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futuribile / curating futures - Issue #18 #ElectricFlanerie

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Aloha, It has been a while! Glad to be back to this collective room of one's own. The newsletter just
 
March 28 · Issue #18 · View online
futuribile / curating futures
Aloha,
It has been a while! Glad to be back to this collective room of one’s own. The newsletter just turned 1 year old: I’d like to thank all of you for the support and interest, especially the little group of people who received the first issue without previous notification and stayed with me since ❤️.
A few things I have learnt along the journey:
  • Making time. The process of reading, researching and talking with people is as important and productive as what ends up in the final version
  • Avoiding knowledge silos. Most learnings come from unexpected places, break out of the cognitive comfort zone from time to time
  • Escaping definitions with joy. Embrace the impossibility to fit in a 1-word-esplanation box as means to try out new approaches and ideas. Sometimes it’s hard (especially when you are mansplained your job), but it’s worth it
  • Daring to reach out. Although this is my personal newsletter, it wouldn’t be possible without the support, feedback and inputs of other people (did I say “thank you” already?). From my coworking fellows, to all the NGI crew, to my ex-colleagues, to the restless geoflexible professional and old-time friends whose paths sometimes cross mines.
In the span of a year, topics like ethics, diversity in tech, personal data protection moved from the category of boring naif to the one of cool. Which makes it even more important to keep the conversation around their meaning and implications going on.
Aloha,
Marta Arniani

