What to Expect on a Luxury Indonesian Glamping Vacation

“Hello, I’m Riz Lateef. Tonight our top story: Instagram travel-star Amber Hinton is missing in Indonesia. Initial reports suggest she has been kidnapped by an ISIS faction operating in the region. We’ll have more on that after the headlines.”

In 2014 Amber Hinton left a lucrative job in finance to follow her ‘dream’ of travelling the world. Like many young women she recognised the potential inherent in her looks; she had an ability to tap into veins of social media, and grasped the appeal for people to ‘follow’ in her footsteps. Educated, professional and dedicated she began by surveying Twitter and Instagram; filtering by hashtags she categorised countries by cultural capital (aka likes, retweets, comments) and then cross referenced with existing coverage. Logic followed that if Thailand was hot right now it might not be hot in a year’s time. Novelty and newness would be essential to getting a foothold in the market.

After months of post-work spread-sheeting, Amber was ready. At a brunch with friends she introduced a mood-board and sales-pitched her new life. I say mood-board, but really I mean a highly aestheticised business strategy. She’d categorised hundreds of travel lifestyle pics and identified core principles of success. With Google Analytics she’d examined the lifespan of a hashtag. She’d reviewed where successful Instagram travellers had been, which countries were oversaturated and which were primed to explode. She’d mapped a route, ensuring a balance between city, beach and country, simultaneously factoring in cost efficiency. She’d prototyped a website and employed a graphic designer to mock up a look and feel for her personal ‘brand identity’. She’d run financial predictions, how long her start-up capital would last, how she expected to turn a profit through funding websites, travel blogging, and eventually as an advertising service for hotels and travel companies.

It was, in short, a stunning piece of work. If Amber had been inclined towards the monastic life of a PhD researcher, she could have turned it into four years paid writing, then subsequently taught her findings at Oxbridge without ever leaving the UK.

 

 

With her friends’ enthusiasm and her parents’ consent Amber left for Italy. Between 2014 and 2017 she travelled across the world, first moving in small steps, from Italy to Slovenia, to Bulgaria and Turkey. From Turkey she jumped around the Middle East and North Africa, avoiding conflict zones and skipping countries whose religious codes might frown upon her displayed body. Everywhere she went she befriended new contacts to utilise, chic twenty-somethings who’d invite her to their parents’ villas, rich bankers who’d get her into rooftop parties. Courting the cultural elite was vital; she didn’t have the financial reserves to fund a lavish lifestyle, but she could enter those worlds and achieve an image of effortless glamour.

By the time she reached the Moroccan coast she’d amassed over 75K followers. Enough to be on the radar of international PR girls. Invitations started flying in: five star luxury hotels and exotic adventures. Whilst sipping alcohol-free cocktails and bronzing her skin, she strategised her next move.

She flew to Malta, then across the Atlantic, island-hoping round the Caribbean. In America she visited boutique ranches and hunted down bohemian culture. Down to Mexico, then South America, a perfect blend of high class living and poverty porn. From South America she crossed the Pacific, stopping in at Hawaii on the way, then modern China and finally, in early 2017, Indonesia.

The world first knew something had gone wrong for Ms Hinton was when she posted a unusual message on Twitter. For three days she’d been five star eco-glamping in the rain-forested hills of Lombok, swimming in waterfalls, taking selfies with monkeys and then suddenly:

@amber_abroad
I heard a gun shot! What do I do! HELP HELP HELP

Minutes later a second tweet followed:

@amber_abroad
They said my name, tell me parents I love them

Within minutes a storm of activity was echoing around the Twitter-sphere and #saveamber was the number one trending topic on social media. Facebook campaigns began and Indonesian public officials were receiving flak from latte drinking yuppies in North London. By the second day the Foreign Office had publicly announced that British tourists in Indonesia were advised to leave the country immediately. Typically slow to respond, but then absolutely committed, ISIS announced that Ms Hinton’s abduction had been orchestrated by them, despite it obviously being carried out by a unassociated cell with little to no connection with the upper echelons. For three consecutive days BBC Breakfast News dedicated a half hour to the unfolding crisis; they even flew Naga Munchetty out to Bali to goad tourists into overreactions.

Five days of media fixation were followed by a week of not giving a damn; then out of the blue something very odd began to happen. Instagram accounts operating out of the Indonesian and Philippine ISIS territories started taking on a much more aesthetically sensitive tone. Poorly photoshopped images were replaced with a wave of creative shots. Against verdant jungle foliage, handsome young fighters were pictured topless, sweat glistening on their ripped pecks, rifles casually held over their shoulders. Puppies were photographed wrapped in ISIS flags. Trope travel images, ‘everyone jumping on the beach together’ and ‘girl leading boy’, were bastardised into calls to martyrdom.

