Category Archives: pervasive media

VIDEO> Algorithms, performativity and governability – Introna

Excellent critical reflection on ‘algorithms, performativity and governability’ by Lucas Introna – very helpful for a bunch of things I’m currently thinking about…

Lucas Introna: “Algorithms, Performativity and Governability” from Media, Culture, Communication on Vimeo.

Taking this discussion a few steps on, you can (and I intend to today) read David Beer’s article Power through the algorithm? and Daniel Neyland’s article On organising algorithms.

Morozov on selling personal data

In a piece over on New Republic, Evgeny Morozov (author of To Save Everything Click Here) outlines a version of ‘the attention economy’, in which, because it is mediated through digital media, everything that we do, every way we interact with people, places, services and things becomes an ‘asset class’, and traded in bulk. Ultimately, Morozov’s argument is not dissimilar to Bernard Stiegler’s critique of a ‘generalised proleterianisation‘ insofar as the grammatisation (capturing, storing and sorting as data) of ever-increasing parts of our lives we become subjectivised through systems of calculation at an industrial scale that results in a kind of ‘incapacitation’. As Morozov suggests:

[T]o sell our intimate data in bulk is to fully surrender our quest for autonomy, accepting a life where the most existential choices are shaped either by the forces of the market or by whatever warbe it on climate change or obesitythe government has enlisted us (rather than corporations) to fight. In this world, whether we become vegetarians, and even whether we end up thinking about it, might ultimately hinge on which player (the steakhouses, the supermarkets, the bureaucrats) has the most to gain from this switch. Our data constitutes our very humanity. To voluntarily treat it as an “asset class” is to agree to the fate of an interactive billboard. We shouldn’t unquestionably accept the argument that personal data is just like any other commodity and that most of our digital problems would disappear if only, instead of gigantic data monopolists like Google and Facebook, we had an army of smaller data entrepreneurs. We don’t let people practice their right to autonomy in order to surrender that very right by selling themselves into slavery. Why make an exception for those who want to sell a slice of their intellect and privacy rather than their bodies?

Worth a read anyway, in spite of being a bit dystopian…

Reblog > Anne Galloway at Mobilities & Design Workshop, Lancaster

The Mobilities and Design workshop (later this month) looks interesting, not least cos Anne will be joining from afar to talk about her excellent Counting Sheep project, as she says on her blog:

I’m really pleased to be participating (via video & Skype) in the Mobilities and Design Workshop at Lancaster University, 29-30 April, 2014.

The event is being live-streamed so you’ll be able to follow along, and this is what I’ll be talking about:

Why Count Sheep, and Other Tricky Questions About Speculative Design Ethnography

Governments around the world require livestock farmers to tag their animals and track their movements from birth to death. Mandated for the purposes of local biosecurity and global market access, electronic identification is also used to keep track of breeding information and health treatments. Combined with location technologies like GPS, and sensor technologies that can monitor individual animal health and external environmental conditions, livestock are now capable of generating and transmitting enormous amounts of data.

At the same time, farmers in the developed world respond to increased public concerns about animal welfare and environmental sustainability by developing new online forms of agricultural advocacy, or what they call “agvocacy”. The US-based AgChat Foundation, and its equivalents in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, use social media to promote greater public awareness of agricultural practices and connect producers and consumers through weekly online chats. A “farm to fork” traceability ethos underpins agvocacy efforts, and aligns well with technosocial imperatives related to the “Internet of Things” – or the ability to connect data-rich objects (including animals) to the Internet.

For the past three years I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about sheep, talking about sheep, and hanging out with sheep or other people who care about sheep. I’ve done this because I’m interested in what the emergent technologies and politics I describe above might mean for our longest domesticated livestock animal, and for the people who continue to produce and consume them. In most ways, this has been standard STS-based ethnographic research: participant observation, interviews, etc. But the systems that I describe aren’t fully formed–and may not ever fully form as imagined–so I needed to come up with complementary research methods that could help me apprehend the future, or more correctly possible futures, and for that I turned to design.

This presentation will first outline the speculative design ethnography (SDE) methods developed, and outputs created, for the “Counting Sheep: NZ Merino in an Internet of Things” research project. (I encourage people to check out the design scenarios for themselves.) Then I will reflect on the challenges and opportunities of this kind of hybrid research practice, paying particular attention to how future visions act in the present to construct multiple publics and co-produce knowledge. Finally, using preliminary responses to our work, I will consider the potential of SDE as a public engagement strategy, and the role of disinterested or disagreeable publics.

