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 is the mediator between the real and the digital.

This concept thematizes the discourse of the analog and digital, as well as its transformation. It questions the specific aspects of our information-based society; in particular, digital influence and manipulation through information. The implementation of this concept enables access to a diverse array of information on current topics, and it allows for a wide variety of opinions and perspectives, seeing itself as a counterpart to the process of selective exposure.

As a physical and digital product, Bubmag magazine is available in both digital and print forms, and thus complements itself to a symbiotic system. The curated images accompanying the specific topics serve as emotional catalysts, and the linked texts are algorithmically generated from aggregated information from various sources. Technology acts as the link between the analog and the digital.

Introduction

Transformation

The process of digitization is created in principle by transforming (e.g., by sensors) the analogs, whereby the analog is simulated in a digital form and changed if and wherever 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 photo negative (calotype) onto photosensitive paper. This process was able to generate replicas that were identical to the negative and not subject to manipulation. Talbot poetically called this analog photography the “Pencil of Nature” (Nature that draws itself), which exposed the real and unadulterated image onto 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; everything digital is manipulated or can be manipulated in the technical sense (Bolz, 2016).

Disinformation 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 of this is today’s “fake news” campaigns, which have been a universal tool for influencing public opinion and manipulating political and economic goals, especially during the most recent US presidential elections. Influence, coupled with microtargeting, multiplies this 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 and profiles on a large scale to generate targeted, individually tailored messages. The legality of this is still debateable. No one was arrested or indicted for the scandal.

Digital Influencing

Some extreme examples of digital influence in social media, as well as their serious consequences, can be seen in such events as the expulsion of the Rohingya ethnic Muslim minority in Myanmar. If Facebook users in Buddhist Myanmar experience their own algorithmic-based reality unfiltered, then an echo-chamber effect can occur, or a bubble, which can then lead to a distorted worldview. This is a confirmation bias that had dramatic consequences for the Rohingya minority group.

Alternative Facts

It is remarkable when a democratically elected government speaks of alternative facts. Kellyanne Conway, an advisor to the current US President, justified the false statements of White House spokesperson Sean Spicer regarding the audience size of Donald Trump’s inauguration ceremony as “alternative facts”. Parallels were drawn to George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984,” which soon became a best-selling book on Amazon. If these alternative facts are shared digitally over social networks, they cannot 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, since 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 is non-transparent.

Back to the analog?

It’s very likely that we will find our way back to the analog through digitalization. An analog simulation of the digital? An interesting example of this 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 technology. These mediums are durable for at least 500 years; as a comparison, hard disk drives have a lifespan of about 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 called PaperBack and a lot of paper.

Concept and Implementation

The Mechanism

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

The Ideal Medium

A medium that can be used for both analog and digital purposes 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 essential idea is that the update-value can be maintained by dynamically generating text using a search algorithm and adding to it continuously; in contrast, static text quickly loses its topicality. But on the other hand, the image that is linked to the dynamic text is less transient (higher update-value), and serves the user as a thematic basis and a call-to-action.

Aggregated Texts

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

Thematic Images

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

The Symbiosis

The digital form serves to convey information above all else, whereas in the print form the images can 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 Digital Magazine

The digital form of the magazine consists of a website and a progressive web app (PWA). Similar to the print magazine, the topics here 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 app, which can be found under the navigation tab, or directly through the smartphone’s photo app. The corresponding links lead to the thematic text contributions or the VR/AR content, and a specific search algorithm continuously generates dynamic text content. The source is NewsAPI.org, and virtual reality (VR) video content is streamed directly from YouTube. The A-Frame Framework builds augmented reality (AR) content.

The Print Magazine

The print magazine consists exclusively of predefined photos that are supplemented with hashtags. QR codes are used, which store the corresponding subject areas as website links and enables 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 magazine is published monthly, and the 120 curated images depict current topics about politics, society, and culture.