Mapping OER with Wikimedia

Final conference – photo by Ben Bernhard – Mapping OER – Bildungsmaterialien gemeinsam gestalten, CC BY 4.0, Link

What are  opportunities of Open Educational Ressources and how can we map the various efforts, projects, groups, together with the vivid and diverse community so that the community can coordinate their efforts and funding gets funneled effectively?

Background

Learning has always been a dynamic process as knowledge & methods evolve but also as the motivations and needs of learners vary. For centralized solutions with tight copyright, producing such a high diversity of material is just too expensive. Open Educational Ressources, in contrast, offer material editable by teachers and pupils, material that can be expanded and re-mixed (5r of open material).

But they also come with new questions: How can I evaluate quality? Can I rely on proper licensing? What training is helpful to work with open ressources? And, of course, how can appropriate business models allow for sustainable and professional services?

OER are today driven by a diverse community of practioners, researchers, and activists, including some positions in official administration. Knowledge, questions, and positions are equally diverse.

Approach

Working as a close team with Wikimedia, we developed a series of expert workshops around these four focus questions, and a final conference for about 200 people. While Wikimedia provided domain knowledge and was in touch with the community, we brought in our knowledge of methods for engaging multi-stakeholder workshops.

Each workshop collected existing experiences, moved on to needs and gaps the participants sensed. Dedicated input on technology or legal issues made everyone aware of constraints. All of this served as input for ideation sessions in small teams. The group as review body provided immediate feedback for  further refinement of the proposals. Plenary discussions, brainstormings, individual focused work, and guided analysis sessions in small groups supported a high level of activity and fostered exchange among the the participants.

Learnings

Initially, we planned the workshops meticulously in activity and timing. We soon found out that all participants were highly self-motivated and that the groups were very good in self-organizing and following their own pace to be most productive. “Lateral guidance” was a true difference to strong structure and motivation that we often need to provide in corporate workshops.

Looking at OER themselves, I realized that it isn’t about ressources alone but about a different approach to learning (and teaching and schools in consequence). More self-driven and peer-based, more exploratory, more open ended. “Don’t call it education” as André Knörig of Fritzing put it: At Fritzing, people find inspiration. They gather knowledge as a means to build cool stuff.

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Why Privacy Matters – TED talk

Alessandro Acquisti on social media usage experiments at Carnegie Mellon:

Technical proof

Facial recognition (on a cloud based cluster with database of public facebook profile pictures) to find facebook profile from a passerby snapshot (from that name a social security number can be deferred with additional databases). More info on original experiment page.

Social media post judgement bias

People who upload (also embarassing) pictures to social media judge others harsher for such images than those who don’t (think about recruiting situations)

Nothing to hide myth

Women with baby (on picture or in text) is less likely to receive invitations to job offers. More info on original experiment page.

Informed decision in marketing myth

we react positively to photos “merged together” from close friends’ faces – but we don’t recognize them anymore (i.e. we don’t know what is actually happening and thus can’t make an informed decision)

Transparency myth

If “how we use your data” (with usage forms that usually indicate reluctance to share) is only 15 secs earlier than a sensitive question (e.g. in a questionaire or sign up-wizard), people will answer as if no warning was given (i.e. share more than if the warning and the question were close together)

“people don’t care about privacy.”

Often, a service doesn’t really leave a choice. It doesn’t mean they don’t care they just might judge their benefits higher than their damage.

Analogy with Garden Eden: In the garden, Adam & Eve had no material desires left open, yet they could not recognize & reflect on themselves. With recognizing their true nature, they had to leave the garden. In a similar sense, we need to take care of our privacy to recognize our freedom – while marketeers suggest that they fulfill all of our material needs (a.k.a. free online services). Trade automoy and freedom for comfort.

Big data can be a force for freedom and a force for (hidden) manipulation.

 

 

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uber economy?

Also an official taxi isn't necessarily a safe place (although Robert de Niro killed outside of it only)

Also an official taxi isn’t necessarily a safe place (although Robert de Niro only killed outside of it)

The news are full of stories about start ups in the “sharing economy”.  Depending on the source, they are praising or devastating. These services are fascinating (to me) because they build heavily on a digital and often even mobile infrastructure – while not invented today, this infrastructure is still quite new and thus makes concepts and business ideas possible that no one had thought about before. And they promise to tap into unused potentials of underused cars, un(der)employed people, or temporarily free flats.

cheaper by cheating? case uber

For many customers (users?) the main reason is: they are cheaper than comparable existing services. I wonder how they can do it.

