honoriartist (honoriartist) wrote,

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Aesthetics of Social Networks

I am on a panel on the Aesthetics of Social Networks for the spring SXSW Interactive Festival. All the members of the panel are more techie than I am and they are a bit unsure about how to tackle the concept of aesthetics in terms of online communities. So I have been writing to share my ideas with them:

Yes, aesthetics is an unusual facet for us to choose and it's an important one to address.

If you look at the list of articles at the American Society of Aesthetics http://www.aesthetics-online.org/ideas/index.html
you may be surprised to learn that even academic aesthetics is not limited to art criticism but has applications in popular culture, dance, theatre, writing, science, environment and even the law.

The aesthetics of social networks panelists can consider the values of online environments, the quality of the writing and graphics, the ethics collected in the group's individual and collective expressions, the interrelationship of the writers or graphical components, and yes, the functioning of the tools that allow the gathering to exist and grow or die.

In his essay on aesthetics called
An Essay on Beauty and Judgment http://www.mrbauld.com/beautyheh.html
Alexander Nehamas writes:

...The judgment of beauty is not the result of a mysterious inference on the basis of features of a work which we already know. It is a guess, a suspicion, a dim awareness that there is more in the work that it would be valuable to learn. To find something beautiful is to believe that making it a larger part of our life is worthwhile, that our life will be better if we spend part of it with that work. But a guess is just that: unlike a conclusion, it obeys no principles; it is not governed by concepts. It goes beyond all the evidence, which cannot therefore justify it, and points to the future. Beauty, just as Stendhal said, is a promise of happiness. We love, as Plato saw, what we do not possess. Aesthetic pleasure is the pleasure of anticipation, and therefore of imagination, not of accomplishment. The judgment of taste is prospective, not retrospective; the beginning, the middle, but never the end of criticism. If you really feel you have exhausted a work, you are bound to be disappointed. A piece that has no more surprises left—a piece you really feel you know “inside and out”—has no more claim on you. You may still call it beautiful because it once gave you the pleasure of its promise or because you think that it may have something to give to someone else. But it will have lost its hold on you. Beauty beckons.

A vital online community is in a state of beginning to middle with participants all contributing to its values, its surprises, its potential. In my opinion, the aesthetic components of an online community reside in the pleasure of building something that is an expression of individuals' values, and, as part of the same social dance, appreciating the outpouring of the imaginations by others in the community.

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