Spencer Chang

What is the focus of your Residency?

Outline in a few paragraphs.

During the height of COVID, we saw technology flex in all sorts of ways to replace in-person interaction. Zoom became how we hung out with friends, a rigid, poor substitute for the ease of being physically together. We saw technology attempt to evolve to revive the serendipity and playfulness of physical interaction. We went through periods of spatial audio, cute customizable avatars, and more to simulate the real world, but in the end, they all still felt forced and false. Technology won’t reproduce the live, synchronous communication until some new innovation comes our way, but it has been very good at facilitating another kind of connection—asynchronous and pseudonymous moments of intimacy.

I’m referring to how people talk with fondness about the old days of tumblr, AIM chat rooms, and random hobbyist internet forums. It’s how people now (albeit more rarely) talk about these magical moments that they find on a small subreddit, a social media post comment section, a random email from a small piece shared online (a tweet, an old blog, a random comment on Google Maps). These moments of intimacy feel so special because they connect people who would’ve never encountered each other otherwise. They feel like an out-of-body experience or a shared secret, an unplanned rift in reality.

What if we could tie together a web of these communal spaces to mimic the connectedness of discovering different parts of a city, where engaging feels like a normal part of your everyday experience with the web rather than a special isolated surprise?

With the proper environment and the right tools, I believe the Internet can be an even better space for serendipitous connection and form the foundation for a universal digital commons, one that feels grounded in sustained connection built from low-stakes interactions. In the same way that physical co-living spaces facilitates solidarity across dividing lines, can we shape our digital environments to do the same?

I want my residency to focus on creating tangible, useable software that show promise in demonstrating this concept to see how people change their behavior using the internet with access to these tools. Rather than viral explosive growth from social media sharing, I want to test out how this philosophy can grow organically and sustainably. What would it look like to feel crucial even if a small group of 50 used it? A few candidate ideas of which I’ll pick one to focus on to start:

  • digital commuting
  • digital scavenger hunts, through space and through time
  • sharing internet location with friends

more info in the doc: https://coda.io/d/tiny-internets_dp0TR-1QoTT/tiny-internets-sidewalks-gardens-and-geocaches_suvli#_luxhy

What role do you hope this Residency plays in the scheme of your project and larger goals?

  • Creating a communal space for sharing my ideas and getting feedback on them from technologists who think critically about the space
  • The Interact and Interact-adjacent community feels like a perfect match for the initial user base I would love to cultivate, people who love these beautiful moments on the Internet and are willing to experiment with new technologies to extend them
  • exploring what form this takes to become sustainable long-term and giving justification for me spending time on this work because it feels clearly incompatible with the models of traditional business and purely academic research project.
  • providing a launch pad to connect with communities and other projects who have made viral splashes in this vein but haven’t been able to sustain the energy in order to form a sustainable network of tiny internet advocates

Are there other ways Interact could be useful to you in the Residency and beyond?

Stream of consciousness is fine here! For instance, would it be interesting to teach a course to fellows? To include an essay in our core curriculum? To host a series of events, do collaborative research, be commissioned to write?

I would love to interact more with the fellows in getting people thinking about this topic and encouraging active collaboration and cross-pollination in ideas and work. I’m a big fan of open source work and the magic in spontaneous collaborations, and having interacted with some members of the Interact community in the past and having seen the work that Circles do, I think that’s the most important thing that could emerge, where these projects and ideas continue living through the branches of collaboration through different expertises and disciplines! I also wonder about how the community can be a support launch pad for germinating ideas and projects. Early beta testers, critique peers, brainstorm collaborators all feel like forms of the community that could advance mutual flourishing. Can think more about this as the residency gets underway though

What do you hope to share or discuss at the Interact Symposium?

We recognize that a big part of your Residency will be doing the work to answer this question in detail; a rough silhouette is totally fine.

At the Symposium, I want to be sharing out working experiments that attendees can install and actually start using while using the Internet. I hope that the experiments feel rough but also homemade with love and care, like a piece of software that a friend made for you. I want to be able to discuss and share out a comprehensive break down of the the kinds of digital interactions that actually help build solidarity among different groups of people and which take that feeling away. I want to feel like there’s a steady group of community supporters who want to see the project develop and succeed and can actively contribute to the project as it develops as an open-source web of related experiments. I hope to share out a vision of our relationship with the Internet that feels compelling enough that attendees feel motivated to contribute to the active formulation of it.

What three attendees would you most want to have at the Symposium or meet over the course of the Residency?