If we think of an ideal market, excessive profits won’t last long because a competitor quickly offers the same service cheaper. If such a market is mature, prices have leveled in. Competitiors therefore try to offer something different, more valuable, in order to be able to ask higher prices (differentiation) or we see new, so called disruptive ideas that do the same thing better, more efficient, etc.
(note: the taxi market is not such an ideal market because you also need a taxi concession, which is limited and regulated. Whether this is useful is a different story, I think it isn’t important for my argument).

When we look at uber(Pop), they are often cheaper. So differentiation doesn’t seem to be their main point: The service they offer from the client perspective is pretty much the same: they bring people from A to B. They use dynamic pricing which can be good and bad for the passenger, depending on demand.

Is their business model disruptive then? They broker rides between passengers and drivers – but that’s common praxis with taxis already. The drivers are self-employed with all the benefits and risks – true for both. They have a nice app but that is available for taxis, too (2008 already!). They tap into a different pool of drivers: anyone! and cars: anyone’s car.

But is that a disruptive advantage? You need enough drivers so that you can serve your customers quickly. Driving for uber must be so profitable that drivers do it professionally and prefer it over driving a taxi. Or that they spend the remaining time besides aonther job transporting other people – not giving s.o. a lift on a way you have to go anyways, but making the tour just for the transport. uber also has a brokerage fee that the company itself lives on. This leaves little room for a cheaper price. Maybe they have a tremendously more efficient system to broker and schedule rides.

My suspicion is that they often circumvent regulations. A usual taxi has to go to inspection once a year. uber cars being private cars only once every two years (in Germany). A usual taxi driver needs a licence that allows transportation of people, they need to renew it every 5 years, they need a special insurance – uber drivers don’t need any of that (uber says it has an insurance in place but doesn’t release any proof of it). All of these regulations seem to be pretty reasonable considering that traffic is dangerous and you are in the driver’s hands as a passenger.

As far as I can see, uber is a little disruptive but also heavily cheating.
(if you have some more business knowledge, I welcome your comments to get this clearer for me!)

 

Tapping into unused resources: case airbnb

The uber considerations should be true for other services as well, such as Helpling: cheating on regulations, on customer expectations helps lower the price.

The case of airbnb is a little different: it’s a flat you have anyways, like the lift you give someone when ride sharing to a destination you go to yourself. To me, this model seems much more enabled by communication technology. Without it, tourists would just not be able to find that room that is empty over the weekend, at least it would be far too much effort. It also scales to a certain extent: everyone can do it for mutual profit (and some profit for airbnb) and it’s not competing for your time with a job.

The idea loses some of its shine because of its success: when people start renting regular apartments only to sublet them via airbnb, we are back in normal holiday apartment business (and even aggravate the problem of raising rents in crowded places).

 

Sharing vs helping

“Sharing economy” sounds a little too altruistic for all of these services, at least if we consider the connotation of “giving” in “sharing”. Most of these services are based on profit not just refunding expenses (which a classic ride share ideally does). The main point cultural critics mention is that these services commercialize social interactions, exchanging helpfulness through rational calculus. You can still offer things for free (such as a classic lift, couchsurfing, …). But these services seem to question helpfulness on a societal level.

 

 

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PRISM, security, and the user

The extent, if not totality, of the US spy program PRISM has shocked the world. It still does, as new details occur and no official plans to improve transparency or legitimacy are announced.

The activities uncovered put yet another spotlight on the vulnerability of the “information society” we live in and we appreciate for its comfort. As the term already suggests, information plays the key role and it is also key to gain or exert power. Therefore, criminals work on malware to gain information about our credit cards and to steal business secrets. Companies are after your intimate behavior to personalize advertising. And now it turns out that also friendly constitutional democracies filter data on massive scale as part of their “intelligence” (how far this even involves “business intelligence” is one of the unanswered questions).

In this light, improving the security of messages and the transmission networks themselves becomes critical.