 

 

At first Amber’s family was relieved; their daughter was alive and communicating with the world. Security services reassured them that eventually she would reveal her position, then they’d be able to plan her rescue. Weeks developed into months and still it seemed Amber was so tightly under the thumb of her captors that she couldn’t encode a message. All they could do was watch her PR strategy unfold.

Back home Theresa May used the crisis to spearhead her personal campaign against social media giants and internet freedoms. “By doing nothing, Instagram encourages ISIS”. In truth they were shutting down hundreds of accounts each day and actively handing data to the NSA and GCHQ.

By the time a video appeared online, ‘Amber’s Top 5 Tips For The Perfect Jihadi Pic’, Theresa had reached her line in the sand. Co-ordinating with the Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Ms Hinton was marked a priority target. If and when they had a lock on her location, an American drone would strike.

The final Instagram post attributed to Ms Hinton was posted on the 25th of June 2017.

For three weeks MI6 had been working in close communication with Indonesian intelligence officials to triangulate her location, scrutinising every post for a telltale clue. Eventually it was a sun umbrella that gave her away; its pattern of red and yellow stripes was attributed to a hotel on a recently occupied island. The post was confirmed as being a Amber original due to her characteristic use of the Juno filter and the Smiling Cat Face With Heart-Eyes emoji.

Amber’s parents were never told the truth about their daughter’s death. Several months afterwards a nice man from the intelligence services told them they believed ISIS had killed her, citing a lack of posts as evidence. Communications were falsified when they demanded proof. They were never shown the photos of her charred scalp, or the one of her left foreleg on the beach; it’d be blown clean clear of the hotel. In the end only a few people, in secret rooms, ever saw the evidence. None of the photos ever made their way online.

 

 


Work less, play more: can humans benefit from robots in the workplace?

Economic theory states that technological change comes in waves: one innovation rapidly triggers another, launching the disruptions from which new industries, workplaces and jobs are born. Steam power set in motion the industrial revolution, and likewise since the 1990s a torrent of digital and software developments have transformed industries and our working lives. But the revolutionary very quickly becomes humdrum, and once-radical and efficient innovations like the telephone, email, smartphones and Skype, become part of everyday, even mundane experience. Despite all the time-saving devices we have successfully integrated into our lives, there is a collective anxiety about the current wave of technological change and what more the future holds. Mainstream dystopian visions of our relationship with technology abound, but are we in fact engaged in a group act of cognitive dissonance: using our smartphones to read and worry about robots taking over our jobs, whilst wishing for a shorter work week and more time for creative pursuits?

The British Academy recently brought together a panel of experts in robotics, economics, retail and sociology to talk about how technology is reshaping our working lives. This review summarises some of their thoughts on the situation now, and what developments lie ahead. Watch the full debate here.

Helen Dickinson OBE reported on the British Retail Consortium’s project, Retail 2020, a practical example of how technology is changing consumer behavior and affecting firms in her industry. The UK’s retail sector has on the one hand embraced technology and created a success story. The UK has the highest ecommerce spend per head in the developed world, with c15% of transactions taking place online, and at 3.0m employees it is also the largest private sector employer in the UK. However, beneath this, internet price comparison ushered in fierce price competition. Retailers are using technology to improve manufacturing and logistic efficiencies to control costs and offset shrinking profit margins. Physical stores are closing as sales migrate online. The BRC predicts a net 900,000 jobs will be lost by 2025. Nor will the expected impact be even: deprived regions are more reliant on retail employers and so will be more affected by job losses. Likewise, the most vulnerable, with less education or skills and looking for work in their local area, will be the hardest hit.

Prof Judy Wajcman resisted the urge to overly rejoice or despair at technological developments. For her, this revolution is not so different to the waves which have come before. It is impossible to predict what new needs, wants, skills and jobs will be created by technological advances. Undoubtedly some jobs will be eliminated, others changed, and some created. However, we can certainly think beyond the immediate like-for-like: a washing machine saves labour, but it has also changed our cultural sense of what it means to be clean. Critically, we should stop thinking of technology as any kind of neutral, inevitable, unstoppable force. All technology is manmade and political, reflecting the values, biases and cultures of those creating it. As Wajcman said, ‘if we can put a man on the moon, why are women still doing so much washing?’ In other words, female subjugation to domestic labour could have been eliminated by technology, but persistent cultural norms have prevented this from happening.

Robot suits on astronauts in a laundrettecc by 2.0 Adrian Scottow, via Flickr

Dr Sabine Hauert is a self-professed technological optimist. For her technology has the potential to make us safer and empower us, for example by reducing road accidents, or allowing those who cannot currently drive to do so. Hauert sees a future not where robots completely replace humans, but where collaborative robots work alongside them to help with specific tasks. The crucial issue for dealing with this future lies in communication and education about new technologies, since the general public, mainly informed by news and cultural media, is ill-served by a steady drip of negative stories about our future with robots.

