of playing
  • Interacting with Conspiracy Theories
    • Using the museum/ exhibition format to encourage interaction with the conspiracy
    • Extracting the spatial and dimensional facets of conspiracies, removing the distance from the medium
    • What is the intent of each exhibit? exploring the experience of conspiracy, encouraging curiosity, lighting a fire in children to question what they are told and how they are told to think / problem solve
    • Having a bold statement: positioning it as entertainment, an artifact for those who had this interest in children's media, using an arts-based approach, present as a sample study (incorporate it into the research paper)
    • Distrust of the actual medium: because you are seeing something that is so distant from your regular POV, presents a mysterious / disjointed view
    • A non-human POV creates an uncanny moment in time, displaces the space/time of it.
    • What is the impact of a shared viewing vs. seeing something alone? Can we recreate this sensation in the museum exhibit
  • Some thoughts to ruminate on:
    • Children's macabre media encourages scientific exploration
    • How our  point of observation (scientifically) leaves a trace
    • Children's media is the artifact that leaves a trace and primes certain people to indulge in conspiracy theories actually or as an entertainment method.
    • Within the paper I can address more questions that arise

Follow-up research

  • Arts-based research
  • Patricia Levy, Method Meets Art
  • Spooky Action at a Distance (traces left behind)
  • Katie Mitchell, Virginia Wolfe's the Waves
  • Multimedia dioramas, theatre dioramas, staging, live dioramas, space dioramas that already exist?
  • Exhibition lighting, theater lighting, 
Rose Bender
Experiment Two: Museum Exhibitions and Variety of Tone

I have been continuing my exploration of how conspiracy theories are presented. I was particularly interested in how a variety of senses (combining certain ones, excluding certain ones, isolating one only, etc) could impact the believability of the theory. This attempt to take the theory out of the verbal (written and audio) and to a more tactical space made me think of interactive and science exhibitions in museums. 

I did a little bit of research and put together a Pinterest board of some exhibitions and exhibition techniques that I found interesting and compelling: https://www.pinterest.com/rsbender/museum-exhibitions/

Based on this research, I made a mock up of one of the "proofs" that the lunar landing was faked. This theory states that you can see conflicting shadows in the photos from the lunar landing. They suggest this proves there were studio lights in use, as if they were actually on the moon there should have only been one light source (the sun).

I attempted to represent this "proof" in a more serious, somber, and traditional museum tone and then also in a more fun, light-hearted tone that might be used in an interactive museum. The first "serious" method presents only the image, while the second method encourages you to interact and get involved with this claim.

Take a look below, what is the difference? How does interacting with the claim increase your likeliness to believe it? Decrease? Do you trust the experiment you are being asked to conduct? Does the fact that it is an experiement have any impact? 

Traditional Presentation & Placard

Interactive Presentation & Placard

Rose Bender
Literature Review & Main Questions

Click here to read my literature review. 

I found it way easily to research papers than it was to read them. I was surprised at how long the first pass took me, but as I continued to read papers, I found it easily. I think I need to work on reading some of the 106 papers I have tracked so far before I add more. I love going down the rabbit hole of referenced authors.

Here is my main question and some follow-up questions

Does the media we consume as children prime us to view conspiracy theories, true crime, and dark humor as entertainment?

What does horror literature aim to teach children? Has this goal changed throughout the years?

Do different media have different ability to feel believable? What impact does production value have to trust?

What are the commonalities between people who view conspiracy theories, true crime, and dark humor as entertaining?

What is the impact of conspiracy theories on a real event? (9/11, Sandy Hook)

 

Rose Bender
Website Design: An Experiment in Trust

As a long-time website manager, I have often wondered about how website design and layout may impact trust. Here, I have considered the "classic" look of early internet conspiracy websites (dark background, neon colors, etc.) and how presenting the same information in a sleek and refined website could impact believability. 

Exploring the Lunar Landing
Rose Bender
Strange and Unusual Youths: an informal analysis of creepy media

I was unable to find anything specifically analyzing creepy and macabre children's or adult media, so I turned to Reddit to help me out! I put together a quick discovery survey that you can view below. Please note, this survey is definitely leading! In the future, I will definitely refine these questions. For now, I'm just hoping to learn a little bit more about what people who are into true crime, conspiracy, and macabre media now were into as children. So far, there are 110 responses.

I am still in the process of analyzing the results, but so far I have cross referenced children's books and adult books, which you can view here on tab three "Children's Books"

 https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Wo3JPDdWGYBLaAw-H8etst8hx3l_OhIP2oU9-PWkjYA/edit?usp=sharing

Rose Bender
Area, Topics, and Questions

Below are photos of my pages during my brainstorming session, mind map, and freewriter. During these sessions, I attempted to find my area and topics.

I have a few options...

  • Area Children's media
    Topic Dark Humor/The Macabre
  • Area Independent Media
    Topic Conspiracy Theories
  • Area Independent Media
    Topic Dark Humor/The Macabre
Rose Bender