#Olltopie

The motivation

The web is so often called broken today. So much of what social media is to many is negative.

I’m old enough to have been online long before twitter, and when twitter went mainstream and I found my community there, it was an amazing place. Friendships were started and not just sustained, but grown online. Trust grew. Work was done. Change happened. It was open, it was human, it was creative.

Most of all it was genuine, it was based on what was really happening. And it was deep.

Today all advice, if you want to go big, make WOW content, make something for everyone, and the assumption is that that only works if you go as shallow as possible.

Even the university makes an imagefilm devoid of all substance.

I believe that it is still possible to have a community based on substance, truth, mutual respect. I talk about it a lot – on all my blogs, yes, but also in real life. To all sorts of people. I am not met with much understanding when I do. Not even from young people, people in academia, people who are the digital natives we hear so much about. And if they don’t have that experience, they can’t teach anyone else to do it either.

So it’s up to us old people to keep going on about it. Against all evidence that it won’t be like that ever again.

My project #olltopie is about that. Oll is the low German (the local dialect) word for old, and the rest is the German word for utopia. A dreamworld of silly old people.

Because maybe humans can’t sustain a utopia where we are all working enthusiastically for the common good. (Funnily enough this is also related to this place, which used to be East Germany. Another utopia, if you’ve been there in the fifties and sixties, but a hellish landscape where nobody cared what was happening from the late seventies and eighties.)

The plan

I spin in public. I’ve done this for a while now and I have a routine, a space, my antique spinning wheel lives at the museum of local history nearby, I can go there when I have time. It is a very positive experience for everyone. I don’t know if there is much else people can do in public that evokes such universally positive emotion, among all kinds of people of all ages.

I will display the hashtag next to me and when people ask if they can take a picture, I will ask them if I can share it.

The idea is to transfer a tiny bit of the emotion created on a day of spinning in public online.

Of course people have to be happy to be part of it. I can’t talk in detail about all the privacy implication with everyone on the day, but since everybody is very aware of privacy these days, this can be part of the conversation and thus, the project. Do we want positive content online? What do we need to do to build positive relationships online?

Should we just say no and leave it all to the others?

The exhibition

The wool I am spinning will be worked into pieces that can be exhibited. Visitors can interact with them by touch, but also through the hashtag. The pieces will look familiar, like a knit glove, the surface will feel soft to the touch. The pieces will contain robotics which will react to the activity on the hashtag via sentiment analysis.

I have not made the decision if it is all one connected piece that will react to the sum total of the sentiment on the hashtag, that will do one thing if it’s positive, and another if it’s negative, in real time. That would be a possibility. But I have ideas for many pieces that can react as a group.

This will be exhibited with content from the hashtag. (Only from people who have made the conscious choice, otherwise anonymous, see above.)

We have many local spinners, depending on the space, a person could always be present at the exhibition and spin.

The aim

My aim is a discussion about technology, about resistance, emotion, openness. We can use and form new technologies to our needs as humans, to bring us closer to each other, to have better lives, to make our work easier. Digitalisation should mean that we at least know what it looks like to also put our humanity into the parallel, virtual world.

Is all this just a fantasy of the old people who were around when the internet was still a place full of opportunity?