Thursday, September 1, 2011

Chaz Evans - Jerimijenko/Bratton response

In this conversation Bratton and Jerimijenko discuss the role and impact of ubiquituos computing on participatory democracy and environmental health. A central motif and question that they often coming back to is how do non-human objects have more agency in a "parlaiment of things"? Can this be achieved with more sensors on more non-humans reporting back more data, and then who collects, interprets, and has access to this data? For the most part the two of them, and especially Jerimijenko, advocate for a more decentralized collection of data where anyone can participate in the production of knowledge toward environmental health. Bratton is a little skeptical of this, as it sounds like a cliche open-source kind of ideology to him. Jerimijenko sticks to the importance of this open data system, but also suggests that the way to establish such an open data-collection system is through the actions of the artist as a "non-expert expert" who stands in for the everyman in a discussion with scientists.

I really like this article because there is so much to agree with and so much to jump in and start taking positions against, reading makes its own micro-politics between the conversants and the reader. But, Jeremijenko's position to me sounds self-contradictory in that she seems to like the idea of increased agency and a broadened base of participatory democracy, but this cannot come about without embracing a certain degree of elitism to bring this about. The everyman represents themself by letting the artist represent them. This doesn't quite make sense. Artists speaking on behalf of everyone is just as dubious as scientists doing the same thing.

But as contentious as that stance is, they both really bring it back around in a nice way when they discuss how the inflexibility of a system is what allows flexibility to flow through it. This I think I'm very on board with, and I also think may help defray Jerimijenko's artist-favoring comments. What I think they are getting at is you need to have some infrastructure, and its needs to work well, but it only needs to determine really low level decisions. This infrastructure of course would have some impact on its use, but perhaps with that little bit of autonomy taken away, a small possibly trivial group decision, a relatively open and variable system can flow through. To put this is far simpler and perhaps reductive terms a little organization goes a long way. This seems to resonate with Cory Doctorow's Siggraph keynote speech where he went about discussing a copyright system in very similar terms. We need copyright, but only a little bit of copyright that doesn't micromanage and speak for people it shouldn't. Once a copyright system gets too specific and begins to micromanage, it only priviledges those who established the system and no longer benefits those it was supposedly made for. This seems like a nice balance point on the scale of control. We don't have to be 100 percent anti-system or 100 percent modernist tyrant. We can take a little of the latter and get a lot of the former.

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