All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

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Just watched 2011 Adam Curtis 3-episode BBC series under this title of a poem by Richard Brautigan. I strongly recommend that you watch this documentary (link available here); Adam Curtis is a master at creating consistent narratives (remember ‘the century of the Self’). In the meantime, here is the poem the series owe its name to, dedicated to all my friends the cyberneticists.

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

‘The privacy paradox’ by D.J. Solove

The ‘paradox’ refers to the cases where people share personal information even when they attest to highly valuing their privacy. This article originally points to a series of studies where individuals chose to disclose personal information in order to gain either a small discount or for no reason at all. The author discusses two arguments: the ‘behavior valuation argument’ [when people’s behavior is used to measure how much people value privacy (revealed preferences) instead of attitudes (stated preferences)] and the exact opposite: the ‘behavior distortion argument’ (when behavior does not reliably reflect people’s preferences) only to deny both. In fact, Solove argues there is no paradox at all. “The privacy paradox,” he says, “emerges from conflated issues, unwarranted generalizations, and leaps in logic.” Full article available here

Digital citizenship, digital rights and digital literacy

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The ‘digital’ as an influence in each field: “each time the ‘digital’ is used as a modifier or as a
qualifying term in any of the senses suggested above, it exerts a normative effect.” Digital poses as progress, develop, change; it implies the transformation of current practices at a fundamental level, but it also stands for machinist, automated and impersonal.

Digital Citizenship: the right to participate online or how the digital facilitates new forms of participation, “digital acts involve interpreting multiple streams of local and global information, and, in the age of datafication, anticipating unknown consequences.” However, marginalized groups still struggle to be included, digital citizens are less reliant to the nation state for democratic expression, while at the same time, new forms of discipline made possible because of ‘digital’ increase control over citizens. Digital Rights: intended here as protection against ‘standard threats’: there is an inherent tension between free exchange of ideas and protection of abuse or harassment. There is a discrepancy between the universalized human subject and the locally situated one. Digital rights for some actors can be thus overlooked, they have a strong reliance on institutions rather than states, however, they bring context. Digital Literacy: intended as knowledge assembly, however, literacy is ‘an established frame in response to changes in communications that normalizes and explains the relationships between individuals and society.” New strands of literacy have emerged due to datafication like ‘critical data literacy’. These in turn provide a foundation for the both digital citizenship and rights.

So what is their common ground? Promoting agency in the digital context by enhancing the individuals’ power to change the world. However, there are limits to bottom-up collective responses. Future research should test their limits and to also consider how they can resist the pervasive aspects of control.


Pangrazio, L. & Sefton-Green, J. (2021). Digital Rights, Digital Citizenship and Digital Literacy: What’s the Difference?. In Journal of New Approaches in Education Research 10 (1), 15-27. Full paper available here. (First seen in Stephen Downes blog)

Science-Technology-Society (STS) Research

De Haagse magistraat in 1647 by Cornelis Jonsson (Jansz.) van Ceulen/ Image available here

STS addresses the role of deliberative democracy and citizen participation in science and technology management where boundary organisations* can play an important role: traditional forms of deliberation have failed to engage forms of emotive and affective storytelling to make dialogue more inclusive or minority cultures and worldviews/ There are many technologies of deliberation: consensus conferences; citizen juries; participatory budgeting; science shops and deliberative polls/ these are more focused on citizen appraisals than citizen-based initiatives/ focus has turned to the three areas of concern:

01 micropolitics of deliberation: concerned about how issues are framed-design and facilitation of processes-recruitment of participants-management of consensus and about issues of representation and inclusivity/ Deliberation organizers often aim for a demographic, rather than political, sampling of community members/ An inclusive deliberative process accounts for both demographic and social group representation/ inclusive deliberation requires formal opportunities to speak, as well as diverse communication styles that include ‘‘other’’ ways of cultural knowing like music and dance (Young, 2008)

02 macro policy impacts: measuring impacts of deliberation on policy processes/ it is difficult to connect citizen deliberation with meaningful global policy

03 reassessing the role of substantive engagement: citizens engaged as subjects rather than as objects of discourse/ consider the direct short-term policy impacts, but also the personal and social impacts of ‘‘learning, thinking and talking’’ together/ the goal should be ‘‘to make explicit the plurality of reasons, culturally embedded assumptions and socially contingent knowledge ways that can inform collective action’’/ work on reducing the epistemic distance of objects and processes under debate’/ scholars must create tactile spaces where participants can see, taste, touch, smell and hear for themselves the phenomena around which knowledge claims are being made

