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On my way back to the parking lot after getting a hair cut yesterday, on a whim I walked into the Flehite Museum to see what was on. A nice surprise was the exhibit of 100 works of Engelbert L’Hoëst (1919-2008), a local artist. Colorful expressive work. What spoke to me most were the night views of the sea he made in Portugal. Playing with how the moonlight can set strong accents.

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Three ships, Portugal, 1975

Also a really nice touch were a few facsimiles of diary notes the artist made.

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I don’t have a style, because every moment of life is different again. …. I have always remained seeking.

And, this one that led to my conclusion below.

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It is evening, a dark sky, some light further away. I hear the first tones of a bird starting a song. Again I see the spring nearing in my garden. My studio is full of excitement of what is about to come.

As E and I discussed this over dinner last night, my conclusion was it is really useful and good to share as much of your creative expressions and observations as possible, jot it all down, however trivial they might seem at the moment of making them. It provides glimpses into thoughts, processes, and are of value as such to those near and after you.

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Self portrait of/by Engelbert L’Hoëst, 1957

We had a very pleasant day at Dutch Design Week today. Some interesting things, but it did seem less inspiring than other editions. Maybe because we could roam and linger less this year. Our 3 yr old shared the experience with us, and that means my attention was with her a lot of the time. But some exhibits simply weren’t all that. Like reinventing the cellar to store fresh produce?

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Das sieht sehr interessant aus, Heinz. Die Verbindung zwischen Degrowth-denken und Contentstrategien; ich glaube wir brauchen mehr solche Beispiele wie man abstrakte Vorhaben umsetzt oder übersetzt in kleinere, mehr alltäglichen Kontexten, ohne dabei in die Falle des ‘toten Urgrossvater Prinzips*’ zu tappen.

Vielleicht ist auch dieses Event am 11.11. in Brüssel etwas für dich (ich habe vor dabei zu sein, hoffentlich klappt das auch): SciFi Economics Lab, von Edgeryders organisiert. Im Orga-Team ist Alberto Cottica, die du vielleicht im letzten Jahr bei Elmine’s Geburtstags-unconference gesprochen hast.

Ich habe aber auch eine ganz praktische Frage, über den Formfaktor deiner Präsentation: mir gefallen immer die HTML Folien, weil es ja leicht teilbar und in einem offenen Standard ist. Aber bist du während deines Vortrags von Internetzugang abhängig, oder hast du einen Weg das auch lokal auf der eigenen Maschine zu zeigen?

* Mein toter Urgrossvater ist Weltmeister in Energie, Wasser, seltene Erdmetalle, und CO2 usw. sparen. Seit er gestorben ist spart er 100% bis in aller Ewigkeit. Leben heist Verbrauch, und daher ist ‘sparen’ als Ziel an sich keine Lösung, ‘smartes’ denken über sparen im Kontext (neuer) Ziele aber schon (wie LED). Frei nach Bruce Sterling bei Reboot 2009.

Replied to a post by Heinz Wittenbrink Web teacher and blogger, living in Graz and sometimes in Dubrovnik.Heinz Wittenbrink Web teacher and blogger, living in Graz and sometimes in Dubrovnik.

Preparing an English version of my presentation on Content Strategy for Degrowth for our #coscamp today

“But that’s politics!” One of the other participants in our group discussing progress in tech said this to me during our work as the Copenhagen 150. “You sound like a politician”. I was making a second attempt summarising our discussion, trying to formulate our key points, after a first summary by someone else in the group.

The remark stood out for me, because of two reasons.

First, it surprised me that it seemed a new notion for the other person, as I think tech is inherently political. Tech shapes society, and society in turn shapes tech development. Tech in the way it creates or diminishes agency, creates affordances, deals with aspects like access, power (a)symmetries, externalisation of costs, in the way it gets deployed, is all about ethics. And ethics, as the practical expression of values and morals, is deeply political. Maybe less in a party political way, the politics as horse race we see play out daily in the news. That comparison might have been the source of surprise for the other participant. But definitely in the shape of a societal debate about desirability, impacts and intended and unintended consequences. At the start we had a great conversation with Denmarks ambassador to the tech industry (photo), which is a very clear expression of the political weight of tech, and just before the Copenhagen 150 I listened to a very good conversation between Casper Klynge, the tech ambassador, and former Dutch MEP / now Stanford international policy director Marietje Schaake, which rightly and firmly put tech discussions in the geopolitical arena.

