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Milosevic’s instrument of propaganda


Snjezana Milivojevic, chairwoman of the center for Media Studies at the University of Belgrade, spoke tonight about media as an instrument of ethnic and nationalist propaganda in Serbia during the ’90s.

How did Milosevic use the media to promote himself and his ideas? And how did society communicate its resistance to the centrally controlled media?

After the collapse of communism, the centrally controlled media was kept intact, purged of dissenting voices, and instrumentalized to be a mouthpiece for the official party mandate.

Milivojevic attributes Milosevic’s media success to what she calls his “charisma of absence.” Milosevic’s performances and appearances were ritualized and rare. His overwhelming absence from the media spotlight dominated political life. He only appeared during election campaigns. And even then, he often offered his media slots generously to his opponents. His strategy was to exude superiority as if he was above the normal proceedings of a democratic election.

Resistance to the state controlled media appeared in several demonstrations that sought the decentralization of TV. In the late 90s, a family of independent journalists was able to publish a daily and weekly paper as well as produce TV and radio broadcasts. Finally in 2000, the demonstrators besieged and overtook the two greatest houses of power; the parliament and the TV station headquarters.

While the war was fought only 300km from Belgrade, orientation to its reality was skewed by the central media, and parallels to the current war in Iraq were insinuated in clips from Jarecki’s “why we fight,” Levinson’s “wag the dog” and numerous samples from American administration officials since 9/11. In brief, Serbian media dehumanized the war, deprived people of proper reporting, and hid the geographic and social elements that would have helped people place the unfolding events.

The relevance of the media’s role in the war is the dramatic and conflicting social memory of society being torn apart. Giving society a chance to reflect and reconcile its past is “a major task for critical citizenship in Serbia.”

Later, Darkwood Dub played at the Melkweg. I spoke with a Serbian man who recently moved to the Netherlands, and he explained that Darkwood dub is an underground reggae-dub band that played to a generation of young people trying to “live normal lives…”

Beijing Olympics Air Quality: lessons from Atlanta

I was reminded today of the growing concern about air pollution during the 2008 Beijing Summer Games. Air quality in Beijing regularly exceeds the upper limits of safety, causing great damage to health and economic productivity. Planes can’t land. Respiratory disease is on the rise. Olympic athletes fear not being able to perform at their peaks.

In response, Beijing will freeze construction and reduce car traffic. By coincidence I happened to come across a journal article about the conscious reduction of air pollution in Atlanta during the 1996 games. Vehicular traffic during peak periods was forced to decrease 22.5 percent. As a result, ozone levels subsequently decreased by 27.9 percent and asthma attacks reduced by 40 percent. (source: M.S. Friedman et al., “Impact of changes in transportation and commuting behaviours during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta on air quality and childhood asthma,” Journal of American Medical Association 285 (2001): 897-905.)

Resfest ‘bydesign:’ what’s after Aftereffects?

Resfest is an international touring showcase of the leading developments in video and motion graphics.

Aftereffects, a motion graphics program, tended to factor heavily into most videos in the experimental section of Resfest, called ‘bydesign.’ The program seemed to encourage a certain wandering through three dimensions – a continuous sensation of temporary and slippery orientation. explains that pieces created with aftereffects are based on an interface where you type in a number or use a slider to manipulate parameters on a screen. The videos are based on visual source material and then manipulated through the interface as seen here in a screen shot from afx 6.5:
after effects interface

At its best, the scanning and zooming you can achieve through aftereffects elicits the sensation of infinite subject and object connectivity. And it leads to an uncanny freedom in the process of story creation. The narrative is released from its physical bounds. The frame of the video could go anywhere. Done well, it feels like an enlightening journey. At its most exhausting, there’s little to anchor expectation, except for surprise and aesthetic adventure.

I tend to be partial to creativity that is either ethereal or strongly conceptual. Three selections from Resfest stood out:

Bendito Machine: relevant, insightful, humorous, peculiar animation technique (not aftereffects)

‘a story of two rival villages on either side of a hill. At the top of the hill is a god-like machine that gives profitable gifts to both villages. Soon, one greedy village hatches a plan to crush the other and take all the wealth for themselves. But how long will their prosperity last?’

Bloomy Girls: delicate, subtle, fluid, captivating


Takagi Masakatsu’s latest video painting suggests oils mixing on a palette all by themselves, with only the occasional faint hint of female faces emerging from behind rich, undulating waves of color and texture that carry the mysterious beauty of the surface of a lake.

