In April 2011 D-Futures researchers Sarah Pink and Debora Lanzeni developed a workshop focusing on the theme of digital trust and the possible futures that this theme made imaginable. All the participants were already involved in digital technology design and services and were people who already, as part of their everyday lives and interests were concerned with questions relating to digital making, currency and business models. Some were more experienced than others in tech design but all were relatively well aware of and importantly had invested attention in questions relating to digital trust. In our workshop we were interested in generating discussions with them around this theme, as well as inviting them to share the possible futures that they already imagined or were imaginable to them. Our methodology sought to develop two types of knowledge. The first focused on what the participants were interested in telling in relation to their existing experiences, expertise, anticipation and anxieties about digital futures. The second focused on the process of co-creating together a vision of a possible future, and to seek to understand where trust would be situated in this and how it would be constituted.
The image above is of the whiteboard that we kept ongoingly throughout the workshop, and here emphasises the first comments that the participants made. Here, at the start of our workshop we were focusing on the question of digital trust, and security. All of the participants consistently agreed that there there was never anything completely secure about digital technologies. They emphasised that if anything was to be safe, secure from hacking, or from being lost, then it should not be stored digitally: hard copy was the safest, photos should be printed and text should be written with pen and paper; to be kept safe or secret documents should be printed out and locked away, disposal was important and they should be shredded. It was not that they didn’t trust digital technologies at all. Rather that they insisted that it was important to know how to use them and to acknowledge that connectivity does not necessarily make things safer and that hard drives fail. Part of this was the above recognition that pen and paper and printed photos were safer.
The findings of the workshop are perhaps not surprising. However the reason why they are significant is because they tell us something not only about how people understand the safety of their digital data in the present, but because they give us ways of thinking about digital futures that differ from the narratives of technological innovation that would see near future humans living in digitally enabled and automated smart cities and homes. Instead our workshop, along with the wider ethnographic research project that it was set within suggests that our digital futures will involve ways of saving, keeping and securing data, knowledge, information and ways of knowing that are equally diverse and dispersed as those that are currently used. The idea that pen and paper, printed photographs and generally hard copies might remain at the centre of what people trust is a powerful reminder that digital design futures need to account for the argument that the ways in which digital and material worlds will become entangled in futures might not coincide with dominant notions of digital innovation.
Sarah Pink and Debora Lanzeni