I'm involved in the early stages of a project looking at what the arts can contribute to the new democratic cities in the north (that's my definition, for me, of what I feel like I'm doing as my bit of it).
I've learned loads from this process already, and I've got the highest hopes for what might come of it.
Part of what we did as a group was try and come up with some “research questions”. The ones that most rang true for me were about making a contribution. What can the arts do?
The tricky part though is that the fastest road to crap works of art is giving people lectures and trying to save the world.
So, with the dangers of being a boring self righteous finger wagging lecturer in mind, this is what I came up with (this list is really no more than a justification of my interests, and making no excuses for the depths of my ignorance):
* I'm sure there must be more, for example “earn money and employ people”, and “contribute to wellbeing”, but it's all got too much for me to get my head round now!
** I took out one at the last minute: “Motivate debate and action.” That might happen, but I'm uncertain about whether the arts should be rousing people to man the barricades. If anything, shouldn't it be the opposite?: “Hang on. Think about things. The world is complicated and complex.”
*** The question might be better framed as “How can arts practise contribute to the civic life of places in the north.
I'm involved in a research process which looks at how artists might contribute to imagining The N*rth now.
By way of a "hello and getting to know you" I was asked to write briefly about "What aspects of the project's aims are you, at this stage, most passionate about?"
I launched into this, which is not the cheery hello that was called for, and is about 200 words too long.
* * *
Re imagining, and making connections outside of The Arts. I think it's quite a hopeful time to be doing this. As I read the other day "‘We live in wonderful times. We’ve reached the end of the neo-liberal dream and state domination. It’s time for citizenship, imagination and growth.’"(from here)
But, that was said by Maurice Glasman, who couldn't be more of a London-patriot (in a good way) if he tried. If you asked him where he lived, he'd talk about a real place, London, not a geographical abstraction. He has civic pride. London tells a very powerful story about itself which gets its power not least by using a real name.
Newcastle, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds. That is a powerful list of words. When you say it like that it's a litany. For a birth or a death? People often talk about the 21st century as "the century of the city", about cities as "our greatest invention", cities as self organising systems from which most human wealth, culture and innovation comes. Newcastle, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds. Those cities made the world once.
So re imaging the N*rth means saying the words, even if it takes a bit more breath. Making the effort to use real names is about respect. People don't live in abstractions, they live in places. An abstraction like "The N*rth" makes human lives too easy to dismiss. "Those people who don't work in banking and can't afford interships for their kids? Don't worry, that's The N*rth. It's like that there."
And it's about self respect. What did "the N*rth" ever motivate anyone to do except cry into their beer?
If nothing else, abstractions always make bad writing. We need to begin with an investment in narrative capital (more on narrative capital here).
Say the names: Newcastle, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds. Now your head is wired differently. A process of re imagining has started.
The Arts Council (ACE) and NESTA are going to provide funding so that arts organisations can:
"use digital technologies to engage audiences in new ways and create opportunities for new business models."
Which is fine as far as it goes, but whether that money is put to use creating valuable outcomes is all down to the interpretation of those phrases "engage audiences"* and "new business models".
It is important that there is space for rich, creative, non-mainstream and challenging interpretations, because that is where new things come from. And that they can come from non-mainstream organisations.
There is chance to vote for some attempts to open up that space, by me and other people, closing today.
I don't claim that any of these are the final word, but they are about opening up, not closing down, the relationship between the arts and technology.
If we recognise these spaces, we'll recognise others.And that is where the "art" will be hiding.
"Creating welcoming, participatory spaces using just enough appropriate technology, analogue and digital."
"The mixed reality of cities, public space, mobile technology and imagination as an "arts venue" for stories and play."
"shifting engagement: how digital technologies invite audience co-creation of the art work"
"Discussion about what "digital" really means in terms of the arts. Goverment and large organisations think "digital" means Youtube video of their publicity. An app to view opera publicity on your smartphone isn't digital art, is it?"
