Documentary on Amsterdam as Smart City

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On September 10th 2015 the documentary Smart City. In search of the smart citizen screened  in Pakhuis de Zwijger. For this documentary, financed by The Creative Industries Fund and the Democracy and Media Foundation, I collaborated with filmmaker Sara Blom. This production was also the inspiration for the founding of Stichting Gr1p.

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This project started with my exploration in 2011, as a researcher of digital culture at Leiden University, to find out how to involve a broader group of people in a discussion that is generally regarded as abstract and complex: the fast pace at which our lives are rapidly being digitized. My explorations centered on one paradox in particular: while we are being told, on the one hand, that smart technologies turn us into smarter, more autonomous human beings, most people have no idea how these technologies themselves work. And, invisible to most people, there are many organizations who know more about us than we know about ourselves through the data we habitually produce in our day-to-day digital lives.

The  Last Resort brainstorm groups and the  Forms of Todays Futures program that I organized together with Waag Society and Netwerk Democratie provided a space to explore this paradox. Participants were journalists, artists, activists, researchers and entrepreneurs – connected to organizations such as Bits of Freedom, the hackerspace TechInc, the Universities of Leiden and Amsterdam, and the Veenfabriek in Leiden- using photo’s, story-telling, music, debate and technical workshops.

In 2013 I saw Sara Blom’s film about the occupation of the Amsterdam Beursplein. Sara had also subscribed to some of my meetings about the politics of ICT, which led me to approach her and ask if she wanted to work with me on a film. The topic would be the gap between the high-flying future-visions of Amsterdam regarding digital innovation, and the experiences that different groups of Amsterdam citizens actually have with digital technologies.

This plan was supported by the Creative Industries Fund NL and the Foundation for Democracy and Media. The hope expressed in the project proposals was that this film would initiate a discussion on the politics of digital society, that would be continued afterwards in a network of researchers, journalists, artists, activists, entrepreneurs and others. To this end, Gr1p has recently be founded, with the purpose to invite more artists, filmmakers, writers, thinkers and doers to explore ways to grasp and re-think our digital environments in a way that is comprehensive to a broad audience.

One of the projects featured on the Gr1p platform is a new research project, financed by NWO, that I conduct with Dr. Merel Noorman, Prof. Tsjalling Swierstra, Prof. Justus Uitermark, Alliander and several civic organizations. This research explores how, in a Smart City, the relation between corporations, governments and different citizen groups can be shaped in a way that is equal, transparent and founded on long-term mutual agreements.

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