Natalie Kane: We’ve had a few questions in the audience, in particularly talking about the idea of assumptions and expectations that are built into technology. So as Georgina and Eleanor said, who really is in that circle of mages?
Georgina Voss: I would say it depends which structure you’re talking about, and Eleanor’s probably got a stronger background in this than I do, but there’s the point of where the points of legitimacy start to come in. I was thinking about this when I was pulling that together. There’s the point where you’re setting up visions in order to get some damn money. So you’re talking about the funding circles and the funding scene then. But you’re also talking about the power that gets set up within organizational structures as well. So whether and the type you’ve got, whether that’s something that’s coming from the top, whether it’s certain groups that are shifted out to the side. That’s kind of the who’s in, but there’s the gatekeepers that come at each point as well that as this thing is developed, whether it can get through and get pushed out into that, too.
Eleanor Saitta: I think to some degree it depends whether or not you have an organization that’s capable of self-reflection about inclusion, which the Valley is really hot on not doing right now. Even though that’s not universal, and I’ve actually seen one really amazing counter-example right now, which is Orion Labs (previously known as OnBeep) that build Star Trek communicators. They just released something called the Ruby which is a little thing, you put it there [points at a spot near shoulder], you tap, you get instant voice anywhere in the world. It’s pretty cool, but the thing about it that’s actually really cool is that they ship stuff that looks like jewelry that’s specifically designed to make sure that it fits a very diverse base of users that reflects the people they intend to actually be selling it to, and they actually did it right. So it’s not that it never happens but that it takes serious reflection. It’s not that you shouldn’t be able to define a circle of “this is who we think this is for,” it’s that you should actually do it consciously.
Natalie: Absolutely. A lot of the idea is what the visibility of these circles are, often because of the dominant culture. We do see that the products are there, and the people that come out with it. One of the things that was asked again on Twitter was at times like when you used the word “blerd” and “blipster,” which I completely hands-up would say I’d never heard before, which is kind of self-explanatory. And the idea of Black Twitter as being…those terms in particular being used as a reaction against the existing tech world, or as a way of using it to create new space and what that reaction is, really.
Chardine Taylor Stone: Certainly about using these spaces and reappropriating them, which [inaudible] making it your own, I guess. [inaudible] about ownership and opening digital space to allow people to do that, particularly those excluded in other spaces. So with “blurred,” for example it’s just a name, blerd. “I’m a blerd.” It’s a nerd, someone with interest in technology, they want to do stuff, but there’s something about making it black-specific which puts some other elements in there. So that post that I had in there, it wasn’t just about the individuality of yourself, it was about you as a black person engaging that technology and what that means for yourself and those coming after you, and what spaces you could see yourself in.
Natalie: Absolutely. Another example of that kind of reclamation of space is sex worker Twitter as well, where you have the voices coming through from that particularly minority. Or, I say minority but, that group that’s not particularly represented by white male-dominated Twitter.
So if we’re kind of creating lords and about that kind of question of, we know that we can’t dismantle the master with the master’s tools, then what do we have next and how do we start? Where can we start making progress in that space?
Chardine: Oh, Audrey Lorde’s quote. Where can we start making a process? I think, actually, we’re in quite an exciting time culturally, in terms of moving forwards in what tools we do have. I was talking about the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and how, I don’t know if you’d call it “hashtag culture,” but how that’s really kind of propelled so many conversations that work across distant groups because it’s there, it’s physical. There was one that…I work a lot in black feminist spaces, so there was one which was #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, which a lot of my white feminist friends engaged in a lot as well, which was really talking about the intersections of race and gender. Then there was #SolidarityIsForBlackMen, which is gender within race. So in terms of opening conversations, you’ve got that tool It’s accessible. It’s in your hand, it’s affordable. I think I saw some stats in America that say something along the lines of black people with mobile phone usage because a lot of people can’t afford iPads and things like that, so something like Twitter and Facebook is a real way that they can engage in social networks.
My family is part Trinidadian, and a friend of mine is in a PhD in Trinidad because Trinidad has got the most Facebook users per capita. It’s only an island of like 1.5 million. I think 1.4 million people are on Facebook there. So it’s a perfect place to do their PhD in social media and what that actually means.
