Anticipation, innovation and the narratives of technical development

Ubiquitous computing is an interesting yet peculiar (empirical) focus for study by virtue of there being no devices or systems widely available commercially or publicly. This is at the heart of my research interest, the point of friction I feel compelled to address: ubiquitous computing largely exists as a confluence of anticipatory, imaginative and research & development practices. It is these assemblages of practice and the fields of relations therein that I hope will form the empirical focus of my project.

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Researching Ubiquitous Computing as a Geographer

How does one summarise the background to a research project when it makes up an entire research agenda in a different discipline? This is a task I must continue to engage in as my project progresses. I would currently guide social sciences readers from the familiar ground of mobile communications technologies to the less familiar, and experimental, systems and devices of my area of research – Ubiquitous Computing, or ‘ubicomp’. We might start then, with the well-documented and wide-ranging rise in popularity of the capacity to communicate on the move, with mobile telephones and other mobile technologies (see: Harkin 2003, Ito et al. 2005, Ling 2004, Plant 2001).
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Neologisms and making-sense of ‘the new’

It is frustrating that the push to build a career can, in many cases, motivate the forming of neologisms for the same old concepts, to stake a claim to ‘new ground’ – hijacking history in the name of the ‘new’. Which leads me to ask – when discussing the various ways in which we relate to one another (technically mediated or otherwise) do we really need ideas such as the recently posited notions: ‘weaving‘ or ‘connectors‘? ‘Weavers’ and ‘connectors’ are apparently facilitators of networks or ‘principal nodes’ therein. After brief reflection my first question, for example, might be: ‘can nonhumans (animals or things) be connectors or weavers?’, if so, are we actually talking about intensities of relations? Particularly since ideas of agency (especially tied to ‘intentionality‘) and power subsequently demand consideration. Plenty of social theorists, from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, have articulated similar ideas in many ways, and so one doesn’t necessarily need to appeal to novelty.

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Masters Research

What follows is the Abstract to my Masters degree dissertation.

An End to Cyberspace? Metaphor, Affect and Socio-Technical Relations

Despite twenty-five years of the personal computer and a wealth of literature on all things ‘cyber-‘ the discussion of computer-mediated communication largely remains pre-figured by (misguided) binaries, such as ‘material’-‘electronic’ and ‘real’-‘virtual’. This dissertation (re)examines the metaphorical concepts enfolded in constituting computer-mediated place(s). Given the upsurge of social networking websites, this inquiry attends to the place(s) of contemporary phenomenon MySpace.com. After Doreen Massey and Nigel Thrift I utilise prominent theories of relationality, namely Actor-Network Theory. This is situated in an understanding, through the work of philosopher Gilles Deleuze and geographers such as J-D Dewsbury and Nigel Thrift, of a ceaselessly taking-place or becoming world, significantly motivated by the affectual. Following influential work on metaphor by Lakoff and Johnson and work on socio-technical relations, by geographers such as Nick Bingham and Stephen Graham, I chart a typology of transcendental, co-evolutionary and recombinatory metaphors for the Internet, with examples from a cross-section of literature. Evaluating how these metaphors are enrolled in the conception of place(s) is achieved through a dual methodology of interviews, with expert technological commentators and practitioners, and experimental Internet-based participant observation, using MySpace.com. I discuss the manner in which socio-technical assemblages such as MySpace can be considered place(s) through empirical evidence, arguing that a relational approach reveals a finer granularity and nuance to the production and performance of place. Interwoven through my analysis is an attention to the role of the pre-cognitive and impersonal motivations of affect. I move on to evaluate how our normative spatial metaphors orientate or map computer-mediated place(s) framed by the aforementioned typology of metaphor. This dissertation proposes an end to over-simplistic and technologically determinate notions of ‘cyberspace’ by offering a beginning – a conceptualisation of place as an intensity of socio-technical relations, which are an increasingly significant part of the intermeshing skein of networks that makes up the social world.

You can download a full copy of this dissertation. Please understand your downloading of the document as an agreement to respect the Creative Commons license it is issued under. If you are interested in this research feel free to contact me to discuss it more.