Recap Code NL-D Workshop

“Bringing people together that are concerned about the state of our digital agency”

To get started on the Kick-off and inspiration workshop, Arjon Dunnewind, director of IMPAKT, introduced the CODE NL-D workshop and events as a way to “bring together people that are concerned about the state of our digital agency”, which aims to have better legislations on a digital field in the long run. Rachel Uwa, director of School of Machines and the person facilitating the workshop, introduced herself, saying that politics has strongly influenced the path she has taken in her life. The 28 selected participants (14 from the Netherlands, 14 from Germany) introduced themselves, stating their excitement to start conversations with each other and affirming that “people can have a lot of agency if they are connected to each other”. Some participants even said that the session, which was held online, was really comfy and they even “took off their shoes”.

Speakers’ presentations

The first speaker was Rosa Menkman, Dutch art theorist, curator and visual artist specialising in glitch art and resolution theory. She talked about image compression technologies (like .jpg or .png) and how they usually delete data. She also shared her project, “Les Inconnues” (2020), about women which faces were appropriated by others because their images have been used as color test cards for image processing. This project was based on her own experience with this image she created of herself, which was later shared online multiple times. Menkman said that we need to ask who decides the point of view, who stands behind the perspective of the technologies and who is casting the shadows of image processing technologies, because there is a strong bias in these technologies. 

Menkman was followed by !Mediengruppe Bitnik (read – the not mediengruppe bitnik),  contemporary artists working on and with the Internet. They presented their work “Random Darknet Shopper” (2014 – 2016): an automated online shopping bot which they provided with a budget of $100 in Bitcoins per week. Once a week the bot went shopping on the deep web where it randomly chose and purchased one item, which was mailed directly to the exhibition space. Once the items arrived they were displayed, each new object adding to a landscape of traded goods from the Darknet. The bot bought many different things, from a “The Hobbit” pdf to a fake Louis Vuitton bag, as well as credit card numbers. It all went well until it bought illegal drugs, which posed many questions: who is responsible when algorithms go crazy, the artists or the programmers? And what happens with all the data that is floating around in cyberspace, like credit card numbers? 

Last but not least, it was Marek Tuszynski’s turn, from Tactical Technology Collective (Tactical Tech): an international NGO that engages with citizens and civil-society organisations to explore and mitigate the impacts of technology on society. Tactical Tech uses lots of different tactics for different problems and different audiences and they use design thinking for demystifying technology. Tuszynski wondered if it is still possible to create a public space in which a random audience at a random time can walk in and engage in conversation about the impact of our technological society. How to create this kind of place, that would not be intimidating nor patronising? 

Breakout rooms

The session continued with two rounds of breakout rooms, where the participants were split into smaller groups to discuss two questions: “What are the problems?” and “How can we solve them?”. These questions were further discussed in the main room. Some of the problems discussed focused on language or terminology (the words “cookies” or “cloud” are not chosen randomly, but because of their positive connotations, making it that people accept it as something that is to their benefit), privacy, compromises (whether these technologies are visible or not and what we compromise by accepting them), agency, accountability, dependency (we depend a lot on these technologies and they are made for this purpose) and the hegemony of these companies, among many other problems. 

Regarding the solutions, we might define two types of strategies: tactical (working in enemy territory) or critical (trying to shoot from the outside). Education was brought up as one of the most urgent solutions and how important it is that people understand how these technologies work in order to be able to recognize what needs to be changed. Also suggested was that children should be educated on (creative) coding from a young age. Additionally, other solutions might involve building communities to have more agency and more power together, to be more visible. However, one issue that needs to be addressed is the lack of legislative representation in governments regarding these issues: if there is no “minister of digital rights/culture”, the digital is not really represented, so all the problems are diffused. 

The final conclusion of the workshop was that more debate around these digital topics is needed. The participants are excited to keep doing so in the next months in upcoming CODE NL-D workshops and events. The next event will be a symposium which will take place on June 26th and everyone is welcome to join.



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