*boundary organization is a formal body jointly generated by the scientific and political communities to coordinate different purposes and promote consistent boundaries and mutually incomprehensible interactions (…) Guston put forward the idea of boundary organizations to stabilize the boundary between scientists and policymakers (…) Boundary organization serves as a secure space can be established through good relations and procedures for negotiating disputes (wiki)


Phadke, R., manning C. & Burlager, S. (2015). Making it personal: Diversity and deliberation in climate adaptation planning. In Climate Risk Management 9, 62-76

the Whole Earth Catalog and the WELL: back to the future

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These two resources, read in parallel, offer a fascinating read. I have mentioned the Whole Earth Catalog before when discussing ecological architecture, but up to now I hadn’t quite investigated what it was about. Fred Turner’s article ‘Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy’ discusses the Whole Earth catalog in detail and how Stewart Brand -the catalog’s master mind- sought to establish a common ground for all dispersed individuals living in communals in the 1960’s by offering a venue where they could communicate and form a single social network. These individuals had stepped away from agonistic politics and the bureaucratic myth of ‘objective consciousness’ and sought to change the world by establishing exemplary communities and change the consciousness of individuals.

The catalog presented reviews of hand tools, books and magazines arrayed in categories (..) It also established a relationship between informational technology, economic activity and alternative forms of community that would outlast the counterculture itself and become a key feature of the digital world

The catalog aimed at creating ‘a countercultural style of consumerism’ by making product suggestions but also to ways of thinking and speaking; a transformation of the self. Personal power believed Brand, develops from the power of the individual to conduct his own education and environment.

After the significant success of WEC (the catalog was fully operational for ten years after which Brand continued to publish additional versions), back in the 1980’s when Brand was approached by Larry Brilliant (founder of Network Technologies International) to help him promote computer conferencing systems, Brand came up with the idea of WELL. By now an online platform (a bulletin-board system then), WELL is based on the countercultural conception of community to create a network forum.

Brand wanted The Well to appeal not just to the Whole Earth crowd but to a wider audience: he wanted hackers, he wanted journalists (…) At the same time, he had a hunch that, in addition to electronic dialog, there should be a strong face-to-face element to The Well (…) He sensed that the most interesting possibility to arise from knitting electronic dialog into the fabric of everyday life would lie not in championing either the virtual or the human-contact model but rather in finding the place where they overlapped (…) But probably the most important of Brand’s early convictions for The Well was that people should take responsibility for what they said

For many members of the WELL, on-line collaboration offered a chance to revivify the spirit of the counterculture farms while also establishing and supporting a new type of individual professional, one that cultivated professional and interpersonal networks and key sources for future employment. The latter was directly related to the changes in 1980’s company culture and the dismantling of hierarchical systems towards the formation of corporations. WELL technology and thematics supported this new type of individual. Interactivity was instantaneous and yet collective: it was possible to exchange smaller, time-sensitive
pieces of information, ranging from data on a not-yet-announced technology to a bit of gossip and the forum could enhance the reputations of its users.

I keep that WELL has been ‘a non-hierarchically organized social form in which scattered individuals are linked to one another by an information technology and through it the experience of a shared mindset.’ As web communication had not yet been centralised, these forms of network exchange were the first manifestations of networked online learning communities: people learned from each other. Whilst WELL perhaps focused more in the interaction part than content sharing, and despite its shortcomings, it represented a more democratic medium for co-existence where everybody had a name and were accountable for what they believed and wrote. Thus we come to the second part of the title ‘back to the future’: on our way ahead we fell behind on what made networked communication so alluring in the first place. The possibility to openly speak our minds but to also stand up for and take responsibility for what we are saying.


Turner, F. (2005). Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy. The WELL and the Origins of Virtual Community, Technology and Culture 46 (3), pp. 485-512. Full paper available here

Hafner, K. (1997). The Epic Saga of The Well: The World’s Most Influential Online Community (And It’s Not AOL). The Wire magazine. Full article available here

Closing the Loop Documentary

Closing The Loop is the world’s first feature length documentary on the zero-waste / circular economy, supporting UN Sustainable Development Goal 12 on Responsible Production and Consumption. The film is presented by global sustainability expert Prof. Dr. Wayne Visser, in collaboration with Emmy and two time Telly Award winning director Graham Ehlers Sheldon. The film ranges across three continents and includes commentary from global experts and centres of excellence like the World Economic Forum and the University of Cambridge. A number of innovative circular economy cases are also featured in detail. The Circular Economy Club (CEC) is a communication and promotion partner of Closing the Loop. A film by Kaleidoscope Futures Lab. and Stand Up 8 Productions.

