Unsafe, but sane

This work is an attempt to investigate the structured future that awaits us, and how can humanity use the Internet and not lose the fundamental human rights due to control and surveillance.

  1. Here lies the presentation I gave at one of the Berkman Klein Center’s Fellows Hour - along with my verbal explanation. The links aside points to some sources and references.

    Title of talk: Cristopher Alexander's Urban Patterns and the Internet
  2. To investigate the problem, I'll make use of Design Fiction, a variation of critical design, normally used to deal with stories from cyberspace. Bruce Sterling used this term in 2005 in his book called Shaping things. There is an unmissable article written by him in the Wired UK about Design Fiction. As I wish to solve a problem that maybe isn’t real as of yet, and Design Fiction will help me to tell this story.

    slide2, uma explicacao breve sobre design fiction
  3. The story that I want to tell presents some troubled unintentional uses of data technologies. As we go digital, we go more structured than ever. In this world, people do everything they can to fit in data models so that they can track everything as a resource and get efficiency. The body is already an extension of the digital world to the point it can’t function separated from it.

  4. Our actions are redesigned so they can be correctly translated for machines. As a consequence of the need of controlling everything to obtain efficiency, we let ourselves convert into tables and columns, or other structures rooted in mathematical equations. So, to tell everyone what we are doing, we trade off complexity for structured exchanges about what we are doing. This register also base our next steps. Everything is a consequence of real parameters founded in science: the amount a person walks, eats, socialize, works, run, commute, watch movies. In a way that we are finally safe from errors.

  5. In this world, there will be new grids for distribution of everything. New networks for organizing life in the best way we can afford - new paths that indicated by the protocols.

  6. To be adequately represented at databases, our feelings will also be transformed into buttons and symbols. The feelings without representation will vanish, others will fit into categories that already exist, like "heart" and "star." Communication will be bright with less ambiguity. Humans communication will improve in efficiency. Because we will talk with machines and through them, everything will have to be structured.

  7. We still have trillions of opportunities to structure this world. This future is fictional. It does not exist yet.

  8. In this fictional world, we know what we are going to say next. We are predictable in almost every situation. And if we leave the curve, it is because we are wrong, mainly, or because we do not fit. The industries will shift the emphasis on improving isolated situations to improving networked situations, considering all the nodes involved in one transaction of datasets.

    This not necessarily a bad scenario. The roads are predictable because of self-driving cars, the time we take showers is also predicted because the water supply is short, the amount of time we spent at cinemas, which theaters we go and which shopping buy, even the amount of time spent in queues is controlled.

    This story is about a world in which poverty, pollution and corruption could be almost eradicated. slide7

  9. Let us say that in this world everything is planned. There is no serendipity. The efforts around improving our lives produced the so-called safety for everyone. That is a kind of a world where others than the people themselves eventually control the data. The government just organizes taxes and incomes to distribute it. The world here is completely safe, completely predictable. (Completely insane?)

  10. Once that data is integrated with platforms that control everything we do, we traded our sanity for the capacity of knowing what's going to happen. This situation takes safety as a first priority. No wars, no fear in the streets, not too many surprises.

  11. To represent it, Design compresses and simplify complex concepts. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing. But, there will be a limit so that we remain in control?

  12. It is a world where we react as we are trained for. (facebook). Maybe we are not going by this way, but anyway I started to look into the motivations on why the web is so centralized and what could balance this scenario. One part of the entire platform that called my attention was the connection between the representation made so the users can have access to it and the data model is structured and works. made

  13. One example, an important standard created to work on Web and that makes data interoperability, is the metadata that is largely used to "tag" content. The RDF model has a strong influence on metadata on the Web. Conceptually, the RDF data model does not create trees, because it isn’t based on a hierarchical model. That’s the same fundamental philosophy of the HTTP protocol. The way that similar data models, or the way we store data, or the architecure of the platform can also be used to centralize services intrigued me.

    Figure showing RDF relationships representation
  14. So, I stepped by the work of Cristopher Alexander. He inspired several movements of programming languages creation, especially object oriented languages. He influenced even in agile methodologies and patterns for the design of programming languages itself. But his main work regards urban design. In his research evolved into several branches of design, embracing sustainable design and design for communities. His work with patterns aimed to create a visual ontology to transform architecture into something that more people could apply.

    Slide that presents some qualities of the work of cristopher Alexander and how incredible he is
  15. The way he described cities, and the calculus of mathematical origins to oppression and the free flow of information in the urban environment, considering them as interfaces to the movement of information, called my attention. I assume that the representations on the Web, and the regulations to what we are bowed, are easier to redesign than cities. Because of that, the idea that the digital environment is a overlay of urban spaces comes in hand to find specific strategies to liberate humans from total control, even that we go completely digital and networked.

    Slide with the drawings that exemplifies differences between trees and semilaticces
  16. Interaction design is full of patterns. HTML5 markup language is full of patterns, that transform themselves into interfaces that can be read as patterns too - such as menus, footer, sidebars and so on. Consider them as bricks of the Urban Digital environment. Tracing similarities between patterns can help us understand how to deal with the elements present in the digital urban spaces.

    Citation of Cristopher Alexander, from his book on patterns
  17. This figure shows an example of the use patterns, as Nicolas Negroponte used that to map different types of interaction of humans with materials around cities.

    This slide shows the design of patterns made by Yona Friedman for Nicolas Negroponte patterns
  18. Here, another example of work with patterns. Pattern exploration can help us to give responses using design to trigger certain processes and behaviors.

    Patterns to create behavior
  19. Cristopher Alexander cataloged more than 200 patterns from cities. Some of them fit into Internet spaces. Also, it shows that information can interact within the context of the interdependence of platforms and apps. Digital topography must consider the platform as urbe.

    Design of a pattern
  20. So, the cycle of information that permeates the applications in which humans circulate with their digital fragments shows us that there is an overlap of small "cities." These towns are the applications. Sometimes, some applications share more users, like Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp. Given that they have more control over the information that flows, they can retain digital citizens in their limits. But, besides the overlap of apps as towns, the presence of different dimensions of information connecting users shows that an active subculture can take users from one application to another. Like Twitter and Facebook, for example. The flow of information in these subcultures liberates people from the walled digital cities.

  21. One f the patterns most easily comparable with digital urbe is the n.75: the family house. In this pattern, we observe the levels of privacy and the mapping of functions of each small environment. The private realms and the communal living are directly similar to private groups in apps versus public groups, or pages dedicated to conversation between many participants, open to occasional visitors.

    Similarities between patterns in the case of family houses
  22. The echo chambers may have design problems. Maybe conversations should be designed in order to guarantee values that are not embedded into the design of walls, or twitter feeds, for example.

  23. This is an ongoing research. Feedback is appreciated.

Possible Outcomes

  • Assume that we are building virtual cities;
  • Right to own a private space (privacy, freedom of expression)
  • Cryptography as legal argument to safe places;
  • Better spaces for communities;
  • Interfaces that connect beyond screen;
  • transparency to the user (in terms of presence)