Thoughts on an interview with Ben Hammersley: I’m not sure I’ve won. Or what our politicians can learn from the Internet

Some weeks ago at The Conference, the annual conference on new media in Malmö, I had the opportunity to interview the British Internet technologist, innovator in residence at the Centre for creative and social technologies at Goldsmiths University of London, and keynote speaker Ben Hammersley. While the interview (and, consequently this blog post) was supposed to concern his book 64 Things You Need To Know Now for Then, we spent most of the time discussing the important lessons we can learn from the Internet. These thoughts stayed with me.

Then Saturday August 24th arrived. That day marked the culmination of months of personal dissillusion with Danish media and politics. Around this time a year ago, I’d sensed a change; new possibilities were in the air. The economic crisis had brought us together. People wanted change and were conjuring up new ideas and solutions for what appeared to be a broken system. Then, the Danish national election – I thought change was possible. But within just a couple of weeks I realised I’d been naive. If there was going to be a change, it was going to be for the worse. But more on that later. Back to my interview with Hammersley. And firstly…

“We’ve won!” he says

So congratulations to you and me. We, the geeks, were told that working with the Internet wasn’t a real job, that we wouldn’t ‘win’. Now, we have taken over the world. Not the whole world of course. Your boss still has a say. And, unless you work in the creative digital arena, chances are high he or she doesn’t understand digital. Perhaps I’m generalising here, but more than once I’ve experienced my bosses gazing back at me with a blank stare when I’ve talked about how things work online. It turns out I’m not the only one.

“You basically have two groups of people,” says Hammersley. “You have the group that have embraced modern technology because they use it. And then you have the people who have not embraced and don’t use it. Unfortunately it turns out that an awful lot of the people running the world, belong to the group of people that doesn’t understand technology,” he says.

This is apparent to me in a number of different areas and lays the foundation for many fruitless discussions for example on copyright. Discussions that in my opinion rise because people don’t discuss from a common premise.

Consider Lord Mandelson’s reaction to the naked pictures of Prince Harry from that trip to Las Vegas. 

“There is a massive cultural gap,” explains Hammersley. “We live in an era where technology defines culture. There isn’t really a single thing in your life right now that hasn’t been touched by the Internet. Your entire culture, my entire culture, is mediated through digital technology.” So what does this mean for you and I?

First, we need translators

Even though we’ve ‘won’ – some may even say we rule the world – our government leaders don’t necessarily understand how the Internet and technology have changed the game. But they are the ones writing and passing laws that affect us. Sometimes their ignorance becomes apparent in their law making process, consider for example the EU’s plan to clean the Internet of terrorists. A plan that seems a bit idealistic when you consider the global scope of the web.

This cultural gap calls for a translation layer. Hammersley emphasised over and over again in his keynote talk that it is the duty of those who understand this new world, to teach others. He says, “It is our job. We won. We proved them wrong. We rule the world now. It is time to do something cool with that.”

Principles over plans

Both during his talk and in his book, Hammersley talks of Moore’s Law. Moore’s Law is a computing term which states that every 18 months a chip doubles its capacity. As a result, our ability to plan ahead has been compromised. This applies to politicians, city planners and architects as much as it does to other people. In his book, Hammersley says:

“Long term planning – across the generations – is something that human beings have never been very good at, but we urgently need to get better. It might also help if we could invest our excitement about the future in those technologies that imagine change as something constant and natural to be revelled in, rather that something that shoves an otherwise static society in a particular direction, or fixes it in a frozen moment of development.” Quote from the book.

How do we do that then? How can we plan for a future, in which our technical capabilities will double every year? It is not like the Internet and new technology made lawmaking and politics dispensable.

“We have to have a long discussion about what our principles are. An awful lot of the time we have swapped principles for plans. If you have got guiding principles, then, no matter what the future brings, you always know where you are going. Because it is easy to make those decisions. We can’t make plans because the rest of the world won’t agree with us. But we can have principles.”

There’s no substance in news

Principles, not plans. Hmm. Let me get back to August 24th. That was the day that the Danish Prime Minister chose to comment on her husband’s sexuality in connection with the ongoing tax case – short introduction to the case here.

