The Sustainability of Slowness

Episode 08

George Oates:  Very rarely does an organization begin its life saying "We're going to live for 100 years," unless they're an archive, but, and then they just say forever, or if they're a corporation, they're like "Let's see if we can make it to next year." It's really curious and still unfinished and unsolved about how to sort of design a multi-generational organization with this idea of renewal kind of baked in.

Amanda Meeks: Hello, and welcome to Our Digital Futures with This podcast explores the ways in which we can all preserve our memories within a changing digital landscape. My name is Amanda Meeks, and I'm the Community and Partnerships Manager here at Permanent, and I'm also your podcast host. Our theme this episode is "The Sustainability of Slowness." I had the delightful opportunity to talk with Temi Odumosu and George Oates about their work on the 100-year plan for the Flickr Foundation and the thinking behind it. Organizations that have longevity in mind are an important part of our cultural heritage preservation as a species. But where things get complicated is in the realm of digital preservation, which is directly tied to and at the mercy of technological advancements, both past and present. Our guest, George Oates, is a designer and maker. She's also the Executive Director of the new Flickr Foundation. Their mission is to keep the billions of images on Flickr visible for 100 years. And also joining us for this conversation is Temi Odumosu, who is an interdisciplinary scholar and curator at the University of Washington Information School, with a teaching focus on critical and creative approaches to understanding information technology's role within society, particularly how unfinished colonial histories and their inequalities haunt data, uses of information and technology design. Her research and curatorial work are engaged with the visual and affective politics of slavery and colonialism, racial coding and popular culture, post memorial art and performance, image ethics, and cultural heritage digitization. Overall, she is focused on the ways art can mediate social transformation and healing. Dr. Odumosu is the author of the book Africans in English Caricature, 1769-1819, Black Jokes, White Humor, which came out in 2017. All right. So hello, George. Hello, Temi. Welcome.

Temi Odumosu:  Hello.

George Oates:  Hello.

Temi Odumosu:  Good to see you.

George Oates:  Thank you.

Amanda Meeks: Yeah. I'm so happy to have you both here for this conversation and just really appreciate your time and ready to get started if you are.

George Oates:  Yes.

Temi Odumosu:  Absolutely.

Amanda Meeks: So first, I wanted to talk about where the two of you overlap in your work and your ideals around sustainability and preservation for cultural heritage materials in the public domain, because I've done a little bit of research, so I'm a little bit familiar with your work, Temi, and I know about the Flickr Foundation's mission so I'd just like to start there.

George Oates:  Okay, well, I was introduced to Temi's work by my friend and colleague Melissa Terras, who runs a giant digital humanities situation at the University of Edinburgh, and she sent one of Temi's papers to me to read, which is called "The Crying Child," that was back in 2021 when I was doing some months of research about what the Flickr foundation could be. And Melissa knew that was going to be an important read because of Temi's expertise and sensitivity around historical subjectivity and description and all the complexities and nasties that can live in that kind of situation. And, it had a really big impact on me. So I wrote to Temi kind of shyly. I said, "Oh my God, Temi, you're, you're amazing. Can I be your friend?" And luckily Temi was up for it, and now she's become a research partner at the Flickr Foundation, so I'm thrilled.

Temi Odumosu:  Yeah, no, it's exciting. It's also exciting to meet George because apart from our meeting in synergy with the Flickr Foundation and thinking about the sustainability of particularly archiving photography and cultural heritage material, and what it means to steward artifacts for the future, as opposed to right now. In addition to that, it's also been great meeting someone who was key to the Wayback Machine, which is a little tool that actually is really important for those of us who are interested in the histories of the internet. So I've looked at websites that I, you know, no longer have, I've looked at in the Wayback Machine. But also, for example, I've just finished teaching a course on Afrofuturism. And the initial sort of early Afrofuturists on the web had a Yahoo group, which you cannot find any trace of currently online, but in the Wayback Machine, there are some little fragments that help you to better understand what were those initial dialogues about technology, about power, about identity, about Blackness happening in the 1990s, and how did they relate to how people are thinking about Afrofuturism now. So it's been amazing also meeting someone who's been a sort of pioneer of thinking about this temporality of the long time of the internet.

