Communication, Knowledge and Information in the Human Ecosystem: p2p Ethnography

[this article originates from our participation to XYLab, in Castrignano de'Greci, Puglia, Italy]

Introduction

Indigenous populations in Universal Exhibits

Indigenous populations in Universal Exhibits

In Universal Exhibitions from the end of the ’800s and beginning of the ’900s, indigenous people were often exposed – under glass houses, in cages or using a variety of media and artefacts – for the entertainment of other people, as if they were objects.

For example Paris’ Exposition Universelle of 1889 featured an entire Negro Village, which was among the Exposition’s main attractions.

These were storytelling exhibits, telling the stories of far-away, “Other”, alien people, by trying to narrate them through images, objects and entire re-created environments, and turning them into an entertainment experience for amused visitors and consumers.

They were often also stories about possibilities: futures and things which we, the colonialists, had imagined for them, the aliens, the Others. In fact the objective was, many times, to highlight the “civilising” influence of colonialist rule, and the supposed ways in which colonialist influence would have been able to bring about new economies and roles for these people (for example: Apache chief Geronimo selling his autograph in the Primates section of the Bronx Zoo).

natives on exhibit at the Chicago World Fair

natives on exhibit at the Chicago World Fair

Much has happened since those times, including the fundamental intuitions and practices coming from Lévi-StraussMalinowski, to Bateson, Mead, Clifford, Geertz, Bhabha and the many more with which ethnography has understood many lessons, including the ones of self-representation, the importance of performance (of all parties involved, and with all parties involved being able to choose the rules of the game, not having to adapt to a scheme decided by the ethnographer, in polyphonic ways, with a number of different voices, evenly distributed between the ethnographers and the people, from their own point of view).

In the Digital Age, the age of Communication, Information and Knowledge, the possibility to capture, express, observe, visualize and understand the patterns for behaviour, emotion, opinion, expression, movement and more, potentially for hundreds of millions of people at a time, has brought the term “ethnography” in the spotlight for both academic and popular crowds.

This is also among the results of the rise of the creative classes, among the leading driving forces for economic development of post-industrial cities. The Creative Class is constantly engaged in a wide variety of design related processes for which certain domains of ethnographic research are of fundamental interest, both at the direct (observation and understanding of user bases)  and meta (understanding of the Creative Class itself) levels.

Also of importance is the need to understand the ways in which the logics of entertainment, in the age of the prosumer can drift towards the logics of self-colonialism: the prosumer often becomes a consumer that consumes itself through acts of creative production whose results contribute to the benefit of large operators, who provide the expressive frameworks and schemes, and who are the only ones able to intercept, harvest, understand, interpret and represent the value being produced.

This, in many cases, results in a state of self-colonialization, in which prosumers act within a set of diverse boundaries (perceptive, identity, cognitive, economic, service) which are perceived as performative public spaces, but which are not, and whose benefits mainly go to the advantage of large operators.

In this frame, we can conceptualise a scenario which is more sustainable, clear, open and free by introducing a series of concepts which refer to ecosystemic logics, which are more polyphonically performative, and which are based on novel definitions of value and on a use of knowledge sharing tools and practices which is more aware and which does not re-enact colonialist logics and, instead, focuses on the possibility and value for self expression, representation and performance, and on the multiple types of economies which can be generated from this.

Human Ecosystems & Ubiquitous Knowledge Ecosystems

We want to address this scenario starting from the opportunities offered by the possibility to study micro-histories, and from the importance of understanding communication, information and knowledge flows in cities.

Micro-history, to leverage the driver of the well-being of any ecosystem: its biodiversity (cultural biodiversity, in this case).

Communication, information and knowledge flows, to be able to perform Digital Urban Acupuncture: a form of relational intervention whose aim is to identify these flows and their interruptions, to discover those localised pressure points which can be engaged to establish new dynamics, create bridges and, possibly most important of all, to enable the emergence of a Communication, Information and Knowledge Commons: a perceivable, accessible, usable environment which is inclusive and free, thus being able to promote the rise of a variety of different, resilient economies.

Through the Human Ecosystems (here, as well, on Art is Open Source) project we have described and implemented a series of open approaches, methodologies, tools and practices whose intent is to enable people, citizens, organisations, administrations and companies to freely observe, use and perform the relational ecosystems of entire territories (wether they are geographic, topic-based, networked…) from the points of view of  emotions, relations, issues, interactions, communication, information and knowledge. This is a radical approach in which the logics of consensus are replaced by the ones of ecosystemic co-existence.

These dynamics integrate the discourse about the possibility to design a Near Future Education scenario (the Near Future Education Lab is also here on the P2P Foundation Wiki , and here are some of the results of a recent global event: http://www.artisopensource.net/network/artisopensource/2014/06/13/summary-of-the-planetary-event-for-the-future-of-education/ ), in which an Ubiquitous Knowledge / Information / Communication Ecosystem forms a Commons which can be used in peer-to-peer modalities to enable novel inclusive, free, mutualistic, sustainable scenarios, developing new economic models and opportunities. In this article we will describe the methodology through which we are defining the concept of P2P Ethnography.

P2P Ethnography, as Ethnography, can be defined as a qualitative research design aimed at exploring cultural phenomena. Different from Ethnography, its aim is not to produce field studies or case reports, but to establish continuously available, accessible, participatory, performative and collaborative processes which allow gaining understandings about the knowledge and the systems of meanings in the lives of a social group, and its interactions with other ones.

