Earlier in March,  I went to the Electronic Visualisation and the Arts conference at University of Canberra. There were some excellent papers, covering a range of research and practical examples of the use of data in the arts and humanities.

I presented a short paper which touched on a number of case studies I have researched and engaged with over the past few years. Ara Iritija, I-Tracker and Digital Rangers were the Australian examples and I also discussed the Water, Peace, Power project from Intercreate.

There were some very interesting papers at the conference, one by Abby Mellick Lopes about the real world implications of our thirst for technology really resonated for me. Here is part of her abstract:

Ecology of the Image

Images are playing an increasingly important role in visualising ecologies in our complex, designed world. Yet what of the ecological character of images themselves? Vast resource intensive data centers enable the storage and distribution of visual data, while technological innovation drives patterns of obsolescence and disposal that have significant ecological impacts. It is easy to become caught up in the rhetorical power, momentum and symbolic vitality of images, to the extent that the material conditions of their production and circulation are overlooked.

There is definitely a need to consider the impacts of what our tech saturated lifestyles are having on places and people. This is a critical issue and one we can’t avoid if we are talking about the state of the planet.

In some ways, I am more optimistic. Technology provides opportunities for people if it is available to all. The examples in my talk all demonstrate this in different ways. Collecting data is a way to preserve culture, which is crucial for many First Nations communities. Data translates into stories, ceremony, places and kinship structures.

But humans  are collecting way too much data and those cloud servers need lots of energy and the majority of this energy does not come from renewable sources. Abby’s connection to the issue of energy is really critical, as is the matter of dangerous toxic waste resulting from the built-in obsolescence of hardware.

There is no doubt that we need to act and live differently in regards to how we consume media. One small step I have taken (and try to stick to) is to have at least one offline day a week. It is amazing how much you can get done!

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