18. Signal Vol. 15, Hybrid Life-Part 3

Finally, for the last section of Jutta and Bianca’s series on housing and homelessness, we ask them to look at the future and what technology could offer us to pass this time. In the first two episodes, the Fungi Network and Salvage or Demolish, we heard our guests’ opinions on the governmental policies, democracy and civil rights, and organizations and institutions, as well as notions like land-trust and displacement.

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Bianca Wylie and Jutta Treviranus on housing and homelessness!

Hello and welcome to the 18th episode of Quantization!

Kaveh: This is the third and last part of Jutta and Bianca’s discussion around the issue of housing. In the first two episodes, the Fungi Network and Salvage or Demolish, we heard our guests’ opinions on the governmental policies, democracy and civil rights, and organizations and institutions, as well as notions like land-trust and displacement. They talked about the past and the current time. For the last section, we ask them about the future and what technology could offer us to pass this time.

Kaveh: This is episode 18; volume 15th of signal, Hybrid Life.

[Music]

Arezoo: You talked about making the relation, I want to ask you a question: it is about the era we live in, the COVID and post-COVID. Some believe that in the post-COVID time, many things, if not saying everything, will be hybrid; we can stay and work from home. We don’t have to go to school physically, and education goes online. It’s an interesting option for many reasons. A broader number of people can participate in various activities, including working from home or education and schools, regardless of where they live and from where they want to do their jobs and study, or mobility issues will be less of a problem for many. We should mention that the notions of home for homeless people or virtual connection for those with no access to wi-fi are other points that we could discuss here. But my question is about the lack of in-person interaction between people and with each other.

We won’t have a first-hand experience of interacting with someone who may not speak the way I speak or is not the same colour as I am. We can continue the list as cultures, interests, physical abilities and so on. So is it not bringing segregation back to our society, maybe push us back even more than four decades, something we worked so hard to bring inclusion in. Don’t we lose the value of learning from each other by being together? I would like to know your thoughts on this.

Portraits of Bianca, Jutta, Arezoo and Kaveh in an online meeting.
Bianca, Jutta, Arezoo and Kaveh in an online meeting.

Bianca: Yeah. Well, I know one example of this that I’ve thought a lot about is watching community consultations go online, because it really shows an example of both what’s good and what’s the problem. What’s good is for some people they’re able to sit after dinner and just access the hearing or the meeting or whatever, and they get the information in. Maybe are showing up in a way that they wouldn’t, if they would have had to go to the community center or the library or the church basement or whatever it is.

Bianca: The negative impact, and I think it speaks to the question, is that residents don’t talk to each other, right? That’s what you lose because when you go to those meetings in person, it’s not just when you sit around the small table together and have the conversation, which is already not happening in this format. Maybe some people try to have it, but it’s hard. It’s like following someone in the door, seeing them at the water fountain and leaving on the way out.

Bianca: All of the richness and that informality and that safer space to have political conversation that’s not even as heightened as when you’re little square lights up and now you have to talk. That’s intense. I think it’s interesting that in some cases, the access is may be improved or increased, for some, not everybody, of course. That’s one. Then how we interact amongst each other, I feel in the way that a digitally mediated format asks us to.

Bianca: I’m finding this time awful and some people are finding it easier. So there’s also a lot of personal variation in how these things are playing out for people. Because for me, even in a conversation, there’s a lot of cues you make when maybe you want to speak or you’re listening really hard, or you’re doing something. They don’t translate. Then you get into, I think, feeling less comfortable with things that are difficult online.

Bianca: I find it very difficult to feel like I can have a hard conversation with someone I don’t know online. Say you say something really hard to see in the first place and then their screen’s frozen. I don’t even know what you would call that feeling, but it’s terrible. It’s terrible because it’s hard enough when you’re doing it in real life and you can at least have your physicality to show support, even if your words might be challenging, right?

