A Day on the Dial in Cap Haïtien, Haiti

Haitian Radio //
Radyo Ayisyen

Learning from other scholars’ work on Haitian radio was, and still is, one of the greatest pleasures in the process of writing Isles of Noise: Sonic Media in the Caribbean (UNC 2016). People living in or from Haiti widely acknowledged and almost took for granted radio’s outsized role in public and political life. Edwidge Danticat and Jonathan Demme also understood this and paid tribute in Claire of the Sea Light and The Agronomist respectively, but historians remained largely fixated, understandably, on pivotal moments in Haiti’s rich history. Radio is different. Not pivotal, but witnessing the pivotal. Less dramatic and more long lasting and adhering to the same format for days, years, decades. It speaks to people who wouldn’t read newspapers or books. It floods private and public space with the sounds of music, talking, ruling, dissenting, explaining, satirizing, creating, crying, testifying, lying. But it leaves few archival traces. This is why the work of the five scholars in this series is so important. They allow us to hear a little and honor the listeners who make the medium what it is.

Liveness, and company: Ian Coss’s finely tuned account of a “day in the life” of a radio station follows the programming rhythm of days and nights, from rollicking to quiet and back again. Radio is a predictable presence, an intimate friend who anticipates your needs even before you do. Coss draws from his years of listening to the listeners as he marks radio time and space in Cap Haïtien. Guest Editor– Alejandra Bronfman

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Fabrice Joseph is a mender, set up on a street corner in Cap Haïtien, Haiti’s second largest city. He shows me a red plastic toolbox filled with supplies — thread, wires, scraps of fabric—which he can use to fix a jammed zipper or stitch up a torn backpack strap. I stop because he’s cradling a radio set in his hands, tuned to the city’s most popular station: Radio Venus. 

We meet on a quiet day; Fabrice has been sitting on the stoop for five hours already with no work. Another day he’s engrossed in assembling a large umbrella—the kind food vendors use for shade—but the radio is still on, now propped on a ledge just behind his head. He replaces the batteries almost weekly, because the radio is always on. In the morning Radio Venus plays news, Fabrice tells me, followed by music as the day heats up. Then in the afternoon he’ll hear sports or perhaps a religious program, before the station returns to music in the evening. 

This arc Fabrice describes is designed to follow the arc of his day. In this post, I trace that link: between the rhythms of radio programming and the rhythms of daily life, to show how formatting choices create a heightened sense of ‘liveness’ on Haiti’s airwaves, with all content located in a specific moment: the present moment. 

Radio Venus studio and its antenna
The studio of Radio Venus, with its antenna projecting from the rooftop, photo by author

In a technical sense, terrestrial radio broadcasting has always been defined by real time or ‘live’ transmission (an dirèk in Creole), a characteristic that is often invoked in discussions of the medium’s capacity to create shared experiences or even ‘imagined communities.’ And yet where I live in the United States, the passage of time is barely discernible on most commercial stations. Where radio schedules once varied from hour to hour (often reflecting gendered and classed norms of listening), today market research has driven the rise of so-called “format stations” that target specific interest groups and demographics with an equally targeted form of programming: non-stop sports, news, top 40, easy listening, etc. 

When I first visited Haiti in 2015, I was surprised to find a radio format unlike any I had grown up with, and not unlike those broadcast schedules of the 1920s and 1930s. While doing research in Cap Haïtien, I conducted a series of bandscans—systematic reviews of the entire radio dial—in order to identify the different types of programming heard on stations throughout the day there. I found the full range of talk and music-oriented shows you might expect, and yet of the 31 stations I picked up, only a handful carried the same type of programming all day. The vast majority carried every kind of program, including Fabrice’s favorite station, Radio Venus.

The Radio Venus studio sits on top of a three-story building, with a door leading straight out onto an open roof deck where the transmitter tower rises several more stories up in the air. That tower operates at 10 watts, just enough to relay the signal to a nearby mountain, where it’s then rebroadcast at roughly 450 watts, blanketing the country’s whole Northern Department. The person in charge of this whole system, as well as the overall flow of the day’s programs, is known as the opérateur. The station employs four operators—Molliere, Louis, Wilkonson and Simon—who work in shifts to cover the 24-hour schedule. This rotation provides stability as the hosts (or animateur) of different programs come and go—often showing up late, and sometimes not showing up at all. For long stretches of the day there is no host, so the operator just cues up a folder of songs in Windows Media Player, occasionally leaning over to trigger a station ID: a chesty voice that declares, “W’ap koute Radio Tele-Venus”—‘You are listening to Radio Tele-Venus.’

Simon Wilkenson at Radio Venus
Simon Wilkenson operates the board at Radio Venus, photo by author

One day, while sitting behind the board of the cramped control room, Simon explains that the goal of the station’s format is to satisfy all of the listeners’ interests and to provide “stability” in their often unstable lives. That last descriptor, “estabilite,” strikes me as somewhat ironic, given that the station’s programming is constantly changing. But for Haitians like Fabrice, who listen all day while they work, the description fits: he never needs to touch the dial, and at the same time he knows exactly what he will hear. Indeed, most of the radio listeners I meet in Cap Haïtien praise the medium’s consistently variable nature; if they wanted to hear the same thing all day they could get a stereo that takes a kat memwa—a memory card—and load it up with their favorite mp3s. Radio should change with the hours of the day; that’s part of what makes it radio. 

Many of the staff at Radio Venus describe the art of matching programming to the mood of the moment, in terms of ‘hotness’ (cho). For example, it’s important to have a lively host on the air between about 10am to noon, usually playing konpa music, so that the radio ‘heats up’ to give listeners more energy for their day. This shift takes place simultaneously across virtually every station on the dial, such that it’s literally audible on the street, from countless battery-powered radio sets. The timeliness of this ‘heating up’ is further emphasized by the host—at Venus, a local favorite named Don Lolo—who constantly reads the exact hour and minute off of a large analog clock on the studio wall. Lolo’s job is to make the music live in the moment; to make it ‘hot.’ By the same token, when I interview the overnight operator, Louis, he tells me that since many listeners keep the radio on all night, it’s important that he doesn’t play any music that’s ‘too hot,’ so as not to disturb their sleep. Everything in its right time.

The most dramatic shift in programming, however, begins on Friday evening. For the entire weekend, the station drops most of its talk-oriented shows and plays constant music—almost all of which is bootlegged recordings of live concerts. The idea is to convey the freewheeling mood of a night out on the town, even for those who won’t be at a bar or concert. To keep up this atmosphere, the station operators can choose from whole folders of “konpa live” tracks dating back decades—most of which run twelve to fifteen minutes long. Again, this programming convention of playing live recordings on weekends is ubiquitous across the dial, and indeed across Haiti. Turn on the radio on a Saturday night and you will be hard pressed to find any music that was recorded in a studio. 

Ernst Beruovil at La Difference Salon De Coiffure, Cap Haïtien, Haiti
Ernst Beruovil shaves a customer at La Difference Salon De Coiffure, a barbershop in Cap Haïtien, Haiti, photo by author

My first weekend at Radio Venus, I step out of the studio at dusk, and find the station’s signal is suddenly all around me—far more present than just a few hours earlier. Around the corner from the station, an electronics store has set up a row of folding chairs in the street, and is blasting Radio Venus for a small audience. At the end of the same block is a barbershop; there too the stereo is tuned to Venus, with one cabinet speaker set in its arched entryway. 

At this hour, both the street and the shop are definitively male spaces—save for some market women packing goods and a mother overseeing her son’s haircut, those listening in public are men. A cell card vendor is perched on top of the stereo speaker itself; a man with two live chickens—their heads poking out of the bottom of plastic shopping bags—stops by and quickly exchanges some money with one of the barbers, who plays some air guitar as the next customer takes his seat. One of the other remaining barbers is perched sideways in his stool, feet in the air and a bottle of Barbancourt rum in one hand. The energy is loose, encouraged by the radio announcer.

Back at the station, the small studio is lit only by a single fluorescent bulb, whose harsh light spills through the glass pane into the neighboring control room. Don Lolo is on the air once again, but his style is different. No more telling the time or giving long monologues. Instead he sings along in a full-throated voice, occasionally adding personal shout-outs. We learn that Gerald is celebrating a birthday today, just as Claire and Alex are marking their anniversary. When his phone then rings, instead of picking it up Lolo silences the call and responds by radio: “Sorry, I can’t talk now!” 