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Second, the “you make it sound like politics” bit stood out for me, because it gave me a jolt realising that I should behave more purposefully on a political level. Some 25 years ago I briefly engaged in local city politics, but soon realised such games weren’t for me, and that a faster way to change is to start creating the little impacts you want to see. Not of the ‘move fast and break things’ type, but out of the belief that if you create new effective behaviours those will be contagious, and in aggregate lead to culture changes. It is how I ended up in open data for instance, I was already working on open government but not particularly getting anywhere, and then realised open data as a newly emerging topic provided a much better inroad to changing governance. It was seen as a tech-only topic by most politicians and thus unthreatening to the status quo, whereas it was clear to me that if you start pulling the strings of how data gets shared, you soon start pulling over the entire processes that lead to the creation and usage of that data, as its publication creates new realities that generates responses. Politics obviously always plays a role concerning internal relations within a client. A large part of my international work is about diplomacy and cultural sensitivity too. But treating it as a political endeavour in its own right is different. I realise I may be in a place in my work where that deserves to have a much more deliberate role.

During our work on shaping the Tech Pledge last week, we looked into progress as it is mentioned in the Copenhagen Letter as being different from just innovation. The Copenhagen Letter was written in 2017 as output of the same process that now delivered the Tech Pledge.

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Thomas, Techfestival’s initiator, reading the Copenhagen Letter
at the start of this year’s CPH150

Progress is not a fixed point on the horizon we said. What is progress shifts, with public opinion and new ideas of what is good, just, true and beautiful emerging, and with the movement of time itself. When the first steam engines appeared their plumes of smoke heralded a new age, that drove industrialisation, nation forming and, through rail roads, changed what cities were for and how city and countryside relate to each other. Steam engines still exist at the very heart of every electricity plant in the world, but progress has moved on from the steam engine.
We also realised that progress does not have fixed and static definition, and so we are free to fill it with whatever definition we think fits in the context we are looking at.

In terms of technology then, progress is a motion, a process, and in our group we defined it as (new) technology plus direction/sense of purpose. Technology here, to me at least, being not just ‘hard tech’, but also ‘soft tech’. Our methods, processes, organisational structures are technology just as much as fountain pens, smart phones and particle accelerators.

So we named a number of elements that fit into this understanding progress as a process and search for direction.

  • It is a part of human nature to strive for change and progress, even if not every single individual in every context and time will be so inclined. This desire to progress is more about setting a direction than a fixed end state. Hence our use of “(new) technology with intended direction” as working definition.
  • We need to be accountable to how anything we make fits the intended direction, and additionally whether it not externalises human or ecological costs, or conflicts with our natural systems, as these are often ignored consequences.
  • We recognise that direction may get lost, or ends up in need of change, in fact we realise that anything we make is largely out of our control once released into the world.
  • So we pledge to continuous reflection on the direction our tech is taking us in practice. Not just during its development or launch, but throughout its use.
  • Whether we want to use the tech we created ourselves, or see our loved ones use it is a smell test, if it doesn’t pass our emotional response something is off.
  • What doesn’t pass the smell test needs to be explored and debated
  • We have a civic duty to organise public debate about the value and direction of our tech right alongside our tech. Not just at the start of making tech, but throughout the life cycle of something you make. If you make something you also need to organise the continuous debate around it to keep a check on its societal value and utility, and to actively identify unintended consequences.
  • If our tech is no longer fit for purpose or takes an unintended turn, we have a duty to actively adapt and /or publicly denounce the aspect of our tech turned detrimental.

20190907_120354Working on the pledge

Regardless of what the Copenhagen Pledge says in addition to this, this reflective practice is something worth wile in itself for me to do: continuously stimulate the debate around what you make, as part and parcel of the artefacts you create. This is not a new thing to me, it’s at the core of the unconferences we organise, where lived practice, reflection and community based exploration are the basic ingredients.

To me what is key in the discussions we had is that this isn’t about all tech in general, though anyone is welcome to join any debate. This is about having the moral and civic duty to actively create public debate around the technology you make and made. You need to feel responsible for what you make from inception to obsolescence, just as you always remain a parent to your children, regardless of their age and choices as adult. The connection to self, to an emotional anchoring of this responsibility is the crucial thing here.

So there I was on a rainy Copenhagen evening finding myself in a room with 149 colleagues for 24 hours, nearing midnight, passionately arguing that technologists need to internalise and own the reflection on the role and purpose of their tech, and not leave it as an exercise to the academics in the philosophy of technology departments. A duty to organise the public debate about your tech alongside the existence of the tech itself. If your own tech no longer passes your own smell test then actively denounce it. I definitely felt that emotional anchoring I’m after in myself right there and then.