The concert I went to on September 30th gave me a good reason to come back to these pages, after a long silence. I thought of doing it many times, as this year was rich in transcultural experiences, but too often they passed rapidly away without letting me the time to stop and write.

To speak the truth it wasn´t properly a concert, and that was quite a surprise. The second surprise was the space, in the undergrounds of the Helsinki Music Centre, originally the Reharsal Hall. Before entering it, the audience was invited to let their shoes and to wear slippers. Which put us in a relaxed and playful mood. When we stepped in, it was clear why we had to: the hall had a beautiful almost white wooden floor, so smooth that our feet tended to skate. The purpose was to avoid unnecessary noise while moving through the hall, but the place also forced our respect for its silent architecture. A rectangular space, almost empty, with dark high walls, covered with beautiful wooden structures. Inside only a few red sofas and cushions here and there:

walk_ed1

Juho Laitinen, who organized the event for his fifth and last doctoral concert, measured the space slowly walking barefoot around the hall. We had been told it was possible to move during the concert, but most of us simply took a sit on the sofas. The concert began. With Pavese´s words, from the poem La voce:

Each day the silence of the lonely room

closes in on the gentle rustle of gestures

like air. Each day the small window

is opened, motionless, to the hushed air. The voice,

hoarse and sweet, won’t break this cool silence.

And with Phill Niblock´s Harm, the cellist being lifted on a platform on one side of the hall, the sound amplified on 8 channels around the audience. At first it seemed too loud, but in no time the whole space began to resonate, as slow variations of the same rich, double-stops sounds unceasingly repeated. It actually took a fairly long time before anyone dared to move. Jukka Tiensuu did it the first, and for cause. A composer with an endlessly curious spirit couldn´t miss the possibility to experiment how the music sounded in this unusual situation. He´s one of those visionary minds always ready to step into something unknown. As Juho himself. Jukka began to walk along the walls, and slowly some of us changed listening position. It was great to seat on the floor and listen to the music with own´s body, hands, feet and legs on the vibrating surface. The hall was a huge resonance box. Everything happened in a dim light. Some people closed their eyes, some layed on the floor, along the walls. These abandoned bodies, in a sleepy position, reminded me of the dead ones in Ghouta. Even though I avoided to look at the photos of the corpses, they were in all the news. And in our nightmares (and bad consciences).

Juho was assisted by an effective team, Pauliina Hulkko (dramaturgy), Timoteus Ruotsalainen (lightning design) and James Andean (sound design).

Actually every piece in the programme was played in a different location, and it was fairly unpredictable where the next one would begin. It was interesting to see how the audience reacted: the more the music had “traditional” content, the more the audience reconstructed a “normal” concert disposition and didn´t move at all. It was the case with Juho´s Three naïve pieces, in which he plays and sings, referring half-ironically half-tenderly to some musical topos.

After the classical contemporary virtuoso piece Trema (by H.Holliger), there was a funny interlude with Juho´s RhythmiCone Jam:

Juho_James_rytmikone

A jam session with James Andean and the rhythmicon, an instrument invented by Henry Cowell in the ´30s, now played through Max/MSP and LogicPro. As the sounds were scattered around, coloured lights at the back of the players turned rhythmically on and off, the sounds becoming more and more blurred.

It was a full contrast with the following works, Kurtág´s three pieces from Socrates Farewell (2000): intimate, concise music. Juho played it sitting on the red sofas side by side with the audience, a courageous and right choice. It underlined both the intimacy of the situation and a real sense of community. Even more as he invited one of us to read aloud the poetic texts from the programme: Neither (by Beckett/Feldman), some phrases from Meister Eckhart´s writings and a beautiful love poem by the Indian classic Vâlmîki. We were invited to read the latter silently, by ourselves, a perfect preparation for the music to come:

O gentle breeze, please blow over my beloved’s face and then return and caress me, while her touch is still warm upon you

With Michael Gordon´s Industry we discovered yet another space and another listening point, as who wished was allowed to climb up to the gallery:

plays_ed1

The event closed as it began, with La voce, now within the intense music by Louis Andriessen – one of the very few pieces where the musician reciting a text doesn´t bother but enhances the music. It was played in the dark, just a candle burning in front of the player.

