This looks really interesting…
Via Phoebe Moore. Looks good >>
Another wonderful video from superflux exploring how to think about the kinds of relationships we may or may not have with our ‘smart’ stuff…
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/#
From the MIT Tech Review:
Well that’s alright then! 😉
From the Verso blog, a piece by Sarah Brouillette on Kazuo Ishiguro as Nobel laureate and the ‘literary industry’.
The Remains of the Day is one of Jeff Bezos’s favourite books. He claims it is the foundation of his “regret-minimization framework” and helped him to find the courage to start Amazon. If he has noticed that the novel is about how class subordination ruins people’s lives, he hasn’t said so. The heart of the novel is the protagonist’s — and before him, his father’s — dependence on waged work. The story traces the process by which we begin to lose the ability to separate ourselves from our professional roles. It was published in 1989, and its concern with the subsumption of life by work was clearly occasioned in part by the circulation of images of the 1980s corporate crunch, with all those people working so much they forgot how to “really live.” It also denounces the British imperial project’s dependence on classed relationships: how much of the empire’s daily operation depended on people feeling that they didn’t have a right to object to their employers’ imperatives, or better, couldn’t fathom how to find another source of wealth that would allow them to say no?
Bezos wants new Amazon employees to do what Stevens never does: live life to the fullest, seize the day. He means that they should do all this at work, of course. Or, more accurately, he can assume there is no distinction for those he hires: work is life, life is work. Real leisure will just make them better employees, as will the feeling that they are pursuing their passions in all things. Bezos is glad to think that what Ishiguro’s novel fears has come to pass: the person and person-performing-at-work are now one. His use of the novel as a corporate management tool proves how easily a “follow your heart” mantra can be recuperated. Bezos isn’t reading Ishiguro right, of course. The novel concludes with a lament about precisely such recuperation. Stevens has been reading too much into Miss Kenton’s (now Mrs. Benn’s) letter; she won’t come back to Darlington Hall with him, and the love story is over. So, he plans to return to work, the only difference being that he will now practice “bantering,” which his new American employer would enjoy. This bantering for him symbolizes de-sublimation, freedom from constraint — a certain “human warmth,” he calls it, which he now admits he lacks. It is precisely by operationalizing the injunction to “enjoy life” that he will be able to keep working. It’s a tragic ending.
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).
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. The‘Bristol 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.
This review essay by Christopher Newfield and Heather Steffen makes for an entertaining and incisive read. The review is of three books: O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction, Espeland & Sauder’s Engines of Anxiety and Merry’s The Seductions of Quantification, with a focus on how these come to bear on the turbocharged audit culture of academia. The diagnosis, through a review of the three books of the shortcomings of what might be called the latest ‘quantitative revolution’ of ‘data science’ is pushed further into a reflexive diagnosis of a genre of talking about such things as Metrics Noir. A lovely term – I hope it gains traction. I definitely think there’s folk writing ‘Metrics Noir’ in geographyland.
I’ve blockquoted a nicely chewy bit below but I recommend reading the whole thing.
All of these scholars are well aware of the value of numbers. Numbers allow for abstract picturing of groups, societies, and cities. They regularize anomalies and exceptions, and allow us access to invisible worlds, social and physical alike. Numbers support distributed cognition and collective intelligence. Both are desperately needed in a world damaged by human stupidity. But quantification in its many forms now operates within a complex metrics culture — a contradictory and contested battleground, as these three books explain. Together, they offer an understory that we could call metrics noir.
In the first place, numerical measurement can too readily take on an unquestioned objectivity. It’s an easy mistake to make, because scientists and other experts have a longstanding reputation for unbiased handling of facts, insured by methodological procedures not accessible to the layperson. This objectivity bias is hardened by the production of indicators via expert negotiations hidden from public view, which means that metrics aren’t seen as emerging from the intellectual compromises and culturally conditioned choices that go into their making. The public can remain blissfully ignorant of their baked-in assumptions — say, the idea that the poor are more likely than the middle class to commit crimes. Criticism is easily dismissed as resting on shaky subjective grounds.
Second, metrics culture reinforces the perceived inadequacy of qualitative expertise, of the “liberal professions” that rely on interpretive skills grounded in social, philosophical, and historical learning. If a dean can make promotion or funding decisions by looking at a dashboard of indicators that compare her faculty members to those across the campus and the country (grant dollar totals, prizes, publication rates, citation counts), then he or she need not weigh complex quasi-imponderables and judge the strange mixture of ingredients that make up careers and disciplines. Twenty years ago, Michael Power noted a subtle but determinate feature of the “audit society”: audit slowly weakens judgment, and management becomes a matter of applying formulae whose opacity supplies a false objectivity.
With indicators ascendant over judgment itself, and tied to complicated, obscure, or proprietary procedures, metrics can pacify the interpretive powers of the public and professionals alike. The subjects of assessment rarely interact with quantitative procedures and never demand their abolition. This is a third tendency of metrics culture. Merry discusses “data inertia,” and all these authors note the near-impossibility of putting a finished indicator back in the oven. Policymakers have no stomach for revising indicators beyond the routine tweaking of weightings one sees in U.S. News and similar rankings. Very few scholars analyze the politics of such interventions or detail the losses they create for institutions, scholars, or students. Understanding the history of indicator formation is a minority knowledge project whose negative implications can be brushed aside even when their validity is acknowledged. Although reformers demand that metrics be used only in context, in conjunction with other information, and in collaboration with those being evaluated, metrics weaken the validity of exactly the forms of knowledge that are meant to check them. We thus encounter a Foucauldian nightmare, in which critiques of the ranking system only serve to make it stronger.
Fourth, indicators help create the inequality they measure, while assuring their consumers that the inequality is a natural, preexisting fact. They do this by ignoring distinctive qualities that cannot be quantified and compared. For example, not only is a legal clinic that focuses on the problems faced by recovering opioid addicts not likely to be esteemed or even seen in standard rankings, but the training for such work will be devalued if it is not already a regular component of the top law programs — its very uniqueness will make it incomparable across programs. To put this two-stage process somewhat formally: the set of relevant qualities is narrowed to a common denominator associated with the top schools, and the quantified hierarchy that results then overwhelms the underlying particularities of each school. The gap between the indicators and the actual qualities of a given school is ignored in favor of the gaps among the various institutions. The dominant quality of each school becomes its place in the hierarchy.
The wider effect of all this is particularly damaging in education: ranking renders a large share of any sector — community colleges, chemistry doctoral programs, business schools — inferior to the top programs, and therefore implicitly defective. The deficiencies that rankings always create then justify unequal respect and, more importantly, unequal funding. Rankings undermine the general provision across institutions that created the famous quality of the US public university system, encouraging instead more investment at the top. The general effect is that the rich get richer, which is precisely what has happened in American higher education in the three decades since the U.S. News rankings first appeared. The rise of rankings didn’t cause the breakdown in public funding, but it has naturalized the inequality that results.
The good news, as these books show, is that numbers don’t need to be used as we use them now. But for real change to take place, the wider society has to become involved in the conversation. These books do an excellent job of helping make that happen.
Via Motion Pictures in the Human Sciences.
Parts of the lineage of some aspects of automation can be traced through this work: