All posts by blogcabinbyvic

artist, writer, sometimes poet, website/social media developer

bonfires and robots

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

At a bonfire on the weekend, and in rural Ontario this is a fairly normal occurrence – to be at a bonfire on the weekend, I was given a lovely little catalogue for an exhibition I did last year. The exhibition was themed around ideas of local and all the artists involved lived in my rural county. The essay in the catalogue deconstructed the idea of what it is to be local (or not) and was hilariously well written. It did make me think however that this whole concept of local isn’t so easy to define.

For a decade now, we in Ontario have been subject to an overwhelming amount of local-culture-promotion and that attending it, buying it, eating it and wearing it makes it the best solution to everything from right wing extremism to environmental catastrophe. I hadn’t been thinking about the idea of local when the shocking violent attack upon unsuspecting citizens in my former home Toronto happened last week. Suddenly the biggest city in Canada became a very ‘local’ place where people helped each other, cared about each other and said hello to each other (something that city has been unfairly accused of not doing). If you are familiar with the city you know that it is essentially a very large collection of neighbourhoods. People don’t just say, “I’m from Toronto” they also say, “I live on the Danforth” or “I live in Leaside”. The violent van attack that happened last week where people were killed by a very disturbed young man happened in Willowdale – a large area north on Yonge St. Even if you have never been to Willowdale, if you’re a Torontonian you know it because it is part of a larger idea of ‘local’.

Artists Chris Hanson & Hendrika Sonnenberg’s Booth Street exhibition showing local artists. The catalogue mentioned was for this lovely, local event.

That larger idea is perhaps a latent desire to be a part of something – a local place where you get to know the coffee shop people, the mechanic at the gas station, the guy behind the fish counter etc. People who live in Toronto love this about Toronto. I live in a very small place where everyone knows everybody and being ‘local’ becomes a different desire than in Toronto. Being local where I am simply means you are not just here for the weekend. The bonfire party had for the most part people who had moved into my area, not people born up here. In some ways this is another layer of local as there are the local who are born into a place and then those of us who choose where to live. Toronto is remarkable in that it is a place where people from every corner of the earth have chosen to live. Variations on the idea of local abound in a place like Ontario.

Which brings me to robots. If you are in an industry and think you will never be replaced by a robot you are wrong. Everyone can be replaced by a robot. However, if you are smart you will begin training yourself to be the human interface with your robot colleagues. Say you are a teacher, a robot will be taking over your curriculum however individual students who have problems interacting with the robot teacher will need a human being to help make the learning and connection smooth and productive. I continue to hear people say that robots can’t be artists – but they already are. There are many artists who are making machines their art work and using technology to remove themselves further and further from the process. This is fact, not science fiction.

One of my concerns is will robots know what being local is?

When people think robots they think this. Though dystopic T2 inspired my love affair with technology.

One would assume a robot will be Chinese made with an American interface like a Smartphone – you know, the robot in your pants. So, how to make that local? If your community doesn’t know how to interface or add a local app to the robots coming to your neighbourhood how do we negotiate what is local with them?

The Airbnb platform is essentially technology that assists you in finding and creating accommodations. They are slowly beginning to include local guides/experiences with their site (unless they get kicked out of all the countries they are in, but I think a good business decision for them would be to start playing by the rules which I bet they will do). Eventually they will have an AI aspect to their app that you can use so that you will know who the best barber is on Hunter Street in Peterborough or where is the best grilled cheese sandwich in Sudbury. And this app may also include the robots and the human interface employee’s (let’s call these people HIEs) names who work there. Suddenly you can be in Macau or Brampton and you’ll feel local because you will know all the robots and HIEs there. That world is coming. In many ways it is already here.

But what if something goes drastically wrong like it did in Toronto? Robocop would easily hunt the van down and perhaps take that screwed up guy peacefully like that amazing cop did but what about the stunning love and kindness showed toward the hurt by the local people and businesses? Can we count on robots to be thoughtful, and compassionate? The people in AI I know say that may never be a possibility. Are we then going to have Troy types from Next Gen empath-ing all over the place? Please, no.

