lnventive traces to reinvent our participation in the new normal

This paper was presented in the 8th Annual Conference ANPOR-APCA 2020 on the second of December 2020. The Webinar is organized by the Asian Network for Public Opinion Research (ANPOR) and the
Asia-Pacific Communication Alliance (APCA) in Thailand.

Good afternoon fellow lecturers and participants,

My name is Hadi Saba Ayon, and I am a researcher in information and communication sciences from the University of Le Havre Normandie in France. My work focuses on interpersonal communication, digital culture, disability and mental health.

I am delighted to be with you today. I wish to thank Professor Jantima Kheokao, The Asian Network for Public Opinion Research and The Asia-Pacific Communication Alliance for inviting me to this event.

We question in our presentation today the meaning of participation during the Covid-19 pandemic, in a highly digitalised society, advancing with incredible speed towards a digital transformation. We also question the role that digital memories can play in making the participatory process efficient by analysing the notion of participation from different perspectives and fields.

Our world changed significantly in a matter of months. Our body language and facial expressions are harder to read and comprehend. Just as health, our interpersonal communication is another victim of this pandemic. So, what happens to participatory culture now?

Human beings cannot be defined outside of their interaction with each other and the outside world. As put by the Palo Alto school in the ’50s, one cannot NOT communicate, because our bodies send and receive information every second. George Herbert Mead and Erving Goffman who studied social interaction for the Chicago School showed that meanings derive from social interaction and are modified through definition and interpretation.

If the pandemic shows us anything new today, it is how we leave traces in every move we make.

Dominique Cardon defines the digital culture as the sum of the consequences of computing techniques on our societies, reconstituted and redesigned by traces. This said, a stand-alone trace does not have a meaning. Only when gathered with other traces and combined in a context, it can be calculated, analysed and becomes significant.

Béatrice Galinon-Mélénec, the founder of the “Human Trace” concept, sees the human being as “a producer of traces and a product of traces operating in a constant feedback loop that becomes a system”, all at once.

Put together; these theories gain tremendous importance during the current pandemic: we are surrounded today with digital inscriptions, traces of our activities on the Internet, and on related software and services. We form today an incredible collection of traces: we use the Internet to work from home. We buy online and call online transportation services. We do it all to avoid physical interaction. Our society moved from a “conversation of gestures”, to “online social scores”.

Participation as an accomplishment of life habits

In 2011, we started studying social participation in disabled persons in Le Havre – France, focusing on people with schizophrenia. This work led us to the “Human Development Model – Disability Creation Process” (HDM-DCP), a conceptual model developed by Quebec researchers in 1998, and later in 2010 and 2018. The model aims at documenting the causes and consequences of the disease, trauma, and other effects on integrity and the development of the person. According to the Quebecker model, a social participation situation refers to: “The total accomplishment of life habits, resulting from the interaction between personal (impairments, disabilities and other personal characteristics) and environmental factors (facilitators and obstacles)”.

Today, the acceleration of digital transformation caused by pandemic brings us back to the concept of calculated identity, first introduced by researchers Fanny Georges and Louise Merzeau. However, it is not easy to measure the accomplishment of daily tasks and subsequently, the level of social participation, unless we see digital as several tools where traces are left. In that sense, our activities in the digital ecosystem are not just a social score. They are a part of a digital habitat-a milieu- that we construct permanently to live in.

Milad Doueihi adds that the digital is also a humanism, in the sense that it modifies our relationship to texts, to the institutional supports built in the 19th century (university disciplines, copyright, intellectual property) and to politics in its democratic dimension because it is collaborative. His view on participatory culture is shared by Henry Jenkins (2015).

Participation as a part of shared practice and culture

According to Jenkins, a participatory culture describes “what are sometimes very ordinary aspects of our lives in the digital age. A participatory culture is one which embraces the values of diversity and democracy through every aspect of our interactions with each other – one which assumes that we are capable of making decisions, collectively and individually, and that we should have the capacity to express ourselves through a broad range of different forms and practices”.

Jenkins discusses the evaluation of our understanding of participation with the impact of digital technologies – and today, with the pandemic that affects our lives. The digital is most significant revelation of this: culture is, above all about sharing. Without sharing there can be no culture. To share is to have in common, to divide and distribute, to post, to tell, to participate.

Participation as transliteracy?

Digital gathers all types of media and allows the dynamics of back and forth between them. This is why it is considered a transmedia. Switching from one reading and writing system to another requires new skills beyond managing IT programs. They include operating forms and content of digital production and evaluation of information.

