The idea was maturing in our minds: if we are about to become a digital civilisation as it has been stated so many times, and funerals being considered by anthropologists one of the foundations of a civilisation, should we start to imagine funerals for our precious data? We seized the opportunity of the upcoming Interaction18design week to put out a call for participation in a collaborative workshop exploring this “what if” question — “What if data had funerals too?” — through the approach of design fiction.
Setting the stage: a near-future data-centred civilisation
Data tend to play a crucial role in our life nowadays and have become a digital extension of ourselves. In fact, they have become the essential building blocks of our so-called digital-driven society, but they are still fragile, volatile and vulnerable pieces of our digital self even in an era of generalised backup. Leaks, hacking, misuses, startup bankruptcy, even if they look immaterial and then eternal, data are exposed to a wide range of existential risks.
However, do we value them enough to consider funerals for these once beloved traces of our life when they are gone? Through this workshop, participants learnt to use design fiction as a method to explore emerging and speculative rituals helping users to cope with failing data-driven services.
Live-predictions from the Maraboot
Groups of participants were given each a first piece of context: a “moment” they could use as a start for their speculations. Three of them were available:
In the first one, “Who wants to live forever”, data were safe so far. But, forecasting or dreading an upcoming data loss, how would near-future inhabitants of the data-centred world prepare themselves, mentally and physically, online and offline ? How would they ward off the threat? How would this question data dependency and superstition towards technologies?
The second one, “Another one bites the dust”, places the group right after the dreaded moment: the precious data are now gone. But a doubt remains: are they really gone? Traces of their existence are still warm ; could they resurrect some day? How would they face a resuscitated zombie-data, especially in the case of the most private ones?
In the last one, “The show must go on”, time has passed, but the sad event is stored in the collective human memory. How would this change the way they live and interact with technologies? Do they take it as a lesson and multiply back-ups? Do they carefully and emotionally keep the corpses of their beloved hard drives and other data canopic jars somewhere?
Groups did not really choose their contextual card, fate chose it for them. Indeed, we had brought our mysterious Maraboot kit with us, and gave it one throw per group, to reveal what the future held for their respective data.
Time to be hands on: punishment rituals, occult gatherings and data purging sessions to train one’s resiliency
The first group was assigned the “Another one bite the dust” posture, strangely in line with the fact that one of its members had precisely lost her smartphone a few weeks ago, and all her locally stored data; the Maraboot Future Tellers did see it right.
After a short introduction to Design Fiction and a few examples on how to build speculative scenarios, workshop participants, at first a bit puzzled, actively started to exchange their first ideas and intuitions. They got inspired by the various personas we gave them, especially the “datassisted”, a kind of extreme-users heavily relying on data-driven services for their personal or professional lives — lives that would be infinitely more complex for them without the beloved data. Facing this dramatic loss, almost a part of themselves, would they commit a complete data-suicide and erase all their accounts and data, hoping for their next rebirth? Would they go to an Anonymous Datalcoolic circle, to seek support and share their pain with others? Would they try to evacuate, in one way or another, irritation, anger, fear or distrust? Would this happen through the action of building or buying something, as a symbol, or a catharsis? Or a digital detox? Would they blame themselves and accomplish a self-inflicted punishment? Would they organise a funeral party, and try to restore part of the lost data by taking inputs from different sources and friends?