It’s 11.01. I am half-way home, just finishing my morning walk.
And I am one minute late for an online event called Brave Conversations.
It feels awkward to be late for an event hosted by brilliant people like Intersticia and, nota bene, with the participation of Dame Wendy Hall.
Yet, the pull is so strong that I decide to take my chances (having left the idea that I will be comfortably sitting on my desk taking notes) and just grab the first place shady to tune in via my phone and earbuds working only on one side… And here I am, 11.04 – sitting on the second step of a stone staircase in my neighbourhood, between a baseball stadium, a technical library and an outside public fitness area.
I am in. Outside the “reality” and inside Brave Conversations, where we will be talking digital. And analog.
What I felt when entering the room was a blast. I couldn’t get out of zoom, although I had things to do, you know, life: my son, home errands, physical space walking. But then again it was not zoom that I couldn’t quit, I realized. It was the instant connection I couldn’t cut, the one with a cyberspace, facilitated, empowered and immensely semantically enriched by Anni Rowland-Campbell and her team.
I was enchanted and felt home with the blend of future and past that Anni wove into slides, conversations between the participants and exercises. And this Anni’s charismatic and Web-native way of seeing digital through analogue lenses made me want you to meet her!
And there I am, delighted to present you Anni – the woman who bravely (because “can we afford not to be brave”) switches codes between analogue and digital, between art and technology, between group dynamics and authentic interpersonal communication.
About Anni Rowland-Campbell
Anni is Director of Intersticia – a global social enterprise which promotes harnessing interdisciplinary approaches to better understand the interactions of technology, culture and society. She wore different hats in the domains of Arts (working with the Sydney Opera House, Royal Opera House Covent Garden and Australian Opera), Government (as a Ministerial Advisor and Member of numerous Government Boards), and the corporate sector (leading research into emerging Web technologies for Fuji Xerox Australia).
If I am to describe her beyond the formal roles and functions I would say that she is the lively person helping people travel to the future and back in her hybrid digital-analogue spaceship built of visions, practices and interconnected understandings of how we live, work and advance our being together.
What “being digital” means to you?
Digital is about ‘being’, not ‘doing’. It is about a different way of seeing the world, one where everything, and I mean everything, can be recorded, measured, and ‘managed’. This is unprecedented in human history, particularly when we consider things like transparency, trust and the politics of digital governance.
Do you remember the first time you dipped your toe in Web waters?
I have always been interested in the interstice that exists between technology, science and culture. My first encounter with the “Web” proper was in 1993 when I downloaded the early Mosaic (later Netscape) Browser, and I then created a consulting business crafting Web Strategies for organisations moving online in the mid 1990s. As a part of this I began working in the Printing and Graphic Arts industries, the first to be upturned via digital information and the Web through Desktop Publishing, and we focused on helping printers develop digital literacy. This led me to work with Xerox, arguably one of the most important companies when it comes to the invention of the modern world through the research undertaken at places like the famous PARC. From this springboard I met people from all over the world who were grappling with the socio-technical challenges that the Web presented, and this led me to Web Science.
Recently, your talks and thoughts are very much related to the Web as a Social machine. It occurred to me, could it be that this Social Machine is our next good move as political animals?
Whoa! What a question! The Social Machine encompasses all of the socio-technical interactions that mediate our lives, including Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing and whatever eventually becomes Artificial Intelligence. We undertook some really interesting research in to the idea of “Government as a Social Machine” which was fascinating to bring together the idea of the “machinery of government” with the idea of Web 2.0. So as political animals we already operate as a Social Machine, the difference this time relates to my comments in Q1 about the difference that being digital makes.
When it comes to digital spaces, digital literacy, and leadership, how do we stay present and empathetic on a scale?
[That is when we got 100 messages per day and each of them is important and we shouldn’t let it sink in a digital vortex where the planes have somehow merged into one “everything”?]
Another huge question! This is where digital literacy comes in. We need to develop our literacy around how to navigate and negotiate within the digital information space, to manage boundaries, and a new relationship with both time and space. This can only be learned over time through experience – it can’t be “taught” – and I also think it is generational. Our current leaders are of a generation that doesn’t understand digital media, and doesn’t even know what questions to ask, but there are emerging leaders and a new generation who are leading the charge to help bring our governments in to the digital age. It is not a new idea … many of us have been banging away at this for the past two decades, but the opportunity of the Covid Moment is propelling everything forward. One initiative to watch is Tom Steinberg and David Eaves’ “Teaching Public Service in the Digital Age”.
Author Jim Macnamara explores what he calls “architectures of listening” where he speaks about organizations of all kinds being able to create spaces where a genuine two-way communication could happen. Let’s reimagine creating such an architecture out of cyber [brave] conversations. Where should we start?
What a marvellous idea! I would be absolutely delighted to explore it with you!!! Where to start? With what we’ve already done and the virtual community that already exists who have participated in and contributed to Brave Conversations … bring it on!
Teodora: Well, let’s use this for a start :) Evryone is welcome to comment and build!
You talked about how important it is for us to explore how humans operate in groups, teams, and systems. When we add to this the Web – where will the understanding of this dynamics start? Can we safely root this dynamics in some analogue practices?
We already are as the world goes a-Zooming now in the Covid Corridor. There are many organisations that are undertaking research in to this space now as they bring an understanding of group dynamics and psychology in to how we view online community spaces – some are leaders in the group dynamics space being forced (albeit often reluctantly) to focus on the virtual expression of these dynamics. I’ve not seen many do it particularly well as yet – they are mainly retro-fitting the IRL (in real life) experience to being online – but the longer we have to interact in the ‘liminal’ space (everyone’s word it seems at the moment!) the better and more ‘literate’ we will become. There is no going back to the way things were before the current pandemic – there will be a mix of the physical and virtual environments in the ways we gather and interact and we will come out with a better understanding of both and how they can be harnessed and utilised more productively
Speaking of digital and analogue, I couldn’t help but show you something. Could that be digital vs. analogue?
