How Culture and Technology Create One Another: Ramesh Srinivasan at TEDxUCLA



we live in a world today with approximately 7 billion people in our world today and astonishingly about 5 billion out of those 7 billion people now have mobile phones and something between two and three billion out of those 7 billion people have some form of access to the Internet though that's very diverse and very different in different circumstances in different contexts around the world but what this creates are very uncanny interesting fascinating and surprising intersections so we see for example this man here an Indian guru not necessarily your first order consideration of who a mobile phone user would be he's got his big Chilam in his hand but the mobile phone somehow is providing some utility for him and then on the left-hand side we see this fisherman and this is a great story because this is a fisherman in southern India who was out at sea when the tsunami hit all of us remember the tsunami when it hit he was out there with his mobile phone and he was calling his family and texting his family on the shore in these huts on the beach saying I see these terrible waves coming get off of the shore and that did save some lives though the tsunami was ultimately highly disastrous for for all but that story doesn't just end in India that also concerns my friends Sebby my does everybody see the fascinating crocodile tattoos he has on the bet on his back so semi is part of a shamanic cult where they worship the crocodile spirits a part of worshiping a crocodile spirit doesn't necessarily mean not touching the crocodile but actually hunting it in the middle of the night so I spent time on the sea pick River in Papua New Guinea trying to understand how these people are living their lives and how technology might be influencing their lives in different ways and what I found was in the middle of the night we would go out in these large dugout wooden canoes and try to hunt crocodiles together and I'm really bad at hunting crocodiles I don't know if any of you have expertise in that but that's pretty hard to do but what you always try to do when you try to hunt a crocodile is look for the eyes of the crocodile in the middle of the night so I thought we would try to do this using a flashlight or something along those lines right but these guys didn't have any flashlights because they couldn't afford any batteries because there was hardly any supply of batteries out in this extremely remote region of the world how do we find these crocodiles they're using their mobile phones the lights emitted from their mobile phones to look for the eyes of the crocodile and that creates this situation this enclosure these crocodiles in this enclosure and that big guy on the back charged me luckily Papua New Guineans know how to build fences so that got me really interested in thinking about how is culture changing thanks to the diffusion of technology around the world and I study these questions in very different contexts with very different communities and today I'm just going to give you a bit of a sample of some of those stories so this is in Andhra Pradesh which is kind of south eastern India here and I was interested in communities that are sort of on the margins of society in rural parts of India who have very fatalistic sorts of perspectives about their lives and their abilities to generate economy development social and political power in various ways and what was interesting here is I would hang out with a group in these different villages and generally what happens is when people have meetings in these different villages they sit around and talk about their dreams their visions and so on but usually what comes out of those meetings is there is nothing we can really do about the process well is there a way to change that dynamic and can technology somehow facilitate the changing of that dynamic so this is kind of what I was looking at here people taking video cameras using video cameras to try to document different traditions different stories different issues different realities that they were experiencing collectively and together sitting and watching the videos that one another were creating in such a way to actually inspire collective action and we saw fascinating effects start to happen people were using video cameras to document abuse by the government people were using video cameras to document their trades and their capacities and by creating these videos they were able to collectively rally around the content produced by that technology to actually try to generate some forms of what we call in social sciences collective action from below so we see various forms of mobilisation that can occur but if you trust communities if you trust cultures if you trust people to have the power with technology rather than presuming what technology does or does not mean for people and that got me thinking about a lot of interesting questions so far I've only talked about uses of technology and creative uses of technology but what are the codes of technology what's behind those databases what's behind those algorithms what's behind what Eli Peyser in a huge TED talk called the filter bubble what are the assumptions the codes that make technology possible well it turns out that new technologies like many forms of science that come in our world today come out of a particular moment in the history of science that come out of dick heart and the Enlightenment and those days where you try to separate knowledge create structural ways of mapping the world so you see an example here of what one might call Western knowledge parent-child relationships between different concepts but these concepts are neatly separated from one another in such a way that knowledge is structured and if you look at the databases and the algorithms that structure our world today they follow similar sorts of logics but now with five billion people having access to mobile phones and us really starting to be increasingly concerned with the voices of diverse people we have to rethink these codes that underlie technology that's why I say it's not just technology creating and shaping culture it's also culture creating and shaping technology as an example look at this this is an Aboriginal map this is an Aboriginal way of telling a story about the world it's actually a very similar form to that which we just saw except and represents an alternative way of knowing the world this is an ancestral being a crocodile spirit and when you look at this map it may not make sense to most of us but when Aboriginal people look at this map they are able to navigate their landscape because it's all based on stories traditions and performances is there a way to rethink technology from the perspective of this map so this is something I was thinking about as I was assigned to do different projects in different parts of the world I worked quite a bit with Native American