Stupid stuff is what engages us

I just got back from Ohio State University’s innovateOSU conference (which was inspiring and I’ll be writing more about that shortly), and one of the comments that I made during my talk that seemed to resonate with a lot of people was the simple fact that sharing stupid stuff on the web often engages us:.

This comment during the talk was inspired by a random recent event that happened to me online. A year or two ago I created an animated GIF from scratch in Excel by taking screenshots of a series of cells I colored to replicate the classic video game Pong because I loved the “Spreadsheet Invasion” ds106 assignment so much.  I was having crazy issues with the bandwidth on bavatuesdays recently, and I was trying to figure out why it was being burned up so quick. Turns out, the animated GIF Pong was reddited recently on a thread about the most balanced multiplayer game maps in history (this is an extremely heated topic in the gaming subreddit). Turns out, someone offered up Pong as an example of the most balanced multi-player map, and they used my GIF.

Turns out this lead to over 260,000 views on that image alone! Insane!

Funny thing is that this GIF was shaky (which commentators on the Reddit thread joked about) because it was created in Excel with screen shots and I was a bit off on a few. It’s an approximation of the game map, it’s not actually the map they are holding up as the perfect game map. That said, my beautifully symmetrical GIF makes for a perfect example—fake can be just as good!

So, all this to say, stupid stuff you create on the web (and this Pong GIF being one example of many for me) can take on a life of its own in ways we cannot even imagine. A whole community debate was engaged around something I shared. As a result, I am now engaged in the debate around balanced game maps. What I love about this is how it challenges some of our basic assumptions about what is important, why, and for whom. Sharing stupid stuff has had untold value for me in my life online.  What’s fun is once other people start contextualizing, and re-contextualizing, those stupid things you share, they often become that much less stupid. Which all points to a point I was trying to make in my presentation, at its best the web is a massive  context engine, and for your understanding of it to truly be transformative, you have to regularly contribute to it in order to watch the variety of contexts take shape.

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5 Responses to Stupid stuff is what engages us

  1. Clint says:

    You know, if you keep staring at it long enough, the 0’s start looking like eyes…unblinking eyes. Always watching. Always staring. Never changing. JIM GROOM- your FREAKING me out! Getting into my head…STOP IT!

  2. Todd Conaway says:

    I am pretty sure we rolled mostly round rocks down steep hills laughing at the stuff they crashed into for like 3000 years before someone wondered, “Now what if I have two rocks connected with a wood pole and…”

    Everything starts as stupid stuff,

  3. Reverend says:

    The vertical and the horizontal!

    @Todd ,
    Agreed! And I love that example.

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