It’s late when Don Lolo wraps up his show and we head out of the studio, leaving Louis alone to cool the music back down for the overnight shift. The evening operator, Simon, offers to walk me home. At this hour, we can stroll down the middle of the street side by side, the city’s elaborate facades cast in silhouette by the occasional streetlight. As we head up the hill towards my place, Simon cocks his head and gestures across the street. I turn just in time to catch the station ID—“W’ap koute Radio Tele Venus”—coming out of a barbershop. The radio is still on.

Featured Image: “An electronics vendor in Cap Haïtien, Haiti” by Ian Coss

Ian Coss is an audio producer, composer and sound designer whose work spans the worlds of podcasting and performance. He has produced several critically acclaimed series with the Radiotopia network, including Ways of Hearing, The Great God of Depression, and Over the Road. His audio work has been reviewed by the New Yorker and the Guardian; featured on NPR, Al Jazeera and the BBC; and recognized with an Edward R. Murrow Award for ‘excellence in sound.’ Additionally, Ian has premiered live sound works at the Boston Museum of Science and Harvard University, and collaborated on immersive audio tours for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Richmond ICA, and other major art institutions. Ian holds a PhD in ethnomusicology from Boston University, where he conducted research on Haitian radio broadcasting and Indonesian shadow-puppetry. He continues this work as musical director for The Brothers Čampur, an international puppetry collaborative that has performed at major festivals in Indonesia, and at universities throughout the eastern United States. More on all these projects at iancoss.com.

tape reel

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The Sweet Sounds of Havana: Space, Listening, and the Making of Sonic Citizenship–Vincent Andrisani

Op ‘kroegentocht’ langs alternatieve platforms: gezamenlijkheid en eigenaarschap

Over het plezier van samen servers overbelasten

Gisteravond vond onder leiding van The Hmm en PublicSpaces een virtuele tour plaats rond verschillende alternatieve platforms. Ongeveer 90 online deelnemers bezochten 5 open source platformalternatieven voor sociale media, samenwerktools, videoconferencing en onderwijspresentaties. Platforms waar eigen databeheer, hosting en de privacy van gebruikers voorop staan, en zo wel degelijk een alternatief bieden voor de infrastructuren van o.a. Google en Facebook waar we niet van lijken los te komen.

De tocht startte via de eigen livestream van The Hmm, waarna er uitstapjes naar de 5 platforms werden gemaakt. Bezoekers kregen steeds een link in de chat om zo naar de volgende stop te kunnen navigeren. Je kon echter ook in de livestream blijven hangen en daar de presentaties van de ‘platform hosts’ volgen. We ‘lurkten’ en namen online ruimtes over bij Fediverse (Mastodon), Ethercalc, Mozilla Hubs, Nextcloud en de command line interface Terminal.

Het platformhoppen verliep echter verre van vlekkeloos. Geluid viel soms weg, het laden van websites duurde erg lang, we kregen foutmeldingen en overbelastten servers. Maar dat was juist vermakelijk. Je zou het niet zeggen in tijden waarin de zinsnede ‘je staat nog op mute’ ons de strot uit komt en elke schermhapering ons irriteert, maar hier viel dat allemaal weg. Recent onderzoek van de Boekmanstichting naar online evenementen in coronatijd laat zien dat bezoekers bereid zijn over technische problemen heen te stappen, als het onderwerp interessant genoeg is. Gisteravond bleek dat eens te meer. Het onderwerp was nota bene de functionaliteit van deze platforms, en de improvisatie die van zowel hosts als bezoekers nodig bleek om de tocht voort te zetten, zorgde voor een gevoel van gezamenlijkheid. Het technisch trouble shooten was niet langer ruis, maar verplaatste naar de voorgrond. Na die eerste korte vlaag van irritatie, zagen we er met z’n allen de lol en het belang van in: de chat stroomde vol met triomfantelijke berichten als ‘We broke it!’

Een gevoel van eigenaarschap maakte zich daarnaast (onbewust) van ons meester. Gezamenlijk testen en ervaren hoe deze alternatieve platformen werken, zorgt voor frictie. Ze worden niet gehost door Big Tech met hun bijbehorende financiële en personele middelen, maar zijn kleinschalig en kunnen dus soms geen negentig mensen tegelijkertijd aan. Dit drukt je met je neus op het feit dat we gewend zijn geraakt aan geruisloze ervaringen op gratis platforms waar we niets zelf in de hand hebben. Het plezier van ontdekken, leren snappen hoe iets werkt is echter een broodnodige eerste stap naar dataeigenaarschap. Online evenementen als deze laten zien dat er behoefte aan is, dat het leuk is, en dat het kán!

NFTS First IMPAKT TV episode on blockchain and art

What is this new NFT blockchain craze everyone is talking about? The first IMPAKT TV programme on Thursday 8 April will be looking at the world of non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Unlike such popular cryptocurrencies as Bitcoin and Ethereum, these digital collector’s items cannot be traded. Blockchain technology makes each non-fungible token unique and uncopiable, and only transferrable as a whole.

These features make NFTs particularly interesting to the art world, as a way of making digital (i.e. easy to copy and reproduce) items tradable. An NFT gives someone a unique, transferrable owner’s name: an non-interchangeable mark of authenticity. Anything digital can potentially be sold as an NFT – illustrations, music, even a tweet. In recent weeks we have seen an NFT artwork auctioned for millions by the renowned auction house Christie’s.

As a result, digital art has become part of the speculative capitalist system of buying and selling art, which is so often criticised by artists. Indeed, we are now in the complex speculative landscape of cryptocurrency, which is also known for its negative impact on the environment.

On the one hand, NFTs appear to give artists a new way of earning money with their digital artworks. On the other hand, is such income in proportion to the energy needed to ‘mine’ the non-interchangeable certificates of authenticity? What are the risks and opportunities for the art world? How sustainable are NFTs and blockchain technology? Which power structures and dynamics are involved here? And who profits from this new technology?

IMPAKT has invited special guests and experts to help us answer these questions. Artist Simon Denny has been closely following developments in blockchain technology for years. In his latest work NFT Mine Offsets at the Petzel Gallery he creates NFT artworks (the first was offered on the NFT marketplace superrare.co on 18 March) as a response to and reflection on the environmental effects of these technologies.
The next guest is artist Harm van den Dorpel. In 2015, Harm van den Dorpel was the first artist to sell NFTs to a museum. Later, he founded left.gallery, a marketplace for blockchain artworks.

The  hosts for the event are our very own Inte Gloerich and Michelle Franke (IMPAKT). Since 2016, Inte Gloerich has studied the social, cultural and political aspects of blockchain technology with us at INC. She will obtain her PhD from Utrecht University with her research into the different visions of the future expressed by blockchain projects, artworks and speculative designs. She is also part of our MoneyLab project, a network of researchers, artists and activists who are experimenting with the digital economy and forms of financial democratization.

This first IMPAKT TV programme will be livestreamed on YouTube.
Register here to have the streaming link sent direct to your inbox.

NFTS

First IMPAKT TV episode on blockchain and art

8 April 2021

20:00 — 21:00

LOCATION: ONLINE PROGRAMME

€ 0

Collection of 1990s Art & the Net Manifestos (in Spanish)

Paz Sastre (ed.). Manifiestos sobre el arte y la red 1990-1999. EXIT Libris.

(Texto en español a continuación)

During the 90s, manifestos devoted to exploring the relationships between art and the ever-expanding net abounded. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of the World Wide Web, the era of the “pioneers” of the 80s was fading and the limits of the “electronic frontier” and its future were beginning to be discussed. Artists, activists, hackers, writers, musicians, researchers, curators and theorists expressed in manifestos their political concerns and aesthetic stakes of the time, which are still relevant today. This publication, in Spanish, brings them together for the first time in a selection populated with web links that exceeds the margins of printed paper and transforms the book into a time machine, a non-stop journey through the “cyberspace” of the 20th century.

With selected texts from: VNX Matrix, Hakim Bey, Marko Peljhan, Critical Art Ensemble, Mark Dery, ADILKNO/BILWET, Sadie Plant, Matthew Fuller, Mark Amerika, Antoni Muntadas, Luther Blissett, Roy Ascott, TechNET, Strano Network, Richard Barbrook, Andy Cameron, Morgan Garwood, John Eden, Association of Autonomous Astronauts, Monochrom, Vuk Ćosić, Akke Wagenaar, Alexei Shulgin, Old Boys Network, Andreas Broeckmann, Guy Bleus, Pit Schultz, Geert Lovink, David Garcia, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Francesca da Rimini, Claudia Giannetti, Bruce Sterling, El Aleph, Amy Alexander, autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, Sonja Brünzels, Ben Russell, James Wallbank, Redundant Technology Initiative, Natalie Bookchin, Paul D. Miller a.k.a. DJ Spooky and Randall Packer.

