Mapping the unfindable: the Archipelago of Disconnection

This research has the aim to map what is unfindable on the internet and identify how online presence is distributed. Is internet a privilege?A resource? A need? A curse? What does the internet represents today both for the 50% of the world population that have direct access to it and mainly to the 50% who doesn’t.

Who is not online?

I explored the idea of identifying who we can’t find online and the systems that surround this situation. I talked to experts and people that had done almost anything possible to erase their names from search engines and social media, I read documents and listened to podcasts on the dark web, the right of prisoners to be online, asked around for people to google dead relatives from past generations, and, of course, read a lot of UN and Global Economic Forum reports. With that, I arrived in some specific groups that either are not online at all or have a reduced online presence when compared to the ‘average secular human’ today. These groups are:

  • Data Privacy Advocates;
  • Criminals that don’t use the mainstream web;
  • Dead people from past generations;
  • People that are in a social situation that does not allow them to be online (incarcerated prisoners, Orthodox Jews, Orthodox Mormons);
  • People that are in a social-economic situation and region where there is no access to the internet whatsoever.

By identifying these groups I aimed to create a less blurry image of what internet represents in the world today.

My classification is not complete and I do not have a quantitative stat of how much each specific group represents in numbers.  A lot of times I reached the question of “what’s the difference between not having access to the internet and not being able to be found on the internet”. As I could not answer it, I decided to understand that the intention of not being online, even if idealized, was already somehow part of a movement that I should include in my research.

I became interested in analyzing the paradoxes I saw by these classifications.  There is the obvious fact in my analysis I created a unique group that includes both religious people and incarcerated people – which is very very questionable, but they do usually live in developed regions where you could have internet access but still do not due to either a social imposed restriction or a shared value. And, most importantly, there is the fact that in the spectrum that comprehends the ideal of not being online (Data Privacy Advocates) and the reality of not being online (people living in regions with no internet access) there is such a huge gap of development, resources and education that somehow illustrates the inequality and the extremes of the world we live in.

And, as I saw the UN and World Economic Forum reports, I was stuck with the idea that more than 50% of the world doesn’t have internet access. I live in such a bubble of tech-savvy people, designers, technologists, developers that we never even stop to think about it. I mean, at least I didn’t. And, as I asked people from my school and work here in New York and even friends in Brazil, we have this generalized idea that internet has been fully democratized — for better or worse. But that’s simply not true. Owning a smartphone, having broadband and actually having simple internet access is still a privilege.

By that, I do not mean that the work and fight for Data privacy rights is not relevant today. On the other hand. We are still on the edge of discovering how much our connected devices keep track our information and can directly influence society in a scenario where companies and governments have total access to our personal data. There is a need to regulate and educate internet users towards it and find ways to regain our data privacy. In truth, these paradoxes are a result of the same dynamics of power that feeds itself and this world of extremes.

Still, for the purposes of focusing my research, I decided to explore more about the non-online world.

The Archipelago of Disconnection

By keeping in my mind that in fact more than half of the world doesn’t have access to the internet, I wanted to see through some visualizations what does that represent. Still, I couldn’t any that would give me a satisfying idea of that, as you check below.

 

 

Using the data from the ICT Indicators Database  I started exploring some ways to visualize that with the Mercator projection, you can access it by clicking in the GIF below.

As you can note I inverted the default structure of how these maps show data: instead of highlighting the amount of online population I showed the amount of people that lacked internet access. Also, I think that the hovering interaction is more playful and easier to compare. Try doing a mouseover in Australia and then make a mouseover in Madagascar. I think it shows a lot of the paradoxes I talked about earlier.

Still, I felt like exploring this idea of map, by highlighting even more the countries with less than 10% of internet penetration, territories that are largely left out of global digital connectivity.

Therefore I created the interactive map below of the “Archipelago of Disconnection” (you can also click in the GIF to interact with it).

 

 

The map highlights an archipelago of land that is mostly disconnected from the internet and thus largely barred from participating in the cultural, educational, political, and economic activities that it affords. This archipelago of disconnection has its centre of gravity in the Sub-Saharan Africa where 18 countries have Internet penetration rates beneath the 10% . Among these Sub-Saharan countries with very low connectivity there are some very large populations – such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (68 million),  with an overall Internet penetration of a mere 4%.

