Great opportunity > Internship with the Social Media Collective (Microsoft)

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Via Nancy Baym:

Call for applications! 2018 summer internship, MSR Social Media Collective

APPLICATION DEADLINE: JANUARY 19, 2018

Microsoft Research New England (MSRNE) is looking for advanced PhD students to join the Social Media Collective (SMC) for its 12-week Internship program. The Social Media Collective (in New England, we are Nancy Baym, Tarleton Gillespie, and Mary Gray, with current postdocs Dan Greene and Dylan Mulvin) bring together empirical and critical perspectives to understand the political and cultural dynamics that underpin social media technologies. Learn more about us here.

MSRNE internships are 12-week paid stays in our lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During their stay, SMC interns are expected to devise and execute their own research project, distinct from the focus of their dissertation (see the project requirements below). The expected outcome is a draft of a publishable scholarly paper for an academic journal or conference of the intern’s choosing. Our goal is to help the intern advance their own career; interns are strongly encouraged to work towards a creative outcome that will help them on the academic job market.

The ideal candidate may be trained in any number of disciplines (including anthropology, communication, information studies, media studies, sociology, science and technology studies, or a related field), but should have a strong social scientific or humanistic methodological, analytical, and theoretical foundation, be interested in questions related to media or communication technologies and society or culture, and be interested in working in a highly interdisciplinary environment that includes computer scientists, mathematicians, and economists.

Primary mentors for this year will be Nancy Baym and Tarleton Gillespie, with additional guidance offered by other members of the SMC. We are looking for applicants working in one or more of the following areas:

  1. Personal relationships and digital media
  2. Audiences and the shifting landscapes of producer/consumer relations
  3. Affective, immaterial, and other frameworks for understanding digital labor
  4. How platforms, through their design and policies, shape public discourse
  5. The politics of algorithms, metrics, and big data for a computational culture
  6. The interactional dynamics, cultural understanding, or public impact of AI chatbots or intelligent agents

Interns are also expected to give short presentations on their project, contribute to the SMC blog, attend the weekly lab colloquia, and contribute to the life of the community through weekly lunches with fellow PhD interns and the broader lab community. There are also natural opportunities for collaboration with SMC researchers and visitors, and with others currently working at MSRNE, including computer scientists, economists, and mathematicians. PhD interns are expected to be on-site for the duration of their internship.

Applicants must have advanced to candidacy in their PhD program by the time they start their internship. (Unfortunately, there are no opportunities for Master’s students or early PhD students at this time). Applicants from historically marginalized communities, underrepresented in higher education, and students from universities outside of the United States are encouraged to apply.

PEOPLE AT MSRNE SOCIAL MEDIA COLLECTIVE

The Social Media Collective is comprised of full-time researchers, postdocs, visiting faculty, Ph.D. interns, and research assistants. Current projects in New England include:

  • How does the use of social media affect relationships between artists and audiences in creative industries, and what does that tell us about the future of work? (Nancy Baym)
  • How are social media platforms, through their algorithmic design and user policies, taking up the role of custodians of public discourse? (Tarleton Gillespie)
  • What are the cultural, political, and economic implications of crowdsourcing as a new form of semi-automated, globally-distributed digital labor? (Mary L. Gray)
  • How do public institutions like schools and libraries prepare workers for the information economy, and how are they changed in the process? (Dan Greene)
  • How are media standards made, and what do their histories tell us about the kinds of things we can represent? (Dylan Mulvin)

SMC PhD interns may also have the opportunity to connect with our sister Social Media Collective members in New York City. Related projects in New York City include:

  • What are the politics, ethics, and policy implications of artificial intelligence and data science? (Kate Crawford, MSR-NYC)
  • What are the social and cultural issues arising from data-centric technological development? (danah boyd, Data & Society Research Institute)

For more information about the Social Media Collective, and a list of past interns, visit the About page of our blog. For a complete list of all permanent researchers and current postdocs based at the New England lab, see: http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/labs/newengland/people/bios.aspx

Read more.

