Recalibrating Reality / by Scott Smith

Slide from Tobias Revell, Improving Reality 2013

Slide from Tobias Revell, Improving Reality 2013

I was incredibly lucky to be part of Improving Reality 2013, held this past week in Brighton as part of the Brighton Digital Festival and produced by Lighthouse, alongside dConstruct, Reasons Be Creative, and other allied events. Hopefully the videos of talks will be up soon, and I really encourage you to check them out. The whole day was exceptional.

The best part was being able to take the conversations had in the background with friends, colleagues, peers and new acquaintances to the foreground and onto the open stage. For my part, I got to moderate the final session, Reality Check, alongside some amazing talks by Farida Vis, Paula Le Dieu, Georgina Voss and Justin Pickard. I opened the session in a manner not typical for me, with some broad questions for speakers, audience, and frankly all of us, to consider given the times we're in:

"No free market, no open society, no democracy is truly fully transparent. For them to function, there is a certain amount of opacity, of black box, of immateriality, if you will. There has always been our known world, and a clear place where there be dragons. 

Now, the gears, the algorithms, the processes have become the machine itself. While we were sleeping, while we were occupied with growing the network, creating connections, (and in some cases protecting our position and privilege) the machine has become its own reality, or, at best, a tool of other realities. We are happy to quantify ourselves, but don't expect to be quantified by others. Citizenship is considered our opt-in to be measured, monitored, and watched over by infrastructure. Bridges, books and glasses increasingly have rights now, but we have fewer. We've ticked the box on the end user license agreement that says someone else can now own our measurements and personal geometry. 

So we face a question: Is this still flat plane on which we seek to build? Or have the spikes in our spiky world become bubble-realities of their own? The so-called scandals of overreach we find so abhorrent are actually the shape of ghost infrastructure we've allowed to be built, its operators the defenders of a separate set of rules. Is this our world warped, or is it something else, or many other things?

Can we still own, control, manage these infrastructures, or these superstructures as they've become? Do we have any way of seeing into, much less tune, the formulae inside these black boxes? How do they see us? How do we render to them? Have we lost control of them, and can we ever gain a view into them?

Is all of the rhetorical discussion of innovation also now bent in service to these infrastructures? Who is going to innovate and create futures for us? Where do our reality building tools come from? What does this mean for culture? For creativity? Is it about wrestling the one reality we've always thought we operated under, and shaping its contours, or about trying to discover and/or the shape of new ones?"