Treating myself to this as a refresher, and to help me get back into reading more deeply around these subjects. Have a whole stack of stuff lined up, but need a bit of push to start reading more earnestly.

Liked Online Course Philosophy and Ethics of Human-Technology Relations and Design (Peter-Paul Verbeek)

A new edition of our online course ‘Philosophy of Technology and Design’ will start May 4 2020. A crash course in the philosophy and ethics of human-technology relations and design in three weeks, four hours per week,….

Good to see this conversation between Howard Rheingold and the good people at Edgeryders (yet another place I’m more of a boundary spanner, link to a G translated Dutch posting I wrote last week) happening. Is the communitarian Internet back in the wake of COVID-19? Howard brings the perspective of the late 80’s, early 90’s, as does Edgeryder’s own John Coate. I too see a surge in online conversations and actions that feel more like back then, than what the likes of FB silos have been algorithmically feeding us the last 5 years or so. It has been brewing for a while already, with a slow but steady trickle back to blogging. Even if that trickle was mostly people returning to their earlier online spaces, which they left for FB and Twitter post 2006. The sudden surge now that everyone and their mother, literally, is coming online more or less full time, may expose a much wider population to the type of community based interaction that was prevalent before social media and ad-tech domination.

Bookmarked a post (Edgeryders)

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HowardRheingoldJI4.jpg I have been online since 1992 – hell, I practically lived online most of these 30 years. What drew me to the Internet was not the presence of shiny, easy-to-use, free services – they were not there in the early days. On the contrary, you had to put in time and money if you wanted to, as we said then, “connect to the Internet”. But the reward was high. Whatever your tribe, you would find it. Whether you cared about particle…

Iedereen hongert naar informatie, en naarmate we langer thuis zitten waarschijnlijk ook naar meer nuttige dingen om te doen. Data en informatie kan bij dat laatste helpen: om te zien waar je nuttig iets toe kunt voegen. Hoeveel materiaal is er beschikbaar in Nederland, en wat dreigt op te raken in een regio? Hoeveel tests worden er gedaan, hoeveel zijn er op voorraad? Welke maatregelen worden er precies genomen? Want het RIVM, GGD’s en zorginstellingen doen veel meer dan we kunnen zien. Het antwoord op die vragen is niet beschikbaar. En dus moet je of aannemen dat ‘de instanties’ het allemaal al geregeld hebben (en dat is niet waarschijnlijk want ook voor hen is een nieuwe en complexe situatie), of aannemen dat ze je bewust ongeïnformeerd houden en je niet als zelfstandige actor in deze situatie zien (en ook dat is niet waarschijnlijk, want onze medewerking is noodzakelijk).

Zelfs basale gegevens als het aantal positief getesten, overledenen, en ziekenhuisopnames, zijn niet beschikbaar als data. De cijfers worden wel genoemd in de dagelijkse nieuwsbulletins van het RIVM, maar bijvoorbeeld t.a.v. het aantal tests en ziekenhuisverblijven maar mondjesmaat en inconsistent. Het RIVM heeft wel een data site maar daar is het akelig stil.

Geen relevante zoekresultaten op data.rivm.nl

Ik maak sinds eind februari een excelblaadje, waarin ik elke dag een nieuwe regel toevoeg. Om daar uit af te leiden of we nog op de exponentiële curve zitten, of we in de buurt blijven van wat andere landen doormaken of daar vanaf wijken, en hoe dit zich verhoudt tot de cijfers over het aantal ziekenhuis- en IC-bedden. Raar natuurlijk dat die gegevens, die deels wel in de nieuwsberichten op de RIVM site staan, niet ook als data op diezelfde site te vinden zijn.

Door deze data niet standaard te delen bereik je 3 ongewenste effecten:

  • Je bent niet zelf de betrouwbaarste bron van data, iedereen die iets wil weten is afhankelijk van materiaal uit tweede (of erger) hand.
  • Het is onmogelijk om snel na te gaan of een artikel dat je leest zich baseert op kloppende brongegevens
  • Data en informatie is een middel om anderen in staat te stellen in actie te komen op manieren die het werk van het RIVM en de zorginstellingen ondersteunen. Gebrek aan informatie doemt ons op zijn best tot stilzitten, op zijn ergst tot ongeïnformeerde en schadelijke keuzes.

Die laatste van de drie is het belangrijkst. En dus is het nodig vragen aan het RIVM te stellen naar die gegevens. Dergelijke vragen worden snel als lastig, kritisch en storend ervaren. Het RIVM is volledig bezet met het bestrijden van de epidemie, en dan is elke afleiding storend. Maar in een crisis is zo groot mogelijk transparantie geven juist van belang. Dan hebben wij allemaal meer informatie om onze eigen beslissingen op te baseren, en beter te snappen waar we aan toe zijn. Die transparantie is niet alleen een taak van het RIVM, maar ook van de veiligheidsregio’s. Die veiligheidsregio’s tekenen de verordeningen waarin de beperkingen worden vastgelegd die we nu hebben. Het bestuur van die regio’s zijn de burgemeesters van de gemeenten die er binnen vallen. Die burgemeesters dienen een grotere rol te hebben in de communicatie naar hun inwoners. Niet alleen mondelinge communicatie, maar ook de feiten over de eigen regio gevat in data.

