In January 2020 David will present a paper co-authored with Frantz Rowe, and Jessica Muirhead, entitled “Understanding digital events: process philosophy and causal autonomy” at the Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, the longest standing scientific conference in the information systems and technology field.
Understanding Digital Events Posts
The book of the Colloquium, “Understanding Digital Events: Bergson, Whitehead, and the Experience of the Digital” was published in May 2019, by Routledge. This book featured chapters written by each of the contributors to the Colloquium on Digital Events that took place in June 2018.
1. Introduction by David Kreps and Jessica Muirhead
2. Technology, Narrative, and Performance in the Social Theatre by Mark Coeckelbergh
3. Not Merely Physical by Malcolm Garrett
4. Event and Mind: An Expanded Bergsonian Perspective by Yasushi Hirai
5. From Darkness to Light: Design to Evoke the Unconscious by Chris Bush And Elizabeth Buie
6. Digital Events and the Ethics of Neuro-ICT by Bernd Stahl
7. Experiencing Reality Alive: Bergson and Whitehead on Engaged Experience by Tina Röck
8. Discussion and Conclusions for the Notion of Infomateriality by David Kreps
Kreps, D., (ed.) (2019) Understanding Digital Events: Bergson, Whitehead, and the Experience of the Digital. London: Routledge.
The Final Report to the British Academy was sent in February 2019. Highlights were as follows:
This project introduces an events-based approach to understanding digital experience. Focusing on the event-ontologies of Bergson and Whitehead’s process metaphysics, it explores subjective experience and objective reality as unified ‘events’ in the form of concrete slabs of existence. Such slabs are temporally defined by a term or period, in which all physical-chemical processes and personal subjective experience are included. Bringing together insights from a range of different specialisms, it urges us to consider a science of nature that includes both physical and non-physical realities and, from this ontological position, draws on philosophy, media, and user experience practice to provide a new account of the technological or virtual world of today. An examination of the manner in which process philosophy may be applied to contemporary digital experience, the publications from this project will appeal to scholars of philosophy, science and technology studies and information systems.
Malcolm Garrett, Creative Director at Images&Co, is a Royal Designer for Industry, and – as well as contributing a chapter to the collected edition produced by this project – is a speaker on design, and knowledge exchange. As something of a legend in British graphic design (responsible for the album covers of the Buzzcocks, Simple Minds and DuranDuran in the 1980s) his reach into design audiences is wide and highly respected.
The Digital User Experience community in the world of web development and design, furthermore, will not only find this work of interest, but were represented and included in the project, by Sigma Consulting Solutions, UK, Ltd. Chris Bush – Head of User Experience at Sigma – as well as contributing a chapter to the collected edition produced by this project – is a speaker on design, usability, and inclusion at local, national and international business events and conferences, and he supports a number of grass-roots community groups including Northern UX and UXmentors.
The project has been a success, and it has been a very productive year. All the original aims have either been met or are in progress. In detail:
- A close study of the philosophies of Bergson and Whitehead was undertaken, and a document created summarising their approaches, complementarities and dissonances between them, and a unified approach combining them. [This document formed a Masters Dissertation which gained the Award Holder an MA Philosophy from the Open University at the end of the year, and an expanded version of this will become part one of a monograph.]
- A web-based diary application was created for the fieldwork element of the project. Twenty-three participants (twelve over 65s and thirteen 18-25yr olds) were recruited to undertake four-week diary studies, and 6 interviews undertaken. These have been entered into nVivo and coded.
- A Colloquium was convened in June including three philosophers, an information systems scholar, a designer and two private sector web specialists. All were highly regarded in their fields. Chapters developed from these talks – referring to each other – with an introduction and concluding chapter by the award holder, have been completed and the final manuscript of this collected edition is now in production at Routledge, due for publication in May 2019.
- Two conference papers on the project have been presented: at EASST in Lancaster in July, and at ICIS in San Francisco in December.
- Analysis of the nVivo data continues towards a book chapter for a collected edition being produced by the Association for Information Systems Special Interest Group on Philosophy in I.S. (SIGPHIL) for publication in 2020
- A third conference paper for HICSS (January 2020) is preparation
- A journal paper for JAIS or EJIS is in development, due to be submitted in early 2020.