We hope you enjoy this trip and support us by purchasing the book or making a donation when you download the free digital version so that we can continue to explore the manifestos of the 21st century about the art and the net in future publications: https://exitmedia.net/EXIT/en/exit-libris/263-manifiestos-sobre-el-arte-y-la-red-1990-1999.html

Here you can download the ebook: https://exitmedia.net/EXIT/es/exit-libris/267-manifiestos-sobre-el-arte-y-la-red-1990-1999-pdf.html

Paz Sastre (ed.). Manifiestos sobre el arte y la red 1990-1999. EXIT Libris.

Durante los años noventa abundaron los manifiestos dedicados a explorar las relaciones entre el arte y la expansión creciente de la red. Tras la caída del muro de Berlín y el surgimiento de la World Wide Web, la era de los “pioneros” de los años ochenta se estaba desvaneciendo y comenzaban a discutirse los límites de la “frontera electrónica” y su futuro. Artistas, activistas, hackers, escritores, músicos, investigadores, comisarios o teóricos plasmaron en manifiestos sus preocupaciones políticas y apuestas estéticas del momento que aún hoy siguen estando de actualidad. Esta publicación los reúne por vez primera en una selección inédita poblada de enlaces web que exceden los márgenes del papel impreso y transforman el libro en una máquina del tiempo, un viaje sin escalas a través del “ciberespacio” del siglo XX.

Selección de textos de: VNX Matrix, Hakim Bey, Marko Peljhan, Critical Art Ensemble, Mark Dery, ADILKNO/BILWET, Sadie Plant, Matthew Fuller, Mark Amerika, Antoni Muntadas, Luther Blissett, Roy Ascott, TechNET, Strano Network, Richard Barbrook, Andy Cameron, Morgan Garwood, John Eden, Association of Autonomous Astronauts, Monochrom, Vuk Ćosić, Akke Wagenaar, Alexei Shulgin, Old Boys Network, Andreas Broeckmann, Guy Bleus, Pit Schultz, Geert Lovink, David Garcia, Guillermo Gómez- Peña, Francesca da Rimini, Claudia Giannetti, Bruce Sterling, El Aleph, Amy Alexander, autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, Sonja Brünzels, Ben Russell, James Wallbank, Redundant Technology Initiative, Natalie Bookchin, Paul D. Miller a.k.a. DJ Spooky, Randall Packer.

Esperamos que disfrutes mucho de este viaje y nos apoyes comprando el libro o haciendo una donación cuando descargues la version digital gratuita para que podamos seguir explorando los manifiestos sobre el arte y la red del siglo XXI en las próximas publicaciones: https://exitmedia.net/ EXIT/es/exit-libris/263-manifiestos-sobre-el-arte-y-la-red-1990-1999.html

Zijn digitalisering en verduurzaming het antwoord op de transitie naar een weerbaar cultureel landschap tijdens én na corona?

Dat de coronacrisis de culturele en creatieve sector volledig op haar kop heeft gezet is evident. Wat speelt er momenteel op beleidsniveau? En hoe spelen digitalisering en verduurzaming een rol in de transitie naar een weerbaar cultureel landschap – zowel tijdens als na de coronacrisis? 

In de EU heeft de sector vanwege de pandemie in 2020 “een financiële dreun van 199 miljard euro gekregen. Dat is 31 procent minder omzet dan het jaar ervoor”, wordt vermeld in Metropolis M. Ruim 41% van de respondenten van een onderzoek dat werd uitgevoerd door Hanzehogeschool Groningen bij MKB’ers is niet voorbereid op een tijd na de coronamaatregelen. Dit betekent dat er nog niet is nagedacht over de manier waarop hun werkzaamheden weer kunnen worden opgestart zodra dat mag. De sectoren zakelijke dienstverlening en cultuur, sport, recreatie, horeca en toerisme zijn het minst goed voorbereid. Ondanks dat er veel geëxperimenteerd wordt is het dus urgent om in de culturele en creatieve sector te investeren. Zoals dr. Thijs Lijster, Universitair Docent Kunst- en Cultuurfilosofie aan de Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, stelt ‘als je de kunsten nu laat verdorren, komen ze niet meer terug’.

Weerbaarheid

Op maandag 16 november 2020 presenteerde de Raad voor Cultuur (RvC) het rapport Onderweg naar overmorgen: naar een wendbare en weerbare culturele en creatieve sector aan Minister van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap Ingrid van Engelshoven.  In dit rapport stellen zij dat het belangrijk is om te onderzoeken welke transities nodig zijn om de culturele sector als geheel op lange termijn weerbaar en bestendig te maken, waarbij digitaliseren, ontwerpen en differentiëren als pijlers centraal staan. De Raad wil daarover adviseren en stelt voor om met de stedelijke regio’s, de fondsen en het veld van makers en instellingen de noodzakelijke wendbaarheid van de sector in beeld te brengen en al doende te versterken. Ook Boekmanstichting Kenniscentrum voor kunst cultuur en beleid is een coronamonitor en coronaplatform gestart.

De Sociaal Economische Raad stelde in 2017 al dat het belangrijk is om een weerbare cultuursector te hebben en dat het belangrijk is voorop te lopen met oplossingen. De coronacrisis onderstreept de urgentie hiervan slechts. Het Sociaal Cultureel Planbureau geeft in november 2020 bovendien aan dat de coronamaatregelen niet alleen invloed kunnen hebben op de culturele sector zelf, maar ook de culturele betrokkenheid van de bevolking, de aantrekkingskracht van Nederland op toeristen en bewoners en daardoor het bedrijfsleven. In hun beleidssignalement van datum kijken ze naar scenario’s wat er gebeurt als de coronacrisis voorbij gaat er wat er gebeurt als deze blijft.

Digitaal publieksbereik

Liesbet van Zoonen, voormalig lid van de RvC, was aanwezig bij een online concert. “Ik [stond] in m’n eentje thuis te dansen. Toen voelde ik me toch wel vrij belachelijk. Ik dacht: dit is niet de toekomst.” Een lichtelijk absurdistische ervaring die velen van ons zullen herkennen. “Je moet dan gaan denken wat we precies gaan doen om de digitale ervaring om te bouwen tot een gezamenlijke publiekservaring.” Özkan Gölpinar, lid van de RvC, stelt aanvullend dat door de verschuiving van evenementen naar online omgevingen veel instellingen scherper zijn gaan nadenken over hun publieksbereik; zowel huidig lokaal publiek als nieuw internationaal publiek. Er wordt voor het bereiken van zo’n ervaring volop geïnnoveerd door programma-aanbieders in de culturele en creatieve sector. Sinds de corona reset spuiten er livestreams, digitale expositieruimtes en online debatten uit de grond. 

“Wat leer je er nu van? Wat kun je meenemen naar de toekomst? (…) Hoe kunnen we de crisis uit innoveren?” vraagt Van Zoonen zich af. Ook minister van Engelshoven stelt dat uit de coronacrisis is gebleken dat de sector […] kwetsbaar [is]: “[w]e moeten kijken naar wat we [van corona-experimenten] leren en hoe we de sector als geheel kunnen verbeteren.” Hoe faciliteer je de intrinsieke communicatiebehoefte van programmadeelnemers op een inhoudelijk interessante manier? Hoe blijf je je publiek aan je binden wanneer er een overvloed aan online evenementen is? Verder is er de kwestie van de verslaglegging van een succesvol afgerond online evenement; hoe verdeel je die samenhangend over een veelheid aan platformen? En hoe zorg je ervoor dat een afgerond evenement of project ‘levend’ blijft op je website? Spelers in de culturele en creatieve industrie missen de slagkracht om van een korte- naar langetermijnvisie te komen. De nasleep van maatregelen zal namelijk in de komende jaren hoe dan ook een groot effect hebben op de digitalisering van de culturele en creatieve sector. 

