TEDx Rotterdam - Impressions from new media speakers


On Thursday 13th October, the Nieuwe Luxor Theater in Rotterdam was a home to TEDx Rotterdam, an independently organised event based on the well known platform TED. This time it was open to master students only and a few students of NMDC were lucky enough to receive an invitation to the event. The theme of the day was future leadership, which is, of course, a very broad concept, resulting in speeches on a wide array of topics. We’ve chosen to discuss a few of the presentations that were relevant to the subject matter of NMDC below. All of the day’s speeches were recorded and are available on YouTube here:


1. Augmented reality art

One of the speakers was new media artist Sander Veenhof. He presented an Augmented Reality system based on the Layar smartphone application, that allows people to place graphic items (images, 3D objects, etc.) in the world. Veenhof demonstrated its use in context showing a virtual exposition that took place in the Museum Of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. He and some co-workers placed various pre-made items of art in the museum’s halls, creating an exposition that was only visible to smartphone users, without knowledge or consent of the MOMA management. In a similar project, a virtual balloon displaying Twitter messages from a hashtag search was placed at the approximate coordinates of the White House and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. People could tweet using predefined hashtags - for example #ovalofficechat - and these tweets would be displayed on the balloon in the AR environment. Someone inside the White House would be able to see the balloon and tweets by using the Layar app. While it was unclear if anyone inside these buildings actually saw the balloon, it was viewed from within the city at least once.

While Layar with its various different applications has been around for some time now, this presentation evokes thoughts on an issue relating to virtual space. With the potentially endless amount of different layers and objects that can be created using this app - and others like it - what happens to these virtual spaces? Who controls them and controls what can be seen inside it? Should there even be a form of control? Indeed, so far it seems like the majority of the layers are practically useful (showing houses for sale or the nearest ATM devices for example), innocent experiments and artistic expressions such as Veenhof’s work. And there are fantastic examples of creative and educational AR tools, such as this app that shows the amount of victims of traffic accidents on the streets of Moscow to boost awareness. With the possibility of creating so many different layers however, most of these data could remain hidden to the majority of people, and there’s no telling what is actually lying out there on the actual/virtual streets for anyone with a smartphone to just pick up and watch.



2. Internet safety  
The second TEDx talk that we’d like to share was the speech by cyber security expert Mikko Hyppönen. In his presentation he addressed the issue about the threats in front of Internet safety which, in his view, go beyond the virtual space and have become a real-life danger. Cyber attacks can not only infect computers on a personal level, recording data from browser searches to bank account passwords, but can also affect large scale industries, penetrating into factories and power plants. During the speech, Hyppönen addressed three main enemies of Internet safety: the organized cyber criminal gangs, hacktivists in the face of Anonymous, and nation states attacks.

As it concerns nation state attacks (directed towards the individual or towards other nations), the argument was pretty clear as it touched issues regarding freedom of speech and national security.

From new media perspective, we found that the point made about cyber gangs and Anonymous, touched upon more complicated issues that the ones presented.

The organized cyber gangs were presented as criminals who have found a way to become wealthy by literally stealing from users. But as this is an obvious threat, a deeper analysis on the hacker culture shows the other side of hackers, as the society which has  contributed to the development of the network society (van Dijk. 2005. The Network Society). Governments have also realized the benefits of having hackers on their side and the even recently the US  publicly announced these intentions. In this sense, the speech of Hyppönen raises the question about the way society would treat hackers and the approaches towards  the decrease of the criminal side of these type of cyber groups.

The actions of Anonymous were presented by a case study of the attacks against Aaron Barr, the chief executive of the software company HBGary Federal, who managed to infiltrate the Anonymous. In the beginning of this year, he stated that he would publish the findings, but he was not able to do so, as members of Anonymous hacked the company and published thousands of confidential emails out in the public domain.

What one would notice from the video is that the Anonymous members were addressed as hackers, which is exactly what they state they are not (check out a press-release in 2010). They define themselves rather as Internet citizens who aim to raise the awareness about indecent practises of companies that they choose as worth addressing.

In the case of HBGary Hyppönen addressed the intervention of the personal information of Barr but he did not mention that the published emails revealed compromising emails with planned activities against WikiLeaks. In this sense, the email exposure was not just a defensive act, but rather an action which confirms the main idea of Anonymous.



3.  Fighting anxiety with virtual reality

Another new media related talk was the speech of researcher Willem-Paul Brinkman. He presented a method for treating anxiety disorders with the means of virtual reality technology. By presenting several cases,  he demonstrated different kinds of simulation environments (as well as a bit of augmented reality) which are used for overcoming anxieties varying from fears (fear of flying, heights and claustrophobia) to post-traumatic stress of survivors of terrorist attacks or soldiers. But among the proven positive effects of this kind of treatment, some of the examples presented also reminded us about the importance of the factor of realism and authenticity. As you can see in the video, some of the videos looked convincing, but others seems a bit odd and distant from reality, especially considering the advanced graphics used currently in video games.


4. The followers will lead the future
With leadership being the theme of TEDx, one somewhat contrasting intermezzo was provided by Marjolijn van Heemstra. With her poetry she argues that it’s not the presidents and governments who will lead, but the crowd who follow that determine the direction of the future. With social networks connecting everyone on the planet, new types of leaders will arise. There’s little more to say about it, but it’s an impressive watch.