Related reading

Galloway, A. 2013. “Emergent Media Technologies, Speculation, Expectation and Human/Nonhuman Relations.” Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 57(1): 53-65.

Galloway, A. 2013. “Towards Fantastic Ethnography and Speculative Design.” Ethnography Matters, 17 September, 2013.

Reblog > Nigel Thrift and Steven Koonin discuss urban science and big data

Stuart Elden points to an interesting video of a conversation with Nigel Thrift, discussing urban informatics, ‘big data’ and so on. Slight hint of Thrift buying into the rhetoric around ‘big data’ but still an interesting discussion…

Nigel Thrift, Vice Chancellor of University of Warwick, and Steven Koonin, Director of New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress, partners in this endeavour, discussed the emerging field of applied urban science and informatics, the opportunities it presents, and how it is challenging the way we think about information. The discussion was moderated by Sallie Keller, Director, Social Decision and Analytics Laboratory, Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech.

Placing computation: the informatics of anticipation

I wrote an outline for a paper/chapter for a proposed book and related conference edited/convened by F. Xavier Olleros and Majlinda Zhegu at Université de Québec à Montréal which they have kindly accepted. So, I will be fleshing out the following over the summer. Obviously, I owe an intellectual debt to Rob Kitchin here but I’d like to think that I am substantively developing some of the themes of his code/space work (with Martin Dodge) through my own reading of Bernard Stiegler’s philosophical project. In particular, I am developing some of my ideas about the politics of anticipation (from my PhD work) through Stiegler’s theorisation of the ‘industrialisation of memory‘ and the ‘eventisation‘ capacities of increasingly data-driven commercial industries.

This paper addresses the transformative sense in which computation has become an infrastructure upon which has been founded mechanisms to both support and intervene in how we live our everyday lives. The past two decades have witnessed a steady movement of the capacity of digital computation away from spaces dedicated to housing the apparatus of computing—such as the computer centre and the home office—towards a diffusion of that capacity into a variety of everyday places (in the global North). A number of authors have both predicted and described the ways in which computation has moved from dedicated places for bulky apparatus into a capacity available through interconnected devices and systems in an increasing number of contexts (Greenfield, 2006; Kitchin, 2011; Kitchin and Dodge, 2011; Mitchell, 1995, 2000, 2003; Shepard, 2011; Rheingold, 2002; Weiser, 1991). Large-scale computing apparatus have not been eliminated, in fact they have increased in number in the guise of data centres, server farms and so on, but the capacity for the interconnection of those resources through international telecommunications infrastructures to large numbers of portable and embedded devices has transformed the scope and reach of computation (Graham and Marvin, 2001; Graham, 2004, 2005). The purpose of this paper is to interrogate the ways in which this widespread infrastructure of computation is being used not only to both support and surveil increasing amounts of everyday activities, through the collection and retention of vast quantities of data, but also to anticipate and intervene into how we perform the everyday.

Increasing amounts of information about ourselves and others is harvested and stored using electronic devices and we volunteer even more information to email providers, search engines and social networking systems. Many aspects of our everyday lives are now gathered in a range of contexts and recorded (via CCTV, cellphone networks and so on) and retained in databases (Agre, 1994; Graham, 2002; Haggerty and Ericson, 2000; Murakami Wood, 2008), as a growing system of memory of life otherwise forgotten or unthought. These systems are increasingly involved in the ways in which we convene and perform a sense of place. If places are spatial contexts that we convene and give meaning through particular kinds of activities or arrangements of various people and things, then the ways in which we perform that sense of place can be understood to be increasingly mediated by digital technologies. We use mobile devices to search commercial systems for information about and navigate to locations, relying upon travel instructions and databases of past experiences of those places. We allow those systems to use data about ourselves to recommend the ways in which we might act in those locations, where we might eat, shop or socialise. Furthermore, especially in urban environments, we are subject to the regulation of particular locations through real-time analytics based upon infrastructures that gather data for city governments. Infrastructures of software and hardware thus have a growing agency in how we collectively communicate, remember and conduct ourselves socially.

The gathering and recording of data and volunteered information through the expanding computational infrastructure facilitates the ordering of time both as forms of history, and thus the sharing of knowledge and culture, and as the means of anticipating, planning for, and perhaps preventing, futures. The logic of retained knowledge is thus ‘programmatic’ and has arguably become more so with the advent of software programmes, which have augmented our capacities to remember, process and act upon information. Furthermore, these infrastructures increasingly anticipate, in real-time, the ways in which we will behave in order to inform how commercial and governmental organisations intervene in and regulate how a variety of urban environments function. The production and performance of cities, then, increasingly ‘takes place’ in concert with a host of quasi-autonomous computational agents, regardless of whether or not we are aware of it.

