In the context of these paradigmatic shifts, ReUnion Network becomes more than speculation. We are an actionable and sustainable proposal to resist the multifarious crises of our atomized and aging societies. We design a technological system that embraces the multiplicity of relationships and lays out the conditions for people to create a mesh network of stable caring relationships for their everyday and long-term well-being. ReUnion gives organizational and economic support to people in freely formed self-initiated and user-governed social support systems. We must steward care as the precious and common resource that it is.
In other words, we design for commons-based peer-to-peer care communities.
We use commons to refer to an ongoing, energized ecology of the network community, with care as its shared resource and that runs on peer-determined principles.
These principles are protected via an interpersonal agreement that is regularly revisited and a technological design that avoids the possibility of data exploitation and appropriation. Through the ecosystem of ReUnion, these principles are made visible and supportable by society and within governance that the network grows.
Rethinking the ways in which we value care work and emotional labor is critical to repair these damages, to pay fair wages, and to account more appropriately for the new forms of productive forces and social units of our new kinships. This is why ReUnion explores new ways of measuring energy and time spent in relationships and with ourselves. Therefore, ReUnion is dedicated to becoming a welfare system that supports and strengthens interpersonal relationships.
It is often said that contemporary social media has harvested a deeply narcissistic culture. At first glance, this might appear to be true. After all, a large proportion of social media features are designed to fulfill individuals’ desires for attention. Social media indulges users with a personalized aggregation of endless content. What we see on our screens are reflections of our existing beliefs and preferences. As such, we typically do not have to confront or manage challenges to our preferred realities. This user-centered design attempts to provide a solution for every potential human vulnerability that might break this mirror, so that users may avoid discontinuities and difficulties within themselves.
Under the guise of an objective filter, the algorithmic sorting of information based on our behavioral data of contemporary popular social media convinces users that what is displayed is the truth we need to know. This approach paralyzes our ability to understand and negotiate beyond our own vantage point, into the reality of the multifaceted, sometimes conflicting, frameworks of the world and others’ positions. We understand this as an issue with media individualizing, atomizing users, by demarcating informational specifics (emotional and unemotional), reflecting it back to us and out into mass social networks as additional affirmation. A person is not grounded in anything so that one’s identity collapses into everything it meets in its own continuity.
Psychologically, users are locked in a cognitive stage unable to distinguish themselves from others, struggling to separate from their groups yet having the urge to belong at the same time. This is felt in every itch to connect. Users are on the hunt for the filling of our details, of our story. We are all just seeking a clean, well-lighted screen (that also tracks our usage so we can keep trying to be our best selves).
Individualization is different from individuation, which we use to refer to the ongoing process of understanding oneself as distinct from others, and thus, intrinsically, in relation to and existing by other things. This lends itself to people distinctly connecting with others. In most mass communication, users neither approach the individuation process nor are able to engage with the world with some perspective on the world: through the lens of social media, our perspective is the world.
Staying in such information architecture means that we will not have the capacity to create and maintain a functioning relationship and that we are subjected to guardianship by mass communication platforms—not only practically, but also mentally.
We believe that one can only have good relationships with others when they have a good relationship with themselves. The resilient health of the individual’s psyche is a cornerstone for a sustainable and meaningful commons, as it is the fundamental condition for one to safely and autonomously engage with and support others.
Expanding from the base of strongly supported individuals, ReUnion fosters its bottom-up interpersonal network around the resource of care, reflecting the unique and evolving social conditions and care labor. Crucially, within this expansion, the ReUnion Network refutes the abstraction of users and their relations into measurable datasets. This is a direct avoidance of the behaviors of most tech corporations, which seize and privatize the free spaces and communities of network platforms by capturing social exchanges via the accumulations of network patterns that emerge from users’ interpersonal connections.
We foster a commons for care grounded in users embodying the non-measurable relationship with themselves, from which they can judge their fluctuating capacities to give and receive care within collaboratively determined ownership and distribution models.
ReUnion Network is a socio-economic proposal that is channeled through digital technology. Our proposal contains multiple leaps from the status quo and a continuing scheme of changing society. While other tools for social activism, such as protest can help provide immediate ruptures, they can be difficult to directly translate into systemic change; and, working within political systems, including election or legal demands, are often too slow and inaccessible to penetrate for quick enough effects. Digital technology, on the other hand, has extensively and quickly changed the social, organizational, and economic layers of our lives. As well, digital technology has the ability to navigate between, if not beyond, the frames of states, industries, and populations. While bearing in mind that these capacities of digital technology do not always produce positive outcomes if not carefully designed and regulated, ReUnion Network borrows the power of digital technology to move towards the establishment of flexible institutional practices that will take account of civil life with equitable nuance.
As we are keenly aware of the radicalism of ReUnion’s proposal, we have set out cautious, attentive, even conservative principles for the digital design.
The first principle is recognizing the responsibility and inevitable flaws of a system for human relationships. Instead of treating the ReUnion Network system as occupying a universal, objective, and unembodied point-of-view, we understand the ReUnion Network system to represent a vantage point from that of a third person who has certain privileges and responsibilities. This understanding is crucial for the functionalities that imply interference, cognitive and behavioral guidance, and gatekeeping.
Algorithmic prediction and recommendation features are employed with great caution, because such prompts erode the space for users to observe and reflect for themselves. They also lower the opportunity for learning sensitivity to and awareness of other parties with whom they are involved. Algorithmic prediction and recommendation features deprive both parties of their designated site to act and negotiate, as well as the possible outcomes that emerge from the specific relationship, unique in its time, place, and capacity. Similar concerns also apply to UX design, in which we need to seek a balance between accessibility and directability of a system to prevent people from becoming passive users.
To address these problems of UX design and algorithmic prediction, we need to go back to the very beginning: how data – the source materials of a functioning digital system – is created. Data is never an objective existence. It does not "just" record what happens. More so, it presents a gaze and a narrative: what will be observed as valuable, how it will be measured and reduced as it is translated into data, how does the data being read and judged, who is reading it, where is the reader situated in the power structure and who is part of the design. Stories of how technology reinforces social injustices have been shared in news media. Too often, these biases begin at the time when the gaze - a point of abstraction - is set in position to tell its narrative.
The challenge for ReUnion Network is not only to find a different way to gaze at a relationship – an intangible and invisible entity - but also how to gaze in an ethical way.
We are keenly aware that our approach to information security will affect our design. Moreover, we place much importance on threat modeling and articulating our accountability and accessibility. Because we are in an early developmental stage, this process will unfold as we conduct community research and determine exactly what information is needed, then determine the best way to document and structure it, before its encryption on a private server.