As an example for secure messages, SiMKo, the top security devices by Deutsche Telekom, aim to protect government communications – as it seems now, this is not only necessary against spy organizations but also to keep friendly secret services at bay. T-Systems works with IXDS to not “just” deliver top security but to keep up usability and joy of use up at the same time. [I work for IXDS]

I also joined the project SASER, an EU funded research activity for a more stable, secure, and efficient network technology. As part of the Interaction Design Lab, we will develop visualization tools for complex data that help security analysts to find and stop vulnerabilities or attacks.

More secure technology and “security habits” certainly help on an individual level. Attempts towards total surveillance, however, need to be blocked on society (or political) level. Only if we value transparency and accountability more than secrecy, even in the event of terror, we can keep a vivid freedom of speech and our democracy healthy.

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Back from the no-Email future: Gesche Joost

Gesche Joost, a (in her field) well known design researcher from the University of the Arts Berlin, just reported from the world in 2040. Luckily, the ZEIT newspaper still exists, at least online, and they recorded her statement. It’s also pleasing to see that Gesche didn’t get that much older…

Back to reality: Of course, the future is used as a mirror to reflect our times. In her talk, she diagnoses three major problems of our times:

  1. The need to carry around digital devices to stay in touch with people
  2. Information and communication overload, mostly due to email
  3. A focus on technology rather than needs (she uses the very nice—and broader— term: “Dimensionen der Gesellschaft”, dimensions of society)

From mobile devices to the cyborg (kind of)

The dependency on mobile, in particular: smart phones, surely is striking. Just think about the careful watch on your (phone’s) battery life that you keep throughout the day. Or think about the rave that the iPhone creates as a status symbol and the surveys that tell us that phones become more important than cars as representative objects. But her imagination, that devices disappear into our clothing and our bodies, sounds a little bit like the “old” vision of ubiquitous computing, mixed with some cyborg elements.

Info overload or the nature of the email

The point that struck me more was the email overload. In her diagnosis, she says it was because it was bound to emails (let’s say: text) and emails were bound to computers with keyboards “in front of them”. I would rather argue that the Blackberry, i.e. a portable, in a sense ubiquitous device, gave the email flood a tremendous rise—right because people were no longer bound to their PCs.

And I doubt that the emails that arrive in an important person’s mailbox (I count Gesche among them) can be perceived in an “ambient manner”, in a “flow”, as she describes it. One of the problems with most of these emails is that it’s unclear–before you read it–whether you need to take a decission, or just get information. If you need to decide something, you might need to sit and think about it, with or without flow. Sure, many questions might have been decided already elsewhere, the sender didn’t have that information and bothers you again. That’s a true issue with emails, they are not good at making knowledge accessible. Luis Suarez tries to live a highly interesting vision of a life without emails, he tries to answer as much publicly (or company publicly) on a sort of Facebook stream which is fully searchable.

Text based systems, such as email, even have the advantage that we can easily “speed read” through them, and based on the bits we catch can decide whether it’s worth more attention or not. It’s rather complicated to speed read through video or sound recordings (such as voice mail) because time is part of that medium.

In my mind, “communication” won’t be a catch-all phrase in the future. For some facts and e.g. legally important stuff, we will still rely on text (email, streams). Probably, the biggest part of professional communication, still. But the part of story telling will become more important, something we do on a social level already very much when we have a coffee together (having a coffee is a synchronous activity, however, i.e. both people need to spend time at the same time). Listening to a story is a very pleasant way to learn. Of course, our current voice recording systems don’t quite support that (there is visual voicemail (Apple, again!), and there are efforts to speech recognize voice mail and make it (text) searchable by Google (of course)).

Design for the diverse Dimensions of Society

And her third point: too much male engineers, too much focus on technology instead of relevant “dimensions of society”:  I’ve little to add there since Gesche is a leading figure in the world of Co-Creation that aims precisely at bringing all relevant people (“stakeholders”, which can be potential users, vendors, help desk people, …) to the table in order to look for their needs and expectations first and then set the agenda for technological endeavours.

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Facebook is an infrastructure

Inside Facebooks Prineville Datacenter (photo by Pete Erikson/ Wired.com)

With more and more Facebook features and -acquisitions, it appears increasingly plausible to me that Facebook could become “the internet” to many people around the world. It’s becoming so big and so comprehensive that they would not go anywhere else to surf “the web”. They would do all the messaging, news reading, picture browsing, gaming, shopping on Facebook. In many of today’s ads you find links in the form of f/mycompany instead of the former www.mycompany.com. Is Facebook becomming the new “web”, leaving the www and soon technology like a webbrowser behind (or for the geeks)?