To investigate the transformative nature of the anticipatory capacities of a growing number of computational infrastructures embedded within our everyday lives this paper proceeds in three parts. In the following, second, section several technology case studies are explored as means of capturing & retaining and anticipating & operating upon our everyday activities in ‘industrial’ scale systems. Particular attention is paid to the quasi-autonomous agency of these systems, that appear to operate at a scale and speed that exceeds a human capacity of oversight. In the third section the mnemonic and prognostic capabilities of networked infrastructures are brought into focus to be examined, through the work of the philosopher Bernard Stiegler (1998, 2009, 2010b, 2010a), as ‘mnemotechnologies’, technologies and technical supports that both support and reterritorialise what we collectively understand about our everyday lives. The conclusion of this article addresses the ways in which the informatics of an ‘industrialisation of memory’ that operates at a scale and speed that bleeds into apparatuses of anticipatory intervention both challenges and transforms the ways in which we negotiate what are private and public activities and spaces.

Friction – an interdisciplinary conference on technology & resistance

Over on the Virality blog, Tony Sampson highlights this recent and rurally interesting call for papers for a conference concerning technology and resistance. I have reproduced the CFP below but see the original blog for Tony’s take…

Friction: An interdisciplinary conference on technology & resistanceUniversity of Nottingham
Thursday 8th May & Friday 9th May, 2014Keynote talk by Pollyanna Ruiz (LSE)

With workshops led by: Matthew Fuller and Andrew Goffey; University of Leicester Technology Group; Jen Birks and John Downey; and Rachel Jacobs (Active Ingredient).

Current workshop themes include: evil media; data, digital leaks and political activism; hacklabs and artistic uses of data.

More TBC

Workshop and talk abstracts, and information about speakers will be appearing on our blog in the forthcoming weeks: http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/criticalmoment/

Friction:
noun
[mass noun]
The resistance that one surface or object encounters when moving over another:
· the action of one surface or object rubbing against another
· conflict or animosity caused by a clash of wills, temperaments, or opinions

Oxford English Dictionary, 2013

We are now living in a frictionless economy in which money, jobs and products can move around the world in the blink of an eye. And yet we have not moved to a frictionless society. Rather, many of the technologies that support the frictionless economy create various forms of friction in society. Taking a lead from the University of Nottingham’s Centre for Critical Theory’s Technology and Resistance research strand, we are interested in proposals for papers and workshops that explore the concept/metaphor of ‘friction’ as a starting point for exploring the relationship between everyday technologies and resistance; with resistance understood in both a politically empowering and an inhibitory sense. On the one hand, we’re interested in modes of organised resistance: of activist movements making use of, or reacting against, technological developments. However we’re concerned with resistance in a second sense: of technologies resisting their intended function, breaking down, being exploited by hackers or triggering unexpected socio-economic complications.

We invite people to use the concept of ‘friction’ as a route into exploring these themes, with potential topics for discussion including (but not limited to):

· Data and ethics
· Cultural shifts relating to the capture of data
· The vulnerability of software to hacking and surveillance
· Resistance to surveillance and data harvesting
· Activist uses of data, particularly the circulation of leaked material
· The politics of hacking
· The exploitation of ambiguity in software design by hackers
· Activist and everyday contestations of technological developments
· The sociological and cultural factors required for technologies to ‘work’
· Everyday and/or activist reappropriations of technology
· Tensions between new technologies and existing infrastructures

We are an interdisciplinary group of researchers, including academics from Geography, Business, Critical Theory, Cultural Studies and Media & Communications: so we welcome a diverse range of perspectives and approaches to this theme.

We encourage interactive presentation formats, and will allocate longer time-slots to workshops to accommodate these, but also have space for shorter 20 minute position papers.

Extended deadline for proposals: 1st March 2014

If you are interested in participating please submit a 250 word proposal for a workshop or paper, along with your name and current email address, to centreforcriticaltheory@gmail.com

Please also feel free to contact us with more general enquiries, follow the Centre for Critical Theory’s Twitter account @criticaltheory

Rob Kitchin’s new book submitted and into production: The Data Revolution

Professor Rob Kitchin is currently engaged in a large five year EU-funded project: The Programmable City, concerned with the role of software on the ongoing production, performance and imagination of cities. Over on the blog for the project they have announced that Prof. Kitchin’s most recent book ‘The Data Revolution’ is now with the publishers, Sage, with a view to publication later this year. I’m looking forward to it…

Here’s the book outline blogpost from the Programmable City website:

Rob Kitchin has just submitted the final draft of a new book — The Data Revolution: Big Data, Open Data, Data Infrastructures and Their Consequences — to Sage and it’s moved into production.  The chapter titles are below and the book will be published later in the year.

