info density

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Where does information tend to cluster/congregate in your context’s public spaces, and in what medium is it presented? What is deemed necessary that all people in a given area should know?

Rural and small-urban China’s information hubs host a lively spectrum of information and media. Paper- and chalk-based messages run the gamut, from announcing the impending demolition of a given neighborhood, to reiterating the rules and regulations behind the one child policy. Written in chalk, information lingers until its relevance expires, and is then overwritten by the next motion in an unending show of policies, campaigns, and propaganda.

Somehow, a shift in information always seems noticeable on the neighborhood chalk board. While living in one small town’s labyrinthine system of alleys, I immediately noticed when a chalkboard was revised seemingly overnight. Gone was the announcement of an impending road pavement campaign, replaced by the logistical details of a forthcoming vaccination program and tips for staying healthy during the upcoming cold weather. The content of a recently-updated board sets the tone of the neighborhood zeitgeist, its terse and neutral-sounding bureaucratese being plumbed and picked apart by those in search of nuance and hidden motivations.

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In contrast to the chalkboards, upon which only sanctioned/official announcements dare tread, the nature of the informal wall-based classifieds section just a few alleys over hosts a colorful range of desires and offers; a job openings for a noodle chef, a security guard, a karaoke hostess (“only women over 160cm, please”), a room for rent, a shipment of high-quality wool in from Shanghai, and more. Splashes of red paper enliven the otherwise mostly-white, mostly-A4 wall of requests and requirements. The most eye-catching (to my non-local tastes) advertisements appearing to be those written in the frantic, swooping strokes of a calligraphy brush. The relevance of the advertisements and announcements on this informal wall is, due to its unsheltered and informal nature, governed and regulated by the elements. As requests and offers become outdated, they are either swept away by wind and rain or simply pasted over.

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The relative level of investments in posting a message varies. For corners in less-trafficked areas, or in places more exposed to weather unfriendly to paper advertisements, spray-paint becomes the primary advertising medium. The nature of the medium dictates brevity, with pared-down messages consisting of four to six characters stenciled or scrawled alongside a cellphone number.

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Not all wall-based information is fleeting and temporary, however; a practice that would likely rankle class- and status- conscious Americans is the public record of all individuals receiving subsidy from the state. For each individual listed on the board, his or her full name, household size, amount of subsidy, reason for receiving a subsidy (handicap, sickness, etc.), and more are listed for any and all interested. In which ways does this practice influence whether individuals on the board receiving subsidies are stigmatized, considering that one bad day is all that is keeping your name off the very same board?

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