LETTER FROM HEADS OF ETHOS LAB
“What is not dead may eternal lie, with strange æons even death may die”
Our ETHOSLab theme of 2019 was Decelerate. Looking back over a calendar full of wonderful events, one might question whether we did, indeed, go slow. Arguably not: we extended our methods to broader and more diverse audiences, continuing our work with the method of erasure poetry by running a GDPR deletion poetry workshop at TechFestival. We also developed methods such as game design, mapping, and problematization for a 2-day Nordic NOS-HS-funded workshop on critical approaches to algorithmic systems.
However, thinking with Decelerate did allow us to reflect on the tensions produced by placing deceleration in the centre of a fast paced tech-centric world. What did it mean to ‘decelerate’ the materials we collect, the events we host, the ways we present our academic work. Several events were about creating pockets of time operating at a different speed. We hosted hosted Hannah Knox, who is a “flyingless” academic speaker for a book launch of Ethnography for a Data Saturated World. We held a slow conversation about different timeframes of knowledge in Canadian toxicology with Sarah Blacker. And Cori Hayden joined us to discuss for a small scale workshop on how “the crowd” inhabits our ethnographic material through digital media technologies we use to generate data or study in practice.
We also used Decelerate to pause and turn our attention to ambivalences and vulnerabilities. First, wonderful new 2019 recruits to the Lab Katrine Meldgaard Kjær and Line Henriksen hosted a workshop on writing with monsters and collage. This led to further experiments in collaborative writing, with a joint Lab paper of the dramaturgical “unboxing” of data submitted to alt.chi. The deliberations it relates concern what to do with collected data traces, and the challenge of living with the ambivalences of unexamined data.
Our thematic emphasis for this coming year will be Deep Time, a term predominantly used by astronomers and geologists to describe the vertiginous lengths of time that have preceded human presence on earth. Interested both in depth and in time, we take it as a theme to orient our work in the following ways:
First, Deep Time playfully acknowledges the relative timescales at play in tech development: is the human a relevant scale when read against the quickened obsolescence of technology development?
Second, Deep Time acknowledges that 2020 is a year beset by outdated futuristic predictions, haunted by old futures. Can ideas like layering and sedimenting help us think about the infrastructures, platforms and new systems being added to organisations in the digitizing of everyday life? Third, we want to make histories of technology more present in our everyday work in the Lab. Our annual Ada Lovelace Day brings computational history to the surface, but how else can we bring the ‘deep past’ of technology into the present? Fourth, Deep Time makes us pay attention to accusations of shallowness, depth and speed that different methods level at one another. With worldwide discussion about Deep Learning, Deep Fakes, and Deep States, new kinds of depth are entering our vocabularies. How to compare the depth of the technological stack with the depth of social life that other kinds of Deep technologies seek to emulate?
Finally, Deep Time acknowledges 2020 as the ETHOS Lab’s 5th birthday! Five years is most definitely Deep Time in institutional terms. We will be taking the opportunity to look back on the many things we have done together. Just as geologists detect changes in planetary atmosphere through core samples of the layered years, we detect the sediments of the last half decade, laying plans for 2025!
We’re looking forward you at the events of the year to come. A couple of dates for your diary are in this first newsletter of the year, so please mark the calendar now! To stay up to date on ETHOS Lab activities, sign up to our newsletter here, and follow us on twitter, facebook or instagram.
With all best for a fabulous and very deep 2020,
Rachel and Marisa