Sue Thomas defines transliteracy as “the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks”. Transliteracy cannot be limited to computer-based materials and skills. It encompasses communication types across time and culture. Therefore, participation transcends the handling of technology or software and echoes the notion of “knowledge organisation” (Zacklad, 2013).

Participation for building digital memories

This dynamic between connection and sharing, participation and knowledge does not designate anything other than the very mechanism of the memory process. Memorising is always reorganising content. If memory occupies a prominent place in debates on the societal, cultural or cognitive effects of digital technology, it was only recently that the problem entered the field of information and communication sciences.

In her memory works, Louise Merzeau opposes “reinvested memory”-by individuals, social groups and communities- to a “metallic memory” described by Eni Orlandi as the memory of the machine.

Therefore, users are encouraged to build a “digital presence” by appropriating their traces, “so that the field of accessible knowledge remains an open, plural and uncertain public space”.

While exchanging information on online collaborative social networks like Twitter; on a collaborative text editor like Framapad or Framemo; users can communicate, not only on their own experience but also on the history of an event/organisation/problematic, its organisational model, the behaviours and actions of the participants, its management, its methods of communication and archiving. This work shows that public space is a space of memory, and that memory belongs to everyone.

This approach of re-appropriation has three levels:

  • The first concerns the digital competences of individuals.
  • The second is re-documentarization, which brings all the metadata needed to rebuild document sets and the traceability of its cycle. The re-appropriation of traces allows the extraction of pieces and its register in new series, making it possible to fit them into a diversity of communities, in memories built as commons.
  • The third is related to an explicit patrimonialization, in the shape of an institutional archiving of digital traces.

By focusing on what “We can do” and not just what “I can do”, participation can transit from the ability of reading and writing in the digital to the one of knowing how to program our traceability. We, therefore, must consider governance when building a digital memory.

Moving from a logic of indexing pages (Google PageRank) to a logic of indexing individuals (Facebook’s EdgeRank) and places and objects, the taxonomy of traces threatens all possibility of developing common spaces for memory and knowledge. Recreating documentary corpus open to collective contribution and memorisation, may be one of the most viable solutions to this phenomenon.

Thank you for your attention.

Participatory culture and reinvention of everyday life

This text was presented in the International webinar “Post-Pandemic, Participation Matters” organized by School of Communication in Catholic University of Indonesia, Atma Jaya, on 26 June 2020, in Jakarta.

Selamat siang, good afternoon everybody,

First of all I want to congratulate School of communication in Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia for its 11th anniversary, and want to thank my esteemed Indonesian friends Professor Dorien Kartikawangi, head of School of Communication, Dr. Eko Widodo, dean of Faculty of Business Administration and Communication Sciences and their colleagues, for the organization of this international web Conference, in which I have the honor  to participate. My regards go also to the speakers, Professor Peng Hwa Ang, dearest Nia Sarinastiti, dearest Santi Indra Astuti and Láisa Rebelo Cavalcante.

It is a great pleasure for me to be with you, as if I am presently in Jakarta, this beautiful city close to my heart as the father of a batawi baby, and where I met admirable fellows and professors. Which you all good health and good luck in this webinar.

In the following minutes, we will question the concept of participation as a set of socio-cultural practices located in a physical space and a temporality, as well as in the digital environment. Furthermore, we will emphasize the need to invest in digital education – also known as transliteracy – and its accessibility, to include those whom the new post-pandemic world excludes.

The appearance of the novel coronavirus has deconstructed social space as we know it, and significantly disrupted our participation in its spheres. The physical and social distancing, in addition to the closing of state borders, are barely the tip of the iceberg. As a matter of fact, and in the name of safeguarding the public health, it is the very notion of participation – as an act located in space and time – that was significantly turned upside down, and must, therefore, be rethought, restructured and reconstructed in a world where humans and Covid-19 must now coexist.

However, participatory culture existed long before the internet. As for digital, it has and always will revolutionize the way we approach the different aspects of participation.

In his book The Practice of everyday life, French intellectual Michel de Certeau evokes daily invention and creativity through user operations. He proposes a distinction between two concepts: space and place.

“A place is (…) an instantaneous configuration of positions. It implies an indication of stability. A space exists when one takes into consideration vectors of direction, velocities, and time variables. Thus, space is composed of intersections of mobile elements. It is in a sense actuated by the ensemble of movements deployed within it. Space occurs, as the effect produced by the operations that orient it, situate it, temporalize it, and make it function in a polyvalent unity of conflictual programs or contractual proximities. On this view, in relation to place, space is like the word when it is spoken (…). In short, space is a practiced place. Thus, the street geometrically defined by urban planning is transformed into a space by walkers.”

Interestingly today – we are witnessing yet new forms of space, in the light of the ongoing pandemic and its impact on our digital culture.