Amanda Meeks: Thank you both for sharing that. I really love friendships that start out that way, where you get a little friend crush on somebody for their amazing work and it leads to something really wonderful in terms of the actual work that you do in your day-to-day and the long-term work and projects that you have going. So those are the best kinds of working relationships, in my opinion. I'd love to know in what ways does cultural memory and heritage, particularly visual materials, shape our understanding of the past and what's the potential impact on the present and the future. We started talking about that a little bit, but maybe let's go a little more in-depth.

George Oates:  Temi's the expert.

Temi Odumosu:  Yes. This is quite a layered question for me because I'm also in the process of thinking about right now, alongside various collaborators about on a practical level, what it means to digitize colonial photography and make it available, not just in the context of the open commons as museums are doing, just pure open access. But when you're trying to make a case for historical reckonings of various kinds, be that the return of human remains or restitution or even reparations, like, how is this material going to be used carefully and sensitively as an evidence base? The challenge I think that we have right now, and one of the benefits of being an educator of young data scientists who just want to change the world with technology, is that it's clear that the screen-based interaction that we currently have between laptops and smartphones and other kinds of moving images in the world, give people the illusion that all images have the same value. So if I see something on Instagram, and I see something in a digital collection, and I see an advertisement in the world, somehow they all are just images that's all the same. In losing materiality we've also lost some of that sensitivity to what it actually means to encounter an image that troubles you, that represents somebody else's pain, or a family member's pain, or your own, that represents difficult memories, but also that may be the singular evidence for a person or a community that otherwise we might not know about. So all of those complexities that circulate around photography as a documentary medium and images in general, also creative images, they're kind of complicated by our screen-based interactions with them. That's one way of answering your question.

George Oates:  There's an irony here, Temi, because when I was designing the user interface at back in 2004, five, six, I was really intentional about putting the photographs on equal footing and in fact, I made the user interface plain as day so the photographs would stand out from the screen. My contention at that time was if everyone's so-called photo stream looks the same, then it's the photos themselves that would differentiate the creators. You know what I mean?

Temi Odumosu:  Yeah. Yeah.

George Oates:  It's so interesting to hear you say that because it's true. I think we look at too many pictures these days and only for a moment, like if you wonder how many pictures you would see yourselves in one day just, thanks to the world, it's thousands probably, isn't it? That's one of the things I respect so much about your work, Temi, is that you do so much slow looking and slow thinking with one image and just go so deep. On the other hand, that's also why I started the Flickr Foundation, because it's now a chest full of histories and it's weird because it's a digital chest full of histories and we don't really know how to look after those yet. If they were printed on a stable form of paper and held in an archive, we'd probably be okay, but they're not. The fact is it's 20-plus years of human history to sort of hiding inside a corporation. Or in fact, inside two corporations, because the photos are on Amazon Web Services. So, we're sort of coming at the same big blob of stuff with different questions, which is why it's a happy working relationship.

Temi Odumosu:  I love the sort of metaphor of the treasure chest, because I think it is a treasure chest in different ways, one that doesn't necessarily evoke only positive feelings, but still they are treasures of various kinds. I think one of the challenges, particularly for institutions, is the ways in which they batch scan things, mean that the metadata, the ways into the chest, the ways of finding things and making connections and relationships with these artifacts that then you can take time to be with, gets harder. And now we've got so much stuff already digitized with like really poor metadata. It's like, "Oh my goodness, how are we going to begin?"

George Oates:  Yeah. There's a program that's been in existence on Flickr. com since 2008, which is attempting to address this problem, which is called the Flickr Commons, and that was started with the intention to increase access to public materials held in institutions, so libraries, museums, archives. We thought that there might be a sort of similar idea to the Orphan Works concept, which is a sort of 20th-century copyright problem. You know, if there's a kind of pulp fiction written in 1950, nobody really knows who that copyright belongs to anymore. And a lot of photography, especially that's held in libraries as opposed to museums, the copyright and the provenance is really unclear about those photographs. So the secondary purpose of the Flickr Commons was to try to facilitate new descriptions of the subject matter and other contextual info in the pictures. Even after, almost 15 years, Flickr Commons isn't dead. It's almost sort of still nascent, even though it's been enjoyed by over a hundred institutions, museums, and libraries like the Library of Congress and National Archives and stuff. There's a lot of work that we could try to do to gather new stories and new descriptions about pictures that don't come from within the institutions. That's not only a sort of addressing the problem that Temi mentions where the rate of digitization has really outpaced the rate of description. We'd love to try to facilitate more, what I would call baseline description at the very first pass, but then also culturally specific information and stories that the professionals couldn't produce because they're not where the photographs are taken, you know? So there's all kinds of scope in there to design work that is responsibly made and some of the descriptions that live inside institutions are really bad and we should try to rectify some of that.

