Category Archives: Durham

Randonautica #9

The intention today was “Reset”/”Renew,” that general idea. I set the first quantum to “Anomaly” and was sent here:

The protesters lost the case, first in municipal and then state court. The subsequent sit-in at a Greensboro Woolworth’s on February 1, 1960, which did much to spark activism around the South, has historically received much more attention than this one in Durham did, including a documentary film. The Royal Ice Cream sit-in in Durham took place more than two and a half years before the one in Greensboro, during a period in which, as the film’s opening interviewee puts it, “from the [1956] bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, until February 1, 1960, virtually nothing happened in the arena of civil rights. It was absolutely dead. Even Martin Luther King said that.” Continue reading Randonautica #9

Randonautica #8

The intention yesterday was “Pluto.” There was a reason for this having to do with Vaneigem’s theory of spontaneity, but the connection escapes me now. I don’t think it really matters. More and more, I sense that if there is anything to the idea that the Randonautica quantum-bot enacts some sort of mind-machine meld, it must be at the level of the subconscious, not of announced intention. That’s not to say that the unconscious can’t be summoned into consciousness, and those instances could possibly help explain some of the heavier randonauting synchronicities. But it seems doubtful that following the app’s directive to “focus on your intent[ion?]” during the five seconds it takes to generate coordinates is enough to achieve the necessary depth. If the notion is to be accepted, or in any case entertained, that there is a quantum-level relationship between the user’s thoughts and the app’s computations, then the possibility should be considered that the full accumulation of the user’s mental state, which may or may not be spoken or even speakable, is involved. Perhaps, then, we don’t know what our intention is until we arrive at the coordinates, or a sequence of coordinates, which reveal it.

It should also be considered that Randonautica is one of many Alternate Reality Games on offer, essentially an 18-and-up treasure hunt like Geocaching, which predates it by nearly twenty years, and letterboxing (or “questing”), which predates it by more than 150. The difference, of course,  is that instead of finding physical objects that have been planted in a particular spot by another person or people, the randonaut is looking mainly for coincidences. At base, randonauting is a fun and sometimes meaningful way to walk around (or drive around, if you prefer) and see new places and things — or familiar ones, but from a new perspective.

Perhaps above all, it’s good idea to stay aware that Randonautica is a fairly new and increasingly popular recreational platform — it has nearly doubled its number of Twitter followers in the last four months — that, despite cloaking its operations in some notable ways (e.g. who is this exactly?), is clearly aiming at greater development, mass appeal, and more overall legitimacy. It has recently redone (and relocated) its website, and started a reality television series. Meanwhile, the app itself seems to have just added protective language. At least, I think these “Pro Tips,” which now appear on the user’s phone when the app launches, are new:

And now on to randonauting. Continue reading Randonautica #8

Randonautica #7: Random Noticing #1

(This subseries, if it turns into one — which is doubtful — attends to auxiliary, secondary, or casual observations made outside but as an effect of formal randonauting, an activity which heightens the mind’s general awareness and alertness, and encourages it to find and tease out “random” connections.)

“You do not stop a jogger who is jogging. Foaming at the mouth, his mind riveted on the inner countdown to the moment when he will achieve a higher plane of consciousness, he is not to be stopped. If you stopped him to ask the time, he would bite your head off.” — Jean Baudrillard, America

I just recently read these lines, which are excerpted from a longer observation by Baudrillard of the American jogger. I’m an American jogger myself, and I tend to perk up at attempts to understand the “meaning” of this particular pastime and the people who engage in it. My interest derives not only from personal experience as a jogger but also from how uninteresting jogging actually is, both to do and to observe. It is a very difficult subject from which to draw much sense or sensibility.