P2P Ethnography represents a participatory, performative approach, in which research and understanding require gaining awareness of one’s position within the relational ecosystem (from cultural, emotional, aesthetic, perceptive, cognitive points of view) of the observed social group, and to establish or modify relations and interconnections both within the group, outside of it, and in-between, in fluid, dynamic, possibilistic ways.

P2P Ethnography requires the definition of the concept of Ubiquitous Commons: the availability and accessibility of shared, usable Knowledge, Information and Data Commons which are ubiquitous both in their spatial dissemination and in their capacity to co-exist throughout cultures, divides, media. A protocol for a new definition of Public Space in the Age of Communication, Information and Knowledge.

The Methodology

This, below, is a visual overview of the proposed methodology (click on the image for a larger version):

P2P Ethnography and Ubiquitous Commons

P2P Ethnography and Ubiquitous Commons

As described above, the methodology is laid out as a series of subsequent stages.

The first one, described as “points of view“, is dedicated to the creation of a series of toolkits, methodologies, approaches and protocols using which multiple public points of view can be expressed, performed, captured, transmitted and, in general, observed and used and put together, interconnected.

The second one, described as “toolkits” regards, as the name suggests, the creation of a series of toolkits (and the methodologies for creating such toolkits) to collect multiple points of view, as emerged from the previous stage, represent them (with special care for the possibilities and opportunities of self-representation), understand them and interconnect them, creating new relations in the ecosystem.

The third stage, named “interpretation” describes the methods for acting onto/into the ecosystem through practice, visualisation and performance.

The fourth stage, titled “new politics“, describes a new political scenario, which acts using the ecosystemic logics of co-existence, in which to act politically describes the act of positioning oneself within the ecosystem and in the creation of a series of relations and connections.

The last stage describes the use of the concept of Ubiquitous Commons in this scheme.

Points of View: polyphonic expression, methodological stupor and interconnections

The first stage is dedicated to the expression of the multiple points of view which compose the Human Ecosystem: its cultural biodiversity.

This can be done in multiple ways, which can be combined together: they can be collected from social networks, harvested through interactive systems or opportunities for performance and self-expression and representation, or they can even be the object of education processes through which people understand how to create their own forms of expression and representation in ways which are suitable for inclusion in the Human Ecosystem.

This can be imagined as the Internet: you can use an interactive system, a social network or some social media service to express yourself. But you can also understand how the Internet works to create your own way of expression and representation which uses it, as long as it is possible to transmit it over its protocols.

The prototype protocol which we have imagined is fairly simple in its base version, and it can be expanded as needed.

It is composed of four main parts:

  • perceived organizational models
  • communication / information / knowledge
  • missed opportunities
  • knowledge sharing

For example, we have created a small software using Processing which can visualize these elements using a very basic data structure (implemented through a CSV file) which captures all of these relations. (shown in the image below;  full source code and example data available here for download ).

an example human ecosystem visualization tool

an example human ecosystem visualization tool

Perceived Organizational Models

Who interacts with who? Who is responsible for what? Who is related with who?

perceived organizational model

perceived organizational model

The first objective is to try to understand, from a certain point of view, what is the organizational model of the social group. Points of view can be of individuals, groups, organizations, administrations. Of course, they can vary a lot, and it becomes interesting to overlay them and compare them, to identify discrepancies and differences in perception.

Communication / Information / Knowledge

communication information knowledge model

communication information knowledge model

Who do I communicate with? Who delivers me information and knowledge? To who do I deliver information and knowledge? Where does the information and knowledge that is delivered to me come from? Where is it headed? Am I the man-in-the-middle for information and knowledge of some sort? What are the knowledge references which I use? Are they human? Websites? Texts? Oral? What knowledge do I produce? Are these types of flows unidirectional, bidirectional, a-directional?

These are very interesting models which can be harvested from the actual facts (for example observing social networks) and from the perception of individuals and organizations.

When layered and compared, they can show the origins of information bits and types, their localization within social groups, the sources of knowledge and their re/production. And, in general, they can show how aware the members of the ecosystem are about their roles and scope.

On top of that, they can be compared to the perceived organizational models to understand the strategies and tactics according to which information and knowledge flow in the ecosystem, and where/when/how they are redundant, replicated, interrupted, broken, misled etcetera.

Missed Opportunities

Missed Opportunities Model

Missed Opportunities Model

What interaction/information/knowledge would I like to have? What would I need? Who has this information or knowledge? How/when/where would I like to have it? Through a person, a service, an app, a website, a book, a sign?

This type of model is extremely useful in establishing bridges using information and knowledge which are present in the ecosystem, and to create new ones, by creating opportunities for interaction, communication, information and knowledge which are not currently found in the ecosystem.

It also allows to gain better understandings about the awareness of the possibilities and opportunities which can be generated through the presence and transmission of communication, information and knowledge in a certain ecosystem, and its impacts on the types of economies and dynamics which can be created, for example through a museum, an art exhibit, a cinema, a library, a research center, a laboratory, a musical workshop, or by bringing back traditions and cultures under the form of new jobs, restaurants, education processes, and more.

Knowledge Sharing

knowledge sharing model

knowledge sharing model

What knowledge do I produce? Do I plan to share it, transmit it or make it available/accessible/usable in some way? Using which tools, technologies, media? Dedicated to whom? Interoperable with what? Within which knowledge ecosystems?

This can be among the most surprising models to try to understand. Mostly because the desire and attitude towards producing knowledge is not often matched by the awareness about the efforts which are needed to make that same knowledge available, accessible, usable and interoperable with other sources. This is often one of the largest problems with innovation processes.

