Now that the dust has settled from the intensity of Austin (complete with nuclear tacos, tornado watches and flash flooding in addition to Will Wright’s keynote and Bruce Sterling’s rant), my inner magpie has sifted through SXSWi’s glitter and taken away a few shiny threads of what are hopefully insightful and inspiring. (as a side note, SXSWi is publishing podcasts of the panels: find them here)
Many of the panels I attended and the majority of the conversations that I had with people indicated a shift towards trying to understand what is being articulated, changed or revealed in us through our relationship with technology. The consensus is that our focus on technology is richer and more reflective when we think about who we are as people and what we want, with critical engagement and inquiry directed towards socio-technical means and motivations.
Empathy – the ability to understand someone else’s condition (emotional, economical, social, mental, etc) – is emerging as the critical factor in not only designing but also living through and with new technologies and technological platforms. Our ability to imagine what people think, feel, want and imagine themselves as is heightened when we redefine what we hope to get out of our relationships and how we may want to use it.
Any goal we define has a set of constraints and metrics applied to it, and data passes through relevance and application filters. Sometimes we permit the information to change the filters, sometimes we do not. What I perceived at SXSWi was a strong motivation to accept and look for the nature of that change in developing ideas. To change the nature of the system which will support and disseminate them, and to imagine new systems.
Along with this comes (among many other things) learning how to listen to what else people are saying and doing when they interact, speak, gesture, etc – through their physiological, emotional and tacit responses to a particular thing. Implicit within this as well is a deeper understanding of context – why does someone feel or want this way, and how much does the design of the thing reflect this want and help them achieve it? A contextual caveat though is understanding that my bias is to look for these kinds of connections and keys, and that there were also discussions that reflected far different ideas and approaches, some of which were, or were not as the case may be, as rich in potential.
Social computing, and its reflection throughout our face-to-face interactions and mobilizations, is increasingly revealing how we are using new tools and lenses through which to granulate and disperse our behaviours. The benefits of social computing are enormous, and as the drawbacks begin to emerge so too does a desire to understand to what affect our social practices, exchanges, and systems will be transformed. In addition to our cognition, physiology, economics, industries, cultures, etc, etc. Insightful and deep approaches to design are being rethought to reflect more of our behavioural, cognitive and physiological responses – as discussed by Kathy Sierra, Alex Steffen, Bruce Sterling, Henry Jenkins, Phil Torrone, Will Wright, etc, etc.
way more after the jump
From Bruce Sterling’s talk (see notes below), I was turned on to Yochai Benkler, a law professor at Yale whose recent (and perhaps THE seminal) text The Wealth of Networks has my heart and mind exploding around ideas and analyses for Socially Motivated Commons-Based Peer Production. From what I’ve read thus far, Benkler looks at the relationships between emerging “networked information economies”, non-market production, and peer production. This is especially interesting in terms of my ongoing research into social innovation, composite communities and exchange. More to follow on this point soon.
Another big signal in transition is empowerment and participation – these concepts are moving away from a notionally peripheral and ‘abstracted’ (at least in regards to mass adoption) phenomenon to an implicitly informed behaviour whose composition is embedded (to varying depths and degrees) throughout widerspread socio-technical platforms and practices. The key idea is that the framing discussion has shifted, as most analyses are wont to do when the discourse around an idea has progressed from identification to unearthing the deep and tacit meaning. Lightweight and flexible frameworks are being built around the conversation, and I think that some care is being taken to ensure that the nature of the dialogue reflects the content – ie – understanding that approaching empowerment or participatory culture from a strictly pedagogical/economic/ethnographic perspective will leave giant holes in the insights. Interdisciplinarity and a sort of specialized generalism, to a certain degree, are the tools required in the repertoire.
Implied within that repertoire are two complementary positions – one of which encourages process over result and vice versa. I’m more inclined towards the means of designing, managing and participating in the process that will enable the best results – starting at and focusing energies on the lightweight systems and rigours as well as the experience itself. Many of the panels were about effectively managing process with the intent of increasing “productivity” as it were, but a few explored managing process as a more holistic reflection of how we experience, learn and act.
