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Infomateriality at EASST 2018 Lancaster

EASTT logo 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

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Colloquium – report

Colloquium on Understanding Digital Events

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.

All six talks are now available to view on YouTube.

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Colloquium Programme

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.

10.30am Mark Coeckelbergh, (University of Vienna, Austria), President of the Society for Philosophy of Technology

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.

11.30am Coffee

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.

12.30pm Yasushi Hirai, (Fukuoka University, Japan), Convenor, Project Bergson Japan.

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.

1.00pm Lunch.

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.

3.00pm Bernd Stahl, (de Montfort University, UK), Director of the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility

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.

3.30pm Coffee.

4.00pm Discussion

7.00pm Dinner

All six talks are now available to view on YouTube.

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‘Infomateriality’ at EASST2018

EASTT logo‘Infomateriality’: Whitehead and Digital Experience amongst the Over 65s

by David Kreps and Jessica Muirhead
This first conference paper from the project will be presented at the forthcoming EAST2018 Conference, “MEETINGS – MAKING SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY TOGETHER”, in the panel on ‘Assembly, silence and dissent in the design and use of gerontechnologies‘.
Short abstract:
Older generations’ experience has been more visceral than today’s infoworld. Using Whitehead’s process philosophy, and findings from four-week diary studies with over65s and under25s, we consider modes of importance, expression and understanding to reconceive contemporary infomateriality.
Long abstract:
Baby boomers’, and older generations’ life experience has been more visceral than the disintermediated information world populated by agile young minds today. How do hands that have wielded industrial tools engage with the haptic gestures deployed with masterful finesse by those who grew up with a smartphone? What challenge do the invisible actants of the virtual present to those whose mastery was gained over a more mechanical world? What can we discern in the differences in self-concept between today’s over65s and under25s that are reflective of the technological revolution between?
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Colloquium Speakers confirmed

All the speakers for the Colloquium on Understanding Digital Events, 14-6-18, are now confirmed.

Abstracts for papers should be available soon, and a full programme will be published here at concrescence.org.uk when it is available.

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