Future Everything 2015 – What now for… Memory and Identity? Ownership?

Lorraine Jones, Head of Futures in our Manchester office, had the opportunity to go to the Future Everything conference last week. Here is her summary of the things that caught her attention:


Data artist Jer Thorp talked about the fact that our usual experience of data is complex and out of control.  He uses an ‘ooh/aah’ principle for data – looking to find expressions of data that attract the attention of people who wouldn’t usually pay attention (‘ooh’) and tell them something new (‘aah’).  He also talked about the definition of data being that it is ‘given’, whereas in reality most data we use is ‘taken’ from us.  He raised an interesting question of where the line falls between advertising being targeted, and being discriminatory.  He built on this by showing a Chrome browser plugin called Floodwatch which allows you to track the ads that you are served and share them with a wider research community to help identify whether advertising is discriminatory and push back if so.

Gemma Galdon discussed how data drives more decisions than we think it does – scenarios such as meeting a bank manager where we think personal relationships and discussion are influencing a decision, yet data (your credit score) has already made that decision for us, usually without the bank manager even being able to see anything beyond ‘green’ or ‘red’.  Our data doubles can influence the opportunities that we have open to us – right through to whether we get a job we want potentially being influenced by tweets we sent years prior.  She encouraged us to meet our data doubles, to find out what information organisations have access to, and left us with the thought that if we don’t have the legal tools to protect our data doubles, perhaps actively sabotaging them is our best response.

Moritz Stefaner challenged us to think about the difference between a portrait and a profile of someone, and asked whether we in fact have any truly objective ways of making impressions of people.  He cautioned that even apparently objective viewpoints (e.g. photographs as opposed to oil paintings) can have our impressions shifted by how that image has been curated and chosen.  He reminded us that we should always look at what’s behind the scenes in every image.

The panel discussion explored these ideas further, and talked about consent for use of data – they put forward the idea that although consent could be either passive or active, in reality it is all passive as if you actively choose to dissent you are essentially barred from using a service.  They also discussed whether there is a need for us to have laws to protect people from both ourselves and each other’s actions – e.g. if an individual signs up to an app that accesses data from their phone, are they giving away the data of the contacts stored on your phone as well?  Should this be allowed?

Matt Locke then gave an engaging talk on the ABC of storytelling – Attention patterns, Behaviour and Circulation.  His presentation covered binge pattern viewing for drama and comedy; the fact that our behaviours are habitual and comfortable, and that we only adopt new behaviours if we really value what we get as a result; and publisher’s influence on these behaviours – demonstrating how major publishers such as Google, Apple, Facebook etc try to keep users within their own ‘stack’.  He then talked about how circulation creates scale, and focused on how content goes ‘viral’ – or how it is better described as ‘spreadable content’.  And he went on to talk about different models for content – “the binge”, “the pledge”, “the long live event”, “the report” and “the card”.

Alexis Lloyd and Matthew Boggie introduced some of the areas the New York Times Lab are investigating for the future of media.  They discussed emergent media culture, where re-appropriation of content is increasingly the way in which we engage in media, they asked “what does news sound like in a remix-focused culture?”.  They also looked at technology driving how we engage with news content – ranging from ‘Quips’ (in-line commentary, shared with as few or as many people as you like), to prototypes which allow an online story to turn into a live conversation, with reporters responding to questions in real time and updating the story as time goes on.  Moving on to emergent network culture, they looked at how network technologies were helping reporters to work together safely and securely, with tools such as the New Yorker Strongbox and Dispatch app allowing reporters to securely share communications, ideas and sources with each other without risk of interception.

Designer and software developer Stef Lewandowski shared some of his work, many the output of hack days, which included a ‘Crypto Quilt’ that encrypted text of a family secret into a traditional sewn quilt, with the password for unencrypting the text in the creator’s will; data necklaces which physically encode a user’s twitter timeline onto beads of a necklace; and ‘Teh Guardian’  – a subtle hack of the Guardian website which inserts grammatical errors into stories if people accidentally go to ‘tehguardian.com’ instead of the real site (apparently The Guardian itself took it in good humour!).  He closed by saying that people should “focus on the bit that brings you joy in your work”, extolled the virtues of having side projects to work on, and reminded us that passion is the most important thing.

Julia Kaganskiy showcased some of the outputs of ‘New Inc’ – a unique incubator space which sits within the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York.  These included work on how to use hair and makeup to subvert face recognition systems; an ‘invisibility cloak’ hijab which shields the wearer against thermal surveillance; high speed photography which allows a frozen moment to be experienced with a moving light source; and ‘Print All Over Me’, which allows basic clothing items to be customised with your own images printed onto the fabric.


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