The final extraction from SXSWi looks at transmedia convergence, a subject and phenom closely tied with participatory cultures and building in part upon an increased focus on process rather than result. In this respect, the (trans)media are currently in use and practice, and whose identity as platforms for interoperable content becomes a required characteristic, qualified as fluid and bridging. Henry Jenkins and Danah Boyd touched upon this in their panel, describing it as well as outlining why and how this will change economies of cultural production. Again, I’m thinking about Benkler, among others… And that’s about it. For now.
Bruce Sterling Closing Rant
available here: go listen! below are what I found *critical* (hopefully more than a barrage of croutons beating you to death)
Gift – Czeslaw Milosz
A day so happy.
Fog lifted early, I walked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.
Four Idea People:
Henry Jenkins: Convergence Culture
Yochai Benckler: Wealth of Networks
Lev Manovitch: Soft Cinema: Navigating the Database (Creole Media)
Richard Stallman: GNU/Linux//Open Source Hacker and Advocate
Commons-Based Peer Production
The Disorder – the places that are falling off the map and tearing up the roads, intentionally and unintentionally
With emerging forms of media and media behaviours comes a need for a new form of critical assessment and aesthetic honesty (also discipline and rigour) – how do we raise the bar and bring remix beyond pastiche and beyond the fetishization of the capability. Digital tools are melting down media, slumming it – creating forms of semiotic pollution. How many blogs, out of 55 million, have ever made you cry? Will people still be blogging in 10 years? It’s unlikely – anything predicated on hardware is radically unstable.
Benkler: Socially Motivated Commons Based Peer Production – A How-To Guide (currently reading Wealth of Nations: find it here)
- Granular – where even 5 minutes of work advances the general cause
- Modular – projects that have clear goals and can be sourceforged
- Integrative – where each thing fits into each other in a way that benefits society and does something
- Self-selection – ppl must be there with both feet in the conversation
- In/Out mechanisms – ppl, ideas, etc. have to have mobiity
- Communication – tacit, implicit, explicit.
- Trust Construction and Active Diplomacy
- Norm Creation
- Monitoring of Action
- Peer Review
- Institutional Sustainability and Legacy
- Platforms for Self-Expression
Examples: Al Qaeda, KKK…
Alex Steffen – WorldChanging 2.0
Worldchanging is about creating tools and imagining perspectives which make the world a better place, because we have inherited a broken future. We’ve stretched our needs and wants to a point where they overshoot our ability to meet them. We must demand and work towards building a future which is currently unimaginable – we have the technological capability to design a future that is sustainable and symbiotic. We can dematerialize the things that previously took an incredible amount of energy to make and use, by shifting our perspective towards other possibilities – cities are tools that make your life greener and better if designed well or industrial waste processes can feed each others flows…
New services are emerging and taking hold, augmented by technology and creating a simplicity and immediacy of use: carsharing, toolsharing, etc. these are examples of us achieving our goals in ways that combine the emotional satisfaction of use with shared and communal forms of consumption. The tool is secondary to the thing we want to do with it. We need to separate out the things that we want to own because they really mean something to us and the things we want to own for utilitarian purposes. At the same time, we want guilt-free affluence – the things around us need to tell better stories, need to be designed with more care. there’s no reason why our objects and systems can’t be designed better. If we think better, and differently, we may be able to provide the kind of happiness we all seek. As well, the retooling and reworking of our systems and tools will provide a huge economic opportunity for those involved and willing to innovate.
This future can also be enjoyed by everyone – if we design better models and systems then the tools and possibility for application provide better opportunities, empowering and inspiring the people who suffer. If people are given a platform to create their own futures, alternatives that are context specific and actionable begin to emerge, solutions come from the inside. Technology enables people to put their own stake in the ground of what they are doing, to imagine new futures. And while we know, deep down, that behaviours like recycling aren’t really doing much to stem the problems of consumption, perhaps we can look at them as a gateway drug to new possibilities.
We have 2 choices: to keep replicating the same deeply flawed path towards a ruinous future where we know what to expect, or to bravely venture into the unknown, where we don’t know what will happen as we forge a path to a new, brighter future, that we still need to imagine, all while grappling honestly with the realities that underlie what it may be and what it would take to get there.
With the book WorldChanging, the slipcover is diecut on a particular pattern, and what you;ll find over the course of use is that a pattern will begin to emerge on the blank cover, through dust and sunlight. The more you use the book, the more something that was not previously there will appear before your eyes.