It was a unique event, combining meditative attitude and experimental art. Before leaving the hall, we were given a text, nothing less than… a Manifesto of Sounding! To be fully published in november. It begins as follows:

Reality and music are one and the same thing. We call this Sounding. (…) At the base of music is the original sound: cry, sigh and hum. Sound is organic, physical vibrating and touching matter. It is a bodily fact, to which the spirit is united (Juho Laitinen 2013)

Happy first birthday to the concert series Tulkinnanvaraista ! This strange Finnish word is a juridical term meaning both “Open to interpretation” and “debatable”. A meaningful start for a new music season dedicated to experimentation, improvisation and electronics, born in autumn 2011 on the initiavive of the composers Juho Laitinen (cello & composition) Kimmo Hakola and Juhani Nuorvala, founders of Curious Musicians

Curious musicians

Open to Interpretation holds one concert a month at G18, an elegant hall in one of the Swedish minority clubs of the capital. The atmosphere of the concerts contrasts nicely with the fairly classical location, a building more than a century old.

G18_valzer

As Juho Laitinen puts it: “I want people to hear the thrilling and profound   music that wells forth from the springhead of experiment, improvisation and the composer-cum-performer (…) There exist alternatives to the composer-work-performer-audience model, more equal ways of sharing music“. Juho is a manifold performer, committed to research about his instrument and its never ending extensible techniques. He is also the inventor of Kallio New Music Days, independent new music weekend, on January 25th-27th 2013. ” I personally am extremely interested in the performer’s personality, memory, psychophysical make-up and so on, and I want to bring out this subjectivity instead of the more objective interpretation of works. I have a quite concrete interest in the performer’s own voice“.

This was particulary evident in this autumn first concert, featuring the soprano Piia Komsi and the electronic music composer & performer Robert Piotrowicz. Piia is a well-known musician, being in the peculiar position of a singer with a cellist´s background; and sharing her talent and voice with her twin sister Anu: both unforgettable in Kaija Saariaho´s beautiful duo From the Grammar of Dreams, on texts by Sylvia Plath . Both sisters´s personalities are outstanding and enthralling, each in her own way. The concert began in a startling way, with John Cage´s Solos for Voice No. 47 & 13: short imaginative works, in which the composer explores human voice´s possibilities and plays freely with words from a mixture of languages. Piia´s wide coloratura voice and personality was at once displayed.

PiiaKomsi_vcl

But in the second piece she gave proof of all her skills, with the first performance of Sky Shopping – Hommage à Brahms, by Jovanka Trbojevic. There she needed her cello too: it was interesting to listen to both her real and her instrumental voices melting together. I often wondered what is the relation between a string instrument´s player voice and his/her sound: I believe there is a close connection, as in playing a string instrument all the person´s motricity, personal way of moving and so on, are deeply involved; everyone has a different one, a peculiar rhythm of the gestures and own way of speaking, pausing and so on. Jovanka´s work was written for Piia and fit her nicely. It was a tasty combination of comic motives and imaginative ideas: all started from a conversation Jovanka had with Anu Komsi, listening to a concert of Brahms´ 2nd Piano Concerto. Not exactly a cultivated one, soon turning to something much funnier, from dresses to Brahms´sentimental life: ” I wrote a kind of nonsense text, with romantic connotations and sarcasm towards contemporary values. I wrote names of clothing items, with exaggerated excitement of shopping, and scientific names of cloud types in Latin, with descriptions of their heights and shapes, and of consistency of different cloud classes.”

The first part of the concert closed in a total different way, with Heinz-Juhani Hofmann´s Two Memory Traces for soprano and cello. The composer is the author of the text as well, but an utterly tragic one: a detailed description of his father´s death, in a German hospital. The voice expressed the unfathomable moment with uncompromising crudeness and anguish.