Understanding these kinds of perceptions, and the ways in which people and organizations do (or do not) dedicate thoughts and resources to sharing their knowledge can bring into the ecosystems powerful effects: opportunities for the creation of jobs, services, collaborations, interactions, networks and more.

Also, it often happens that people and organizations are not aware about the knowledge which they produce, and of its potential value.

For example, this is among the things we experienced while participating to XY Lab. While the importance of storytelling was very clear (the need to tell the story of what happened in the laboratory), the notion of the fundamental importance of how to share the knowledge that was generated from the lab was not clear at all, at direct (what knowledge was produced in the various projects which took place in the lab?) and meta (what knowledge was generated in creating the lab?) levels.

Toolkits: polyphonic understanding, micro histories, third infoscapes

The first stage is mostly dedicated to describing a methodology to enable capturing the expressions coming from multiple points of view, and to map this methodology onto a protocol, so that the harvesting process can be performed through social networks, interviews, surveys, but also and most important through self-expressive and self-representational processes, in which individuals and organizations establish their own form for expression and representation (and the rules-of-the-game that go with it) and they use them to produce their own representation, in ways that are interoperable with the rest of the observed ecosystem.

This stage, the second, aims at creating readability in the ecosystem.

While stories and histories can be very readable, micro-histories are not. Micro histories are polyphonic and even dissonant. They include conflict (and, in fact, it is one of their fundamental characteristics) and do not focus on the dynamics of consensus (even multiple simultaneous consensus) but, rather, on the ones of co-existence and diasporas.

From the simultaneous co-existence of strategies and tactics (from De Certeau’s framework) derives the possibility that each time, space, context, scenario or situation can (and does) have multiple meanings, according to which set of eyes you look through, different perceived softwares and hardwares: everyone potentially and continuously re-programs everything else.

This is the Third Space, described in anthropologic terms by Homi K. Bhabha, and in sociological terms by Edward Soja. Sociocultural approaches are concerned with the “… constitutive role of culture in mind, i.e., on how mind develops by incorporating the community’s shared artifacts accumulated over generations”. Bhabha applies socioculturalism directly to the postcolonial condition, where there are, “… unequal and uneven forces of cultural representation”. It is a transgressive space for self-expression and self-representation. Third Space Theory suggests that policies of remediation based in models of the Other are likely to be inadequate: an inclusive space/time/context is needed.

Based on the idea of the Third Space, (and its many impacts, such as the Third Landscape, the Third Generation City, the Third Paradise…) we form the idea of the Third Infoscape: the inclusive, possibilistic space of communication, information and knowledge, not based of the concept of Otherness, but on the idea of a multitude of co-existing self-expressions and self-representations. A radically biodiverse information landscape, which finds its value in its biodiversity.

As in the third space, strategies and tactics co-exist in the Third Infoscape, meaning the more structured, administrative, statistical data (the ones coming from administrations, organizations and bureaucracies, for example), and the more emergent ones relative to people’s expressions, emotions, and points of view. They can co-exist thanks to recipes, assemblages of ingredients and procedures through which individuals (be them persons or organizations) can describe their point of view onto the world. Recipes are the base onto which the different economies of the Third Infoscape are founded: reputation, attention and networked economies which are mutualistic, meaning that recipes are in a constant peer-to-peer evaluation process through which other subjects of the ecosystem describe their perceived importance for the well-being of the ecosystem itself.

These evaluation processes can assume multiple forms, such as visualisations, interactive systems, knowledge sharing processes and performative acts, through which recipes can be experienced, remixed and recombined to form new knowledge that takes part to the ecosystem.

Third Infoscape

Third Infoscape

The Human Ecosystems project, for example, can be positioned at this stage: a toolkit composed from software, methodologies and interoperable protocols at cultural, technological and educational levels, which are intended to create a Third-Infoscape-aware environment.

Interpretation: performance, interconnection

Digital Urban Acupuncture is the main methodology for this stage.

As its architectural, analog counterpart, it is a performative practice aiming at gaining better understandings about the communication, information and knowledge flows in the observed ecosystem, and their interruptions and blocks, in order to re-create them or to establish new ones.

Digital Urban Acupuncture is Urban Acupuncture in the age of ubiquitous media.

Digital Urban Acupuncture

Digital Urban Acupuncture

Multiple (potentially all) subjects of the ecosystem can gain understandings about the relational networks which are present in it – from the point of view of topics, approaches, emotions, opinions, interconnections, cultures… –, and they can position themselves in it, find interesting pressure points, establishing relations, bridges, conversations, within the ecosystem and/or interconnecting nodes of the ecosystem to other ones, bringing them to all effects inside it, nourishing interaction, communication, information and knowledge flows, to create opportunities, possibilities and energy: an ubiquitous, performative, inclusive and possibilistic landscape, composed by fragments of interconnected shared knowledge and information.

Digital Urban Acupuncture can be performed in a variety of ways, including education processes, practices, performances, meetings, physical and digital gatherings, participatory decision making processes, shared policy-making activities, actions, and by creating cooperatives, consortiums, citizen groups and more.

New Politics: the roles revolution

This scenario describes a new form of politics, which is participatory, ecosystemic and interconnective.

“The theoretical recognition of the split-space of enunciation may open the way to conceptualising an international culture, based not on the exoticism of multiculturalism or the diversity of cultures, but on the inscription and articulation of culture’s hybridity. It is the inbetween space that carries the burden of the meaning of culture, and by exploring this Third Space, we may elude the politics of polarity and emerge as the others of our selves.”
Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture

In this form of politics the first step is to position ourselves in the Human Ecosystems, and to understand the diverse cultures which are part of it, according to the logics of interconnection, co-existence and inclusiveness, in which cultural biodiversity is a value which forms the resilience of the ecosystem.

