In 2015 sociologist and philosopher Zygmund Bauman gave a presentation called From Privacy to Publicity in which he talked about the importance of privacy and the concerns regarding the lack of it. Bauman highlighted the need for a personal time were we could be alone with ourselves, and allow things in our head to mature, unobserved by others.
This dichotomy I see as parallel to the dichotomy private:public digital footprints.
Imagine all our data living peacefully its private life, yet ready to enter any other public service, provided we need it to. Imagine all our digital artefacts and records in one place, a place of our own… Imagine us having data not scattered across platforms, or harvested by third-party machine applications…
Gauging data flows and finding quiet spaces for thinking
I find this beautiful statue of a reading girl to be an allegory of our connection to data.
I see the girl reading at her own pace, sitting on top of tremendous volume of data flows and being ready to open whichever tap needed whenever needed. And this girl is the opposite of a human constantly being bombarded with stimuli and “messages” which grow into a terrible noise, when not processed accurately.
Making a semiotic jump across signs, we could interpret the photo through the concepts of controlling information flows (taps), naming (the girls pointing, ) and most importantly of being together and being alone, in the privacy of your tacit connection to knowledge, beyond the buzz of the data ocean.
The above interplay of various modes of being very much resembles what Solid Project has been conceived for.
The idea behind Solid is both simple and extraordinarily powerful. Your data lives in a pod that is controlled by you. Data generated by your things — your computer, your phone, your IoT whatever — is written to your pod. You authorize granular access to that pod to whoever you want for whatever reason you want. Your data is no longer in a bazillion places on the Internet, controlled by you-have-no-idea-who. It’s yours. If you want your insurance company to have access to your fitness data, you grant it through your pod. If you want your friends to have access to your vacation photos, you grant it through your pod. If you want your thermostat to share data with your air conditioner, you give both of them access through your pod.Source: Inrupt, Tim Berners-Lee’s Solid, and Me by Brice Schneier
This idea of being able to easily switch from private to public mode of digital being is what I tried to convey to people who have never heard about Solid in a talk I was invited to give in an SLA Europe webinar. (Slides from the talk here: Solid: An Ecology of Digital Being [@SLA Europe October 28, 2020]) The video is embedded below:
Our Linked Data Will Underpin Our Semantic Capital
We need both the quite time of a private contemplation as much as we need the rich, buzzing with ideas time of public discussions. We also need a means to record the content of these times spent alone and together – a means both interlinked and safe.
By content I mean what philosopher Luciano Floridi defines as “semantic capital” – any content understood as well-formed and meaningful data—that can enhance someone’s power to semanticise something.
And by “safe and interlinked way” of recording our content I mean the Solid vision – to provide an alphabet for us to write our own story and tell it in public or privately.
Epilogue: From the Museum to the Mundaneum and Back
Our connection to data, I believe is to be thought through the metaphor of a Well, not a Deluge. Or, the way we relate to data and metadata (as an aside a beautiful definition by J. Pomerantz: “ Metadata is a statement about a potentially informative object. “ ) can be informed by the concept of the Museum and the concept of the Mundaneum.
The Museum in Orbis Pictus
In Orbis Pictus (a textbook for children written by Czech educator John Amos Comenius and published in 1658 in Latin), the definition of a Museum has it:
Museum est locus ubi studiosus, secretus ab hominibus, solus sedet, studiis deditus, dum lectitat libros…
[A museum is a place where the learned, separated from men, sits alone, taken by his studies, while he reads books with great application] Translation from:
“The Semantic Web is rather Otlet-ish”, maintains Michael Buckland, professor at the School of Information at the University of California,Berkeley.”
Both the concept of the Museum (Connection through Exclusion) and the one of the Mundaneum (Connection through Inclusion) are ways to archetypally relate to ours and other peoples’ findings, stories, models of the world and knowledge adventures.
These archetypes sorted out, the tools for building the connections with data we need, will follow.