- A contract for a monograph has been signed with Routledge, comprising the unique synthesis of Bergson and Whitehead described above, a thorough write-up of the fieldwork (developed from the conference papers, book chapter and journal paper) and a concluding summary of where the philosophies sit today and what this all means for our understanding of the digital. Manuscript due at Routledge end of 2020.
- A website detailing the various milestones of the project has been kept throughout the year, at www.concrescence.org.uk and continues to be updated from time to time
- The two key ‘takeaways’ from this excursion into metaphysical philosophy for the analysis of diary studies and interviews concerning digital experience are: (i) mindfulness, and (ii) co-direction.
Advances in Knowledge
Firstly, if, as the philosophy of Henri Bergson stresses, free will is in fact quite so key to the nature of consciousness, to the nature of reality no less, then our digital experience can be regarded as positive inasmuch as it enhances, or makes or allows space for us to be sufficiently mindful and reflective to reach decision points that instantiate and enact free will. Conversely, our digital experience can be regarded as negative inasmuch as we are rushed or pressured into accepting or acquiescing to situations that, given sufficient time, we would not have chosen, or are in effect tricked by hidden processes into activities and situations we would not have chosen had we been aware of all the facts.
Secondly, in a related manner, the relationality of a world understood from a process philosophy approach, in which the multiple interrelationships of a shifting universe become the focus, in contrast to the distinctiveness of ‘fixed things,’ is not only redolent of a world understood in terms of actor-network-theory, but at the root of that theory itself. Actor Network Theory is an important theoretical tool in the Information Systems (IS) field. As sociologists Halewood and Michael (2008, p.33) point out, “Latour uses the work of Whitehead to support and develop his arguments (Latour, 1999; 2004)” – mainly in his book, Pandora, but also in a number of journal papers (e.g. Latour, 2007), lectures (Latour, 2008) and a review he wrote of Isabella Stengers’ book on Whitehead (Latour, 2005). Thus, process philosophy understandings can be read as underpinning the notion that ‘objects’ can be understood as ‘actants.’ In this sense, then, it is clear that technological artefacts in our lives need to be seen, to continue the theatrical metaphor inherent in the term, ‘actant,’ as co-directors of our lives (Coeckelbergh, 2019). The choices, in other words, that we make, when exercising our free will, are constrained and circumscribed not merely by the fundamentals of gravity, body shape, atmosphere, etc, but by the tools we ourselves have made.
The implications of these two ‘takeaways’ from the philosophy, then, for analysing the diary studies and interviews described in this paper, are that there is a good deal of ‘co-direction’ going on in our relationship with online services – not least Facebook. Most of our participants are in fact largely aware of this, in a sometimes cynical, sometimes acquiescent, and sometimes angry and frustrated manner. Crucially, it is their ability to exercise their own free will that such co-direction impinges upon, and threatens, to varying degrees. Nor – fascinatingly – does there seem to be much evidence, at least in our data, for any kind of ‘divide’ on these crucial issues of autonomy, between the two different age-groups of our participants. Consciousness is not as age-related as technological dexterity.
In December 2019 David presented his paper on why Infomateriality is not sociomateriality at the International Conference on Information Systems, in San Francisco, California, US. The paper and its poster can be viewed here.
This presentation coincided with the submission of the manuscript of the Colloquium book to Routledge, and almost brought the funded Understanding Digital Events project to a close. The contract with Routledge for the final monograph was signed in December, too, with the manuscript due to the publishers end of 2020.
It has been an extraordinary journey, and David would like to especially thank Jessica Muirhead for her hard work as Research Assistant in the Spring and Summer, and co-authoring chapters and papers arising from the project. The research, of course, as well as the writing-up, continues…
In July David Kreps and Jessica Muirhead presented early findings at the EASST Conference in Lancaster. Speaking last in a group of four papers in the session, everyone was struck by how earlier references to work by Bruno Latour, and by Bergson, was then given deeper philosophical context by our own talk on Whitehead’s approach, and our fieldwork with over 65s.