This is a revolution of the roles of politics.

It is not, anymore, a politics based on delegation and on representation, but one which is based on participation, self-representation and mutuality.

In this scenario, the roles of governments, administrations, organizations and enterprises radically change, becoming the enzymes, the facilitators, the enablers and, sometimes, even the certificators of these ecosystemic logics.

Quoting from Bhabha once again:

Terms of cultural engagement, whether antagonistic or affiliative, are produced performatively. The representation of difference must not be hastily read as the reflection of pre-given ethnic or cultural traits set in the fixed tablet of tradition. The social articulation of difference, from the minority perspective, is a complex, on-going negotiation that seeks to authorize cultural hybridities that emerge in moments of historical transformation.

It is in this sense that the boundary becomes the place from which something begins its presencing in a movement not dissimilar to the ambulant, ambivalent articulation of the beyond that I have drawn out: ‘Always and ever differently the bridge escorts the lingering and hastening ways of men to and fro, so that they may get to other banks….The bridge gathers as a passage that crosses.’

This model of liminality engages culture productively in that it enables a way of rethinking “the realm of the beyond”.

And yet Bhabha’s model also introduces a number of potentially serious problems in its translation to the complicated process of collective social transformation. That is, Bhabha’s formulation of an exilic, liminal space between (rather than supportive of) national constituencies is problematic in that it fails to engage the material conditions of the colonized Third World. Does Bhabha’s liminal space itself become a privileged, textual, discursive space accessible only to academic intellectuals?

From our point of view, these sets of problems and issues can only be confronted by renovating the roles of governments and administrations – by introducing the cultures and understandings of ecosystems and of their models for well-being, based on diversity and hybridity – and making tools and methodologies such as Human Ecosystems (and the many more which we hope will come) strategic instruments to promote techniques such as Digital Urban Acupuncture: a performative, participatory P2P Ethnography, beyond colonialism and self-colonialism, such as in the post-industrial age.

Ubiquitous Commons: a new Public Space

In the end, we need to stress a key requisite for all this scenario to happen.

In the age of digital networks, the concepts of Private and Public Spaces  have radically changed.

On one side, the ubiquitous presence of interconnected devices (from smartphones, to sensors, security cameras and drones, to the ubiquitous Internet of Things) has transformed the possibility to capture data and information about people’s lives, expressions, relations, opinions, collaborations, and more.

This has gone as far as to enter a sub-conscious level: we don’t know (and we don’t have the possibility to know) what information we’re sharing, how it will be used, who will have access to it and more.

Spaces which make all possible efforts to mimic Public Spaces and Private Spaces (those spaces for which we have gained a good understanding, and in which we are sufficiently confident and sure about the privateness/publicness of our data and information) are, in reality, Privatized Spaces which we can access not for free, but by paying with our personal data, our images, texts, videos, messages, comments.

Our legitimate expectation for privacy/publicness is broken, in obscure, opaque, illegible way.

On the other side, the wide movement for Open Data has opened up the perception of the importance (for freedoms, economies, citizen rights…) about the transparency, availability, accessibility and usability of data and information coming from Public Administrations (and, hopefully, also from companies and enterprises).

What Open Data movements still have not managed to do is to work on the dimensions which are ecosystemic and based on desire.

In this time, data and information (wether it is collected on social networks, sensors, biometrics, cameras, drones…) has become a matter of identity and self-representation, not only about statistics and commerce: it expresses the cultural differences in our human ecosystems, not only the levels of pollution or the most suitable market segment for selling a certain pair of shoes.

It is a commons: and as a commons it should be collectively preserved, accessed, used, desired, interpreted, performed.

This is, sadly, not the situation we have now: data and information of these kinds are in the hands of political and economic subjects who harvest, use and expose it according to logics which are limited, opaque and illegible. Facebook has our data. The NSA has our data. Coca-Cola can buy it. We, the citizens, are the only ones who don’t have it, and who cannot use it to create a better human ecosystem, by performing it.

This is the reason why, from our point of view, all of the scenario can be enabled only by creating a new type of Commons, which we’re calling Ubiquitous Commons: a communication, information and knowledge commons in the age of ubiquitous communication.

A model of relations in Human Ecosystems: Relational Ecosystems

We just published an article on Human Ecosystems in which we describe the ways in which we can model the relationships in the Relational Ecosystems of cities.

The article is titled:

Relations in the Human Ecosystems: Cultures, Communities, Roles and Emergence

and you can read it here: http://human-ecosystems.com/home/relations-in-the-human-ecosystems-cultures-communities-roles-and-emergence/

It is interesting to use these models to gain understandings about how people relate and interact, describing people’s roles in these interactions.

These descriptions, of course, have variations through time and contexts. People participate to different communities and cultures at the same time, with broader or tighter scopes, their roles within them changing all the time, as well as their level of engagement and the layouts and configuration of their participation.

In the article we explore the basics of how we interpret relations in the Human Ecosystems, and use the assumptions to describe various roles which people commonly represent in the Relational Ecosystem: the Expert, the Hub, the Influencer, the Amplifier and the Bridge.

All of these roles allow us to understand how information and knowledge flow across the Relational Ecosystem of cities.

the Influencer

the Influencer

 

Borges, Welles, Baudrillard, Ballard, Dick and Caronia: Creating Futures

After the Near Future Design workshop held at the Wired NextFest in Milan: 8 hours, 48 people, 5 Near Future Design concepts produced on the theme of Telepathy.