After these experiments where I looked through the numbers on internet penetrations provided by International Organizations by mapping its data, I realized that I wanted to approach and understand this information both from the data creation perspective (maybe gathering the data flows and understanding the amount of information online generated from these territories) and add a more qualitative and sensitive feel to what I wanted to create as a result of this research.

With that, I remembered of the book Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino and wondered how could I connect this Fantastic realism of the narrative and the Invisible Online Territories from my Archipelago of Disconnection.

 

 

Therefore for the next step of my research I will be exploring the data available online on and from some of the cities inside the 18 countries with less than 10% internet penetration rates,  trying to create a new way to visualize and highlight this “hidden information” using Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities narrative style as a base – maybe  even creating a re-reading of the book.

 

 

Mapping the Unfindable: Notes and References

Here is where I’ll keep track of my readings, quotes and notes for the project.

This will be an ongoing post…

 


 

11/01/2017

Half the world’s population is still offline. Here’s why that matters

This looming and unequal wealth explosion is important because it will exacerbate the current fault lines of global inequality. Internet use is overwhelmingly concentrated in advanced economies, and the biggest gaps are in the world’s poorest areas.

The map and chart below shows hot spots of internet connectivity in most developed countries and huge opportunities to increase access to the internet in developing countries.

 

Identity in a Digital World

Yet we are still learning what “identity in a digital world” means. We are also still evolving policies and practices on how best to collect, process or use identity-related data in ways that empower individuals without infringing on their freedoms or causing them harm. There is significant room to improve how identity data is handled online, and how much control individuals have in the process.

chapter 1

(…)

Nothing is as fundamental to human beings as identity. Our identity is, literally, who we are: a combination of personal history, innate and learnt beliefs and behaviors, and a bundle of cultural, family, national, team, gender or other identities. However we understand it, identity always matters. Our identity is important because it exists in relation to others. It exists in relation to the economic and social structures in which we live. How we are represented in economic, political and other societal systems – and our degree of choice and control as to how we are represented in these systems – sets the parameters for the opportunities and rights available to us in our daily lives.

(…)

Whether we want it or not, our identity is increasingly digital, distributed and a decider of what products, services and information we access. This identity online is not simply a matter of a website login or online avatar – it is the sum total of the growing and evolving mass of information about us, our profiles and the history of our activities online. It relates to inferences made about us, based on this mass of information, which become new data points.

(…)

Today, the average internet user has 92 online accounts, and is likely to have over 200 by 2020

>>>>>> HOW MANY LOGINS I HAVE?

The result for individuals is a decreasing understanding of or control over how they are represented online. With that digital representation determining so much of how we live our lives, these changes add up to a rewriting of the social contract, and we are barely even aware of it. Any discussion on shaping digital identities should start and end with the individual – one who is born into a fully digital world – and what these identities mean for that person’s future.

General Links for Inspiration 🙂

https://anatomyof.ai/

https://labs.rs/en/

 

Invisible Infrastructures: Understanding Autonomous Systems

One of the reasons we seldom discuss the issues of this invisible infrastructure is the fact that the speed of the packets traveling through the network is so big and unnoticeable to us, in most cases we don’t feel a significant difference in whether our packets are traveling  just around the corner or to around the world and back.

There is three basic network structures:
Centralized. All the devices are connected to one center. This center has privileged accessibility and thus represents the dominant element of the network.
Decentralized. Although the center is still the point of highest accessibility, the network is structured so that sub-centers also have significant levels of accessibility.
Distributed. No center has a level of accessibility that significantly differs to the others.

 

Browsing Histories

It took us just a few minutes of looking into the dataset to associate the real name of the person behind this browsing history. Just by sorting his Facebook traffic, i.e., the profile pages he visits, we were able to identify the real person. Since Facebook is enforcing a “real name policy” this is a  neat way to link someone’s browsing history with their real name. For a more structured approach, there are numerous academic papers6and models on how to uniquely identify users according to their browsing patterns and behaviors. Exploring Facebook URLs reveals much more than someone’s identity. Based on the structure of the URL we were able to reconstruct a part of this person’s social graph.

