Mobile Mediated Luck: Considering The Role Of Mobile Mediated Serendipity In The Context Of Algorithmic Personalization
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This thesis critically assesses the politics of personalizing algorithms in respect to digital information retrieval. In this thesis the notion of serendipity is explored and investigated as an approach to contradict the boundaries that are subtly but forcefully applied by algorithmic ‘gatekeepers of information’. The concept that describes an unexpected and coincidental encounter with information containing personal relevance is considered difficult to mediate because of its natural properties of randomness and unexpectedness. Yet, in this thesis it is proposed that mobile media possess specific aspects that lend themselves for facilitating serendipity. Walter Benjamin’s concept of ‘the flâneur’ is explored to illustrate how mobile media facilitate a connection with the environment, consequently granting the user possibilities to explore his/her surroundings in a casual and undirected fashion. Next, the notion of serendipity and the related concept of ‘browsing’ are investigated to reconsider the notion of ‘pseudoserendipity’, which is connected to the intent to find a specific piece of relevant information, thus dismissing chance, as a workable concept for technological mediation. These concepts illustrate that the ability to connect with the physical environment, as well as the possibility to structure and visualize information in a comprehensible format, are considered key elements to reconsidering serendipitous discovery as a relevant approach to digital information retrieval. Yet, in spite of the promise of serendipity, in practice it seems a difficult endeavour to bypass algorithmic influence. A material object analysis of the location-based mobile application Highlight shows that, although technical affordances and design could theoretically enable a user to discover information in a serendipitous fashion, it is the intended or implied uses that designers stimulate through design choices which complicate this. These discoveries may only be achieved through acts of ‘counter’ or ‘critical’ user appropriation. This thesis therefore concludes that the mediation of serendipity can still be considered a relevant approach to the suggested issues of digital information retrieval. Through the development of mobile devices and functionalities, mediation of serendipitous discoveries seem to be, in part, accomplishable. Yet, because of the overwhelming presence of pervasive algorithms and their result-oriented connotation, mediation remains complicated. Therefore, it is suggested that the emphasis should not lie on the mediation of ‘true’ serendipity but on that of pseudoserendipity moving towards a ‘truer’ form of serendipity, precisely because of the dominating role algorithms already have in digital information retrieval.