This piece by Sonia Sodha (Worry less about robots and more about sweatshops) in the Grauniad, which accompanies an episode of the Radio 4 programme Analysis (Who Speaks for the Workers?), is well worth checking out. It makes a case that seems to be increasing in consensus – that ‘automation’ in particular parts of industry will not mean ‘robots’ but pushing workers to become more ‘robotic’. This is an interesting foil to the ‘automated luxury communism’ schtick and the wider imaginings of automation. If you stop to think about wider and longer term trends in labour practices, it also feels depressingly possible…
This is the underbelly of our labour market: illegal exploitation, plain and simple. But there are other legal means employers can use to sweat their labour. In a sector such as logistics, smart technology is not being used to replace workers altogether, but to make them increasingly resemble robots. Parcel delivery and warehouse workers find themselves directed along exact routes in the name of efficiency. Wrist-based devices allow bosses to track their every move, right down to how long they take for lavatory breaks and the speed with which they move a particular piece of stock in a warehouse or from the delivery van to someone’s front door.
This hints at a chilling future: not one where robots have replaced us altogether, but where algorithms have completely eroded worker autonomy, undermining the dignity of work and the sense of pride that people can take in a job well done.
This fits well with complementary arguments about ‘heteromation‘ and other more nuanced understandings of what’s followed or extended what we used to call ‘post-Fordism’…
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?
This may be of interest to followers of this blog…
Call for papers: Affect, Politics, Social Media
In prolongation of Affect and Social Media #3 Conjunctions: Transdisciplinary Journal of Cultural Participation welcomes proposals that interpret and explore affective and emotional encounters with social media and the ways in which the interfaces of social media in return modulate affectivity. Fake news have come to be a highly debated framework to understand the consequences of the entanglements of affect, politics and social media. But theories on fake news often fail to grasp the consequences and significance of social media content that are not necessarily fake, but are merely intended to affectively intensify certain political positions.
It is in this context that it becomes crucial to understand the role of affect in relation to the ways in which social media interfaces function, how affective relations are altered on social media and not least how politics is transformed in the attempt to capitalize on the affective relations and intensities potentially fostered on social media.
This special issue invites empirical, theoretical and practical contributions that focus on recent (political) media events – such as Brexit, the US and French elections and the refugee crisis – and how these unfolded on, and are informed by, social media. Proposals might, for instance, address how the Trump campaign allows us to develop a new understanding of the relationship between social media and politics. As such the issue seeks papers that develop new understandings of affective politics and take into account shared experiences, affective intensities, emotional engagements and new entanglements with social media.
It’s interesting to compare competing interpretations of the same ‘vision’ for our near-future everyday media experience. They more or less circle around a series of themes that have been a staple of science fiction for some time: media are in the everyday environment and they respond to us, to varying degrees personally.
On the one-hand some tech enthusiasts/developers present ideas such as “responsive media“, a vision put forward by a former head of ubiquitous computing at Xerox PARC, Bo Begole. On the other hand, sceptics have, for quite some time, presented us with dystopian and/or ‘critical’ reflections on the kinds of ethical and political(economic) ills such ideas might mete out upon us (more often than not from a broadly Marxian perspective), recently expressed in Adam Greenfield’s op-ed for the Graun (publicising his new book “Radical Technologies”).
It’s not like there aren’t plenty of start-ups, and bigger companies (Begole now works for Huawei), trying to more-or-less make the things that science fiction books and films (often derived in some way from Phillip K Dick’s oeuvre) present as insidious and nightmarish. Here I can unfairly pick upon two quick examples: the Channel 4 “world’s first personalised advert” (see the video above) and OfferMoments:
While it may be true that many new inventors are subconsciously inspired by the science fiction of their childhoods, this form of inspiration is hardly seen in the world of outdoor media. Not so for OfferMoments – a company offering facial recognition-powered, programmatically-sold billboard tech directly inspired by the 2002 thriller, Minority Report.
I’ve discussed this in probably too-prosaic terms as a ‘politics of anticipation’, but this, by Audrey Watters (originally about EdTech), seems pretty incisive to me:
if you repeat this fantasy, these predictions often enough, if you repeat it in front of powerful investors, university administrators, politicians, journalists, then the fantasy becomes factualized. (Not factual. Not true. But “truthy,” to borrow from Stephen Colbert’s notion of “truthiness.”) So you repeat the fantasy in order to direct and to control the future. Because this is key: the fantasy then becomes the basis for decision-making.
I have come to think this has produced a kind of orientation towards particular ideas and ideals around automation, which I’ve variously been discussing (in the brief moments in which I manage to do research) as an ‘algorithmic’ and more recently an ‘automative‘ imagination (in the manner in which we, geographers, talk about a ‘geographical imagination’).
Conference organised by the Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI)
Dave Morley (TBC)
Tony D Sampson
This interdisciplinary conference aims to examine how and why everyday popular culture is produced and consumed on digital platforms. There is increasing interest in studying and discussing the linkages between popular cultural and social media, yet there exist important gaps when comparing such cultural phenomena and modes of consumption in a global, non-west-centric context. The conference addresses a significant gap in theoretical and empirical work on social media by focusing on the politics of digital cultures from below and in the context of everyday life. To use Raymond Williams’s phrase, we seek to rethink digital viral cultures as ‘a whole way of life’; how ‘ordinary’, everyday digital acts can amount to forms of ‘politicity’ that can redefine experience and what is possible.
The conference will examine how social media users engage with cultural products in digital platforms. We will also be assessing how the relationship between social media and popular cultural phenomena generate different meanings and experiences.
The conference engages with the following key questions:
How do online users in different global contexts engage with viral/popular cultures?