You can see some of the results in the Near Future Design Facebook Group, where you will also be able to get to know the people who joined us in the workshop and all the others, including our wonderful students from ISIA Design School in Florence, who have presented the first book about Near Future Design published in Italy.

Workshop Near Future Design

Workshop Near Future Design

We started off with an introduction about our vision about what is and can be Near Future Design, merging multiple practices and disciplines – across ethnography, technological studies, design fiction, transmedia storytelling and more – to

  1. gain better understanding of the current State of the Arts & Technologies and of the emerging Curious Rituals and Strange Now, recurring patterns of human behaviours which are happening, but for which we don’t yet have clear social codes and understandings
  2. unite these understandings to form a series of Future Maps, maps of possible futures which can show not only futures which are technically and technologically possible, but also in synch with the transformation of human beings, as described through the Curious Rituals and Strange Nows
  3. use the Future Maps to describe concepts for possible products, services, processes, interactions and practices which are likely to emerge in the near future
  4. design these products/services/processes/practices through Design Fiction, creating pre-totypes, early prototypes which not only include the prototypal implementation of these objects and services, but also of their diegetic character and characteristics, their being suggestive and scenographic, their ability to suggest the possible emergence of the practices and processes connected to their existence – be them positive, problematic, or in-between, across social, political and anthropological scenarios – and, as a consequence, to give shape new languages, codes and imaginaries which are able to transform our possibility to imagine and create new futures, opportunities and possibilities
  5. use the Design Fictions in a World Building process, using Transmedia Storytelling, to design the world in which these pre-totypes might come into existence, trying to give answers to questions like “what would be the world like, if this product/service/process/practice would actually exist?” and “what would be in this world?”, “how would human interactions, relations, knowledge and understanding of the world be transformed?”
  6. use the Transmedia Storytelling to create the product/service/process/practice’s manifestations in this possible future world, in cities, urban environments, online, offline, in advertising, human interactions and across a variety of different, coordinated media, to create an immersive experience, in which the design becomes a simulacrum, a state of suspended disbelief in which it is impossible (or, at least, difficult) to understand wether the object is fake or real, thus enabling people to actually being inclined to adopt the new languages, codes and imaginaries emerging from its (possible) existence, and use them to construct and express their own vision on the world, including this new possibility
  7. observe these resulting forms of human expression to gain better understandings of the reactions, to go beyond the idea of technically/technologically possible futures, and to understand the expression of desirable, preferable futures.
the Near Future Design process

the Near Future Design process

At the end of the workshop we joined Bruce Sterling in a discussion about the importance of performing such processes, and about the radical transformation and addition to the role of Design which they represent: you can find a description of the talk here, on Wired (in Italian).

During the talk, we selected a series of quotes from a series of writers, philosophers and movie directors, to highlight the social, political and philosophical implications of the creation of Near Future Designs, and on the possibility to create and use new codes, languages and imaginaries to build our world and futures, through expression, communication and performance.

Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges

“The people who write novels have to take the infinite reality and make it finite, give it an order. A novel has a beginning and an end: for this it is a finite world. The tale, instead, is the only infinite literary genre. A good tale is a story which does not have a beginning and end. To describe the infinite, you sketch a trace of it, which is also infinite. A tale is a trace of infinite.” – Jorge Luis Borges

We used Borges’ quote to describe the necessity to create open narratives, the importance of the need to avoid describing complete, prepared, pre-determined futures, to enable people’s possibility to create their own futures. The question “what comes next?” can be an opportunity for performance, for the creation of our own future, the way we desire and prefer it. Too often it is an act of passive consumption: someone telling you “this is the future”, and you adopting it.

The library of Babel

The library of Babel

The Library of Babel is an hallucinatory universe composed by a spatially infinite library made from hexagonal halls, which chaotically collects all of the possible books of 410 pages, in which are all the possible permutations and combinations of letters and numbers.

 

In the library, all the possible books of 410 pages are present. Therefore it is present the Book of Truth, all of its variants including its opposite, and human beings do not have any way to distinguish one from the other:

 

« Starting from this incontrovertible premises, he decided that the Library is total, and that its shelves record all the possible combinations of the 25 alphabetical signs, all that we can express, in all languages. Everything: the detailed story of the future, the autobiographies of the archangels, the truthful catalogue of the Library, thousands and thousands of false catalogues, the demonstration of the falsity of all these catalogues, the demonstration of the falsity of the true catalogue [...] the translation of each book in all languages, the interpolation of each book in all of the other ones. »
– Jorge Luis Borges

This piece from the Library of Babel was used to allude to the need for our active participation to the description of the future, among the infinite possible ones. While the futures are infinite, many do not make any sense, multiple are dangerous for us, or in opposition to our desires, expectations and ambitions, and so on. From all of them we can potentially learn something, develop new visions, imaginations, ideas, desires, languages and codes. We cal use all of these to create new realities, new codes, and to enact them in performance, with our daily lives.

Orson Welles

Orson Welles

Once, a friend of a friend showed Picasso a Picasso. “No, it is fake”, answered the painter. The same friend got hold of another presumed Picasso, and Picasso said that also this was a fake. The friend took another one, but this was fake as well, said Picasso. “But, Pablo”, said the friend, “I have seen you paint this with my own eyes.” “I can paint a fake Picasso just like anybody else”, replied Picasso.

