I wanted to work with the idea of ritual as a means for building social cohesion and collective effervescence (Durkheim), and create a ritual that involved others – creating a ritual-space or magic circle or third place – depending on one's definitions... essentially a place with its own rules and and practices, separate from daily life, that could foster a sense of belonging. I liked the idea of this space existing via SMS – it feels like SMS is a somewhat in-between place – digital but not internet-digital; and not possessing some of the characteristics that define a magic circle or digital third place –  the way digital social networks or whatsapp group messages might.* I was also inspired by projects involving some kind of digital-mediations of 'real-life' – projects like Somebody by Miranda July and Social Turk,  Follower and pplkpr by Lauren McCarthy that blur the line between spaces.

The ritual involves 9 other people. We each receive a SMS 2 times a day prompting us to "pause for a second and describe what you see / hear / smell / taste / feel" – at 10am and 8pm. Each of our responses go out to everyone, though anonymously. There were different degrees of awareness on the identity of the other participants (by accident, not by design). The idea behind the anonymity was to aid in creating a the chalk line of ritual space, and keep the focus on 'sensations of an other', rather than any existing interpersonal connections. (full logs below)

I went through different ideas for prompts >>  _what are you thinking/feeling ; _random free word association (perhaps changing each time based on previous responses, in the spirit of "performance of more or less invariant sequences of formal acts and utterances not entirely encoded by the performers" (Rappaport) ); _something playful, inspired by the consumer-rituals-metaphor-model for Farmville. I didn't want it to feel too burdensome though / too much effort = disincentive to participate. Given the number of platforms for sharing ones thoughts and feelings, and the doing-focussed ritual of  saying "whats up" // "not much", I decided the act of momentarily paying attention to one's senses would be more interesting. This also made me think of the idea of body as memory (Bourdieu), and wonder if a ritual like this is carried out for a sustained period of time, would the act of checking-in on your senses become involuntary/autonomous/carried out unconsciously?

I initially contemplated doing this with people I don't know well, or my new flatmates to better gauge the effectiveness of the ritual in creating a feeling of social bonding. Though eventually I decided there would be a higher chance of participation with friends.

Observations

The first message had everyone replying, but responses slowly dwindled and took longer to come in. I found myself wondering who was who, and whether I was revealing my identity through clues in writing style and content. There were definite writing styles that emerged, including a message that felt like a wild-card, in a completely different style from the rest. Perhaps the 'chalk line' around the ritual space should have been stronger – ensuring nobody knew who else was participating, for equal anonymity. I definitely feel some amount of connectedness with other participants, and I am happy about this. Though also wonder how this will end – will there be just 1 person left, replying out to the void everyday? or simply the prompt arriving twice a day to serve as a reminder of a once-was space? or will it go on? (while i keep paying for it) I've asked participants to share their thoughts and feelings  – will post updates here as I get them. I think this might have worked better if it was just once a day – I am imagining the frequency has lead it to be filtered out much the way robo-calls are for those who have stopped responding. Though I don't even know if someone has stopped, or just missed a prompt or two. I wonder if changing the prompt everyday would have more people responding.

update (14feb) – today someone sent the first 'chat like response' message – "i hear the plane too" – I'm not sure how I feel about it. I doubt it will turn into a back-and-forth, so it's probably fine. And now I found the urge to respond to a message. This blog post is also becoming a living diary of sorts. Reading back on previous observations, and after another 2 days of doing this, I am not sure why I am concerned about people not participating – enough are. Obviously without participation this thing wouldn't exist. ( It's making me think of this, though I think this defintion is a little extreme (and speaks of religious rituals specifically) "Religious rituals often call for the sharing of resources, for significant intellectual and emotional commitments, and for other hard-to-fake signs of cooperation. As a result, natural coalitional behaviors like trust, solidarity and mutual defense rise over time, as does the cost of defection. Thus rituals themselves are extremely important, whether they are truly efficacious or not, because not participating in them provokes distrust." (tremlin) ). I also think I'm enjoying this more now that its not at assignment that I have to write about – in turn its making writing about it easier..