We are creatures of habits, and we tend to create repetitions and patterns in our everyday behaviour. We tend to go to bed and wake up at similar times, to create our morning routines and create rituals of our social interactions. Since many segments of our lives are mediated by technology, those patterns are replicated and visible through the different digital footprints. When patterns are recognised, anomaly detection is born. As stated by Pasquinelli8, the two epistemic poles of pattern and anomaly are the two sides of the same coin of algorithmic governance. An unexpected anomaly can be detected only against the ground of a pattern regularity.

 

Mapping the unfindable: who is not online? – or who doesn’t exist on the internet?

As most things today, it all started with a Google search.

This year it will make 10 years that my Grandpa passed away. And I guess that, as everyone that have lost a close relative and friend does, sometimes I like to imagine what would he be doing now and what would he think about the person I became. We were very very close, and I miss him. And, probably because of that, one day while daydreaming about him during class I randomly realized that I had never searched for his name online.

Would I find his name? Probably, he sent me a few e-mails so he did voluntarily put his name – or at least his username – on the internet. Still, it was 2008, and smartphones weren’t a thing yet and neither was social media. So yes as I laid my hands on the keyboard and typed it, I did find him, along with other 3 people that shared his same name: a businessman from Germany,  a young boy from Italy, and, lastly one other person that I could not really identify the nationality but did have some interesting birds pictures on Flickr. I couldn’t find any pictures of my Grandpa though. As I looked over the only 2 Google pages as now I used the query: ‘ “Roberto+Pecis” porto alegre’, I only identified some documents from legal processes and two newspaper articles that were related to him. And that was it.

Even though the result was probably kind of obvious, it was somehow mind-blowing: his limited digital presence was such a clear representation of how much  information access and  production  has changed in the past 10 years.

And so I started questioning myself: who can’t we find online today on the internet? what does that represent? Is it good or bad not to be online? What is the difference of voluntarily joining a social media website and having stuff online about you? What would be an actual visual representation of how much data collection increased in the past 10-20 years? Could I afford not to be online as a secular ocidental living under a capitalist system? What about people that have very common names? How hard is it to find them? What about next generations and when a lot of people starts having the same name… will we have to create maybe a global ID number to search for people online? I remember looking for friends telephones in phone books when i was a kid… but how did we actually use to find people before the internet? Does internet accessibility relates to internet ‘findability’ of people and representation?

The ITP Assistant

During my Hello Computer class, I developed a bunch of experiments such as the emoji story creator, invisible map and the dada poem reciter. Those were more fun and simple weekly assignments projects, where I learned a lot and helped me explore the use of voice interfaces.

Therefore, for my final for this class I decided to create a bot using dialogflow in order to create a functional voice interface tool to help people complete a specific task. My idea was to user test and also think about the UX behind voice interfaces as well as develop a platform that could eventually be used in parallel (or even more used, who knows!?) than the webpage designed to fulfill the same functionality.

So what do I – really – need help with?

My main inspiration for this project was the current Google Assistant and that amazing – but also scary – video released in this years Google I/O where the digital assistant calls a hairdresser to book a hair saloon appointment for you.

As most impressive as that is, still,  for my daily tasks the best use that i make of my Google Home/Assistant is mostly to ask for the temperature, to play a song, and eventually to help decide what should I wear according to the weather. Which is nice, but I would imagine that this tool should have way more potential to be functional in my life. So what is something that I make often and would like to get done by voice command in at least a weekly basis?

Differently from the Persona in the Google’s I/O example, that wants have her haircut done and need to book hours for it, as a student something that I schedule often is Office Hours with Residents and Professors. And ITP has a website for that.

 

 

The website collects all links from the residents/professors calendars and display their Bookable Events, which you can click and book as Office Hours. Despite some professors that do a double check with an internal NYU account, as long as you have any google @gmail account you are enabled to do that.

The website does its job, but  it can be annoying as you have to go back to check if the person with the skill you want is available for the day you are also available. If the person is not, you have to go to the home and to the steps again to find another resident or teacher that could help you… and so on.

