Announcing the Center for Livable Media

Changes in cities can make them better or worse for the people who live in them. Like cities, media systems influence our lives and interactions. So, our media—the technologies of thought and communication available to us—can also be better or worse for us. Yet few researchers develop and design new media explicitly so as to work out better for people.

The Center for Livable Media will find these researchers and support their work. There will be international research groups around certain topics. There will be a physical space in Berlin for residencies and for in-person media experiments. There will be support for building communities of practice around the projects that emerge.

Our initial research groups will focus on two ideas. First, inventing media that give us greater agency in our lives. Second, inventing media that supports a more complete social fabric.

Agency. When we sense that we are making meaningful choices and acts, and deciding how our lives should go, that’s called agency. Some environments encourage meaningful choices, while others funnel us along in a way that limits our agency. Current media does too much funneling.

Social fabric. Each person needs certain relationships in order to live fully and well. We use the term social fabric to encompass the collection of all these relations and their constituent activities. Current media does not support a full range of relationships and activities.

One of our guiding principles.1 is that we will not let abstractions like these become goals. We are dedicated to justifying our work only by how it lands in real, human lives.

There will be many ways to participate! We will be gathering researchers for these teams and raising funds to support them.

We’ll be launching a training program for those who can apply our research. We’re looking for interested organization who can benefit from our research, and for groups that want to help us run the training.

Please get in touch if you want to help.

Yours,

Rob Ochshorn and Joe Edelman
April 2016
BERLIN

[1] Most idealists hope their work will improve human lives, but idealistic thinking can get dangerous as it moves away from the details of human life. There is a tendency to turn abstract ideas—ideas like “happiness,” “privacy,” “sharing,” “immersive,” “distributed,” “efficient,” “compelling,” or even “social”—into ends. Ideals become ideologies, and work done in their name becomes disconnected from human reality, and sometimes harmful.

For this reason, CLM will support a certain kind of research. We’ll avoid work which doesn’t land in people lives in a practical, everyday, way: for instance, we’ll avoid critical art, critical commentary, and awareness campaigns. We will also avoid anything with structural pressure to pretend to be beneficial: for example, we’ll avoid consumer products and spin-off NGOs.

Instead, CLM will support researchers who develop motivating proofs-of-concept and prototypes, loose methodologies, or simple communities of practice. CLM researchers will be vigilant and explicit about when abstract values become motivations, and will work to evaluate projects by the rich unexpected details of the diverse human lives where their prototypes find expression.