Borderline: composite global urban environments, suggestive of an interconnected physical and informational landscape, ultimate parkours terrain


Using all manner of inversions and refractions, director Alex Chandon serves up a surreal portrait of a London deserted by the laws of gravity to create an impossible science-fiction cityscape of the imagination.

DOTT: design of the times

Thanks to John Thackara for pointing out in his talk today at the competitiveness summit the “design of the times” initative.

How can design increase efficiency, reduce environmental impact and build healthier and more resilient communities? Designs of the times will tackle complex social challenges by involving community members in design projects.

Dott 07 (Designs of the time) is a year long project exploring how design can make a positive difference to our lives. It’s a collaboration between the Design Council and the regional development agency One North East and will be working with communities and individuals in the region over the next twelve months. The aim is to involve people in a variety of design projects as active participants.

Projects include:

  • City Farming: helping schools, communities and businesses grow their own fresh food
  • The Move Me: improving transport systems within a small rural community.

Global Place: practice, politics and the polis

A free and open conference about the challenges and opportunities of an increasingly urbanized world which I’ll be attending.

“…bringing together the world’s leading social theorists and design practitioners to discuss what kind of architecture and urbanism is possible and desirable in this high velocity global century,”

“Our conference title, Global Place, seeks to capture that paradox—that is, the challenge of creating place in a world dominated by the forces of placelessness,”

“Forces such as global technology and information flows, ethnic diasporas, climate change, expensive energy, transnational corporations, religious fundamentalism, and the loss of local cultural identity, challenge designers, planners, researchers and scholars in many fields….”

responsive architecture

The economist is reporting on the design of dynamic physical space that adapts to its environment.

WHAT if architects could build living systems rather than static buildings—dynamic structures that modify their internal and external forms in response to changes in their environment? …Houses, for example, might shrink in the winter to reduce surface area and volume, thus cutting heating costs. They could cover themselves to escape the heat of the summer sun or shake snow off the roof in winter. Skyscrapers could alter their aerodynamic profiles, swaying slightly to distribute increased loads during hurricanes. Office buildings could reconfigure themselves to improve ventilation.

Dynamic structures could optimize energy use, stability and functionality. They would require advanced sensors to perceive environmental changes, responsive physical systems, and a program for achieving continual structural homeostasis.

Using the biological example of “tensegrity systems” in spider webs and cell membranes, we learn that the integrity of the dynamic structure is the combination of multiple interconnected and independent elements.

Ambient intelligence allows the systems in our physical environments to adapt to our preferences and needs. I wonder how a potentially dynamic structure could respond to the unique semantic interconnectedness of the people that happen to be within it? How could this complement the interconnectedness that is increasingly legible through proximity and presence indicators on mobile devices?

Community on the scale of a room

A leading environmental and experiential design firm in Amsterdam had me by the other day and asked about the possibilities of enhancing physical environments with data, information and interaction. I’m collecting thoughts on the subject, and I started with inspiration from a book I’m now reading.

Randolph Hester’s ‘Design for Ecological Democracy’ so far argues that community building should be the domain of designers of all stripes, and that design should provide a context for joyful existence. The design of physical spaces and the experiences within them can expose us to interconnectedness and promote healthy communities.

How could you apply that audacious vision to commercial settings? I think the opportunities are vast, and don’t necessarily need to be facilitated by brands.

As we move through space, we are already able to trigger social and geographic contextual information. Our relationships, preferences, habits and patterns can initialize augmented ‘mobile’ personal experiences.

What if a space could aggregate our relationships to information and people, and augment our collective experience, allowing us to build an entirely unique community (and a memory of it) in that physical instant.

Richard Barbrook and ‘The book of imaginary media’

Eric Kluitenberg introduces his newly edited book on imaginary media (Nai) by asserting we have systematically failed to communicate with the ‘other’ across cultural divides. He points to our collective fantasy that this miscommunication can be overcome by the miracle of a machine interface.

Imagine the power of the umpteenth gadget. Imagine that technology can go where no human has ever gone before, that technology can succeed where no human has succeeded – not only in space or in nature, but also in the interpersonal, specifically in communication with the other.

The book is an encapsulation of a previous conference on ‘imaginary media’ and is a collection of visionary media fantasies from the likes of Siegfried Zielinski, Bruce Sterling, Erkki Huhtamo and Timothy Druckrey.