There are direct efforts, like Haruki Murakami’s memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, whose title, taken from Carver, is as deliberately flat as the long-distance runner’s experience of the miles. The only passage I can recall from this book has nothing to do with running at all. It recounts the moment when Murakami decided to become a writer, which occurred at a baseball game at the moment when a player who had hit a ball into the outfield pulled into second base for a double. Murakami’s life flashed in front of his eyes: not the life he was about to depart, but the one he was about to begin.

There is also the runner, and running, as archetype and metaphor, most famously in Alan Sillitoe’s short story The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. While running, “I’ve been asking myself all sorts of questions and thinking about my life up to now,” writes the narrator — identified only as Smith (perhaps appropriately the most uninteresting name in English). This thinking while running more closely resembles one’s life flashing in front of one’s eyes before death, but is categorically different, less a mortal reckoning than an incrementally updated accounting. With every run, a little more is added to “my life up to now.” Yet there isn’t an equal relationship between time input and thought output: “By God,” Smith blurts, “to say that last sentence has needed a few hundred miles of long-distance running.” Continue reading Randonautica #7: Random Noticing #1

Randonautica #6

I’ve been reading Raoul Vaniegem’s Revolution of Everyday Life. The English title is completely different from the French original, which translates to something like Treatise on Good Manners for Young People. Vaniegem was a key player in the Situtationist International movement. The book was published the same year (1967) as Guy Debord’s much more famous Society of the Spectacle. Although it’s comparatively lesser known, I prefer Vaneigem’s book to Debord’s. It’s more impassioned.

One of Vaniegem’s central ideas is that real “revolution” comes when every individual lays claim to personal independence and desire — “each for all.” I chose “Individual” as my intention yesterday, with “Nonconformity” as an echo. The first Randonaut destination was right in the middle of one of downtown’s busiest streets:

On the east side of the street are a couple of restaurants. When I left the house to go randonauting, I was feeling irked by some exasperating commentary about restaurants that I had just read.

On the way to the next destination (using “Attractor,” I think) I passed this convertible car parked on the street with its top down: Continue reading Randonautica #6

Randonautica #5

Presley Media is, according to its website, “currently casting for upcoming reality series, Ready or Randonaut, which helps real people embrace the true randomness of a mysterious new technology to solve real-life questions and explore interesting locales across America.”

Yesterday I watched the pilot episode. I noticed that each of the three Randonauts (one of whom was the CEO of Presley Media) set an intention and maintained it throughout the session, in which each Randonaut used the app three times to visit three different locations. Keeping to a single intention seemed to help each of them discover more about themselves and have a possibly deeper experience. So I decided to try that.

I set my intention on the word “box” with the specific idea of opening it. I chose Attractor (I think) and was sent to the Durham Crisis Response Center, which is housed in a handsome old Neoclassical Revival-style building that dates to around 1909.

The Center provides “support services for those in need of help in the aftermath of domestic violence, sexual violence, human trafficking and family violence.”

One of the concepts of Randonautica is the so-called “Despair Meme,” which “is best identified while randonauting as a general sense of fear or skepticism towards continuing your randonaut adventure.” I felt no fear or skepticism but was aware that I had not been in a good mood all day. (It was about 5:00 p.m. when I went Randonauting.) Later, I wondered if my mood was connected to being sent to the Crisis Center.

It appeared to be operating with reduced staffing and access:

The actual coordinates plotted by the app were near the bird feeders in the driveway to the right of the building. A lot of pigeons flew away at the first sign of my approach. It’s hard to see in the photo, but the main user of the blue bird feeder was actually a squirrel: Continue reading Randonautica #5

Randonautica #4

Yesterday, I read a story that identified the Randonaut community’s “official mascot” as a white owl and “the true symbol of the project” as “a piss bottle.”  The story linked above explains the mascot and symbol. (My remaining question is: How was it determined that the bottle contained piss?)

Later, I went Randonauting. It was a gray and drizzly day, unseasonably cool and clammy. Very few people were out and about. I set my first quantum to “Attractor” and my intention to “Mystery.” I was led here:

“The Grove” is one of any number of upscale residential complexes going up around central Durham.

