9/11 Interactive Timeline/Database Artist Statement

9/11. The mere mention of those two numbers together signifies a day and event that will forever live in infamy. It is a day that claimed many lives and started a war on terror that is still ongoing.  I believe that 9/11 is by far the most important day in the 21st century so far, due to how much it has effected the lives of countless people on a global scale. As it seems with every event as important as 9/11, the people who were old enough at the time of the attacks can remember exactly what they were doing when they learned of the attacks and can easily flashback to these memories. These memories are often called “flashbulb memories” and are known to be very vivid and sometimes emotionally arousing.

I wanted to capture the pictures and videos that would invoke these flashbulb memories and put them into a database-like format for my project. The database format caught my eye in class with the Network Effect because of how it related specifically to what I was trying to emphasize with my 9/11 project. The Network Effect used videos to highlight human interactions while also being a larger commentary on humanity and  how the internet has changed our lives. This simple website with short cut-ups from Youtube changed my whole perspective on the internet and showed me that allowing the reader to navigate through information on their own can be a powerful tool.

My goal for my project was to highlight the human element of 9/11 through the videos and pictures of people throughout the day, while also creating a reflective and interactive trip for people who can remember their 9/11 through flashbulb memories.  I looked to encourage that interpretation by including the pictures and biographies of all the passengers aboard the four planes, while also including audio recordings of the hijackers. These pictures and videos, especially the videos of the towers being struck or collapsing, easily trigger in many people the flood of emotions and memories from that day.

Displaying all the flashback inducing media of the different events of the day, required obtaining and presenting large amounts of information including long videos. Essentially meaning that the most important affordance of a database in relation to 9/11 is that the database can be infinite and contain all the information you need it to. The only drawback to a pure database is that the information is not presented in a procedural format that would work well for telling a time based narrative. That drawback was important for my project because the story of 9/11 is very commonly told based on a timeline. The realization that 9/11 almost has to be told procedurally led me to merge what I considered the positive aspects of a database and a timeline into my port project, creating (what I very cleverly named) an interactive timeline/database.

The merging of the two formats took place in Twine. The free, text-based, narrative development software contained everything I needed to merge the best parts of the timeline and database formats. Twine makes it very easy to navigate through different text boxes with simple links and also easily allowed me to add most of the media to the timeline. Sadly Twine was not infinite and the software would not let me expand the size of my timeline to include the entirety of the media that I wished to upload. However Twine did allow me to condense my work into a less lengthy experience because of it being finite and was in-depth enough to even include a lighthearted Easter egg for some relief from the solemnity of the piece if someone is able to find it. Another wonderful affordance of Twine is how easily the appearance of the text and screen can be altered. I have very little coding skill and Twine allowed me to create a very patriotic theme for my background and text while removing the menu bar from the game. I was even able to look up the exact colors of the American flag and to use those color codes through CSS to create my theme for the piece. The page backgrounds are all the same blue as the American flag’s blue. While the text is white with red links that turn gold when moused over.

Twine also made it very easy to create a page linking all the other pages together, which is where the actual timeline starts. There is a start page before entering the timeline but the action begins on the timeline page which acts as a sort of hub. The viewer can navigate through the different times and events at whatever pace or in whatever direction, however each slide has a next button that when pushed will move the viewer forward chronologically in the timeline. I tried to use a picture timeline of 9/11 in conjunction with my text and link based version but Twine unfortunately refused to allow pictures to be moved and resized within the timeline. Therefor the timeline is just patriotically covered text with each time listed out starting from the first event of the day at the top and then reducing down until the last event of 9/11. In between the times are two white lines at first, these lines represent the twin towers and as the buildings come down on the timeline, so do the two white lines as they crumble into dots.