Bianca: I think for the kinds of things we’re dealing with, this move, if I had to put a number on it is net negative because I think the kinds of things that we need to deal with that we’ve kicked the can down the road on for so long is now just heightened. I don’t know that we can get through that stuff online. It’s possible. I’m wrong about these things because I’m saying it from my viewpoint, but I find this stuff very difficult for interrelationships.

Bianca: I find it tiring. I find it difficult. I hold back and in some ways maybe that’s good because I’m being more thoughtful, but I don’t know that that’s going to help in all kinds of conversation. I’ll stop there, Jut. I’m curious what your thoughts are.

Jutta: Well, so my team in order to involve more people and to keep people on, despite their personal situation has been working in a hybrid form for 20 years or so. We’ve been growing ways of achieving those same things, which are very different structures than are popular at the moment. We have a daily touch point where everybody fills each other in on what they’re doing and what they need help with. We have social, a tea time, a snack time, those types of things.

Jutta: We’ve been trying to compensate for the fact that we’re not all in one place by virtue of other things. We’ve also experimented with other things like a persistent open window where we have a screen that is always connected between different locations. There may be nobody there, there may be nothing there, but to allow for that serendipitous bumping into each other. Then having as many diverse channels as possible and allowing people to go privately to talk one-on-one in the middle of a difficult situation.

Jutta: Or setting up mentorship relationships, where you are responsible for making sure that this person is not left out of the conversation or is not getting their voice in and having the largest range of options with respect to how you can communicate something, ask questions, bring up issues. It also has involved reconstructing the notion of the balance between … or questioning and supporting the balance between personal and work life, the position of failure and mistakes.

Jutta: That these are very valuable things to report. Admitting that you don’t know something. I mean, all of those have had to be reconstructed. That’s only in a work situation that isn’t in where there has been the opportunity to get to know people and to get to know what people need. I guess what it brings up for me, is there a way to have that same growth of possibilities within a much more informal social structure like a community consultation or a community group? I don’t know.

Bianca: Yeah. I think I want to give a … It’s so interesting how much creativity you just displayed in all of these things, and seeing this as a chance to … Someone said to me the other day, that it’s almost the hardest to be creative when you have no constraints. That constraints help you because they give you … And I’ve made some of this argument, even with innovation, give people rules so that they can innovate within those rules.

Bianca: Don’t think it’s a free for all, which is how I would characterize the state of some national governments, which is just do whatever you want. I think as a good example I do want to bring up, so the report for the Friends of Chinatown, there was a report done and it’s called Community Power for Anti-displacement: An Inclusive Future for Chinatown. That meeting of 160 people where they went over some of this, was an online consultation where it felt like the opposite of maybe a city-run consultation because it’s not exactly different in every way.

Bianca: You still present some material, you have a few people speaking, you open it up, you have a chat, you have things going on, but the energy and the way to approach that opportunity there, was actually quite beautiful. That was encouraging and it was like everyone was figuring out, “How do we make the most of this moment?” I think these are just these examples of there are so many points for each side of the ledger on the trade-offs discussion.

Bianca: Like what’s good, what’s bad, it’s the accessibility versus the experience. I do think that the ways that people communicate, I’ve thought about this so much. I know this is a bit meta, but the time before email was prevalent, the texting and don’t call me if you don’t tell me that you’re calling me, the voice versus text, the surveillance nature of writing everything down all the time, that’s interesting.

Bianca: Just how the nature of these mediums affects our ability to do something wrong, to say something wrong. There’s a culture of I’ve got receipts on what people did or said or whatever, which is good for accountability. Absolutely a thing you should do, but also makes it a bit harder for some of that evolution and the growth to happen, because it’s really difficult to have an entire view of what interactions are like and what engagements are like and what conversations are like. Right? So, I think there’s a lot of under-discussed elements of how surveillant all of these systems are. Even if they’re intended to be supportive of better engagement, communication, whatever else, they still capture in a way that I don’t feel as though there’s enough thinking… I know surveillance study scholars have been thinking about that for a long time and have said it forever. But I was on part of some discussion with Jesse Wente. It was at 6 Degrees and it was just a conversation about society and democracy. And I think he said something like, and whenever I do this, it’s like you know you’re going to kind of get it wrong.