*I don't think it's valuable to talk about audience engagement. Online ticketing is audience engagement. We should be talking about participation.
"Countries who move their capitals to smaller cities tend to have more balanced urban systems, and, as a corollary, more even economic development."
"The interaction between the large capital's business and policy communities and the national leaders cause the latter to mistake the good of the city with that of the nation."
"But we may also ask, does a country even need a capital city anymore? With the long term shift away from central authorities like monarchs to pluralistic democratic institutions, multiple branches of government, and decentralisation to provinces and municipalities, there is little reason to retain the conceit of a single, enduring seat of power."
Quotes from here
11:49 in All Sorts of Technology and Democracy, civic responsibility, Felt Tip Revolution, fish (and other animals), happiness, local government, location, mobile phones, Open data, participation, text messages, Thumbprint Co-operative, Utopians for Real Change! | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
I've noticed a few references to the Internet of Things recently, a phrase I haven't heard for about two years (Nicolas Nova notes its reappearance, in concept if not in name, here) and to Smart Cities, about which the Guardian weirdly had a pull-out advertising supplement a few weeks ago. I'm glad these ideas are back, just for fun if nothing else, because I like both of them.
In between this time around and the last time around though I've done a bit of work with a neighbourhood police team, and one of the things that experience made me think was that if you wanted a working example of a real-time sensor-enabled city-wide "smart city" system then 999 calls in a city full of people with mobile phones is it.
Think about it: you've got a very widely distributed sensor network, that's us with our eyes, ears and bodily presences which might be under threat, and that sensor network is being monitored in real time - we can ring 999 from anywhere because we have mobiles - and the alert from the sensor (us and our phones) triggers a response - flashing blue lights - that aims to restore the system to its balanced state.
And it's this restoring the system to a balanced state which is by far the most important and illustrative part.
The balanced state is a state in which no laws are being broken.
And what are these laws? They are the rule sets for how we live together. And they are technologies.
I'm not saying we have the right laws, or even that we need “the law” to live together, but we do need rule sets, many of which we act on without even knowing just from the look on someone else's face. I might also be misinterpreting (wilfully or through dumbness) Paul Romer's Long Now talk by saying he says rule sets are a kind of technology, but it's a useful idea, so if he didn't he should've.
And this technology for living together doesn't just fall out of the sky, even if it might as well do, for all the say most of us have designing it. We have to choose what laws we want, what balanced state we want the system to be in (though if you read about autopoiesis that idea of choice isn't quite so clear!). And it is the rules for making and enacting those choices, the rule sets for making rule sets, for governance, the rule sets that are the constitutions by which we make decisions about how we want to live together, which are the real smart city technologies.
A city isn't smart because it produces lots of data. Or even opens up that data to lots of developers. It's smart because it continually monitors itself and uses that feedback to maintain the state it wants to be in. It's worth remembering that the word “cyber” doesn't mean having metal arms, it means to steer. Cybernetics is the study of how to steer systems.
So what state do we want the system to return to and how do we steer it? What do we want our technologies of governance to give us? Wealth? Happiness? Innovation? Fairness? Long life? Environmental sustainability?
I don't know. You decide. Pick the ones you want. Then when we have deliberated, agreed and built those technologies - the constitutions and laws - we set up our sensor networks (made up of all sorts of technology - you can have a smart city without any rifd chips or data visualisations of real-time traffic updates whatsoever, just look at ancient Athens) to monitor the system and give us feedback so that we can adjust our smart city technologies - the rule sets of governance and the laws that are enacted - to give us more of what we want and less of what we don't. Or we can decide we want something else in which case we design new governance technology and enact new laws.
And it's these technologies that are most desperately in need of innovation. Because at the moment they are awful.
At the moment, how does the system of Great Britain, for example, decide what counts as the state it wants to return to?