Crisistijd zorgt voor veel nadelige situaties, dat is duidelijk. Maar het is tegelijkertijd ook een moment waarin gekeken kan worden naar verandering en innovatie. Dat is in de kunstsector niet anders. De coronacrisis heeft meer ruimte gemaakt voor een ontwikkeling die al een aantal jaar aan de gang is: de digitalisering van de kunstsector’, aldus journalist Cindy Goosen. Sinds de culturele sector vanwege coronamaatregelen noodgedwongen op slot ging, is in de hele breedte van het internationale en nationale culturele en creatieve veld geëxperimenteerd met digitale formats, aldus The British Council. Van digitale voorstellingen en concerten tot online culturele adventskalenders. Nergens was echter al zo’n sterke traditie van experimenten met digitalisering, als in de beeldende kunstsector (Van Mechelen & Huisman, 2019). Deze drang tot experiment en de ontwikkeling in digitalisering in de culturele en creatieve sector is door de coronacrisis in een stroomversnelling terechtgekomen. De Organisatie voor Economische Samenwerking en Ontwikkeling stelt dan ook dat massale digitalisering in combinatie met opkomende technologieën nieuwe vormen van culturele ervaringen en nieuwe verdienmodellen met marktpotentieel kunnen creëren. Veel instellingen hebben hun inhoud gratis online aangeboden om hun publiek betrokken te houden en te voldoen aan de sterk toegenomen vraag naar culturele programma’s. Dit is op lange termijn niet duurzaam, maar heeft wel de deur geopend naar toekomstige innovaties. Om hiervan te profiteren is het nodig om de tekorten aan digitale vaardigheden in de sector aan te pakken. De kernbevindingen in het rapport ‘Cultuurparticipatie in Coronatijden’ sluiten hierop aan; het online cultuuraanbod is een interessant alternatief tijdens de crisis, maar ook daarna zal het een aanvulling blijven op het reguliere aanbod.

Duurzaamheid

De coronacrisis heeft niet alleen een stroomversnelling van digitalisering in de culturele sector en creatieve sector veroorzaakt. Wanneer we het hebben over duurzame oplossingen, hebben we het niet alleen over oplossingen die toekomstbestendig zijn. De huidige situatie waarin de culturele en creatieve industrie verzeild is geraakt biedt ook mogelijkheden voor verduurzaming in de context van het klimaat. 

Niet alleen grote bedrijven investeren ondanks de coronacrisis in duurzaamheid. Zo onderzoekt Zoë Dankert in het artikel ‘Kunst & Klimaat #4: De daad bij het klimaat’ in Metropolis M hoe klimaatbewust handelen vorm krijgt in de beeldende kunstwereld. Eva Postma, zakelijk directeur van BAK (Utrecht), spreekt in dit kader van een ‘mentale omslag’: ‘Wat voorheen vanzelfsprekend was, moet op een of andere manier worden vormgegeven. […] Sinds de coronacrisis is er sprake van verandering in de programmalijn, die wordt hybride: meer lokaal ter plekke en internationaal digitaal’. Ook een groot deel van de respondenten van het eerder genoemde onderzoek uitgevoerd door Hanzehogeschool Groningen bij MKB’ers verwacht dat online een grotere rol gaat innemen en dat de toekomstige profilering van het bedrijf wordt meer duurzaam, lokaal en/of online.

Dit besef is niet enkel bij Nederlandse instellingen en onderzoekers ingedaald maar ook op Europees beleidsniveau. Zo stelt de Europese commissie in een ‘Coronavirus response’ rapport het volgende:
Twee kwesties zijn acuut relevant geworden: de impact van mobiliteit op het milieu en de rol van digitale cultuur.
 Daarom zullen maatregelen worden voorgesteld om de koolstofvoetafdruk van de sector te verkleinen. Tegelijkertijd zullen ze een toekomstgerichte reflectie bevatten over de impact die de circulaire ervaring kan hebben op langere termijn. Live recording en streaming […] zal een andere manier zijn om duurzaamheid en een breder bereik te verzekeren via toekomstige online kijkervaringen. Ook Portugal, voorzitter van de EU aankomend half jaar, heeft het bevorderen van een herstel dat wordt benut door het klimaat en digitale transities als speerpunt.

De sector zal dus op zoek moeten gaan naar manieren om een een duurzame langetermijnvisie te ontwikkelen voor hoogwaardige hybride programma’s voor de culturele en creatieve industrie, met digitalisering en verduurzaming als belangrijke pijlers.

Freedom of Face: Nxt Museum Q&A with “Coded Bias” director Shalini Kantayya

Who wants a ‘perfect’ algorithm?

Yesterday, the Nxt Museum hosted a Q&A with filmmaker and activist Shalini Kantayya. She is the director of the investigative documentary “Coded Bias” (2020) which exposes and explores the biases of artificial intelligence technologies prevalent yet mostly invisible in daily life. During the event moderated by filmmaker Bogomir Doringer, Kantayya stated that in the discussions surrounding the ethics of AI, the solution is not always technological, and it will likely not materialise in the never-ending race towards optimum efficiency. A different approach is needed to tackle the inequalities and biases built into AI.

In her film, Kantayya gives the spotlight to computer scientist and digital activist Joy Buolamwini, whose research into face detection algorithms helped expose their biases on the basis of race and sex. Alongside Buolamwini, multiple scientists and government watchog groups in the documentary explain and expose the biases that are programmed consciously and unconsciously into algorithms that perform inaccurately when interacting with photographs of women and people of colour.

Shalini Kantayya and Bogomir Doringer discuss algorithmic biases exposed in Kantayya’s film “Coded Bias.”

Kantayya explains that the aforementioned inaccuracy is not the only issue. It is, of course, a symptom of the monopoly and inclusion problem of Silicon Valley. Kantayya notes that employing people of different marginalised experiences makes the biases in Big Tech visible, and provides the companies with teams of talented and passionate people able to diversify the data feeding the biased machines. However, she also states a change in employment strategy is not a solution to the continuing threats surveillance and its algorithms pose.

Doringer and Kantayya discussed the importance and logistics of campaigning for a more humane future of technologies. Kantayya stressed that “we cannot miss our humanity” as we continue to develop machines and ideas, and that we need science communicators and artists to work together to facilitate AI literacy. This collaboration will provide an easy-to-digest and engaging way of understanding the science behind it. Alongside education, Kantayya identified engaged and organised citizens as another crucial force behind positive change, as they have the capability to put pressure on lawmakers to recognise the threats of algorithmic biases.

Buolamwini’s recommended reading on real-world impacts of algorithmic bias – click on image to read more on her “Gender Shades” page.

Inequalities became amplified in 2020, with a new wave of civil rights activism sparked by the murder of George Floyd by police enforcement in the United States. Kantayya notes it took both tragedy and civil unrest for some Big Tech companies to acknowledge their use and abuse of facial recognition; only in 2020, two years after Buolamwini released her first study on the topic. Still, companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook continue to collect data and predict our patterns using biased machines. “We do not want perfect invasive surveillance,” says Kantayya when discussing the aims of companies to increase the accuracy of their algorithms. “We do not want a perfect algorithm.” Buolamwini agrees, sharing in a DLD conference talk that it’s not just about the accuracy of the system itself, it’s about deciding what kinds of systems we want in the first place. If a system (algorithm) functions efficiently in a surveillance state built on oppression based on race, gender, and class, whom does it serve, if not the oppressor?

Towards the end of the Q&A, Shalini Kantayya encouraged viewers to recognise data rights as human rights. She also shared resources for further education and research on the topic (linked below). Participants were invited to unleash new imaginations about how these technologies can be used in a human rights framework. Big Tech companies must be held accountable for their active participation in racial profiling and the continued surveillance of citizens. Accessing and sharing education tools is a good step individuals can make to start organising and secure a more humane future of AI.

You can watch “Coded Bias” here for free until the 27th of March 2021: https://nxtmuseum.com/community/ 

Links for further research and engagement:

Big Brother Watch UK https://bigbrotherwatch.org.uk/ 

Algorithm Justice League https://www.ajl.org/about

Gender Shades http://gendershades.org/overview.html

 

Tune in on PlotkaTV

PloktaTV unravels the relationship between people and technologies, in all their different forms. The films are not just about gears, valves and switches, but mostly about people and about how we are connected through technologies. About what part they play in our mental lives. In our surroundings. In our societies.

Plokta’s program approaches these questions across fiction, science fiction, documentary, computer code and video art. Not simply the domain of filmmakers, these works also allow designers and artists to provide unique insights into these elusive interactions: stories and images to unveil and to speculate.

The second season of PloktaTV is all about  the Hidden Life of Technology.

Technology is good at hiding. We have always lived with technologies. Bricks. Postal codes. Horsepower. Microwaves. The moment they are part of our lives, they disappear from view. Now technology is better than ever at hiding: beneath friendly interfaces, behind high walls, between the lines of the terms and conditions… in the palm of your hand.

Film is good at showing. It can pierce the surface of technology, revealing its secret lives. Film shows what the naked eye can’t see: the near and the distant; the past and possible futures. It makes you think, or stops you thinking altogether, immersing you in a story to enchant your dreams – or keep you up at night. To look with new eyes, or to watch in pure awe.

