Reclaim Your Data: Slow Design in Sweden

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Using Digital Footprints and Hidden Data to Empower Reflective Consumption

I’ve just returned from a stimulating (though much too ‘fast’) trip to Norrkoping (Sweden) by invitation of the Interactive Institute to participate in an international seminar called ‘Reclaim Your Data.’ The seminar was organized by the institute’s Eric Gullberg and was based on a research project he initiated there to explore the use of ambient media to restore ‘information symmetry’ in our lives. Information Asymmetry is when one side of a two-party deal has more information than the other, such as web site that by reading your IP address already knows something about your browsing history before you even start to explore the site. Gullberg’s seminar asked participants to share strategies for reclaiming our personal data from third parties by making information more transparent to support ecological and ethical goals.I was there representing slowLab, and in particular our concept of design for ‘reflective consumption’ (one of our six Slow Design Principles); that is, the idea that products and places that induce contemplation and deepening experiences, like the heightened perceptual and emotional states that the unique materiality of products can deliver. Projects like Katrin Svana Eythorsdottir’s ‘Chandelier’ and Simon Heijdens’ ‘Broken White’ are great examples of this.

At the seminar, a small collection of U.S. participants presented work that resonated with this slowLab principle: Ben Faga showed projects he developed at the University of Minnesota (mentored by the inspirational Diane Willow), including a laptop with a ‘green roof’ of sorts, where energy is gathered and transferred through a covering of grassy plantings… The idea would require us to care for our computers as well as they care for our data: If the plantings die, then the computer dies too. (Have you hugged your laptop today?) Marko Manriquez presented work of the Sustainable Media Lab in Boulder, CO, including Exchange/Alteration a public sewing intervention to upcycle the clothing people don’t want any more. And designer Arlene Birt joined us by Skype to present ‘Background Stories,’ a compelling concept for food product packaging to make consumers aware of the context and greater impact of their foods.

slowLab’s network of slow designers and artists are addressing this topic in a myriad ways, through architecture, installation and performance to name a few. But whatever your creative affiliation (if any), reflecting on your footprints-- digital, ecological, or just the ones you leave in the sand-- is a great way to slow resource consumption and enjoy a richer, more self-aware life.

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