Growing Virtuality (16./17.11.2023)


Virtuality is growing: as ubiquitous and immersive media technologies mature, more and more aspects of our everyday lives are being permeated by virtual practices. Increasing proportions of our cultural archives are being made available as virtual objects, and major players in the tech industry have declared virtual spaces to be central arenas for future economic growth. This growing together of physical and virtual spaces is transforming our cultural, social and political spheres more and more. However, in times of climate crisis and global environmental catastrophe, technological growth is increasingly seen not just as an economic promise, but as an existential threat, consuming vast amounts of energy and other material resources. This two-day conference seeks to ask about the implications of the seemingly unlimited growth of virtuality – and to look for alternative models.

25. Oktober 2023
ECF-Conference: Growing Virtuality

Session “Economy”

Lena Gerdes (University of Bonn): Critical economic research with computer simulations

Critical economic research with computer simulations, especially with agent-based modeling (ABM): ABM offers many opportunities to explore alternative economic perspectives. In contrast to most conventional economic models, ABM allows an inclusion of temporal and spatial perspectives, as well as social, ecological, and economic considerations. Moreover, heterogeneous actors, social networks and learning can be implemented. Using the example of two concrete models, it is discussed how ABM can be used to think about alternative economic visions and what role this could play for public policy and the development of utopias.


Session “Actors/Acting”

Nathalie Schäfer (Bauhaus University Weimar): Botting for Fame. Human-Media-Entanglements Acting on Instagram

Botting describes a practice on Instagram that serves as a strategy to play the visibility game on Instagram. The game entails the negotiation of influence among users and content moderation algorithms on the platform. Certain Instagramers use automation tools like fame-enhancing bots to automate their social interactions. Triggered on hashtags, profiles, or locations, these bots like, follow, unfollow, comment, and send messages to other users to attract their attention to their profile. The aim is to gain new and quantitative ‘real’ followers, greater reach, and more interactions. To prevent Instagram’s detection of the automation tool and possibly following negative consequences, fame-enhancing bots act like human users in their user’s name and in various ways.

The process of botting is an outstanding example of inseparable human-media-entanglements in virtual environments due to their hybrid character. This talk addresses the practice of botting on Instagram and explores the relations between human and non-human actors that appear ‘on the scene’ as entangled agents. It discusses some implications of automatization on Instagram and asks about the value of virtual social interactions.


Stefan John (Aachen University): Living Labs

The idea of a growing virtuality can also be found in places pushing for a real-world embedment. Living Labs are a vivid site for digital twinning and collection of data that previously was left ‘in the wild’. To reach their self-set ideals of co-designing the research and infrastructures as well as co-producing and coevaluating the data (Wanner et al. 2018), the actors involved need to rethink the established methods of research data management. The key idea of Living Labs is the involvement of non-academic partners from industry, civil society and administration.

First, I will frame the idea of cross-modal data management (CDM) as away to remodel the current practices and to enable “sharing of data, knowledge and experience, among other things by means of digital-analog data interfaces” in Living Labs (Wanner et al. 2023). Cross-modality here means the utilization and cross-analysis of different forms i.e. modes of data (text, pictures, sensor arrays, etc.). Further I will address important questions of governance for these “data collaboratives” (Ruijer 2021) in and through (non)human actors and on the infrastructure needed to link the different modalities of data and include a participatory agenda. Finally, I will show examples of a university data space that could serve as an initial offer for this topic.


Alexander Orlowski (University of Tübingen): Actors in the Smart Home

With technologies such as ChatGPT, questions of artificial intelligence are widely discussed: Does AI have the power to act, and what are the resulting effects from either answer on that question? But artificial intelligence has already arrived and is deeply integrated into our own four walls through smart home applications. These smart devices raise the question of how they change everyday practices. In principle, it is nothing new that everyday actions are divided between human-machine constellations. But despite this, or precisely of it, they must be asked: How are they changing our everyday lives? What is perceived as ‘smart’ device in the first place? Who has control over these devices? How does our perception of these devices affect for example our need for privacy? When it comes to privacy issues, these questions have practical applications: How is it possible to guarantee data autonomy to the users of smart home devices, with regard to a multitude of a large number of different devices. Especially when many devices are designed to collect a large amount of data. Here, the users become objects of computation instead of being able to act autonomously. How can this relation be disrupted?


Session “Data”

Maria Mingo (Mnemonic, London): Archiving for justice, racing against time

We live in a world where communication seems limitless, where we can form human connections and be part of important life moments, regardless of distance. People are able to use social media to share cherished moments, as well as stand up for what they believe in. When it comes to human rights, these platforms are home to millions of photos and videos, some constituting important evidence of serious violations. To combat hate speech and disinformation, corporations are over-implementing takedown policies, and deleting not only harmful content, but also safe and important content taken at great risk. Therefore, Mnemonic has developed its own solution to collect, preserve, verify, and investigate human rights content for accountability before it is taken down. Today, it hosts four standalone archives safeguarding over 15 million items from Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Ukraine, and emerging conflicts. Using the Syrian Archive as a case study, this session will provide insight into Mnemonic’s archiving system, remaining challenges, and upcoming opportunities.


Kim Albrecht (Film University Babelsberg Konrad Wolf, metaLAB (at) Harvard & FU Berlin): Data as visual traces of the virtual

The ubiquitous notion of data as digital storage of information seems innocent and neutral at first glance. But it merely is. Data from its Latin root for the given is everything but given. It is soaked with perspectives, predefinitions, and constructions. Kim Albrecht’s practice in visualizing data holds oftentimes a two-fold perspective on the observed phenomena of the dataset but to the same extent towards the mediation and construction of the data in the first place. Such a perspective highlights the tech industry’s platform politics and data’s cultural, social, and political spheres.


Session “Experience”

Anan Fries (artist, Berlin): Posthuman Wombs

Posthuman Wombs is a virtual essay, a tender trip into the belly of the pregnant Posthuman. Here, gender is not binary and nature and technology are not in opposition to one another. This pregnancy, rather, is technology. This body is fiction and reality. Posthuman Wombs is Anan Fries’ autotheoretical exploration of hosting a child in a non-binary body and of their desire to find a community in posthuman otherness. It is a speculation with a future in which pregnancy is a hack that could be applied on all bodies.