Moving forward from the home timeline page is easily done by clicking on any of the listed times. The home timeline page also serves as a way to move around independently in the time boxes. Once the viewer has entered the timeline, he or she can access any time box immediately through the links, however to explore further in depth there are links within some time boxes that hold additional pages and information. The most important of these boxes were the boxes that displayed the passengers faces, information, and sometimes voice recordings. Seeing the faces and sounds of the people on the planes either before or after seeing the videos of the planes colliding with the buildings makes for a sobering and sublime experience for anyone, not just those who can experience flash bulb memories. I cannot remember 9/11 at all because I was 3 years old but even I would get emotional to the point where I had to take breaks while working on the project because of how these pictures and videos made me feel while watching them.

The emotion the videos and pictures create is the heart of my project. I intentionally kept my project aesthetically simple so as to maximize the effect of the words and media. There are not any long paragraphs or multiple videos and pictures on any of the slides. The focus is intended to be completely on what happened at each time rather than on the implications or reactions to what was ongoing, while also shedding a light on how real these people who were involved were. Hearing the voice of the hijacker and flight attendant made me think for the first time of the people who were involved in 9/11 as people. For some reason throughout the years of seeing the pictures and videos it wasn’t until I had began to make this project that I had really seen all of the media in a chronological format that can be navigated at your own pace. There are plenty of video timelines and timeline pictures but they are not the same as what I created. Realizing that the hijackers and passengers who were involved are no different than the people I see every day was very surreal to me and to the others who have came to that realization while viewing my work.

At the first glance my work is probably not the most aesthetically appealing piece as it is a very simplistic and has rather dull colors. I did not mean it to be entertaining or attractive looking. I envisioned my project being used as a sort of teaching tool possibly as something on a government website or as something that kids can access to learn more about 9/11. If I were able to redo this project I would probably use a different software as the backbone of the project because while twine was easily used it also limited me in my ability to change the look and size of my project. I could not create all the slides that I wanted to or make the home page the way I want it to look. However, I really like the fact that my project is not very large to store or host and can be easily shared and downloaded.

In conclusion, I hope some of you other than Dr. Sample will take the time to download my project and will explore through it (I recommend in google chrome because I know it works well in chrome).  Hopefully after reading what I had to say about it, because I think my project shares with people the feelings I have been talking about and puts on display the human aspect of 9/11 if they view it through an inquisitive lens. 9/11 is important to me and I hope by viewing my work that everyone will understand why.

P.S. – I want to thank Dr. Sample for his help in creating my project and in encouraging me to follow my ideas and to my classmates for all the help you guys have given me throughout the semester.


The Technological Element of The Sublime

Classifying something as sublime is not easy. There are many factors that go into classifying something as sublime, such as the thing/idea/event being overwhelmingly incomprehensible or the thing/idea/event having a some sort of sense that cannot be described other than to attribute its grandeur as undefinable and unable to be communicated accurately.  In his paper the American Technological Sublime, David Nye argues that for almost all of human history these defining characteristics could usually only be found in nature by way of large natural occurrences such as the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. These natural occurrences were seen as acts of god/gods and therefore were not only regarded as physically incomprehensible but were also religious events that inspired a kind of awe that humans could not recreate.

The Grand Canyon – Ben Davis

This seems to no longer be the case in the last couple decades. The modern world is much more secular and humanistic, nature is no longer incomprehensible but instead measured and metered in every way possible, which has started to eliminate the spiritual element of nature and replace it with an admiration of the technology that makes such measurements. This admiration for technology becomes sublime when the technology operates with numbers or in a system that make it seem incomprehensible or unimaginable. One such system that achieves this for me is the idea of the Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT will be essentially a super large network of technology that is connected through the internet.  While it is still in an infant stage, it is expected to grow to 18 billion devices by 2022. The applications and implication of a system this big are huge. People would be able to basically control everything technologically based in their world at a moments notice. This would include everything from their coffee pot and air conditioning to their self-driving cars of the future. This level of control over the environment is unprecedented and is sublime to me to imagine how vast and controlling this system would be once it is expanded to the majority of people.

