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.

Audience 2:

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.

Further Reference

The Haunted Machines site.

Dedicated page for Haunted Machines at the main FutureEverything site.