On 15 January, I took part in the new year opening of the Brightlands Smart Services campus in Heerlen. Marc Wouters (Adviser to the Brightlands CEO) invited Geert Mul (video and sound artist) and myself to reflect on ‘technology and society’. This was prompted by a position paper Marc wrote earlier in the year to stimulate more debate at Brightlands about the societal effects of the digital technologies they are developing. The creative engineers and designers at Brightlands have, amongst other things, developed an app to improve fuel efficiency and services to help people consider their pensions. But are they being used, by the target group in the intended way? The three of us met one week before the event, to brainstorm about what we wanted to say and how. Marc was keen to challenge the status quo, and wants to continue the dialogue. A short video, photos, and Marc’s paper can all be found on the Brightlands website. An account of the event, written by Milan Lenters, also appeared in Innovation Origins (in Dutch).
At the time of writing (late January), I am preparing for another event, the NWO (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) annual conference for the social sciences and humanities. The theme this year is ‘digitalisation’ and what it means for our everyday lives. This Synergy conference will take place on 7 February, and if you’re reading this before that date, it may still be possible to register.
Both events are taking me out of my comfort zone. The first because Geert Mul is such an amazing artist, and my use of the visual in presentations really is quite primitive. The first was also challenging because of its radical inter-, even trans-disciplinarity. Geert and I were trying to communicate across the art-(social) science divide to make sense of the ongoing digital transformations. Most of the audience came from industry and everyone was there to celebrate the new year.
The NWO Synergy conference is also challenging because it brings together researchers from across the humanities and the social sciences. Maxim Februari will be one of the speakers. Februari is a renowned writer, philosopher and lawyer, contributing to national debates on a variety of topics via his many different forms of writing. He is the author of the wonderful novel, Klont (sadly not yet available to those not able to read Dutch) – a more existential and literary exploration of themes addressed by Dave Eggers in The Circle. My own talk immediately follows that of Februari – everyone in the room, including myself, would rather listen to him.
postscript – the Synergy conference was a success. A short film was made by NWO, and can be found here, including contributions from Februari and myself.