Robert_Piotr_medium

Following the Tulkinnanvaraista formula, the second part of the evening featured a guest from abroad working with electronics, this time the modular synthesizer composer & player Robert Piotrowicz: as he explained the following day at the Sibelius Academy, his instrument is “something between a pitch shifter, a ringmodulator and a kind of phase modulator”. He played two works from 2011, Formations and Pneuma: in both there was a well-balanced combination between sense of form and improvisation, a gradually enriching soundscape resulting from the superimposition of the transformation techniques the modulator allows. The two large loudspeakers in the front provided a good sound, probably better for people sitting near, a bit too loud for the others (often a tricky thing to find the right balance in new spaces!) As in other soirées of the series, it was nice to listen to analog, a bit rétro electronics, in this all-digital world. And it was interesting to observe the hall change as the music went on (both pieces were fairly long). See the crystal lamps glitter in the dark, while this multilayered music filled in the space more and more.

Concert and demonstration are available on YouTube @: http://www.youtube.com/tulkinnanvaraista

Exactly one month ago I casually noticed that Michel Bauwens was about to give a talk in Helsinki, an initiative of Pixelache and the University of Helsinki (along with the online journal Commons.fi  and Helsinki Timebank). It was worth attending, the conference was dense with information and examples of cooperation from all over the world: e.g. The Nutrient Dense Project, from Tasmania  or Wikispeed  (US), a collaborative process for car making.

While US prepare for presidential elections, in this small country like Finland today is municipal election day. Also the Pirate Party is present, with a high number of candidates. A good moment for talking about Peer-to-peer and the Commons.

Tasmania Sheffield

Bauwens is the founder of Foundation for P2P Alternatives: ex-entrepreneur, he has been developing a thought for “a new mode of civilization, where the core of decision-making should be located in civil society, and not in the market or in the State”. In the actual crisis of representative democracy there is space for new forms of horizontal egalitarism, on the model of computer networking, alternative to the classical hierarchical mode of organization. Renewing with the forms of cooperation of the past, of workers and peasants, a new economic thought can be developed.

According to Bauwens, the current system is based on a false idea of abundance of resources, supposed to be infinite, underlying the ideology of infinite growth. And on a false idea of scarcity, which makes us believe we always need to buy more. As we realize day by day and globally, sustainability is more and more necessary. The cost of this relentless expansion is the current stagnation.

New modes of production are being invented, such as peer production: “a for-benefit model” opposed to the “for-profit one, with a more positive impact on social happiness”. “A bottom-up mode of participative decision-making”, complementary to the democratic institutions but working for a “convergence between individual and collective interests”.

In a rapid and fascinating historical survey, Bauwens pointed out that the Roman Empire tried to get out of its crisis by re-localizing the productive resources. The emerging new system was fostered by the young Catholic Church, an open-source movement anti-litteram! Well before the Renaissance, the Templars in 12th century “moving money for pilgrims, invented the first bank accounts”.

While in capitalism the market relationship is based on unequality, in gift and/or exchange economy the relationship is more balanced, involving individuals voluntarily contributing to common projects. Even new currencies are being experimented, such as BitCoin  (valid to buy a Wikispeed car) and other alternative currencies

With open-source softwares such as Wikipedia, Linux and Arduino, shared property forms are increasing their weight (being in the US already 75% of the total). The underlying idea is universal availability, which implies the free circulation of knowledge. Under the pressure of the Internet, our world is becoming more and more controlled, copyright laws becoming more and more restrictive (the same fear which closes our frontiers?)

According to Bauwens and others, knowledge should be comprised among the Commons, that is a resource belonging to everyone. Intellectual property is a resource exactly as forests, atmosphere and ecosystems. New forms of licenses are already existing, such as General Public and Creative Commons Licenses.

“We need an entrepreneurial coalition to sustain the Commoners (…) Open business models go hand in hand with sustainable living”.

As it happened “with the Industrial Revolution, the arise of capitalism came along with a social change, the main system being in crisis. As at the end of the Roman Empire, when the pressure of Germanic tribes compelled to rethink a local strategy, in an emerging new system of values (Christianity); farmers were expelled by their lands, there were massive exodus: then peer-to-peer activities permitted to survive”.

Nowadays countries as Brazil succeed thanks to “a new way of thinking, solidarity economy”: Lula, as a ministry of Culture, encouraged open logistics projects, e.g. small coffees in the favelas with music, cinema and so on. Open research and crowdfunding make these experiences grow.