Vragen stellen aan het RIVM op dit moment werkt storend voor het RIVM, leidt af in een tijd van grote drukte en stress. Criticasters leiden alleen tot bunkermentaliteit, en dat komt de kwaliteit van hun werk niet ten goede. Toch is die missende data erg nodig.
Aantal positieve tests, en totaal aantal tests per etmaal, data uit het NIVEL netwerk, aantal sterfgevallen, demografische verdeling van zieken, gehanteerde rekenmodellen, gemaakte keuzes en verworpen keuzes, escalatiepaden, ziekenhuis en ICU bezetting per ziekenhuis, aantal huidige en historische ziekenhuisopnames, genezingen, maatregelen per veiligheidsregio (er zijn nl verschillen) en landelijk, lopende initiatieven RIVM, voorraden en verbruikssnelheid van tests en alle benodigde medische materialen, etc. etc. Het is er ongetwijfeld allemaal.

Dus hoe kunnen we de helpende hand bieden op vlakken die nu niet prioritair zijn voor het RIVM maar wel belangrijk voor de maatschappij, voor ons? Zoals communicatie en datavoorziening.
Ik snap dat het RIVM volledig in beslag wordt genomen door het werk aan Corona. Hoe kunnen we voldoende mensen regelen die de communicatie-kant komen versterken, zorgen dat informatie / overzichten / data die er ongetwijfeld wel zijn ook publiek worden gedeeld op een herbruikbare manier?
Niet om het RIVM te controleren, maar om anderen in staat te stellen te helpen, en datgene te doen wat in hun eigen context mogelijk is en bijdraagt aan het gezamenlijke doel.
Je zou bijkans een hele afdeling wetenschapscommunicatie en data-savvy mensen naar binnen* kunnen loodsen bij het RIVM met als enige doel ons leken met informatiehonger voldoende te voeden, zodat de RIVM professionals zelf kunnen doen wat nodig is. Ik snap dat het RIVM die mensen nu niet ter beschikking heeft, maar dat leidt geheid tot onrust en wantrouwen onder het publiek juist. Als niet nu dan in de komende weken wel.
(* ‘binnen’ alleen metaforisch natuurlijk, we blijven allemaal remote werken uiteraard. #blijfgewoonthuis)

Harold Jarche rightly points to being able to judge and shape your information filters as a critical element in keeping yourself informed about emergent crises like Covid19. What Harold calls trusted filters is the primary reason I follow people not sources in my feeds, and all of those people are selected by myself, not by someone else’s algorithm. It is how I came across Harold’s post in the first place, because he’s been in my list of feeds for many years. Feedback across filters, so that what Harold shares might get commented here, which then gets shared back to my network which includes Harold, is how patterns emerge. This of course does mean you need to ensure your filter has enough variety and churn to avoid echo chambers. Which is why hand curating my list of people to follow is important, I know these people and what I know about them is an active part of the filtering I do. In my mind, the combination of my filtering and sharing, and Harold’s filtering and sharing as well as those of others I follow, constitute a LOFAR, which is able to spot small movements and emerging interests across my networks, and recognising which noises are actually signals to my interests and concerns. Keeping my LOFAR in good working order requires regular attention, and likely more than I already pay to it.

This doesn’t mean that institutional information isn’t valuable. It is actually invaluable. Institutions are the stock of info, the residue of years of knowledge, where my networks and filters are the flow, the reflection on, application, changing and emergence of knowledge. Such knowledge is critical for crap detection, also when it comes to the stuff my network shares with me. In times of emergent crises like Covid19, such institutional knowledge about how to deal with the specifics of e.g. a pandemic is crucial. So I keep an eye on the general statistics collected at John Hopkins, the advise and info of the RIVM (the Dutch national institute for health and environment, in charge of epidemic response) concerning the Netherlands specifically, and what e.g. the WHO says about pandemic response on a personal level and organisational level (e.g. business continuity). My LOFAR in turn allows me to sense what is going on across my networks in this context.

The LOFAR ‘superterp’ in Drenthe, which has hundreds of small antennas, combining with 47 other locations into a total of some 20.000 antennas for signal detection

Through a reference by Julian Elvé, I read Doc Searls’ talk that he gave last October and has now published, Saving the Internet – and all the commons it makes possible.

Internet OpenInternet Open, image by Liz Henry, license CC BY ND

First he says of the internet as commons
In economic terms, the Internet is a common pool resource; but non-rivalrous and non-excludable to such an extreme that to call it a pool or a resource is to insult what makes it common: that it is the simplest possible way for anyone and anything in the world to be present with anyone and anything else in the world, at costs that can round to zero.

As a commons, the Internet encircles every person, every institution, every business, every university, every government, every thing you can name. It is no less exhaustible than presence itself. By nature and design, it can’t be tragic, any more than the Universe can be tragic.

