In Your Network: Aral Balkan
Founder and lead designer at social enterprise ind.ie, Aral is at the cutting edge of open technology innovation and it's impact on freedom, democracy and personal privacy
1) Please give a brief explanation of what it is you do and why?
I am the founder and lead designer of a small social enterprise based in Brighton. We are working on creating a tool that lets you share the things that are important for you with the people you care about … and no one else. So we’re making technology that doesn’t spy on you; technology that empowers you to project your privacy and other fundamental freedoms. I call this independent technology. You can think of it as the anti-Facebook or anti-Google. Where their business is to learn as much about you as they can (because that insight is what they sell to their actual customers), we want to know as little about you as possible. And, we’re a company limited by guarantee so we have no equity. That means that we cannot take venture capital or be bought out by one of these companies in the future.
2) Why did you join the RSA?
I got introduced to the RSA when I was invited to give an RSA talk last year. On meeting some of the staff and learning more about your focus on ethical design, it became clear that there is a lot of overlap between what we do at ind.ie, what I stand for personally, and what the RSA does.
4) What are you passionate about?
I want to make the world better, and by that I mean I want to help create a future where people enjoy human rights and democracy. We are at a crossroads today; teetering on the brink of a new corporate feudalism spearheaded by the spyware companies of Silicon Valley. I’d like to contribute towards an alternative future where individuals are in control, not corporations.
5) What makes you angry?
Inequality and injustice. Shortsightedness.
6) What would you change in society given the chance?
I would have us fundamentally re-examine the root assumptions that form the foundations of our social systems.
We are living at a time of unprecedented and unsustainable inequality —where, according to two recent Oxfam studies, 1% of the world’s population has as much wealth as the remaining 99% and where 80 people have as much wealth as one half of the world’s poorest combined. If our species is to have a future with any semblance of welfare, if a future at all, we have got to tackle this problem and its corollary of habitat depletion, climate change, and the rise of an increasingly autocratic global corporate/state governance that is not only incapable of addressing these issues but whose interests would suffer where they to be fixed.
If we are to fix the world, we have to leave our safety blanket of irrationality behind and realise that however much comfort we might believe it provides, it is false comfort. Furthermore, and rather importantly, it is a comfort that might just be detrimental to the survival of the species.
7) What is the most important lesson you’ve ever learnt?
As a designer, my job is to understand the core of a problem. The core of a problem is usually very simple, once you can see it. Seeing it, however, is not always easy as you have to get through layers of dogma, camouflage, and misdirection — not to mention your own preconceptions and biases. If you understand the seed, you understand the tree. All too often, we try to understand a problem while living in the branches and our discourse is limited to superficial banter about formalistic peculiarities of the fruit.
8) What recent bit of news have you heard which inspires you?
The most inspirational thing I’ve seen recently was the sight of millions upon millions of people marching defiantly and unafraid in the streets of France in defence of freedom of expression, human rights, and secular ideals. Unfortunately, some so-called world leaders seem to have misunderstood what the marches were about and have almost unanimously started calling for increased surveillance and the further erosion of the very rights and freedoms that we were marching for.
9) Tell us about another interesting Fellow you have spoken to.
I recently got to hear Edward Snowden speak while he was accepting his Winston Award at the Big Brother Awards in Amsterdam. Is he a Fellow? He really should be an honorary one if he’s not already, don’t you think? You should watch his talk if you get a chance.
10) What would you like to connect with Fellows about?
I’d love for you to watch the talk I gave in December at the Big Brother Awards called The Camera Panopticon. It is about the kind of world Google and Facebook are creating and what that means for the future of our freedom and democracy unless we start changing things. And if you want to help a small group of four Brightonians who are working to make such a difference, I’d love to chat with you.
Get in touch with Aral: email@example.com