The slides are available on slideshare.net
The Colloquium on our experience of digital events brought together people from several very different fields: three philosophers – one a philosopher of technology, the other two specialists on Bergson and Whitehead; two practitioner papers – from the world of digital design, and from the world of user experience; and finally a computer ethicist, describing his work with neuroscientific research into the construction of a digital brain.
The day began with an introduction to the project by David Kreps, and proceeded with the President of the Society for Philosophy of Technology, Mark Coeckelbergh, speaking to us about how Latour and Goffman and Riceour can inform an understanding of the performative narrative of our experience of technology. Then Malcolm Garrett walked us through reminiscences about his engagement with designing album covers for the music business – by imagining the 2D cover as a 3D space approachable from any direction – and then how this work evolved into imagery for CD-ROMS, and on into the design of wayfinding systems for the UK Border Agency, London Transport, and the City of Dublin. This was followed by Yasushi Hirai introducing us to the four-dimensional geometry of Bergson’s Matter and Memory,showing us the mapping of how the speed of our apprehension of duration, compared with the speed of sub-atomic vibrations and the relative speed of the consciousness of other living beings, grants us a key to understanding the nature of consciousness. I was struck by how the mapping of the city in Malcolm Garrett’s design process – focussed upon the aspects of how people get from A to B – seemed to chime with the mapping of relative speeds of time awareness in Yasushi Hirai’s depiction of consciousness. The ‘if this then that’ diagrams of data-driven schematics in the process of digital wayfinding seemed to carry a new resonance when mapped against how differences in time awareness produce choices and thereby consciousness.
Our next practitioner paper from Chris Bush and Elizabeth Buie gave us a window into the world of Dark and Light patterns in UX – how the design of a user experience pathway through an online service, using the tricks of psychology and feedback, can lead us into unwanted purchases and addictive behaviour, in one direction, or potentially toward bright and even transcendent experiences, in another. Bernd Stahl then gave us a whirlwind tour of the Human Brain Project – an enormous EU project involving hundreds of academics and practitioners – for which he and his colleagues run an Ethics sub-project, designed to ask the awkward questions regarding consent. Neuroscience and the wing of philosophy of mind working closely with it are here pitted against an understanding of the human person with rights whose consent must be given – whether that person’s consciousness is explained away as mere effervescent vibrations from the brain – or not. The day’s talks concluded with Tina Rock’s clear and inspiring depiction of what she calls ‘engaged experience’ – how Bergson and Whitehead arrived at an understanding of reality as processual and dynamic, and conceived of reality as alive.
During the course of the rest of the Summer the presenters will reformulate their papers, in light of each other’s contributions, and an edited book will be published by Routledge in the New Year.
The Programme for the Colloquium on Understanding Digital Events, 14th June 2018, will be as follows:
9.30am Welcome. Coffee
10.00am David Kreps, (University of Salford, UK)
Understanding Digital Events
An introduction to the British Academy project by its Principal Investigator.
Technology and narrativity: How technology writes, directs, and organizes the narrative and temporal structure of our lives
What does a process approach imply for thinking about technology? This talk discusses the question what the notion of narrativity can do for understanding technology. Using a number of metaphors borrowed from domains such as literature and theatre, I try to conceptualize what technology, in particular digital technologies, do to our lives in terms of their impact on narrative-temporal structure. I give examples from use of mobile phones and social media to show how technology writes, directs, and organizes the narrative and temporal structure of our lives. In response to postphenomenology, I emphasize embodiment and the agency of technology, but stress that currently that approach lacks a good conceptualization of the temporal dimension of what technology does and misses the existential importance of narrativity. Moreover, I argue that Latour’s approach is helpful here but needs to be further developed by critically reflecting on the metaphors it uses. I also move away from postmodern approaches to narrativity in the humanities that take text as the main metaphor and miss the embodied and performative aspects of technological practices; for this purpose I highlight the theatre metaphor in Ricoeur.