What if Facebook went away?

This could be just another observation from the ever evolving media ecosystem but this shift has/would bring a remarkable change: the www doesn’t belong to anyone (although it’s dominated by the US), while Facebook is privately owned and dominated by Mark Zuckerberg (holding 28% of the shares and speaking for 57%).
He can change the terms of the service as he likes (and so he does) and he could just turn it all off when he got sick of it. Poff — the internet, deleted.

Or imagine it the other way round: Facebook in financial troubles, filing for bankruptcy. This would put so much business, entertainment industries, media channels, personal data, image collections at risk, that it would appear as a public interest to keep Facebook alive — too big to fail.
In his Wired article Can Anything Take Down The Facebook Juggernaut, Steven Johnson called Facebook more an infrastructure than a business by its nature.

Johnson sees two challenges to an all Facebook-internet: it tends to become a walled garden, trying to force users to stay inside its network, e.g. by intercepting links to the “outside” with a “we have an App for that” dialogues. And all walled gardens to date have failed. But in contrast to walled gardens of the old web, the community pulls all the content into Facebook themselves. And, even outside the Matrix Network, you are inside the Network, tracked by beacons, like-buttons or exposed by sponsored stories.

The other risk, according to Johnson, is a break up of Facebook due to monopoly considerations. This would be a spectacular and stunningly bold move by a government: slicing out essential parts of the Facebook code and infrastructure to put it into the public domain, to create a public infrastructure as the www is today. Given the influence of Facebook as a media outlet, this sounds like a Hollywood-movie show down to me. Since presidential election campaings increasingly rely on Facebook, it might never happen.

Consequences of an all-Facebook world

Facebook has made the web less information centric and more people centric and social (sharing sharing sharing). The ease of sharing and staying connected works best when you have a single identity on the web, ideally identical with your offline identity and when your online friends are your offline friends. You can no longer decide yourself to play different roles in different contexts. You can try to funnel certain information into certain social groups (or facets) but this requires extra work and might be overruled by a Facebook update.

But the “Open Graph” goes beyond our intuitive understanding: it reveals connections among people and strengths of links that even the people forming these links might not be quite aware of (or could you easily name your 120 closest friends?). It makes interests, hidden wishes, intimate information accessible through data mining. Maybe not to the public, maybe not to you, but in any case to Facebook.

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Defining privacy

The spreading of personal information in the digital age and the loss of control over it is continually increasing. In it’s essence, it is nothing very new but we witness (or are part of) some major shifts right now: the rise of online social networks, high precision targeted advertising, and the level of surveillance as part of the anti-terrorism measures. The significance of privacy is currently being re-negotiated (details below).

At the same time, the technical possibilities to control and broker one’s personal data streams have increased just as much – unfortunately most of these possibilities are stuck in theory and decent tools are missing. We should expect (or build) a ground breaking solution here. I find this particularly striking as I had the priviledge to work on such a tool over a year ago and sadly enough it hasn’t really come to market as of today (I’ll go into details in a separate article).

Photo (slightly cropped) by ecoev on Flickr

Photo (slightly cropped) by ecoev on Flickr

A couple of days ago, I had the privilege to attend a conference on privacy from Germany’s internet industry association eco. By the mere count of participants (overwhelmingly in black suits) it was a small meeting, but as the participation of the German Minister of the Interior, Hans-Peter Friedrich, and the EU commissioner for “Justice and Fundamental Rights”, Viviane Reding, shows, it was of extremely high profile for our societies’ rule makers.
From a citizen’s point of view, the event was pretty interesting as you could witness the actors and debates that shape the laws of tomorrow. For designers, however, the lack of discussable solutions, or just adventurous experiments, was disappointing. I have the strong impression that some practical contributions will inspire the debate and could bring a more differentiated or “realistic” view to some legal considerations.

Defining terms – not just a question for law makers

While defining terms sounds like hairsplitting detail work, knowing about different aspects and concepts of privacy and data protection focuses the often superficial and emotional debates. I’ll look very briefly at two questions: protect data against whom or what? And what is the data to be protected?

