Nathan Jurgenson, speaker at Improving Reality 2014. Photo by Roberta Mataityte
Nathan Jurgenson, speaker at Improving Reality 2014. Photo by Roberta Mataityte





Lighthouse's thought-provoking conference of contemporary culture, Improving Reality, returned in September 2014 for a spectacular fourth edition, as part of Brighton Digital Festival. Curated and hosted by Artistic Director Juha van ‘t Zelfde, the conference brought together an international community of artists, thinkers and makers to share and experience groundbreaking art and ideas of the present.

The Coming of Immediacy - discussion with Nathan Jurgenson, John Armitage,  Nadia El-Iman and host Juha van ‘t Zelfde. Photo by Roberta Mataityte
The Coming of Immediacy - discussion with Nathan Jurgenson, John Armitage, Nadia El-Iman and host Juha van ‘t Zelfde. Photo by Roberta Mataityte

The theme for Improving Reality 2014 – Visibility is a Trap – was a visceral response to the tension between the tendency to share every detail of our lives, and our desire and right for more privacy. Our understanding of the life of the information we share and publish has become increasingly more complex as we see it transformed on the countless online networks, by individuals, organisations and even bots.

We are delighted to present the videos of the eight speakers and performers from the three sessions at Improving Reality 2014 – Visibility is a Trap.


As social media transforms from tools of progress to weapons of mass surveillance, how can we navigate the speed of ‘now’ to better our world?

The speakers in the opening session were social media theorist Nathan Jurgenson (USA), writer and academic John Armitage (UK) and Edgeryders founder and CEO Nadia El-Imam (SE) selected for their insights and varied approaches to how we make sense of and deal with the post-PRISM world.

John Armitage – ‘The Terrorphone’

Self-confessed technological determinist John Armitage (Professor of Media Arts at Winchester School of Art) sets the pace with this talk about philosopher Marshall McLuhan’s work on contemporary communication and the “remote controlled time and space” that certain devices, such as the telephone, cultivate, followed by reflections on his specialist subject, the work of Paul Virilio. Armitage argues that our mobile phones have initiated new forms of social implosion, where our notions of privacy and space have been abolished. If our personal devices have become an extension of ourselves, then the revelations of government and corporate privacy abuses are an attack on our central nervous system.

Nathan Jurgenson – ‘On the Trappings of Social Media Visibility’

Snapchat researcher Nathan Jurgenson is a social theorist and a contributing editor for the New Inquiry. Nathan begins his talk with an exploration of Foucault’s theories and anxieties of the many ‘selves’ and identities we produce, in order to examine the potential ‘trappings of visibility’ we might experience through social media. He addresses ideas of social norms and technology as ‘architectures of power’ and the potential of social media to be a panoptic force. How can we better the embrace ephemerality and playfulness in the design of our social networks, and use this ephemerality to queer the binaries of privacy and visibility, the on and offline? Jurgenson’s view is that the trap isn’t visibility but what we do with that visibility that is the real trap.

Nadia El-Imam

Founder and CEO of Edgeryders, Nadia El-Imam brings some energetic thinking to the table to as the last speaker in this session by considering the “post-territorial landscape”, and where social change truly occurs – on the edges. Presenting the work of Edgeryders, a networking gathering more than 2,300 people and organisations around the globe, Nadia explained how experimenting with everything from developing network-bartering algorithms, collective intelligence tools and unMonasteries allows for a more democratic, decentralized structure that allows and responds to change.

The session ended with a panel discussion between our speakers, hosted by Juha. The discussion began with concerns on the concept of control and self-awareness within control, as John Armitage puts it ‘your thoughts are not your own’. Nadia El-Imam suggests that people need the opportunity to experience a de-centralising of control. Audiences asked our speakers: is there a gulf between perspectives of privacy in the US and Europe? How do we re-imagine public spheres? Is there evidence that social media is permanent?

Watch films from SESSION 2: The Aesthetics of Disappearance

Watch films from SESSION 3: The Experience of Visibility

Improving Reality was part of Lighthouse’s programme for Brighton Digital Festival 2014. Brighton Digital Festival is a month long celebration of digital culture. It is run by members of Brighton’s arts and digital communities and supported by Arts Council England and Brighton & Hove City Council.




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