populations and I was actually brought out to work with 19 Native American reservations in East of San Diego County in the deserts on the sides of mountains trying to think about how I could design and build a technology because these guys had internet access that actually it could empower their sovereign indigenous local traditions and so we ended up building the system which we call tribal peace and this was grafted on a beautiful image of a manzanita tree which is a symbol of rebirth across the populations but what's interesting is not just the creation of the technology but the codes behind the technology and that works by talking to people like Jane Dumas here on the left a woman who was impacted and shaped my life a woman who I actually had a dream about just two nights ago Jane I came to Jane with sage and tobacco shared my own stories told her about my own traditions as someone who's from southern India and got her blessing to actually help me design and endorse and articulate the system to work across these very geographically dispersed reservations east of San Diego County and what we were able to create was an alternate mapping of the different knowledge –is that these different communities had so they were able to actually structure their world around different categories that are highly non-western like visual metaphors like oceans like deserts so we basically created a system around the knowledge ah's and categories and concepts that were at the core of these communities and to me that was very fascinating to think about how such a system could be designed from the bottom up not just based on meta but based on concepts and ways of knowing the world that are important to these communities so I really started thinking about these questions more and more now I'm here as an associate professor at UCLA this is my team that we work out and at Zuni which is a Native American reservation in New Mexico quite remote and we're trying to think about these questions in the context of museums because museums now are increasingly digitizing their objects and we're trying to think about what is the Zuni way of knowing the world and how could that become empowered in the digital world more largely especially when it comes to objects such as this so this is a bunch of Zuni elders they're looking at objects that are sitting in museums and they're trying to analyze what these things mean to them versus what museums usually say about that right so how do we introduce this alternate way of telling a story about the world and rebuilds technologies from such a perspective or this piece of pottery here this pottery was taken about six hundred years ago excavated from Zuni sitting in a museum in England and the way the museum in England describes this piece of pottery is radically different than the ways the Zuni themselves understand this piece of pottery and it's primarily around these dramatic differences in this in this image here you can see on the right hand side the way the museum describes this piece of pottery z act 3 4 2 1 5 or Plains Indians or lump of concrete but what do the Zuni say when they see these objects from their history from their traditions they tell stories because it's all about stories at the end of the day that's how people locate their experiences locate their histories think about themselves and articulate their dreams and the Zuni talk about oh when my grandmother had a birthing ceremony this piece of pottery reminded me of a pottery that was used in that ceremony examples like that so there's some intersections around names but there's dramatic differences that we can see on the left-hand side so what would it be like to rethink systems from such a perspective we're the Zuni way of knowing and the Western way of knowing could both exist in parallel and could inform a radically new way of rethinking everything from a Google algorithm to a Facebook filter feed to the ways we create databases that order and structure the world we live in and this might be a little off the shelf here but I think it creates this these are two extremely rare beautiful and unique animals that are in Papua New Guinea today this is a frog everyone's seen a frog right what is this frog have it has giant fangs this is a kangaroo one might say but it's sort of a strange type of kangaroo it's a tree kangaroo so what happens when different forms of knowledge meet one another it creates what biologists call emergence but in the digital world this can also be possible and the reason these animals exist in Papua New Guinea is simply because all these different species have been able to exist in parallel and occasionally meet and mingle with one another to me the truth of really empowering cultural voices around technology is allowing those different voices to exist in parallel and speak to and inform one another I like sometimes drawing different graphics to try to you know sort of Intuit my ideas and bring them into reality and I think it looks something like this you know we've all talked about fractals and chaos theory ins and complexity theory so on and so forth but these are different ecosystems just like the Zuni knowledge system that exists in parallel but they inform one another they have weak ties within one another and what comes out of those links between those nodes and those networks are frogs with fangs because we really need to think about the world in which we live and assume and understand that not every person in the world engages with technology in the same way and that most of those technologies are locked in to black boxes or white ipods how do we rethink the codes how do we hack out new meanings how do we empower those diverse people that are coming to the digital table how do we empower the digital revolution to fulfill the early Roots promises that were part of what we thought about when we invoked the internet to begin with this came out of a countercultural movement how do we think diverse ly and globally about these questions so these are the questions at the core of my heart it's an honor to get to share them with you today and thank you very much for your time

9 Comments

  1. piller tas666 said:

    Boring af

    June 29, 2019
    Reply
  2. Ayeedrian said:

    Lolololez dabs

    June 29, 2019
    Reply
  3. Ayeedrian said:

    I’m 6th! Haha get rekt cool video though

    June 29, 2019
    Reply
  4. giorgio longhi said:

    Woah ! Very interesting, for real !

    June 29, 2019
    Reply
  5. SuperGrod123 said:

    5th

    June 29, 2019
    Reply
  6. Travis said:

    4th

    June 29, 2019
    Reply
  7. shanu kumar shah said:

    Save time over here

    June 29, 2019
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  8. Indranil Guchhayat said:

    I was obliged to be in the presence Srishti college

    June 29, 2019
    Reply
  9. Findan133 said:

    Ferst!

    June 29, 2019
    Reply

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