Bauwens wonders what the future political impact of this all will be: if sub-cultures need politics to defend themselves, a young generation of social entrepreneurs is emerging, “turning capitalism upside-down for social goals”. An ex. is the French Fair Trade Electronic, processes which imply “a direct intervention in the productive system”. As in the cases of the Greek potato movement, or the musical network in North-Eastern Brazil, its poorest state, with its internal currency.

With the end of welfare state and the subsequent devastation of civil society, good public infrastructure are needed; an ethical market place may be an answer to the decomposition of society, as capitalism was an answer to three centuries of religion civil wars.

We need to shift from the idea of scarcity to that of balance, optimize the resources, as in eco-villages or car-sharing agreements.

Nowadays it´s evident that “national States are uncapable to deal with the problems, a global orientation is needed, to p2p energy and technology”. We need to “manage the existing resources instead of fighting for scarce resources”, which may lead to “big social upreavals” in the near future. 50% of German energy is already produced cooperatively. With the support of the State the change may go double fast.

This process will lead to a transformation of the State in perspective, institutes for the Commons are needed, as Tommaso Fattori points out.

According to Bauwens, even “the invention of money has been a political choice, depending on a decision. In Middle Ages taxes did not depend on currencies. Money is design, not something given, and we can redesign it!

The challenge is to create new practices (as the Time Bank), de-monetized activities where people and nature come first. Creating an alternative circle to the current financial system.

If you are still curious, you can watch Bauwens´ talk here.

The OKFestival week closed on September 22nd with an inspiring side event, the Good Map Summit, a seminar organized by Cindy Kohtala and Helsinki Green Map at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. As the organizers put it: “Whether they are interactive location-based technologies or beautifully hand-drawn cartography that captures a place’s uniqueness, maps are everywhere“. Designers, geographers and thinkers gathered in Kiasma to discuss how to use technology to enhance local business, environmental quality and a new sense of community. A special guest was Wendy Brawer from Green Map System, a featured speaker at the OKFest as well.

Good Map summit Helsinki 22.9.2012

The first project presented was Green Riders, a platform which makes possible to freely share car rides. Founded in 2010 by Željko Bošković and his team, this online and mobile service helps people to easily find car rides, with the aim to reduce CO2 emissions. Free for private users, it also has a business edition for companies, which is increasing its activity. One would expect Finland to be one of the less motorized countries in Europe, but it´s not the case: the number of vehicles is rapidly increasing, in 2011 being almost 3 millions over a population of about 5.4 millions (car density per capita is anyway lower in the most inhabited areas of Finland, as this Europe motorisation rate map shows). Italy was the second country with most cars in 2010, after the US. It´s a poor consolation to see that it also has the highest amount of natural gas cars in Europe. France is doing even better than Finland; the less motorized European areas are between Northern Germany and Denmark and the lest ones in Eastern Europe. There is more and more need to track emssions, which in many countries is becoming also obligatory. Instruments are being developed, such as Global Reporting , or the company targeted Carbon Disclosure Project, and Green Riders might be of help as well.

Pekka Sarkola, geodata expert and entrepreneur, guest programme planner for Open Geodata at OKFest, talked about different kinds of socially useful online mapping: Blindsquare is a derivation of Foursquare, the site which helps you to locate services and exchange points in your neighbourhood. It allows people with sight handicap to locate for ex. cafés or post offices by maps they can hear. Other useful ideas are the Light Map,  showing the concentration or scarcity of artificial lightning. Or noise level maps, showing how noisy a place is.

Green Map discussion at Kiasma

But the most interesting platform is Open Street Map, a not-for-profit organization founded in 2005, with more than half a million volunteers worldwide. Using Google Map as a basis, OSM activists tag the maps with all sort of useful information. In emergency situations OSM proofed to be an important tool, locating in real time the collapsed buildings, but also schools, hospitals and so on. In OSM anybody may add his/her own information, add the maps attribute info tags (highway, cycleway, building, residential etc.) – “a democratic, but also an anarchical idea”, according to Pekka. Contrarily to what we may think, “there is a huge work left to do, there are many missing areas, streets, paths” still waiting to be mapped.