Bianca: But basically, he was saying, “If you would have told me we’d be carrying around surveillance devices or basically carrying them around ourselves voluntarily,” meaning the cell phone, he’s like, “that’s just hard to…” And I don’t think people stop enough and acknowledge that that’s what’s happening. And I don’t mean this as someone who runs around the world thinking about that from a state or private actor use of data way. I mean it, how does that affect how we interengage with each other? What is our surveillance of each other mean? What is the surveillance as a default and how we communicate mean, and for our governance and for our conversations in our engagement? I feel as though that conversation always gets framed into either the state is doing something or your stuff is being sold, but I don’t feel we have as much conversation about the social implications of this surveillance.

Bianca: That word has so many different connotations and meanings and implementations. And I think it’s an interesting element of this because there’s almost like there’s not a thoughtful… For some people, it’s not as comfortable to be texting and writing all the time, just like… Whipping it off because that’s a record, you’ve written a record. And I think with email, the way that moved through administrative, just normalcy of anybody who works with computers, having this long thing now of records can be great and can also be a problem. Right? Because sometimes I see people write things in email, I’m like, “Do you know that this is a permanent record? Are you really…” And I can tell that they don’t think about it as that. And I don’t know that that’s great. I don’t, and I’m not saying you should be doing nefarious things and do them in ways where you’re not writing it down or keeping track of it.

Bianca: But honestly, in terms of how we create space for flexibility, for changing our minds, and how we engage with each other, I’m not sure that we’re enough talking about what this whole realm does for archiving, memories. Right? There are things in our minds that you’re supposed to forget because they’re terrible. We’re not giving people that much room anymore, not to have a really intense and detailed archive of their life. And I’ve seen some really nice writing on that. So, I know I’m getting a bit like out there with where this goes from the question, but I’m curious, how does that land with you, those considerations?

Jutta: Oh, yeah. Most definitely. And of course, the notion of forgetting and make it trying to bring back the idea of forgetting, but also the fragmentation of those, everything being taken out of context. But again, I see that as actually being something that predates the web. The web and technology and digital systems has just exacerbated something that existed before because that fragmentation and decontextualization has been there in much of our knowledge-gathering and our communication before as well. It’s just become so much more amplified.

Bianca: I mean, a lot though. I would argue it’s a pretty significant next leg of it.

Jutta: Yeah. And the roots of it, yes, I agree. It’s definitely taken it as where before, it was a minor underlying area. I also think that we have demonized mistakes. We have fragmented and reduced things. It’s, again, that denial of the complexity. We lose sight of the relationships. Here I am, I’m maturing, I am cycling back to this issue and I’ve improved. And this record of a mistake or a failure or a something that I regret should be seen in the context of how has that contributed to my growth. I mean, there’s all of those. We’ve lost the narrative at the same time as we are capturing everything. It’s not just the fact that we’re capturing it, but how are we analyzing and using what we’re capturing, and how are we interpreting it. And of course, the quantization of all of this is something that is removing forgiveness, forgetting the notion that it isn’t that… A single act is not deterministic as to our value or our intent, that we are all of a project in construction, a work in progress.

Bianca: Yeah. And I don’t know, other than faith-based rhetoric around forgiveness where that… I mean, it’s great that it lives in many, just through different faiths, but in terms of like the idea of forgiveness, when I started to think about salvage as a term, and I went down the road with it, I was like, “Is this like salvation?” You get into these things where you start to realize that there is a very limited amount of language that allows us to talk about the forgiveness, the error, the mistake, that whatever. There’s a limited construct for having these conversations about moving along, like, “Okay, here’s what we know, here’s where we are, moving along.”

