Marleen Stikker about privacy, technology and the role of Waag (originally written in Dutch, as an introduction of our annual report 2014).
The publication of the Snowden files has led to interest in the backside of the internet worldwide. That is hopeful. Step-by-step people are better informed and the problematic side of technological culture becomes the talk of the day. The realization that our privacy and sovereignty is at stake is beginning to enter daily routines. Children cover the cameras of their computers because they are afraid of being filmed. Social media addicts are considering stopping Facebook because they do not want to be abused by shareholders. And journalists have grown gruntingly into encryption, because their correspondence is no longer safe for NSA and the AIVD (Dutch intelligence). Worldwide, a movement has started that wants to fix the internet by applying open hardware, encryption and privacy by design.
Technology is in all fibers of our culture. If we want to be able to keep a grip on our smart environment, then we will have to be technologically literate. That goes beyond being media wise. There are many programmes that are aimed at allowing the consumer to 'read' properly. But literacy means you can also write. That you have the basic skills to contribute. In the field of technology, it means that you also have to learn how to program. Or, perhaps a little less frightening for the average technophobic citizen: that you have to learn how to tinker digitally.
Knowledge of technology is not only important for young people. It is essential for every citizen to fully participate in the smart cities that we develop. For example: to understand what that smart meter does in your home, what the e-call box in your car does from 2016 onwards, how algorithms determine what you can or can not find on the internet and how to repair gadgets or make it yourself. They are common questions.
It is a great challenge to increase that technological awareness in our society. Not only with young people. Also with policy makers, teachers, entrepreneurs, professionals, citizens. How can we show people that programming and technology is fun and that it is in their own capacity to be actively involved? The mission that Waag has set itself is to do so by connecting creativity, imagination and social relevance with technology. By giving space to curiosity and artistic research.
Waag was set up with the idea of allowing people to 'program' themselves to technological culture. To this end, it annexes emerging technologies and makes them accessible to the public. Twenty years ago, the adventure started with De Digitale Stad (the Digital City), which opened up the internet with an appealing metaphor and public. Amsterdam was a pioneer worldwide, with citizens building the internet themselves.
Waag has put serious gaming, locative media, digital fabrication and open data on the map. Now Waag is also pioneering in the field of neuro- and biotechnology by involving artists and designers. In the Waag on the Nieuwmarkt the Fablab Amsterdam is housed where digital fabrication, knowledge of hardware, software and electrical engineering come together with creativity and craft. The Fablab Amsterdam is part of the worldwide network that has its origins at the famous MIT, Center for Bits & Atoms.
From the Fablab a number of educational programs have been started that are based on the principle of 'learning to make', so that people learn not only to read technology, but also to learn how to write. The focus is on imagination and creativity.
Intuitive and curiosity-driven research by artists, designers and scientists is at the forefront of Waag. They know like no other to question technology, to get the bottom stone, to overthrow sacred houses, to stimulate imagination and fantasy, to bring about unexpected connections and above all to search for meaning.
Waag believes that inventions, curiosity and critical questioning are the basis for change. Art and science and world improvers go hand in hand. But innovation only comes into being when the inventions are also implemented in existing systems. And things often go wrong there. New insights and new technologies are often disruptive and organizations are not always open to far-reaching changes.
That is why Waag focuses on a joint design practice where social issues, involved users and the personal handwriting of artists, scientists and designers come together. It is in this ensemble that Waag has developed its unique strength. Waag operates in a large network of individual makers and knows how to bridge the gap to the world of institutions.