Ferre Vander Elst
People’s sociality is hugely affected by digital media. The public sphere has settled itself in the cloud instead of the plaza. With this migration of our public sphere into networked publics our social relations are made possible by the processing of data. While social media should be considered as a commons, social labor is turned into private profit without people being fully aware of it. The infrastructure of the networked publics is based on a power structure that monetizes our sociality. Meanwhile privacy norms are being reformed without empowering people in the matter.
At all times, there is a continuous need for personal identity and political voice in the public domain. However, social media constrains our public voice to actions that monetize and thereby also polarize. There is no margin for appropriating this public space in favor of the individuals and their sociality. While most of socio-political discourses exist on social media platforms, it is all the more urgent that people are aware of its polarizing nature. The only physical manifestations of the cloud are endless concrete structures, entirely empty of people, making it impossible for people to properly connect with what is happening. We need a radical reification of the cloud, for people to react to its power and consequences.
We have no clue about these consequences. We lack a kind of literacy, a visual map of the (technological) changes our society is going through. One that allows people to see their place and role in society, while also inspiring them to build a better world.
I connect the need for a literacy to the act of storytelling. According to Donna Haraway, some of the best thinking is done as storytelling, more particularly as science fiction. Science fiction stories serve as a visual map of a possible present/future. Haraway rejects the exclusive reliance on theoretical analysis. Stories, supported by a theoretical framework, can open the public imagination to make new ways of relating to what’s being narrated possible.
As architect-researcher, I want to investigate the role of architecture in the enhancement of data literacy. I want to do this through the design of science-fiction stories. Stories, supported by a theoretical framework, that disclose the underlying structures of people’s digital sociality and empower them to counteract.
As an architect, I am extremely interested in the impact of technology on our society, more specifically the rise of social media and the associated data processing (when data is collected and transformed into usable information). Through speculative design, architecture can serve as a means of communication. In this case, I am a proponent of the handshake between thorough research and a visual, accessible story that oscillates between fiction and non-fiction. I consider this area to be a fertile design area that I want to explore with great passion.