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Starting tomorrow I’ll be running two days of field research in Elephant and Castle. We’ll be making tangible, physical models of our social connections out of simple materials with the intention of building up a picture of human relationships. Each person will get a tile and will be asked to stick coloured pins into it representing six people in their network. These pins will be connected by coloured elastic. People will then write short accounts or stories of how they know each person. The physical artefact is a vector pr proxy for the externalisation of individual social networks. Six connections are chosen as representing what Robin Dunbar has discovered is the maximum number of close relationships the human brain has evolved to manage. Dunbar describes humans as being uniquely capable of third order intentionality and above,which allows us to mirror the mind state of others thus giving rise to social life and friend groups.

As the song says: Everybody Needs Somebody, and everybody knows somebody. The people we know, and our places in a complex web of personal relationships define what we do, who we do it with, and why we do it. Our connections contribute to how we see the world, and where we choose to live, work or study. However, the ways we are connected to each other can be difficult to see or understand because they are complicated to show and tend to change constantly. Social scientists now use computers to create intricate models of social connections using specialist software and advanced algorithms. The results of this research are often impenetrably elaborate, drained of human values, and understandable only by other computers.

The broader themes of the research connect to my interest in narrative strategies as ways of ordering experience and how interactive systems should be more arranged to deliver meaning through structured narratives rather than infinitely ordered lists. More specifically, the idea for this work arose out of an observation that when urban development takes place there is often a highly resolved physical model but no corresponding social model on which to base decisions. Parts of London are undergoing rapid transformation from redevelopment, gentrification, capital flows, housing crises, and changing work practices. These forces shape neighbourhoods and have a profound influence on our relationships as people move around in search of opportunity or stability. The aims of Everybody Needs Somebody are to put human values into social network modelling, show in physical form how we are connected to each other, and have some fun making our relationships visible.

 

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