The evening continues with a book talk by Richard Barbrook, who’s writing on the future of artificial intelligence while a professor at the hypermedia research center, University of Westminster.

these are running notes…

Barbrook looks at the 1939 World’s fair in NYC and its commuter, motor-car loving, suburban fantasy. It was a future that big government and big business provided – the idea of a consumer paradise. It was also the first instance of the presentation of artificial intelligence. Up until that point, artificial intelligence was on the level of Frankenstein-like creatures who become possessed and turn on the world of their creators.

The ‘39 fair introduced the dominant trope of artificial intelligence as robots that would be friendly and servile.

In the ‘64 fair, most people travelled by automobile; the way that was envisioned in the motorized fordist imaginary future from 1939. This gave people the confidence that imaginary futures would come true. So people believed that space tourism would be viable by the ’90s. In the ‘64 fair, there was also an effort to distract people from the true nature of the cold war reality of the technology on display.

He says that when we think about artificial intelligence, we must understand why it is being created. So in the ’50s and ’60s, we must know that they were developed as weapons of genocide. For example the first IBM computers were either sold to the US government or weapons manufacturers. The GUI and lightpen as well as network computing came from the command and control functions of the military. In fact, the history of computing goes back to at least the victorian age to assure naval dominance and act as the ‘machiney of government.’

The precursor to modern computers that came out of Turing’s lab that were designed to break German encryption. Turing saw machines not as technical tools, but as artificial brains – thinking machines. The idea that computers, if with enough memory could think, goes back to the 1940s.

Norbert Wiener’s Cybernetics (command and control in the animal and the machine) comes from work in anti-aircraft technology in the second world war. Machines can do what humans are doing. Interesting note about Wiener is that he was a socialist pacifist and refused to use his expertise in cybernetics to develop for the cold war. Instead John van Neumann, Hungarian immigrant and ‘cold war warrior’ was in the strategic lead. He theorized on robot warriors that could repair themselves in battle (the general and logical theory of automata).

Computing power was swiftly adopted by corporations because of the ability to automate clerical work. Machines increased productivity and controlled people using the machines.

Wiener saw that workers and the entire corporation could be replaced by machines, and eventually become a body of artificial intelligence. The totalitarian fantasy of Neumann’s artificial intelligence was a vision of a panopticon that would monitor people and eventually replace them.

By understanding the history of the future, we can work out ways of going beyond the dialectic of Wiener (distributed) and VanNeumann (centralized).

Cybernetics and computerization gets interesting when it goes beyond Fordism into network computing, the model of open-source and collaboration. Wiener inspires the radical idea of the bottom up network that became the internet.

Futurism tends to fetishize technology, and doesn’t focus nearly enough on the social conditions of the use of the technology. We need to envision a new type of future that puts people at the center of history. We make the machines and the future. Our organizations and systems are mutable, and we can form them in our own interest.

Matt Locke is hacking organizations

More running notes from the EU futurist conference

Matt Locke – Open innovation at the BBC

Introduced as an expert in the social adoption of technology, I first heard Matt at Picnic06 in an innovation session at the Zwijger media lab in Amsterdam.

Locke claims that he normally speaks at innovation conferences so has sensitivity to being amongst futurists.

“We tend to post-rationalize what we do to make it seem that what we do at work is actually predicted. The fact is that it is chaos at work. Futurists are the worst because they post rationalize things that haven’t even happened yet.”

He begins by discussing the waves of innovation at the BBC. The first wave of innovation was the digitization of traditional media, such as satellite TV. The second wave has come from people not with origins not in the traditional broadcasting sector. It is mostly IP based and interactive.

R&D in the first wave had high barriers, and long development cycles, and innovation came out of academia.

In the second wave, enterprise tools are made available for free and there are extremely fast development cycles. There is more activity in service and content than in the core infrastructure technologies. Innovation is happeneing amongst users.

For the first time in history there are no departments of radio and television at the BBC. Content and services are developed independent of the final format. They ask how the ideas will play out on multiple media. What is the half life of content after it’s been broadcast?

He cites Eric Von Hippel’s vision (sorry no cite!) about the democratization of innovation. For instance, they are seeing signals from their lead users. They are embracing four new communities with this spirit in mind: academia, industry, lead users and indies. 25% of their innovation budget is for external commisisions of new media services. He is eager to grow the indie market in the UK.