Every five years or so around 40% of the people in the arbitrary and outdated unit of organisation called "Britain"* who can be bothered to vote, people who are quite possibly mostly living hundreds of miles away from most of the other 60%, get a poll result that is roughly what they hoped for without really caring all that much either way, and a simple majority from a group of around 600 men and women out of a total of 60 million - whose job is now to design technology (rules sets, laws) for the whole arbitrary unit but who really all owe their allegiance to only one city (usually London regardless of whether they are meant to be designing technology to benefit the people of, say, Sedgefield) - then tell all the other cities (systems) what counts as the right state for their system and how to achieve it for the next five years or so before the next poll which might or might not lead to the reversal some of the previous rule sets.
And that is a very dumb way to run a system.
And it is the dumbness of the technology that makes me a little bit suspicious about the re appearance of smart cities (were they called smart cities last time, when it was that place in Korea? Maybe it was Ubicities?).
Is it just a way for big, multinational technology companies to fleece the dumb city?
Is it a way that by doing a bit of wining and dining of a few of the 600 people who at the time are designing the governance technologies, they can be persuaded to enact some laws to outsource, to these same big technology companies, something or other that we didn't even know we needed, in the same way in every city/system no matter how different, for dozens of years, because it's more "efficient". And call it "smart cities"?
I don't know, but it's worth looking at the names of the companies paying for the pull out newspaper advertising supplements.
This is a little bit like Adam Greenfield's argument in his book Everyware - this stuff is coming so we better debate it now while we've still got chance to decide what we want it to be like, because otherwise it will be decided for us.
But debating "advancing and emerging digital technologies", as they did at this seminar in Manchester organised by consultants, is debating the wrong kind of technology.
What we should be debating, and more importantly innovating with, is our governance technologies, the ways in which we decide the kinds of systems/cities we want to live in and the civic rule sets from which those systems/cities will emerge. If we do that, the rfid chips will look after themselves.
And the people who should be debating and designing the technologies for their smart cities are the people who live in them. And they should be able to to debate and design, as often as they want, everything. Every. Single. Thing. Because you don't get any meaningful innovation, enterprise, responsibility, energy, commitment, problem solving, or engagement if you don't have the power to do things and the risk of failure when you do.
And all sorts of people think it would be a good idea to innovate with governance technologies: Paul Romer, these bonkers Americans who want to live under the sea, the writer of this essay on local economics and places, and even this bonkers government minister saying we should have "home rule for cities".
Because compared to governance technology, having a wheelie bin that gives me whuffie points when I put some tin cans in the recycling, or a mobile phone that tells me where the traffic jams are, or even a smart electricity grid, couldn't be more trivial**.
* (if you don't think it is arbitrary why does the governance technology change just above Newcastle? The boundary for any system on the land mass of the UK is either the whole lot bounded by the sea or its constituent city-regions, not a line drawn two thirds of the way up.)
** As John Tolva, who is the director of “Citizenship and Technology” at well known philanthropic organisation IBM said at a city camp event the other day “burying the sensors in the pavement, that is easy”.
The lowest worth of a child is of a baby found dead in storage in a lorry coming through the channel tunnel.
If the baby is alive the lorry driver is fined 2000 pounds.
If the baby is dead there is no fine for bringing in an illegal immigrant.
The dead baby example was given by a minster in the house of commons who was confirming under what circumstances a fine would be paid.
So that is the baseline figure for what a child is worth. Zero.
On top of that, just having a place, any place, is worth...
Then what? Or, which place?
(With thanks to Danny Dorling for the information.)
I wish for a web site called "What Is My Child Worth?"
I wish to get Danny Dorling to help.
I wish to use databases to tell a radical, not a conservative, story.
I wish for all sorts of data from all sorts of places.
I wish for the analogue data as well.
I wish for help from someone who knows about databases.
If you are reading this, and you understand what I'm on about, we were destined to meet. Email me: andrew at blinkmedia dot org
If not, it wasn't meant to be.