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May 21, 2024

Designing the future with Associate Professor Toija Cinque

Deakin Library is thrilled to participate in this year’s Melbourne Design Week (23 May–2 June) with our EcoDigital Futures exhibition, which has just opened in the Burwood Library Exhibition Space. EcoDigital Futures is a collaborative production between Deakin’s Critical Digital Infrastructures and Interfaces (CDII) research group and Deakin Library. The library’s new exhibitions program provides a platform to explore the ideas that shape our University and community.

EcoDigital Futures showcases 360° video alongside immersive digital and creative endeavours by academics and artists in media, communications and design. The featured works tackle the pressing ecological challenges and ethical considerations embedded within our increasingly digital lives. The artists integrate ‘ecosophy’ – the philosophy of ecological harmony and balance – as a guiding principle. By exploring how human interaction with digital infrastructure can serve as a conduit for critical and creative practices that honour and advance ecological harmony, the exhibition invites visitors to contemplate the role of technology in a sustainable and equitable future.

To celebrate the launch of this brand-new exhibition, we are excited to interview one of the co-curators, Toija Cinque, an Associate Professor in Communications (Digital Media) whose research explores the challenges and opportunities of digital life.

Tell us about the process of creating this exhibition.  How did you engage with the artists and how did you and Deakin Library bring it to life?

Creating this exhibition has been a dynamic and collaborative process, bringing together diverse talents and perspectives to explore the intersections between the ecosphere and digital interfaces and infrastructures. Together with Allan Jones and Luke Heemsbergen, we began by putting out an Expression of Interest call for contributions, inviting artists, designers, educators and researchers to participate. The response was overwhelmingly positive, reflecting a strong interest in the themes we aimed to explore.

Engaging with the artists was a deeply rewarding experience. We aimed to ensure that each contributor felt supported and inspired throughout the process.

Working closely with Deakin Library’s Exhibitions and Public Programs team was instrumental in bringing this project to life. Their expertise in curating exhibitions has been invaluable. Together, we developed a cohesive and immersive experience for visitors. The collaboration extended beyond the library’s exhibition spaces, utilising my ‘Intelligent Media Lab’ and Phoenix Gallery to integrate non-traditional research outputs as well as works by external artists to create a truly interdisciplinary platform.

The team’s enthusiasm and commitment were crucial in every stage of the project, from initial concept development to the final installation. We aimed to create an environment where creativity and research could intersect, offering new perspectives on how digital and ecological systems influence each other. By building this creative platform, we hope to inspire dialogue and innovation within our University and the broader community.

Overall, the process was a testament to the power of collaboration and the importance of fostering connections between creative design, education and research. We are thrilled to be part of Melbourne Design Week and to share the unique insights and creations that emerged from this collaborative effort.

What drives you to turn an idea into a work of art, and how do you go about doing so?

What drives me to turn an idea into a work of art is the desire to communicate complex concepts in impactful ways. Art, especially immersive media like 360° video and films, can make intricate ideas accessible and relatable. For ‘Digital Realm’, my focus was on engaging the public with issues like emerging media ecologies, privacy, surveillance, data security and the ethical use of data, highlighting their societal and environmental implications.

The process starts with exploring core themes and conducting thorough research. Collaboration with artists, technologists and experts enriches the project, bringing diverse perspectives. Creating the piece involved planning the immersive experience, ensuring it informs and evokes emotional and intellectual responses.

Ultimately, I believe art can inspire change. By leveraging digital media, I aim to provoke reflection on the ethical and ecological dimensions of our techno-mediated world, fostering a collective awareness and responsibility towards a more sustainable and just society.

Some people might see sustainable ecology and digital technology as being at odds. What inspired you to combine the two concepts, and how do you see them working together?

Combining ecologically sustainable values with digital technology use might seem a counterintuitive approach to some, but it is precisely this challenge that inspires my work and our exhibition. Digital advancements have profound impacts on our cultural, social and economic spheres, and increasingly on our natural environment. This interplay compels us to rethink how we interact with both realms, especially regarding our use of natural resources.

The inspiration comes from the belief that technology, when guided by ecological principles, can be a powerful tool for positive change. By integrating ‘ecosophy’, or the philosophy of ecological harmony and balance, we emphasise the sustainable and ethical use of technology in design practices. This guiding principle ensures that our digital innovations contribute positively to both the environment and society.

Through this exhibition, we aim to show that digital creativity can address social and ecological challenges. By leveraging the immersive and interactive qualities of digital media, we can raise awareness, inspire action towards sustainability and design the future we foresee.

In essence, we see digital technology and sustainable ecology not as opposing forces but as complementary ones. When used thoughtfully, digital tools can enhance our understanding of ecological issues and promote sustainable practices. This alignment with the Melbourne Design Week ‘Design the world you want’ theme underscores our commitment to using digital advancements in art, design and communication to foster a more sustainable and just future.

Can you talk a little about the Critical Digital Infrastructures and Interfaces Group? What do you do, and what do you want other members of Deakin to know about your group?

