The Struggle to Add
School of Communication and Culture
1. Appadurai, A. ed., 1988. The social life of things: Commodities in cultural perspective. Cambridge University Press.
Forward is not a point of beginning nor a fixed position in the future. It is not a place in time, but rather an action in time. Forward builds on momentum and sets direction—providing a path to continue rather than a place to end. Forward is a single-line trajectory to navigate changes in time.
To carry is to move information across time. By carrying information through the systems they intervene in, humans add possibilities for things to happen. This increase in complexity is what allows us to shape directions—to move forward.
To carry forward, therefore, is an action linked to a direction. Yet, while carrying information is a capacity inherent to humans, purposefully materializing information in ways that maintain a steady course forward is not.
Adding information to systems matters because it allows information to become shared and adopted through material culture and social learning1,2. This is how symbols, artifacts, services, policies, technologies, algorithms and infrastructure can carry information3,4, which, with varying degrees of subtlety and efficacy, embed and shape our beliefs, ideals, attitudes and biases5,6. To effectively tip the balance, carrying forward is not enough. We can carry forward our hopes, ideals, desires and expectations, but if we can’t add them to the equations of change, carrying forward becomes an exercise of collective memory rather than an action to make collective change.
To carry is a right, but to add is a privilege. To approach the challenge of providing the mechanisms, strategies and support systems to funnel forward more equitable, sustainable and inclusive information requires addressing not only what we carry or leave behind but also dissecting the structures that determine how and who gets to add.
Such an examination will look different across communities and social systems, but patterns will emerge. Humans trade information through social learning7—in other words, through interactions. Embedding information—with or without intention—in these interactions is how the information we carry takes hold in the systems we seek to change. Hostile architecture, chatbots with agendas and biased algorithms are examples of interactions embedded with the beliefs, ideals, attitudes and biases of those adding them into the systems, setting the rules and boundaries for others to carry forward.
Take, for example, the crisis of imagination—as discussed at last year’s Cfc symposium Generation C8—which is, in part, a consequence of how the opportunities to add are engineered and distributed. If you live in a marginalized community, the chances are that you experience disproportionate exposure to interactions that are in place to influence you rather than listen to you9,10. Your experience of change—and how change can be enacted—is not limited by your imagination but by access to interactions that allow you to purposefully materialize the information you are carrying forward.
Complex systems are all about interactions feeding on information. In moving forward, let us make a practice of examining not only the information that we carry or leave behind, but also how—knowingly or not—we add the information we carry to the systems we intervene in, and with what consequences.
2020 Contribtuion: Imagination Response
2. Brown, J.S. and Duguid, P., 2017. The social life of information: Updated, with a new preface. Harvard Business Review Press.
3. Shannon, C.E., 1948. A mathematical theory of communication. Bell system technical journal, 27(3), pp.379-423.
4. Simon, H.A., 1988. The science of design: Creating the artificial. Design Issues, pp.67-82.
5. Latour, B., 2005. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. OUP Oxford.
6. Fry, T., 2013. Becoming human by design. A&C Black.
7. Creanza, N., Kolodny, O. and Feldman, M.W., 2017. Cultural evolutionary theory: How culture evolves and why it matters. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(30), pp.7782-7789.
8. Garnham, I. 2020, Imagination: Response, Viewed 7 June 2021, <https://generationc.xyz/ignacio-garnham>
9. O’Neil, C., 2016. Weapons of math destruction: How big data increases inequality and threatens democracy. Crown.
10. Eubanks, V., 2018. Automating inequality: How high-tech tools profile, police, and punish the poor. St. Martin’s Press.