Amanda Meeks: Yeah, the context is key in dealing with visual materials, and I think that the way that institutions have typically dealt with that is not necessarily through community involvement, or inviting other people in. There's been a long history of gatekeeping in the profession, within a library and archives. That leads nicely into my next question, which is, how do we as tech and information workers, and that includes people in libraries, museums, and archives, evolve and adapt in order to preserve cultural memory in this rapidly changing technological world where we are overwhelmed with all of the visual materials and visual culture that exists?

George Oates:  Well my instinct there is not to try to do things too quickly. I feel maybe a slightly curmudgeonly about scale and now fetishization of scaling the shit out of everything. I think it's actually kind of corrosive and can be really obliterative even to meaning behind digital objects. So my instinct is to not worry about pace whatsoever, but actually just really pull back from that and work carefully and personally at some, at a conversational scale. There's all this sort of promise of programs being able to tell you what's in photographs and stuff like that. But if those programs aren't informed with the right materials, they won't tell you the right things. So, I don't think it's a technology problem, the lack of description, I think it's a conversation problem, and even now I think institutions are still quite wary or just nervous or, I mean, there's a new kind of nervousness now in institutions because everybody's realized how entrenched racism is, and there's a lot of people who are very upset and nervous about that and don't know quite how to take their first steps, even though they have the best will in the world, there's a lot of nervousness about that. And on the other side, in community there's also a lot of weariness about institutional possession and that kind of thing. And those two things trying to come together in social and personable ways is really tricky. So I think the only way forward is certainly not with machinery, in my opinion, but it's through small steps and conversations and trying to demonstrate things, not pressing too hard that kind of stuff.

Temi Odumosu:  Yeah, I love this idea of conversational scale as a concept because in a sense, I think that's really what I've been trying to advocate for both in terms of my own practice also, in terms of my teaching. It's tricky because I've been teaching MLIS students. So these are people who are having a Master's in Library and Information Science, as well as Informatics, majors, and minors. And I agree that there is this nervousness around dealing with the inequities and biases that are sort of baked into technological systems. But it's fascinating to me that when I start off by saying, "Well, let's deep dive power, Let's think about concepts like Patricia Hill Collin's 'Matrix of Domination' or what oppression is and how history haunts some of the technological practices that we now see as very normal even thinking about the the camera as a technology that was kind of there to support this imperial agenda." Then everyone gets really nervous and touchy and doesn't want to do it because it feels very heavy. And I think one of the draws and appeals of like the technology vibe, is that it's that Facebook, "move fast and break things," it's like their initial tagline. It's got energy. It's happening quickly. We don't have to worry about the baggage of the past. It's a kind of lightness about it. "Oh, we're onto the new constantly," which is from my perspective, it feels stressful, but you know, just kind of like, "Yeah, let's just do this." I think there was something very exciting about being in this space of innovation, but then you lose the capacity to, to think through, "Oh, but we're still carrying human baggage into like AI." And now everybody wants to talk about it, but it's like, "What did you expect after ignoring the fact that there's all of these deep code structures and issues that haven't been addressed and now they're just manifesting." My response to that question is really having the courage or being brave enough to hold space for those deep problems, whilst also keeping some of the energy and excitement of like, "What's possible?" you know, those speculative, "What if? How could we? What is the potential for but?" still being aware that in the background we have these unfinished histories that continue to rearticulate themselves in the design and also in the ways in which we even turn up in the room.

Amanda Meeks: Yeah, that reminds me that we were operating within a lot of oppressive systems and the technological world is not immune to that. I love the way that you're thinking, and I love that you're teaching MLIS students because it's such a needed topic, and I think the ability to slow down and have these conversations and press a little bit more into them is just so valuable for the future of cultural heritage institutions and the young professionals that are going to be working in them and running them someday.