‘Pax Technica’ Talking Politics, Naughton & Howard

Nest - artwork by Jakub Geltner

This episode of the ‘Talking Politics‘ podcast is a conversation between LRB journalist John Naughton and the Oxford Internet Institute’s Professor Phillip Howard ranging over a number of issues but largely circling around the political issues that may emerge from ‘Internets of Things’ (the plural is important in the argument) that are discussed in Howard’s book ‘Pax Technica‘. Worth a listen if you have time…

One of the slightly throw away bits of the conversation, which didn’t concern the tech, that interested me was when Howard comments on the kind of book Pax Technica is – a ‘popular’ rather than ‘scholarly’ book and how that had led to a sense of dismissal by some. It seems nuts (to me, anyway) when we’re all supposed to be engaging in ‘impact’, ‘knowledge exchange’ and so on that opting to write a £17 paperback that opens out debate, instead of a £80+ ‘scholarly’ hardback, is frowned upon. I mean I understand some of the reasons why but still…

Reblog> New paper: A smart place to work? Big data systems, labour, control, and modern retail stores

Gilbreth motion studies light painting

From the Programmable City team, looks interesting:

New paper: A smart place to work? Big data systems, labour, control, and modern retail stores

The modern retail store is a complex coded assemblage and data-intensive environment, its operations and management mediated by a number of interlinked big data systems. This paper draws on an ethnography of a superstore in Ireland to examine how these systems modulate the functioning of the store and working practices of employees. It was found that retail work involves a continual movement between a governance regime of control reliant on big data systems which seek to regulate and harnesses formal labour and automation into enterprise planning, and a disciplinary regime that deals with the symbolic, interactive labour that workers perform and acts as a reserve mode of governmentality if control fails. This continual movement is caused by new systems of control being open to vertical and horizontal fissures. While retail functions as a coded assemblage of control, systems are too brittle to sustain the code/space and governmentality desired.

Access the PDF here

Our friends electric

Another wonderful video from superflux exploring how to think about the kinds of relationships we may or may not have with our ‘smart’ stuff…

Our Friends Electric from Superflux on Vimeo.
Our Friends Electric is a short film by Superflux about voice-enabled AI assistants who ask too many questions, swear & recite Marxist texts.

The film was commissioned by Mozilla’s Open IoT Studio. The devices in the film are made Loraine Clarke and Martin Skelly from Mozilla’s Open IoT Studio and the University of Dundee.

For more information about the project visit: http://superflux.in/index.php/work/friends-electric/#

Reblog> The work lives of uber drivers

Uber surge pricing in LA

Over on Working-Class Perspectives there’s an interesting post byKatie Wells, Kafui Attoh, and Declan Cullen about the working lives of Uber drivers. I’ve copied a few bits below. Read the whole post here.

The Work Lives of Uber Drivers: Worse Than You Think

To be an Uber driver is to work when you want. Or so Uber likes to say in recruitment materials, advertisements, and sponsored research papers: “Be your own boss.” “Earn money on your schedule.” “With Uber, you’re in charge.” The language of freedom, flexibility, and autonomy abounds, and can seem like a win for workers.

But the reality of our research shows something very different. The price of flexibility in the gig economy is substantial. Last year we conducted 40 in-person interviews and online surveys with Uber drivers in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Our project—which creates one of the first independent, qualitative datasets about the rideshare industry—found that the economic realities of precarious work are a far cry from the rosy promises of the gig economy. In exchange for flexible schedules, Uber retains near total control over what really matters for drivers, namely the compensation and costs of work.

The problem isn’t just uncertainty about what drivers can earn. Some also end out in deeper financial trouble by leasing cars from Uber’s Xchange program. One driver, Joan, got caught in this trap after she hit a pothole and damaged her car’s suspension system. She spent nearly all the money she had to get the car fixed. Then, when efforts to repair the vehicle failed, she spent more to lease a car from Uber. While Xchange offers lower credit barriers than traditional lenders, the payments which Uber automatically deducts from drivers’ paychecks, are high. Joan pays $138, more than the national lease average of $100 per week. Another driver we interviewed pays $290 per week and, at the end of her 3-year lease, she will have paid two or three times her car’s value. Think company town, or as one of our other drivers said, “indentured servitude.” The costs of these subprime leases are exorbitant, but, according to the Federal Trade Commission, Uber has actively deceived drivers about those costs. A Massachusetts Attorney General also found that Uber’s former lender charged higher-than-allowed interest rates to drivers in low-income communities.

Workers do not know how much they earn largely because of the fluctuating algorithms on which pay is based and the numerous expenses they must deduct. Of the 40 drivers we interviewed and surveyed, only a handful knew what percentage of their fares Uber takes. The majority did not know how Uber determined how much drivers take home on a single ride (whether, for instance, the booking fee is removed before or after Uber takes its commission), whether they are required to buy commercial insurance, or how tax filing works at the end of the year.

