New Adventures 2020 – Natalie Kane's "Unknown Unknowns: Collecting our digital lives"

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As if working in a museum wasn't already an exciting idea, Natalie spoke about how her job as a curator is far more about collecting stories than it is about collecting objects. I found it particularly interesting how they have to have everything open to the public so, for example, they cannot have an Amazon Echo running because they don't own the software. The solution to this was to collect a gigantic map of everything involved from mining ore to training the models. This was an insightful talk, not all of us will be collecting items for the V&A but it does encourage us to look past the objects themselves and look for the story within.

Here are my notes:

  • Works in Victoria and Albert Museum.
  • “Being a human in a digital world, it’s a lot, all of the time”
  • It’s hard for us to know how to place our serves because so many things are like a black box
  • No person is an island, we exist as an I and as a We together.
  • Tech comes from Latin word for Knowledge
  • Tertiary retentions: memories recorded through technology
  • Did a BA then tried to do a masters couldn’t afford so worked in a call centre
  • At that time discovered digital art and coding for the web
  • Began volunteering at Lighthouse.
  • Thought technology was amazing because of Tomorrow’s World
  • Lighthouse demolished dreams “in a nice safe environment”
  • Had an art installation where people could “hack” the newspaper websites. Obviously fake in a museum but made people think about how a man in the middle attack in a cafe could influence people without knowing so
  • Code was open-sourced
  • Worked on another project called Think Clash
  • At Future Everything worked out how to use digital art as a communications method for having critical conversations
  • Just because we haven’t talked about politics in design before doesn’t mean it wasn’t always there
  • V&A had a department set aside from discipline/chronology/medium and what the impact of design on the public is
  • Rapid response collecting is a groundbreaking initiative to collect object at the time they hit the news, as a particular indicator of a moment. Such as a flag from the first Extinction Rebellion
  • Collected the first 3D gun that was banned by US
  • Collect things when design becomes inherently and explicitly politicised
  • First time digital design has ever been included in the V&A strategy.
  • Digital design defined as: product design, software and physical computing; systems and industrial design; web design and social media; interaction, interface and information design; video games and communications design; new media and computer programming
  • “Phenomenological level”
  • The digital works on infrastructure on data servers, it is physical it has a real cost.
  • Collection strategy acknowledges climate change and impact
  • Want to invite practitioners as much as historical
  • The Apple 2 was collected not chronologically but for a specific purpose as the first time the computer made it into the domestic sphere and first time brought work home
  • Acquired the monitor that Steve Jobs wheeled around in his car. Has the story behind it
  • Acquired Nest thermometer because there was a data breach so for the story
  • Makerbot was acquired which was easier as just hardware, software harder as don’t own IP
  • Hard to find Makerbots these days
  • Acquired Xbox adaptive controller as it specifically allowed people that couldn’t play games before to play them. Forced a change of innovation cycle due to user testing in rehab hospitals with well designed accessible packaging
  • They try to bring to life things that are invisible
  • Pictures of Chelsea Manning by using DNA photometry where DNA is swapped. Worked to create a gender-neutral and female portrait. The software alone wouldn’t show anything but by acquiring the pictures it showed how gender is redundant.
  • The iPhone is a difficult story to tell. Acquired the iPhone 1 in 2014.
  • iPhone 6 only collected for material properties. If you turn it on it will break the phone. Wanting to work with Apple as currently is like half a painting
  • The issue is losing the ability for access to IP
  • Minitel 1B a “brilliant ridiculous object that is responsible for why France basically didn’t like the internet for a long time” was brought in to replace the phone book
  • Book called welcome to minitel. Story of a guy in garage pretending to be 14 different women.
  • Anyone could host a service on it
  • The minute it was shut off in 2012 everything was lost. French telecom hosted everything, nothing locally.
  • Should we get used to the ephemerality?
  • Design means something. It’s not just the design and story or what it’s like it use.
  • Tried to acquire WeChat
  • Has about a billion users maybe more. Biggest social media in Asia.
  • You can text a physical character that parents could text for their children. But no way to acquire what it feels like to be a 16-year old using WeChat
  • Acquired an Amazon Echo, it’s just a dumb object turned off. But also acquired a massive map of everything researchers could find out about how Amazon Echo is built from smelting the metal through to training of AI “Anatomy of an AI”
  • Not about being biased. Want to show where politics is embedded. Showing the Echo doesn’t show anything that goes into it or the politics it affects.
  • No such thing as neutrality if you work in design
  • Support your local museum, they need you more than the V&A does