Sign of newness–designed by Bernhard Koppmeyer
(photo Barbara Schlueter)
“How do you know newness when you see it?“–that was the question 20 participants at the Objects of Newness symposium worked on yesterday at the WZB. They had each brought an object that somehow represented newness to them. These included items as diverse as a magnifying glass, the cloud that enables big data research, an empty white plate, a small plant, and a mosaic with a (Luhmannèsque Differenz-)line found in a souk.
Sharing and comparing objects of newness
(photo Barbara Schlueter)
Over the course of 65 minutes (the timing coincided symbolically with the 65th birthday of Michael Hutter that the symposium was intended to honor) the participants circulated from table to table, sharing and comparing their objects of newness.
Last Friday I attended a conference organised by the Professional Lighting Design Association in Berlin and had the pleasure of listening to Maria João Pinto Coelho telling an inspiring story of an invention consisting of seven black boxes. They all look the same and contain interesting items like candles, artificial light sources, mirrors, pieces of wood or card board. They also come with instructions that invite anyone who will open them to playfully explore the powers of light in space.
The Game of Light will start whenever people join together round the boxes: “we’ll open them, we’ll read the instructions and… we’ll play!”
Last week, I finally read a paper by our colleague Ignacio Farías. This was both surprising and inspiring. I was surprised because it seems that Ignacio and I have both, independently of one another, sat down—Ignacio in Boston, Massachusetts and I in Berlin—to think about urban sounds and noises. Ignacio is interested in urban ‘anti-noise activities’ and how they relate to ‘new ways of practicing citizenship and democracy’ in European cities. He considers these policies as ways of ‘governing urban conviviality’. My interest in urban sound studies was triggered by my research on urban lighting. Can methods for monitoring urban sounds inform social research on the impact of city lights? Despite the differences? ‘The issue of noise is a more sensitive one when compared to light’, said one of the experts I interviewed. According to his experiences, people are more aware of problems with noise.
Since Ignacio is still abroad we cannot exchange ideas over coffee I use this blog as an archive for some fugitive thoughts on the material problems posed by immaterial waves.
There were two good reasons to go to the WZB last Wednesday: to walk under the blossoming cherry trees and to attend the science slam. Although the trees bloom every year, each time their appearance transforms the garden, and indeed the blossoms change from day to day. The phenomenon repeats itself and yet is new each time I see it. The science slam idea was first launched at the WZB on January 23 2013 and this week we had the second event with a different set of participants and a few changes in the process. So it, too, was a repetition and a new experience.
Cherry blossoms at WZB, May 8 2013 (Photo ABA)
Repetition can in and of itself consist of newness and it can be part of a process of valorizing a new practice as an innovation worth pursuing. The cherry blossoms speak for themselves, but what can be said of the value that the second science slam at the WZB added?
As an academic, I have lived for many years in the world of “publish or perish.” Now a clause in the publishing contract I am about to sign and the dangerous experiences of a colleague at the WZB are alerting me to the brave new world of “publish and perish.”
§3.6 “The Editor shall ensure that all the material produced by the contributors and by the Editor for inclusion in the Work: (e) does not, so far as can reasonably be determined by the Editor, contain any statements of fact which are not true or any recipe formula diagram or instruction which if followed accurately will cause illness injury or damage to the user” [sic]*
The book we are preparing will contain a chapter about new perfumes and another about the market for wines. Both substances can be considered to entail potential health risks if ingested in large quantities. Should we add a warning label to the text to protect ourselves from the consequences of readers’ consumption behaviour during or after spending time with our book?