Future Perfect, Data and Society

Practitioners and creators from world-building disciplines such as art, fiction, architecture, and science gather at Data & Society’s second Future Perfect conference on June 8 to explore the “uses, abuses, and paradoxes of speculative futures.”

Data & Society INFRA Lead Ingrid Burrington curates presentations, readings, and games that played on the namesake verb tense of the already-happened: the robots will have taken our jobs; America will have already been made great (again); sea level rise will have destroyed major coastal cities; we will already be immortals living on Mars.

When viewing the future as a subject of trepidation or a site of inevitable triumph, powerful actors and institutions often fail to see alternative futures latent in the present, and rarely have answers for how one lives after these imagined tipping points of devastation–or profiteering.

Session 2: Voight-Kampff Tests
Dystopia Now: Erasing the Internet by Erasing Sex Workers
Melissa Gira Grant and Danielle Blunt

You wake up one morning to find your Google Drive has been deleted. There is no warning, no explanation. You try to tweet about it but no one replies. Your clients post payment but your credit card processor vanishes without a trace before the funds land in your account. You call your co-working space to explain why you’ll be canceling your reservation this week because your clients can’t reach you; they tell you they’re going out of business because they are in the same boat. 

Your phone number, your emails, your websites: all of the channels that you use to connect to do your work and build community are disappearing. How do you work? How do you make your voice heard? How do you participate in a community on social media that is actively being erased and silenced? What does security look like if the resources you are trying to secure are disappearing without warning or a trace?

This is not a fictional dystopian future; for sex workers, this is reality. On March 21st, 2018, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) passed the Senate (97-2). President Trump signed FOSTA into law on April 11th. FOSTA was sold as “anti-human trafficking” legislation; however, what it actually does is give online platforms the power and incentive to censor their users for fear of  “facilitating” sex work. Its’ passage was followed with an immediate chilling effect, as platforms shuttered in anticipation of bankrupting lawsuits and possible criminal charges, and with some big platforms used by all kinds of people – like Reddit and Craigslist – deleting content before the law had even been signed. As a result, the already-marginalized communities who use the web to find work and build community around sex work were suddenly locked out.