12.00pm Malcolm Garrett, RDI (Manchester School of Art, UK) Former Master of the RSA’s Faculty of Royal Designers for Industry
Not Merely Physical: the inter-relationship of visual and virtual data
As a graphic designer working for many years with the display of information across multiple media: in print, on screen and in physical spaces, I have been become increasingly concerned with the inter-relationship of visual and virtual data. The way the mind shapes and connects information is no longer as artefacts that are solid, or linear, or locked in time. The mind now needs to operate in increasingly fluid spaces. Designers are faced with the challenge of helping people make sense of information that can be disturbingly transient.This has come as no real surprise to me, as even when designing in physical spaces I had always been concerned with the shape and context of a printed page, and with the format and orientation of a package. I never really thought of print as two-dimensional. Later, working on screen in the early days of interactive media, I rapidly came to realise that the design of websites (and other digital platforms) demanded something beyond the replication of flat pages, and that the term ‘web page’ is something of a deceptive misnomer, as these pages can neither be confined to a fixed display size, nor operate in any fixed plane, or nowadays in any fixed location.From the start, what went on behind the page, linking information effortlessly into virtual space, became for me the mental challenge when designing the display of information, and the term information architecture, where the virtual has an inherent sense of structure, began to intrigue me, and informed the way I thought about interface design.
I am particularly interested in what goes on inside people’s minds when simultaneously processing information both geographically and digitally and in direct relation to one another. It is a natural extension to then think of the design of artefacts for mapping and wayfinding as creating physical snapshots of the mental processes at work in moving from one place to another. In the future I now see exciting challenges in overlaying physical spaces with contextual virtual information, which can both inform and entertain. I have moved from the idea of wayfinding as simply an aide to relocating people, to it being an opportunity for them to step outside the physical and into an enhanced space beyond. The exploration of social, historical and other contextual information, and hitherto unknown creative interventions, offer great opportunities for design in public spaces.
Event and Mind: An Expanded Bergsonian Perspective
The notion of ‘event’ has quite an important role in philosophy of mind as well as of time. The ontological peculiarity of ‘events’, when clarified properly in contrast to ’things’, helps us remarkably to understand the nature of time on the one hand, which implies a structural inter-connection between past events and present occurrences, and the higher mental abilities on the other, which requires references to those remote past events (what Bertrand Russell calls ‘mnemic’ phenomena).Henri Bergson, prominent philosopher of duration and consciousness, has developed a very inspiring and consistent theory on this subject. In this talk, I would like to share how a Bergsonian approach helps renew our understanding of the nature of events in relation to the problematics of mind and time.
2.00pm Chris Bush and Elizabeth Buie, (SigmaUK Ltd, UK)
From darkness to light: design to evoke the unconscious
As digital technology continues to become more and more integrated into our daily lives, the ways in which we use it have grown beyond that of a tool that helps us satisfy short-term objectives (communication, productivity, health, entertainment) to a diverse platform that we increasingly use to enhance our overall well-being.
As interaction design allows more natural use of products with less conscious attention to how, our responses become more automatic and less considered. This allows for a greater contribution of the unconscious to our use of the technology, which lends itself to evocation of unconscious contents. This evocation could manifest itself in a range of ways, from insidious manipulation for commercial gain (“Dark UX”) to sincere and open facilitation of users’ desires for connection with something greater than themselves (“Transcendent UX”).The breadth of techno-spiritual products is increasing, and so is their contribution to transcendent experience. These experiences of connection with something greater and more permanent than oneself can be transformative and can result in increased well-being and other positive outcomes.
However, the compelling nature of such experiences could also motivate a person to seek more of them for their own sake. This seeking could lay the foundation for potential exploitation or a self-driven negative outcome. In this paper we will explore a range of ways of designing for the unconscious — not only negative and positive, but also ambiguous. We will discuss some ethical issues surrounding this area of design and will illustrate some of the nuances that can place this activity in the grey area. We will look at some possibilities for design to exploit the desire for transcendence, as well as at some positive outcomes of transcendent user experiences, including ways in which individuals have taken these experiences and used them to enrich their lives.
2.30pm Tina Rock, (University of Dundee, UK) Lecturer in Philosophy and Whitehead scholar
Experiencing reality alive. Bergson and Whitehead on engaged experience.