George Oates:  It's tricky because it's a computer's instinct to standardize stuff and a librarian's instinct for that matter, but you know for many, many years, it was literally a librarian's job to stick something in a box and then know which box that she'd put it into. So she could get it back later. There's a whole mentality there about classification and organizing and detail and basically computation is very, very similar to that. Computers don't do very well at all with human mess and variegation and collisions and cultural distinctions. It's so entertaining trying to teach a computer how to be friendly or understand if you're being a sarcastic person or whatever. But anyway, the point is that's why I think the projects need to be small because the socializing within an intimate setting is sort of the opposite of what computers are good at, and if we're collecting intimacies and histories they will be sort of profligate and detailed and special, they can't be universalized, which is the computer's desire. So we've got to start thinking about computers that can be variegated that don't need to be standardized. And you know, maybe the neural net weenies at Google are already doing that and have been working on it for 50 years. I don't know, if they are, they're sure keeping it close to their chest. You know what I mean?

Temi Odumosu:  Yeah, but if you watch any of the TV shows or the films that attempt to articulate what artificial intelligence is with like, you know, superpowers and do they end up, I mean, they're on a bad diet. That's the thing. They're on a bad diet of like wishy-washy information, some of it really, really bad. Cause they're only as good as what we feed them, right? And so the challenge now is that the data set that they're eating from or they're learning from is us on the internet and us on the internet, isn't that great?

George Oates:  No, we're nasty. Be dogs, as the great cartoon used to say, but I don't necessarily think that we should contort our work to improve that balance though. I don't think the motivation should be to help the computers, cause I think that that's a never-ending story. For me anyway, it's more about doing a better recording for personal recall.

Amanda Meeks: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

Temi Odumosu:  And then what do we do with the sort of the issues with driverless cars and predictive policing and all of that, like in the in the meantime?

George Oates:  Well, for me that's an issue of need, you know, when we need to apply gigantic machine learning programs to situations or not. And that probably, for me at least, that probably skews for sort of mechanical operations to human operations. If we prioritize our efforts in the machine learning situation to more mechanical things, like the old school robot definition, you know, that's probably not bad. And I know there's self-driving car issues with being able to process people on bikes or whatever and stuff like that. If we, instead of just spewing it everywhere, I think is the point I'm trying to make, which is what we're doing now. We're just sort of sprouting like "Is ML going to help here? Let's see." And before you know it, you've just done something sort of really kind of abrasive. So I think it's okay for us to focus on the more mechanical aspects of our lives and the way we could streamline things with technology. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, but I think we should exercise a bit more restraint when we think about throwing machines at everything, that it's humans need to interoperate with.

Temi Odumosu:  That makes sense. Yeah.

Amanda Meeks: Yeah, I like that we have covered what's happening now in terms of spewing everything everywhere and thinking about the technology piece and how we are engaging with that. I'm also excited to talk about the 100-year plan, which is something I first learned about from you, George. Can you talk a little more about how you're engaging with the idea of a 100-year plan currently?

George Oates:  Yeah, sure. So it was a concept that popped into my head in 2021 when I was doing all that research I mentioned before, including reading on Temi's work and other things, interviewing people and the provocation of the hundred-year plan is really that we have such short horizons when we're thinking about technologies and capitalism, we sort of live in the next quarter or this three to five-year strategic plan, but we don't really look past that. As humans, we don't often look past our own deaths, even, or the next decade in our lives. If we're serious about actually beginning to think of these digital platforms as cultural assets, I think we need to shift the time frame a bit and also shift the way we protect them. Because at the moment they're in corporate systems, which means the main threat is economic. You could say that about traditional archives too, but the traditional archives don't have the need to make a profit every quarter, like a corporation does. So at that very basic level, the threat is different. And so thinking about all those sorts of factors, then I was like, "Well, what would happen if we expanded our horizon to a whole century?" because if you do that, you can sort of relieve the influence of technology in some way, because as Temi put it so well once when we were chatting about this idea, she said, "Well, nobody knows what a JPEG is going to be in 10 years, let alone whether they'll even exist as a thing in a hundred." So how do you put that into a plan where you can't sort of budget for 50 servers in 2050 in your plan, that doesn't make any sense. And the interesting thing is, if you take that out of the planning thinking, what technologies you would need, that lets you ask all kinds of different questions, which are actually much more social and sort of organizational than technological. We haven't written a hundred-year plan yet for the Flickr Foundation, because I always had thought, even from the very first moment of the idea, that I shouldn't be the one to write a hundred-year plan for an organization as an individual, because that's just incredibly egotistical for a start, but also it wouldn't be a rich plan. So the work I've been doing this year is having a kind of a strawman workshop which is called "How to Write a 100-Year Plan," which I've been running in a variety of situations. I'm not sure the exact number we've done, maybe a dozen now with a variety of different groups in different contexts. And I'd like to sort of go wide on the context that we run the workshop in. Basically, they're about two hours long and when we begin, the first thing I say is, "I don't know how to write a 100-year plan. What do you think?" And then, we just spend a couple of hours talking about it together. The hope is that after we've done sort of 20-ish of those workshops, there'll be enough material to synthesize into something which could be planned version 0.1. What I suspect might happen is that, that plan itself would need to be renewed and reviewed and renegotiated in a periodic way over the next hundred years. It's been interesting to kind of loosely research what other kinds of things have hundred-year plans. Often, they're financial instruments of some kind. Very rarely does an organization begin its life saying "We're going to live for 100 years," unless they're an archive, but, and then they just say forever, or if they're a corporation, they're like "Let's see if we can make it to next year." It's really curious and still unfinished and unsolved about how to sort of design a multi-generational organization with this idea of renewal kind of baked in.