During the eco meeting, Axel Spieß, an international expert in this (legal) domain, pointed out the very different meanings of “privacy” in the US and “Datenschutz” in Germany: in the US, privacy was mainly referring to the “right to be let alone”, as a citizen against the state (4th amendment). In contrast, acquiring and selling user data is a pure matter of private business and contracts. “Data protection” would usually refer to measures that prevent the theft or loss of data.
Under German jurisdiction, however, “Datenschutz”/data protection is affected by all transactions (or even just the collection) of “information that identifies a person” because it is considered to violate one’s “informational self-determination“. And this needs to be respected by governmental authorities as well as private companies.
(For the UK position, BBC News has a comprehensive article for you.)

There is also a fundamentally different perception of who owns the data (US (mostly): the company who collects (or buys) it. Germany: the person it refers to). Ownership of personal information is also an important point for a couple of service ideas around a transparent data trade (see the practicle article on that)

[sidetrack]
In his speech at the congress, Minister Friedrich implied that data collection by authorities was rather harmless since it couldn’t happen without laws and was under public control. But since the 9/11 attacks, we should be aware of how easily security (or anxiety) rules above freedom (and as part of it, privacy), and otherwise illegal activities and questionable surveillance pass through.
[end of sidetrack]

The other important definition is the term of “identifying personal information”: intuitively, one would think of more sensitive information, such as name, address, phone numbers (IP numbers? already a hot debate!). And indeed, some laws contain such lists. However, in the age of sophisticated data mining, “insensitive” data (such as items of a single purchase) is easily combined into “more sensitive” data (such as buying habits and all deviations, like job loss, illnesses, diets, or even pregnancies). As behaviour prediction is becoming reality, there is no insensitive data any more (as the German Constitutional Court stated already 1983).

Who defines the privacy of the future?

Inside the EU, the debate around privacy is active for quite a while now. Commissioner Reding claims that it is at the heart of the Digital Agenda (which has its own commissioner, Nellie Kroes). For the EU, a unified data protection and privacy legislation would not only facilitate trade inside the union, it would also be a strong signal towards other societies and markets. Companies with businesses in the EU would at least have to take the EU rules into account, if not completely follow them (what this could mean can be seen in discussions around facebook, Street View).

So far, the EU has been quite successful in setting the agenda and the terms of the discussion. They also convince/persuade more and more non-European countries to follow their model. Obviously, this upcoming normative power of the EU is at odds with US interests and US companies (who form, again, most of the internet as we know it). More or less recently (02/2012), the Obama administration came up with a regulation of its own, the much debated Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. Given the US traditions as described above, this might appear as a strange thing (some of the differences are lined out here and here).

With the models currently debated on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, we negotiate nothting less than the fundamental privacy rules of the future digital society.

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Predicting behaviour from user data

Since people follow rather stable routines, it is possible to predict their behaviour (within a range of certainty) from analysing their activities in the past. One important research in this direction was carried out in the context project at the University of Helsinki from 2002-2005, with a focus on what places people go and where they meet.

Today, tremendous amounts of behavioural data is generated through web log statistics, tracking cookies and beacons, and mobile phone positions (cell towers and GPS). New mechanisms evolve that make this data also usable, even in real time (e.g. Google’s Map Reduce algorithm). This is the result of a Structure Big Data conference that promises an “inevitable, even irresitible surveillance society” (Jeff Jonas, an IBM engineer quoted in a Computerwold article)

While the ability to “look into people’s minds” scares privacy experts, it also promises to deliver perfect filters for users who feel lost in the tremendous stream of news and information. And it offers them a personalized experience of services.

Another point of concern:

The higher the amount and variety of data collected, the more unique the data sets are that a single person produces. One example is the website visitor identification through the browser footprint. It might look pretty generic on first view, but since it includes the fonts installed, version numbers of plugins, etc., very few people actually have the same browser footprint.
While the data itself is usually collected in a “non-identfying, anonymized form”, the combined data sets render anonymity an illusion.

[update 02/2012:]

The New York Times had an extensive report on how large supermarkets extensively collect data on their customers. Despite the data pieces being rather trivial (who buys what when), they can conclude from the large numbers and the pretty unchanging behaviour of each customer the personal needs of each customer very precisely.

They even feature a story about targeting a pregnant teenager with baby products where even the teenager’s father didn’t know (yet) that his daughter was pregnant. While this is probably a rare case, it shows that the large numbers and decent data mining can not only report but even predict personal needs and wishes.

