the polyphonic life of cities

Salvatore Iaconesi & Oriana Persico

The Project

Big Data is a concept in continuous mutation. The exponential rise of the quantity and quality of data and information which individuals generate every day is the single most important driver of the evolution of the concept of Big Data.

Each of our gestures, movements, relations, transactions, expressions tend to become occasions for the generation of digital data and information.

This happens whether we realize it or not, consciously or unconsciously, in direct, indirect, transparent or completely opaque ways. At the present time, most individuals generate data in ways in which they don't realize or understand, and which they cannot understand, due to the opacity of collection processes, algorithms, classifications, parameters. They don't (can't) know how this information is used: unaccessible profiles are used to generate personalized interfaces, services, advertisements, content. We are constantly becoming the unknowing subjects of social experiments, communication campaigns, national security scrutiny, dots in dashboards and information visualizations.

Individuals are, currently, the only ones who cannot fully benefit from Big Data: to organize themselves; to create meaningful, shared initiatives; to understand more about themselves and about the world around them.

On top of that, when data becomes so detailed that the sample can be as large as the actual population, and it is possible to use complex algorithms to process it, the perception of the possibility to use all of this data to eliminate all risks recurringly comes up to mind, and, thus, its impacts in terms of the elimination of the possibility to comprehend and value what is different, unexpected, transgressive, advenutorous, possible. This overall scenario may lead to a deterministic, data-biopolitical scenario which is what we confront with with our projects.

We aim at describing an ubiquitous infoscape, in which data becomes an accessible, usable part of the landscape, just as buildings, trees, roads, and in which it is clear and transparent (although complex and fluid) what is public, private, intimate. And in which people are able to express how they whish their data to be used and can actually use it to construct meaningful actions. We aim to create a participatory, inclusive performative space, in which people, as individuals and members of society, can express themselves and do things, defining new forms of public/private/intimate spaces which are agible, accessible, usable. 


the polyphonic performance of the city

What is the role of transgression in the Post City?

Myriads of micro-histories in the city massively recombine, interfere, interact, interconnect, forming the life of the city in its continuous mutation, innovation and transgression. People constantly transgress, reprogramming spaces, time and relations, creating a level of tactical cultural biodiversity which can happen only in the dense urban environments, and which constitutes the wealth and richness of the city. Elizabeth Grosz defines this process as spatial excess, a new dimension which is able to go beyond preconceptions, prejudices and worries about utility, “beyond the relevance for the present, looking towards the future.” The revelation and discovery of this excess depends on the possibility for transgression. Excess is in the “problematic”, which is full of potential. The clandestine, the unacknowledged, the unofficial find their survival – beyond crime – in the transgression of social norms and limits. Those same limits which have excluded them in the first place. The recycle trash, appropriate spaces, invent communication channels, create styles, fashions and trends. They don’t cross borders: they move on them. Moving, they innovate. Using a term from Massimo Canevacci Ribeiro: innovation is the possibility for methodological indiscipline. The Myriads project created for Ars Electronica by Human Ecosystems and Ubiquitous Commons establishes a peer-to-peer ethnography of the city: a diffused participatory observation in which the myriads of public micro-histories of the daily life of the city will be captures, transformed into a commons, and performed through art, education, citizen engagement and tactical usage.

Myriads of knowledge pills

How is it possible to capture the real-time life of the city, using social networks, sensors, data, wearable devices, Internet of Things, domotics, and other sources of digital information?

How can this process represent the myriads of micro-histories in the city, and their potential for generating diffused knowledge and imaginaries?

How is it possible to use this knowledge, transforming it into the inclusive participatory performance of the co-creation of the city?

What are peer-to-peer ethnography and Digital Urban Acupuncture?

What is the Relational Ecosystem of the city?

How is it possible to define and use new types of identity in these types of processes? Individual, anonymous, collective, nomadic and temporary identities?

What are the implications of these kinds of processes on privacy, surveillance, people's fundamental rights for assembly, expression, opinion? And how can we turn these issues upside-down, and inside-out, to use this wealth of data in constructive, shared, inclusive ways, to transform the city?

15 workshop pills.

20 minutes each.

Each micro-workshop deals one "knowledge pill", delivered by Myriad's info-dealers, which participants will be able to take with them.

No technical or technological pre-requisite needed. All can (and should) participate.

Everyone can attend just 1 workshop, 2, 3, all of them. They can be experienced singularly, but the more you attend, the more you understand.

Workshop list:

1) Harvesting data in the city
2) Humans and Non-Humans living, expressing and performing in the city
3) Citizens' micro-histories captured through the devices in their pockets, homes, offices
4) An introduction to the Third Infoscape
5) The Relational Ecosystem of cities
6) Peer-to-Peer Ethnography
7) Digital Urban Acupuncture for dummies
8) Identities in the city: individual, collective, anonymous, nomadic, temporary
9) Human Ecosystems: the real-time life of the city becomes a commons
10) Ubiquitous Commons: the commons in the age of ubiquitous technologies
11) Stakhanov: a Big Data oracle to predict your lives, and its implications on privacy and ingenuity
12) Generating artworks with the data of the real-time life of the city
13) An Emotional Compass
14) The Industrialization of the Mind
15) Zombies. Zombies everywhere. Each age has its "Monsters". Transgression in the city.
Myriads has been created by Salvatore Iaconesi and Oriana Persico, with Human Ecosystems and Ubiquitous Commons, for Ars Electronica 2015.