I guess you’re thinking of the nice English organisatiion versus the randomness … :) My immediate thought is that just because something looked ordered doesn’t mean it is … this speaks to me of Waterfall vs Agile and we know which one wins in software development and dealing with radical change.
What does the Web as a public sphere miss?
The literacy around how the Web is impacting our public dlalogues and how digital civics will evolve as we do more in the digital arena. Again, this could be an age / generational thing (although younger people have no idea how the internet/Web actually work!) … and we always need to be mindful of cultural history. This is where Wendy and Kieron’s book is going to be important and I always recommend Francis Fukuyama’s “Origins of Political Order”.
Can you draw a quick web of relationships between knowledge management and dialogue? [on paper? :)]
I’m not sure what you mean by this but to me it’s very simple … it’s all about tacit versus explicit knowledge
In the early days of so called “Knowledge Management” – before the business schools woke up to it and it became a ’thing’ – there were some key thinkers who I think still hold the lead and are worth reading. They were pondering knowledge as an intellectual asset – how to measure it, how to capture it, how to recognise it’s value. Pre digital most ‘knowledge’ was temporal and tacit … intuitive and hard to capture. With the adoption of digital information systems all of a sudden that began to change, and once social media hit then the big guys started working on systems to capture it not just to make the world a better place (Page and Brin’s initial intent I think) but to exploit and monetise it (Google’s business model which then went to Facebook – Zuboff’s Surveillance Capitalism).
Media strategy for the Web – what’s different and what’s not?
To understand the difference that being online makes you need to fully explore the affordances that different media offer. For this I suggest beginning with Shoshana Zuboff’s seminal book “The Support Economy” published in 2000 which is probably the most prescient book I’ve read. The affordances of digital impact all organisational strategy, from which flows a communications and then media strategy.
And as with all things … we now live in both the physical (analogue) and digital worlds – so whatever we do needs to speak to both. This is why digital literacy is so important. As Doc Searls said at the Web Science Conference this year “We have become digital in the last few years (especially with our phones) as well as physical beings. There is nothing in physical experience that can fully equip us with what that really means “.
How semantic technologies affect publishing and printing :)
This was the topic of our first Australian Research Council research project with RMIT and Fuji Xerox Towards the Semantic Web: Standards and Interoperability across Document Management and Publishing Supply Chains. In this report we stated that:
Semantic technologies provide an abstraction layer above existing IT technologies that enables bridging and interconnection of data, content, and processes. Second, from the portal perspective, semantic technologies can be thought of as a new level of depth that provides far more intelligent, capable, relevant, and responsive interaction than with information technologies alone.
So what does this mean for publishing and printing? Again I refer to Zuboff’s affordances. Relating these to printing and publishing are: 1. Transparency – digital provides an unprecedented ability through metadata to garner additional information (think geotags, data storage or emails, so the digital breadcrumbs); 2. Accountability – digital provides the ability to manipulate information and therefore can it be trusted? (think Fake News) 3. Complexity and Collaboration – digital enables far greater manipulation of complex information and also almost unlimited collaboration and co-operation. Digital information is plastic – how does this play to accountability and transparency? 4. Immediacy – digital enables ubiquity – anyhow, anytime, anywhere – so this leads to different business models for information publishing, and from linear to kaleidoscopic relationships with that information (think of the social impact of social media). Everything comes down to developing new skills through education as to how to work with information in both digital and analogue form.
Quick Favourites [please, don’t think and write down the first answer that comes to mind]
Time … and space
Favourite thing you can do with digital but prefer analog
During lockdown I’ve been learning Arabic Calligraphy and doing Life-Drawing. I could do these online but I prefer to do it with ‘live’ models :) However, I am doing calligraphy with a friend in the UK via Zoom so I’m using both :)
Favorite digital thing that has no analog analogue :)
Zooming all around the world, quite literally. Digital spaces have enabled me to remain (even more) connected during this time of Covid and live my two lives (Sydney) and London in tandem – one by day, the other by night. When we come out of this and emerge in to whatever is the ‘new normal’ our challenge will be getting the right balance … but it is awesome! Now for AR/VR please to improve the experience.
To top it off I have just participated in a Zoom Strategy meeting where I was sitting at the Vet as my dog was on a tick-drip … now try doing that without digital!
Who is gonna interview the interviewer?
Anni, here I have a section my guests ask me questions. I will be grateful for a question or two.
Anni: Here you go:
Anni: What drives you in the work you do?
Teodora: Passion. And the desire to enrich the way we work with and are awed by knowledge.
Anni: How do you see the world playing out in the post covid world where we finally embrace both digital and analogue?
Teodora: I see a world of changing partners. A world where we, the people more prone to using digital practices to advance humanity, learn from the people who understand the nuts and bolts of analogue. A world where digital is just yet another way of making the world a better space for dialogues.
Two last questions, instead of an Epilogue [that’s the real 42 deal :)]
Where is the interstice in cyberspace?
Between cyberspace and meatspace – between space and time
As our perception of time, space and place shift, how do we tell chronos from kairos in cyber space [ref. The logo of Intersticia]
One is continuous (analogue) the other is punctuated in discrete increments (digital). Perhaps one day we will understand that the increments of digital are so small that they are analogue and the whole thing will blend together. Then we can teleport and perhaps upload ourselves to the virtual world … who knows! My favourite book exploring these ideas is The Nexus Trilogy.
With that our adventure pauses. And will for sure continue with more and more Brave Conversations and Dialogues – in search for possible and plausible futures of our hybrid digital-analogue lost space (and time) ships.