Temi Odumosu:  Yeah, I think the 100-year provocation, I guess, also speculation is a great way of, encouraging those of us who spend far too much time dealing with the effects of history to imagine an otherwise, an alternative, an aftermath, an afterward, a later, right? There's something deeply important, especially if we think about this in the context of information justice, about moving forecasting from the realm of business people, to people who are concerned with how we're going to live on this planet moving forward together. Knowing that we will be together with many beings and entities, some of those are the natural world and the planet that hosts us and some of those will be artificial entities that we have had a hand in designing and creating. And I think it's important also at this moment, where we had an intervention in our sense of time and continuity with the pandemic. It's a really important moment now to hold on to the hopefulness of some kind of continuity. One that doesn't necessarily include only us, I mean literally us here, however old we may be, but also, that there's some kind of continuity that's positive and that can shape futures for others that are yet to be born and that we just kind of hold in our care in a certain kind of way, by way of this future thinking. So I think it's important to have this as a practice, even though it's hard and clunky and nobody really knows what it actually means, but we're doing it. Yeah.

George Oates:  Yeah. It's more like a practice than a plan.

Amanda Meeks: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think this idea of building something with the intention of it outlasting you, at the very least, is really interesting. When I first started thinking about this, it made me think about Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and how that was started by Gaudi, and it has had so many different architects as the lead architect working with Gaudi's plans as it's been built, they've also used it, so it's kind of flying the ship while building it, and I think about the work that we're doing in this realm of cultural heritage preservation in kind of that same way. If we do really want long-term preservation, then we have to be willing to adapt and change and look at the plans and say, "Well, we have these new developments that we can work with that can really strengthen and speed up, you know, what we want to speed up, or maybe there are environmental factors, social factors, those types of things that are impacting our ability to move forward and continue building too. And so we have to slow down in those moments and say, like, " Is this plan working?" And I think that flexibility, that practice as you put it so nicely, is so important and just a really good way to think about the long-term work that needs to be done to do cultural preservation and memory the right way.

Temi Odumosu:  I think as individuals, particularly those of us who are thinking critically about information and data and history and memory, we have a sense that there are some things that we need to just drop and let go of. However, when you then scale up to the institutional level, the resistances become much more strong. So to encourage institutions to detox, to go back to those default settings, those plans that actually only had a few people in mind, because that's the other thing, when you're thinking about who sets the tone for the way in which a plan or an institution moves forward, then you have to look around the table and see who's there. And so one of the challenges that many institutions, particularly in the West or the global North, is that it's been a limited set of people in doing the work, but also thinking about who should last. There's been so much erasure and vanishing of indigenous people, of people of African descent, of people from different backgrounds, abilities, there's sexual expressions and so on, there's gender express, you know, there's all sorts of ways in which the things that people kind of like now term as identity politics, which, you know, arguably is like our most human endeavor to figure out who we are and how we belong and how we connect with each other. Those are the things that have been heavily guarded and gatekeeped, as a verb, gatekeeped for a really long time. So part of this practice also needs to be, these questions about what do we need to let go of? What is it time to shift and change? How are we going to review our relationship to language? Do we really have power in this situation? Maybe it's time to listen instead of speak. Right? It's a kind of dance that we need to be more fluid with. And at the individual level, it makes sense. But I think institutions now need to start moving, doing a bit of internal yoga.