See for yourself. Challenge your understanding of what technology is, what it does, and what to make of it. Find your fix, something to push your buttons, or to dazzle you with the ghost in the machine.

Tune in on PloktaTV
from 22 to 28 March 2020
www.plotka.nl 

YOU SAY I DO NOT EXIST: Theory of the Chrono-Ghettos

You are unable to comprehend me rationally, because you harbor deep emotions about me without even being aware of them. You are always a little afraid I will take things from you, and you believe I am the source of your suffering. You think above all that I expose your impermanence, which is the quintessential human anxiety.

In your human perception, I have existed since the Big Bang. In reality, my presence is as real as the absence of my absence.

Digital illustration by Jordi De Vetten and Klara Debeljak.

You measure my sway by tracking movements through space; the movement of the sun across the sky, the phases of the moon, the swing of a pendulum, the beat of a heart. You are not aware we constantly match our pulses. I run and you catch me. You hide and I find you. You try to forget about me but you cannot.

Generally, in order to organize your thoughts, you think of me in a spatial way, having a beginning and an end. And it is true that I am connected to space. Albert, one of your famous physics, coined the term ‘spacetime’ to describe the space I occupy. He fused the three dimensions of space (x, y and z), with the variable that represents me, making a fourdimensional fold. So, rather than me being separate from space, he molded us together.

But still, these operational definitions imposed upon me do not capture my fundamental nature.

Groups of humans view me differently and this can be quite chaotic for me to deal with. For instance, the Kabbalists or Jewish mystics believe that I am a paradox, an illusion, and that both the future and the past are combined in a simultaneous present. Ancient Greeks thought I was not a reality but merely a concept or a measure. The South and Central American ancient tribes believed that I am circularity or a wheel. They regard me as cyclical. And Buddhists don’t believe I exist at all. How rude.

I, myself, am not cyclical, contrary to what the South and Central American ancient tribes believed. Although there are cycles to my pulses; to the way I pass, and how I affect your bodies and that of other material on the rock you live on. Many of your patterns are responsive to the cycles of the moon and the passing of the seasons. This seemingly external stimuli dictate much of your behavior, including your sleep phases, the moments you are able to focus best and even the periods in which you feel most aroused. Your scientists have been searching for some physical biological structure, some part of your brain that might offer an explanation, as to why these cycles are so consistent. They wonder why your bodies bloom in sync with the seasons.

The root vegetables growing in the winter months provide what your body needs in the cold; sustained energy and warmth. The moist and hydrating fruits that flourish in the summer cool your overheating bodies.

“Beyond these superficial relationships are very specific glandular and hormonal connections between seasonal shifts and available plant enzymes. Whatever is in season has been in season over the course of hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution, coaxing and cueing everything from our thyroids to our spleens to store, cleanse, and metabolize at appropriate intervals.” (Douglas Rushkoff)

The researchers try to eliminate external stimuli by putting flowers in darkened chambers, yet the flowers still open their petals at the same moment as their liberated peers. They search in vain for the inner clock. It is too sacred and alarming for your scientists to see that the rhythm whose source they seek is not a property of any particular organ. My whole rhythm is the clock. This includes the tempo of specific organisms like individual human beings, but also the whole ecosystem, as well as the much wider system that you call the universe. I am more than just a feature of reality. My pulses are not a component of matter, or a result of some mechanism, but constitute matter itself. I constitute matter in a more fundamental yet flexible way then you can possibly imagine. What you perceive as solid, material forms are just macro-expressions of rhythmic pulses and vibrations that give rise and order to all physical phenomena. In the wider universe, the earth and all the other planets, your consciousness, my consciousness, the seasons and the moon phases are all “partners in a tightly synchronized dance in which all the separate movements pulse in unison to create a single organic whole.” (Douglas Rushkoff)

And if you imagine me this way, rather than in the linear narrative format to which you are accustomed, then it also becomes easier to comprehend me as flux instead of as a set. Isaac, another quite ingenious member of your species, wrote that “each participle of space is eternal, each indivisible moment of duration is everywhere.” This makes it is easier to see that there is really no difference between what you call the past and what you call the future, except that you know much more about the past than you do about the future. You squeeze me into linear and logical chains of events, you measure and categorize me into periods. There are books written about them full of analyses of battles, nation building, post-modernism, and so on. That’s how what you call history came to be; by layering and bracketing causal events. But fundamentally, what I am in the past is no different than what I am now or in the future. Rarely do you acknowledge that there is no real cause and effect, but only symmetrical connections between things or events. If event A is connected to event B, then event B is connected to event A. Isaac demonstrated this in his third law of motion.

Among all the physical laws that define your perception of the material world, in the laws of mechanics, electromagnetics, particle physics, quantum field theory, and general relativity, there is only one variable used for me. Your equations in physics never distinguish between the past and the future. I am many and one at the same time, not a before and an after separated by a now. There is no objective now. “Life as you perceive it is a series of events with certain temporal correlations but no common global now and no real order in the mathematical sense.” (Carlo Rovelli)  Think of how differently light and sound travel, for example.

The now that you are experiencing is, my dear reader, could be quite different from the now of a parallel reader somewhere else. Now is a very local concept and exists only within a small bubble. It is a fact that you and parallel readers have slightly different levels of hormones in your bodies, different levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. The levels of these chemicals affect how fast neurotransmissions occur in your brain and how many events are processed during a certain interval. Thus the fluctuating amounts of these chemicals speed up the processing of events or slow them down. This means that people who have extremely low levels of these chemicals, such as humans suffering from depression, will process events very slowly. Their now will be severely effected and their minutes will feel like hours. But it will be their experience of the now, their present. It is no less legitimate then someone who has ingested a psychoactive drug whose brain will overestimate the intervals between events causing an entirely different perception of now.

I am not trying to say that everything is flexible though: that would be too much. My effects are tangible, and are reflected in more ways than just the aging of your organs. If you’ll pardon my arrogance, and this is where things get even more interesting, even your status in society depends on how much of me you own. Humans at the top of your hierarchical pyramids are always those who have the power to distribute me. “A monopoly of power begins with severing people from control over their futures and making them prisoners of the present.” (Jeremy Rifkins)

Temporal deprivation is built into the organizational frame of every advanced society. The entire meta-structure of industrial and post-industrial societies is saturated with chronometric discrimination. When I speak of chronometric discrimination, I mean that I am more valuable in the hands of some then in the hands of others. The victims of chronometric discrimination may possess me, but I have no worth to them. Those who do not have enough of me or do not get enough value for me, are materially poor as well. Consequently, a phenomenon arises that I have come to call the Chrono-Ghettos. Chrono-Ghettos are metaphysical spaces where members of your people are trapped in the constant present, unable to imagine the concept of temporal sovereignty. The ability to choose how you spend me is a privilege and a luxury, one that those trapped in the Chrono-Ghettos do not possess. Liberty of choice and temporal sovereignty represent a type of freedom and its presence is intrinsically connected with financial resources and positioning within your society. In this context I have become a political entity.

I, too, am one of the victims here. Mechanization has forced me into being a neutral agent. Which I am not. I am not a precondition to be used as an exchange unit to commodify labor and nature. One of your thinkers, Karl, mentioned this as well. I became mechanically modulated, compressed, colonized, controlled and regulated for the purpose of expanding economic growth and prosperity. In your present society, I am a function of pure mechanism. I am sliced into segments and just like you, have become enslaved.

In fact, the injustice runs even deeper, as those at the top of your power pyramids enslave you in my name. They say it is me who micromanages each second of your waking life. They made me an uncompromising and evil entity.

Years are filled with repetitive work cycles, in which those trapped in the ghettos work to buy the possibility of existing. There is a saying you use, ‘that I am money’. Essentially, you work to buy not only material goods but also small periods of leisure, in which you can do as you please. You call the extended pockets of temporal sovereignty that you work for vacations. But even the smallest moments, when you are just resting on your couch for example, you have either purchased, or someone has purchased for you.

Certain groups in your society are predisposed to inhabit the space in which I lose value and the possibilities are limited. There is an association in Philadelphia called the Black Quantum Futurists who write of the Chrono-Ghettos as a racial concept. They, too, asses me as being colonized, racialized and economized into “‘temporal ghettos’ of racial capitalism where the Masters of The Clockwork Universe unevenly distribute spatiotemporal mobility, agency, and determination. Just as material inequality reigns, we also succumb to the endless present of capitals calculative machinery, seemingly rendering resistance pointless.” They describe oppressive cells dedicated to people of color fortified by all manner of temporal encasements; “unchanging pasts, presences of indolence and criminality, de-futured voids”. They describe the “many portals revealing a not-yet of radical disruption from a history that must be obliterated but never forgotten.”