Example of
it is a new media knowledge transfer summit.The format is simple: 20 people from the BBC including commissioners and project owners and 20 academic participants have open conversations and see where they go. They use “open space” for facilitating dialogue. Rather than shoehorning the projects into the needs of the funding stream, or responses to formal calls for projects, it is a informal source of innovation.

Example of
Worked with 100 school kids and gave them mainstream tech. They made maps of pollution on routes to school. They are trying to spin projects and prototypes every month or every week.

Main example =
Modeled off of Yahoo and Google developer networks. Also arose from the insight that people were scraping information from the site. People are openly posting ideas about what they would like to see. But people are also posting prototypes of what they built themselves. Recently they had a competition for building widgets. One is an application that takes the news of the last 12 hours and maps them on the UK. Such an application shows how people would want to use the BBC services. And the prototyping is proof of the fast development cycles.

Another example is the timeline by story by Mathew Sommerville (sorry no cite!) which shows how stories and headlines are changing online. This is based on the fortunate decision to assign a unique URL to every story. Wonderful resource for the research of stoires through time.

People are also using backstage to challenge the way BBC operates. You can build applications of what people are looking at in real time. Example of the which shows the discrepancy between what people are reading and what the editorial staff think is most important to present.
This is a competition of designs for the ideal BBC homepage. They saw an increible amount of invention with new features and new design models. The winner had the idea of being able to customize the presentation to show three angles on the content.

1. your perspective
2, editorial perspective
3. mass perspective

Innovation labs
A social process of getting innovation from the external community. They set up bootcamps to iterate ideas from the community with the help of mentors and experts. Successful ideas are then brought forth to the commissioners.

To address thee Second Life hype, he showed an active object of a radio that you can take with you in Second Life. People are also taking backstage feeds and bringing them in Second life. For example Mario Menti who has created a scrolling screen for news headlines. (…)

Pros and Cons of open innovation:
It shifts design strategies to ‘users as designers’ and it encourages BBC to get its house together. It encourage open structures across inventories, assets and networks. To Locke, most importantly it represents that innovation is a social collaborative and iterative process. The idea of the ‘perpetual beta’ which is about closing the gap between research and implementation.

Difficult to rationalize where things are going. His strategy of innovation is one of “listening rather than of talking.”

You can’t switch the innovation networks off as they are long term project. One of his majoor challenges is establishing a culture that has cooperation permeating between the internal and external teams. ‘Organizational Hacking’ is about creating paths for innovation into organization. He believes that the best way to challenge an organization is to ‘throw ideas at it’

And most importantly, there is a necessity to engender a cultural shirt from periodic innovation to continual evolution.

What are they doing next?
Amongst many others, an interesting development is getting ‘backstage’ into the organizational process so that an open and permeable development environment will develop in the next 2 years.

An audience member asks about DRM. Locke mentions the user and corporate communities and their respective concerns. As a public service organization, they have the ability to establish their own standards. So to begin the conversaton, they brought in Lawrence Lessig, and originated the ‘creative archive,’ which was a way of taking archive material and making it available for reuse. There is a long tail in rights, because there may be numerous rights for any unit of media. Then there is the question of distributing information – consumers want the loosest rights so they can share it and play with it.

Interesting note that people can build applications around the archive even if the content isn’t there. “We have 90km of material in the BBC archives”

Bruno Giussani asks about how to encourage active participation in the BBC innovation projects and what sort of resistance Locke faces. Locke says that the only thing he needs to do is to ensure that there is funding for the prototypes. He is building pipes onto the innovation pipeline. So he has to maintain the flow of innovation. And when there is a blockage, he needs to unplug it by hacking the organization.

A question about what the BBC is doing for its global community. Locke answers that the funding situation is complicated because BBC worldwide is a commercial enterprise, while the work he does is funded by the UK constituency. One of his goals for open innovation is to use their impact as a buyer to encourage innovation in the UK. At the BBC he has big demand lever that he hopes he can encourage a flourishing of businesses in the UK

Ged Davis: the ethics and morality of futurism

Running notes from European Futurist Conference, Lucerne

Managing Director of the World Economic forum and resident futurist, Ged Davis begins by with issuing the question of how we will live into the 22nd century. Futurists, he says, need to develop a capacity to use the future as a tool to move the planet forward responsibly.

His second point is that the disciplines that the futurist uses needs to mature dramatically from a craft enterprise into a deeply embedded profession. Imagination, and enabling it, is consequential in how it deal with the future. But this is only one concern. With new robust predictive tools, how do we conceive of an ethics and morality for futures and foresight?

