A few days after the end of FutureEverything, the fog is beginning to lift. The conference and festival were a whirlwind of ideas and images. I visited the Manchester FabLab, a space where physical prototyping tools are available for use by anyone who wants to build electronics, sew, fabricate 3D articles or etch large things with precision table saws. It was an inspiring example of the new, more social contexts for DIY and making. Getting better access to tools in a social space is a way to gain technical skills, yes, but also another form of social organization and collaboration.
The winner of the festival prize, the EyeWriter also demonstrated the connection between social action and technology. It’s open source software that can be connected to an inexpensive, sunglass-mounted eye tracker that reads eye movements and transforms them into line drawing images that can be painted on to the sides of buildings (or other large areas). One possible use is as an assistive technology for disabled graffiti artists. The number of disabled graffiti artists in the world may be rather small, but that’s hardly the point. The big idea is that a simple, elegant piece of technology can give someone whose movements are restricted in space the ability to make very public interventions. On Saturday, one of its inventors, Evan Roth, described the work of the Graffiti Research Labs as working in the overlap between free culture, open source, and art. The group’s projects are all elegant and funny explorations of art and hacking.
My own talk, about social media publics and the affordances of Filter, Feed and Funnel, was likely a good deal less elegant. My goal was to provide some handy concepts that might be fun or useful to people thinking and playing with media tools. HighWired has live blogged it here, and eventually I will post my own notes – or even link to the video so you can see me wave my hands around in the air.
There’s so much going on at the FutureEverything conference that it’s difficult to sort through the experiences to find a highlight. One that certainly stands out, from among the very reflective and critical conversations about technology, social change and open data, is the success of GloNet, a new platform for global participations in conferences. I’m normally somewhat dismissive of “beaming in” participants, but GloNet has won me over. It’s a multi-city network, connecting participants in Vancouver, Manchester, Sao Paulo, Instanbul and Sendai. Most significantly, in each city workshop teams had been working with participants (and rallying audiences – early in the am in Vancouver) to respond to some shared questions about technology and the city. The result was that the participants in other cities were not remote, but very present – and also connected by a networked living room that could front on the other locations.
Each city site was connected with a different organization: at W2 in Vancouver they asked questions about how technology and engagement works in different cities, and the
Tribes in cities are reinforced by our use of social media – working with the idea that this reduces the amount of serendipity in the city. W2 in Vancouver explored how or whether social media would benefit the poorest in Vancouver. When we talk about open data open standards open source we are talking about conversations that happen differently. Were we before on a trajectory towards isolation, and has this trajectory been reversed?
Questions were also raised about the power dynamics of the ownership of social media platforms, and also about the presence or absence of serendipity within systems run on algorithms.
There was enthusiasm from Adam Greenfield about the possibility of autonomous creativity to solve the challenging problems, based on a technical infrastructure of open data and open culture.
Open data was a defining theme for the day. Nigel Shadbolt described how open government data moved from idea to reality, and artists presented projects involving everything from maps of Oyster card transactions to data in the forms of games. There is a sort of gleeful sense that more data will make the world a better place – I agree, although I think that the structures (the media, indeed) through which we encounter and make sense of these data are what really become important.
I’m getting ready to head to FutureEverything in Manchester, an amazing festival of art/technology/ideas that runs from May 12-15. The conference/ideas stream features several interesting tracks including discussions on open data, local broadband, and collaboration. I’ll be speaking on DIY citizenship, social media and social change.
Since my panel collaborators Mushon Zer-Aviv and Alexandra Deschamps-Sosino are probably more connected to how revolutions in design and availability of technologies are connected with innovation and participation, I thought I’d talk a bit about how social media affordances have provided us with new models for citizenship, and what we can do with these models. I’ll provide a bit of history about how citizens role in discussing and participating in politics have been thought about – and organized – in the past, and how media have played a role. Then I’ll discuss the current media environment, hopefully asking some hard questions about how we use the participation that our environment offers to sustain our citizenship and work for social change.
I’m also a speaker blogger, and am looking forward to exploring the explosive world of art, thought and music that the festival promises to be. More later . . .