Participatory Budgeting

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Participatory Budgeting (PB) is a form of direct democracy at the local level, where all citizens state annually prioritized sectors to be financed before allocating investment resources in projects of their choice in those sectors. It has four key moments: diagnosis, deliberation, decision-making and follow-up (…) The epitome of PB is Porto Alegre (…) Five criteria required to qualify a PB: all citizens participate to the choice of the allocation of resources, this occurs at an administrative level of power (for example a town, but not a quarter), this process has to be repeated over years, a deliberation must take place in a specific institution, and finally citizens should be informed ex post of the status of the budget and the projects (…) The city government’s “Presentation of Accounts” from the previous year marks the beginning of the PB process in March-April. From April until May, regional and thematic assemblies take place with the objectives of establishing thematic priorities by voting, electing councilors for each region, defining the number of delegates, and repeating the budget review for the preceding year at the local level (…) These meetings are open to all citizens and constitute the central and most inclusive component of the process (…) The five thematic areas discussed in the PB at city-level assemblies are: transport and traffic; education, leisure, and culture; health and social welfare; economic development and taxation; and organization of the city, urban and environmental development. (…) One of the main reasons why Brazilian reforms have moved so quickly after the dictatorship has been the passing of a new Constitution in 1988. This Constitution strengthened municipal autonomy, validated the participation of community groups in municipal decision-making, and attributed important social and economic policy functions to municipal authorities (…) there are four keys for a PB to be successful: a strong mayoral support, an active civil society, self-ruling given to citizens for the mechanisms of the PB, and consequent financial resources to fund the projects selected by citizens (…) The main findings are: a better allocation of resources (more equitably and appropriately distributed among sectors and communities), an increase in the financing of basic needs, and a more inclusive, less corrupted democracy.

Adrien Frank, An Overview of Participatory Budgeting, 2015

Porto Alegre, the coordinative model of a smart city

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(Olivio) Dutra (Workers’ Party) was elected mayor of Porto Alegre with 34% of the votes (…) Dutra’s term as mayor of Porto Alegre, starting in 1989 and ending in 1992, was the first of four consecutive terms of the Workers’ Party in the city, totaling 16 years of administration (…) Porto Alegre became a sort of display cabinet for the party in the rest of Brazil: A place where it experimented successful and innovative initiatives such as participatory budgeting (…) participatory budgeting has led to direct improvements in facilities in Porto Alegre (…) According to Fedozzi and Costa, this system has been recognized as a successful experience of interaction between people and the official administrative spheres in public administration and, as such, has gained a broad impact on the political scene nationally and internationally, being interpreted as a strategy for the establishment of an active citizenship in Brazil.

Wiki & Wiki

The process began in loose neighbor assemblies (…) access was open (…) the data were organized so that they could be debated (…) Conflicts between neighborhoods were dealt with by elected reps (…) The system flourished for 20 years but was later squashed down by top down power (…) it began to loose coherence (…) vast waves of migrants were not integrated (…) with the advent of big data, smartphone etc, it is now possible again to coordinate participation at a megacity scale (…) a system including organized, debatable data, online chatrooms that assemble views and feedback is now running in over 250 Brazilian cities (…) use of technology helps people choose (…) people have to get engaged in the data, interpreting it (hermeneutic) and acting on it (…) the coordinative city is democratic whereas the prescriptive is authoritarian

Richard Sennett’s, Building and Dwelling, Penguin Books, 2019, pp. 164-165
Porto Alegre – RS, 11.05.2011 Temática de Habitação, Organização da Cidade, Desenvolvimento Urbano e Ambiental. Local: Teatro Dante Barone – Assembléia Legislativa Foto: Ivo Gonçalves/PMPA, Image available here

Circular cities

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Article discusses the efforts of Prof. Williams in UCL in promoting the ideas and practices of the Circular City by establishing UCL’s Circular Cities Hub in 2016.
A book is to be expected in 2020 entitled “Circular Cities: A Revolution in Urban Sustainability” by Williams that will be published by Routledge.

