A political economy of Twitter data – revised and published on LSE Impact blog

Last year I wrote a blog post for the Contagion project website, building from the experience of attempting to do research with Twitter data as relative novices. Putting the pragmatic techniques of doing such to one side, it became striking that doing this kind of research with Twitter’s apparatus is neither easy, nor, when one delves a bit deeper, is it ‘free’.

The post was been picked up by the LSE Impact blog, who asked to re-blog it, which was very nice of them. So, you can find a slightly updated (numbers, sources and bit more nuance in the argument) version of the blog post there.

The question I end up posing is: “Should researchers be using data sources (however potentially interesting/valuable) that restrict the capability of reproducing our research results?” This is not easily answered, not least when so many ‘non-academic’ researchers are merrily plugging away producing social scientific research, increasingly consumed by the general public, which is gaining influence, and which, perhaps, could benefit from some critical engagement…

Please do read the post and get in touch if you’d like to discuss this, and any of our research, further.

Facial tracking to be built into screen-based advertising in the UK

For those with an interest in such things, this has been a long time coming. The company Quividi, who have been hawking their facial tracking system for a little while now, have teamed up with Amscreen, the owner of a network of advertising screens in convenience stores, petrol stations etc, to measure, in real-time, the attention paid to adverts screened in particular places. The problematic of the ‘attention economy‘, or the commodification of our capacity for attention within particular settings–mostly online, is being brought into more everyday settings as so-called ‘smart’ technologies become smaller and cheaper.

Here’s the thinly veiled sales pitch the BBC ‘Click’ programme were only too happy to share:

Which contains a lot of the footage Amscreen have filmed themselves for their own corporate video celebrating this new venture. Here’s Quividi’s own video explaining (and selling) how their technology works:

In the UK, already a highly surveilled country, there may be little reaction other than a shrug of the shoulders. However, should one wish to counter this kind of technology there have already been some nice experiments with forms of camouflage. Probably the best known example is the CV Dazzle project by Adam Harvey (for a Masters project in the NYU Interactive Telecommunications Programme). It would be entertaining if this became a sort of avant-garde fashion for make up…

CV Dazzle, facial recognition camouflage

Andrew Barry’s new book: Material Politics

Stuart Elden has highlighted on his blog that a new book by Andrew Barry entitled ‘Material politics: disputes along the pipeline‘ is forthcoming in the RGS-IBG book series, its currently set for release in September.

Andrew Barry is a thoughtful commentator on the politics intimately concerned with technology and, one might say, technics. His book ‘Political Machines’ was of significant help to me during my PhD work for thinking through how we can conceptualise the sorts of politics that emerge within institutions or networks focused on ‘innovation’ in technology.

Perhaps more importantly, Barry is also one of a still-limited number of social scientists engaging with the work of the philosopher Isabelle Stengers. In fact, his talk at the recent ‘Politics and Matter‘ event held by the University of Bristol’s geography department offered an excellent and rigorous exegesis of Stengers’ project of ‘cosmopolitics’, which, as he suggested, is not easy.

This new book clearly draws upon some of the thinking that Barry has been engaged in around these themes, as the blurb on the book’s web page demonstrates:

In Material Politics, author Andrew Barry reveals that as we are beginning to attend to the importance of materials in political life, materials has become increasingly bound up with the production of information about their performance, origins, and impact.
* Presents an original theoretical approach to political geography by revealing the paradoxical relationship between materials and politics
* Explores how political disputes have come to revolve not around objects in isolation, but objects that are entangled in ever growing quantities of information about their performance, origins, and impact
* Studies the example of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline – a fascinating experiment in transparency and corporate social responsibility – and its wide-spread negative political impact
* Capitalizes on the growing interdisciplinary interest, especially within geography and social theory, about the critical role of material artifacts in political life

The technics of attention – thinking about the attention economy through Stiegler’s philosophy of technology

In a final post about the ESF sponsored conference, Paying Attention, held by DCRC in September, I have recently written about the concept of technicity in relation to the capacity for attention. What follows is the text from that post, I hope it is of vague interest…
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William Gibson: The Zero History of waiting for the Great Dismal

[Originally posted on the DCRC website: http://www.dcrc.org.uk/blogs/william-gibson-zero-history-waiting-great-dismal]

Last night I attended William Gibson’s Bristol Festival Ideas talk.  This blog post represents some reflections on Gibson’s relationship with futurity as it came through in the question and answer session.

William Gibson’s appearance at his Bristol Festival of Ideas talk was delayed by an unanticipated train incident, an apparent ‘anomoly’, as Gibson quipped, for trains are ‘never’ delayed in the UK. This was a fittingly unanticipated eventuality – for the evening proved to focus on the characterisation of the future. Launching straight into a reading of an entire chapter from Zero History. In an unexpectedly high pitched and quite raspy voice, Gibson recounts a section of the character Milgrim’s story. Expressing his witty and insightful eye for detail, in the world crafted by Gibson for Zero History, Cafe Nero is ‘a tasty alternate reality Starbucks’. Gibson’s protagonist is investigating military fashion on behalf of global marketing company, ‘Blue Ant’, not least because ‘military contracting is essentially recession proof’. Indeed, the author proclaimed, the bulk of the 21st century street fashion for men is the fashion of the middle of previous century’s military. This forms a part of the basis for the book’s narrative.
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