initiation
2019-02-10 20:00:08: ***** pause for a second and describe what you see / hear / smell / taste / feel *****
2019-02-10 20:03:27: _someone says >>> I / see a man in a blue and read hat with a puff on top texting / hear a podcast in my ears / taste the Whole Foods chicken Mac and cheese and broccoli I just ate / feel pretty tired and wish I was going to bed
2019-02-10 20:03:48: _someone says >>> I see my phone screen as I type this, I'm listening to Colleen's Captain of None on speaker, I just got my hair cut in the living room and it feels new, my hair cutting friend is talking about astrology, and it makes me feel poetic. I taste white wine and bitterness. I smell shampoo which is odd for me. My butt hates cold chairs like the one I'm sitting on. It's bright in here.
2019-02-10 20:03:58: _someone says >>> lots of confusing wires, it's harder to understand things watching other people vs using your own hands. there's sleep sitting on my eyelids. a vent humming in the background. sound of conversations in sing song intonation. intermittent musical sounds.
2019-02-10 20:05:16: _someone says >>> I taste the acrid after taste of beer while I ponder over my strategy on a board game. The radiator murmurs behind me while my friend decides on what to eat. I feel content, happy and glad to be out of ITP.
2019-02-10 20:07:46: _someone says >>> I see my computer. Glass of water. My arduino screen is disobeying me. Listening to Ariana grande, looking at nick but also son is in my view. New York City is in the dark. Smell someone else food. Feeling tired. Want to go home but can't.
2019-02-10 20:12:28: _someone says >>> I see through my computer monitor : links to tips on changing colors of links/ I hear the sound of a bus pulling away and the bing-bing-bings of text notifications/ I smell my self mixed with air freshener / I taste the end of a soar throat and left over granola between teeth / I feel like I have time when I know I don't aka feel like one more YouTube video.
2019-02-10 20:17:24: _someone says >>> my partner eating a cookie / i hear chewing / i smell garlic / i taste the after taste of garlic / i feel calmer than usual
2019-02-11 10:00:08: ***** pause for a second and describe what you see / hear / smell / taste / feel *****
2019-02-11 10:03:44: _someone says >>> I see a maroon hand towel, red wall, blue rug, and white tile and toilet paper. I hear the sound of the bathroom fan. I smell a slight moldy smell that I think is the shower curtain. I taste the echo of my morning coffee. I feel the weight of my body on the toilet seat, my comfy pjs, and pressure on my face from wearing my glasses. Thanks!
2019-02-11 10:03:55: _someone says >>> I / see my bathroom, my naked body standing on my yellow shower mat / hear the sound of the person in the apartment above me finishing their shower as well / smell the scent of soap / taste my not yet brushed teeth / feel a pain in my neck from sleeping on it wrong
2019-02-11 10:04:36: _someone says >>> i see my computer, wrestling with it to do what i want. listening to some catchy music made by a friend. my nose is blocked, i don't know why it does this every morning. taste the remnants of coffee, but my nose is numbing my tongue too. feel like i wish i could be more awake. need more coffee. my body feels stiff it could do with some stretches, it's upset i neglect it.
2019-02-11 10:05:42: _someone says >>> In bed drinking coffee and writing, hiding from the plumbers who are fixing the shower, smells like coffee, feeling anxious about interacting with my phone, City seems relatively quiet today, the pressure of work is just starting to dawn on my day
2019-02-11 10:49:08: _someone says >>> I see the hole in my ceiling that I put off getting patched / I hear civil traffic / I smell warmth / I taste a marinated mouth/ I feel calm and unsuspecting
2019-02-11 14:20:17: _someone says >>> I see my plants / i hear my block / i smell the sage i just inhaled by accident / i feel present
2019-02-11 20:00:08: ***** pause for a second and describe what you see / hear / smell / taste / feel *****
2019-02-11 20:06:03: _someone says >>> it smells stale and maybe a lil burned electronics. occasional sounds of people typing, pages turning, footsteps, talking in the distance. i see people working quietly, my stuff scattered all over. i feel irritable, feel like a long hot shower. i taste leftovers of kiwi sweet and chocolate.
2019-02-11 20:08:46: _someone says >>> It's very warm in here. Maybe too warm. I hear the sounds of chatter about projects and assignments. I feel the subway growl below me. Funny how you can feel it even when you're several floors above street level.
2019-02-11 20:08:50: _someone says >>> I see my laptop screen i hear my breathing i taste the metal in the tap water i feel anxious
2019-02-11 20:10:57: _someone says >>> I / see the tracks of the subway, no one else is on the other platform/ hear the chatter of the people on mine / smell the mixture of colognes perfumes and the musk of the tracks / taste nothing / feel really fucking hungry
2019-02-11 20:16:42: _someone says >>> I sense small kernels of anticipation swimming alongside the ones of fear- I am not sure if in my stomach or in my chest. They're paddling or gliding at the pace of a hissing sound or song (depending on how you look at it) in the near distance.
2019-02-11 20:37:39: _someone says >>> I'm so ready to go home, but also having fun in my boredom, v tasty deli croissant in my mouth, entertained by the professor and a little intimidated by my two 2-week projects launching today.
2019-02-11 21:19:04: _someone says >>> I see manifested JSON, I hear my teacher , I smell cold coffee mixed with hand sanitizer , I taste cold coffee, I feel inspired and overwhelmed, red-eyed tipsy.
2019-02-11 21:35:16: _someone says >>> I see lights flashing by in the subway tunnel, I hear the muffled static of my noise cancelling headphones, I smell Subway, I taste a whisper of buffalo sauce, I feel full of support and grateful for my relationships
2019-02-12 10:00:07: ***** pause for a second and describe what you see / hear / smell / taste / feel *****
2019-02-12 10:03:20: _someone says >>> i see snow falling out the window, hear a funny bird chirping as she flies by. there's music playing quietly. i hear my partner apply cream. i smell a fart. my feet are cold from the window being open.
2019-02-12 10:12:22: _someone says >>> 👂 kid loco
👁 alotta white
👅 toothpaste
👃prey
2019-02-12 10:19:34: _someone says >>> I / see snow out my window / hear the sound of a white noise machine / smell the shampoo just used / taste the remnants of my brushing / feel more tired than I should
2019-02-12 10:36:25: _someone says >>> I see snow / hear talking in other room / smell the food from cafe / taste coffee / feel excited about the snow
2019-02-12 10:43:38: _someone says >>> hungry, my bedroom smells like weed, I hear distant construction but it sounds like white noise, I'm hungry, feel accomplished for working out and journaling this morning like a Stable Person™️
2019-02-12 12:44:17: _someone says >>> I see future slush, I hear the beginning of a playlist made by a friend for their traveling heart, I smell coffee and cheese, I taste coffee, I feel quiet
2019-02-12 20:00:15: ***** pause for a second and describe what you see / hear / smell / taste / feel *****
2019-02-12 20:06:27: _someone says >>> V bored scoping CMS choices for my boss, I look up from my laptop to stare at an underutilized living space that I'm glad to be alone in. I taste first sips of white wine, and smell it too. My stomach hurts, and it's been hard for me to concentrate today. It's very quiet here.
2019-02-12 20:11:03: _someone says >>> rug, laundry waiting to be done, messy room, fuzzy vision, unmade bed, reflection in mirror, snow melting water dripping outside, laughter and conversation on the other side of the door, water dripping down sides of face from wet hair, i think my sense of smell is severely compromised, slight stress, irritation, can't wait for the weekend whatever that means
2019-02-12 20:39:18: _someone says >>> Javascript, my lady, is taking me on a cryptic tango dance that I'm trying to keep in step with. Hence, codes occupy my vision and I have chosen trance as the soundtrack to alleviate the riddles. I smell deep pits and taste forbidden carbohydrates.
2019-02-12 20:41:20: _someone says >>> I / see a toilet roll, my naked feet planted on the floor / hear the sound of the shower in the apartment above, the super of another building taking out their recycling / smell the mess I have made / taste the dinner I just finished / feel full in my belly, and release in my feet. Those puppies to breathe.
2019-02-12 21:42:36: _someone says >>> i see my pants I hear the garbage train passing i smell wet cement i taste the cough drop in my mouth i feel sad about this thing i just read \"the assembly line of networked production is directly exploiting the emotional energy of the cognitive class\"