Natalie: When we do look at the idea of how we do imagine our futures, a lot of us are using existing narratives that have a very large traditional background. So for instance the wizard and the demon, and the watchtowers and even The Craft which is about fifteen years old, right?
Georgina: Coming up to twenty.
Natalie: And how do we sort of imagine those futures, and where is their place for other futures that we perhaps haven’t seen yet. There’s a question from the audience (if you do have any questions, you can still tweet me) whether other queer, trans, and other futures exist. Do they exist or is this particular colonialism unique?
Georgina: I’d be interested in the context of that one. It feels like certainly there is a lot of future imagining in whatever sense through queer/trans communities. I think the example of all the different coding clubs, the example of even just setting up different spaces where conversations start happening is its own form of, not utopia-building, but just setting out forms of alternatives of what might be, and that is a form of strength in itself. Not necessarily about these things articulating and hitting the ground, although God knows they could, but more to give you that boost and that hit of energy to get you through to the next stage thinking “we can get through this as well.” Yeah, I think it’s definitely out there.
Eleanor: Yes, we’re using traditional elements in all of the stories that we’re telling, different traditions. But the whole point of myth is that it’s just the kind of ambient stuff of culture that you can reach out and do whatever you need to do with. Yes, it means things, sort of, it has dispositions, it has tendencies, but you could rewrite all of that. And I think that that’s one of the things that the chaos magic tradition that a lot of the stuff I was talking about is coming from, is a tradition that explicitly supports just like, “Let’s just take the stuff of the world and rewrite it, and it’ll mean whatever we need a thing to mean in this context.”
Chardine: I mentioned Orisha culture in my talk as well and African ways of thinking about gender and things like that. Actually, Octavia Butler wrote a book called Wild Seed, which features a character Anyanwu who changes gender to suit whatever situation as she needs. Sometimes she’s a white man, then she becomes a black woman, then she’s a black man. I definitely think there’s a conversation in afrofuturism, particularly now around queerness in black culture, as something that’s really being pushed forward, particularly in the Black Lives Matter campaign, which is run by three black queer women. It’s very central in a lot of the conversations that are happening in those spaces.
Natalie: We might actually have a microphone on the floor, still, if anyone does have any questions.
Audience 1: Hi. Thanks for your talks. One thing I wanted to ask about was whenever describing anything using metaphors or to a culture that is different to your own for whatever reason, is how to maintain its integrity and accuracy while still being able to communicate across the various barriers that we have.
Chardine: Is that a question for me…?
Natalie: I think it’s for everyone.
Eleanor: I guess it’s the same way we tell any story. Storytelling is not hard. It’s a skill, it’s an art, and part of that art is about meeting the reader where they are, figuring out, “Okay, so I normally tell this story this way, but tonight I need to change who the hero is because otherwise something is going to get lost in translation.” And I think they have to be living stories, is my answer.
Georgina: I think there’s something about acknowledging context. Thinking about if it’s appropriate to use the stories anyway, but if you are acknowledging context— The example I keep hearing about is the kind of metaphors that get used around the tech scene or dragging bits over from other spaces or other communities. What was it someone was talking about? Something they’d seen of someone talking about this is what you can learn about agile from being a Somali pirate? I can’t remember where this came from so I might have got that slightly wrong, but if felt like on one level you’re like there’s a very thin layer that you can kind of see that mechanically that works, but what that strips out is every kind of social, global, political specific context that comes with that. So, no? but without acknowledging it, then you don’t even get what that thing is or why that thing exists particularly there and locked into place in that thing and why perhaps talking about agile techniques doesn’t really hold or shouldn’t hold there at all. I think it’s like my usual push for greater recognition of the social and political contexts of this stuff, and if they should get used at all in that way.