Honestly, I’m not sure what to make of all this. In some respects this isn’t about the case and the news reporting on it. The substance in Danish politics has been replaced by personal scandals and discrediting. Most news outlets reported on this case – of course they would, it is their job to find the news and report it. But it is also their duty to take a stand and ask important questions like: what falls into the category of ‘news’? Is this relevant to the public? I feel like they’ve neglected that duty for a long time.

Media, politicians and the Internet

So what does the Danish media and politics have to do with Ben Hammersley and new technologies? When asked the most important message that he would send to policy makers and politicians, Hammersley answered: “Making a connection is easier than making a division. Modern politics are all based on dividing people. It doesn’t help. If you find yourself constantly fighting or starting fights rather than trying to make alliances and forming groups then you are doing it wrong. The great social change that the Internet has brought about is the ability for people to form groups. And the fact is that these groups do form across borders and across time for everybody’s benefit. People don’t form groups to fight other people. They form groups to support each other.”

And that is exactly what we do online. We contribute and produce content because we like to. Our content travels across borders and helps us make new friends based on our interests. The contrast with everyday politics couldn’t be any greater

“Politics at the moment are all about fighting each other. Not about supporting. So if there is one great thing that people need to take from the Internet it is that we want to collaborate. We want to feel part of a bigger thing and if you as a politician can do that for the good. Then you will be very successful and you will make the world a better place.”

My web literacy is high so perhaps I’ve won. But I don’t feel like a winner. I feel disrespected as a citizen and underestimated as a media consumer. My hope for the future is that we – the geeks – keep telling the stories of the Internet to the rest of the world and that the leaders of the world will start listening to our stories. Only then will things change for the better.

You can start by giving 64 Things You Need To Know Now for Then to your boss, you know, the one with the blank stare.

If you made it so far …

you might be interested in reading Ben Hammersleys speech to the IAAC

and you might also be interested in listening to why NPR Congressional Corresponden Andrea Seabrook left NPR – about how she got tired of reporting the lies of politicians. –> And I’m not going to take it anymore on On The Media

In the Future of Screens Everywhere

It almost looks boring. But at Malmö Centralstation not much is competing for you attention. And it is quite nice.

Information is everywhere today. You just have to enter a public space and there are messages competing for your attention. The session Public Computing and the Screens World at The Conference in Malmö featured some of the endless possibilities and dangers there are when every surface around you can be turned into a screen.

– Screens are no longer a scarce resource. We should start to design for that. We should start wasting pixels, says Venkatesh Rao, an independent consultant and blogger at Ribbonfarm.com.

He provocatively stated that a civilization is defined by the amounts that you can waste. This is inspired by the thoughts of American computer scientist Alan Kay, who claims that because digital storage is so cheap, we can afford to waste bits.

In Rao’s point this is applied to design. Because big screens are becoming more and more affordable, we can now begin to waste pixels.

It might seem very thought-provoking, but he clarified his point by comparing the Million Dollar Website to Google. The search page of Google is pretty much a blank screen with at search field. On the Million Dollar Website site, you have all these things competing for your attention.

And Venkatesh Rao’s point is that Google now is the largest advertising company and makes a lot more money than the Million Dollar Website.

– We like to focus on the interesting. That is how the brain is wired – to view scarce resources.

So in that sense, less is more.

Dan Gärdenfors, who is Senior Concept Designer at Research In Motion TAT talked about the possibilities of turning every surface into a screen. He showed examples of how the windows of a building were used to create a stunning light show.

With new technology, you can have transparent screens. This allows for emphasizing different layers in that transparency. Imagine yourself on a bus where the intelligent screen will pull your focus to different objects outside the bus.

It almost looks boring. But at Malmö Centralstation not much is competing for you attention. And it is quite nice.

In Dan Gärdenfors’ opinion, we need to regulate this. For example, there will be a lot of prospect in transparent screens for companies like JDDecaux who provide cities with bus shelters. However, if things continue to be unregulated, we could have a very undesirable competition for our attention.