When it comes to local, being in a place where you feel you belong, are known and know others makes you want to care. This is at the core of why this ‘local’ movement is still a very real thing. Being local perhaps is a state of mind – a human mind.

Advertisements

Say something nice

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

Data breach is probably this year’s new phrase like fake news was last year. Facebook’s role in the latest iteration of campaign meddling and user- info-loot-bag-free-for-all has people making declarations all over various platforms regarding whether they will deactivate their account or keep their account but delete all extraneous apps etc. or that they are outraged that a free marketing online business used their data. Really? I think I’ve had maybe a hundred conversations online regarding the fact that no, Mark Zuckerberg isn’t your friend, he’s a rich technocrat who is using your activity on Facebook to boost its stock price and create ad money – and I’ve had these conversations now for five or six years. Being shocked by such revelations I am not.

My only thought or reaction to this data breach is what my brother Matthew said this past fall when he was showing me the dozen six hundred-page tomes he was reading, that nature is ordered, has systems, and humans are chaotic and consistently cause chaos. Raised Catholic and taught that man had dominion over everything, I always thought the opposite. That humans brought order and systems to the chaos of the natural world. But now that I think about it  the opposite is far truer and far more helpful. What the f*%k are we doing exactly?

The thing about spending most of one’s time contemplating and creating art is that you can open yourself to the idea that everything is absurd and trying to find sense in anything people do is a waste of time. Some people are helpful, others are not. It can actually be this simple. The older one gets the easier it is to believe this too.

Facebook users have now exposed this ‘people are chaos’ theory to be pretty accurate. While many people on Facebook just want to see their grandchildren or show off their pets/cooking/travel/renos/work/popularity, there are a large amount of users who are on an outrage campaign, believing everything they hear, open to all sorts of conspiracy theories and generally ruining it for the rest of us. I said to someone this morning, it’s like what we used to say in theatre, a show is only as good as its weakest link. This current chaos is sewn by people who are using the platform to extol their own uncertainty and fear – it’s a digital Lord of the Flies if you will.

Ridiculousness abounds on the internet because the people who share it are not thinking, they are in a state of confused chaos, they don’t stop and reflect. It is all about reaction and then the exponential impact of reaction. Auto correct and the fact that people can’t spell or sometimes write exacerbates an already heated melee. I’m lucky, I’ve had very little trolling and many of the discussions I’ve participated in since the early days on Facebook have been friendly albeit not always in agreement but friendly nonetheless. I don’t hate Facebook for turning the other way while Cambridge Analytics went to town on mining user info; I feel oddly complicit. I’m there to begin with so what the f*%k am I doing?

This group of Peterborough artists and arts supporters have used social media to create a bonafide cultural movement. A good example of how to use Facebook.

I think instead of freaking out over the data breach it may be time people started thinking about every post they make. I actually do this. I manage social media accounts for an environmental advocacy group; I have to comply with their mandate and protect their brand. I am careful about what I post. This has bled into my personal postings as well. Everyone I know that does this kind of work is very careful online. It is a form of digital literacy; we’ve learned how to use the platforms and how to protect ourselves on them. Everyone should do this.

But I have spoken in this blog about digital literacy before and I continue to do so into what seems is a void. People hate social media for it’s negativity, trolls and general sense that the world is a vacuous place full of miscreants. But people love social media for how it projects how they think they are perceived and in my feed some people are constantly fabulous, brilliant, brainy, gorgeous, hilarious, popular, in the know, fit, successful, do yoga all the time, travel and treat their dogs like humans.  Or they like to tell me what I don’t know or how I have things wrong. It’s like people are normal and then become Ayn Rand online. I gravitate toward those who think that life is less than perfect which I realize says more about me….

The best use of social media and the best way to calm the ills of our world is to be helpful and share helpfulness. This has always been the case with humans and it always will be – because humans create chaos regardless of them being online or not. Chaos is what we do so why not help each other drag ourselves out of darkness with usefulness. Or at the very least if you can’t say something nice….