– Orson Welles

This quote by Orson Welles points out the problematic aspect of deciding “what is real”. Reality is always an interpretation, originating from cultural, political, social and subjective elements. Reality is a code and a space, and multiple of them exist at the same time, built through language and practice (performance). By questioning reality we can enter a state of openness to possibility, in which we can perform reality, creating new ones, constructively (Picasso painting the fake Picasso).

Jean Baudrillard

Jean Baudrillard

Go and organize a fake hold up. Be sure to check that your weapons are harmless, and take the most trustworthy hostage, so that no life is in danger (otherwise you risk committing an offence). Demand ransom, and arrange it so that the operation creates the greatest commotion possible. In brief, stay close to the “truth”, so as to test the reaction of the apparatus to a perfect simulation. But you won’t succeed: the web of artificial signs will be inextricably mixed up with real elements (a police officer will really shoot on sight; a bank customer will faint and die of a heart attack; they will really turn the phoney ransom over to you). In brief, you will unwittingly find yourself immediately in the real, one of whose functions is precisely to devour every attempt at simulation, to reduce everything to some reality: that’s exactly how the established order is, well before institutions and justice come into play.

– Jean Baudrillard

This quote from Baudrillard describes the relation of “fake” and simulation with reality. “Fake” is not “not real”, it is another real, which interweaves itself with the consensual reality, creating new spaces of perception, cognition and imagination. It defines new possibles, new possible realities, which will be interpreted by human beings and by societies, who will react and perform accordingly. Fake is real.

J.G. Ballard

J.G. Ballard

Everything is becoming science fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century.
– J.G. Ballard

This quote from J.G. Ballard explains the role of Science Fiction within our societies. Science Fiction as a probe, as an exploratory performance into possibility, into possible worlds, to open them up for discussion, expression, critique and enactment. A sensor for “the possible”. We believe that the same can be said for Art.

Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick

If you think this universe is bad, you should see the other ones.

– Philip K. Dick

This quote from Dick describes the possibility to take into account a plurality of different futures, and the critical aspects of this consideration, which opens up not only the opportunity of understanding, describing and designing (for) them, but also highlights the importance of embracing active modalities to describe our desired, preferred futures, and to enact them through the performance of our daily lives.

Antonio Caronia

Antonio Caronia

It is not a random fact that futurology is developing in an historical moment such as the present one, in which we are witnessing a radical mutation of our planet.
Wether we call it “post-industrial society”, “information society”, “technotronic age”, “superindustrial society” or “third wave”, the progressive emergence of a new reality is clear: the situation of the planet is changing, in the ways in which we work, in our lifestyles, in the social and political conflicts, in economy and love, in the institutions and in the codes of behaviour.
Understanding this mutation is essential to direct it, to deal with the emergencies and with the effective risks of catastrophe (environmental, social, economic) which will not address themselves. The work on the understanding and forecasting of the future seems essential to adequately confront with all of these issues. At the condition which this work does not generate a caste of super-technicians who assume for themselves the right to decide – alone or together with the bureaucracies which govern us – everyone’s destiny.
On the direction of this destiny the last word pertains to the people: there must be no doubt about this.
–Antonio Caronia

 

The presentation can be seen on Slideshare:

Transmedia Design

Fake and real. Simulacra and simulation.

Go and organize a fake hold up. Be sure to check that your weapons are harmless, and take the most trustworthy hostage, so that no life is in danger (otherwise you risk committing an offence). Demand ransom, and arrange it so that the operation creates the greatest commotion possible. In brief, stay close to the “truth”, so as to test the reaction of the apparatus to a perfect simulation. But you won’t succeed: the web of art)ficial signs will be inextricably mixed up with real elements (a police officer will really shoot on sight; a bank customer will faint and die of a heart attack; they will really turn the phoney ransom over to you). In brief, you will unwittingly find yourself immediately in the real, one of whose functions is precisely to devour every attempt at simulation, to reduce everything to some reality: that’s exactly how the established order is, well before institutions and justice come into play.

This quote from Baudrillard’sSimulacra and Simulation” allows us to understand very precisely simulation’s role in human society and perception.

In the media environment in which we are constantly immersed, people constantly interpret what they experience using signs, signals and clues which are real, fake, simulated, relevant, unrelated…

Going back to Baudrillard:

Thus all hold ups, hijacks and the like are now as it were simulation hold ups, in the sense that they are inscribed in advance in the decoding and orchestration rituals of the media, anticipated in their mode of presentation and possible consequences.

This observation describes what is called Hyperrealism. “More than real “. More than real because, to an extent, the “real” depends from what media show about it, from how they show it.

If I think of a holdup: although I have never really experienced one, I know how it goes, how it unfolds, how it develops. Because I have already seen it, millions of times, in movies, television, youtube videos, images. I know what to expect, what happens.

a Bank Robbery

a Bank Robbery

If I close my eyes, and think “bank robbery”, I will see images, hear sounds, imagine emotions, fears, excitement, the adrenaline rushes of all the participants involved: the bank robber, the police man, the hostage, the clerk.

I don’t need to actually be in a bank hold up because, through media of multiple types, I have been there a million times.

In our contemporary world, things become even more complex.

Invisible cities, by Christian Marc Schmidt and Liangjie Xia

Invisible cities, by Christian Marc Schmidt and Liangjie Xia

In each instant, we are constantly immersed in a multitude of flows of information and communication: the things we see, the signs and signals, the displays which we’re surrounded from, the advertisements, the things we see with the corners of our field of vision, people, their gestures, dress-codes and the ways in which we interpret them, sounds. And our smartphones.

Think about arriving in a city for the first time. You’ve never been there before. Do it.

which city is this

which city is this?