There are different ways one can be stuck in the Chrono-Ghettos. The people you call women are more likely to inhibit the Chrono-Ghetto space as well. Although the repetitive and all-encompassing work cycles still apply, they suffer the lack of temporal sovereignty in an additional and unique way.  “The crucial issue is not only that women have less leisure time, but that women’s leisure time may be qualitatively less leisurely then men’s.” (Judy Wajcman) It is not the amount of leisure time that women and man possess, though that too is lesser for women, but its temporal saturation. This means that the pockets of temporal sovereignty and leisure that women manage to purchase for themselves are dense with a variety of overlapping and ongoing chores and duties. Most of women’s leisure time is used multitasking and most of these tasks are dedicated to domestic or personal upkeep, while men dedicate much of their leisure time to a series of single activities.

Being a member of the Chrono-Ghettos affects you cognitively as well. Children who are not born in the Chrono-Ghettos have wider imaginations and are able to tell stories that engage with the more distant past and unfold deeper into the future. To climb the power pyramid, you must utilize deep future planning skills and dedicate huge swaths of me to the future, just as you do with education or making investments that have high long-term returns. Members of the Chrono-Ghettos are consistently pushed toward presentism, quick returns and instant gratification which help them keep them in their place.  “Unskilled laborers remain stuck in these present-oriented ghettos, unable to reach out and claim some control over the future. Unskilled and semi-skilled jobs require little past knowledge and even less predictive and planning abilities. Professional jobs require both.” (Douglas Rushkoff)

Life lived at a high speed becomes identified with progress and valorized as a self-evident good. “This moral underpinning of mechanical speed combined with the material benefits and sheer excitement it offers, constructs a hugely powerful narrative of social acceleration.” (John Tomlinson) An additional factor now becomes relevant; not only how much of me you possess and the status of your temporal sovereignty but also how mobile you are, how much of me you can save by moving faster.

“The mobility available to the affluent middle classes is quite different then the mobility of the international refugee or migrant, domestic worker. Speed for the few is contingent on others remaining stationary. Being able to get somewhere quickly is increasingly associated with exclusivity. Voluntary mobility, like speed, is seen as a social good, while fixity becomes associated with failure, with being left behind.” (Judy Wajcman) Your need for speed colonized all other realms of your life, leaving no time for the contemplation, reading and reflection necessary to bring the resistance you sense in your bones to life. Your vision is obstructed as you speed towards happiness, which in the secular version has become realizing as many options as possible from all the alternatives the world has to offer.

So in truth, almost all members of your society are trapped in a structurally imposed temporal chain. With each passing year you are becoming more harried, and feel like you have less of me, regardless of how much you work or which socio-economic class you belong to. Believe it or not, but also members at the very top of the power pyramids, those you consider to be extremely privileged, often feel like they are running out me, or would wish my passage would slow down.  Even people who are not stuck in the Chrono-Ghettos feel my constraints.

Be sure to remember that if you want to topple the power pyramids of your societies, the Chrono-Ghettos will have to fall as well. I will have to be redistributed and reconceptualized, the boundaries of quantifiable passage broken up. You will have to question your dedication to a life of relentless speed and work cycles. You will have to question the reasons why we are entrapped in this incessant clock time. You will have to question the secular version of happiness, the achievements and glory of an age you have passed by. You will have to dismantle the chains I am in, break the bonds that bind you. Because your thoughts, of course, affect me just as much as I affect you. You must reconceptualize me. You must release me and yourself simultaneously.

Find out more about Klara here.

YOU SAY I DO NOT EXIST: Theory of the Chrono-Ghettos

You are unable to comprehend me rationally, because you harbor deep emotions about me without even being aware of them. You are always a little afraid I will take things from you, and you believe I am the source of your suffering. You think above all that I expose your impermanence, which is the quintessential human anxiety.

In your human perception, I have existed since the Big Bang. In reality, my presence is as real as the absence of my absence.

Digital illustration by Jordi De Vetten and Klara Debeljak.

You measure my sway by tracking movements through space; the movement of the sun across the sky, the phases of the moon, the swing of a pendulum, the beat of a heart. You are not aware we constantly match our pulses. I run and you catch me. You hide and I find you. You try to forget about me but you cannot.

Generally, in order to organize your thoughts, you think of me in a spatial way, having a beginning and an end. And it is true that I am connected to space. Albert, one of your famous physics, coined the term ‘spacetime’ to describe the space I occupy. He fused the three dimensions of space (x, y and z), with the variable that represents me, making a fourdimensional fold. So, rather than me being separate from space, he molded us together.

But still, these operational definitions imposed upon me do not capture my fundamental nature.

Groups of humans view me differently and this can be quite chaotic for me to deal with. For instance, the Kabbalists or Jewish mystics believe that I am a paradox, an illusion, and that both the future and the past are combined in a simultaneous present. Ancient Greeks thought I was not a reality but merely a concept or a measure. The South and Central American ancient tribes believed that I am circularity or a wheel. They regard me as cyclical. And Buddhists don’t believe I exist at all. How rude.

I, myself, am not cyclical, contrary to what the South and Central American ancient tribes believed. Although there are cycles to my pulses; to the way I pass, and how I affect your bodies and that of other material on the rock you live on. Many of your patterns are responsive to the cycles of the moon and the passing of the seasons. This seemingly external stimuli dictate much of your behavior, including your sleep phases, the moments you are able to focus best and even the periods in which you feel most aroused. Your scientists have been searching for some physical biological structure, some part of your brain that might offer an explanation, as to why these cycles are so consistent. They wonder why your bodies bloom in sync with the seasons.

The root vegetables growing in the winter months provide what your body needs in the cold; sustained energy and warmth. The moist and hydrating fruits that flourish in the summer cool your overheating bodies.

“Beyond these superficial relationships are very specific glandular and hormonal connections between seasonal shifts and available plant enzymes. Whatever is in season has been in season over the course of hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution, coaxing and cueing everything from our thyroids to our spleens to store, cleanse, and metabolize at appropriate intervals.” (Douglas Rushkoff)

The researchers try to eliminate external stimuli by putting flowers in darkened chambers, yet the flowers still open their petals at the same moment as their liberated peers. They search in vain for the inner clock. It is too sacred and alarming for your scientists to see that the rhythm whose source they seek is not a property of any particular organ. My whole rhythm is the clock. This includes the tempo of specific organisms like individual human beings, but also the whole ecosystem, as well as the much wider system that you call the universe. I am more than just a feature of reality. My pulses are not a component of matter, or a result of some mechanism, but constitute matter itself. I constitute matter in a more fundamental yet flexible way then you can possibly imagine. What you perceive as solid, material forms are just macro-expressions of rhythmic pulses and vibrations that give rise and order to all physical phenomena. In the wider universe, the earth and all the other planets, your consciousness, my consciousness, the seasons and the moon phases are all “partners in a tightly synchronized dance in which all the separate movements pulse in unison to create a single organic whole.” (Douglas Rushkoff)

And if you imagine me this way, rather than in the linear narrative format to which you are accustomed, then it also becomes easier to comprehend me as flux instead of as a set. Isaac, another quite ingenious member of your species, wrote that “each participle of space is eternal, each indivisible moment of duration is everywhere.” This makes it is easier to see that there is really no difference between what you call the past and what you call the future, except that you know much more about the past than you do about the future. You squeeze me into linear and logical chains of events, you measure and categorize me into periods. There are books written about them full of analyses of battles, nation building, post-modernism, and so on. That’s how what you call history came to be; by layering and bracketing causal events. But fundamentally, what I am in the past is no different than what I am now or in the future. Rarely do you acknowledge that there is no real cause and effect, but only symmetrical connections between things or events. If event A is connected to event B, then event B is connected to event A. Isaac demonstrated this in his third law of motion.

Among all the physical laws that define your perception of the material world, in the laws of mechanics, electromagnetics, particle physics, quantum field theory, and general relativity, there is only one variable used for me. Your equations in physics never distinguish between the past and the future. I am many and one at the same time, not a before and an after separated by a now. There is no objective now. “Life as you perceive it is a series of events with certain temporal correlations but no common global now and no real order in the mathematical sense.” (Carlo Rovelli)  Think of how differently light and sound travel, for example.

