Centre for Internet & Society

Details of a session proposed by Priyanka, Aditya, Bhanu Prakash GS, Aishwarya, and Dinesh for the Internet Researchers' Conference 2019 - #List.


Internet Researchers' Conference 2019 - #List - Call for Sessions

Session Plan

All our tangible history can be attributed to our records-making going back to when the records were literally set in stone, so to say, archived using human digits (digital heritage!). Oral traditions such as songs, stories and recitals, performative traditions, arts and other cultural expressions that reaffirm of our collective experiences remain intangible. Stories create Legends, Rituals physically embody the legends through performances, Records attempt to freeze time at a moment. Thereby characterizing culture and memories of a community. Our effort here is to visit and discuss who creates the records, discuss the affordance of lists as an information artefact for exchange, facilitating dialogue and collective meaning-making. We peek at the traditional community of Helavaru as map and genealogy tellers, their legends, rituals / performances and the cultural economy involved in making and circulating the archives of cultural memories in contrast with the technology driven formulation of lists that are founding the Internet culture. Allegorically, if the memory of stone as a medium of a message is still alive in us, how are people included and who all are excluded from our “memories”.

Our session would be a performative through experimental list artefacts that intend to make visible the interplay between the form of the information artefact and the content. How do we perceive information when the form of the list changes. The implicit structure of lists is suggestive of a certain order, priority and disconnected connections. We intend to play with those structures, breaking them and making new ones in the process. What do we call a list? and what does it do?

  • Priyanka and Aditya will bring "poetic" list artefacts that juxtapose traditional aspects of list making and lists as a dynamic phenomenon on the internet (ex. #Metoo).

  • Bhanu will introduce the traditional storytelling community of Helavaru as list performers.

  • Aishwarya will bring in the current context of social auditing and the stories from the ground today, from a rural context.

  • Dinesh will illustrate 3 ways list are formulated today mathematically, socially and technologically.

Session Team

Priyanka is a new media artist-researcher, currently engaged with Microsoft as an interaction designer. While at Microsoft she solves design problems for the browser, her personal inquiries run deep into understanding people’s lives on the internet, nature of the digital-materiality and its affordances for expression and exchange in networked societies.

Aditya is a designer and an entrepreneur always thinking of ways to display information beautifully. Lately he has been working on interfaces for lists to provide a clear stream of reason to anyone through simple model(s) of visualisation of information and, therefore attempt to make knowledge more accessible.

Priyanka and Aditya intends to play with the form of lists to investigate its effect on narrative construction. They will bring in “poetic-lists” - experimental list artefacts that probe into the implicit order and biases that lists bring to the act of meaning making, especially in the context of a collective audience.

Bhanu Prakash GS - As Web application developer at Servelots(.com), he contributes to the open and free software, and has been working on developing tools for delivering visual stories from archives. He has worked with the NCBS@25 project titled “13 Ways” where stories from the history of National Centre for Biological Sciences, Democracy Archives for University of Gottingen, and also on methods to render the folk stories of Vijayadashami rituals into visual stories on the Web.

Bhanu introduces the ways the Helavaru community, in the pre-internet era, created, “circulated” and mutated Lists of names, facts and events forming the information networks of communities, castes, jaatis, clans, tribes. The Helavas are a nomadic community visible around Karnataka and Andhra who deck up their bullocks and carts, set out to the villages of their patrons to sing praises of great deeds of their forefathers and the genealogy of the families with great detail, and end their performance with a ritual Harike - a wish for the well being of their patrons. In return they are paid for their services with grains, clothes, goat, sheep, cow, bullocks and money as much as one can afford.

Their story is an indicator of the cultural economy, of interweaving a web of communities, their systems of socio-political-cultural organisation by developing competence in data indexing, backups and restores, dealing with identity and authentication, conflicts and negotiations and more from generation to generation. The Helavaru claim that each family recorded genealogy of at least 3 lakh families, and passing it on, and also losing in some cases is fascinating.

Aishwarya is a Communication Strategist at the Society for Social Audit, Accountability and Transparency (SSAAT) - Andhra Pradesh, Department of Rural Development, Government of Telangana. SSAAT has been set-up with a vision to uphold the concept of eternal vigilance by the people, facilitated by social activists and Government acting in conjunction.

A social audit is a standardised way of facilitating people to critique the implementation of a welfare scheme, and demand accountability from the government. It is a powerful tool which enables people to come forward, demand information, question officials, and fight for their rightful deliverables of a government scheme. This mechanism ensures transparency in the way a government functions, and has helped recover a lot of money lost to corruption.

In India, a Supreme Court mandate made the social audits of MGNREGS compulsory in all states. However, Social Audit units have been successful in empowering the people only in a few states. While the SAU facilitates an audit, it is conducted by people from the families of the beneficiaries. One social audit is a 15-day process of record verifications, door-to-door verifications, awareness rallies, a Gram Sabha and a Public Hearing. While a social audit ensures accountability, it lacks the guarantee of enforcement. The different layers of bureaucracy often swallows the essence of public participation and grievance redressal does not have follow-ups.

All grievances are recorded in the form of paras in the social audit database. While our on-ground social auditors may be socially and politically aware enough to observe and call out patterns in caste and gender discrimination, the results remain, but in a list on the MIS.

Dinesh is part of Janastu team - a non-profit group. The team is eager to help address Web content accessibility for the low-literate using social semantic web concepts and are also looking at 3D methods for spatial navigation, location interpretation and storytelling. Janastu engages with software commons by developing and supporting open source social platforms.

Dinesh, with a Computer Science background, will bring list comprehension to this platform using map/reduce, monads, and blockchain as the technical formalisms that make the Internet work and how people are made to toe these invisible lines. Then initiate discussions on Machine Learning within the history of page ranking and how the who, where, what of lists manifest. This will be contextualized with the traditional, the social and the new media social networks and processes that nurture community memory by tuning the semantic distance needed for privacy and by making room for forgetting in ways that communities heal from trauma.


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