Category Archives: technology

Workshop> Exploring Virtual Control, UCL (olympic park)

UCL urban lab are hosting an interesting workshop called ‘exploring virtual control’ at the London olympic park.

“The UCL Urban Laboratory is hosting a workshop on Tuesday 18 August in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to interrogate the mechanics of control within privatised public spaces. If you have any interest in the privatisation of cities, security design, city governance policy or the post-Olympic legacy”

It’s something of a coup to have it at the olympic park – and got me thinking of Francisco Klauser’s excellent work on these forms of control.

Here’s some more details:

This workshop held at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford serves as an introduction to the mechanics of control within privatised public spaces. Participants will learn about the way in which privatised public spaces are planned, built and monitored, before devising their own ways of mapping and documenting private public spaces. The workshop is organised by UCL Urban Laboratory, and led by the artists and built environment researchers Max Colson and Ollie Palmer, as part of a current exhibition hosted by RIBA. Book here.

The workshop consists of a series of structured group exercises and conversations, during which participants will choose to work on a photographic or mapping project. Please state your preference when applying.

Ollie Palmer is an award-winning artist, freelance designer and brand consultant based in London. He has worked commercially with BBC Worldwide, UCL and the V&A Museum, as well as leading projects for a number of other UK-based companies. As an artist, he has exhibited work at the V&A Museum and The Science Museum’s Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, as well as being selected as artist-in-residence at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.

Max Colson is an artist based in London using photography, video and animation. He was the artist-in-residence at UCL Urban Laboratory between September 2014 and June 2015, funded by a grant from the Leverhulme Trust. Virtual Control: Security and the Urban Imagination, his first UK solo exhibition, is at RIBA 6 July – 21 September in London this summer. He was selected as one of the UK winners of the 2013 Flash Forward Emerging Photographer competition, and was shortlisted in the OPEN14 at Brighton Photo Fringe. He has exhibited in C/O Berlin, London, and this summer as part of ‘Data Rush’ at the Noorderlicht Photo Festival.

Limited places are available for this workshop. Tickets cost £20 or £15 for concessions (students/disabled/unemployed/over 65). Please book on the UCL Online Store. Contact Jordan Rowe for more details.

What might happen when ‘things’ design themselves?

I’ve been meaning to flag this for a while… Chris Speed at Edinburgh (who gave the ‘dancing with data‘ talk I posted a while ago) is leading a project called ThingTank:

The ThingTank project identifies that ‘things’ may soon know more about lives than we do and may also be able to make suggestions about what is missing. The purpose of this project is to explore the potential for identifying novel patterns of use within the data that is streamed through the interaction between people and things, and things and things. Our project builds on research and innovation that has been established by the three investigators across the fields of Internet of Things, Social Experience Design and Machine Learning. Through a better understanding of how what data can tell us about how we use objects, new models of use will emerge and reinvigorate the role of things and people within design and manufacturing.

The project offers some interesting provocations both as research outcomes and as innovation in methods. It’s worth looking at this write-up by Chris on his website Fields.

Reblog> Gilbert Simondon and the Philosophy of Information: An Interview with Jean-Hugues Barthélémy

Andrew Iliadis blogs that an interview he conducted with Jean-Hughes Barthélémy has been published. This is a really valuable contribution to anglophone scholarship on the work of Simondon and Andrew should be congratulated (well I do anyway!). This is well worth a look if you are interested in the philosophy of technology or in how we understand the idea of ‘information’.


homeHeaderTitleImage_en_USThe new issue of Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy is out. It includes an interview that I conducted with Jean-Hugues Barthélémy entitled “Gilbert Simondon and the Philosophy of Information.” For those of you who don’t know, Barthélémy is a leading expert on Simondon as well as director of Centre international des études simondoniennes.


The web and its territories

(Well… DNS and territories)

Two things I’ve read recently converged in my mind and reminded me of work in geography undertaken a while ago about the ways apparently abstract or immaterial aspects of the internet are intimately tied up with traditional geo-political borders and territories.

First, as James Bridle finishes his essays about geographic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) for the Citizen-Ex project – its really interesting to reflect on the often fraught and muddy geo-politics of the domain name system (DNS), which Bridle expresses beautifully. The stories about the Libyan (.ly), Syrian (.sy) and British Indian Ocean Territory (.io) domains are especially arresting.

Second, over on Culture Digitally, Adam Fish wrote a post about the growth in interest in the high seas, the upper reaches of the atmosphere and space for creating extra-legal territories for ‘unencumbered’ innovation and for the delivery of services without the need for territorial wrangling:

Technical approaches towards national internet sovereigntyincluding IP address blocking, domain names, key words, and packet filtering. Non-technical forms of censorship include laws, regulations, threats, bribes, and arrests of publishers, ISPs, and authors. Reporters without Borders identifies 19 countries – including the US and the UK – along with Cuba, China, Iran, and North Korea, all of which use one or several of these tactics to create a distinct national internet.

