My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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prix ars electronica

I’ve reviewed papers, run workshops, juried for things online but never have i found jurying to be so stimulating as my experience this week at Prix Ars Electronica. Last year, when i saw the call for submissions for the digital communities category, i was utterly frustrated. While i have not resolved all of my frustrations with the call, i have come to see the value of the Prix for what it does do; i still think that the call needs to be changed to more appropriately manage expectations and make transparent intentions and process.

I suspect that it was my vocalization of discontent last year that allowed me to participate this year. Of course, the fact that someone was listening and willing to take seriously my concerns warms my heart deeply. But what i gained from this week had little to do with simply being taken seriously in my disagreements. Here was an environment where people from around the world gathered to decide how to reward practices and projects of varying types.

In our category, we were concerned with digital communities and we struggled to discuss what it meant to be a digital community, with what should be honored and valued. Joi warned me that it would be like negotiating treaties at the UN – we all had a political interest at the core of our beliefs, a value that what made digital communities important was that they enabled freedom in its broadest sense, but we all had different perspectives on how to value or support different projects. We spent a huge part of our week discussing values and politics, trying to suss out how we could acknowledge different groups. For example, there are a million vibrant communities – how can we reward one over the other? Should it be about their vibrancy? Their goals? Instead, we decided that there needed to be something innovative about their practices, something that really altered the way one should think about communities and may even be useful for other groups to know and emulate. We discussed the pros and cons of supporting different kinds of endeavors, the potential complications that could occur. (Last year, when the Prix awarded a group in Zimbabwe, they lost all of their outside funding.)

We had a long conversation about what it means to think about two axes – the process of giving people access and the process of allowing people to make their voices heard. So much of what we considered sat in this narrative. We talked about technologies themselves vs. the communities that take the technologies to a newer, deeper level. We talked about work from around the world that fit into so many different cultural contexts with so many different languages.

Outside of the jury room, we discussed globalization and community development, the history of Silicon Valley and the culture of fear, the ways in which governments can benefit or devastate local communities. I met some amazing people that i never knew who were able to give me such different perspectives on the world.

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3 comments to prix ars electronica

  • I’ve taken a look at the definition proposed for a digital community, and it looks like it sets the bar higher for recognition of a digital community than would be the case for a face to face/non-digital community – in the insistence that it go beyond social relations to require some sort of purpose.

    I think I’m a member of two digital communities – one is a webforum devoted to New Zealand music (NZMusic.com) and the other is one focussed on travel (thorntree.lonelyplanet.com). Digital technology is vital in both in breaking down several barriers – age and geography in particular – and allowing us to participate in conversations on a topic of common interest. There is the same sort of pecking order that you’d have in more traditional communities, the one major difference being the higher turnover of personailities.

    These seem to me as just as much a community as, for example, exists here on my campus.

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