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Scott Murray

Project / 2011 October

Dictionary Words

This project is much more fun to experience than read about, so you should view it first.

Simple, yet hypnotic: the system randomly selects two words from an extensive English dictionary and displays them on-screen. The words fade out, and are replaced by two new ones, ad infinitum.

The word pairings are unexpected, and range from poignant to absurd — or, more accurately, we perceive them as such. I was surprised to see this piece elicit a range of reactions, including discomfort, joy, sadness, and laughter: complex emotional responses to random data!

The piece triggered my interest in narrative and human perception. How do our brains make meaning when none objectively exists? (More problematic: How susceptible are we to misinterpreting meaning that is being communicated?)

Film theorist Edward Branigan defines narrative as “a fundamental way of organizing data” (Narrative Comprehension and Film, 1992). That is, narrative can considered a perceptual activity, not a predetermined, static composition: a process, not just a product. (See more discussion of this research in my MFA thesis book.)

Originally created in the spring of 2008, updated for the web using Processing.js in October 2011. Like my other Processing.js experiments, it scales to fit different browser sizes, and will even work on mobile devices. Tip: Using Chrome 15 or newer, press the letter F to go full-screen!

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