The now that you are experiencing is, my dear reader, could be quite different from the now of a parallel reader somewhere else. Now is a very local concept and exists only within a small bubble. It is a fact that you and parallel readers have slightly different levels of hormones in your bodies, different levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. The levels of these chemicals affect how fast neurotransmissions occur in your brain and how many events are processed during a certain interval. Thus the fluctuating amounts of these chemicals speed up the processing of events or slow them down. This means that people who have extremely low levels of these chemicals, such as humans suffering from depression, will process events very slowly. Their now will be severely effected and their minutes will feel like hours. But it will be their experience of the now, their present. It is no less legitimate then someone who has ingested a psychoactive drug whose brain will overestimate the intervals between events causing an entirely different perception of now.

I am not trying to say that everything is flexible though: that would be too much. My effects are tangible, and are reflected in more ways than just the aging of your organs. If you’ll pardon my arrogance, and this is where things get even more interesting, even your status in society depends on how much of me you own. Humans at the top of your hierarchical pyramids are always those who have the power to distribute me. “A monopoly of power begins with severing people from control over their futures and making them prisoners of the present.” (Jeremy Rifkins)

Temporal deprivation is built into the organizational frame of every advanced society. The entire meta-structure of industrial and post-industrial societies is saturated with chronometric discrimination. When I speak of chronometric discrimination, I mean that I am more valuable in the hands of some then in the hands of others. The victims of chronometric discrimination may possess me, but I have no worth to them. Those who do not have enough of me or do not get enough value for me, are materially poor as well. Consequently, a phenomenon arises that I have come to call the Chrono-Ghettos. Chrono-Ghettos are metaphysical spaces where members of your people are trapped in the constant present, unable to imagine the concept of temporal sovereignty. The ability to choose how you spend me is a privilege and a luxury, one that those trapped in the Chrono-Ghettos do not possess. Liberty of choice and temporal sovereignty represent a type of freedom and its presence is intrinsically connected with financial resources and positioning within your society. In this context I have become a political entity.

I, too, am one of the victims here. Mechanization has forced me into being a neutral agent. Which I am not. I am not a precondition to be used as an exchange unit to commodify labor and nature. One of your thinkers, Karl, mentioned this as well. I became mechanically modulated, compressed, colonized, controlled and regulated for the purpose of expanding economic growth and prosperity. In your present society, I am a function of pure mechanism. I am sliced into segments and just like you, have become enslaved.

In fact, the injustice runs even deeper, as those at the top of your power pyramids enslave you in my name. They say it is me who micromanages each second of your waking life. They made me an uncompromising and evil entity.

Years are filled with repetitive work cycles, in which those trapped in the ghettos work to buy the possibility of existing. There is a saying you use, ‘that I am money’. Essentially, you work to buy not only material goods but also small periods of leisure, in which you can do as you please. You call the extended pockets of temporal sovereignty that you work for vacations. But even the smallest moments, when you are just resting on your couch for example, you have either purchased, or someone has purchased for you.

Certain groups in your society are predisposed to inhabit the space in which I lose value and the possibilities are limited. There is an association in Philadelphia called the Black Quantum Futurists who write of the Chrono-Ghettos as a racial concept. They, too, asses me as being colonized, racialized and economized into “‘temporal ghettos’ of racial capitalism where the Masters of The Clockwork Universe unevenly distribute spatiotemporal mobility, agency, and determination. Just as material inequality reigns, we also succumb to the endless present of capitals calculative machinery, seemingly rendering resistance pointless.” They describe oppressive cells dedicated to people of color fortified by all manner of temporal encasements; “unchanging pasts, presences of indolence and criminality, de-futured voids”. They describe the “many portals revealing a not-yet of radical disruption from a history that must be obliterated but never forgotten.”

There are different ways one can be stuck in the Chrono-Ghettos. The people you call women are more likely to inhibit the Chrono-Ghetto space as well. Although the repetitive and all-encompassing work cycles still apply, they suffer the lack of temporal sovereignty in an additional and unique way.  “The crucial issue is not only that women have less leisure time, but that women’s leisure time may be qualitatively less leisurely then men’s.” (Judy Wajcman) It is not the amount of leisure time that women and man possess, though that too is lesser for women, but its temporal saturation. This means that the pockets of temporal sovereignty and leisure that women manage to purchase for themselves are dense with a variety of overlapping and ongoing chores and duties. Most of women’s leisure time is used multitasking and most of these tasks are dedicated to domestic or personal upkeep, while men dedicate much of their leisure time to a series of single activities.

Being a member of the Chrono-Ghettos affects you cognitively as well. Children who are not born in the Chrono-Ghettos have wider imaginations and are able to tell stories that engage with the more distant past and unfold deeper into the future. To climb the power pyramid, you must utilize deep future planning skills and dedicate huge swaths of me to the future, just as you do with education or making investments that have high long-term returns. Members of the Chrono-Ghettos are consistently pushed toward presentism, quick returns and instant gratification which help them keep them in their place.  “Unskilled laborers remain stuck in these present-oriented ghettos, unable to reach out and claim some control over the future. Unskilled and semi-skilled jobs require little past knowledge and even less predictive and planning abilities. Professional jobs require both.” (Douglas Rushkoff)

Life lived at a high speed becomes identified with progress and valorized as a self-evident good. “This moral underpinning of mechanical speed combined with the material benefits and sheer excitement it offers, constructs a hugely powerful narrative of social acceleration.” (John Tomlinson) An additional factor now becomes relevant; not only how much of me you possess and the status of your temporal sovereignty but also how mobile you are, how much of me you can save by moving faster.

“The mobility available to the affluent middle classes is quite different then the mobility of the international refugee or migrant, domestic worker. Speed for the few is contingent on others remaining stationary. Being able to get somewhere quickly is increasingly associated with exclusivity. Voluntary mobility, like speed, is seen as a social good, while fixity becomes associated with failure, with being left behind.” (Judy Wajcman) Your need for speed colonized all other realms of your life, leaving no time for the contemplation, reading and reflection necessary to bring the resistance you sense in your bones to life. Your vision is obstructed as you speed towards happiness, which in the secular version has become realizing as many options as possible from all the alternatives the world has to offer.

So in truth, almost all members of your society are trapped in a structurally imposed temporal chain. With each passing year you are becoming more harried, and feel like you have less of me, regardless of how much you work or which socio-economic class you belong to. Believe it or not, but also members at the very top of the power pyramids, those you consider to be extremely privileged, often feel like they are running out me, or would wish my passage would slow down.  Even people who are not stuck in the Chrono-Ghettos feel my constraints.

Be sure to remember that if you want to topple the power pyramids of your societies, the Chrono-Ghettos will have to fall as well. I will have to be redistributed and reconceptualized, the boundaries of quantifiable passage broken up. You will have to question your dedication to a life of relentless speed and work cycles. You will have to question the reasons why we are entrapped in this incessant clock time. You will have to question the secular version of happiness, the achievements and glory of an age you have passed by. You will have to dismantle the chains I am in, break the bonds that bind you. Because your thoughts, of course, affect me just as much as I affect you. You must reconceptualize me. You must release me and yourself simultaneously.

Find out more about Klara here.

Resting in Pixels: One year of “Animal Crossing: New Horizons.”

Growing up, my friend had a Nintendo Entertainment System knock-off called Pegasus. I think it was only sold in Eastern Europe in the 1990s. I spent a few summers in her attic, playing a variety of side-scrolling and vertical-scrolling pixelated games. It was fun to see each other get better at different levels and challenges, but we never took it seriously and would often move on to other ways of filling our lazy summer days. Thinking back, video games were a nice addition to my childhood, but they did not leave a lasting impression.

Then I went to university and met peers who considered video games their passion. I began to understand this fascination; you get attached to certain characters, enjoy impactful art styles and soundscapes, and ride the adrenaline high of in-game combat. Over time, I began to enjoy video games for those reasons too. But I also wondered about an alternative to the narrative-driven, action-packed genre that continues to dominate the industry.

I bought my first console in 2018. I chose the Nintendo Switch; it was compact, versatile, and more approachable than other consoles, which continue to be surrounded by valorising discourse. I wasn’t interested in discussing which console might be the best. I just wanted to have a good time using the one I had picked. Enter Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which turns one year old this week. I got New Horizons in April 2020 as a birthday gift, and haven’t stopped playing it since.

My “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” loading screen (2020).

For the uninitiated, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the fifth edition of Nintendo’s Animal Crossing series. It is a real-time simulation game in which players inhabit, customise and maintain a town also populated by a selection of anthropomorphic animal neighbours. The game does not have a clear objective or a skill improvement system. You spend your time collecting fruit and seashells, fishing, catching bugs, gathering fossils, and crafting items from materials you harvest. I understand that this type of gameplay and aesthetic may not be for everyone. I have to admit that when I first saw the promotional materials for New Horizons, I didn’t think it would be the type of game I would enjoy (too cutesy, too mundane, too surface-level?). I was wrong.