Bianca: And I think our ability, culturally, to talk about physicality and space, but not very well about temporal issues, like time and time between and time since, and all of that, and I know these are, again, abstract and philosophical to an extent, but I think they really culturally matter in how we talk about everything. Someone, I think Desmond Cole today tweeted that there were rules about access to public housing for people who have criminal records and how unjust that is. And I know that’s a very old example of this thing we’re talking about to an extent. Right? That’s not the same as from a surveillant, that’s just a record and an implication, but it’s terrible. Right? It’s one of those things, you look at it and you’re like, “Yeah, that’s terrible.” How much are we invested in helping people keep it along, keep it moving? And I think that’s probably why in this moment, all the conversations about abolition and awareness of what carceral systems are, we’re really having that moment of like, “Are we going to move this along into places where we all get to do better?”

Bianca: And you could even challenge what the… There’s a whole bunch of questions about criminality and everything else that are their own conversations as to what our rules say is bad or good or whatever else. But my point is the way that that lack of forgiveness and that lack of being able to move on, records, expunging records, doing forgiveness on things that have happened, I think just looking at it in its most physical sense right now and how it’s affecting things like people’s access to housing, how are you supposed to move it along?

Bianca: Some of the stories I hear when people are let out of prison and what they’re let out of prison with, and that no one was told. And then a woman died in Saskatchewan. This happens all the time. It’s like, say, you’ve got a family member saying, “Why didn’t anybody tell me that she was out? And now she’s dead.” And that’s an administrative failure in my mind. Right? Just in terms of that’s a notification. Why wasn’t that notification there? Right? Those are system improvements that might seem small but are profound. So, that went around in a bit of a circle. But yeah.

Jutta: Yeah. So, getting back to where are the origins of that, and we were talking about education. We’re preparing kids to be surveilled, and be prepared for the determinism of any failure or mistakes, and to fear failure and mistakes. You fail an exam. Your academic record is what allows you to enter into university or post-secondary education. This idea that you can not progress if you have failed at something prior, or you’ve made a mistake before, and that it becomes part of your permanent record. Whatever you’ve done is captured in some sort of rubric and adds up to a mark. I think we need to examine it in more than just the technical systems, but the systems that were there prior to the technology as well, and how we’re preparing kids from the very earliest age to see this, to normalize these types of practices.

Bianca: But do you see anywhere because interesting you bringing up education because, for me, my entry of interest into anything political is education system because I just haven’t gone through it? I was like, “This does not work for everybody the same way.” That was easy for me as a young person to see. And it led me into learning about things like the EQAO, and this was when there was like a standardized testing push in the United States, and the No Child Left Behind, and all of this stuff was going on.
Jutta: There still is.

Bianca: Right. And all of the economies of the testing prep, ELSA, all that, there’s so much in there, the publishing, the testing, all the regimes that are a part of that economy. And I mean, I think that’s a really good question is within the Western scientific worldview, is there a methodology that would enable children to be moving through institutions like schools that doesn’t require that standardized, empirical, quantitative approach to saying, “Okay, you’re good. You’re done.” Because that, to me, is worldview style. Right? That’s a very fundamental question. And it brings me back to something that when we were talking about I wanted to mention because I think these are similar things. Safety, when we talk about housing, there’s an element of the professional that needs to be respected in terms of like building code. Right? There are some things that are professionalized, that are inscribed in science, and they are good. And if they’re not followed, we have a big problem.

Bianca: And I think this is what’s interesting is it’s like there’s always an element of that. And I think if I think about education, for me, that’s literacy and numeracy to an extent, is you need some of these things to be made available to use. You learn them, you get them, and then you can cook up your own what you do with them. Right? But they are things you can probably agree you need to understand, can you do this thing or not, and if you can’t, we need to keep helping you until you can do it, so that you can unlock all the other doors of what comes next, maybe in your learning journey.