Preface
1.  Conceptualising data
2.  Small data, data infrastructures and data brokers
3.  Open and linked data
4.  Big data
5.  Enablers and sources of big data
6.  Data analytics
7.  The governmental and business rationale for big data
8.  The reframing of science, social science and humanities research
9.  Technical and organisational issues
10. Ethical, political, social and legal concerns
11. Making sense of the data revolution
References

Parikka’s forthcoming ‘geology of media’

Jussi Parikka has written an interesting post on his blog offering a glimpse at his new writing project, with the tentative title ‘A Geology of Media’. He suggests that this is the third in his series of books theorising media ecology, with the other two being Digital Contagions: A Media Archaeology of Computer Viruses (2007) and continued with Insect Media (2010).

Here’s an excerpt:

This book on the geophysics and the non-organic ground of media complements the earlier takes by offering a media materialism from the point of view of geological resources, electronic waste and media arts. Through engaging with several contemporary art and technology projects it provides a media theoretical argument: to think of materiality of media beyond the focus on machines and technologies by focusing on what they consist of: the chemistry and geological materials of media, from metals to dust.

In short, I am interested to see if what pejoratively sometimes is called “hardware fetishism” is not hard enough, and even media and cultural theorists need to focus on the rocks and crust that make technical media possible. Earth history of deep times mixes with media history, which becomes a matter of not only thousands, but millions of years of non-linear history (to modify Manuel Delanda’s original idea). This way media materialism becomes a way to entangle media technologies, environmental issues and themes of global labour. Perhaps instead of the Anthropocene, we should just refer to the Anthropobscene.

Read the whole thing here.

Beware the internet of things… it’s coming to get you

Shawn Sobers linked to a funny comment piece by Stewart Heritage on the Grauniad riffing on the idea of the ‘Internet of Things‘, with the main schtick being that there is such a lack of imagination behind the implementation of such ‘things’ that if we extrapolate then surely the interlinked ‘things’ will do us a mischief… Now, this is humorous, of course, but humour is also a good way to get us to think about why on earth we’re letting ourselves in for a vision of such ‘things’. I am not ‘anti-‘ technological innovation, I am merely arguing that we need to be critically reflective of the motivation behind the development of some of these systems and devices. The same kind of critical reflection we have seen in relation to the ‘MOOC revolution‘…

Here’s one of the funny bits from the article, extrapolating from actually existing technologies into the more ridiculous:

The Internet of Things has already produced some cool-sounding devices. There is the tennis racket kitted out with motion sensors to help you improve your game. There’s the parking sensor that directs your satnav to an empty spot. The basketball that, when bounced on the floor, automatically tells your home entertainment setup to start playing basketball-related content. The bridge that tells people when it’s about to collapse. The smoke alarm that switches itself off and works in conjunction with your electrical outlets to burn you to death in your sleep because it has become jealous of your capacity for love. The remote cave that fills itself with bears and poisonous snakes whenever it detects that someone has started sleeping in it because they’ve convinced themselves that their entire house has grown sentient and suddenly turned against them. All sorts, really. It’ll be fun.

Reblog > Self-quantification researcher network

Deborah Lupton has blogged about the creation of a self-quantification researcher network:

Heather Patterson of New York University and I have set up a self-quantification and self-tracking research network. This forum is intended for anyone interested in the social, cultural, political, legal or ethical aspects of wearable technology, biosensors, digital health, mobile health, big data and algorithms, ubiquitous computing or similar topics.

Messages appropriate for the list include but are not limited to the following:
• Announcements of upcoming events/conferences/talks/seminars;
• Announcements of new or forthcoming publications;
• Invitations for research collaborations;
• Calls for conference or contributions to edited books or journals;
• Information about requests for grant proposals;
• Announcements for job openings that may be of interest to list members;
• Pointers to information on new, interesting innovations in this research area; and
• General comments or questions about relevant topics.
We welcome researchers of all disciplines, including media and cultural studies, internet studies, information privacy law, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, information science, business, medicine, and engineering; as well as colleagues working in advocacy, government, and industry. Please contact Heather at hp33[at]nyu.edu if you would like to join the list.

Sounds great!