a-pam (del nas): disorientation
and local viewpoint
Imagine you have to form an idea of the world
seeing things right in front of your nose ("a un pam
del nas" in Catalan). Anything lying further away than that
distance becomes blurred, indistinguishable, confused. We have to
keep moving in order to obtain a clear picture of where
we are. While we do that our imaginary
model of our surroundings
must be constantly revised.
This could be the perfect analogy to explain
how we try to understand things, how we get to grips with the complexity
of the processes and phenomena of which we form part. Our viewpoint
is local, our experience subjective; information is always biased
and open to multiple interpretations.
Attempts to understand complex systems
(such as ecosystems, meteorology, social and economic processes,
information technology networks and structures providing basic services
and so on) have made significant progress in recent years. In most
cases however, an "external" viewpoint has been adopted
to build models which offer an "objective" understanding
based on supposedly "global" data from the system under
study. The way these models treat information obliges them to simplify
the data and at the moment of building graphic representations of
the model problems emerge which are difficult to resolve. So what
about renouncing the global viewpoint and accepting disorientation
as a travelling companion?
The name of this project originates in a play
on words between the idea of having something "right in front
of your nose", at a palm's distance, and the inversion of the
Catalan word for map, namely 'mapa'. Separating the 'a' from the
inverted 'mapa' produces 'a pam', or palm in Catalan. We use the
resulting Catalan expression 'a-pam(del nas)', literally
'a palm's distance from your nose', to refer to the project, and
'a-pam' to refer to the software which facilitates the exploration
a-pam(del nas) proposes a system to depict
the world wide web topographically which rejects any hint
of the global approach and takes on a highly marked local viewpoint.
It sets out from a specific node (HTML page) and its links. From
there the user's decisions gradually builds a map of nodes
and connections. The graphic configuration of the map is changeable
and structured according to the node the user chooses at any given
moment. Once the user has navigated the system for some time and
built up a considerable number of nodes the map becomes disorientational.
The sensation exists that there is a huge structure but we are forced
to base ourselves on the local information being offered if we wish
to continue navigating. The margin of orientation provided by the
map is reduced to a minimum.
We should stress however that this system does
not deliberately complicate the data, nor does it add "noise"
or use additional disorientation mechanisms. It simply takes a data
source which is, in itself, complex (the www), makes a graphic representation
of it (which already means introducing a number of limitations)
and restricts the optimization mechanisms of that representation
to a tiny area.
The changing map produced by a-pam(del nas)
could be explained as a dynamic maze. A maze because it is
a non-linear structure with forks and branches where we have to
choose our way based on the fragment we see "from inside".
Also a maze because it contains dead-ends and "no through roads".
And dynamic because, on the one hand, it is being built
making assumptions about referred links which may or may not be
real nodes (a referred page may have disappeared),
and on the other, dynamic because every
time you change the node the map is reconfigured based on the new
position. And finally, it is dynamic because several people may
use it at the same time, enabling one person to add nodes to the
screen that the other person is seeing,
and vice versa.
a-pam(del nas) uses deep reference
to display the images which contain links. This is far from a secondary
aspect of the project, rather it implies a clear positioning in
favour of this type of use of the resources "available"
on the Net. A use we consider coherent with one of the pillars of
the Internet, namely the Uniform Resource Location (URL) and one
which must not be limited through misleading
reproduction rights claims
contaminated with commercial interests.
Jaume Ferrer and David Gómez
TAG - Taller d'Intangibles