Secular rapture

Today I participated in a performance piece by Noemie Lafrance. In fact, everyone in the “audience” was a performer. I had heard about Noemie’s wonderful work, but had not experienced it myself. It’s quite wonderful.

There is a long tradition of social dances in which participants are also performers, from disco to ballroom to square dance to waltz to tango to samba and beyond, stretching back to antiquity. What Noemie does is gather very large groups of people in a room that is divided into 2’&#215’2′ squares, and give them instructions on how to move between those squares. These instructions are, in a sense, programs to collectively execute. The result is two-fold: (1) the aggregate group of people forms fascinating and ever-changing patterns, and (2) each individual participant has an incredibly good time.

I can tell you first-hand that there’s something enormously joyful about the experience. After you’ve been doing it for a while, you start to get into a flow with all of these strangers, from the sheer pleasure of forming intricate patterns together. It becomes a kind of secular rapture.

As computers have enabled new forms of social networks, it is delightful to be able to experience an algorithmically enabled social network that doesn’t need a computer — just a big room full of people having a great time.

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