Chardine: That’s quite interesting. Most of the things that I talked about were African-American and there does sometimes be a tendency with some African-American writers to write about the continent in a sort of mass, so it’s just Africa and it’s all one place and there aren’t all those little cultures and languages and all these intricacies of what’s happening in all those different areas. And now because we are starting to see what can be described as a kind of African cultural renaissance, I think someone asked me to retweet Chimurenga magazine, which I mentioned earlier, and there’s a web site OkayAfrica. So it’s sort of people being able to speak for themselves through that media and then to counteract some of the, I don’t now what the word would be, but kinda blanket views of a culture which is actually coming from still black people but from a different side. So it’s quite an interesting dynamic that’s happening there at the moment.
Natalie: Any other questions? I can see a hand just here.
Hi. Thanks very much for the talks. They were all very interesting. A question I guess mostly for Georgina. I was really interested in your talk about visions and the importance of understanding what they’re doing. But I think it’s also interesting to look back and where your visions have got us as well. A particular example I’m thinking of this is in the field of ubiquitous computing. So to look back at a vision of my advisor from 20 years ago and there’s been a lot of introspection recently about where did this vision get us? How it is different from where we ended up. And I just wondered if you had any sort of thoughts of how people reflect on visions and how people use visions in the present to to look back an say, “We’ve fulfilled this prophecy. We had a vision to get to this certain place.” What are your thoughts of the role of not only envisioning forward but also how much work we do to understand visions and looking back as well. Does that make sense?
Georgina: Yeah, absolutely. I think there’s been a ton of work that looks back at exactly that point of how did we get to this point with nuclear power, with the space race, with computing, to try and deconstruct at which point certain decisions, whether consciously or unconsciously, were made. It’s that kind of awesome rich historical archaeological digging, or historical anthropology, that are trying to figure out at what stage were those decisions made to frame for example certain aspects of the space race as highly patriotic in the sort of way of, “Goddamnit we’re going to do it before that particular group will.” Or whether it’s a sense of—I think the most interesting stuff is more where the visions are still in play but it’s still got you to a certain point, but what decisions do you make now to try and steer in one way or the other.
So again a lot of stuff around energy regimes and climate change, you’re still in the middle of a series of not conflicting, but multiple visions and how they can interplay. So there’s a certain value in being able to look back and say, “Well that for example is people talking about green regime because it’s going to build us jobs, that is people talking about a green regime because of the climate, that is people talking about this green regime because it’s a bigger holistic way of thinking about the world.” But then being able to say if they’ve got us to this point what does that mean if we turn around and start to try and take those things forward.
So if we had…I don’t want to get into another “The Internet where are we now?” thing. (And why not? The next conference.) But if these visions don’t stop I think is kind of the point I’m trying to say here that well, the final slide I have. There’s constantly a battle over expectations, there’s constantly a battle over expectations. That just because we’re at this point now where we have this thing [hold up cell phone] and this is the amount of visions that have got us to a point where this is the phone that fits in my hand and that’s why I haven’t got a newer, bigger one, amongst other reasons. But there’s a point of which of those visions are still in place, who still has power in that system to start pushing those things forward, and what modes of resistance do you have to start chipping away at them? Because absolutely, unless you understand the history of them, the social movement of them, you don’t understand how they’re going to move forward. But at the same time, there’s a point where you have to think “Where next? What are we going to do?”
Natalie: And is there a point still for visions, and as Ingrid mentioned is there still a place for magic? Does it mean that because there is an inherent sort of deception perhaps in the idea of visions, that we necessarily have to deconstruct them because as we know from afrofuturism and various other ways of communicating the futures that you want, they’re not always destructive, and they can be helpful, and they can bring hope and alternatives, and there’s no real transparency about… You can’t look at a story and know eactly, as you said before, each decision that’s been made, each character that’s been introduced, each protagonist that’s been defined, that sort of thing. I think it’s a case of where if there are more stories and there is more ability for us to understand to understand what these stories are, we might have some version of at least some more representative ideations of technology
We’re going to wrap up now because we’ve got the keynote happening, so we have to get out of here. But thank you very very much Georgina Voss, Eleanor Saitta, and Chardine Taylor Stone, and I’m going to bring Mr. Tobias Revell back up here. Thank you again.
Dedicated page for Haunted Machines at the main FutureEverything site.