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Homo Reparans

In their preface, the curators of Ars Electronica 2010 sounded pretty alarmistic. Not to put too fine a point on the summary, you could phrase it with “the world is on fire, act now, there is no time for pessimism (or maybe even thinking)”. Before I went, I had my doubts whether a call for immediate action combined with an apparently clear goal to get the world “back on the right track” (i.e. repair it) would get us into a mode of “no alternative” (TINA). If there was no alternative, asking questions, reflecting, disagreeing would have to be regarded as a waste of time…

Tove Kjellmark's "Destruction of the Ego" Robot needs a repair

 

Technology and democracy

Of course, you can read the initial statement as a provocation, and the actual discussions were more balanced and aware of the two sides many measures to “save the world” have. The relations and tensions between technology and democracy formed a core topic on this festival around “Art, Technology, and Society”. Andreas Lehner of the CCC underlined the importance of hacker organisations for democracy with a quote of Albert Einstein: “Think also about the fact that it is the engineers who make true democracy possible. ” But while they (often) lay the foundations and enable communication and exchange, in a democracy, they should not be the ones to take decisions. As Amelia Andersdottir (MEP for the Piratpartiet) reported from her own experience, many decisions in today’s politics come prefabricated from expert organisations like the WTO. The European or national parliaments have little left to change – and often lack time and expertise to fully understand the concepts and even more to improve them. Additionally, more funding and experts form an advantage for large companies in the competition of opinions. This is not a conspiracy by “them” (a somewhat diffuse enemy Ralf Schmerberg wants to bash in his movie Problema), but a self-reinforcing process that needs to be changed.

216 prepared dc-motors/filler wire 1.0mm by Zimoun.

216 prepared dc-motors/filler wire 1.0mm by Zimoun.

Privacy

Today’s technology even enables a level of hypercommunication that goes further than most of its users want it, into the most private aspects of life. Google Streetview and Facebook were not in the center of discussions but a permanent subtext. (Maybe this is also because today’s developments in this area spread in realtime and solid critique is delayed, as Geert Lovink put it).The Austrian philosopher Andreas Hirsch even claimed that there is nothing left but an illusion of privacy. This brought up a fruitful debate with two remarkable statements:

Even this illusion is still valuable to Derrick de Kerckhove, because as long as we think of a private space, we can also think of a public space, reserved for arguments that are not meant personal. Joitchi Ito, who actually lives a pretty transparent life himself (deliberately), still was not convinced: Privacy is needed so that civil actions gain enough momentum before they are under public/governmental control (and possibly restrictions). If their is no private space anymore, there won’t be any strong impulses for the public space, the res publica. Privacy is an essential prerequisite to make “repair” possible for re(s)publics and democracies.

(You could also think of China as an extreme form of the expert society refered to by Andersdotter above, which might prescribe unacceptable standards for your way of life.)

Ars Electronica Courtyard

Courtyard of former Tabakfabrik, the venue of Ars Electronica

Open tools

A strong grassrootsmovement (at least at ars electronica) is dedicated to opensource technology. Open software is much more common and accepted today (just think of Mozilla’s Firefox), but it is not software alone anymore.

Unhappy with today’s versions of social networks, Maxwell Salzberg presented the Diaspora project that aims at making the flow of (user) data more transparent and thus giving users a better control of privacy (Gert Lovink added similiar projects like GNUsocial, AppleSeed, and status.net). I personally find this extremely important, not only because of the significance social networks have today, but also because the architecture of the new systems will have to offer solutions for some tricky problems (like interoperability, widespread acceptance, ease of use).

Head mounted eyetracking set

Head mounted open source eyetracker (hardware side)

When you hit the borders of opensource software, you will soon want additional hardware. The Free Art and Technology Lab, together with the Graffiti Research Lab, Open Frameworks, and the Ebeling Groupcreated a do-it-yourself eyetracking system (with claimed 50$ costs in hardware) called the Eyewriter. They initially created it for a friend who suffers of ALS/Lou Gehrig’s Desease and can’t moeve anything but his eyes. While eyetracking as an expensive technology is not new, this package of hardware instructions and powerful software puts it into the hands of everybody, to explore, adapt, and improve.

