In this series on From Complexity to Emergence, we’re recapping the IAM Weekend 16 and bringing you everything we learned and explored in one place. At our next edition in April, we’ll be discussing The Renaissance of Utopias across media, education and the arts. Join us!
As we explore the network of networks that is the Internet, we must explore the culture of cultures that is Internet Culture. So it was, then, that Anjali Ramachandran kicked off our first session of talks at the IAM Weekend 16: The Bigger Picture of Internet Culture.
As founder of Other Valleys — a project dedicated to sharing technology and creative news from emerging markets — and Ada's List — which helps “move women in tech forward” — , Anjali Ramachandran is well versed in the challenges we face to bring about a more diverse, equitable and inclusive Internet and culture throughout the world.
Referencing World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, who said that “the greatest rise of information and communication in history will not be truly revolutionary until it benefits everyone in every part of the world”, Anjali spoke of the importance of taking advantage of the Internet as a globalising and equalising factor: jobs, opportunities, resources and technologies can be democratised in typically unequal societies and cultures, pulling entire families out of poverty and levelling the playing field between genders and races.
We can often become complacent with technology, taking it for granted, yet Anjali reminded us that we need an Internet that is open and inclusive, and that we should orientate our culture and society around these very same values.
Following Anjali, Jonathan McClory, a soft power expert at Portland Communications, explained how governments and institutions are harnessing the Internet to leverage soft power, an alternative to force and coercion based on credible, persuasive promotion of political values, culture and foreign policy. This soft power stems from two global megatrends: The Rise of Networks and Our Increasingly Digital World.
The diffusion of power from north to south, west to east, and from governments to non-state actors has given rise to a network of influencers who have benefitted from this democratisation of power. Together with increased accessibility of information, which entails greater accountability and a broader platform of discussion, these trends have led the savviest governments and organisations to respond with Digital Diplomacy — using social media to listen, engage with and persuade international audiences.
With the abundance of information that comes as a result of our modern society, Pau García of Domestic Data Streamers challenged the audience about how best we can understand this mountain of data. We have to stop thinking of spreadsheets when we say “data”, he argued, and instead engage with the untold, hidden stories lying deep within. Railing against charts and infographics, Domestic Data Streamers create immersive “info-experiences” that invite discussion and debate, allowing us to understand information on a more human level, creating community with others around us in the process.
The big takeaway? We should improve how we explain, present and engage with Big Data just as much as we should research it, because, as Richard Saul Wurman said, “we only truly understand something when we can relate it to something we already understand”…
john v willshire closed the session by asking the most fundamental question of all: how does the Internet work? According to Paul Adams, “we are currently witnessing a re-architecture of the web, away from pages and destinations, towards completely personalised experiences built on an aggregation of many individual pieces of content”, a phenomenon that presents a challenge for designers seeking to respond to it.
The way to overcome this problem, john analogised, can be found in playing cards. Even though we can change what goes on the face of each card, the mechanics of dealing, shuffling, ordering, stacking, turning, spreading and rearranging are timeless. By creating adaptable, versatile units, the designers of playing cards made them as future-proof as possible, and we can apply this approach to the Internet, too.
With trends, viral sharing and disruption, the Internet can be both self-fulfilling and unpredictable. We can’t strategise for this, but john asserted that we can observe, decide and act with the mechanics of the Internet, not against them, and then we can reassess and address new challenges.
Across the session, Anjali, Jonathan, Pau and john expanded on the ever-changing nature of the Internet, and the challenges we face — not only as a global society but as one, human race — to improve how we make it work for everybody.
With minds like these, there’s in no doubt: where difficult questions arise, answers will follow.