How to classify Curious Rituals?

It is late one night in LA, you’re close to leaving the club, but you really don’t want walk alone in the dark for 20 minutes. To take a taxi, or to call an Uber, is too sad and you’re really still in a chatting mood.
The right thing to do is call The People Walker, a guy -and not that kind of guy that you’re going to bother late in the night- that for $7 a mile can walk with you.

The scenario changes.

You’re tired. After a long travel you finally arrive in the UK, the land where you hope to start a new life.
You know that the first step is to do an official request for asylum. But you don’t know anything about the legal system, and you barely speak English. To find somebody that can help you is not easy, that’s why DoNotPay exists, the first “robot lawyer”.
DoNotPay is a chatbot that helps refugees with legal claims through the Facebook Messenger App. It is a free way to try to find an answer to a social problem, but also an initiative that opens up questions such as “could my work be replaced by robots?”.

 

The Curious Rituals of Work

 

These are just two examples of what students found in the first three weeks of the program. The exercise was to explore the Curious Rituals of Work.
These examples of weird news, strange habits, and particular initiatives are a very important starting point in understanding which possible directions open up for the near future of Work.

The aspects that made this research so important and useful in order to understand the current reality (in NFD terms, the Strange Now) is not only the data itself, but also their classification.

Try to imagine one hundred examples of data. Pretty easy to manage, eh? Well, now try to imagine managing them in order to understand some trends, or underline some critical aspects. You will need to visualize them not one by one, but clustering them in categories.
So the second exercise was to find these categories.

 

Classification and taxonomies

 

To be able to find a classification, or to divide a series of concepts by taxonomies is a difficult exercise. Even if we would think that there is a correct way to do that, the reality is that there isn’t. In fact, the aim wasn’t to find the correct way to make it, but to find the way that was most helpful and interesting for our goal.

Let’s look at some examples:
Aristotle was one of the creators of the modern conception of classification and taxonomies.
This was his conception of Living Things:

This vision remained until the XVII sec. d.c.

Today what is considered an acceptable division of Living Things is this:

Pretty complex.
But these two examples still stay in the area of what we called Science.
Let’s see what happens when Science meets everyday life.
The artist Ian Danskin in this video tries to define, in a very generic way, what is art and what is not.
To do that he used a very good example of the complexity of taxonomies and perception: the tomato.
If you didn’t already know, the tomato is a fruit:

Yes, tomato is a fruit

But, for many historical, social, and cultural reasons, the tomato is perceived as a vegetable.
Who is right?

Well, the answer is that it depends. For the science is right that tomatoes are classified as fruit, because the science classification is based on the properties of the tomato itself.
For the supermarket is correct that tomatoes are classified as a vegetable, because its classification is based on the perception of the people. These two classifications have different aims, for different publics.

 

The process

 

With all of this in our minds, we proceed with the definition of the classification and the tag to use. First, in a very raw keyword assignment (just four for each Curious Ritual) then in a deeper way.
To do this we decided a collective point of view from our research: the worker. Each Curious Ritual had to be analyzed through the point of view of the worker.
Then, in an open discussion with the entire class, we started to understand which elements were important for us to know: is the worker paid or not for the work that they do? Are they consciously working? What is the relationship with the client? What is the nature of the worker? Is the worker a human, an animal, or a robot?

All of this is also correlated with the concept of granularity.
How in detail do we want to describe each category? Which dimensions are important for us? Do I want to know exactly how much the worker earns, or, for my research, and for my aims, is it enough to understand what kind of retribution the worker has? Is the worker paid, unpaid, paid by reputation, or other?

The discussion happened in the class, after public and group by group discussion, and also on-line, using a shared spreadsheet as a platform for suggestions and comments.
Until today we figured out around sixteen categories -completed with general information such as a title or source- where each of them can contain among two to five tags.
In the next posts each group will describe considerations about their work, and some data visualization about their Curious Rituals.

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