Pauliina Seppälä presented Cleaning Day, a citizen initiative “for friends of flea markets and recycling”. A worldwide event, it took place for the first time in Helsinki in May, and a second time on September 8th. The town´s streets, parks and yards filled in with people selling whatever unnecessary they had at home: the idea is to clean up your home and enhance the culture of re-use in the place of that of endless consumerism. Cleaning Day too would not be possible without a customized Google Map, where you can see (and add) the nearest available marketplaces. Second-hand culture is quite popular in Finland, in many Helsinki districts (as in Töölö or Kallio) you can find cozy shops with furniture, clothes etc.

Green Map local food icon

But the funniest moment of the day was a practical one, a walk in Kiasma area to find out where are the points of environmental interest: the task was to tag them on a mobile map, using the Green Map icons, a set of icons developed by Wendy Brawer and her team: an international platform founded in 1995, Green Map gathers people of local communities to make them more conscious about sustainable everyday choices. Map making is not limited to internet users but it is also encouraged as a manifold handicraft activity, by drawing, painting, sewing and so on. Our action too was carried out with non conventional means: we used blueberry organic colours to tag the places of green interest! Thanks to Elissa Eriksson, from Multicoloured Dreams, who provided the colours, and to some patient architects and designers, we cropped and painted the icons on the ground in front of the shops. An ephemereal idea, considering the autumn rains, but the results are still visible on this web map.

Icons making at Lasipalatsi, Helsinki

Part of the idea was also to tag outdoor places suitable for new artworks: the Multicoloured Dreams art group invites people to find their town´s places in need of a more coloured look. Whoever may become a street artist, previously contacting the City Architect for permission. Contributing to own town´s outlook is also a way of caring about it, hopefully diminishing the acts of vandalism and indifference (such as throwing litter on the street, an increasing problem in Helsinki).

As reported at OKFest Sustainability Stream, Green Map initiatives multiply in Europe: Four Bees Hive (4BsHive) is a transnational project involving four river cities, Bristol, Berlin, Budapest and Bistrita. It was made possible thanks to Grundtvig, an EU programme supporting non-vocational adult education. For a recapitulation of OKFest Sustainability Stream have a look here.

Another interesting topic in OKFestival, which successfully closed one week ago with a thousand participants from more than 100 nationalities, regarded Gender and Diversity. It felt a bit like a marginal subject, but it was nonetheless worth including it. In a country like Finland, supposed to be one of the best of the world in this respect, gender equality is sometimes a sort of taboo, something nobody likes to talk about anymore (apart from the recurrent considerations in the media about wage differencies, which still exist). The interesting thing was that most of the topic participants were people from abroad, from a variety of cultures, in a subject where culture is crucial.

But first of all a bit of data! At OKFest women were 27%: 20% in the Organizing Team, 25% in the Advisory Board, 19% of the featured speakers, 27.5% of the speakers and 28.5% of the participant testimonials.

Sarah Stierch, lady fellow at the Wikimedia Foundation and museum curator, presented the Teahouse project, an internet platform aiming at “decreasing intimidation” among women editors: it´s a fact that Wikipedia, the most famous online encyclopedia, is edited mostly by men, women editors being only 9%. Sarah wishes that this portal, where users can create their own profile, get support and share what they learn, will encourage women to be more active. The project, launched in March 2012, got about 500 participants in the first three months.

Anke Domscheit-Berg, a German IT entrepreneur, activist of the Pirate party and of Open Government, presented two initiatives: Roberta and Random Hacks of Kindness.

The idea of Roberta, founded in 2002, is to involve more girls in IT technology: in robotics courses, girls of about 10-16 (and even younger) learn to design, construct, program and test mobile robots; all this in a playful approach, where storytelling, choreography, role play, costume and stage design, music contribute to make the technological experience more creative and catching:

Roberta class in Cuneo, Italy

After the classes 77% of participants said they liked technology more, less girls associated the issue with boys and some would like to become computer experts in the future. Education at a sensible age is an important factor to gain self-confidence, in a still male-dominated field. Anke also reported Roberta classes´experience in socially difficult areas, as Berlin Spandau, with girls from various migrational backgrounds. Courses, held since 2005, have improved their composure, enabled them to work in teams and to present their projects in public, even in foreign languages – in a context where families are often of little or none support.

