Thursday, April 9, 2009


Dear all,

I think we are all starting to point towards very interesting issues in this discussion. I very much liked Ricardo's quoting of Stephen Hawking: "in order to avoid failure as mankind, we should keep talking". We have now, at our fingertips, the ultimate medium for "talking" in a networked fashion: the Internet and its convergence with other digital communication networks (such as mobile phones). And, thanks to the multimedia capabilities of the digital devices, this network of conversations becomes also a medium for showing and revealing through images, sounds, videos... a window that can potentially show remote (both culturally and geographically) realities.

I would like to point you towards a series of projects in which I have been collaborating with artist Antoni Abad for the last 5 years. In these projects, we give multimedia mobile phones to specific groups around the world -- so far, we have worked with taxi drivers in Mexico City, young gypsies in Lleida and Leon (Spain), prostitutes in Madrid, disabled people in Barcelona and Geneve, Nicaraguan immigrants in Costa Rica and motorcycle messengers (motoboys) in Sao Paulo. These seemingly disparate groups share something in common: they are all in risk of social exclusion, either because of their mistreatment by the mass media, or because their marginal conditions are often ignored by their fellow citizens. The people in these groups have used their mobile phones to publish images, audio and video clips of their daily lives on the Internet. They send multimedia messages directly from the phone to the project's web page, without any filters. By doing this,
the participants in these projects have been able to reveal aspects of their daily lives and make them public, so that we all can learn a bit more about what it's like, for instance, to be a prostitute in Madrid, or a person using a wheelchair in Barcelona.

You can find these projects here:

I personally view these projects (which, by the way, happen at an intersection between art and sociology) as the formation of ephemeral assemblages... and here I'm picking up Jordan Crandall's interest on assemblage theory, which I also believe to be of great value when we seek to understand emergent social behaviors and patterns. The groups of participants have shared common goals and values, and have allowed us to take a glimpse of their daily lives. Latour says about Actor-Network Theory: "you have to follow the actors!", in order to track the connections that link and reveal the social, and render the notion of "local" and "global" as separate entities useless. Probably, with the projects at, we have been creating a tool that does just that: it allows us to follow the lives and connections made public by specific people through their multimedia tracks. I also believe that with distributed and increased computing potential, social simulations
(which made sense in a time when access to "real" social information was simply impossible because of technical reasons) could be increasingly substituted by social tracking (Ana Boa-Ventura points towards whis, with her mention of Digital Humanities).

Finally, I would like to add that in the projects we have always kept an interest in classifying all the multimedia documents sent by the participants. In the first projects, we worked together with a group of sociologists who came up with a "dictionary" of descriptors that could be used to classify all the images, video and audio clips. The descriptors dealt with the contents of the documents, and were divided into four categories: "beings", "objects", "places" and "activities". Then, we would have a group of documentalists do the actual classification of the thousands of files. Eventually, we discovered that a "top-down" dictionary would never capture the richness of meanings being sent in, so at one point we decided to do things "bottom up": we changed the system so that it allowed the participants to add tags to their multimedia contents. Collective tagging evolved into shared vocabularies (folksonomies), which revealed the views and issues
of the group in a much more accurate, fertile way. You can see folksonomies in their full splendor in the canal*MOTOBOY project in Sao Paulo:

This last point relates to Ricardo's contrasting between "top-down" and "bottom-up" methods, and also to Annie Paul's interesting post about Patwa: I'm sure that the Linguistics Department at the University of the West Indies will always go a few steps behind this emergent, street language!

All the best,

Eugenio Tisselli Vélez

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