Crossing The Uncanny Valley

The Uncanny Valley is a term originally coined by Masahiro Mori in 1970to describe human’s revulsion towards things that appear nearly human, but are not quite human. This revulsion usually involves humanoid robots, but can also include computer animations and other human-like structures like mannequins. A good example of an uncanny humanoid figure would be the widely known videos including Tara the Android.

Picture of Tara the Android on azureedge.net

Tara and other things falling in the uncanny valley have many different proposed psychological fear explanations in humans. One proposed idea sees the root of the uncanny valley laying in our evolution. This idea proposes that people naturally tend to avoid humans that appear “sick” as an evolutionary means to staying healthy and avoiding pathogens. The theory contends that the items falling into the uncanny valley unnaturally heighten this feeling because while they are clearly human-like they are also even more clearly not fully human. The brain compensates for these differences by considering the person very “sick” or repulsive. This theory is what I feel best explains the uncanny valley gap, because it also would hold true that reanimated dead bodies are the highest form of uncanny.

The Uncanny Valley Gap is what researchers from Image Metrics have been trying to cross and may have succeeded back in 2008 with a CGI program designed to mimic human expression. This video shows the tech demo for Image Metrics named Emily. It is a one minute interview with a CGI overlay that is eerily almost unnoticeable from first glance. While there are still remaining aspects of the Uncanny Valley in Emily’s CGI face, overall she is not particularly uncanny and is definitely  no where near on the same level as Tara. I think this technology is very exciting and I am surprised that I had not seen this earlier or heard anything break through since then.

Youtube user – Chrispy (Pikey26)’s video on Emily

The Question Posed by Computer Generated Texts

Computer generated texts are primarily composed of a set of words chosen by a human that are randomly selected again by the computer and then added to a specified location in a defined sentence. The majority of computer generators take this basic definition and expand upon it vastly, adding many different sentence forms or specific topics, requiring that certain words rhyme, ect.  The addition of these mechanisms are closely related to Tariq Ali’s Ideas on Human Curation. While his article is focused primarily on the lack of “common-sense” among these text generators, he also brings to light the human curation of these text generators. The term “human curation” in this sense, refers to a human or group of humans reviewing the output of a text generator and choosing the “good” examples to display to the public as art. He argues that human curation can create meaning out of seemingly meaningless random texts, and asks the question “if machines generate literature, and then humans heavily edit the literature before publishing it, then was the final output ‘really’ computer-generated?” (Ali) Although it is not explicitly stated, I feel his argument actually brings to question the idea of author intentionality which we have discussed in this class.

Author intentionality states that the author’s intention when creating the art should be valuable to your own interpretation of the piece. However, if there is no true author, is there a true intention for the piece by any of its supposed authors? In Thomas Wendt’s piece on author intentionality and interpretation he argues that the most important factor linking these systems for electronic literature is the context of the work. For example, take a computer generated but human curated piece of poetry, the most important factors in your interpretation of the piece would have to be in the piece’s contextual clues. How it was displayed (if displayed digitally), who curated it, who wrote the code, what text(s) the computer is drawing words from to generate the poem, and other contextual clues will fill in the interpretive holes that not having a true author leaves. (Wendt)

The contextual clues of my project are key to understanding it and the artistic value it represents. My project is a generator that creates a short fake assignment given by either famous scientists or people from this class. These fake assignments are very difficult sounding and humorous, as I intended for them to be, so from a stranger’s perspective it is a whimsical little generator with little to no deep expression. However, the true meaning of my project lies in the contextual clues in my personal life outside of the project. I was creating and finishing this generator in the midst of recovering from a concussion, therefore even the most remedial assignments seemed impossible for me to complete. I decided to express my frustrations by creating this project which brings humor to the idea of impossible homework but also displays my inner frustrations in trying to complete this work. The reason for the italic black font is that it is hard to read at the low-level of back light that is required when coming back from a concussion, while the dark red background is symbolic of willpower, the same willpower needed to work when it is challenging. I got the ideas for this kind of contextual art by reading through the article by P. D. Juhl on computer poetry challenging author intentions. He believes that computer generated texts are art before they even generate a poem or text. This idea rests on the fact that a human wrote the code specifically for a reason and that the true art is seen through viewing what they intended the generator to output, and less focused on what the generator actually outputs. (Juhl) I hope you can see how I reflected his idea through my own work, thank you for reading!