George Oates:  I sort of wonder sometimes what kind of institution the Flickr Foundation is or could be. I'm sort of in my mind at least positioning it sort of between the corporation and traditional archives, as a sort of a new type of institution that's a bit more sort of mediating or something. Because has millions of people's things in it, it's really different than a traditional institution. This collection is of millions of creators all of whom are more or less identified, except people that upload kind of shitty clip art or whatever, you know the photographers themselves are the people who've contributed their materials which I think is also a really big distinction between this collection and the more sort of traditional and imperial ones that we were referencing before. And I just wonder what the opportunities there are in terms of governance because a lot of the people who created the works in our traditional institutions are dead or were murdered or there's no possibility of them having a voice to describe those materials. It's kind of impossible and yet the institutions are kind of chained to their collections in some ways or weighed down by them because they're like, "Oh, we don't know. This is important stuff, isn't it?" But nobody knows what that is, Jerry, cause it's not described. It's really kind of a conundrum, but I'm sort of curious about what you know, the Flickr Foundation could be like in terms of a bridge between those two types of collections.

Amanda Meeks: Yeah, it is an interesting problem or position to be in as a cultural heritage organization that lives online. I will say, like, my previous experience as an arts and humanities librarian is very different than my experience working with Permanent, but I think that it is important to preserve our cultural heritage materials that exist online. So that's an exciting aspect. It's nice to hear you talk about the place between, George, and how there is an opportunity to do better than some of the traditional institutions have done in the past. There's also a lot of opportunities to replicate exactly what has been done, and make it worse.

George Oates:  We initially had conceived of the foundation to kind of look after this particular sub-collection on Flickr called the Flickr Commons, which I mentioned before, which is, you know, in my calculations, quite a small amount of things, 2 million images, no known copyright restrictions. But the entire flickr.Com corpus is 50 billion things and I'm looking at that gigantic pile going, "Wow, you know, there's literally three people working here at the foundation, I don't know how to carry so much." But, selection and deaccession and so-called detox or, these kinds of filtering processes and collection development, being refreshed and renewed, that's something that the more traditional archives already do and have done for many years. Or if they're running out of space, they're going to have to get rid of something, that kind of thing, or if they need money, they'll perhaps sell some materials. It's a pretty normal thing to not keep everything. Because we're keeping exactly zero so far in a digital preservation sense as the Flickr Foundation, it's really a green field about how we engage the community in the selection process, or do we go for the 50 billion? Right off the top of my head, it's like, "No, we do not. It's far too many to handle properly." So I'm also kind of curious to do the exercises and explorations about which bits should we look after first or could we, how do we, how do we choose, should we choose, who should choose? You know, a lot of deep stuff hiding in there.

Amanda Meeks: Definitely.

George Oates:  But I guess my contention is that it is valuable and that these digital platforms are just sort of voracious in some ways, they're collecting our digital lives at just insane rates, you know, millions of things being pumped into databases every single day. Because we've become so sort of iterative and innovative and, actually corrosive in my opinion, in just not thinking past now, and I just feel like that could bite us on the ass if, for example, electricity goes away or capitalism finally does fall. That was a bit of a rant.

Amanda Meeks: Rants are totally welcome.

