Test TubePosted: 03/11/2011
There are some things we just have to live with, explains David Suzuki in the opening video of Test Tube, and one of those things is growth. The planet is only so big and our population keeps growing. In 1971, there were 4 billion of us. Now there are 7 billion and counting. And the more people there are, the more resources get consumed (not to mention that our apatite for those resources keeps growing as well). Something has to give.
The help make this point, Suzuki suggests an analogy: a test tube with a single bacterial cell in it. That cell divides every minute, doubling the population in the test tube. After 60 minutes, the test tube will be completely filled up. At 59 minutes, it will only be half full. Well, humans have reached the 59th minute, Suzuki says. We just have one more minute to go before we use up all of our space. So what, Test Tube asks, would you do with that minute?
How It Works
Test Tube starts by asking the user “If you could find an extra minute right now, what would you do?” The user can type anything they want into the text box. After they do, a video of Suzuki appears and explains the test tube analogy. As he talks, cells with links to Twitter accounts begin to appear behind him. Test Tube is searching Twitter to find recent Tweets that have the same keywords as whatever the user typed in at the beginning. The number of links keeps growing, just as bacteria would.
Once Suzuki is done his spiel, the user is told how many other people have submitted responses to Test Tube and can see what the most common keywords are, organized into a handy interactive graphic. Somewhat sadly, the most popular response was to sleep that extra minute away.
Music plays in the background while all of this is going on.
What Works, What Doesn’t
The point here is to make the user think about their connections to other people. Hence the connection to random tweets and the groupings of the most popular responses. The user can see exactly how many people are with them in their desire to “read a good book” (37 at last count).
The problem with this is that this sense of community can only inspire so much. The set-0ut narrative is limited to what Suzuki says in the opening video. After that, it’s up to the user to find their own meaning in the mass of responses. And the problem of exponential population growth probably isn’t going to be solved by the fact that over 700 people said they would do “nothing” with their extra minute. And some of the highlighted keywords, “would” and “video” for example, don’t really make sense without accompanying sentences. The links to random twitter feeds suffer from a similar problem. Yes, it’s very current (the Tweets are from the past minute or two), but they are completely unrelated to any kind of environmentalism.
So while the concept of Test Tube is great in so far as it asks for and uses user-generated responses in an interesting way, it has difficulty connecting that content with its topic and ultimately making the user care about that topic.