Describe the way you’d like to collaborate with them if relevant.

  • Jenny Odell: I love her philosophy and writing around how the Internet has shaped us and am drawing a lot of inspiration from a technological social experiment she wrote about (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_Memory)
  • Lee Felsenstein: one of the original pioneers of personal computing and lead the aforementioned Community Memory project
  • Joanne McNeil: wrote Lurking about the state of the internet and its problems which I’ve drawn inspiration for this work from
  • Robin Sloan: author and technologist who is also in the same vibe of homegrown software. Would love to brainstorm with him on the direction of this and how it might come to life
  • May-Li Khoe: designer and technologist who focuses on making very human-focused technology. Would love design and overall product feedback from her

Imagine you’re reached the end of the residency and are feeling disappointed. Why might this be true?

I would feel disappointed if I didn’t think the people I was actively working with and interacting with in the Interact community were passionate about the same problems and willing to help develop something very raw and give active feedback. I would also feel disappointed if it felt like we were pushing for results for the sake of results rather than creating

Information for the Residencies team

What role do you hope the other Residents play in your Residency?

In particular, we’ve been thinking about pairing you with other Residents for a loose design crit. Do you have input about the ways you imagine this being helpful?

I hope the other residents can be co-conspirators in actively shaping how my project develops. I would love active and regular feedback on the ideas I’m exploring and how the project takes shape. I think it would be super useful to have feedback from Residents too who are coming at the problem from very different angles. In terms of the design crit, I could feel it feeling a little too official or strict in some cases so mostly just hope it develops more naturally as sort of a general expectation that Residents should be willing to be generous with their time to each other

What fraction of your overall time you expect to spend on your Residency?

(I.E. full time, 30 hours a week, etc). Please provide a snapshot of what will be occupying your headspace and if there’s any way we can help tailor the residency to work best for you.

I expect to be spending around 20 hours a week on the Residency. I have a full-time job that I’ll be expected to continue my work for, although they understand and have given me express permission to spend time on the Residency and my actual working schedule is quite flexible, so I plan to dedicate continuous blocks of working time to the Residency during the week to be fully present in the space.

What is your expected use of the Residency space in Brooklyn?

I expect to use the space to cowork most days of the week and to see and coexist with the other Residents.

What are your preferences about Residents’ use of Residency space?

For instance: “Open it up: People should be in the space whenever they want no matter what they’re working on.” “Protect the energy: People should try to use the space when they’re in the Residency mindset, but take other calls elsewhere.”

I think people should be allowed to be in the space whenever they want as long as they are respectful of the purpose it is there for and what other people are using it for. When in the space, Residents should similarly respect preferences for other residents for when they want focus time versus social time.

Projects i’ve been thinking about


Ask to Jonathan

hey also wanted to ask you about doing this residency that i got the opportunity to participate in july. It’s a pilot program coming out of this community called interact, and they’re gathering technologists, writers, and researchers in a space in Brooklyn to work on 6-week independent projects to share out at a public symposium at the end in August. Projects are pretty broad but range from books on open source to end-user programming explorations and more. I’d love to be able to join because it feels like a very generative space and a lot of people I respect in the space are doing it, but I’m mindful the mind space I’d need to devote to it if I were to scope out a side project to work on and might need to swap some working hours to nighttime for some coworking time in that space during the day.

Another option is researching and building in an area that Coda would be interested in leveraging the insights to and that would fit under the umbrella of me being able to dedicate my 20% time towards. It would have to be something that’s generic enough for me to share out some set of work and findings publicly at the symposium, but I imagine I could also be spending more Coda time actually implementing that research into our specific use case. A couple off the top of my head that seem to thread the needle of both being important to the company and being interesting more broadly to share out with the community are two-way sync style explorations and quick on-the-go entry to lists/databases (i.e. could you make a personal data pack that you contribute to from mobile?). Curious if you have any other ideas that might fit this style of exploration as well.

Broadly, I do think the space will help with getting ideas and feedback on Coda-world things from prominent thinkers in the creative tools space that are participating (for ex, Nadia Eghbal who wrote about maintenance of open source software will be a resident and Andy Matuschak is one of the helpers of the community) whether I am primarily working on a Coda-sponsored thing or not so think it’s all “useful” time.

I think it also will help a lot with getting feedback on Coda and Packs things because there are a lot of prominent thinkers in the creative tools space that will be participating or are already part of the community and available to help (for example Andy Matuschak I believe is one of the helpers there).

Happy to chat through this stuff more if you have time tomorrow or Friday!