Fluidity is the hardest thing to read

A couple of weeks ago I participated in a charming event organized by Hard to Read, an L.A.-based lit series that recently held a satellite NYC event.


Affectionately titled Lovelace (cheeky reference to both Ada and Linda), the NYC convening was about "celebrating the past, present, and future of women and the Internet in conjunction with the release of Claire L. Evans new book Broad Band: The Untold Story Of The Women Who Made The Internet." Claire read from her new book, and throughout the night an eclectic group of other artists did readings that revolved around the general theme.

In lieu of a reading, I decided to tell a story about my time in Nigeria this past December. While in Imo State and Lagos, I spent a bit of time at local marketplaces. During one of those visits, I was struck by the realization that the marketplace, located in the center of town and packed all day with buyers and sellers, represented one of fairest social algorithms that I've yet encountered. The reason for this? In a word: fluidity.

Most of my work is about classification and categorization. As the world is increasingly mediated by software, it becomes more important for all of us to become data points. And to become data, you must be fixed, categorized, and rendered discrete.

One stall at an Imo State market, in all it's pepper-filled glory.  

One stall at an Imo State market, in all it's pepper-filled glory.  

But what I learned from the market is that the problem with categorization isn't really about categorization. In fact, it's not even necessarily about miscategorization. The problem with automated systems that categorize us and make decisions based on that is how they don't allow for us to be recategorized. I can't help but wonder: what would it look like to have systems that could allow for us to be not just seen, but seen differently, depending on our ever-shifting contexts?

Anyway, if you've got seven minutes, you can listen to the audio of my recording, which goes a bit more in depth on the idea. As a bonus: when you click the link you get to see a hella unflattering photo of me from the reading. Don't say I never give y'all anything.

Link here: https://soundcloud.com/hard-to-read/mimi-onuoha-on-algorithms