Only a few years ago, when this happened, you really did not know much about the city: maybe you had a couple of addresses (of your hotel and a restaurant which a friend advised you to visit), you could have seen a couple of postcards or pictures, you could have read a guide… not much.

Now, everything has changed.

When you arrive in a city for the first time in your life, you have already seen it: on Google Maps, or even Streetview. You have seen pictures, read reviews, gathered opinions and experiences on TripAdvisor, asked around on Facebook, and maybe even found a few friends to meet there. You might even be couch surfing in someone’s home. Maybe you already know that a certain neighbourhood in the city is dangerous, or interesting, or full of artists, or stores.

Let’s push it: maybe you went to that city because of something you read/saw online, in the first place. Something online made you change our behaviour, or take a certain decision. If you had read something different, maybe you would have gone to a different city.

Again: you could imagine that city, have feelings for it, even without having actually been there. Simulated. And, thus, real.

That city, thus, is not only made from buildings, streets, shops, squares, houses, parks and other physical objects.

It is built from a variety of different media. Some of them very physical, like concrete, wood, glass, asphalt. Some of them immaterial, like digital information, images, videos, text, emotions, experiences, data.

All these meda entangle with each other and with our perception, forming the way in which we perceive reality.

augmented city

augmented city

The landscape is now composed by trees, buildings and digital information.

We can use the “traditional” senses to perceive all of them: sight, hearing, tactility, smell, taste.

Other, new, senses add up to the “traditional” ones, or modified senses, which we learned to use in more recent times. We do not have 5 (or 6) senses, but a higher number of them.

For example the sense of proprioception, which is among the senses which has undergone massive transformation in recent times: the feeling of being in a certain place. Where are we when we are non Skype, on Facebook, or while we look at Google Earth?  We are in a different, other, place, which is not where our physical body is, not at our friend’s house, not on the screen, but in-between, suspended, Other.

It is necessary, in our contemporary world, to understand how to deal with this and similar facts, with this dimension.

This is fundamental for Design.

a chair

a chair

Let’s imagine designing a chair.

When I design a chair, I’m not designing an object. I’m creating a story.

A story which is the result of the entanglement multiple elements, including the chair’s shapes, materials, structural properties.

lots of different chairs

lots of different chairs

But also of a series of other elements. What do I mean when I say or imagine a “chair”? What does someone with a different culture or background mean by it? What do I expect from a chair? What do I like, hate, fear, desire from it? Which chairs have I experienced, seen, wanted, worked with in my life? …

It is an intricate story, built from formal elements, cultural ones, experiential ones, affective ones, emotional ones, and so on. Regarding me, and also all the other people which this chair is for, or who will see the chair in the store and recognise it as a chair, feel desire, attraction, repulsion, fear, love, seduction, and other emotions, feelings and meanings for it.

This is, as we were saying, even more complex in the era of ubiquitous information, in which search engines (like the image above, which is obtained by performing an image search for chairs), social networks, websites, augmented realities and more add multiple other layers to this, generated by people, companies, organisations and more.

This is not a new thing.

It has always been there: objects (and products, services, ideas, narratives…) have been stories which people interpret using their own cultures, contexts, cues and backgrounds since the beginning of mankind.

Let’s think of an incipit:

I was alone, at sea

I was alone, at sea

“I was alone, at sea.”

If you close your eyes, and try to visualise this incipit, what is happening in it, what do you imagine?

Different people imagine different things.

Some will think of men, women. Some will thing about homes, rafts, yachts. Some will think about sadness, or meditative states, or fear, danger, or happiness and love.

What does this mean?

It means that we create the story ourselves, in our minds.

It means that a writer (or designer, or…) never has complete control of the story, of how different people perceive it, imagine it, experience it.

It means that we build the story ourselves in our minds by harvesting a series of clues which are disseminated across a variety of media. Clues which are relevant, irrelevant, collateral, coming from what the writer wrote (or the designer designed, or developer developed, or interface designer designed…) and filtered, changed, transformed according to what we know about the world, the things we have seen and experienced. Or from what we desire, expect, envision, prefer.

Or even shaped by what we have seen online, in the streets of our city, on a billboard, or with the tail of our eye somewhere, or by something we have overheard on the bus, casually listening to what other people were saying.

All this clues, the ones we use to create the story in our heads, are disseminated across a variety of media.

Henry Jenkins defines Transmedia as:

Transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.

In relation to design, we can use this definition as a starting point, to imagine Design as an act of World Building. Of creating Worlds instead of Objects.

What IF

What IF

If we do this, we would probably try to give answers to a series of “What if?” type questions.

What would be in the world if the object (product/service/application/artwork…) existed?

We know that cars exist not only for the existence of automobiles as physical objects.

We know that cars exist for a number of different reasons, possibly even more important that “cars” (as object) themselves (thing about, for example, if I don’t own a car: its other manifestations could be more important for me than the car itself in knowing about cars’ existence in the world).

Cars exist and we know it, also because we know that repair shops exist, insurance policies, parking tickets, parking lots, car advertisements, gas stations. There are people who publish pictures of their car and with their cars on social networks. There are accidents. There are people who desire certain cars. People who talk on the phone telling their friends that yesterday they ran out of gas and they had to leave the car in the middle of nowhere and walk home. There are prizes in which you win cars. There are cars lovers websites. And cars haters websites, for multiple reasons. There are car factories, and people who work in them. The same people who are on strike when the car factory in which they work shuts down because the production of cars has moved to China, or to some place else. There is the guy who invented the hydrogen car of the future. And many more manifestations of cars.