The actual QRNG coordinates were a few feet behind and to the right of the two portable toilets. I had to pee, so I used one of the toilets. Perhaps it was a really big piss bottle, in one sense: Continue reading Randonautica #4

Randonautica #3

Several hours before I used the Randonautica app yesterday, I went out of the house and passed the new city parking deck which consumed a good deal of my attention last fall while I conducted a field study of the structure. I have not gone into the deck more than a few times in 2020, and not at all since the coronavirus outbreak began three months ago. When I walked past the deck today, two vultures suddenly appeared just above me, flying low, as though they had launched from the roof of the deck. I thought of perhaps going up there for the first time in a few months but decided not to.

A little while later, I passed by the office I share with another writer. I haven’t been working in it since the pandemic began in March. Just outside the street door to the office were two men I know in passing: one through the writer with whom I share the office; the second man lives two doors down from me and, I now learned, is friends with the first man. It turned out they were using the office for the day, having been given the key by the writer I share it with. They were taking a smoke break outside.

My Randonautica usage is concurrent with my reading of some of the work of the French sociocultural theorist Guy Debord (1931-1994), whose theory of the Dérive (1956) is an antecedent of Randonautica. The tenant in the other side of the duplex we own has a PhD in Philosophy and knows twentieth-century theory well. Late yesterday afternoon, as I prepared to go Randonauting, I asked my tenant what he knew about Debord and the Situationist International movement Debord co-founded, explaining its connection to Randonautica. Not surprisingly, my tenant was well versed in the Situationists and gave me a book to read by one of them (not Debord). I put it inside the house and made ready to go on my Randonaut walk.

At that moment, the two men who had been using my office approached on the sidewalk in front of the house. They came up to our porch. Since one of them lives two doors down, I assumed they were headed to his house and stopped off at ours to say hello. It transpired that they had accidentally locked the keys inside the office and themselves out, not knowing that the knob lock push-button has to be released; otherwise the door locks behind you. The writer with whom I share the office generally likes to keep it locked. The two men’s destination wasn’t the second man’s house, then, but mine: they were hoping I could let them back into the office. (The first man had called me a few minutes earlier, but I didn’t recognize the phone number and hadn’t answered.) They also said hello to my tenant, whom the second man, the one who lives two doors down from me, already seemed to know.

I told them that their timing was perfect, because I was just leaving the house, and the three of us walked back to the office together. On the way there, the man who lives two doors away from me told me that he and my tenant had been students at Duke University around the same time, and that was how they knew each other. He went on to say that the editorial assistant to one of my tenant’s graduate professors had been the editor for the book he, my neighbor, had recently completed writing and published. I recognized the professor’s name: he was the father of of one of my good friends in high school, over thirty years earlier. We agreed that was quite a coincidence.

We arrived at my office. I let the two men in with my key. We said goodbye, and then I initiated the Randonautica app. That meant that I began Randonauting from the office instead of from home, about half a mile away; therefore, all of the destinations to come were almost certainly different than they would have been had I started from my house, as I had intended.

For the first destination, I chose Attractor” as the quantum and “Venture” as my intention. The point generated by the app was just a block or so away from the office:

Directly across the street from this building is the entrance to the parking deck where I conducted last year’s field study and over which I had seen the vultures flying earlier in the day: Continue reading Randonautica #3

Randonautica #2


This afternoon, when I was ready to go Randonauting, I picked up my phone to initiate the app. At that exact moment, the phone lit up with an alert that the app was experiencing a technical problem and was unavailable.

I wanted to go for a walk regardless and set out west from my house toward a part of Durham that is more affluent than the one I perambulated with Randonautica the previous day. After about fifteen minutes, I checked the app again and it was working. I chose an Attractor point and set “Research” as my intention. The route to the location took me over a freshly poured sidewalk:

until I reached the destination: Continue reading Randonautica #2