On February 26 2019, the 3rd Millennials workshop Past, present and future of (y)our internet was hosted at the Caixa Forum in Barcelona. The topic was “health and caretaking”. About 12 participants from over four continents joined in the workshop to build a Millennials’ narrative of a sustainable and human-centric digital future. The workshop was moderated by Marta Arniani (futuribile/curating futures) and Jennifer Veldman (DataWatchers) in the framework of the Next Generation Internet initiative. Past, present and future of (y)our internet workshops blend research, co-design and mindfulness.

Why Millennials?

When changes are happening faster than our possibility to adapt to it as a society, in order to reflect and build on a better digital future, we need to take a pause in the flux of the events and look at how we arrived here – as individuals, and society. The Millennial generation is the key between these two. Born in an era mostly defined by analogue systems, their formative years are defined and aligned with the digital revolution. Born in, and brought up with the values, of the analogue world, remembering the actual experience comes with great difficulty. Millennials, being the first digital natives, are the embodiment of the merge of values of an analogue and a digital world. This key embodiment is what makes the Millennial narrative of utmost importance in envisioning a framework for a fair, sustainable and human-centric digital future.

This time it was decided to bring the workshop in Barcelona entirely in the context of health and caretaking. Questions central were: who takes care of you? Who do you take care of? By what means? And where did you/the other learn to use/try those means? The questions were declined in the dimensions of past, present and future. In the discussion of the past, it immediately stood out that family and friends – loving human relationships – played a big part in the way we experienced caretaking and being healthy. Playing, reading, exercising, music and being in nature also mentioned multiple times. Someone even mentioned technology as part of staying healthy in the way that in the weekends the dial-up modem was turned off, so he no longer had the distraction of the computer and he had to entertain himself outside.

Present: healthy boundaries

Even though in the present we have much more means to take care of ourselves with digital technology, actually unplugging was again the way we try to stay healthy. Sometimes online information can help. Such as looking up recipes for healthy or diverse food or starting meditation with a guidance app. However, the way these are considered valuable is to enhance offline experience such as eating and meditating.

It is interesting to notice that at least half of the group has tried meditation, mindfulness or yoga at some time in their lives. Some with a group or the physical presence of a teacher, some with an app. We agreed that the meditation apps can be useful when you want to start learning how to meditate, but preference is given over an actual teacher or at least at some point to be able to sit without the digital interfering.

The unplugging activities usually were in the lines of exercising (sports, as well as moving around i.e. walking and biking) and looking after family and friends. One participant took unplugging a step further, defining it as unplugging from her usual environment: she takes care of herself by going to places where nobody knows her.

How will we stay healthy in the future? What means are part of this?

The first group started by thinking about apps that help to coordinate care between friends, or those who need help and those who are able to help out. To bypass an extractive business model from a commercial company, the users would have more rights and say in how the app is managed if they together as a community own the platform.

The next step was to discuss rights. Human rights versus rights in the digital space. One of those human rights should be educated, informed consent, but one where you can actually have a say in the agreement. Today most consent, even though informed, has no place for discussion or compromise.

The last step was to think about how we will age. Exoskeletons may provide an answer to stay mobile, while augmented reality can be an immersive experience to stay in touch, even though family and friends may be far away. However, when thinking about ageing, financial accessibility emerges as a concern. Someone quoted William Gibson: “The future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed”.

The second group started with the idea of a smart city, questioning the meaning of the term. Current autonomous smart cities do not really fit the purpose of a city. Instead, a smart city should be built to make life better. The group arrived at the problems generated by a smart city such as increasing feelings of loneliness and isolation, even though we have the possibility of being connected 24/7. Part of the solution is to connect people more in real life. A smart city should be provider for this. Perhaps we should not think of urban design, but lifestyle design and above not just for cities, but for all kinds of places people live.

The group did come up with solutions or conditions for future technology. One proposal was calm technology: technology that is less invasive, that gives more agency over daily life. Secondly, we need to educate upcoming generations not just in digital literacy, but in data and financial literacy. Finally, although the idea of total transparency is perceived as dangerous when in the wrong hands, in general, we should aim for transparent systems, transparency on how money and data are being used, and what options are available. It was suggested that the extra information brought by this transparency can be captured by investigative journalism, as a means to cope with the information overload.

The third group started with the questions: “what is technology? And what is human?” to reflect upon the notion of human-centric technology. They discussed that whatever we will be doing, wherever we’re going we will always return to the human. We are never going to stop communicating with other people, loving other people etc. However, “the robot”, automation, will come into the equation.

We conclude that what is usually missing in the discussion, as now in the proposals, is embodiment. The physical experience. Being somewhere in the flesh and staying happy in your body. Most solutions are intellectual solutions. Mobility in the city, for example, will become a lifestyle. In overcrowded cities taking public transport in traffic will work on your stress, and therefore it is a longterm health issue. We have been given different means to go through the city: bike, public transport etc. However, we feel that policy made by many municipalities only go so far as to think of the next elections, instead of the future beyond the four-year term. We lack a vision of the future.

In the workshop in Lisbon building for authentic human relationships was mentioned as a key factor in future technology. Again in this workshop the authentic human relationships, hanging out with friends, family, taking care of the elderly formed the thread that holds the discussion together. Apparently, even though we have more ways of connecting, new ways of communication, the physical presence is something that we value above all other connection. Digital technology should therefore support these relationships, instead of trying to be the interface in between.

About the organisers

Both Millennials, Marta and Jennifer joined forces to organise this series of workshops. Marta issues the futuribile /curating futures newsletter about tech social impact, and helps tech companies and research centres to structure innovative projects. She curates content and moderates workshops and debates within the NGI initiative. Jennifer is a digital anthropologist with a focus on societal effects of increasing implementation of digital solutions. She has worked with different organisations such as Dutch digital rights watch Bits of Freedom, Dyne.org – a hacker collective operating in EU projects and the Amsterdam University of Applied Science. She recently launched DataWatchers, a project that creates space for Millennials to work on the future where the digital is fair and sustainable.

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