Temi Odumosu:  There is something really interesting about like the affect because in the same way, I think I pay attention to what happens to the body, but also to all my internal systems, and encouraging my students to do the same when they're looking at material that's difficult. But I also think about what happens when we enter the room and have these conversations about like the scale of data and I can just feel, you know, like the breathing quickening, right, and just realizing, "Oh my god," like, "what are we good at?" There is a sense of like low-level panic, but I recognize it also. I suspect that many historians feel this way as well when you're just like, "Oh my goodness, like, where are we going? Where are we headed? I can see what's going to happen." We have this kind of predictive by way of knowing what went before. So I'm wondering if that's also something productive to sort of work with on a level of user experience, right? Like, how do we encourage, because, okay, we on the backend can think about our values and our design agenda and the ways in which we want people to handle material more sensitively. But then there's also the user experience and they are encountering this corpus alongside many other corpuses from other corporations in the online space. And so how can we encourage users to develop different information, behavioral strategies, ways of thinking about their relationship to information as well as their informationship to privacy and to other ethical questions about consent. In Europe, of course you've got GDPR, and you've got all of this kind of like " What do you want us to do? Cookies, no cookies?" There's the choice that you're kind of making already on the front end that slows down the process, which I think is very healthy. I don't know if people just find it annoying, but there is always a privacy statement, and that I think has shifted the way people think about their information online from like, you know, maybe 10 years ago, where it was like, "Just go, just go, just go. Enter and that's it." So I'm wondering about what other kinds of beautiful shifts could take place in information behaviors when we start to enact other kinds of design strategies, but that's like an open ended question. I have no idea what's to come yet, it's part of the hundred-year thinking.

George Oates:  It kind of makes me think of going to like a fruit and veg market and picking the right peach, which is the opposite of the information landscape we find ourselves in. We have no fricking idea where the right peach is, how to get to the market, it's all just too much, too soon. I know what you mean, that sort of feeling of stress, it, for me, it turns me off, I'm a flight person, the fight or flight, or a freeze, no, I'm a freeze person, so I just there going, "uh," but I'm looking for ways to help people select a peach instead of needing to look at 50,000 images every day, allowing some kind of personal selection in this vast array. There's always been this myth of personalization, hasn't there, for 20 years on the internet, Yahoo's like, "Oh, we're going to customize the shit out of everything. So everybody just gets exactly what they want," but it's still not like, I haven't seen anything closely resembling that until very recently. Actually, Amazon Music just suddenly got a really good bump of improved music options for me. And I think it might be something to do with a vast amount of computers, so maybe I'm contradicting myself right here in this public forum, but, I'm just going to stop now. I've lost it. I've contradicted myself. I'm out of here. Bye.

Amanda Meeks: That's what these conversations are really good for. I feel like if you're not contradicting yourself, you're not doing it right. It's a really complicated issue and there's so much.

George Oates:  That's very generous. Thank you.

Amanda Meeks: Oh, yeah, I do think it's complicated. And what you were talking about, about selecting the right peach, there's within the realm of information literacy within librarianship and stuff, that is a really important aspect of teaching information literacy to folks who are quote-unquote consumers of information and then creators of information too. So, how do you create the peach, in a way that, you know, is...

George Oates:  Delicious..

Amanda Meeks: Yes, we want delicious peaches on the internet. That's all we want.

George Oates:  Yeah, not crummy peaches that are the same as all the other peaches.

Temi Odumosu:  I was thinking that don't we also want choices about when to let information in and when to keep it at the door and when to, there's also something, I don't want to use boundaries like windows and doors because those conceptually can also do really challenging things, but there's something about, like I'm going to contradict myself and say that I also think that the Spotify is communicating with me in a more delicate way. I'm having a conversation with the algorithm and I do that in many different streaming situations. I think, "Okay, well, if you're going to invade my space, let's talk about what we want here." Right? And sometimes I might actually say things out loud. I'll be walking or a morning walk and I'm like, "Oh, okay. That's the tune you want to play. Okay. I'll take it. Yeah. You get liked for that." And the ones I don't like, "No, fast forward." So much of the science fiction of machines has been very combative in the public domain. It's "us against the machines" and they can't take over our lives because if they do, we're going to evaporate. And I think we need to change that, right? But there's always like a cautionary tale at the end of like befriending an AI, right? It's like, in the end, "we have to claim back our humanity and get the AI out." But it's like, well, how can we work together? How can we collaborate?

George Oates:  Yes, I wonder about resonance in that, just as a word really, how do we resonate together? How is there harmony, not one or the other? Yeah, I feel the same way. And you know, it's good to nudge technology a little bit, just like you were saying. It's okay to help it, and it's so obvious when it needs help too, isn't it?

Temi Odumosu:  Exactly!

George Oates:  I mean, they're playing something you really don't like and you're just like, "No, no, no."

Amanda Meeks: I mean- Oh, I was just going to say in an ideal world, technology exists to better our lives and to like deliver the peach and to give us the information that we need and want and that is culturally sensitive and, all of those things, yeah, that's what it should be doing. And I think teaching it, giving it clues is helpful in that regard.