The exemplifications are: (1) the pre-pandemic space; (2) the confinement space; and (3) the deconfinement space. Their respective representations vary according to the geographical, cultural and political context of each country. The pandemic has significantly altered the face-to-face participation in each of the space models.

Let us take the example of natural parks in a Geneva – Switzerland and the Pays de Gex, across the borders in France.

Before the pandemic, the local authorities and different users invested in the digital technology (such as websites, mobile applications, photo galleries and others) in order to develop architectonics that enrich physical spaces. The institutional websites provided information such as a description of the premises, accessibility, regulations, events and maps. Many digital projects flourished, focusing on the intersection of spaces, their stories and socio-cultural practices. Visitors in both areas could, however, swing by and have a first-hand discovery of what the place has to offer.

Nonetheless, when the confinement measures were enforced, albeit to different extents for both sides, visitors in France were asked to carry a travel certificate before leaving home. A simple task, like visiting a park, now required online research. The partial or complete closure of parks in France prevented any participatory activities. Those parks that remained open in Switzerland closed their shops and catering services and imposed severe restrictions on visitors, like precluding the gathering of more than five people or group walks.

Lately, and thanks to the deconfinement, the old participatory practices have taken a blow: despite the reopening of all parks and limited catering services, some shops and areas remain closed to limit social interaction. Other practices emerged, like off the counter orders and self-service, all while respecting strict hygiene rules such as prohibiting handshakes and hugs, wearing a mask, and enforcing the registration of contact details for people going at restaurants for contact tracing.

But what about the participatory culture in all this?

As we all observed, the social networks, blogs and websites, peer-to-peer services and online communities continued to grow and develop. Instead of merely popping by the parks, netizens debated measures taken by the authorities and enquired on how to get there by relying on the individual or collective experiences. In this participatory process, users were looking for accurate information to avert uncertainty.

There is no doubt about it: Sars-Cov-2 disrupted our society and our lives. It now dictates a new way for almost everything, a “new normal”, and we are still struggling to understand how, and why. The “virtual urbanism” professed by Milad Doueihi in 2011 has become our refuge, our new space.

The distinction between real and virtual no longer holds. Digital design structures, developed in the image of the architecture of our homes, parks and cities, is everywhere we look. Its technologies offer possibilities for interaction, action and visibility. Its architectonics recall the architecture in the physical world. They also connect conception and design to social dynamics.

As we may well imagine, working from home and physical distancing measures encouraged and empowered the emergence of participative online communities. It is significant to note that this pandemic has awakened the problem of the digital divide and digital illiteracy, further excluding people and groups from digital environments and online communities.

Today, the architectonics that we have built in the digital world, and that resemble our urban architecture need to be rethought. New digital urbanism, inspired by the changes we made to our lived spaces, must follow suit, and become more user centric.

User experience – a significant factor in the design of websites, platforms and digital applications – must be at the heart of our participation in the physical space, otherwise known as the lived space. Since we now live in both worlds, we should redesign one to reflect the changes we had to bring to the other, thus enabling the new ecosystem to fully function.

We must reinvent our everyday life so that our web and urban architecture complement each other. As such, our participation models must also be reviewed for better and fairer inclusion.

The immense acceleration and growth in the use of digital technology throughout this pandemic require a serious investment in the digital education (transliteracy) and digital accessibility to include those who find themselves excluded from this new world.

Participants should be aware of what they are participating to. They must know to what extent the production and circulation of their media content would contribute to their collective well-being.

Exchange with Dr. Dorien Kartikawangi

This pandemic has taught us many lessons:

  1. It reminded us of our animality and fragile biology. We were social beings long before we became digital subjects. It stands out as an intruder that enforces the adjustment of our space, and of our way of life if we want to survive.
  2. It showed us the similarities between our two worlds, where an urban exodus of individuals who move to the countryside is replicated in the digital, and on how we consume and look for information and share it.
  3. And finally, it teaches us that information is the essence of our civilization and that its presence requires cooperation at the local and international levels to achieve a new participatory culture in what has become our new normal.

Thank you for your attention.

Como “manufaturar” no mundo digital?

Este texto é a intervenção de Dr. Hadi Saba Ayon na reunião do grupo de pesquisa TIPEMSE na Universidade do Estado da Bahia no Brasil sobre a “Emergência da Literacia Digital no Cenário da Sociedade Pandêmica do Séc. XXI”. 

O que é o digital? Por que manufaturar hoje no mundo digital?

Manufaturar é produzir com trabalho manual. Manufatura significa obra feita à mão.No processo manufatureiro vigora a divisão do trabalho, onde cada operário realiza uma operação utilizando instrumentos individuais. A manufatura sucedeu o artesanato, no século XV, como forma de produção e organização de trabalho[1].