Things I have been up to
(A lot! 😵💪 )
Last Friday I was at the European Parliament with the Next Generation Internet initiative: hosted by MP Marietje Schaake, we have been celebrating 30 years of the Web with a discussion around alternatives and values. For the same occasion I have been putting together the publication A better place: towards a collective intelligence for Europe gathering views and ideas on how to leverage our technology capabilities to serve more inclusive and empowering purposes. The title refers to one of the “Ten issues to watch in 2019” accordingly to the EP think tank: “It seems inevitable now that our lives will be more and more interwoven with intelligent machinery. As worded in Big mind, ‘the question is not whether this will happen but how can we shape these tools so that they shape us well – enhancing us in every sense of the word”. We are experiencing the last potential zone of transition with humans in agency. We are overwhelmed by negative scenarios for the future and it is undeniable that we need to act now on two fronts: our relationship with tech, and with planet Earth. Rather than focusing on short-sighted technocentric predictions and easy big corporations’ demonization, this publication proposes radical systemic thinking along with pragmatic viable alternatives.
Since last issue I have also been to 4YFN in Barcelona, where I have hosted the NGI Awards ceremony: you can check the winners here, all amazing humans whose research, services and campaigns provide very good examples of alternative approaches to tech. In the same occasion, Jennifer and I hosted another Millennials workshop, this time working on the notion of caretaking and health. Our work blends research, co-design and mindfulness: love the ideas that the methodology allows to flow, like repurposing urban design into lifestyle design, or creating “calm tech”.
I am honoured to announce that I am in the Programme Committee for Case Studies of the Communities and Technologies conference.
Cooking up also other things I hope I will be able to share soon.
How to disappear completely
What are your feelings with presence and traceability? I am not talking about mere privacy matters, but sense of agency, self-awareness, liberty. Disappearing is becoming a fine art, an act of freedom. In our Millennials workshops it keeps coming up. In order to feel good, people would go to where nobody knows them, unplug, do some screen detox. It implies that so far, the most healthy relationship with technology we can think of is a parsimonious one (which opens up a land of opportunities for developing less overwhelming tech).
Creative experiments are always a liberating resort. Like this one, Riding into oblivion: driving an electric scooter until its batteries die as a means of escaping society. 🛴😃
Even Silicon Valley parents wouldn’t feed their kids with a digital diet: tech-free schools are booming. A pop version of ancient Stoicism is a thing there. Besides the anecdotes, these are families with a certain social and economic status. As more screens appear in the lives of the poor, screens are disappearing from the lives of the rich. The NY Times argues that human contact is an elite luxury. “What we are seeing now is the luxurification of human engagement. If you’re truly at the top of the hierarchy, you don’t have to answer to anyone. They have to answer to you.” I would add that the privilege of unplugging is a new social inequality manifestation, one that goes beyond economic status, and more tied to education and digital awareness.
Another form of inequality related to digital awareness is that communities that are not well represented in the online world face two sets of problems: 1) they would tend to disappear from it (a combination of poor data and real estate speculations led Google to rename an entire neighborhood in the city of Buffalo, despite the residents’ income and will). 2) They would be cheap material for biased surveillance.
What is a clever and empowering way of disappearing then? One first needs to think about what she wants to disappear from. Big tech platforms and constant required availability are under scrutiny: their quality, the data farming business models, the meaningfulness of the interactions… A growing voice is pointing to a slow food approach to the web: the backlash of big tech since 2017 is creating new forms of ownership and sovereignty, so far quite artisanal, but growing. I’d guess that the Copyright Law just approved by the European Parliament (apparently some MEPs pressed the wrong button 🤦🏻‍♀️) is just another sign to build open and collectively owned alternatives (trying to be positive here). If Splinternet must be, then we better embrace it ahead and try to do something with it.
The digital strikes back
One of the points made in the publication for the EP is that reality is increasingly hybrid: material presence can be linked to another quality of material capabilities elsewhere. Meanwhile, automation takes an increasing role in our everyday decision-making and task-execution mechanisms. There are chances that what we define today as “reality” will be totally different in a near future. A precursor experimentation field in this respect is Fortnite, whose metaverse is increasingly relevant in the life of millions of people (and in the revenues of big brands):
Fortnite’s great advantage isn’t that it was built to be the Metaverse, but that it’s already a massive social square that’s gradually taking on the qualities of one. It’s also worth highlighting that Fortnite’s monetization is itself based on identity – or more specifically, how one chooses to portray one’s self in the digital world via skins and avatars, tracked via the Epic Account. And to this end, we know that 3rd party IP owners are eager to bring their content into Fortnite in order to generate additional revenue, engagement or affinity (hence Disney’s integration of The Avengers’ Thanos in May 2018 and Wreck-It Ralph in November 2018, as well as the introduction of official NFL jerseys that same year). These extensions will be critical to Fortnite’s ability to sustain interest and broaden its demographic appeal. To this end, Fortnite may even endure because it has no IP or characters.
Wired calls it a “mirrorworld”, following Yale computer scientist David Gelernter:
Deep in the research labs of tech companies around the world, scientists and engineers are racing to construct virtual places that overlay actual places. Crucially, these emerging digital landscapes will feel real; they’ll exhibit what landscape architects call place­ness.
The mirrorworld will reflect not just what something looks like but its context, meaning, and function. We will interact with it, manipulate it, and experience it like we do the real world.
Another look at this is the concept of digital twins, declined not on the level of personal identity, but on that of mirroring built infrastructures. In the UK a governmental task force, the Digital Framework Task Group (DFTG), aims to develop a digital framework that will help to unlock the value of infrastructure data and support a national digital twin to be created. In this case, the focus is changing how data about the built environment is accessed, used and shared to make spending more efficient, improve the performance of our existing infrastructure, and increase safety, while protecting privacy, commercial confidentiality and national security.
My two cents: this is clearly only the beginning. As their experience and visual appearance improves, we will see more and more of these reality-enhancing/doubling environments. Whatever this hybrid quality of presence will be called, it can’t be treated as a “virtual” replica of the built world. Thinking in terms of “mirroring” is dangerous, as there is a fault line between human and technology, meaning that responsibility, agency, self-awareness are increasingly mixed. Discriminations, violences and monopolies happening on one side find a way also on the other. We have done that already with the Web, remember? Furthermore, designing new contexts is an enormous chance to go beyond technosolutions and “human-centric” design. I am collecting resources (see previous issues) about these kinds of perspectives: “Xenodesign”, design characterized by an engagement with experiences and perspectives beyond the human and an understanding of all entities on an equal level — humans, ecologies, bacteria, air, soil, artificial intelligences, etc.) adds up nicely.
Shots
Calling bullshit, a college course (+online syllabus) to teach how to think critically about the data and models that constitute evidence in the social and natural sciences.
Around 95% of all Bitcoin trading volume has been faked by exchanges. #BlockchainTaMère
The Civic Tech Field Guide: a crowdsourced, global collection of civic tech tools and projects.
Pocket, a short movie on the life of a teenager turned from his iPhone (directors had to 3D-print a custom rig in order to simultaneously record the phone’s screen and the view from the front- and rear-facing cameras).
The hottest chat for teens is Google doc.
Women make up 58% of the workers at the highest risk of automation. The report Women, Automation, and the Future of Work by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) is the first known comprehensive analysis of how automation will affect U.S. workers differently based on their gender.
Q, the first genderless AI assistant voice.
A professor filed a complaint against Black Girls CODE, claiming it discriminates against white men. #WhiteBoysMatter 🤦🏻‍♀️
An interview with the woman pushing for more gender diversity at Wikipedia.
A new smart-bin applies machine learning to food waste management.
Oh, dear!
IVA DIXIT
I like how everyone uses Walt Whitman’s famous “I contain multitudes” as an Instagram caption but never includes the first line, which is “I am large”
3:13 AM - 17 Mar 2019
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That’s all! Wish the newsletter a happy birthday by converting new readers. For feedback and inputs hit reply or write at marta(at)futuribile.org. Italians: I will be at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, then Rome and Milan for most of April. Let’s catch up!
Aloha,
Marta
I actually rode an e-scooter beyond the allowed borders the other day and it felt really good #senilité
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