Ali, Tariq,. The “Commonsense” Problem In Computer-Generated Works, https://dev.to/tra/the-commonsense-knowledge-problem-in-computer-generated-works, The DEV Community Blog, Aug 26, 2016.

Juhl, P. D., Do Computer Poems Show That an Author’s Intention Is Irrelevant to the Meaning of a Literary Work?, Critical Inquiry Vol. 5, No. 3 (Spring, 1979), The University of Chicago Press. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1342997?seq=7#page_scan_tab_contents

Wendt, Thomas,. Intention vs Interpretation: What Matters?, UX Booth, May 7th, 2013. http://www.uxbooth.com/articles/intention-vs-interpretation-what-matters/

Twitter Newspapers?

Twitter has a seemingly infinite amount of third party tools available to its users that allow them to add small wrinkles to their interface or to completely change the way their account will function. The example relevant to class that I found is called Paper.li (pronounced pay-per-lee). Paper.li is an application that compiles specific items  from the user’s twitter feed and places them into a conventional newspaper format. It does this by prompting for keywords or hashtags it uses to grab posts from the user’s feed. For example if I told Paper.li to find “college football news” the application would search my feed, compiling all the articles relevant to college football news, and create a college football only newspaper for me completely based off of my own twitter feed. The fact that it only searches a specific user’s feed is important because it allows the user to be very specific about the type of news that it searches. If I only follow the various Davidson College sports twitter accounts, then I will only have a newspaper comprised from their posts alone.

Paper.li’s example of a Beer themed paper. 

Paper.li is relevant to this class because it is a very unique form of electronic literature. Paper.li’s actual appearance is close to that of a conventional paper copy newspaper, but it creates this newspaper in a very specific automated manner from twitter with each story having its own link. This is interesting to me because I never would have thought of using twitter, a very unconventional way of getting news, to create something resembling a conventional newspaper in this way. However, the results are astonishing and many users of this software have even became popular from sharing their “newspaper” with their followers via (you guessed it) twitter. 

The Blurred Lines of Poetry

Computer poetry began as simple mathematic variations of words filtered into place using programmed logical structures. These logical structures forced the randomly selected words to agree with most English grammar laws and thus created randomly generated sentences.  The first computer generated poems had limited logical structures due to the computers limited capabilities in processing complex coding. Therefor these early sentences were highly disjunct and created rather senseless poems.This is not the case in today’s world of powerful computers that can easily handle such code and more.

IGI Global’s amusing rendering of a Neural Network.

Artificial Neural Networks are programmable computer systems that are designed to function like an animals brain. These systems can improve their function over time by considering inputted examples and using those examples to better recognize and consider different things that the network can be exposed to. Contemporary computer poems coming from these systems are quite extraordinary, and are quite often mistaken for human poetry.

The exceptional system that created the poems was exposed to over 7 million words and can be programmed to write poems that are associated to a specific term or idea. The Neural Network can accomplish this really well by understanding the relationships between groups of words and a single theme idea. It does this by using the examples added to the system as well as by the relationships the system “learns” itself. The example theme inputted into the system in the hyperlink is “desolation”. The generated poem shown is eerily desolate and shows just how far humans have come in our computer technology and coding of logical systems. Not only do we have systems capable of creating readable poems that make much more sense than their precursors but coders have, in a sense, created a virtual poet. A poet that effectively “understands” themes and many other common poetic devices such as rhyme, rhythm and alliteration. It will be interesting to watch if these programs ever create a true “depth” to their poems and to see these developments over time!

Click to compare the Human and Computer poems yourself.