Roberta Network gathers Roberta centres in Germany and abroad, btw. in Italy (Cuneo, Genoa, Bolzano) and Sweden.

Random Hacks of Kindness  is a global community of innovators, initially founded for disaster recovering and crisis management, with about 5000 activists (with the aid of NASA, the World Bank, Google and Microsoft). Since 2007 various Hackathons have taken place all around the world, in Berlin as well: at first female presence was scarce, but the situation improved when Anke and others involved the near Design School of Thinking, where women are the majority. Anke also pointed out that gender situation is actually better in East Germany, an interesting consideration.

Rails Girls is a Finnish movement, born in 2010 with the aim to give girls and women tools to code and build Internet apps. The idea spread rapidly around the world, Rails Girls workshops are nowadays held in many countries, from Far East to South America. The workshops, usually during a weekend, are free. The last one took place at OKFest:

Their name is inspired by Ruby on Rails, open-source software for friendly coding. The idea came from the observation that most of the web users are women but much less are represented as creators. “Finland is the land of open-source: Finnish engineers invented technologies that have disrupted whole industries and still form the backbone of Internet, like Linux” and so on. “Code is about making change. It is profoundly changing societies everywhere. That´s why it´s so important to have an approachable way to spread this knowledge”.

As it was pointed out during the discussion, hack sub-culture is innovative but not automatically more receptive to women. Similar movements and programs arise around the world, such as Girlswhocode. And it´s interesting to note that in countries like India, with a strong culture in math, programming attracts unexpectedly more female students than in so-called Western societies.

The problems encoutered in this field are astonishingly similiar to those faced in music composition and music technology: are girls simply generally less interested in pure abstraction or are they sistematically discouraged to approach such studies?

Open Knowledge Festival third day (Thu 20.9.) opened in a controversial way and closed up with a wave of sheer enthusiasm.

The morning first talk was held by Finland´s former Prime Minister Anneli Jäätteenmäki, presently working at the EU Parliament: her visit was an unexpected one for this kind of audience and a courageous choice on her part. Jäätteenmäki´s career has been spotted by an act of lack of transparency, known as Irak-gate: elected in March 2003 for the Centre Party, she had to resign in June, accused to have used confidential Foreign Ministry documents for political purposes during the election campaign, against her rival Paavo Lipponen. The documents contained diplomatic information from a meeting between George W.Bush and Lipponen, where the latter would have offered Finnish support to the international coalition, a breach against Finnish official policy of neutrality – in a country where most of the people considered the Iraq war an illegal war of aggression. Jäätteenmäki had to resign rapidly, having lost the trust of both her party and the Paliament.

In spring 2003 Finland was probably the only country in the world where both Prime Minister and President were women. Some inferred that Jäätteenmäki´s conduct was heavily sanctioned also because of her gender. The affair showed indeed a mixture of lack of transparency and political clumsiness.

Her talk at OKFest didn´t convince either. If it may be true that the European Commission has moved forward since 2008 to nowadays, with its growing interest in open data, quoting ACTA ´s rejection as a victory of direct democracy sounded quite demagogical. A couple of provocative questions about EU´s lack of transparency came from the audience: “why farmsubsidies (about 55 billions € per year) are not published anymore?” On the contrary “in Latvia if you get any cent from EU it is instantly of public domain”, someone commented. And: “what do you think about the process leading up to EFSF and ERM and other European financial stability instruments? The process has been very closed”. She answered as she could,  pleading for more transparency in financial instruments and the European Central Bank ´s conduct, without anyway saying anything substantial.

Hans Rosling ´s evening speech contrasted sharply, with its combination of experienced brilliance and an impressive amount of facts. A professor of global health at Stockholm Karolinska Institutet, he spent two decades in rural Africa as a physician, tracking the causes of a rare form of paralytic disease. He is among the founders of Médecins sans Frontièrs (Doctors without Borders) in Sweden and of the Gapminder Foundation, a non-profit venture which aims to increase public conscience about how the world is changing and make statistical information widely understandable.

