The evolution of the information society has seen data become the most important economic resource of the networked economy, mediated by the co-located and instantaneous access, dissemination and sharing of information amongst people across vast distances. There are numerous policy propositions that seek to regulate the management of data, which are often enforced upon users, rather than being modeled by the very participants of the network. On this debate, there is little or no room for a larger public discourse where people can reflect on the implications of data and help re-shaping public policy.
I was the moderator of this panel at ISEA (International Symposium of Electronic Arts) in Manizales, 2017. The panel explored transdisplinary contributions from art and design, in tandem with information policy activists, to re-imagine data ecosystems and at the same time engage the public into this discussion.
When we talk about privacy, security, freedom of expression, access to information, ownership and openness, we involve everyone. Citizens with technical knowledge, and those without. Beyond theoretical implications, we want to include art, design and creative practitioners on these discussions, because we need to be creative when thinking on how to involve larger publics into the debates around technology, to give shape to data ecosystems and to always recognize power relations in the online and the offline universes.
One of the examples explored if politicians have monologues or dialogues on twitter using data visualizations. Using Grafoscopio as a tool, people could work in parallel with visuals and code, arriving at a symbolic language that is easily accessible to people and help gain new understandings on datification, while engaging with data in creative manners.
Offray also explained the concept of Hack-a-tons, that currently follow an industrial logic, having a chain o persons with certain expertise that do what they know (The designer thinks, the programmer codes). On the ´Data-weeks´and ´Gobern-a-tons´that he organizes, he breaks stereotypes around innovation, and creates spaces of horizontal governance, where people learn, try, and collaborate in search for mutual understanding, rather than in search of the next big innovation.
This discussion is particularly relevant for creative practitioners, that create, share, re-mix and adapt content, not only to be aware of regulations surrounding their creations, but as a motivation to explore in a larger framework, what are we calling Open knowledge and Open education, within particular regulation ecosystems that favour only a few.
2) The cell phone registry as part of the strategy against mobile theft in Colombia. Given the design of the databases, they can easily become an instrument for massive identification and surveillance of citizens, available to any authority. This effort of the government is useful, but excessive collection of data can be easily used to cross borders of privacy and consent.
We need to visualize these issues!
People should express opinions and take control over our own data.
Sharath Chandra Ram showed us a good range of infrastructures and intermediaries that work on the internet and make decisions that affect directly our access to information. One of those included the submarines cables under water, that are owned by certain companies and can have actual control over the access to the internet. Wireless mobile phone operators also own infrastructures and processes that represent access to the network. Current tensions between owners of infrastructure and over-the-top services as google, Facebook and others are the core of the net neutrality debate.
On the second part of his intervention, Sharath showed examples of art that explores the role of intermediaries. This is work that situates itself in the ´invisible´: The electromagnetic spectrum, the wireless networks. On this domain, he identifies media networks and ecosystems to plug in as a practitioner and make a commentary on where and how do violations of privacy take place and contribute with ideas on better ways to administer data ecosystems.
Below is the very inspiring image that José Cuartas used to start his intervention on the Democratization of Data and the Internet of Things:
José introduced a very relevant tension that suggests that even if people can access databases and get familiar with the notion of numerical data, there is a huge barrier for building the very instruments for data capturing and analysis. Drawing from a good range of examples of devices that are currently used for projects related to Internet of Things (as for example, the very infamous Arduino), there are very few examples of tools that are accessible to larger publics, and therefore allow larger groups of citizens to be empowered with data.
THE DEBATE AND OPEN DISCUSSIONS
The discussions after the presentations of the panelists were vibrant! Many young people, especially students from La Universidad de Caldas, came up with very interesting areas of debate, for which we couldn't have answers.. that was not the idea anyways :) but many tensions that kept us thinking and building upon:
Is the question: How do we involve more people on these debates, or how can we create new mechanisms of participation?
Active conversations - or dialogues mediated by action are necessary -> Joining people to materialise a particular political position is important to escalate it and give it resonance in the circles of policy makers.
As we need new mechanisms for participation, we need new ones for education. Technology as an educational component will always depend on socio-cultural arrangements where it is placed. Having all kids coding is a must, but it should never be imposed as a top-down approach.
Who is the maker? The engineer, the expert? or just a person, conscious enough about the actual incidence of technology as a mediator of all aspects of our life, that makes the decision of the first click, and starts making.
Not only the information and the tools should be accessible, but also complex ways of thinking. There is a need for literacy on frameworks and mental routes that can bridge technology with applications in specific social contexts. They should never be thought separately!
Let´s jump and skip innovations! We do not need to wait for the next innovation to happen elsewhere in the planet, for it to be documented and communicated to us (that´s a very long time). We can jump to next technology developments that emerge from local interventions. For example, we can change the way to start coding, from opening a file and transforming it, to live coding and visualisations.
Some comments we heard from students of the University of Caldas at the end, insistingly argued that we need to be less complacent with technological solutions and more critical and reflexive about their implementations.