How can the comparative analysis of different global contexts help us contribute to theorising emergent viral cultures in the age of social media?
How do viral digital cultures redefine our experience of self and the world?
We welcome papers from scholars that will engage critically with particular aspects of online popular cultures. Themes may include, but are not limited to, the following:
Analysing viral media texts: method and theory
Theorising virality: new/old concepts
Rethinking popular culture in the age of social media
Social media, politicity and the viral
The political economy of viral cultures
Memes, appropriation, collage, virality and trash aesthetics
Making/doing/being/consuming viral texts
Hybrid strategies of anti-politics in digital media
Viral news/Fake news
Non-mainstream music, protest, and political discussion
Capitalism and viral marketing
PROGRAMME AND REGISTRATION
This one-day conference, taking place on Wednesday, 13th of September 2017, will consist of a keynote panel and panel sessions. The fee for registration for all participants, including presenters, will be £40, with a concessionary rate of £15 for students, to cover all conference documentation, refreshments and administration costs.
DEADLINE FOR ABSTRACTS
The deadline for abstracts is Monday 10 July 2017. Successful applicants will be notified by Monday 17 July of 2017. Abstracts should be 250 words. They must include the presenter’s name, affiliation, email and postal address, together with the title of the paper and a 150-word biographical note on the presenter. Please send all these items together in a single Word file, not as pdf, and entitle the file and message with ‘CAMRI 2017’ followed by your surname. The file should be sent by email to Events Coordinator Karen Foster at firstname.lastname@example.org
We need to ask what would data capture and management look like if it is guided by a children’s framework such as this one developed here by Sonia Livingstone and endorsed by the Children’s Commissioner here. Perhaps only companies that complied with strong security and anonymisation procedures would be licenced to trade in UK? Given the financial drivers at work, an ideal solution would possibly make better regulation a commerical incentive. We will be exploring these and other similar questions that emerge over the coming months.
Over on the excellent Algocracy blog/podcast John Danaher interviews Hin-Yan Liu, a law scholar in Copenhagen who’s done some work on responsibility and autonomy in relation to autonomous weapons systems and driverless cars. The discussion is really interesting, thinking through various ways on understanding responsibility in relation to autonomy, expanding out ideas about what an ‘autonomous weapons system’ might be (such as – is a private military contractor an AWS?) and thinking through the ethical, moral and political issues of different ways responsibility gets understood. I encourage you to have a listen.
This stems from work by Liu that is published in two papers:
Over on Antipode’s site there’s a blog post about an intervention symposium on “algorithmic governance” brought together by Jeremy Crampton and Andrea Miller, on the back of sessions at the AAG in 2016. It’s good that this is available open access and, I hope, helpful that it maybe puts to bed some of the definition wrangling that has been the fashion. Obviously, a lot draws on the work of geographer Louise Amoore and also of political theorist Antoinette Rouvroy, which is great.
Reading through the overview and skimming the individual papers provokes me to comment that I remain puzzled though by the wider creeping use of an unqualified “non-human” to talk about software and the sociotechnical systems they run/are run on… this seems to play-down precisely the political issues raised in this particular symposium – that the kinds algorithms concerned in this debate are written and maintained by people, they’re not somehow separate or at a distance… It’s also interesting to note that a sizeable chunk of the debates concern ‘data’ but the symposium doesn’t have “data” in the title, but maybe ‘data–’ is passé… 🙂
I’ve copied below the intro to the post, but please check out the whole thing over on Antipode’s site.
The following essays first came together at the 2016 AAG Annual Meeting in San Francisco. Jeremy Crampton (Professor of Geography at the University of Kentucky) and Andrea Miller (PhD candidate at University of California, Davis) assembled five panellists to discuss what they call algorithmic governance – “the manifold ways that algorithms and code/space enable practices of governance that ascribes risk, suspicion and positive value in geographic contexts.”
Among other things, panellists explored how we can best pay attention to the spaces of governance where algorithms operate, and are contested; the spatial dimensions of the data-driven subject; how modes of algorithmic modulation and control impact understandings of categories such as race and gender; the extent to which algorithms are deterministic, and the spaces of contestation or counter-algorithms; how algorithmic governance inflects and augments practices of policing and militarization; the most productive theoretical tools available for studying algorithmic data; visualizations such as maps being implicated by or for algorithms; and the genealogy of algorithms and other histories of computation.
Three of the panellists plus Andrea and Jeremy present versions of these discussions below, following an introduction to the Intervention Symposium from its guest editors (who Andy and Katherine at Antipode would like to thank for all their work!).
When: 30th May 2017 – 9.30am to 3.30pm Where: Maynooth University, Iontas Building, Seminar Room 2.31
The “Reshaping Cities through Data and Experiments” workshop is part of the Ulysses research exchange programme jointly funded by Irish Research Council and the Ambassade de France. It is organized in collaboration with researchers from the Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation (i3-CSI) at the École des Mines in Paris – David Pontille, Félix Talvard, Clément Marquet and Brice Laurent – and researchers from the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA) in Maynooth University, Ireland – Claudio Coletta, Liam Heaphy and Sung-Yueh Perng.
The aim is to initiate a transdisciplinary discussion on the theoretical, methodological and empirical issues related to experimental and data-driven approaches to urban development and living. This conversation is vital in a time when cities are increasingly turning into public-private testbeds and living labs, where urban development projects merge with the design of cyber-infrastructures to test new services and new forms of engagement for urban innovation and economic development. These new forms of interaction between algorithms, planning practices and governance processes raise crucial questions for researchers on how everyday life, civic engagement and urban change are shaped in contemporary cities.