Im Dezember 2014 lehnt Apples App Store die von Dr. Marcel René Marburger und Rodrigo Barria y Knopf entworfene App U Turn It ab. Die App ermöglicht dem Nutzer, nach Vorbild der Situationisten um Guy Debord, mit einfachsten Mitteln eine dem Zufall überlassene Entscheidung zu treffen. Marburgers Reaktion, ein Plädoyer zur Verteidigung der App, ist hier in voller Länge zu lesen. Nach Erhalt des Briefes wurde die App U Turn It schließlich für den Store akzeptiert.
Dear App Review team,
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to submit additional information on our app “U Turn It“. Your basic argument for rejecting it is that it “only provides a very limited set of features. Although Apple values simplicity, we consider simplicity to be uncomplicated – not limited in features and functionality. Apps should provide ongoing entertainment, draw people in by offering compelling capabilities or content, or enable people to do something they couldn’t do before or in a way they couldn’t do it before.“
Your estimation is absolutely correct: Our app “U Turn It“ is simple and it offers only a limited set of features. However, this is solely true for the visible levels within the apparatus – if it comes to the actual use of the app its applicabilities are almost endless. This requires some explanation:
The basic idea of the app “U Turn It“ is to implement a random factor in our daily life – a concept that goes way back to the ideas of the Situationists, a french group of artists around Guy Debord from the late sixties. To free people from their daily routines – and thus from determined ways of acting and thinking –, the Situationists recommended several exercises. One exercise was to constantly choose different routes to work, the bakery, a friend’s place and so on. By opening up to unexpected incidents, people should be enabled to experience something new, which – at least, that was the plan – should release them from the invisible corset that they themselves and society has woven around them. Something that French philosopher Michel Foucault described as a complex set of relations that create, what he called, a “dispositif“.
Now, following Foucault and the Situationists, the intended basic use of our app is to walk a randomly detected number of steps into the direction the bottle randomly points to. Nevertheless, the application is not limited to this. It can be used as a tool to make decisions of any kind. Depending on the creativity of its users, it can be used to invent all kinds of playful practices and games. Hence, although the apparatus offers a limited set of features, the app allows for an unlimited set of features within the “real” world. This, by the way, was the task that led to the idea of the app, which came up during a seminar on game theory I gave at the University of Arts in Berlin in 2012. The assignment back then was to implement something structurally simple into a structurally complex apparatus.
In regard to this, media philosopher Vilém Flusser made an interesting differentiation: the distinction between something that is functionally complex and structurally simple and something that is functionally simple but structurally complex. A chess game, for example, is structurally simple, but functionally complex. While the rules of the game are easy to learn, it is difficult to become a good chess player. And while chess consists of very few rules and chess pieces, it grants millions of game variations. In opposite to this, Flusser describes a computer as an apparatus that is structurally complex but functionally easy: it is easy to use a computer, but difficult to understand its inner functions. It is a tool that offers a large and growing variety of features, but often restricts ways of using that are not predetermined.
To conclude, the idea of the app “U Turn It“ is to combine an application that is structurally simple but functionally complex with something that is structurally complex but functionally simple. The purpose behind it is to enable people to behave unpredictably by using a tool that is implemented in an apparatus application to promote play in the world outside the apparatus. The idea is not about following instructions to navigate from one programmed feature to the next, but to enact users to create new and individual rules to play whatever game they come up with in their “real” life. Our app does not want to draw people into the apparatus and therefore into a programmed set of behavior instructions – so in this sense your critique, again, is correct – but out of the apparatus. Finally, in simple words, the application is about using a programmed feature to initiate unprogrammed actions: it is an application that can generate what Anatol Rapoport, one of the founders of game theory, once called a non-zero-sum-game: based on a limited set of features it opens up an unlimited possibility field.
Thank you for reading all this, dear App Review team, and for reviewing our app considering this explanation.
With best regards,
Dr. Marcel René Marburger