‘To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else’. Emily Dickinson
Any understanding of how we can engage and interact – in digital as well as real worlds – presupposes an understanding of experience. And experience is one of the most formidable philosophical problems. Experience is the basis for all our interactions with the world, our integration in the world and understanding of the world. There is no position outside of experience from which we could investigate experience objectively, we always already are experiencing beings. To make matters worse, insofar as we as experiencing subjects are part of this objective world, this radically subjective experience does not only grant us knowledge of the (objective) world, it is also an actual part of objective reality. This intricate structure, if taken seriously, undercuts the distinction between subjective experience and objective science, between mind and matter – and possibly the distinction between the virtual and the actual.
Today I will argue that two of the most prominent process thinkers in the 20th century, Alfred North Whitehead and Henrí Bergson have investigated this Gordian knot of experience tying the real, the subjective, the virtual and the objective together, in a similar fashion, providing similar reasons and tools to cut across these traditional distinctions.In the first part of the talk, I will use arguments provided by both thinkers to outline why objective science, traditional philosophy and common sense make it difficult to understand experience. The ultimate reason being that our practical interests and concepts motivate and distort the way we interpret experiences. I will then outline the idea of a philosophy of creativity that emerges from a transformed understanding of engaged experience. This transformed experiential engagement is based on intuition in Bergson and in Whitehead it rests on causal efficacy, i.e. experiences, feelings and sympathy.
Digital Events and the Ethics of Neuro-ICT
Neuroscience research makes increasing use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to further its understanding of the brain. The human brain is among the most complex biological structures that humankind is aware of. Understanding it offers the vista of being able to treat brain-related diseases, but it also is an aim in itself, helping us to gain knowledge about how we as humans come to interact with the world.
Digital events have a relationship with perceptual mechanisms which, in turn, are related to the brain. Understanding the brain may therefore offer a better understanding of digital events. The reverse may equally be true.
In my contribution to the colloquium I will focus on the ethical issues arising in neuro-ICT. Drawing on my experience as Ethics Director of the EU Flagship Human Brain Project (HBP) I will describe how ethical and social issues are identified and addressed in the project. The HBP is a large scale international and interdisciplinary project bringing together researchers from more than 120 organisations in more than 20 countries. It has a duration of 10 years (2013-2023) and a core budget of more than €400 million.
The HBP has realised from its inception that it will need to deal with ethical and social issues. As a consequence it has incorporated a sub-project on Ethics and Society which implements a programme of responsible research and innovation (RRI). This includes activities on technology foresight, philosophical reflection, public engagement and the management of ethical issues. I will outline which ethical issues have been identified and how they are being addressed in the project. It is hoped that this will contribute to the both the identification of ethical aspects of digital events and ways to conceptualise and deal with them.
The book of the Colloquium will be available soon from Routledge.
The sense of violation is almost palpable. What we have suspected – what some of us have warned of – for many years, is now transparently true, and on the pages of newspapers around the world: Facebook has not just been using us, it has been abusing us. As I said in 2011, we have surrendered ‘our personal data and the conduct of our friendships and (online) social ties to their marketplace’ and they have made their money off our backs.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal, broken by The Guardian following the extraordinary investigative journalism of Carole Cadwalladr, is opening up a can of worms for Mark Zuckerberg, who, after several days of complete silence, has finally, tersely, admitted that Facebook has been guilty of a ‘breach of trust’ – though it is clearly a ‘scandal of Facebook’s own making.’
Gathering momentum – though there is no way of telling yet how successful it will be – is a movement to #deleteFacebook. With the aid of a Chrome browser extension, all the posts of the past years can be deleted from one’s account, (although the script takes a few hours to run). Thus, although the profiling already achieved on the data already given to Facebook cannot be undone, that data can be withdrawn so that it can no longer be used, and one’s account no longer logged into, no longer used, eventually (after their 90day delay) completely deleted. There are plenty of other means of sharing online – with our privacy intact. Facebook has breached our trust, and does not deserve our data any more – if it ever did.
In a matter of a week or two, the four-week diary studies for this project will begin, and one question we will be asking our participants is simply this: “How do you feel about the way Facebook tricked you into feeling safe about giving up all your data to it? How do you feel about how they then used it underhandedly to make money out of you, and to allow others to use your data for electoral manipulation? How do you feel about how they have handled the fallout from these revelations? Have you deleted your Facebook posts, or your account?”