– Nobody wants complete information overload.

Information has become abundant and it is almost impossible to move around public spaces without messages demanding your attention.

As augmented reality becomes more commonplace, this will no doubt turn into an issue – even though augmented reality layers can be turned on and off. In my opinion, we don’t need more information.

We need designers that understand that our brains are wired for scarce resources. I also think that we need some regulation for these things. There is absolutely no reason why we should end up with a public space that resembles the Million Dollar Website.

 

Venkatesh Rao put his thoughts in to this blog post.

Launching Your Own Satellite

Song Hojun is South Korean artist and he was a keynote speaker at The Conference in Malmö. He has been working on launching his own satellite since 2008. He talked a lot about the mistakes he has made during those years. But his talk was very inspiring.

He wanted to work with narratives and start discussions on art vs technology, amateur vs professional, and the individual vs institutions. The project is being done as open source.

You can read more about the project at opensat.cc and check out his other works at hhjjj.com

Den bedste teknologi er usynlig – Amber Case

– En rigtig god bog, som man fordyber sig i, er et usynligt interface. De bedste teknologier er dem, der er usynlige, sagde Amber Case på Media Evolution i Malmø.

Når vi ikke bemærker dem, og når brugervenligheden er så meget i top, at vi ikke tænker over det, så er teknologi bedst.

Amber Case er cyborg antropolog og beskæftiger sig med de måder, som mennesker og teknologi interagerer på, hvordan teknologi afbryder vores liv og forbedrer vores liv. Efter hendes keynote tog jeg en kort snak med hende.

Et af hendes arbejdsområder er usability og i sin keynote talte hun blandt andet om calm technology. Det er teknologi, som er der, når man har brug for den, og forsvinder, når man ikke har brug for det.

Hun forudser, at vi vil se meget mere til den slags teknologier i fremtiden. Det gælder også bedre interfaces. Hun nævnte bladrefunktionen i ebogslæsere, som et interface, der forhåbentlig vil blive forbedret over tid.

Modsætningen til at irriteres over det elendige og umulige design i mange ebogslæsere, er i følge Case, Flipboard. Det er et magasinlignende program til iPad, hvor brugeren er sin egen redaktør. I Flipboard hiver du dine favoritfeeds ind fra blogs, Facebook, Twitter og meget andet, hvorefter Flipboard sætter det op i fint magasinlayout for dig. Det er meget brugervenligt og lækkert, og Amber Case går så langt, som at kalde det superhuman fordi det empowers os. Det er os, der styrer programmet og magasinet og ikke omvendt.

Vi er alle cyborgs
Cyborg betyder, at der er sket en sammensmeltning af menneske og maskine. Og Amber Cases pointe er, at vi alle er cyborgs.

– Vi bruger teknologi som en udvidelse af os selv. Vi gemmer ting på teknologi uden for os selv, og bruger devices som vores hukommelse. Hvert element bliver til en del af vores hukommelse. Nu er det svære ikke at huske informationen, men hvor det er gemt henne. På den måde bliver vi til en slags digitale palæontologer, der skal grave vores hukommelse frem fra en email eller fra Google.

Vores devices bliver en forlængelse af os selv, og ligesom os, kan man ikke se på et device, hvor meget information der rent faktisk er indeni. For et device bliver ikke fysisk større, hvis man putter flere ting i dem. Derfor fylder det også uvirkelig meget plads, hvis man printer alt indhold i en computer ud. Og derfor oplever vi også en meget mærkelig form tab, hvis vi mister vores computer. For på den måde er den jo faktisk en del af os.

Vores devices som tamagotchi
Forlængelsen af os selv i vores devices betyder også, at vi hele tiden passer utrolig godt på dem. De bliver opdaterede og de bliver opladede.

I lighed med det forbundethed, som tamagotchifans havde med deres digitale kæledyr i slutningen af 1990’erne, er vi også forbundne med vores devices. Vi passer på vores devices og vi passer på vores sociale forbindelser, som vores device er bindeleddet til. Dengang i 1990’erne gik teenagepiger amok, hvis man tog deres tamagotchi fra dem, fordi de så ikke ville kunne passe ordentligt på deres kæledyr. I dag er det på samme måde grænseoverskridende, når læreren tager mobiltelefonen fra en teenager. For så vil hun ikke længere kunne passe på sine kontakter.