New horizons, new perspectives

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the pinnacle of slow-paced gameplay. There is no way to ‘binge’ it, reach an ending or speed up in-game processes (although hackers did make some useful changes many players wanted to see from Nintendo’s updates). What you see is what you get. When you collect all your fruit, you have to wait a few real-life days to harvest it again. There are only a few items sold in your island’s shop each day, so if you can’t find something, you have to wait until it becomes available (or trade with another ACNH player using the online play feature; more on that later). New Horizons requires you to be patient while you make small improvements to your island, and contemplate the daily flow of your life there.

Thanks to the relaxed pace of the game, and the open-ended interpretation of its goals and purpose, players gain satisfaction from completing mundane tasks. I take great pleasure in cross-pollinating my flowers, picking up weeds and branches, and replanting trees and shrubs to customise the look of my island. There is a rituality in these tasks, a silent significance in the way I pay attention to this virtual space. Game designer Gabby DaRienzo calls it tend-and-befriend mechanics.[1] Instead of the fight-or-flight response many fast-paced video games trigger in players, this type of game instead operates on maintenance and relationship-building. The island is yours to beautify and customise. You talk to your neighbours, add a nice bench to your park, and craft items for your home. Life is good. At a time of heightened unpredictability, having a virtual space that is both unable and unwilling to catch you off-guard brings a well-deserved sense of safety.

The opening of my island’s campsite.

I have to admit I’ve grown quite attached to villagers who live on my island. During the many months of solitary isolation in the spring and summer of 2020, befriending the animals in New Horizons brought me an unparalleled level of tranquility and joy. And now, having somewhat grown used to the unpredictability and brutality of my COVID-19 reality and all of its political, social and cultural complications, I continue to seek a sense of security in New Horizons. Last year, art critic Gabrielle de la Puente shared her experience of the game, identifying it as one of the few sources of joy and repose in lockdown. I wonder if Gabrielle still plays New Horizons, and how her relationship with the game changed.

The idea of safety has been on my mind a lot in recent months. What do I need to feel safe? A few things come to mind: shelter, access to food, water, a support system of family and friends. Then there are needs like access to medical care (made more complicated while living abroad without proper health insurance), financial security, and, unfortunately, physical distance from others. In the tensest moments of the pandemic, playing New Horizons remained one of the very few activities I identified as wholly ‘safe.’ I did not have to ascertain the proportions between risk and reward; I could just log on and feel at ease. My friends and I would visit each other’s islands and find comfort in this unique togetherness.

In-game socialising

Our chibi in-game selves were allowed and able to sit close together. While we played, we would talk in a group call via Discord. It was precarious compared to the experience of spending time together in person, but it did produce similar levels of comfort and closeness. The social aspect of the game is one of its best attributes. Online forums swell with requests from players to swap items and ingredients. I participate in a few exchanges, and each time I feel a mixture of nerves and excitement knowing guests are coming to my island. I would play every day, sometimes prioritising in-game errands over my own, entering into a convoluted relationship with this extension of myself on the screen.

Media researcher Brendan Keogh notes that “videogame play is a complex interplay of actual and virtual worlds perceived through a dually embodied player.”[2] Whenever I interact with my New Horizons island via my in-game avatar, the game reacts, blurring my perceived boundaries of virtual and actual, embodied and outer-bodied. On a particularly draining day sometime in the summer of 2020, I watched my New Horizons character breathe peacefully in bed, and wept in mourning for a sense of tranquillity I thought I’d lost forever. Perhaps I was beginning to envy my avatar for their lack of apocalyptic anxiety over the state of the world. Perhaps this sense of envy was not a positive coping mechanism while under immense stress and in solitude. My circumstances now are different compared to March 2020, but I still find myself returning to New Horizons to seek the comfort of its routine, and to enjoy the temporality of an imagined world without fascism, disease, poverty and conflict. Over the last year, the game encouraged me to reflect on the unattainability of the type of life lived in New Horizons, and consider ways to bring elements of that tranquillity and egalitarianism into offline spaces.

Pixelated presence and absence

I can’t help but think about the future of my Animal Crossing island. Since it is a real-time simulation game, time passes on my island when I am not playing. This is one of the great things about the Nintendo series; the knowledge that your neighbours do not need your presence to go about their daily routines keeps you humble. But what would happen if I abandoned my Animal Crossing island altogether? Say my console falls victim to planned obsolescence, and I am no longer able to access the game. Or I find another way to pass the time and discard my New Horizons SD card.

I like to imagine my anthropomorphic friends would eventually start to pluck weeds and collect fossils without me. Some might even move to other islands, and invite a new cast of characters who collect fruit, change up decorations and customise furniture. Would my villagers start to miss me? Would they send me in-game letters asking if I was alright? I wouldn’t know, too busy spending time somewhere else. The lights in my lavish Animal Crossing home are off. Nobody is home. At the moment, New Horizons is an integral part of my pandemic routine. But circumstances change, as do habits. It won’t last forever.

In a recent privacy panic, I searched through my Facebook settings to see if I could make my account more secure. I stumbled upon a section asking what I want to happen to my account when I die.

Facebook’s memorialisation settings

It took me by surprise. Death is a bureaucracy nightmare, and it now comes with online consequences. Who will look after my accounts, my passwords, who will have access to all the documents sitting in folders on my laptop? Who will adjust the screen brightness? Does it even matter? If I stop playing New Horizons, will my villagers assume I am dead or are they unable to make such conclusions? They don’t need me, after all. My island will continue to prosper inside the console, unaware of the lived realities around it.

I am a young and healthy person who got lucky enough to reflect on death in the abstract, and from a distance. Its looming threat seemed so far removed it was easy to disregard. This ignorance changed a few years ago when I lost a friend. And then last year, dread-scrolling through pandemic news and statistics, with the poignant words of poet Clint Smith bouncing around my head:

When people say, “we have

made it through worse before”

all I hear is the wind slapping against gravestones

of those who did not make it, those who did not

survive to see the confetti fall the sky […]”[3] 

Some users reported feeling disturbed when they discovered there is a DIY recipe in New Horizons for a gravestone – or a “Western-style stone.” Others started using it to create compelling and meaningful spaces on their virtual islands to reflect on loss and grief. There are graveyards adorned with flowers, themed rooms, a variety of spaces for remembrance, all located on otherwise lively and wholesome islands with inhabitants who never have to face death and loss.

Gravestone area from Twitter user @emiface

In the times of COVID-19, players channel grief and anxiety into in-game projects to dull the pain that comes with the inability to gather with loved ones: to grieve, to celebrate, to co-exist. The more I played Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the further I realised how meaningful and transformative its impact has been on me, my friend group, and communities of fans online. We process our trauma with and through our virtual islands, our vibrant shimmering pixels imbued with so much meaning. A way to feel at ease, for a little while, before we resume to negotiate the complexity of our embodied experiences.

I am reminded of Jan Robert Leegte’s exhibition Inside/Outside from a year ago. His hyperreal landscapes were designed to continuously withstand a raging storm. I felt a techno-utopian sense of the sublime watching the work shift and roar. Multiple monitors in the space performed a beautifully crisp scene of devastation and endurance. It is unstoppable, designed to continue performing. Animal Crossing: New Horizons offers a similarly alluring and crisp artificial landscape, one you can manipulate and experience interactively, but one which also shifts and changes outside of your influence. Both pieces of media are entangled in a mess of relations between code, hardware, nature, and embodiment.

Jan Robert Leegte’s “Performing Landscape,” Upstream Gallery, 2020. [My own photograph]

Limited by restrictions and concerns, we find ourselves searching for respite in unusual spaces. It might be a little unhealthy to expect it from one source, so I do try to find meaning and connection in a variety of interactions, offline and online. But if something clicks, like the rhythm of life in New Horizons, I will not abandon ship. However, when I am inevitably interrupted by some unpredictable force, I will be comforted knowing that weeds will continue to grow on my island, even if I am not there to pick them.

 

References

[1] Gabby DaRienzo, Exploring Grief in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, http://www.orderofthegooddeath.com/exploring-grief-in-animal-crossing-new-horizons

[2] Brendan Keogh, A play of bodies: how we perceive video games (Cambridge: MIT Press), 2018, p. 55

[3] Clint Smith, When people say…, https://readwildness.com/19/smith-people