Bianca: Can you imagine what a next step in moving us away from the sort of standardized models are? I know there’s probably countries which are a little less intense on this, but just generally because I see that this is not just limited to education. This is our whole society has this problem of how do you respect? Right?

Jutta: Right. But education sort of prepares for it, and education is, of course, built on the industrial model, the idea that you’re creating replaceable workers, that you are creating conformant learners. Given the emergence of automation, it’s all those formulaic things that are going to be replaced. So, we are preparing our students to be replaced. If you look at education, at the moment, and unfortunately, even the push towards equitable education is pushing towards standardized education. So, I get equal content, equal assessment, et cetera, as opposed to equitable.

Jutta: This is a huge other topic. But I think we really do need to examine education, and education I feel is the preparation for civic engagement, for participating in the community, for all of how things are valued, and it gets into our… Or it’s the precursor to that participation in a supportive community that where there is not homelessness, where there is a system that can make sure that you have a home and that you can participate in that notion of home, whether it’s the private home, or the neighborhood home, or the community home. And yes, I think we need a complete reform of what we prepare our kids for because we’re not thinking about what they’re going to be let out into the world to do, and we’re preparing them to be out of work, to be out of productive participation by the way that we’ve structured education at the moment. But that’s a huge additional.

Bianca: Yeah, it’s huge. And whenever I get into this, I always stop. I’m like, “Should I just be working on that?” And I think it also goes back to time and our inability to prioritize and invest in those changes you talk about because they do not manifest next year, and they don’t manifest in a couple of years. Right? The work itself is long and then the time for it to manifest is long, and I think that is just such an important site of intervention. And one of the things I’ve been disappointed about in my learnings about education is that the advocacy is primarily parents, which on one hand, of course it is. But on the other hand, everyone has a vested interest in how these education systems work. Right? I mean, that’s everybody you deal with in your life.

Bianca: And so, I wonder about how we invite more people into the education advocacy space. I think that’s an important question is more people that maybe… It’s always thinking about how do we do things differently. That’s kind of my question to myself every day is I don’t want to do things that were not working before. I want to figure out how do we try to activate new spaces and new models. So, I think it’s important. It’s important that more of us engage in education. Let’s leave it there. It’s a massive topic. I agree with you. There’s a lot of hope there too, but a lot of necessary work because you can’t undo it. Right? That’s the problem. Like you say, when you spoke, it was like this, no, hold on, there is actually a linear… The linear element of it matters. These things get entrenched and then you’re trying to resolve them in people’s lives later down the road and myself included.

Bianca: Alas, I’ll stop on that topic because I know we could go on forever. Is there anything else specifically from the housing, shelter, homelessness? I feel like we did definitely bring it into the more specifics from our first conversation, but I’m curious if there’s any other lingering thoughts or, Jutta, if you had anything?

Jutta: Well, I can connect the education and housing. One of the things that we did as a project funded by the Oak Foundation was to look at individuals with learning differences. And when we were invited to submit a proposal, what we decided to do was not to highlight the individuals with learning differences that were successful as models, but instead to talk to the kids that had disengaged or broken up with education and to look at what were the learnings that we can learn from those individuals. What caused you to break up with education or with learning? And one of the things that we found was that among the people that were in homeless shelters, the homeless youth, anyone that was in our social safety net, there was a huge over-representation of individuals with learning differences that education had failed them, they had disengaged from education.

Jutta: And so whether it was recruitment into terrorist groups in South America, whether it was sex workers in Mexico, whether it was child laborers in Lesotho, the over-representation of kids that had not done well in school was just astronomical. It was really heartbreaking. And that, of course, it’s that vicious pattern that leads to having no access to basic necessities. And I think it’s true that I think education is definitely one area that we need to address. It’s a complex system, but it is a vicious cycle. And the one thought that I have is it goes back to more than 40 years. There are some very, very fundamental values or ways of interpreting the world, and ways of educating, ways of researching our knowledge of evidence, truth, democracy that we need to re-examine quite closely.

