Listen to Wikipedia Guided Meditation - Reflections


THATCamp Virginia 

Amanda -

I have a very difficult time meditating (not that I try very hard or very often) but I must say that this site puts me into a contemplative state with hardly any effort. I think it hits a sweet spot for me between my brain’s increasingly worrisome restless questing after more and more and more information -- the next article, the next tweet, even the next THATCamp session -- and my brain’s need for some silence. Just the Zennish chimes alone without the associated blips representing Wikipedia articles might not be enough for me; when I watch this site or even listen to it while keeping it open in a tab alongside all my other open tabs, that hunger for random data seems assuaged a bit. It’s restful.

During the ten minutes we spent at the beginning of this session just watching, it took me at least the first two or three to stop worrying about things -- how do I set up the writing space, is my computer going to run out of power, even worse and more personal worries -- but then, yes, I did stop worrying about those things (for a time). But then the pure space of contemplation lasted for maybe five minutes only, I think, after which I began wondering things about the site, how it works, how it means. There’s a meaningful difference between the green circles and the white circles, but I’ve forgotten what it is. I think the larger circles represent articles with the most edits, but I’ve forgotten whether that’s true. At one point I watched a single green circle representing some topic (that I’ve already forgotten) fixedly in order to see how long it would stay on screen. It stayed a long time. I don’t know why. I could feel a new hunger starting to arise: a hunger to look up the answers to those questions. Which I would, again, have likely forgotten, all too quickly.

I noticed for the first time today that the circles, which are mostly white, and many of which have semi-transparent coronas (which probably also have meaning, unless they are merely meant to suggest the ripples of a stone tossed in a pond) -- at any rate, as I was writing, I noticed for the first time today that it looks like a universe. Continual supernovae bursting into being and then fading.

As for topics. I noticed someone editing “Waylon Jenning discography.” I noticed how many of the topics are conceptual: “conservatism in Pakistan” was an example. I noticed someone editing “Maisie (film).” I wondered if I was imagining it, or if the pop culture circles tended to be smaller. I still haven’t confirmed that the smaller circles are the articles with fewer edits. I will look it up, undoubtedly.

Certainly the chief lesson I take from watching and listening to Listen to Wikipedia is that the world is large. It’s so, so difficult to remember on a daily basis how large the world is, how many people there are -- no: it isn’t difficult to remember. That is wrong. It is difficult to conceive of -- no: it isn’t difficult to conceive of. That is wrong. It is impossible to conceive of, impossible to truly understand. But I think this site gives me just a hint of the immensity of the world, and of course of the immensity of knowledge.

And this site is profoundly unacademic, perhaps, in the sense that it is subverbal or nonverbal. It makes an argument, I’d say, or at least a point, and that point is surely something along the lines of the lesson I articulated in the last paragraph. It also makes an argument about Wikipedia, surely. Wikipedia has its faults (many faults), but for some reason recently I’ve become more and more interested in it, more and more impressed by it. Which is odd, because Wikipedia isn’t new by the standards of digital scholarship. Can you imagine writing or publishing about Wikipedia now? I almost can’t: what else could be said that hasn’t already been said? It would be like writing a book or dissertation about Foucault, which even back in 2000 I was told would be old hat. Yet I still find Foucault to be a useful theorist in thinking about power and knowledge, and I still find Wikipedia to be a useful primer for anyone and everyone on some of the basic functions and significances of the Internet.

One final point: I once did some writing about Twitter art, and I was trying to come up with a word for these kinds of verbally-inflected visualizations. The closest word I could come up with was calligramme.


The musician in me is interested in the sounds they’re using. The site gives you the sense of a music of knowledge - the collective stories and information of the world being generated together. But in order to make the meditative aspect, certain tones have to be left out. My ears aren’t as good as they should be, but it sounds like they’re working within some flavor of the pentatonic scale. So disonant notes get cut out in order to make it sound soothing. That’s one reason why it still sounds fine if you open a separate tab with another version of the sound experiment - the other is that the updates are synched, so the sounds synch. The sounds work when they overlay because they can’t do anything else. It’s a reminder of the dissonances that get left out of community generated knowledge pieces like this.

I also find a kind of tension between the subjects of the Wikipedia updates and the meditative soundscape. It’s hard not to giggle when you are meditating to the sounds made by an update to the list of characters in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles page. The site seems to take an egalitarian approach to knowledge - it’s all created equal (this might be wrong - I can’t quite parse what is making the code assign some updates bell tones and others the string instrument or how it decides on color). It’s an interesting point about the place of popular/mass culture in the place of our own collected body of knowledge. Are these updates as important as an update on Women in Pakistan? The machine doesn’t seem to distinguish between them. I now see how they distinguish between things. From their site:

“Bells are additions, strings are subtractions. There’s something reassuring about knowing that every user makes a noise, every edit has a voice in the roar. (Green circles are anonymous edits and purple circles are bots. White circles are brought to you by Registered Users Like You.)”

Interesting that bots have a voice in the knowledge project. How far behind is the singularity? I, for one, welcome our machine overlords.