The short film Humans Need not Apply is one such alarming production, chiming with Dr Daniel Susskind’s altogether more gloomy view of the longer term effects of technological advances on the workforce. To date, manufacturing jobs have been those most affected by automation, but traditionally white collar jobs also contain many repetitive tasks and activities (just ask the employee drumming their fingers on the photocopier). Computing advances mean that many more of these are now in scope for automation, such as the Japanese insurer replacing some underwriters with artificial intelligence. For Susskind, it is not certain that workers will continue to benefit from increased efficiencies as technology advances. A human uses a satnav provided s/he is still needed to drive, but the same satnav could just as easily interface with a self-driving car, eliminating the need for any kind of human-machine interaction. Calling to mind the wholesale changes to UK heavy industry in the 1980s, any redeployment of labour will present huge challenges, and what work eventually remains may not be enough to keep large populations in well paid, stable employment.

Truck with sign saying 'our most precious asset is here'cc by 2.0 Mike Mozart, via Flickr

Can humans benefit from robots in the workplace?The panel agreed that technological change will continue apace with wide reaching ramifications for our workplaces and our wider societies, but that it is our human qualities that will give us an advantage over machines. Perhaps this is the most pressing notion: we urgently need to recalculate the value we place on tasks within society. Work where social skills, communciation, empathy, and personal interaction are prioritised (like teaching or nursing) may develop a value above that which is rewarded today.

If we smell such change coming, it is no wonder we are anxious. The panellists differed on the ability of our society to absorb and adapt to coming technological change, and the distribution of any net benefit or loss. So, is the only option to accept the inevitable and brace for the tsunami to hit? Well, no. We need to realise that ‘technology’ is not one vast, distant wave on the horizon, but a series of smaller ripples already lapping higher around our ankles. Returning to Wajcman’s point, all technologies are created by people. If innovation has a cultural dimension, it can be influenced, so we must take heart and believe in our ability to effect change.

The further we can work to democratise and widen the pool of creative engineers, developers, artists, designers and critical thinkers contributing to the development of technologies, the broader the spectrum of resulting applications and consequent benefits to society as a whole. We can be conscious in our choices as consumers as we adopt new products and services into our lives, and challenge the new social norms emerging around work and life as technology allows us to blur the boundaries between them. And finally, we need to consider who profits, and who doesn’t, from new business models. We should lobby government to be deliberate in designing policy that looks to these future developments, and their likely unequal impacts across regions, industries and populations, to ensure that existing social inequalities are not entrenched or magnified. Hopefully the creative community can help steer this wave in the right direction, painting a vivid picture of our possible futures, to persuade the powerful to act in the interests of the greater good.

Speakers:

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive, British Retail Consortium
Dr Sabine Hauert, Lecturer in Robotics, University of Bristol
Dr Daniel Susskind, Fellow in Economics, University of Oxford and co-author of The future of the professions: How technology will transform the work of human experts (OUP, 2015)
Professor Judy Wajcman FBA, Anthony Giddens Professor of Sociology, LSE and author Pressed for time: The acceleration of life in digital capitalism (Chicago, 2015)

Chair:

Timandra Harkness, Journalist and author, Big Data: Does size matter? (Bloomsbury Sigma, 2016)
Katharine Dwyer is an artist who considers the modern corporate workplace in her practice.


10 Minutes of Doubt

Do you believe everything you said today? How can you trust what you feel? What is it about today’s truth that makes it so difficult to believe?

The journalistic affectation for pre-fixing all manner of phenomena with the term ‘post-’ has become commonplace over the last few decades. Post-capitalism, post-growth, post-normal, post-internet, post-work and post-truth are all concepts crystalizing around a pervasive sense of uncertainty, instability and social unrest. While I have the honour of guest editing the Furtherfield website for the next few months, I am hoping to bring together a number of writers, artists and thinkers who will, in various ways, explore two of the ‘post-s’ I find most urgent and compelling: post-truth and post-work.

Post-truth

Consolidated by Brexit and the US presidential campaign, and designated as word of the year 2016 by the Oxford Dictionary, ‘post-truth’ is now a term deeply engrained in the social and political imaginary. Since ‘post’ can signify the internalization of phenomena (the internet is inside us all), one might even say we are post-post-truth, living with it as a general condition of our reality. The post-truth condition privileges narrative over facts, appealing to people’s beliefs, ideologies, prejudices and assumptions, rather than presenting them with ‘evidence’. This is, of course, nothing new – facts have never been anything without subjective processes of interpretation, contextualization, manipulation and propaganda. As Simon Jenkins points out, ‘Of all golden-age fallacies, none is dafter than that there was a time when politicians purveyed unvarnished truth’ – lies are, he suggests, the ‘raw material’ of political narrative.