What can be done about the working conditions of Uber drivers? The biggest fix, though the least likely at the moment, would be for regulators to require Uber to treat its drivers as employees, which would mean the company would provide worker protections in line with national labor laws. An easier inroad would be for federal legislators and prosecutors to confront the subprime auto-lending practices that proliferate in the Uber world. Until these two steps are taken, cities should be wary of partnering with Uber for any kind of public transit provision, workers should be wary of driving for Uber, and rideshare users should patronize worker co-operative taxi fleets, or barring that, should tip their drivers — a lot.

Katie Wells is a Visiting Scholar and Declan Cullen is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Geography at George Washington University. Kafui Attoh is an Assistant Professor of Urban Studies in the Murphy Institute for Labor Studies at the City University of New York. This research was funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The contents of this publication are solely the responsibility of the authors. For more information on forthcoming pieces about driver strategies and the rise of Uber in D.C., contact Katie Wells.

Read the whole post.

Getting in ‘the zone’: Luxury & Paranoia, Access & Exclusion – Capital and Public Space

Uber surge pricing in LA

Another interesting ‘long form’ essay on the Institute of Network Cultures site. This piece by Anastasia Kubrak and Sander Manse directly addresses some contemporary themes in geographyland – access, ‘digital’-ness, exclusion, ‘rights to the city’, technology & urbanism and ‘verticality’. The piece turns around an exploration of the idea of a ‘zone’ – ‘urban zoning’, ‘special economic zones’, ‘export processing zones’, ‘free economic/enterprise zones’, ‘no-go zones’. Some of this, of course, covers familiar ground for geographers but its interesting to see the argument play out. It seems to resonate, for example, with Matt Wilson’s book New Lines

Here’s some blockquoted bits (all links are in the original).

Luxury & Paranoia, Access & Exclusion On Capital and Public Space

We get into an Uber car, and the driver passes by the Kremlin walls, guided by GPS. At the end of the ride, the bill turns out to be three times as expensive than usual. What is the matter? We check the route, and the screen shows that we travelled to an airport outside of Moscow. Impossible. We look again: the moment we approached the Kremlin, our location automatically jumped to Vnukovo. As we learned later, this was caused by a GPS fence set up to confuse and disorient aerial sensors, preventing unwanted drone flyovers.

How can we benefit as citizens from the increase in sensing technologies, remote data-crunching algorithms, leaching geolocation trackers and parasite mapping interfaces? Can the imposed verticality of platform capitalism by some means enrich the surface of the city, and not just exploit it? Maybe our cities deserve a truly augmented reality – reality in which value generated within urban space actually benefits its inhabitants, and is therefore ‘augmented’ in the sense of increased or made greater. Is it possible to consider the extension of zoning not only as an issue, but also as a solution, a way to create room for fairer, more social alternatives? Can we imagine the sprawling of augmented zones today, still of accidental nature, being utilized or artificially designed for purposes other than serving capital?

Gated urban enclaves also proliferate within our ‘normal’ cities, perforating through the existing social fabric. Privatization of urban landscape affects our spatial rights, such as simply the right of passage: luxury stores and guarded residential areas already deny access to the poor and marginalized. But how do these acts of exclusion happen in cities dominated by the logic of platform capitalism? What happens when more tools become available to scan, analyze and reject citizens on the basis of their citizenship or credit score? Accurate user profiles come in handy when security is automated in urban space: surveillance induced by smart technologies, from electronic checkpoints to geofencing, can amplify more exclusion.

This tendency becomes clearly visible with Facebook being able to allow for indirect urban discrimination through targeted advertising. This is triggered by Facebook’s ability to exclude entire social groups from seeing certain ads based on their user profile, so that upscale housing-related ads might be hidden from them, making it harder for them to leave poorer neighborhoods. Meanwhile Uber is charging customers based on the prediction of their wealth, varying prices for rides between richer and poorer areas. This speculation on value enabled by the aggregation of massive amounts of data crystallizes new forms of information inequality in which platforms observe users through a one-way mirror.

