#rp18 speaker Sean Bonner; photo credit: Sean Bonner
We’re excited to be able to welcome back Sean Bonner for the second time since 2008 ("Taking back local media"). He’ll be joining us as part of our "True originals of the international Blogosphere" series (which includes re:publica speakers Heather Armstrong, Maciej Ceglowski, Cory Doctorow or Peter Glaser).
Sean Bonner is co-founder and global director of the environmental data aggregator Safecast. Other members of the team include Joi Ito, former #rp speaker Ethan Zuckerman, and Bunnie Huang. Bonner is currently working as a Visiting Researcher at MIT Media Lab’s Center for Civic Media, as well as at the Keio University Tokyo.
This restless activity, engagement, global thinking and local action, is something that can be found at any junction throughout his long and varied career: As one of the "fathers" of the citizen journalism network "Metblogs", he helped globally network various local blogs and regularly wrote for the BoingBoing blog himself. He put on the first exhibitions for street art luminaries Shepard Fairey and Space Invader in L.A. and designed album covers for South African band Die Antwoord. In addition, he was Artist in Residence in Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier, where he realized an exhibition on barcodes, among other things. On top of everything else, Bonner is also active as a consultant and mentor for the Singularity University.
What else? Well, we can wholeheartedly give a subscription recommendation for his notorious newsletter. His last band might be a thing of the past, but there’s plenty of shouting and ranting in the monthly editions of the newsletter, packed full of links and web aesthetics (more on that here).
The many and varied social and cultural reference points could be one of the reasons why Bonner calls himself a "Misanthropologist". Other people have described him as a “subcultural clairvoyant on the cusp of technology and societal trends”. Having grown up with the anarchic hymns of the punk rock scene, Bonner gravitated towards the “make or break” ethos early on. This approach has become somewhat tamer over time, but is still very much Californian even though Bonner now lives and researches in Tokyo. In Bonner’s own words: “I like to work on projects that empower self-ownership and responsibility in people.” This approach is best understood through Safecast.
The Safecast aggregator was founded as a reaction to the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima. The aim is to monitor radiation levels and other airborne pollutants, gathering the data and making the aggregated datasets available to the public. This approach allows one to give citizens around the world immediate access to sources of information in the form of hardware and software, as well as reports. On the one hand, this helps increase the density of the monitoring network, but is also relevant to the individuals’ own health and allows for the experience of proactive participation: as a verifiable alternative to environmental data provided by the state.
Even though the idea goes back far beyond the Trump presidency, it is not a surprising fit for an era where governments cut research funding and espouse “alternative facts”. And it’s definitely a perfect fit for the re:publica programme. Last year, in the sub:marine track, we already had a focus on sensors and other data collection methods in Smart Ocean – the ocean as a data provider and space for technological innovation. We looked at what data can be used for in the sciences and how, next to temperatures and plastic particles, acoustic marine pollution can also be measured.
Besides monitoring levels of radiation (which has long since moved beyond Japan), Safecast has recently also begun to measure air pollution through particulate matter (more on that over here). Imaging processes are also an area of interest for Sean Bonner in a quite classical sense as well, as one can tell by taking a look at his Instagram account. We’re already looking forward to the slide decks at #rp18!