So, what if I could create a voice assistant that could book ITP office hours for you?

Would I succeed on developing it? If I did, would it indeed be useful? Would people be willing to switch from using only the website and find a voice interface actually more helpful?

 

Setting up DialogFlow and Firebase for a first prototype

I followed Nicole’s instructions in class and set up a simple working prototype from the DialogFlow/Firebase side for creating the ITP Assistant.

My idea for now was to make the simplest UX possible that could fulfill the task of booking office hours, even if that woudn’t be good enough for the final interface, but could work as a proof of concept and then grow from there. This is the interface I aimed to create:

So that part was working,  as you can check in the video below.

My code at this point was very simple.

I added a JSON file with the names of the residents (office hours with teachers too would have to wait a bit!), with their skills, and, once i had received the string inside my skills Intent, I would parse it and try to match it with the existing skills on the JSON. If it found a matching skill I would push the Resident’s name into an array, than then would be randomized, and one of the matching resident’s selected. Once selected, while the DialogFlow would be saying to ‘hold for a sec while I book office hours”, the code would run a function to  get that Resident’s URL and actually book the office hours. – that then would be said back by the Dialogflow with the date and time scheduled. You can check the code here.

So that’s when my problems begun…

Finding out that Google’s Calendsr API couldn’t work for me

(I’ll finish writing by tomorrow Oct 26th)

Working with puppeteer (fun!)  and Booking office hours through my server

(I’ll finish writing by tomorrow Oct 26th)

Trying to make firebase and pupeteer work together (not successful)

(I’ll finish writing by tomorrow Oct 26th)

Next Steps

(I’ll finish writing by tomorrow Oct 26th)

My SuperFoods Field Guide

So a couple of weeks ago I finished and presented my Superfoods Field Guide in the Temporary Expert class.

Check the result here in e-book format.

 

As I hope it was noticed, I went for an ironic approach, imitating the look and feel of a Fashion Magazine. I decided to inform about this purely Marketing superfood term that emerged from the insight of using foods as a trend, spotting a light on how superficial that can be rather than an actual nutritional need.

My goal is to attract people that are the heavy users of those foods, who from my research are also highly interested in fashion and social media, and help them realize how superfoods are labeled and the problems around it, in order to rethink their behavior as consumers.

 

 

The feedback was very positive. Users at first were attracted to it because of the beautiful imagery and editorial design and as they quickly scraped through the copy and saw the headlines, would immediately understand the irony and comment it was a smart and funny approach. Therefore I am happy with the result.

This was the page users liked the most.

 

Besides being happy with the result I am also happy about the way I handled the process. The research part took me a while. It was important to read articles on the subject, but i the most important part was my ‘field trip’ to Whole Foods, where, after reading all articles and papers, I could analyze how the food was marketed to the public, interact with Supermarket employees and informally interview consumers themselves while purchasing the superfood products. What took me a while though was to have the insight of the idea and nail down the voice that I wanted to use.  Once I figured that out,  designing it was pretty fast.

I understand that I moved the idea to work in a comfort zone of mine, which is branding and design, and maybe in next project I should try to avoid that in order to experiment and learn using different languages. Still, considering we were required to develop a field guide for this issue and to have a printed version of that, it made sense to use that skill as a tool to conceive my message.

So what would be the next steps?

One of the feedbacks I had was to work better with the copy to push it to the next level. I totally agree with that, keeping in mind that english is not my first language, if I would look forward to publishing that this would definitely be a requirement.

Also, a lot of classmates suggested to “shop drop” this field guide in the Whole Foods magazine shelf near the cashiers. I would love to see people’s reactions! – It is a bit expensive to print that though, but if there are any interested sponsors out there just shout out and I’ll be happy to print and make the Superfoods Field guide available all around New York!

Adjacent Issue 4 Accessibility Audit

For the Open Source Studio Class, we were assigned to make the accessibility audit of a website.  Since Itay and I are currently working in UX and QA for the next Adjacent issue (Adjacent is the online journal of emerging media published by ITP) and making it accessible is mandatory for us, I decided to audit it.