If platform economies take the city as a hostage, governmental bodies of the city can seek how to counter privatization on material grounds. The notorious Kremlin’s GPS spoofing fence sends false coordinates to any navigational app within the city center, thereby also disrupting the operation of Uber and Google Maps. Such gaps on the map, blank spaces are usually precoded in spatial software by platforms, and can expel certain technologies from a geographical site, leaving no room for negotiation. Following the example of Free Economic Zones, democratic bodies could gain control over the city again by artificially constructing such spaces of exception. Imagine rigorous cases of hard-line zoning such as geofenced Uber-free Zones, concealed neighborhoods on Airbnb, areas secured from data-mining or user-profile-extraction.

Vertical zoning can alter the very way in which capital manifests itself. TheBristol pound is an example of city-scale local currency, created specifically to keep added value in circulation within one city. It is accepted by an impressive number of local businesses and for paying monthly wages and taxes. Though the Bristol Pound still circulates in paper, today we can witness a global sprawl of blockchain based community currencies, landing within big cities or even limited to neighborhoods. Remarkably, Colu Local Digital Wallet can be used in Liverpool, the East London area, Tel Aviv and Haifa – areas with a booming tech landscape or strong sense of community.

Talking with Mikayla

Talking with Mikayla, the Museum of Contemporary Commodities GuideImage credit: Mike Duggan.

At the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017, co-originator of the Museum of Contemporary Commodities (MoCC) Paula Crutchlow and I staged a conversation with Mikayla the MoCC guide, a hacked ‘My Cayla Doll’. This was part of two sessions that capped off the presence of MoCC at the RGS-IBG and was performed alongside a range of other provocations on the theme(s) of ‘data-place-trade-value’. The doll was only mildly disobedient and it was fun to be able to show the subversion of an object of commercial surveillance in a playful way. Below is the visuals that displayed during the conversation, with additional sound…

For more, please do go and read Paula’s excellent blogpost about Mikayla on the MoCC website.

Museum of Contemporary Commodities – Exhibition Rd, Kensington 24-27 Aug.

Next week, in advance of the RGS-IBG annual conference, the Museum of Contemporary Commodities (MoCC) will join the other museums in South Kensington on Exhibition Rd. MoCC is the brainchild of artist-activist-researcher Paula Crutchlow and promises to build on the provocative and inspiring work undertaken as part of the project over the last three years. I strongly encourage anyone in London next week to pop into the Royal Geographical Society to take a look.

I’m very privileged to be on Paula’s PhD committee. This is fantastic work – even if you cannot make it to Exhibition Rd, please do look at the MoCC website.

Museum of Contemporary Commodities: valuing what we buy today as the heritage of tomorrow

Museum of Contemporary Commodities at the Royal Geographical Society, London.The Museum of Contemporary Commodities (MoCC) is an art-geography research and exhibition project investigating the deep links between data, trade, place and values that shape our everyday lives. This lively set of digital activities will be hosted in the Pavilion at RGS-IBG. Staffed by our friendly MoCC Invigilators, you will be able to browse the most valued exhibits, take our quiz, add something to the museum yourself and consult with the updated Mikayla 3.0 – our networked talking doll guide to all things MoCC. Two research and conversation events will also contribute to our continuing public conversations around the deep connections between data, trade, place and values.

All the events are free to attend. All are welcome. Please join us to re-value contemporary commodity culture one thing at time!

Exhibition open: Thursday 24 August-Sunday 27 August 2017, 10.00am-4.00pm

Additional events on Friday 25 August:

Data walkshop with data activist Alison Powell, LSE: 10.00am-12.30pm
Building on MoCC walkshops in Finsbury Park and Exeter, Alison will be investigating data mediations in the direct vicinity of the RGS-IBG through a process of rapid group ethnography. No experience necessary. Please book here.

Our Future Heritage: curating contemporary commodity cultures: 2.00pm-4.00pm
A public conversation event hosted in the Museum of Contemporary Commodities shop-gallery space at the RGS-IBG. With contributions from: MoCC co-founders Paula Crutchlow and Ian Cook, Senior Curator V&A Corrinna Gardner, Cultural Geographer Merle Patchett, Music Sociologist Lee Marshall, and researcher, publisher and curator D-M Withers. Please book here.

MoCC was co-founded by artist-researcher Paula Crutchlow from Blind Ditch and Geographer Ian Cook from followthethings.com and University of Exeter. The project is being developed in partnership with Furtherfieldand a growing number of artists, academics, technologists and members of the public.