With a mixture of pragmatism, understatement and irresistible sense of humour, Rosling ranged over some major subjects, from population trends and their supposed impact about the environment, to poverty, new political balances and climate change.

But he especially insisted about one thing, the need to break clichés which circulate at large: “save all the poor children, and the environment will be destroyed”, “all Chinese cannot have a car” or “rainforest people live in balance with nature”. What´s wrong in these catch-phrases?

Data in hand, he maintained that “the demographical bomb” will not explose, due to facts that balance each other in the decades: if it´s true that Africa will double its population before 2050, and Asia will grow of another billion units, on the other hand the combination of prevention and difficult life conditions (e.g. in crisis areas) is already causing a shrinkage of the births. Frequent question like “why are there more children per woman in muslim countries?” prove to be totally wrong, as this is often not anymore the case: prejudice, ideology and ignorance often veil our eyes. Rosling affirmed that population in history has always been a constant, balanced by many concurrent factors. If it will take a certain time to decrease, it won´t certainly increase exponentially, as we fear. Followed the funniest scientific demonstration I ever attended! If you´re curious have a look here (starts at 56´37´´):

The modernized world is “no doubt a better world“, e.g. compared to the Middle Ages, when infant mortality was still dramatically high (as in the rainforest today), still “it is not good“. If China has the largest foreign exchange reserve in the world, with a consistent minority of new riches, 60% of the world population lives with 2-10 dollars a day, while 20% (in the so-called Western world) ownes 74% of the wealth. An unbroken silence filled the auditorium, as Rosling displayed the most dramatic data about poverty and child mortality, sharply contrasting with the laughters we shared a minute before.

The atmosphere changed again, with a brilliant commentary of the photo of the leaders of G20 summit 2008, during the blast of global financial crisis caused by the US:

Bush, the advocate of democracy, stands near Lula, not exactly a democrat (and moreover lending 30 billion dollars to the US); Sarkozy finds himself between a muslim and a buddhist (!), and so on. Rosling found many examples to support his opinion, the Western world is doomed to sink under its “toxic combination of ignorance and arrogance“. The term developing countries is a false one, they will be very soon the world, concentrating the most of the world population. “There is no such thing as we and them, and even less in the future”.

OKFest auditorium

The only hope is recovering from ignorance, fill the gap in our minds between what we think to know and what the data tell us, to accept and realize how the real world is changing (look at the beautiful interactive graphs, available together with the data, on Gapminder´s site). He anyway affirmed that open data and infovisualization are wonderful tools, but will not solve the problems per se: communication is central, to make data comprehensible and useful, and enhance global conscience.

And also environmental conscience, “climate is a too serious issue to be dealt with environmental activists” (!) Climate change is a fact, “we can observe daily the dramatic diminution of the ice at the poles: not only the area diminishes, but the ice grows thinner every day, will absorb more light, melt even faster and so on.

How our countries should report? We are not investing seriously in green technology, renewable energies. We need a serious debate about energy and resources, less emotional and more fact-based; look less at details and consider more the macro situation“.

He concluded, “watch The magic washing machine video, think about it: 7 billions people, everyone 1 washing machine!”

After Simon Rogers´ talk, combining equally classical journalism and data expert skills, the day continued with a number of interesting presentations.

Farida Vis talked more about Reading the Riots, a research about the role of rumours during the London riots in 2011: it is also a research about people´s behaviour in social media, a study case about Twitter (which would deserve further investigation, what Farida promised to do in the future). A fundamental contributor to this work was the Italian data journalist Jacopo Ottaviani, working at Il Fatto Quotidiano and The Guardian. Jacopo´s work focuses on sensitive social issues, such as prisoners´conditions of life in both Italy and the UK: the study in Italy shows prisoners´ main causes of death during the last decade, that in UK focuses about the rate of suicides in British prisons. An example of how data journalism may increase social conscience.

Farida Vis at OKFest

The next speaker was Esa Mäkinen, one of Finland´s prominent data journalists, working for the only daily national newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat (by the way the main one in Scandinavia). It´s interesting to note that HS wants to be a pioneer in data journalism, on the model of The Guardian and other much larger international newspapers. HS has been organizing Data Journalism Hackathons [1] in the last two years, with the idea to find people with technological skills, keen to collaborate for their website: journalists, programmers and designers, meet for a day, working at their own project; the best ones get the possbility to be developed and published on HS website. The next HS hackathon (no.6) will takes place today at the OKFestival!

