500 people tracing a straight line.

A Sequence of Lines Traced by Five Hundred Individuals from clement valla on Vimeo.

A Sequence of Lines Consecutively Traced by Five Hundred Individuals is an online drawing tool that lets users do just one thing – trace a line. Each new user only sees the latest line drawn, and can therefore only trace this latest imperfect copy. As the line is reproduced over and over, it changes and evolves – kinks, trembling motions and errors are exaggerated through the process.

A Sequence of Lines Consecutively Traced by Five Hundred Individuals was first created as a tool to be used in conjunction with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk – an online labor market. Mechanical Turk workers were paid 2 cents to trace a line.

Note how the line starts to change appreciably right from the off. Eventually it splits into several lines and takes on various interesting and intricate forms. Notice also that it tends to move, drifting left or right.

The line morphs and moves as a result of people tracing over it, attempting to prevent exactly the emergent behavior that ends up manifesting. Weird emergent properties like this appear everywhere, from evolution to mob mentality to stock markets. This is, I think, the purest expression of the phenomenon I’ve ever seen.


Disclosure Notice