Trump saying Hilary Clinton was amazing while the crowd chant 'lock her up'

Social media holds the potential to both exacerbate and alleviate the chaos of post-truth reality. On the one hand the echo-chambers created by partisan social media feeds limit and blinker us; on the other, social media is a weapon being deployed by armies of citizen journalists and organizations committed to fact-checking and exposing political lies and obfuscation. To feel uncomfortable about the confusion and psychological strain arising from the post-truth condition is surely a reasonable human response. As Professor Dan Kahan suggests:

‘we should be anxious that in a certain kind of environment, where facts become invested with significance that turns them almost into badges of membership in and loyalty to groups, that we’re not going to be making sense of the information in a way that we can trust. We’re going to be unconsciously fitting what we see to the stake we have in maintaining our standing in the group, and I don’t think that’s what anyone wants to do with their reason’

What Kahan points to here is, I think, an opportunity to reflect carefully on the stake we have in maintaining our sense of identity and belonging through the ‘facts’ we choose to believe. Despite the discomfort we may feel, might there be a way to take advantage of this cultural moment? Perhaps recognizing our own doubts about credibility can become a fruitful catalyst for adjusting our sense of responsibility to engage with a range of news sources, listen to opposing points of view, and critically evaluate the information we are presented with. In fact, Kahan prescribes 10 minutes of doubt every morning to deal with the anxiety that arises from a feeling that you can’t trust your own feelings.

Post-work

Can we have a good life without work, or is work part of what it means to live a decent life? What would you do if you didn’t have to work?

One of the most significant societal shifts taking place due to the advancement of technology is the transformation of what it means to work, and to be a worker. The nine to five is dead (or soon will be), and work is being radically transformed as a new global workforce comes online, technological innovations advance at super high speed, and new business models emerge. Automation is now a firm feature of mainstream discourse, and depictions of robots replacing jobs are everywhere in the global media imaginary.

The Bank of England’s chief economist recently projected that 15 million UK jobs will be lost to automation in the next 2 decades, which is equivalent to approximately 80 million US jobs. 47% of white collar jobs are predicted to be lost to automation by 2035, according to a 2016 report by Citi GPS and the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford. It is not just routine tasks that will be replaced – asset management, analytics, patient care, law, construction and financial trading can all be done (and is being done) by robots. Mining giant Rio Tinto already uses 45 240-ton driverless trucks to move iron ore in two Australian mines, saying it is cheaper and safer than using human drivers.

At the same time as these developments are evolving at break neck speed, we are living in an increasingly unequal world, where the gap between the rich and poor is getting bigger. According to a recent Oxfam report, 62 identifiable individuals own same wealth as poorest 50% of the world’s population – that’s 3.6 billion people. And 1% of the world’s population own more than the rest of us combined. Capital grows faster than labour, so if you’re already rich, your money earns more than your labour ever could, which reinforces existing wealth inequality. Furthermore, extreme inequality involves people thinking greedily about finite resources, and not seeing personal greed as having wider consequences. If people see that the 1% own more than the rest, there’s danger their response is to play same game and look to join that 1% (or 5%/10%)

Not everyone is equally equipped to deal with the changes ahead, but since artists, designers and critical thinkers are amongst the best-resourced to do so, I see it as our responsibility to consider how we can help others deal with what lies ahead. As with confronting post-truth reality, acknowledging a post-work future can be seen as an opportunity to forge a better path forward for ourselves and others. We might take a cue from what we know about post-truth, and try to create narratives (backed up by collectively verified facts) that persuade the world to proceed towards an equitable world of work where solidarity and cooperation can thrive.

10 minutes of doubt

The articles gathered over the next two months as part of my guest editorship of Furtherfield might be understood as moments of corrective doubt. They are an opportunity to speculate about issues of truth and labour, and to proceed as artists should – by imagining alternative realities and evolving conceptual, aesthetic and practical ways to inhabit them. You can expect revelations about the labour conditions of those who work for contemporary artists from Ronald Flanagan, reflections on robots in the workplace from Katharine Dwyer, and an interview about the repopulation of Monopoly with cryptocurrencies from Francesca Baglietto. Filippo Lorenzin will consider Dada as a response to the post-truth condition, Carleigh Morgan will consider what makes good curatorial practice in this contemporary moment, reorienting current discussions away from free speech absolutism vs censorship to questions of judgement and responsibility. Alex McLean will use the metaphor of weaving to consider the role of craft in a post-work society. How might coding be understood as a form of textile liberated from its militaristic origins?

Happy doubting to all.