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Sensing Lightness

HighWire at Lancaster University has requested a series of six blog articles.

The Curiosity Bureau’s Partner Rebecca Taylor responds to the Narratives and Meta-Narratives seminars on Digital Innovation – its impact on the world, the economy and society.

Article 6: Digital Innovation Series

Currently, the most relevant question to me as a researcher in and for the Digital Economy is the one that people (the infamous technologists of the internet and of the worldwide web) asked in the 1980s - 'What kind of society will come out of the internet?'

Welcome to a Pandora’s box of far reaching and heavy consequences - are you curious enough to continue the journey with me?

Redefining Our Relationship With Technology

What is technology doing to society?' and, more importantly, vice versa - 'what is society doing to and with technology?' ...why is society placing expectation on technology? When technology is in the hands of the people, why are we looking to technology to make lighter our work and ease our pressures? Why are we rushing to omit people when what we really need to do is redefine our approach to technology?

Let us remind ourselves of what Langdon Winner said about the late 20th century “...a great many people have begun to realize that the key question is not how technology is constructed but how to come to terms with ways in which our technology-centered world might be reconstructed?” and what Jaron Lanier says in and of the 21st century 'we still need people just in different ways'.

Suddenly, the penny (of modernity) drops (in late or post-modernity) - let us reawaken our curiosity and redefine our relationship with technology.

And why?

On Lightness

The Curiosity Bureau is very happy to welcome a new Associate – Alex Taralezhkov. On Saturday Alex forwarded some tasty treats and what a deliciously refreshing and moreish read they were.

Taken from a series of six lectures Italo Calvino had compiled for Harvard in the 1980s I was particularly inspired by Calvino’s perspective on Lightness. His lecture series looks at the six ideal qualities of literature and I found Lightness significant given the heaviness endured throughout this undulating landscape of 'digital' or 'technological' innovation.

As a relative newbie, entering into the complex and weighty world of debates such as The Social Construction of Technology and Speculative Futures, I am becoming ever more conscious of the messages in Huxley's Brave New World (1932) and Ridley Scott's BladeRunner (1982) - both presenting provocative connotations of a world heavy, dark and sordid with technologically destructive tendencies.

And then we return to Calvino and Lightness… “Whenever humanity seems condemned to heaviness, I think I should fly like Perseus into a different space. I don’t mean escaping into dreams or the irrational. I mean that I have to change my approach, look at the world from a different perspective, with a different logic and with fresh methods of cognition and verification.”

Dependent on the perspective from which you view this, there are intensely heavy concepts wrapped up in the very statement of lightness. For if we grow curious of it, we can be quickly weighed down by its context, content and purpose. If we critique all that is possibly intended or not intended, interpreted or not interpreted, implicit or explicitly apparent, we can see nods to greek philosophy, a little airing of meta-cognition and the imagining of ‘space’.

Before I know it, just like a magpie, I have eyes bigger than my mind. I have over-indulged in a noisy space. Let me invite lightness back and look only to Calvino’s words for the feeling it first provided me.

Technology and 'The Digital'

Allow me to admit here that I have over the past 5 weeks perhaps confused the two – I will here attempt to rectify my understanding of Technology and ‘The Digital’.

Technology is the hardware, software and the firmware, it is the product, the system, the tangible design that manages content.

And now the separation becomes apparent - technology hosts 'the digital'. The Digital is the data, the 0 and 1s, the logic, the mass, the content.

This is where my thinking is at… for now at least.

Our society has a number of social settings in which we are studying this messy, heavy, dark matter - The Digital Data. Examples of this could be Intel's investment in the Smart Citizen initiative. We might consider ourselves saturated by information but when we see ourselves as artists of data, what then? What happens when we are redefining our relationship with technology as well as ‘the digital’?

A wonderful example of realising this relationship between people and data is the craft and design work of Nathalie Mieback who connects us to data through craft and meaning through seeing.

This image is the portable device for the Antarctic Explorer, Mieback's piece explores the transition from complete darkness in June to 24hour sunlight in October. Data translated include weather patterns ,temperature variations, barometric pressure, wind data, azimuth of the sun, sunrise in relation to cardinal directions, tides, moon phases, moonrise and sunrise. Every weave represents one hour over the period of 24hours.

Image courtesy of Natalie Miebach: Antarctic Explorer – Darkness to Lightness (2007)

Visual and physical representation of data and the experiences we encounter leads to some thought-provoking areas for The Curiosity Bureau.

Ongoing Stimulus

If I reflect back across the articles from the past five weeks there are a vast array of themes that deserve more time and attention. The Curiosity Bureau needs to be aware of this stimulation to and of our senses, and further explore how we are sensing technology and 'the digital'.

Article 1

  • Information Saturation

  • Seeking Meaning

Article 2

  • The Invention of Things

  • Imagining Electronic Devices

  • Social Capital

  • Technologically Curious Minds

Article 3

  • Speculative Futures

  • Curated Experiences

  • Hope and Repair

Article 4

  • The Resilients

  • Ratio of Connectedness - Digital:Physical

  • The Digital Divide

  • Ubiquitous Computing - Technology and the Abstract

  • Dialogical Perspectives

  • Sensory Curiosity & Common Sense

Article 5

  • Tech-no-hope to Tech-no-fear

  • Social Construction of Technology

  • Participation - [Physical] Networks and [Digital] Information Systems

Article 6

  • Redefining Our Relationship With Technology

  • On Lightness

  • Technology and ‘The Digital’

  • The Social Settings of Smart Citizens

I Sense... (a mini-meta-manifesto?)

It has been through this series of blog posts that I have now seen the opportunities in today's society to work with technology. Our curiosity must not stop in the physical or the digital. We must not rest in a world where one or the other exists, but where the two are interwoven and present. I believe the world needs to see digital through technology not because of digital being the result of technology. With this mindset comes hard (and often heavy) work in exercising our intelligence in doing what humans can do well - being curious of possibility. For when given time and space – we can think, act and be perceptive of our surroundings.

Our surroundings are messy and as Michael Polayni said of tacit knowledge 'we can know more than we can tell' and our sophisticated senses allow us to know. We have a messy, problematic past, present and future and it will be our ability to sense in the lightness, as well as in the darkness, that will remove the mystery and redefine our relationship with technology and 'the digital'.

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