The Critical Digital Infrastructures and Interfaces (CDII) Research Group at Deakin University, which I co-lead with Luke Heembergen, is dedicated to analysing, improving and advocating for digital infrastructure – that is, promoting the development and maintenance of technologies that support digital communication and information exchange, ensuring they are accessible, resilient, secure, sustainable, innovative and ethical. This involves addressing the digital divide, enhancing cybersecurity, promoting environmentally friendly practices, supporting technological advancements, and ensuring privacy and inclusivity in digital practices. The goal is to shape a digital future that is equitable, secure and sustainable for all users – particularly through, for example, Internet technologies and screen interfaces. Our primary aim is to critically assess and intervene in digital infrastructures to promote a more equitable and ethical digital landscape. We focus on investigating the sociopolitical implications of digital platforms, the ethics of algorithmic decision-making, and the impact of digital technology on human behaviour and society. Additionally, we develop innovative and creative methods to harness digital technologies for social good, co-designing new digital tools or platforms, enhancing digital accessibility, and ensuring inclusivity and equity in digital innovations.

We have established key partnerships with organisations such as the Department of Health (Victoria), the City of Melbourne, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, Meltwater, Wyndham City Council and Digital Futures (a joint venture on behalf of the Victorian Government). These collaborations enable us to advance our mission of driving impactful research and innovation that align with state and federal objectives for a digital future.

We want other members of Deakin to know that CDII is a hub for data cultures and digital studies within the University and a nexus for interdisciplinary collaboration. We encourage anyone interested in the ethical, social and political dimensions of digital technology to connect with us and join our efforts to shape a more just and sustainable digital world.

What resources would you recommend to exhibition visitors who are inspired to take on your ‘ecosophy’ – the philosophy of ecological harmony and balance – with their own use of digital technology? Where should they start?  

For those inspired by our exhibition and eager to embrace ‘ecosophy’ in their use of digital technology, there are several valuable resources and starting points I would recommend. First, I would suggest delving into the work Arne Naess (1990) who coined the term ‘ecosophy’. According to Næss, every being, whether human, animal or vegetable, has an equal right to live and to blossom. Also Félix Guattari’s book, The Three Ecologies (2000), provides a profound exploration of how environmental, social and mental ecologies intersect and the need for a holistic approach to sustainability. This work offers a theoretical framework that can inform and inspire a more balanced integration of digital technologies in our lives.

Next, engaging with the works of contemporary thinkers and practitioners in digital ethics and sustainability is crucial. Books like Digital Minimalism (2019) by Cal Newport and The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (2019) by Shoshana Zuboff provide critical insights into the impact of digital technologies on our society and environment. These texts encourage thoughtful consideration of how we can use technology more mindfully and ethically.

Practical guides and frameworks for sustainable digital practices are also invaluable. The Sustainable Web Manifesto is an excellent resource that outlines principles for creating and maintaining digital products that prioritise environmental sustainability. Additionally, websites such as the Green Web Foundation offer tools and information for reducing the carbon footprint of digital activities, from web design to data management.

For those looking to take immediate action, exploring the use of open-source software and platforms that emphasise transparency and community-driven development can be a great start. These alternatives often align more closely with ecological and ethical values. Websites like GitHub and SourceForge provide access to a vast array of open-source projects that anyone can contribute to and benefit from.

I encourage visitors to connect with local and global communities focused on digital sustainability and ethics. Participating in forums, attending workshops, and joining organisations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation or the Center for Humane Technology can provide ongoing support, education and opportunities for collaboration.

By starting with these resources, exhibition visitors can begin to integrate ecosophy into their digital practices, fostering a harmonious balance between technology and ecological wellbeing. This journey is not only about making individual changes but also about contributing to a larger movement towards a more sustainable and just digital future.

Visit EcoDigital Futures

EcoDigital Futures is open to the public in the Burwood Library Exhibition Space, the Phoenix Gallery and Intelligent Media Lab (P2.11) through 21 July 2024.

All are welcome to join us for the launch of EcoDigital Futures on Thursday 23 May. There will be a panel discussion in the Phoenix Gallery from 4.30–5.30pm with the official opening event in the Burwood Library Exhibition Space to follow immediately at 5.30pm.

Register for the panel discussion

Register for the opening event

Toija Cinque biography

Toija Cinque is an Associate Professor in Communications (Digital Media) whose research explores the challenges and opportunities of digital life. Their work examines the media developments of digitization, datafication, and platformization, focusing on the socio-cultural and environmental implications of data-driven and algorithmically steered infrastructures and interfaces. Cinque co-produced Memories That Make Us: Stories of post World War 2 Italian migration to Australia, a feature documentary that won Best Ethnographic Film in the New York International Film Awards and was Official Selection in the Asti International Film Festival, Italy; and, Fiorenzo Serra Film Festival, Italy. Cinque has authored 9 books, including Emerging Digital Media Ecologies (Routledge, 2024 forthcoming); Changing Media Landscapes: Visual Networking (Oxford University Press, 2015); The Dark Social: Online Practices of Resistance, Motility and Power (co-edited, Routledge, 2023); Materializing Digital Futures: Touch, Movement, Sound and Vision (co-edited, Bloomsbury, 2022); Communication, Digital Media and Everyday Life (co-written, Oxford University Press, 2015); and, Communication, New Media and Everyday Life (co-written, Oxford University Press, 2012).

Works cited

Guattari, F. (2000). The three ecologies (I. Pindar & P. Sutton, Trans.). Athlone Press.

Naess, A. (1990). Ecology, community and lifestyle: Outline of an ecosophy. Cambridge University Press.

Newport, C. (2019). Digital minimalism: Choosing a focused life in a noisy world. Penguin.

Zuboff, S. (2019). The age of surveillance capitalism: the fight for a human future at the new frontier of power. New York: PublicAffairs.

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