Stikki and Hauntology

[If you don’t know what is, now you know. 🙂]

Beta screenshot -- almost there!

Last night, I was trying to sell a very important investor on what Stikki is — namely, my wife Rosalie. (She’s not investing money, but I take up a serious amount of our shared living space and time working on Stikki, so in that sense she’s my first and most important angel.) So I was trying to explain it not in financial terms, but in human terms: at the end of the day, when you get past the business stuff, what is Stikki for?

The first augmented reality app.

I’m fascinated by the idea of augmented reality. Not just the specific technology referred to by that name, but the whole notion that physical reality can be augmented by abstract, arbitrary information. This is not a new idea; it may, in fact, be one of the very oldest ideas. The first king who looked at the landscape of his kingdom and saw imaginary lines marking the edges of it was the first reality augmenter; this concept is the underlying basis of all human politics, economics, and war, and every part of our culture that descend from them, including the very concept of ownership — imbuing inanimate objects and places with metadata that exists only in the collective spiritus mundi. All this newfangled frippery of cell phones with GPS and accelerometers is just the latest wrinkle on the very oldest thinking.

This extends not just to the big sweeping Spenglerian world of nation-states, but to the very personal. Most humans have a concept of “home”, a place where, as Robert Frost once put it, when you get there, they have to take you in. As we navigate our way through the streets of our cities, we are constantly aware of a collectively-derived set of metadata about the places we move through. This is a “good” block, this is a “bad” one; this is a “hip” neighborhood, this one not so much. And we also move through our own personal cloud of data. This is where I saw my first concert; I used to work in that building; that’s the hospital where our child was born and where my grandfather died; this is the place I first kissed him; this is the place where she finally said goodbye.

This is true of every place that humans live, even the most sterile, benighted suburban mall parking lot and the most wretched Third World street corner. We each experience the human landscape in different ways. This may just be a stupid Applebee’s to you, but for somebody else, it’s the place they met their spouse or the place where they came out to their parents. That may look like a dingy old music store surrounded by bodegas to you, but to a hundred amateur pianists and two professional ones, it’s the place where they honed their craft after school on endless etudes with the smell of sawdust and epoxy in the air.

Situationism founder Guy Debord defined “psychogeography” as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals”. But the abyss cannot gaze into you without you also gazing into the abyss, and probably taking pictures of it and posting them on Flickr and Facebook. Your emotions and behavior effect the environment too. The passing of one human through a place may not physically change it much, but that passing leaves another mental layer of experience on that place. The entire world is covered a mile thick with molecule-thin notional layers of human memory, and what I want to do with Stikki is make a tool that lets us write it down and store it and share it; that lets me tell you my narrative about this place where, at one time or another, we’ve both found ourselves.

One of the things I’ve thought about, once Stikki is established, is to build plugins or applications for it that will retrieve Wikipedia articles for any given location and display them when you use Stikki there, and maybe an annotation of famous pictures or paintings of that place. And I’d love to see this not just be a straightforward, sober, archival tool, but something artistic: a hauntological remix of all the ghosts of human culture that has been in that place, an aching remembrance of things past, the big and the small, the powerful and the personal.

Does that sound vastly ambitious? Of course. But a nerd’s reach must exceed his grasp, or what’s a Heaven for? And it’s not like I’m known for having modest goals.

I also want to make a living off of the site, of course. That’s why it has ads, and it’s why I’m working on figuring out revenue streams that bring something interesting for users to the table. But I mainly want to make something really cool. I’m hoping you think so, and that you use it when the updated version goes into public beta (which I’m hoping will be this week or next; I’m so close right now, just closing up holes and dotting is and crossing ts).

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