George Oates:  Well, that swings back neatly to where we were at the beginning, I think, because, at the moment, um, I'm trying to stretch the metaphor here, but at the moment, I think the technology is more like farming equipment. It's not like a fantastic market stall and maybe that just means it's young, but maybe that means we need to sort of, that's where I think terms like resonance and harmony in terms of our design thinking about these technologies is much more useful than efficiency because efficiency is sort of quite destructive, you just imagine a combine harvester versus a pair of scissors or something, you know, or a scythe or something. Or a meadow, a combine harvester versus a meadow.

Amanda Meeks: Yeah. Well, I have one more question, which is a little more speculative. So when you envision the world 100 years from now, what ideally have our collective efforts around cultural heritage preservation specifically done for society, or the world in, your most ideal fantasy of what that could look like?

George Oates:  Jeepers creepers.

Temi Odumosu:  Good question, but one thing that immediately comes to mind for me is that stolen property is returned, that's like the basic, and there is a sense of a fundamental shift in how we think about cultural ownership and stewardship and who takes care of things and why. I think all of that needs to completely be transformed in a hundred years. And we have to make space for things to transform, degrade, change shape and we have to allow for a plurality of agencies and voices and approaches to this thing we called information. That's like the basic line for me right now. It's really thinking about letting go of and sharing power. And since power is energy, and energy is the sort of fuel of interaction, then we have to think very differently about what it all means. Our relationship to earth-based resources, human resources, labor, love, everything. Yeah.

George Oates:  I couldn't say it any better.

Amanda Meeks: Awesome. Thank you so much for being guests on today's episode. I really appreciate all of your insight, all of your wisdom and expertise, and just all of the care that you put into your work around this. How you're thinking about it is really beautiful and wonderful and I look forward to the next hundred years, however many of those I live, but thank you so much.

George Oates:  Pleasure. Thanks for having us.

Temi Odumosu:  Great. Thank you.

Amanda Meeks: Thank you for listening to this episode of Our Digital Futures and thank you to our special guests, George and Temi. I hope you all enjoyed this episode as much as I did on the sustainability of slowness. For mission-driven organizations like Permanent and the Flickr Foundation, it can be challenging to articulate what makes us sustainable, trustworthy, and different from other tech entities who typically move very quickly. But I think the answer lies in the mission of preservation itself. The 100-year plan does a good job of reminding us that this work will at least extend beyond our lifetimes, and that whatever we set in motion today will be the foundation for the next generation of digital preservation librarians, or archivists, tech workers, engineers, and designers. The Permanent Legacy Foundation is a nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and provide access to the digital legacy of all people for the historical and educational benefit of future generations. Our web and mobile app,, is designed for personal digital archiving and allows anyone to preserve their memories and traditions safely and securely without recurring subscription fees. Your generous donations to our endowment ensure our long-term sustainability as an organization while also securing your legacy. Special thank you to our editor, Emily Sienkiewicz.


George Oats headshot

George Oates

George Oates is a designer and maker. She's also the Executive Director of the new Flickr Foundation. Our mission is to keep the billions of images on Flickr visible for 100 years.

Temi Odumosu headshot

Temi Odumosu

Temi Odumosu is an interdisciplinary scholar and curator at the University of Washington Information School, with a teaching focus on critical and creative approaches to understanding information technology’s role within society, particularly how unfinished colonial histories and their inequalities haunt data, uses of information and technology design. Her research and curatorial work are engaged with the visual and affective politics of slavery and colonialism, racial coding in popular culture, postmemorial art and performance, image ethics and cultural heritage digitization. Overall, she is focused on the ways art can mediate social transformation and healing. Dr. Odumosu is author of the book Africans in English Caricature 1769-1819: Black Jokes White Humour (2017).


Amanda Meeks headshot

Amanda Meeks


Amanda Meeks is the Community and Partnerships Manager at the Permanent Legacy Foundation where they cultivate opportunities for members to connect, socialize and learn from each other. They love learning about other people and their stories; inspiring and empowering people to document and share their ideas, experiences, and art with the world. Amanda is also an artist, end-of-life doula, and research librarian who lives in the southwest with their beloved dog, Theodore.