Bubmag: The new digital simulation of the analog

Concept and design by Marco Simonetti
(CAS Design Technologies 2019, ZHdK)

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hello@bubmag.com

Summary

Technology as a mediator between the real and the digital

The concept thematizes the discourse of the analog and digital and its transformation. It questions specific aspects of our information society, in particular, digital influence and manipulation through information. The implementation of the concept enables access to and diversity of information on current topics and allows for a wide variety of opinions and points of view, and sees itself as a counterpole to the process of selective exposure.

As a physical and digital product, the periodical (bubmag) is available in both forms and thus complements itself to a symbiotic system. The curated images on the specific topics serve as emotional catalysts, and the linked text contents are algorithmically generated from aggregated information of various sources. Technology acts as a link between the analog and the digital.

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Introduction

Transformation

Digitization processes are created in principle by transformation (e.g., by sensors) of analogs, whereby the analogs are simulated in digital form and changed if necessary. In particular, the following questions arise: What are the differences between analog and digital? How does this simulation manifest itself? Moreover, how is the digital form steered in a particular direction by conscious influence?

Analog vs digital

In the years after 1834, the English photography pioneer William Henry Fox Talbot succeeded in making some groundbreaking discoveries that made it possible to reproduce any number of copies of a negative photograph (calotype) onto photosensitive paper. The process was able to generate replicas that were identical to the negative and were not subject to any possible manipulation. Talbot poetically called the analog photography  “Pencil of Nature” (Nature that draws itself), which exposed the image capture real and unadulterated on paper. The world of the analog cannot be more beautifully expressed in words, so this formulation is in every aspect the analog representation of reality. In strong contrast to this is digital photography: basically, everything digital is manipulated or can be manipulated in the technical sense (Bolz, 2016).

(Des)information and microtargeting

Digital content can be more easily modified or manipulated, and the targeted scattering of information or disinformation has become even more accessible through technology. A good example is fake news campaigns, which have been a proven and universal tool for influencing public opinion and manipulating political and economic goals since the last US presidential elections. Influence, coupled with microtargeting, multiplies the potential. The Cambridge Analytica scandal is one of the best-known examples of the systematic manipulation of voter behavior through data and microtargeting. The data analysis company used Facebook data sets and profiles illegally on a large scale to generate targeted, individually tailored messages.

Digital Influencing

Some extreme examples of digital influence in social media and their serious consequences have occurred in the past, such as the expulsion of the Rohingya ethnic Muslim minority in Myanmar. If Facebook users in mainly Buddhist Myanmar experience their own algorithmic-based reality unfiltered, then an echo-chamber effect can occur, or a filter bubble can develop, which can lead to a distorted world view. A confirmation bias with dramatic consequences for the Rohingya minority.

Alternative facts

It is remarkable when a democratically elected government speaks of alternative facts. Kellyanne Conway, an advisor to the US President, justified the false statements of White House spokesperson Sean Spicer on audience size during Donald Trump’s inauguration in front of the Capitol as alternative facts. Parallels were drawn to Georg Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984”, which became the best-selling book on Amazon. If these alternative facts are shared digitally in a flash over the social networks, they can unfortunately not be reversed by correcting the facts.

Cognition and perception

The question arises as to how strongly certain aspects of the information society can influence the cognitive functions of the individual. Nowadays, visual perception (image, text, video, etc.) plays an important role, ranging from fundamental overload to the development of new competencies (Ballstaedt, 2019). The risks of possible adverse effects (astroturfing, filter bubbles, etc.) increase as digitalization progresses, as the loss of control over one’s data progresses and technology actors develop increasingly complex algorithms that make independent decisions. Despite regulatory measures, the balance of power is unmistakably one-sided and the use of data intransparent.

Back to the analog?

It is very likely that through digitalization we will find our way back to analog as a post-digital age. Analog simulation of the digital? An interesting example of the reversal from digital to analog is Piql, a Norwegian company that converts digital content to analog, where data is encoded or printed on an analog medium using a sophisticated QR code technique. These are durable for at least 500 years, as a comparison hard disks have a life span of 5-10 years. If you want to store your digital data for eternity as an analog backup, you can do it with the simple program PaperBack and a lot of paper.

Concept and Implementation

The mechanism

The Bubmag concept (Bubble Magazine) allows access to and diversity of information on current topics and provides for a wide range of opinions and viewpoints. Bubmag is curated and is available as a physical and digital product, both forms expanding and complementing each other. Topics are algorithmically generated from aggregated information of various sources. The technology acts as a link between analog and digital, and the design supports the user experience both in analog and digital form.

The ideal medium

A medium that can be used both analog and digital is suitable for the concept; a similar user experience can differ noticeably and situationally from analog and digital. Periodicals provide the best conditions for the idea. The first periodicals appeared at the end of the 16th century and developed in various forms, but the essential components of the design remained mostly identical. The new concept, on the other hand, changes the conventional design in its most basic form by separating text content from the image content. The basic idea is that the update-value can be maintained by dynamically generating text content using a search algorithm and adding it continuously; in contrast, static text content quickly loses its topicality. On the other hand, the image is linked to the dynamic text, is less transient (higher update-value), serves the user as a thematic basis, and as a call to action.

Aggregated texts

The text contributions are automatically retrieved from various sources and collected and teased on bubmag.com. The effectively linked article is always on the original page. The user has a wide range of articles at his disposal, which conveys the diversity of opinions on a particular topic. The aim is to promote the discourse of cognitive dissonance and to minimize selective exposure.

Thematic images

The implemented images  are curated and used as emotional catalysts for current themes. They are both entry points and triggers for specific critical stimuli so that photography is increasingly in the focus of the dynamic Bubmag concept. Hashtags also support the images to limit the thematic and subjective space of interpretation.

The Symbiosis

The digital form serves above all to convey information, whereas in the physical form image series are possible that visually extend the content. In addition to the similar design language, both forms complement each other to form a symbiotic system. Nevertheless, there are essential differences between the physical and the digital form of the magazine: the haptic perception (sensitivity) or the modality of reading or viewing are different in all characteristics.

The Product

The analog magazine

The physical magazine consists exclusively of predefined photos, which are supported by hashtags. QR codes are used, which store the corresponding subject areas as web links and enable the playback of VR videos, to connect the analog and digital world. The use of barcode markers makes WebAR possible, thus overlaying the analog world with digital content. The periodical is published monthly, and the 120 curated images depict current topics about politics, society, and culture.

The digital magazine

The digital form of the magazine consists of a website and a progressive web app (PWA). Similar to the analog magazine, the topics are teased with photos and linked to the corresponding text contributions. QR codes and markers of the physical magazine can be scanned through the integrated scan app, which can be found under the navigation, or directly through the photo app of the smartphone. The corresponding links lead to the thematic text contributions or the VR/AR contents. A specific search algorithm continuously generates dynamic text content. The source is NewsAPI.org information platform. Virtual Reality (VR) video content is streamed directly from Youtube. The A-Frame framework builds augmented Reality (AR) content.