Bianca: Yeah, totally. I guess my final thought on that one is that the idea of it, of course, I have to keep arguing my 40 years thing. So, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to argue my 40 years thing because my instinct right now is that the public systems we have are being further privatized. And the way that accelerated over the last 40 years and what it is now beginning to foreclose, in terms of us being able to exert public power over them, feels particularly relevant because of the amount that the outsourcing happened, and the privatization happened, and the management consulting firms have taken over the governments. These are pretty significant trends that accelerated in the last 40 years.

Bianca: So, it’s not to say that 40 years ago, things were fantastic. What it is to say is that the things that kicked into hyper-gear in the last 40 years, if those particular things aren’t undone, the privatization thing actually knocks the public power out of being an option. And I think that’s why understanding how those manifest is critical, nevermind the civil society stuff we talked about which has been terrible in the last 40 years as well.

Jutta: Yeah, and add to that, artificial intelligence and data. Data’s about the past. It amplifies the past. And so, we’re accelerating it even more. It’s exponentially accelerated those patterns where it came in, yeah.

Bianca: Totally. And I think just to pin it, sorry, I’m just going to pin it because I think it helps in the Canadian wrap-up here, which is that the idea that we can’t go back and address… I go back from a reconciliation perspective, you’re talking about treaty, you’re talking about inherent rights, everything that needs to happen in this country to address all of the historical wrongs will not happen through the private sector. So, the only way to maintain the power you need to go back and address those issues sits in retaining some semblance of public power. And that’s why I think it’s not to say, like, I love the saying that nostalgia is poison. It is such poison, nostalgia and thinking things were better at blah, blah, blah. I love it because I am one of the first people who’s like, “Whoa.” And then you realize the context. But I think that’s the point is that it’s not to say that democracy or the state is defensible. It’s to say that it was 40 years ago or from its founding, but that without it, I don’t see how we can actually go back and fix older, historical problems.

Bianca: So, I think that’s why it’s interesting because sometimes I feel as though worrying about issues that are digital or AI, or everything else, I’m like, “Wait, is this where we should be fighting?” But if we don’t keep the publicness to that kind of system set, I think everything else gets lost and foreclosed that we can’t even go back and fix the other things. So, that’s my way to try to take the where we are in time and the all the way back in time and the hopefully, some kind of reason to keep on it.

Jutta: And I would add to that dichotomy that we should think about not just private-public, but also cooperative and where there isn’t yet a formalized public structure.

Bianca: Absolutely. The third way, the salvage, and the co-ops. What are the new ways? And I think that’s also where the land trust and the community self-governance come in. So, emphatic yes to that. I see that public-private is not the paradigm. It’s the what else is there and how do we do it.

Arezoo: Great!

Arezoo: And it’s good that you brought up the cooperative term here because we have a podcast on that, recorded about two-three years ago. I put the link in the transcript. You remember Jutta!

Jutta Treviranus in the Quantization studio, preparing for recording the first episode (before the COVID-19 Pandemic).
Jutta Treviranus in the Quantization studio, preparing for recording the first episode (before the COVID-19 Pandemic).

Also, I am glad that you transitioned to education. It’s a complex and vital topic. And I am sure that we will return to this topic in the future, although we only touched the surface in the first episode of Quantization. We haven’t started it yet because the topic is really challenging and needs to link with many other areas. But certainly, education is the core and essential part of conversations about inclusion and obviously a segment in the podcast on inclusion.

Thank you both for being here and for the conversation.

Arezoo: Thanks for listening to this ongoing conversation.

Kaveh: It was episode 18 of Quantization, Hybrid Life.
We want to thank Bianca and Jutta for being part of this conversation. Please share your comments with us; check our website Quantization.ca for more discussions and full transcripts, and come back for upcoming episodes.

Marshall Bureau composed all tracks in this episode.