As it was more times pointed out on Tuesday, data journalism is drawing more and more attention among the readers, who are eventually both attracted by the visualizations and the interactive possibilities (choose freely what to look at, at which country, age group and so on). So it is becoming more commercially appetizing for news agencies, while more traditional reporting forms are rapidly disappearing (see art and music reviews!) Mäkinen said that the HS website has about 1.4 million visitors per day, a remarkable number. Finland is a highly technological country, online apps such as the election machine (helping you to find the candidate more near to your views) have been existing since at least 15 years.

Mäkinen´s team next project is an interactive poll about the brand new building of the Helsinki Music Centre, with questions about its aesthetics and functionality, utility/need for citizens and so on. Looking forward to the results!

The Hungarian Júlia Keserű presented K-monitor, an internet portal aiming to detect corruption levels in the press: she reported about a couple of censorship scandals in her country, where journalists were fired for having revealed links between the finance world and first-row politicians (the Prime Minister or his entourage). The portal aims to detect media ownership control and measure advertiser´ influence.

An inspiring talk was that held by Maya Indira Ganesh and Emma Prest, from the Tactical Technology Collective, an NGO founded in 2003, based in both Germany and India, with regional staff in South Africa, the UK, Jordan and the Philippines. The organization aims to give technological support to rights advocates who work about sensitive social issues, such as sex workers´ conditions in Asia. The research, Sex worker voices, illustrates the acts of violence sex workers endure in West Bengal and Cambodia. In such marginalised communities modern devices as cell-phones are the only means to let others know what happens. The data collected include locations, display of the facts in time (how frequent they are and so on), and especially who are the people involved: in most cases police officers were among the offenders, in first place along with madams, and only in minor percentages customers and landladies. Thanks to this programme sex workers became more aware of the scale and nature of the violence within their communities. They found out that some of the data contradicted their own beliefs. The data also revealed how the stigmatisation of sex workers is reflected in the kinds of violence they face.

OKFestival newsroom

The American researcher Lesley Kadish showed that a dataset may also be composed by historical, archive material, such as diaries, account books, photos from the XIX century (A Christmastime Ledger Book, 1862). The video visualization showed the same landscape (Fort Snelling, Dakota) as it was supposed to look through different historical times.

There were also a couple of open geodata presentations, by the Finnish team Ali Kaapro and Tiia Palvimo, and by the Dutch team of Juha van ‘t Zelfde and Maurits de Bruijn: the latter project, Shippr, was started a few months ago and regards the tracking of ships all over the world. A kind of FourSquare for ships, the idea may have economic, social, environmental implications – as 90% of the world trade happens on the seas. Through dynamic data and locations the application may help to understand better the tangible global economy, in its real time changes. Shippr is now looking for partners, e.g. telecommunication companies such as Sonera. Shipspotting may also be important as a form of citizen journalism, a chance to report facts on a free, voluntary basis. As it came out from the numerous questions, the world of ship traffic is anyway not always a transparent one: if on one hand ship are registered and it´s not so easy to change their names, containers may transport anything, their content does not need to be specified, which gives space to illicit trafficking. One question was also: could you track military ships?

Last but not least, Victor Miclovich from Uganda, talked about the use of technology in developing countries: in extreme situations nets of mobile phones are fundamental to detect the most violent, dangerous areas; or help in case of epidemies such as the Ebola fever, which recently killed many people in Africa in a short lapse of time. Applications such as u report – voice matters or rapidFTR, are useful to find children lost in war areas. Miclovich collaborates with various NGOs, UNICEF and so on.

Miclovich conducted also another project of social relevance in Uganda, to encourage girls and young women to use technology and programming. Girl Geek Series is a series of workshops where girls learn to code and design open-source software: in a male-dominated area, they learn also to work in teams, gain self-confidence and hopefully start a business on their own later on. In spite of their families´ opinions, often not so positive, as in many other areas of the world.


[1] Term combining the words hack and marathon

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