[ compiled by digging through iOS messages SQL backup and creating a query to find the messages. I've edited my responses by prepending "_someone says >>>" to keep the anonymity going ]

feedback / responses

"I like 10am its good for getting people during their morning routine"

"i enjoy: the timing of the requests , perusing the responses, inspired by the content and style of the ritualians. I dislike the feeling that this might end one day"

"These messages make ITP sound really dystopian"

"It's been absolutely delightful to participate in the oracle project, and honestly a text I look forward to getting. I'm pretty invested in mindfulness/self-evaluation but it's been hard to adhere with the workload, so having the oracle as a brief pause to attend to those habits has been satisfying and has also kept me inspired to journal regularly. The anonymity is awesome and I love having a peek into the brief moment of strangers. I would ask that maybe the morning text come closer to 10:30 as I try to not interact with my phone for the first couple hours of my day, but it also doesn't really matter since I can just answer late."

"I have been enjoying my experience very much. It is a nice and simple way to remind me who I am and to think about my surroundings. I think will continue with it for as long as I get the messages."

code

const express = require('express');
const twilio = require('twilio');
const schedule = require('node-schedule');
const MessagingResponse = twilio.twiml.MessagingResponse;
const bodyParser = require('body-parser');
const app = express();

var accountSid = 'XXXX'; // Your Account SID from www.twilio.com/console
var authToken = 'XXXX';   // Your Auth Token from www.twilio.com/console
var client = new twilio(accountSid, authToken);

app.use(bodyParser.urlencoded({ extended: false }));
var rule = new schedule.RecurrenceRule();
rule.hour = [15, 1]; // 10am and 8pm
rule.minute = 0;

var numbers = ['+XXX', '+XXX', '+XXX', '+XXX', '+XXX', '+XXX', '+XXX', '+XXX', '+XXX', '+XXX'];

var j = schedule.scheduleJob(rule, function(){
  numbers.forEach(function(num) {
    client.messages.create({
        body: "***** pause for a second and describe what you see / hear / smell / taste / feel *****" ,
        to: num,  // Text this number
        from: '+15512311717' // From a valid Twilio number
    }).then(function(message) {
      console.log(message.sid)
    });
  })
});



var sendOutMessages = function(senderNumber, text) {
  var sendTo = numbers.filter(function(n) { return n != senderNumber });
  console.log(sendTo);
  sendTo.forEach(function(num) {
    client.messages.create({
        body: '_someone says >>> ' + text ,
        to: num,  // Text this number
        from: '+15512311717' // From a valid Twilio number
    }).then(function(message) {
      console.log(message.sid)
    });
  })
}


app.post('/sms', (req, res) => {
  let text = req.body.Body;
  let fromNumber = req.body.From;
  console.log(text);
  console.log(fromNumber);

  sendOutMessages(fromNumber, text);

});

app.listen(25721, () => {
  console.log('Example app listening on port 25721!');
});

*[[ could an sms social network have been a thing ? threading messages seems like an important factor and this only came to be a little after facebook.. though someone did create something like this is 2012 to be internet-non-dependant  ]]