The Quantumness of Archipelagos: A proposal to design & imagine alternative tomorrows using the internet(s)

Here we introduce our research theme for 2019 which we’ll also use as the multidimensional canvas for our 5th annual event: IAM Weekend 19 (March 21–23, 2019 in Barcelona) setting the mood for our 2050 mission 😏 …

Prologue: The illusion of birthdays

How old is the internet? Google it. You will find multiple answers. Almost 30 if you define it as the ‘World Wide Web’, almost 50 if you refer to its technical foundation. A decade older if we refer to it as computer networks. This lack of consensus on a simple birth date reflects the complex nature of contemporary interconnected technologies and the human obsession with linear time, simple truths and nostalgic birthdays.

As French philosopher Bruno Latour suggests in a recent NYTimes story “Facts are networked”. An idea the core of the Actor–Network Theory (ANT) approach to social theory where “everything in the social and natural worlds exists in constantly shifting networks of relationship”.

This way of thinking allows us to understand better the question that IAM has been using as a foundational tool to explore the evolution of the internet as cultures:

Is it the ‘World Wide Web’ invented by Tim Berners-Lee? Is it ‘just’ a global computer network? Is it a highway, a (cyber)space or a cloud?

Since 2015 IAM has been studying the metaphors we use for the internet, interrogating the power encoded in dominant narratives and anticipating the perils of emerging ones, while linking and envisioning alternatives.

This is why in our manifesto we advocate to think of the internet as networks of networks of people, not only feeds, platforms, servers, cables and infrastructure. In other words, we are the internet(s). The time has come to reframe these metaphors, because everything is not only connected but interconnected, interdependent and can be interpolated.

We can not look anymore at the internet as a virtual, remote or idealised place or space.
We can not think anymore of a singular, venture capital-shaped, monopolised internet.
We can not allow corporations or governments to use the internet against us.
And most importantly, we can not ignore anymore the impact this has in the environment, our mental health and collective imaginations.

We need to learn how to use the internet(s) from a broader planetary point of view, with a shared critical optimism and with long-term strategies and narratives. A major task to be done alone and together, but how?

Part I: From evolution to coevolution

When we organised the very first IAM Weekend back in 2015, we were looking at internet culture by learning from the stories of the humans behind successfully independent blogs and publications in different creative fields such as Its Nice That, Creative Applications Network, Intern or Offscreen Magazine. One of this humans was Jeff Hamada, founder of Booooooom, and he shared a very meta-style timeless piece of advice on stage back then:

“Let the fear of letting fear dictate your life dictate your life.”

Since then we have been interrogating how internet cultures are evolving and how they’re changing society, that crucial relationship between the individual and the collective. This relationship has come under increasing pressure in a world of accelerating political, technological and environmental change, and as we approach the start of a new decade the opportunity is there to refresh our mindsets scaling Jeff’s advice to

Let the fear of letting fear dictate the futures of the Planet dictate the futures of the Planet.

Today, the role of IAM as an independent alternative think-tank, strategic consultancy and network, has naturally expanded from exploring ‘the evolution of the internet as cultures’ to ‘the coevolution of internet(s), digital technologies and societies’, with a long-term mission for 2050: to envision planetary citizenship protocols (or networks of protocols) that allows humanity to cultivate a collective planetary consciousness. An ambitious reimagination of the internet that starts by pushing the boundaries of three current narratives:

👉 From post-truth to post-dualism

👉 From post-capitalism to post-anthropocentrism

👉 From post-digital to post-technologies

What do we mean by this? Let’s use our feelings and the beautiful soft power of poetry to navigate through the complexity of these ideas and read/listen to the prayer that Audrey Tang, the Digital Minister for Taiwan, shared during the opening ceremony of IAM Weekend 18:

When we say internet of things, let’s make it an internet of beings.
When we see virtual reality, let’s make it a shared reality.
When we see machine learning, let’s make it collaborative learning.
And when we see user experience, let’s make it about human experience.
When we hear that the Singularity is near, let us remember the Plurality is here.
— Audrey Tang, Digital Minister of Taiwan

Part II: The proposal

Our proposal to deal with the weird state of the world and imagine collectively alternative tomorrows, is a thought-experiment designed around / between / below / beyond an open question / invitation / provocation about everything, for everyone and everywhere:

How can we decelerate, decolonise, debrief the coevolution of the internet(s), digital technologies and societies?

With this question, we aim to look at the interrelations between the internet(s), digital technologies and societies. In other words, the interrelations between the networks, the tools and the collective narratives. Questioning the existing ones to imagine the alternatives, beyond physical and mental borders, in a collaborative effort across disciplines, sectors, ages and cultures.

To achieve this, we need to realise that as humans we exist in relation to others; other humans, other non-humans and the Planet. From our 2018 research theme, The Subversion of Paradoxes, we learned that the exponential speed of growth and scale of contemporary human desires, along with the selfish narratives of user-centred design, which gives ‘users’ primacy over the others, are behind the toxic relationship humanity has with technologies and consumption. As critical designer Ted Hunt suggests, we need to disagree with the idea of humanity evolving from persons to users.