MakerBot

MakerBot in action

Material/3d printers used to be another high-tech, high-cost device. Now there is the makerbot to print out the 3d models of the general public. And from being the attraction itself it already tends to become a supporting part of other artworks, like in Daan van den Berg’s Merrick.

Oribots by Matthew Gardiner

The parts of Matthew Gardiner’s Oribotic project are also created with a 3d printer.

Even “bio technology” is now tinkered with. There are more speculative designs for debate, like Catherin Kramer’s Community Meat Lab. It combines the (future) in-vitro growing of meat with a community based form of production. While open sourcing biotec, she also tries to avoid the gap between food producers and consumers of today’s industrialised supply systems. Ready to build (it yourself) are the low tech/recycled The Windowfarms Project by Britta Riley.

Windowfarm

Britta Riley’s Windowfarms

Interestingly enough, considerable exhibition space was given to industrial companies in the Repair Fair – some of them surely a proof for former utiopias and brave enterpreneurship. Other big ones like Siemens or Linz AG apeared in a strange contrast to the rest of the exhibition, being as responsible for the often bemoaned state of the enviroment as well as potential contributors to “reparation”.

Repair for originals!

For many people who create opensource technolgy today, disassembling devices because they were broken has often been the first step into working with technology. This is contained in one of the statements in the platform 21 Repair Manifesto, (to me) one of the most important documents of the ars:

7. To repair is to discover.

[…]

10. Repairing is indiependence.
Don’t be a slave to technology – be its master. If it’s broken, fix it and make it better. And if you’re a master, empower others.

Woolfiller

straight forward repair by filting in situ: Woolfiller by Heleen Klopper

Additionally, they gave me a very enlightening explanation for “authenticity”, the feeling that certain things are somehow weaved into our personal history. We often tend to cling to old stuff, even when new products were easily available (a marketing department’s nightmare: happy people don’t buy new stuff, and authenticity is hard to synthesize). When you repair something after an accident or because it is worn out, you focus especially on the parts of a thing which make you aware of your “common experiences”. And repairing causes an self-reinforcing exchange with a thing: you dedicate time and effort and this makes it even more important and unique to you.

9. Repaired things are unique.
Even fakes become originals when you repair them.

Shoe Goo Repair

At the Shoe Goo repair station, Arne Hendriks applies “street knowledge” from skaters to make you shoes live longer.

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Out of the Order

versatile vehicle to fix all kinds of problems, in Switzerland

Ars Electronica 2010 takes a car repair shop point of view on society. Something is wrong with the world, we see it everyday: economy is causing more troubles than it solves, our ecosystem appears to be exploited beyond its limits, and a general felt lack of influence on political processes makes us feel helpless. We need to fix that.

Fix what?

Repairing something means that it is out of order, out of a state how it should be, how it was designed. It sounds like an engineer’s or expert’s perspective, starting out from a blueprint and a good plan.
While this makes pretty much sense for devices, it is leads to interesting consequences when applied to society and also myself (“Repair yourself” is part of ars electronica’s programme).

It starts already at the most prominent crossing of technology and society, the internet: The way it was originally designed and how it is used today are pretty far from each other. Now, various parties would like to “repair” the net – one extreme wants to have far less checks and control to enable a free flow of information. The other extreme wants to turn the web into a highly regulated marketplace where companies authorize any transaction to ensure their profit share. Both parties think there are some mechanisms out of order at the moment, but they think of different “orders”.

Fix how?

Ideally, one would think of society as a (big) assembly of people who negotiate how they want to arrange their social rules, their interactions with the environment, etc. (some copyright by Habermas here). Of course, this is not how it works because we all have very different capabilities to express ourselves and convince others (you can also think of money as a convincing factor), resulting in different powers to form society.

But also when leaving that problem unconsidered, the current state of society is something that has been negotiated in countless discussions and ballots. What we see today has never been planned for. There are some blueprints for the process itself, and people might come with blueprints into the discussions. But the result is usually far from these blueprints, it’s something most people can live with, a compromise.

So, the result is the opposite of a plan, and even more, it gets continually altered, rearranged, “improved”, like a garden. Like plants and herbs, people also act autonomously. Can you repair a garden?

Since this year’s motto raises a lot of questions, you could consider it a good one. I’m really excited and curious about the answers the speakers and artists will bring along.

comment!