Vores andet jeg
I dag lærer vi at præsentere os selv online. Vi har et andet jeg, eller måske endda et nyt selv, som er digitalt. På samme måde, som vi selv går i bad og tager rent tøj på, har vores digitale jeg brug for at blive præsenteret ordenligt, opdateret og beskyttet.

Det er derfor heller ikke underligt, når mennesker tager antallet af likes personligt, eller måler det som personlig succes, når man kan skabe mange kommentarer på sine Facebook-opdateringer. Og det er heller ikke så mærkeligt, når man bliver en smule afhængig af rewards. Hver gang, du gør noget godt i Farmville, får du en reward. Det gør du ikke i det virkeligeheden. Det kan gøre det noget sjovere at spille Farmville, end at lave så mange andre ting.

Teknologien er moden
Udover at være cyborg antopolog er Amber Case også medstifter af startupfirmaet Geoloqi. Det er en platform for gps-baseret indhold. Oven i Geoloqi kan man bygge avancerede programmer. Det kan blandt andet være det program i Amber Cases mobiltelefon, der gør, at lyset tændes i hendes hjem, når hun kommer hjem.

– Jeg er meget interesseret i wearable og lokationsbaserede teknologier. De har begge taget 40-50 år at udvikle til det stadie, der er på nu. Nu er de modne til, at de kan bruges.

Det handler både om, at de to slags teknologier efterhånden er til at betale. Men det handler også om, at det er ved at være nemt at bruge dem.

Amber Case peger på, at i fremtiden vil vores mobiltelefoner være en fjernbetjening til vores virkelighed. Med dem vil vi være i stand til at skabe bedre ting. I fremtiden vil teknologierne være bedre indrettet til mennesker. Så det kan forhåbentlig være, at vi i fremtiden vil holde op med at skyde skylden på os selv, når vi ikke kan finde ud af at bruge teknologien og rette skylde mod teknologien i stedet, når tingene ikke er brugervenlige.

Ikke alt er et spil

Gamification har i lang tid en hypet størrelse, som handler om, hvordan man kan bruge spil i mange andre sammenhænge – til at blive klogere, til at ændre adfærd og til markedsføring.

Men til sessionen 100% Fun – Kids, Entertainment and What History Can Teach Us About the Future på Media Evolution – The Conference i Malmø slog Björn Jeffery på tromme for, at vi ændrer det ensidige fokus på games og i stedet fokuserer på toys. Han er grundlægger af et game studio og arbejder med, hvordan man kan lave digitalt legetøj til touch devices.

Han har kigget på, hvilke typer leg, der findes. Der er aktive lege (fysiske, udendørs og sport), fantasilege (dukker, rollespil), kreative lege (musik, mm), manipulerende lege (konstruktionslege, lego, mm) og læringslege (spil, bøger, mm). Efterfølgende har han kigget på, hvilke typer leg, der er tilstede i de spil, der findes i Appstores spilafdeling for børn. Næsten ingen spil handler om at skabe aktive lege og fantasilege, mens det er bedre, hvis man efterspørger lege, der er manipulerende og kreative. Den allerstørste del af spillene er lege, der handler om læring.

Det er voksne, der designer spil til børn. Og typen af voksnes leg er typisk – læring. Når vi har fri læser vi bøger, bliver klogere og leger i det hele tager sjældent på andre måder.

– Alt kan være et spil. Men måske skal alt ikke være et spil. Hvad hvis vi kan møde andre emotionelle behov gennem leg – og hvor det ikke kun handler om at have det sjovt og vinde, sagde Björn Jeffery.

Børn efterligner voksne i deres leg. Voksne designer leg og spil til børn. Men det er tankevækkende, at de digitale lege ikke i højere grad møder andre typer af leg, end dem de voksne foretrækker.

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