Our early prototypes and events have been kindly supported by All Change Arts, Islington Turkish, Kurdish and Cypriot Women’s Group, Islington Council, Exeter City Council, Art Week Exeter, Exeter Scrapstore, Exeter Phoenix, Exeter CVS, St Sidwells Community Centre, Exeter Library, Art Week Exeter. With many thanks to the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) for their support with this 2017 exhibition. MoCC is funded by Arts Council England, University of Exeter and the Economic and Social Science Research Council.

To find out more, please visit http://www.moccguide.net/ or follow MoCC on Twitter at @moccofficial and on Instagram at @moccguidemikayla

The ambiguity of sharing images

Two tweets, about 12 hours apart. It seems to me, in an entirely unsystematic, morning coffee kind of analysis, that the two posts demonstrate something of the ambiguity of image sharing practices and circulation of images (on Twitter)… at least in my experience of one platform, Twitter.

The “Grease” tweet, through humour, attempts to comment on contemporary geopolitics. The veracity (or not) of the image possibly doesn’t matter.

The ‘fact check’ nature of the later tweet directly addresses the (lack of) authenticity of the image itself. Showing the ‘original’.

So there’s something about ‘fakeness’ of media, the politics of circulation, something about simulacrum and the convening of publics and maybe something about the ambivalence of image making and sharing practices that falls within the “meme” discourse.

In discussing her work as part of the RGS-IBG ‘digital geographies’ working group symposium about 10 days ago, Gillian Rose discussed the ways in which we may or may not malign the ‘everydayness’ of photographic or image practices and why it remains necessary to study and engage with the everyday practices of meaning-making (there’s a course for this, co-convened by Gillian).

This perhaps prompts some questions about the above tweets. For example, what is it we can or might want to say about the images themselves, their circulation and how they fit into wider, everyday, meaning-making practices? The doctored image fits into a particular aesthetic of ‘memes’ and is contextualised in text in the post, which also goes for the ‘fact check’ tweet too, in a way. How do we interpret the (likely) different intentions behind the thousands of retweets of the above? How might we capture the ‘polymedia’ (following Miller et al.) lives of such images? (Is that even possible?) How might we interrogate what I’m suggesting is the ambivalence of ‘sharing’? I suggest this cannot be served by the mass analysis of image corpora (following Manovich), nor is it really reducible to the ‘attention economy’ – it’s not only about the labour of sharing or the advertising it enables. Instead, I guess what I’m fumbling towards is asking for the analysis of the circulation practices for (copies of) a single image within a network (which may or may not span different platforms).

The danger, I increasingly feel, is that we all-too-quickly resort to super-imposing onto these case studies our ontotheological or ideological meta-narratives – so, it may ‘really’ be about affect, neoliberalism and so on… except of course, it isn’t only about those things, and while they may be important analytical frames they may not address the questions we’re interested in, or should be, posing. I’m not saying such framings are wrong, I’m saying they’re not the only frames of analysis.

All of this leads me to confess that I am beginning to wonder if our ‘digital methods‘ (following Rogers and others) are really up to this sort of task… As yet I’ve not read anything to convince me otherwise, which actually sort of surprises me. The closest I’ve got is the media ethnography work of the outstanding Why We Post project – but, of course, that isn’t particularly a “digital” method, which maybe says something (maybe about my own bias). I’d be interested to know if anyone has any thoughts.

A further thing I wonder is whether or not these sorts of practices will remain stable enough for long enough to warrant the ‘slower’, considered, kinds of research that might enable us to begin to get at answers to my all-too-general, or misplaced, questions above. I remain haunted by undergraduate and masters research into now-defunct platforms and styles of media use… friendster and myspace anyone?

Some relevant links:

A communications primer – Eames

Via dmf.

Or “information theory for beginners”, maybe… A heavily stylised interpretation of Shannon’s information theory for IBM, by the Eames’, which may be of interest to those of a cybernetic persuasion.

… it’s a testament to the work of the US mathematician and ‘father of information theory’ Claude Shannon (1916-2001) that his model of communication, laid out in his landmark book A Mathematical Theory of Communication (1949), is still so broadly applicable.

Working from Shannon’s book, in 1953 the iconic husband-and-wife design team Ray and Charles Eames created the short film A Communications Primer for IBM, intending to ‘interpret and present current ideas on communications theory to architects and planners in an understandable way, and encourage their use as tools in planning and design’. Released at the dawn of the personal computer age, the film’s exploration of symbols, signals and ‘noise’ remains thoroughly – almost stunningly – relevant when viewed some 64 years later.