Source: Ted Hunt - ‘Users are… / People are…’

To challenge this idea we are interpolating three action-oriented words: DECELERATE, DECOLONISE and DEBRIEF, to deal with the speed, toxicity and complexity of the networks of desires, decisions and dreams that shape the internet(s), digital technologies and societies today.

Before looking at the how-to side of our proposal, let’s take a closer look at the reasons behind each word, illustrated with some perspectives shared during IAM Weekend 18:

DECELERATE / The internet(s) are real, physical and have a massive environ(mental) impact

What if we slow down and challenge the harmful speed of growth that venture capital has embedded in society in order to develop a far richer understanding of how the internet(s) really work across different countries, cultural, political and social contexts, including the invisible power dynamics it gives rise to and the power required by the physical infrastructures to operate at scale?

As artist & researcher Joana Moll said, “the internet is the biggest infrastructure that humanity has ever built but it is really not visible” and we need to “reflect on how much material the internet is and the environmental impact of our online activity”

DECOLONISE / Technologies are tools, not binary gods

What if we set free of colonial paradigms and question the way we refer to ‘technology’ as a divine entity that will solve and/or cause all our problems, while moving beyond the binary mindsets being augmented by the encoded dualisms 0s and 1s of digital technologies, and instead install the inclusiveness of spectrums in digital, technological and media literacy initiatives?

As sociologist Francisco Carballo said, “the first tenant of decolonisation should be the decolonisation of knowledge. It is the only important thing that we can do in terms of decolonizing ourselves”. He also argued, that the current political language is both inadequate and insufficient to render the complexity of our varied realities.

DEBRIEF / The singular future does not exist. Futures are open questions shaping collective imaginations.

What if we think of futures in plural, as tools to understand the past, interrogate the now and to imagine stories invented by many rather than predicted or shaped by a few?

In words of Audrey Tang, it is time for “the collective reimagination of consensus, the collective reimagination of self-organization” that reflect in a plurality of overlapping governance systems, because “reality is just another window”

In practice, designing and imagining alternative pluralistic futures of and for the planet using the internet requires us to go beyond mere diversity — disconnected differences — and promote more interdependent relationships between multiple perspectives that lead to their coexistence.

IAM Weekend 19 (Teaser)

Part III: The thought-experiment

To that end, we’re excited to announce IAM’s research theme for 2019: The Quantumness of Archipelagos, a ‘what if?’ remix of ideas coming from philosophy, geography, queer theory and quantum physics, shaped as an experimental thinking tool to deal with the complexity of our realities and a lens through which we can imagine alternatives, collectively.

Quantumness refers to the idea that particles can be in many places at the same time, leading to multiple unfixed realities full of interesting contradictions. This means that, in the quantum way of seeing, plurality is necessarily embedded into our conception of reality. When applying this idea in other contexts, such as understanding sexuality and gender in non-binary ways, we find in quantum field theory a powerful tool to go beyond divisive dualisms.

Archipelagos refers to an invitation to see the world as many small interconnected islands that can only exist as a whole. A notion that invokes the Caribbean poet and philosopher Édouard Glissant and his concept of mondialité or ‘worldmentality’, which reformulates being a ‘citizen of the world’ as a state of mind that recalibrates our existence as at the same level as animals, plants and the Planet as a whole.

In this mode of thinking, the ‘difference’ between humans and ‘the others’ is redefined as a relationship of “fluid frontiers” that positively embraces the mixing of people and cultures which ultimately lead to the formation of new identities, instead of borders that create territories to be discovered or conquered.

In short, the concept of archipelagos, in words of Glissant, invite us to “look at difference, differently”, developing nationalism-free identities, looking at the world as interconnected islands that only works as a whole, where the connections between the islands is the most important thing.

“look at difference, differently”
— Édouard Glissant

Juxtaposing the ideas together as The Quantumness of Archipelagos provides a singular lens that can be used to decolonise pluralistic realities, embed climate justice within them, and reveal their underlying technological infrastructure and power dynamics. Let’s imagine, collectively, for a moment: what if we spoke of our Planet and its multiple organisms, objects and organisations as an archipelago, or even an archipelago of archipelagos, full of quantum states of being and cultures? Isn’t this far more interesting and promising than distinct, fictional narratives of nation states with divisive borders and competing imaginaries?

At its heart,The Quantumness of Archipelagos is therefore a call for a more critical way of thinking and acting, starting from a new language that is both decolonised and decolonising allowing us to interrogate our realities — from the internet(s) and digital technologies to our feeds and minds — in order to interconnect our collective imaginations with the Planet.

Words by IAM co-founders Lucy Black-Swan & Andres Colmenares, in collaboration with Andrew Bennett.
Visual identity by Conor Rigby & Andrew D. Mallinson