It is important to note that the page is not officially published yet, as we do have some design features to review, images to add and links to set. As we will be doing do in the next few days, this review could guide us on what’s missing regarding accessibility so we can launch it next Monday when it’s ready – and accessible!

The methodology was a complementary use of the WAVE – Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool and the Mac screen reader Voice Over.

The WAVE tool analyzes the writing code and the design issues related to the accessibility guidelines defined by the W3C in the WCAG. We can see we have several errors. I noted the absence of a header, which should be fixed. The other errors though are mainly regarding the use of the same links that is being used now as a placeholder for when all articles and pages are published.

Regarding colors, everything seems to be ok and accessible!

The website was also audited by using Mac VoiceOver. This was proven to be very hard, since there is no final content on in, and the repeated placeholders made everything confusing. I will definitely need to get back and redo this accessibility audit once we have the final version of the website.

Talking Robots and DialogFlow

The idea of having an Artificial Intelligence capable of resembling perfectly, both speech-like and physically like, a human being is a very romanticized idea throughout our culture. Ironically, as we move more and more towards the ability of creating machines that – even if not yet perfect ones –  and somewhat succeed in this matter, User Experience shows us that maybe it was not the way to go after all.

Both episode 1 and episode 2 of the Podcast Sandra and the reading on Upending the Uncanny Valley  explore this irony and question the validity of investing in such resemblance. The Uncanny Valley theory, that describes the common unsettling feeling people experience when androids (humanoid robots) and audio/visual simulations closely resemble humans in many respects but are not quite convincingly realistic, was an interesting term to discover and that I could relate a lot to.

I think this is an interesting paradox and ironic in a way. I would be interested in exploring this discomfort further and playing with it as well as exploring and experimenting with its boundaries as an UX designer.

Superfoods: can we see the world in a supermarket shelf?

In my past post on my Assignment of Temporary Expert I wrote about my research on the Systems around superfood. I was aiming to find a definition and gain understanding on the subject to find a focus that I could translate to my Field Guide – the outcome requested by our teacher as the result of those 4 weeks of work with our random topic.

A Field Guide is a book designed to help the reader identify wildlife or other objects of usually natural occurrence. It is generally designed to be brought into the ‘field’ or local area where such objects exist to help distinguish between similar objects. It will typically include a description of the objects covered, together with paintings or photographs and an index.

After having that

The field research

Therefore, I decided to to my field research on Superfoods to start brainstorming about my Field Guide concept. So, since we are in New York and i don’t really think I could go into the forest to find Açai berries, on my way to ITP I stopped at 2nd ave station to go to the Houston/2nd ave Whole Foods in Manhattan.

I arrived to the supermarket and asked a Whole Foods employee for the “Superfoods” section, not even sure if that existed. But it did. He kindly gave me the directions to this specific aisle, that is a section closer to pills, vitamins and supplements than to actual food, and I took a look at the shelf.

I took some pictures, and noticed the irony of researching about superfoods in the supermarket. The idea of having a section about it, a section full of super processed superfoods powders. The irony of seeing the “exoticism”around those plants and fruits that come from different places on the world, to end up as super marketed made up superfoods. Because as we saw before, superfood is a pure marketing concept. And this was crystal clear when you looked to that shelf – at least to me. I wondered about the impact that the trendy boom of superfoods made to Açaí berry producers, Chia, Moringa plantations.

At the end of my observation, I realized if wouldn’t it be interesting if there was actually a field guide to the supermarket where we could analyze the origin and process of the items.

By process and origin I don’t mean only what was the physical route,  how much energy and work were made to have it there, but, besides that, and in this case I think even more relevant, how the cultural and historical process of our relationship as humans attached to this specific nutrition resource was developed so it would end up in our shelves, with this labels, and what is the social impact of that with this megalomaniac market oriented relationship we have with it today.

Organizing my thoughts

I printed the picture that I took and started to identify the main plants and foods that appeared.

Also, I decided to play with the idea of juxtaposing a map on top of the shelf and therefore also printed a map to start researching and playing with the origins of those superfoods.

Finally, I did a rough mock up of my idea for the field guide and started gathering some references.

I still need to draw a better mock up before I start actually designing it.