MAS 963 The Virtual Society
04.25 Visualizing crowds

A computer can connect you to millions of other people, yet today's static screens give no indication of this crowd. A web page may be simultaneously viewed by hundreds of vistors, yet there is little indication (aside from slow response time) that this gathering of like-minded individuals is occuring. How can these crowds be depicted? In the physical world people-watching -- following the ebb and flow of crowds of people, observing the interactions of strangers, imagining stories about an intriguing passerby -- is a popular pursuit. Is there an online equivalent?

assignment   ·   critiques go here

And here are some examples of synthetic crowds:

1. Please read the papers.

2. Go to two or three different places where you can observe groups of people (such as a movie theatre, Harvard Square, a cafe, a classroom, a party, etc.). Watch for a while and think about what you notice - why do some people stand out? What do you find yourself looking at - faces? clothes? how people group together? Imagine different scenarios of why you are there - how would your observations change if you were looking for a friend or if you were trying to guess which of the passersby was a multimillionaire / international terrorist / romance novel writer? What do you wish you could know about some of the passersby that you cannot tell simply by observing them?

3. Drawing both from the readings and your observations, write an essay about the social function of crowds and of watching crowds. Also address the issues of virtual crowds: there an equivalent to the crowd online? what is it? how is it perceived? What is inherently different about it than a real world crowd - and what differences are a function of the interface and potentially erasable?

Please submit the URL of your critique online by Sunday evening. Copies of the readings are available outside of E15-449.