Probably telling that my first impulse once we moved away from the basic English feed of the hatnote site was to turn on all the languages—I tend to want as much info as possible coming at me, even by proxy. The full-on mode (,en,fa,ar,id,ja,uk,fr,sv,he,as,pa,ml,or,pl,bg,sr,mk,sa,mr,te,hi,nl,de,es,it,zh,bn,ta,kn,gu,be,wikidata)  turns the site from a space of reflection where you’re often able to track individuals across their tasks (noted today, for instance: someone adding information on Brooklyn Robins teams of the 1910s and 1920s, year by year) into a barrage of scripts and sounds, and an explosion of shapes. Much of the change comes from turning on Wikidata, where all the bots behind the scenes alter articles at a level beneath the display pages of various languages: huge bursts of purple (sometimes taking up 80% of the screen) and indecipherable number strings showing the incessant labor underneath the hood. Turn Wikidata back off, though, and there’s the feel, however illusory, of being connected to the cognitive network of exactly what’s going on at that general moment, worldwide. I’ve seen it previously with search engine data, but even there it was fairly linguistically bounded and also more bound (though not at all completely) to a particular moment in time; here the only indication of time is a slight preponderance of 2013 events or personalities, or 2013–14 sports teams, etc. With everything on, there’s far less negative space: the visual environment is in a perpetual palimpsestic cycle as layers fade underneath others, rather than into the deep blue of inactivity.

There is a basic disconnect for me in the conceptions of the meditative space of the exchange of pure data, and the often-fraught, vicious, and prolonged battles that take place over individual edits. Wondering about visualizations of individual pages or families of pags, with time lapse built in that would show particular flareups or detentes. Also interesting to me that this project is based on a similar one for Bitcoin transactions, where the pitches still alter in response to the amount of data being moved, but there the data is explicitly monetized. There’s a surveillance aspects to these sorts of enterprises that adds a tinge of spookiness to it all—who else is listening in on the edits we make on Wikipedia, or for that matter our own emails or chat messages? What sounds do those make?

Separately, the color and audio palette reminds me of Brian Eno’s iOS app Bloom, which assigns tones to touchscreen input, and then uses those touches to produce sound-bent loops that morph over time. The Wikipedia project feels like it could be used instrumentally by the likes of Four Tet or other producers, so the creative conduits of data transmission themselves become visible. But again, I’m likely missing the point of the sheerly meditative aspect of the enterprise, to peacefully accept the moment as it is—something that is an enormous struggle for me (although made easier by pleasant chimes and string plucks and swells and happy little bubble/spheres).

.Susan aside from the fact that my first inclination was to wondered out choices driving colour, location, and size of the dots...I also wonders bout the repeated search phrases, and I saw one that was specific to my discipline...rat king...from the nutcracker ballet. But anyway...what an interesting choreographic tool using audience participation to either move or to generate movement by interacting with the app

Julie - The initial meditation was compelling - and moving into personal experimentation blew my zen state since I can’t get the site to load….in any language. I’m left instead reflecting on the frustrations of hitting the wall of expectations - I can see what I want in one place; how do I deal with the inability to manipulate the data in my hands? I know I need to be able to help (teaching) faculty who deal with this frustration constantly.

Without the ability to interact, I find myself more and more curious about the dots. Does size and intensity have only to do with the length of edit? Popularity of entry? Some dots are enormous - what about the placement on the screen - random or related to something? While the chimes are inherently soothing, the cataloger in me wants to create order out of appearance of the dots. Why is Contemporary Christian Music a larger spot than Politics of the United Kingdom? … and Matt Cooke (photographer) is apparently HUGE. But (unfairly, I think), the 2001 New England Patriots season is but a speck. Ultimately it’s simply fascinating to witness what people are interested in enough to contribute their effort to Wikipedia.


I’m comparing revisions to topics that caught my eye. “Legends of the Hidden Temple”: user subtracts Dee Bradley Baker from the list of program creators; Imaginary Number: correction of term “program” to British spelling “programme”; “Neon Genesis Evangelion”: rewording of phrase “by making anime fans of an audience not traditionally interested in it” to “(anime fans) by attracting interest in the medium” (context to come forthwith); Jabalpur: addition of John Players (Samdariya Mall) to list “Entertainment & Leisure”; Anthrax (band): capitalization of power pop band (blackened) to Blackened

What an excellent tool for free association! I want to run this all day as a digression for the benefit of a creative work -- this also has the effect of inducing nostalgic reaction, reminding the viewer of things that she’s forgotten existed. Some of these are trivial, others topical, some lead to cul-de-sacs and others inspire flight. “Legends of the Hidden Temple” as source of … ruminations on similar Nickelodeon immersive gaming programs with sequential “tiered” components, employing stages of elimination. “Nick Arcade” operated along similar lines; “Nickelodeon Guts” not employing elimination rounds but seeing all players advance the


Aggro Crag (later MegaCrag and Super Aggro Crag)


A number of violations/errors on the Crag could result in a player automatically receiving third place points. These include:


This in turn could lead to a sub-digression on “American Gladiators” and the genealogy of contemporary obstacle-course shows like “American Ninja Warrior” …

but at some point one must place a parenthesis on his ruminations.

Versing the Program(me)


The Correction of Terms:

Let us introduce a rule for all stars to follow.

For every creator we abstract,

A new player add

A Genealogy of Obstacles:

Beginning with the parenthesis

which must, by automasis,

take place before the whistle;

the cul-de-sac into which

one finishes the climb