Examples of innovation:
Landmine flower whose blooms change from white to red when in the soil presence of nitrogen, or decaying explosives.
Roundabout play pump which harnesses the energy of children playing to pump water from the ground.
Emerging Social and Technology Trends
Moderator: Laura Moorhead Sr Editor Culture, Wired
Andrew Blum Contributing Editor, Wired
Robert Fabricant Exec Creative Dir, Frog Design
Eliot Van Buskirk Columnist/Blogger, Wired News
Peter Rojas Engadget
Daniel Raffel Product Mgr, Yahoo!
Central focus on the relationships between social behaviours and technology.
Technology and social change are driving each other – there is an increasing democratization, although I believe it’s self-selected to some degree, between the specialists and technologists.
Our technologies and adaptive behaviours are radically changing the way we perceive our sense of self and our roles in society – the constant connectivity is altering our notions of boundary between public and private representation. Emerging generations have very different social norms regarding revelatory self-expression and representation than older generations, and there is a sense of conflict in terms of what is disclosed to the individuals who bridge multiple ‘codified’ generations. One result of this is a transformation in the reach and impact of that representation – who are we reaching, what is our motivation and what is the impact?
As well, as much as we are acquiring data and content – as metadata, content, etc – we are freely contributing our own data to the flow, opening up reciprocity as a fluid and demi-passive act. We actively engage in our own sense of longevity.
Individuals and cultures have long sought to align themselves against institutions that may threaten their own, choosing to associate with evangelical representatives, tribes, etc to mediate any insecurities (social, financial, economic) that would arise as a result of their ideological dissonance. We search for the hero mythology within our group, and now have the opportunity to be both the hero and the saved through the modes and channels of connectivity. As trends and innovations shift, the desire to embrace technological possibility and maintain control steers the nature of the insecurities, and the nature of the conversation.
Living in a Spatial Reality
Gina Bianchini CEO, Ning Inc
Allan Doyle Proj Coord & Chief Technologist, MIT Museum
Dan Dubno Technologist, Blowing Things Up
John Hanke Dir Google Earth/Maps/Sketchup, Google
Frank Robles CEO, Neopolitan Networks Inc
Dean McCall Pres/CEO, Salsa.Net
Keynotes, mostly in reference to possible applications for Google Maps/Earth:
- GM is building the spatial web as a substrate of our physical experience – one half of the people on the planet have high resolution imagery of their neighbourhood, and 1.5M places around the world have been mapped as context and goal specific navigational platforms.
- Collaborative 3D modelling is a means of community-based identity creation, as Berlin and other cities have done through asking the community to sketch upon the basemap. Desiring good representation and asking the cities citizens to create it – they curate relevant contexts.
- GE is developing a new browser where all news stories and every other bit of locative data is served up through the lens and filters of who is telling the story. For example, compstats are used by cities to map crime, emergencies, local infrastructure issues, etc. It provides information as well as creates an opportunity for the community to be proactive/ractive in negotiating new local dynamics. However, does this type of information address the systemic issues surrounding a particular trend or event, or does is provide a way to locally mitigate whatever that issue is? Regardless, many partners and affiliates must participate in order to provide accurate and reliable data.
- In terms of access – what about non-english speakers? GE provides opportunities for location specific needs, contexts and solutions based on geographical and cultural literacies. As well, there is an access and awareness of space and politics that was previously inaccessible and autobiographically relevant without the scope of data we now have. However, what does the notion of privacy mean in these terms?
Keynote: Phil Torrone (Make Magazine) and Limor Fried (Eyebeam Research Lab)
- people make weird things, and like to share them. This keynote was filled with LOTS of those things (bicycles filled with lava, laser-cut macbooks, trebuchets, bacon alarm clocks, flamethrower trampolines, interactive biology, requisite potato gun, etc)
- discussion centring around the plethora of things that people have created with open source hardware licenses (releasing the schematics, parts lists, sources, etc under CC)
- the DIY ethic is extended into recipe exchange and collaborative building with hardware and components.
- while people are using new media to build and collaborate, the people at Make/Craft magazines are still relying on old media for validity and acceptance, which can be a deterrent as we’re not necessarily a nation of readers.