To illustrate, he starts with the recent story of the transition from the industrial revolution. The 20th century has had a 4x growth in population and 10x growth in GDP/capita. He attributes the growth to the combustion of fossil fuels, what he calls ‘fire under control.’

We will continue to increase the burden on the planet. In the 21st century we will need 2-3 times the resources we currently have available. There are critical macro uncertainties and intergenerational lead times. How can we anticipate crisis and put into place capacities to respond?

Life is uncertain and that is why its fun. Humans can rise to the challenge of conscious design of large systems such as cities, states, regions, domains and the planetary level. The science of integrated systems and how they operate will be integral to the deriving of solutions.

He shows a list of the global challenges that the OECD and WEF currently consider to be the biggest threats, which are pretty familiar. The usual subjects of conscious cocktail conversations. The next slide discusses the attributes of global challenges.

In sum, they are large scale, non-linear, not fully conceivable, and not well understood. There are also significant uncertainties in the challenges, and as such are subject to sudden discontinuities. He argues that because there are multiple stakeholders, there are multiple perspectives that need to be incorporated into the process of devising solutions. He asserts: “We need to develop a platform for multi-stakeholder collaboration and discussion” But he leaves the subject there.

How do you make foresight relevant? Doing a study on the future alone does not help. HG Wells, Aldous Huxley, Orwell and others used the future as a device to describe social concerns in fictional language. Only in the last 50 years have new tools emerged that have consistently been used to predict the future better than a coin flip or just projecting the present trends, but it has been largely separate from policy making.

To make foresight relevant, it needs to involve better framing, which is about asking the right questions, not the most interesting questions. What is relevant to the policy maker? He argues that at least a third of the time should be used in framing. We must ask what are the major assumptions we have in our explication of the research goals. What is useful and important? Yet Framing is not easy because we jump to the assumption about the problem.

I wonder why we jump to assumptions. Is it just because it is easier to envision what we know rather than use imaginative, generative or recombinatorial techniques to see what is possible? What are the social dimensions of framing that tend us in social groups to continue – to extend – what we know? What are the tendencies and impediments of policy and corporate decision-making that seek self-fulfillment?

Davis goes on to mention that framing needs to consider the following time scales:
50 years is the time period where you can move from science to techno-protoyping and commercialization.
20 years is where tech is largely fixed, and where the bulk of current investment is going.
5 years is about understanding the political structure in the policy areas.

Foresight is more than imagination. It is deep rigour by bringing the best to bare using research from which to credibly work.

Other key aspects of futurism:
Affirmation: people need to understand and own the future inquiry work that is being used.
Implication: what sorts of new structures and operational organizations are needed to be created to implement and realize the new vision of the future?

Ethics of Foresight
Davis insists that we are in need of a hippocratic oath for futurists that includes some of the following dimensions:
1. non-manipulative framing: example of the Stern report as demonstrating the cost involved in inaction about climate change – Davis doubts about the results from the IPCC – need to be careful of subconscious manipulative behaviour
2. Rigorous peer-reviewed analytical standards
3. Deep ownership in affirmation: egos needs to recede in a process of sharing the imagination and stripping the personalities from the predictions.
4. strategically relevant implications: futurists need not appear other-worldly and must address the most critical issues in an honest way
5. We need to define higher terms for social purposes that state the manner in which they should be pursued
6 Futurists should be chiefly responsible for creating and exposing options that didn’t exist in order to widen the scope of possible solutions

What is the future of foresight?
It must be continuous, large scale, with a multitude of people networked, building the architecture of knowledge. There is a critical need for conscioius design of large systems under uncertainty and futurists should be the institutional conscience for foresight.

Q and A
An audience member asks if policy makers are willing to take decisions deep into the future if the stake of their position is in the short term. Davis mentions that though many companies are interested in the short term, 20% of total GDP is invested into the deep future. That is the space for the influence of the futurists.

The World Economic forum is now involved in getting leaders to participate in open source institutional dialogues. But he is pessimistic that we can develop them in time. However he is optimistic that humans, if our backs are against the wall, will rise to the occasion with innovative solutions. But he doesn’t address how humans will rise. From what bed of identity and on behalf of what form of organization? Regionally, nationally, corporately? How will we align ourselves if we are pressed in crisis, and how will we overcome freeriding?