We know that cars exist because there are all of these things. And all these things exist because there are cars.

What would happen if we took away “cars” (as physical objects) and left all their other manifestations in place? With all probability, we would still think that cars exist.

In general, there are a number of transmedia manifestations of the “car” phenomenon. Which is not an “object”, but a Transmedia Narrative, a Simulacrum.

And, thus, let’s go back to the Simulacrum:

Simulacrum

Simulacrum

Designers (and artists, politicians, lawyers, and more and more professions) are transforming themselves, wether they realise it or not, into Transmedia Storytellers: professionals who are able to enact world-building processes by designing a Simulacrum through its coordinated manifestations across a variety of different media.

The objective of this type of actions, is twofold: to intervene on “reality” and to “loose control of the story, in controlled ways”.

First: to intervene on “reality”. On consensual reality, on the things and scenarios which we have learned to recognise as real, socially, culturally, psychologically, cognitively and more. To create a transmedia path in which the object (or product, service, law, concept, artwork…) becomes present in the world not only through its physical/digital presence, but also through the presence of its transmedia manifestations.

Not designing objects, but designing worlds.

This permits a powerful transition: to shift the perception of what is possible. By creating a World, instead of an object, we can provide the clues which allow people to believe in the possibility for this World (and for the object/service/artwork/law…) to exist.

And, second, to loose control of the story, in controlled ways.

This is, possibly, among the main opportunity for design in the Era of Knowledge, Information and Communication. The rise of Open Source, peer-to-peer production models, participatory and mutual economies and many more elements constitute evidence for this.

As described, we can use Transmedia Storytelling and World Building techniques to induce a state of Hyperreality. We can create Simulacra.

When this happens – when Hyperreality happens, when we design for Hyperreality – we do not create copies of reality, or their expansions or extensions. We create a new reality, a different one.

This allows us – as described by Deleuze – to establish a privileged position, which allows us to observe the phenomena of our world, and to open new spaces for their critical discussion.

By creating Hyperreality, we create languages and imaginaries, through the shift in perception of possibility: because we learn that something Other is possible, we acquire new language and new pieces of imagination.

And we can (and will) use them to express ourselves.

The Design becomes, thus, a platform for other people’s expression. It becomes a participatory performance.

This is of fundamental value, because through this modality people will not only able to express around their perception of possibility, but also and more importantly on the level of preferability, and of desirability. Expression not only on possible futures, but also of preferable, desirable ones.

From our point of view, this is an exceptional new role for Design and Designers.

 

Note: this post is the transcription of our contribution to the event on Transmedia Storytelling which was held at the MAXXI Museum in Rome.

The event is the result of the Master in Public & Exhibit Design we hold in La Sapienza University in Rome.

This year we collaborated with artist Maria Cristina Finucci on her Garbage Patch State project, by creating a complex Transmedia Narrative. Here below is the publication of the results of our work:

 

Human Ecosystems at ArtSci Salon in Toronto

The Human Ecosystems project is going to Toronto, at the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences for ArtSci Salon, to start the real-time observation of the city, and for a first workshop on real-time cities, ubiquitous information, commons and the new public spaces (and some information visualization and BigData, too).

Here below the info about the event, as it appeared on the ArtSci Salon blog post about Human Ecosystems:

We are very excited to invite you to the Canadian launch of Human Ecosystems, a collaborative project by Salvatore Iaconesi and Oriana Persico a.k.a. Artisopensource (AOS) (http://www.artisopensource.net/)

Salvatore and Oriana are visiting Toronto and will launch the project with a hands-on collaborative intervention.

Join us on Wednesday, Feb. 5 at 6:00 pm
this will be a hands on event, so bring your laptop!

Where:

the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences
222 College Street, Toronto

This is the perfect occasion to kick off Subtle Technologies 2014 theme on “Open Culture” to celebrate the ways artists and scientists are creating tools and techniques to harness the collective power, knowledge and creativity of the citizen.

About the Project:
Human Ecosystems is a family of real-time systems capturing information from social networks to visualize cities’ human geographies and affective flows. Human beings generate an enormous amount of public information during their daily lives to express their emotions, desires, visions and ideas. Using a set of technologies to map public communication flows on social networks in the city, this project reclaims a novel form of public space: the human infoscape. Human Ecosystems seeks to achieve new understanding of the ways in which different cultures express opinions, emotions and affect. Most importantly, it seeks to reveal how cities’ relational ecosystems are formed and which roles different people assume in their communities (influencers, hubs, experts, amplifiers, bridges among different communities etc…). Human Ecosystems has been launched in Rome (Italy) and S.Paulo (Brazil) producing accessible OpenData maps and visualizations that can be monitored in time and space, revealing the emergence of entirely different cities within the same city, their affective flows, their aggregations and diasporic streams.

Click Here for More info on the Human Ecosystems project
BIOS

Salvatore Iaconesi is an interaction designer, robotics engineer, artist, hacker. TED Fellow 2012 and Eisenhower Fellow since 2013. He currently teaches Interaction Design and cross-media practices at the Faculty of Architecture of the “La Sapienza” University of Rome, at ISIA Design Florence, at the Rome University of Fine Arts and at the IED Design institute.

Oriana Persico holds a degree in Communication Sciences, is an expert in participatory policies and digital inclusion. She is an artist and writer. She has worked together with national governments and the European Union to the creation of best practices, standards and researches in the areas of digital rights, social and technological innovation, Digital Business Ecosystems (DBE), practices for participation and knowledge sharing.