The 26th Biennial of Design in Ljubljana, BIO 26 – Common Knowledge, focuses on interrelations between the multidimensional information crisis and citizenship, and it explores the role and potential of contemporary design in the shaping of knowledge and truth, and in the recalibration of our Infosphere.
The current debate on “fake news” and the growing overload of data and information that is accessible at any instant and is spread by both people and bots alike is challenging the ways we perceive, process, and understand reality, ultimately shaking our trust in information itself.
How and where do we receive our knowledge? Which sources do we trust? How can we be sure of the information we use to build our store of knowledge? Although we have access to more information than any generation before, we are increasingly challenged in our effort to make well-informed decisions. In today’s knowledge society, we have to deal with manipulated news and alternative facts. Citizenship and governance both appear to have been shaken to their very foundations in this post-truth era.
Data smog, infobesity, infoxication, and information glut are all fitting metaphors that describe the avalanche of information we experience on a daily basis. Information overload occurs when the amount of input into a system exceeds its processing capacity. This infoglut confuses people and makes it harder for them to agree on “common knowledge.” That makes healthy debate difficult and destabilizes our sense of trust. The fading of traditional news media outlets coupled with the proliferation of social media information bubbles only serve to exacerbate the problem.
The Future of Truth and Misinformation Online, a report from the Pew Research Center released in 2017, highlights several problems and concerns that experts identified related to trust, facts, and democracy. Among them is the fact that information overload crushes people’s attention spans. Their coping mechanism consists in turning to entertainment or other similar lighter fare. Quality, credible journalism has been decimated due to tectonic shifts in the attention economy. These factors and others make it difficult for many people in the digital age to create and share the type of “common knowledge” that supports better, more responsive policy. A lack of commonly shared knowledge leads many in society to doubt the reliability of everything, causing them to simply drop out of the civic participation process, further depleting the number of active, informed citizens.
The notion of “common knowledge” is ambiguous and highly contingent on context. It relates and refers to what people know and what other people know; more broadly, it refers to what people think and how they structure their ideas, feelings, and beliefs. Furthermore, the term “common knowledge” carries a sense of communal or shared knowledge.
There are enormous implications involved. How do we form and build relationships of trust out of the information and knowledge we receive, the relationships that serve as the building blocks that shape our view of the world? How do we act as responsible citizens and how might we safeguard democracy? What is truth? What is a fact? Who gets to decide? And can people agree to trust something like a “common knowledge” that they can share and act on?
These questions predate the digital era. In 1938, the science fiction writer H. G. Wells imagined a “World Brain” that he called the “Permanent World Encyclopaedia.” His vision was to create a knowledge system that would be free and accessible to all and would contain all of humanity’s intelligence. With his utopian ideas, he believed that common access to the same facts and information could help citizens everywhere make better decisions and avoid conflicts based on a universal information resource. Today, Wikipedia and the internet as a whole could be seen as a tangible manifestation of his predictive vision—but, contrary to his hopes and convictions, we are far from world peace.
Under these circumstances, designers can be called upon to offer insights and provide positive change to help us navigate these troubled waters. At its best, design serves as an interface between complex, incomprehensible systems and structures and us, making them accessible, legible, and usable.
The information crisis is sweeping and systemic, even historic, and will certainly require a collaborative effort by and from multi-disciplinary agents and professions at all levels of society—from government to industry to the citizenry. Interdisciplinary by nature, design can offer creativity and strategies, and serve as an interpreter and translator within a range of complex contexts.
BIO 26 – Common Knowledge will be organized around a central exhibition of already existing projects that will be presented at MAO, and six major commissioned experimental projects by multidisciplinary teams selected through a designathon process. These will be displayed at and with partnering institutions central to knowledge production and dissemination, such as a museum, library, university, and news and media organization, as well as a botanical garden, retirement home, and similar.
Working with content, structures, and stakeholders, the 26th Biennial of Design in Ljubljana, BIO 26 – Common Knowledge, hopes to find ways, unearth projects, and explore concepts and systems that can serve to turn this disruptive chaos in and of information into creative knowledge clusters.