He then lists 9 enclosures of that commons currently visible, because enclosure is one of the affordances the internet provides.

See, the Internet is designed to support every possible use, every possible institution, and—alas—every possible restriction, which is why enclosure is possible. People, institutions and possibilities of all kinds can be trapped inside enclosures on the Internet.

  1. service provisioning, for example with asymmetric connection speeds. Asymmetry favours consumption over production. Searls singles out cable companies specifically for wanting this imbalance. I’ve been lucky from early on. Yes until fiber to the home, we had asymmetrical speeds, but I had a fixed IP address from the start and ran a web server under my desk from the mid ’90s until 2007 when I started using a hoster for this blog. I still run little experiments from my own server(s) at home. The web was intentioned to be both read and write even at the level of a page you visited (in short the web as online collaboration tool, in a way like Google documents). For most people the general web is preceived as read-only I assume, even if they participate in silos where they do post stuff themselves.
  2. 5G wireless service, as a way for telco’s to do the same as cable companies did before, in the form of content-defined packages. I am not sure if this could play out this way in the Netherlands or the EU, where net neutrality is better rooted in law, and where, especially after the end of roaming charges in the EU, metered data plans either have become meaningless as unmetered plans are cheap enough, or at least the metered plans themselves are large enough to make e.g. zero-rating a meaningless concept. 5G could however mean households might choose to no longer use a fixed internet subscription for at home, and do away with their own wifi networks, I suspect, and introducing a new dependency where your mobile and at home access are all the same thing and a singular choke point.
  3. government censorship, with China being the most visible one in this space, but many countries do aim to block specific services at least temporarily, and many countries and collections of countries are on the path to realising their own ‘data spaces’. While understandable, as data and networks are strategic resources now, it also carries the risk of fragmentation of the internet (Russia e.g.), motivated ostensibly by safety concerns but with a big dollop of wanting control over citizens.
  4. the advertising-supported commercial Internet. This is the one most felt currently. Adtech that tracks you across your websurfing habits, and not just in the silos you inhabit
  5. protectionism, which Searls ties to EU privacy laws, which I find a very odd remark. While GDPR could be better, it is a quality instrument with a rising floor, that is not designed to protect the EU market, but to encourage global compliance to its standards. A way of shaping instruments the EU uses more often, and has proven to be a succesfull export product. The cookie notices he mentions are a nuisance, but not the result of the GDPR, and in my mind more caused by interpreting the (currently under revision) cookie law in a deliberate cumbersome way. Even then, I don’t see how privacy regulation is protectionism, as it finds its root in human rights, not competition law.
  6. Facebook.org, or digital colonialism. This is the efforts by silos like FB to bring the ‘next billion’ online in a fully walled garden that is free of charge and presented as being the web, or worse the internet itself. I’ve seen this in action in developing countries and it’s unavoidable for most if not all, because it is the only way to access the power of agency that the internet promises, when there’s is no way you can afford connectivity.
  7. forgotten past, caused by the focus on the latest, the newest, while at the same time the old is not only forgotten but also actively lost as it gets taken offline etc. I think this is where strong opportunities are arising for niche search engines and also search engines as a personal tool. You don’t need to build the next Google or be a market player even, to meaningfully erode the position of Google search. For instance it is quite feasible to have my own search engine that only searches all the blogs I subscribe and have subscribed to (I actually should build that). At the same time, there is a slow steady and increasing effort of bringing more of the old, just not the old web, online by the ongoing digitisation of physical archives and collections of artefacts. More of our past, our global cultural heritage, is coming onto the web every day and it is really still only at the start.
  8. algorithmic opacity. This one is very much on the agenda across Europe currently, mainly as part of ethical discussions and right now mostly centered around government transparency. The GDPR contains a clause that automated algorithmic decision making about people is not allowed. At the very least having explainable alogrithms, and transparent usage of them is a likely emerging practice. Asymmetry of decision making also plays a useful role. This one too is closely tied to human rights which will help bring in parties to the discussion that are not of the tech world. At issue with what we currently see of algorithms is that they are used over our heads, and not yet much as personal tool, where it could increase our networked agency.
  9. the one inside our heads, where we accept the internet as it is presented to us by those invested in one or more of the above 8 enclosures. With understanding what the internet is and how it is a commons as a public awareness need.

Go read the entire thing, where Doc Searls describes what the internet is, how it connects to human experience and making the hyper local key again when there is a global commons encompassing everyone, and how it erodes and replaces institutions of the 20th century and earlier. He talks about how the internet “means we are all authors of each other“.

At the end he asks What might be the best way to look at the Internet and its uses most sensibly?, and concludes “I think the answer is governance predicated on the realization that the Internet is perhaps the ultimate commons“, and “There is so much to work on: expansion of agency, sensibility around license and copyright, freedom to benefit individuals and society alike, protections that don’t foreclose opportunity, saving journalism, modernizing the academy, creating and sharing wealth without victims, de-financializing our economies… the list is very long

I’m happy to be working on the first three of those.

Robert Allerton Park in Monticello, Illinois. English Walled Garden.Walled garden, image by Ron Frazier, license CC BY