Need to Know
26 : 03 : 19

At the fifth annual IAM Weekend, a host of diverse voices speculated on the futures of the internet and why we should become its citizens, not its users.

The internet is empowering rural populations

Made in China Stickers at Huaqiangbei Electronics Market, Shenzhen, for Logic magazine

At IAM Weekend 19, several speakers discussed the importance of rural communities, and why brands should open their minds beyond Western metropolises.

Creative director of Logic Magazine, Xiaowei Wang, examined the places in rural China and Mongolia in which the internet is physically made; places that are typically overlooked for their innovation. In her talk, she shed light on the areas of Mongolia in which copper is mined for iPhones, the rural Chinese consumers who are live-streaming for a living, and the country’s thousands of Taobao villages – communities that are dedicated to producing products for the online shopping site. ‘In China, the labour of clicking feeds [a] family,’ Wang said.

Applying this concept to the Americas, activist Alejandro Mayoral-Baños spoke about his grassroots organisation Indigenous Friends. The platform, which hosts networks based in Canada and Mexico and is currently in talks with Facebook, acts as an alternative social media platform for indigenous people, reconnecting aboriginal youth with their land and people.

According to Mayoral-Baños, this traditional knowledge has been undermined by academia over the years. ‘It’s important for knowledge that indigenous people can use digital tools in conscious ways, in order to decolonise this technology.’

Making internet use a mindful pursuit

Like Me by Jessica Bishopp with The Smalls for the Barbican the Art of Change

A more mindful approach to internet use was a recurring topic over at IAM Weekend 19. In line with our new macrotrend Resilience Culture, several talks sought to debunk the negative associations we have with technology, instead suggesting how a more moderate use of technology can provide enlightenment.

Showcasing the current extent of digital reliance among Generation Z, filmmaker and researcher Jessica Bishopp screened her short film, Like Me. The film highlighted the carefully constructed online identities of British teenagers, showing how Instagram can be both an inspiring and destructive tool in the hands of young girls.

The concept of positive, enlightened technology was also explored by Dr Francesca Ferrando, a philosopher of post-humanism, whose avatar delivered a video talk and guided digital meditation. ‘As a species, we can become empowered by the unlimited possibilities that technology is offering,’ she said. ‘But the addiction to technology would be impeding the process of enlightenment.’

To create a manifesto for how we can use the internet mindfully, Willa Köerner, creative content editor at The Creative Independent, alongside Leo Shaw of online tool, hosted a workshop that probed creatives to analyse their use of digital platforms, without giving them up completely. Later this year, Köerner will launch a space for mindful digital citizens in New York’s Catskill Mountains.

Plants could be used to store our data

Bringing their conceptual project Grow Your Own Cloud to IAM Weekend 19, designers Monika Seyfried and Cyrus Clarke began a discussion about the tangibility of the cloud, questioning: in future, could we use plants to store our online data?

The project aims to raise awareness that the cloud is not intangible, or white and fluffy, but actually extremely physical – comprising a number of highly polluting data centres across the world. Grow Your Own Cloud is a conceptual alternative to these data centres, exploring the use of plant DNA as a storage medium.

To gauge public opinion, the designers recently opened a flower shop in Copenhagen with an on-site lab in which locals could embed their data into a plant with the help of a biotechnologist. They could store data using one of three options: a foliage injection – short-term solution suitable for Snapchat posts or Tweets, a gene gun for long-term storage, or a floral dip, which can be used to back-up data for generations.

According to the creators of Grow Your Own Cloud, using something that is physical and living such as a plant ‘allows people to see data in reality, rather than as an intangible thing'. Explore our recent microtrend to see how brands are transforming data centres into climate-positive hubs.

Grow Your Own Cloud by Monika Seyfried and Cyrus Clarke, Copenhagen

Virtual reality doesn’t have to be visual

Infinite Observer by Daniel Sabio Infinite Observer by Daniel Sabio
Infinite Observer by Daniel Sabio Infinite Observer by Daniel Sabio

Drawing on themes examined in our macrotrend Programmable Realities, various talks at IAM discussed how consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable with digital layers being placed over their physical realities.

However, with many of these technologies focused on visual stimuli, brands are not only missing an opportunity to inspire visually impaired consumers, but could be alienating them entirely. Art technologist Daniel Sabio discussed what an audio-driven virtual reality (VR) experience for the blind would look like. Also known as The Glad Scientist, with a background in live VR musical performances, Sabio wanted to raise awareness of society’s obsession with visuals, while inspiring creators to explore alternative methods of communication.

To do this, he created a VR game called Infinite Observer, which uses audio, vibrations and haptic technology to tell stories with minimal imagery. ‘What can we learn from those who can’t see or can’t hear?’ Sabio asked, suggesting that, by eliminating visuals, we can truly tap into the power our imagination. ‘Can we start an invisible revolution?’ For more, look out for our upcoming Q&A with Daniel Sabio.

Why it’s time to de-smart technology

Objective Realities by Automato Farm

In an era of Morality Recoded, discussions about smart technology evolved at IAM Weekend 19. Rather than foreseeing a future in which smartness permeates every aspect of our day-to-day lives, speakers actually called for an off-switch for intelligence.

As a designer of both real and fictional products, Simone Rebaudengo wants to fill the world with not-so-intelligent intelligent things. In his Future Frequently Asked Questions project with design collective Automato Farm he proposes that future products should not only offer controls for people to deal with technological intelligence, but the option to decide how, and by whom, these devices are trained. ‘Will we have a kill switch for smartness, like we do with electricity?’ he speculated. ‘Will we pay more for a car with the same belief system as us?’

Also encouraging attendees to reject a smarter-is-better mindset, Kris De Decker discussed the recent redesign of Low-tech Magazine, his solar-powered, light-weight website that goes offline when it's cloudy. ‘People consider the internet to be a high-tech thing, but it can be as high-tech or low-tech as you want it to be,’ De Decker explains. ‘I wanted to explore what we can learn from the past to design a really sustainable future.’ For more on why technological innovation does not always solve problems, read our in-depth interview with De Decker.

Thought-starter: Is access to the future a privilege?

Rasheedah Phillips, an attorney and author, delivered the final talk of the weekend, explaining the concept of her artistic collective Black Quantum Futurism and why we must rethink the concept of time.

The weekend began with a talk on quantum physics from Dr James Beacham, a particle physicist at CERN, and ended with a synergistic exploration of quantum time. Black Quantum Futurism is defined as a new approach to experiencing reality by way of manipulating time, taking qualities from fields as diverse as physics and African cultural traditions.

Phillips, a co-founder of the collective, called on attendees to take action in rethinking how we view clocks and maps. She encouraged individuals to question the concepts of time and temporality in our day-to-day lives and eradicate the notion that the future is in front of us and the past is behind us. ‘Technology solidifies this notion that we are on a linear path,’ she said. ‘But I reject that technology is progress.’

In her career as an attorney for low-income people in Philadelphia, Phillips argued that access to the future is a privilege. ‘The future is linked to wealth; some people have better access to the so-called ‘future’ than others,’ she explained. ‘We need to reassess the idea that everyone has access to time.’

Black Quantum Futurism
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