Eu uso o verbo “manufaturar” como metáfora, porque o uso da tecnologia na era digital ainda passa pelas mãos. Computadores, celulares, tabletes, objetos conectados, todos esses dispositivos precisam da mão, de dedos para produzir e compartilhar um conteúdo. Mas o ecossistema digital, na sua essência e no seu funcionamento, não é manual nem opera artesanalmente. Ele é informático, computacional, binar, e consiste num conjunto de dispositivos eletrônicos (hardwares) capazes de processar informações de acordo com programas (softwares) e em rede.   

Seguindo Milad Deouihi, historiador de religiões e detentor da cátedra de humanismo digital na Universidade de Paris-Sorbonne, o digital é a ultrapassagem da tecnologia computacional para os usos culturais no mundo digital. Ele é:

Um ecossistema dinâmico animado pela normatividade algorítmica e habitado por identidades polifônicas capazes de produzir comportamentos perturbadores (Doueihi, 2013).

Este “urbanismo virtual nascente” está mudando as nossas sociedades e a construção dos espaços que habitamos. Ele se caracteriza com:

Fronteiras e limites que definem espaços íntimos ou reservados para o culto, espaços de conhecimento ou entretenimento, espaços marcados pelo uso e frequentados pela prática. “Um urbanismo híbrido, portanto, habitado por rastros, pedaços de documentos, fragmentos, mas também animado pela voz e corpo, uma temporalidade outra (Doueihi, 2011).

Brutalmente, o SARS-CoV-2 invadiu as nossas sociedades colocando a nossa civilização em perigo. A pandemia de Covid-19 nos obrigou a mudar muitos hábitos de vida. Ela impactou a interação social transformando nossos modelos de viver (morar, trabalhar, se socializar, estudar, viajar etc.). As circunstâncias dessa situação nos levam a pensar no surgimento de um novo mundo. Quais serão suas figuras? Como fazer saber, informar e comunicar? Como tomar parte e intervir em uma ação? Como compartilhar e fazer parte integrante em uma atividade, de uma comunidade? Como associar-se pelo pensamento ou sentimento? Como participar e construir uma sociedade digital e de conhecimento? Quais identidades e habilidades neste novo mundo? Quais comunidades? Quais trabalhos?

Muitas questões, que nos perguntamos, eu e o Professor Carlos Antonio Villa Guzmán da Universidade de Guadalajara no México, em nossa inciativa/texto escrito (que vai ser publicado logo) para emergir um coletivo internacional PANDEMIA, CULTURA DIGITAL E PARTICIPAÇÃO, que pensa a cultura participativa no mundo digital, pandêmico e post-pandemia.

Como explicar a cultura participativa e reinventar o nosso cotidiano? Como a pandemia redefine o nosso espaço e as estruturas arquitetônicas no ambiente digital? Mais questões para debater com um grupo de colegas em um webinário intitulado “Post pandemic, participation matters” (Pós-pandemia, questões sobre a participação) na Escola da Comunicação na Universidade Católica da Indonésia em Jacarta no final deste mês. Muitas questões, e poucas respostas até o momento.

E hoje estou com vocês no Grupo de Pesquisa TIPEMSE na Universidade do Estado da Bahia para debater sobre a “Emergência da Literacia Digital no Cenário da Sociedade Pandêmica do Séc. XXI”. Pensar a educação no digital começa para pensar o digital, não só como suporte e mídia, mas sobretudo como ambiente: Isso é o primeiro passo para uma literacia ou uma transliteracia que nós precisamos.

Seguindo Louise Merzeau, Professora e pesquisadora francesa que faleceu em 2017 e deixou um trabalho científico notável, a transliteracia se refere as:

1. Habilidades criativas e produtivas (como conceber, realizar, modificar);

2. habilidades do ambiente (buscar, achar e entender a informação, analisar uma situação ou um processo);

3. e as habilidades reflexivas (entender que os sistemas digitais tem valores, e seu uso e seu domínio permitem fazer sociedade com um olho crítico).

A transliteracia envolve 3 dimensões:

1. Uma capacidade para desenvolver competências individuais;

2. uma capacidade coletiva para agir com os outros;

3. e uma capacidade política para agir no ambiente e mudá-lo.

Neste sentido, mais de que restringir ou proteger nossos dados, nos temos interesse em fazer um rastreamento, ou seja, inserir nossos rastros digitais em uma comunidade, um contexto e uma temporalidade para sobreviver no mundo post-pandêmico e digital.

Obrigado.


[1] No site dos Significados: https://www.significados.com.br/