About the project
Every day the big data aggregators understand us a little bit better. The initial promise of freedom in electronic networks has been diminished to a for-free-culture, with us not even noticing that we are in fact paying for free services with our data traces on the web. Thus new opportunities have been created to record the worldwide flow of data alongside the real movements and activities of people, to interrelate and to mine them – be it by government agencies or private businesses.
In return the web gives convenient access to information, communication and things with heretofore unknown ease, letting us feel “connected” at all times. This bears both chances and risks. Digital spaces and networks profoundly challenge traditional notions of the opposition of private and public spheres even as they already have been continuously renegotiated in the past. At the same time they create new opportunities for private and public interaction. An ever-growing part of our identities shifts into virtual spaces and digital aspects become part of our real lives. Our digital identity is in part actively and consciously created and shaped by ourselves, as well as augmented by automatically gathered data based on algorithms that remain inaccessible.
These developments are viewed and discussed critically in Germany and Europe, albeit sometimes just conceded to with a certain perplexity. A hypothesis is that in East Asian countries there is a large openness to try out and incorporate new technologies into every day life.
Besides the internet giants that are known in the West, like Google, Amazon and Facebook, equally big companies have been created in East Asian countries that by now belong to the most important players worldwide in the field of user count for digital services, technical innovation and digital mobility. Weibo, Alibaba and Weixin even offer services far beyond the scope of their Western competitors.
The diverging societies, although connected by the same technology, have nonetheless developed their particularly own interests, goals, and solutions in the digital sector and differ in their respective assessment of chances and risks. What are the social and legal regulations with which they react to the technological feasibilities? Which of those can be implemented at all? And which strategies are being developed in society and art, which cultural techniques are being created to deal with one’s digital identity?
Such were the initial questions applied by the East Asian Goethe Institutes to approximate themselves with the project DATA DREAMS. The answers emerging from questions formulated here in the face of conflicting notions of digital identities on one side and data mining on the other will be pivotal for the shaping of our future. The project strives to map out the spectrum of possible strategies and answers towards these challenges. Participants from America, Europe and Asia reflect on their own scientific and artistic viewpoints to initiate an intense informal and public exchange of ideas.
Research is at the core of our investigation into to privacy protection and legal regulations for data mining in the respective countries (namely China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia and Taiwan) in order to avoid a heavy-handed juxtaposition of notions of “individuality in the West“ and “collective culture in the East”. In Korea for example privacy laws are, despite an omnipresent surveillance culture of public spaces, extraordinarily strict.
In a first approach we are looking into the fact that particularly in the East Asia region a wide array of platforms and providers of digital services has been developing creating their own very specific characteristics. Linguistic competence and sensitivity towards cultural idiosyncrasies are a part of their success stories.
In a second approach the project focuses on the issue of digital identities and posits the question on how life shifts into the web, what dynamic it creates there, and what feed-backs result from the actual as well as preconceived pressures towards a permanent digital presence on actual real life. In parallel our daily lives are increasingly being invaded by digital aspects and artifacts, with us not even noticing. What happens when life, social interaction and encounters more and more play out in virtual space, superseding and even replacing real life? Or, what will happen if real life, as an effect of digitization, will be permanently mirrored in virtual space?
Data Dreams is a joint project by the Goethe Institutes in Hong Kong, Beijing, Seoul, Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo and Ulan-Bator.