Part of this has involved viewing cities holistically. This means not just looking at resources, but seeing urban areas as organisms that constantly adapt to changes, such as migration and increasing diversity, as well as considering different trajectories of development, from shrinking, post-industrial cities such as Detroit, to places like London, where corporate and foreign investment is squeezing out lower-value, circular activities.

Islais Project by One Architecture


(One Architecture in collaboration with BIG Group and Sherwood)

Islais Creek is an historic watershed in Southeast San Francisco. This is an historically industrial area once home to a verdant, marshy watershed since channelized and home to heavy industry and logistics which support the entire city of San Francisco.

By densifying existing industrial and logistical activities, softening shorelines and daylighting a section of the creek currently decked over, the BIG + ONE + Sherwood team sought to reorient the city’s relationship to its historic waterfronts as a vital element in its recreational and industrial economy.

The six pilots arrived at by the design team respond to these concerns and more, proposing the creation of accessible open space with integrated green-blue infrastructure, a food district, vastly improved transportation systems, waterfront access, waste processing, stacked and decked residential and commercial space, and other phaseable short-term solutions to climate and urban risks.


The Hackable City


Excerpts from the Hackable City Blog

The Hackable City (normative definition): 
In a hackable city, new media technologies are employed to open up urban institutions and infrastructures to systemic change in the public interest. It combines top-down smart-city technologies with bottom-up ‘smart citizen’ initiatives. 
In a hackable city, the urban (data) infrastructure functions as a platform that can be appropriated and incrementally improved upon by various stakeholders.

The Hackable City (research project):
 The goal of this research project is to explore the opportunities as well as challenges of the rise of new media technologies for an open, democratic process of collaborative citymaking. How can citizens, design professionals, local government institutions and others employ digital media platforms in collaborative processes of urban planning, management and social organization, to contribute to a liveable and resilient city, with a strong social fabric?

Hackable citymaking revolves around the organization of individuals into collectives or publics, often through or with the aid of a digital media platform.

Ubiquitous commons

This has made me think of xAPI  and Learning Record Stores. And then, right at the end of the page, I bump into the concept of community yet again (!). I read:

Ubiquitous Commons allows for attributing citizens control over the data which they produce, and also to generate shared, meaningful patterns of perceived sensibility and responsibility, by enabling novel reflections in terms of identity, relation and belonging.

These can be used to foster new practices in which a new concept of digital public space emerges, which is accessible and inclusive, and also respectful of people’s right to self-determination and self-representation and, thus, to be able to more freely express our subjectivities, as individuals and as participants to multiple relational networksculturesbelief systemsFrom consensus to co-existence.

Ubiquitous Commons is the commons in the age of Ubiquitous Technologies.

Ubiquitous Commons is a legal-technological protocol: it positions itself among the other technological protocols which operate at the level of networks and technologies and among their legal implications and the set of laws, regulations, standards and norms which regulate them. Ubiquitous Commons is an open protocol.


In the Ubiquitous Commons environment, users can define a series of identities, which they hold and manage in what we have defined as their identity pool; each identity corresponds to a digital certificate, composed by a private and public key; identities can be of different types: individual/ collective/ anonymous/ temporary/ nomadic/ or a combination of the above.

Whenever a certain user generates data, this data is encrypted; the encrypted data is coupled with an attribution, stating which Ubiquitous Commons identity generated it (from), and which Ubiquitous Commons identities can access the data (to); this attribution is generated by the “from” identity; the encrypted data goes on to the service or application for which it was generated for; the attribution goes on to a peer-to-peer network or infrastructure –currently the BlockChain – in which the identifiers of the content (data) and of the from-to identities are published; in this way, the user can grant the availability and access to this data to the specified identities, determined autonomously.

A user who desires access to the data, executes a query onto the peer-to-peer infrastructure, asking whether data identifier X has been granted access to the user’s Ubiquitous Commons identity (the “to” identity in the attribution, picked from one of the identities in the accessing user’s identity pool) by the generating user (the “from” identity); if the user turns out to be attributed with the possibility to access (the query returns a positive result), the user obtains the decryption mechanism (recomposing the private key necessary to decrypting the data); the user uses the decryption mechanism to decrypt and access the data; the transaction is logged onto the peer-to-peer network.


Excerpts and Image from Ubiquitous Commons Website