Certainly, what governments want for their people and what the people want for themselves frequently diverge. But while we may agree that internet censorship by authoritarian dictatorships is an affront to free communication, can we really put our faith in Facebook’s drones? It is possible to overthrow a government and depose a dictator but it is nearly impossible to revolt against corporate drones and extraterritorial CEOs.

Both of these reminded me of a few things in geography: of work in  by Mark Wilson about 15 years ago and (of course) by Matthew Zook (also about 15 years ago [e.g.]) concerning the economic geographies of the infrastructures of the internet(s). It also strongly reminded me of Alexander Murphy‘s paper in the Annals of AAG a couple of years ago about ‘Territory’s continuing allure‘. It is interesting, amongst the hyperbole of immateriality and of ‘off-shore’ data centres through which our exhaust data are analysed and sold on, that (the idea of) territory maintains certain kinds of political-economic importance in particular circumstances.

As Murphy contends (in a different context but I suggest the argument holds in relation to the examples above):

if Agnew (1999, 504) is right that the spatialities of power will change “as material conditions and associated modes of understanding of them change” (italics added), then the continu- ing hold of modernist conceptions of territory on the political–geographic imagination (see Gregory 1994) must be seen as fundamental to any effort to understand the character and prospects of the current system (p. 1214)

Novel spatialities of power call out for a reinvention of the linguistic terms and conceptual frameworks we use to make sense of the world (see, e.g., Allen’s [2011] call for a consideration of what he terms topologies of power). At the same time, if we are to make sense of the circumstances and struggles shaping the political future, we must not underplay territory’s continuing ideological hold and practical significance … We also need to factor in the enduring significance of territorially based worldviews that continue to shape the perspective and ideas of billions of people—and by extension the institutions and regimes that circumscribe their lives.(p. 1224)


UK now a mobile-first country

Ofcom, the quango that regulates communications activities in the UK (i.e. broadcasting, mobile phones and internet service provision), has released a report that suggests that the UK population (according to their survey) generally prefers to use their ‘smartphones’ as the principle means of accessing the internet.

They include a few other interesting findings:

During 2014, 4G subscriptions leapt from 2.7 million to 23.6 million.

Smartphone users with 4G are shopping online more than those without 4G (55% of 4G users do this compared with 35% of non-4G users); banking more online (55% versus 33%); watching more TV and video clips online (57% versus 40%); making more face-to-face and voice calls over the internet (28% versus 20%); using services such as Snapchat to send more photos and videos (49% versus 36%); and instant messaging more with services such as WhatsApp (63% versus 50%).

One in three adults (34%) turn over and check their phones within five minutes of waking up. For young people, checking social media messages before breakfast is even more crucial – around half (49%) of young people aged 18-24 check their phones within five minutes of waking up.

Most 16-24 year olds are watching on-demand and catch up programmes on computers and smartphones rather than on a TV connected to a set-top box.

Lessons in automation from Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry

I’ve been idly thinking about the automation of everyday life and the kinds of vision of a future that have been represented (repeatedly) by technology makers, not least in terms of ‘ubiquitous computing‘, and been thinking about the rich history of this from Worlds Fairs:

New York World's Fair 1939 -

And the forms of spatial imagination that were inherent within these visions of the future were leapt upon in popular culture, especially in cartoons. What I mean is: the ways in which the relationships between  people, buildings, locations, things and the sorts of ways of living that thereby emerge form a kind of vernacular for understanding possible futures, which are grounded in (broadly) speculative extrapolations of the experience of space and place.

From the obvious ‘space age’ Jetsons, to the less obvious reinterpretations of technologies of convenience (using Dinosaurs and stone tools) in the Flintstones, there was a lot of co-opting of the futures being sold by the likes of General Motors in their “Futurama” exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair and Disney’s “Epcot“.

And so we get a Tom and Jerry cartoon that resonates with contemporary stories of the loss of jobs to automata – with ‘Thomas’ replaced by a robotic cat:

Another famous GM depiction of an automated home that draws on the forms of spatial imaginary of futurama and its ilk is the film “Design for Dreaming”, in which Thelma Tadlock guides us through the kitsch depictions of a cars and the kitchen of the future.

It is interesting (and heartening) that at the same time you get a satirised version of this with Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd in the Looney Tunes cartoon “Design for Leaving”, in which (of course) everything goes wrong [and in this vision there’s no Robert DeNiro plumber to fix it]:

Elmer Fudd – Design for Leaving by DwightFrye

These cartoons are somewhat emblematic of a satirising of visions of the future, almost contemporaneously, which is probably rather healthy. We (academics, anyway) have a tendency to take these future visions rather seriously and in many cases it is justified – ways of relating a future have politics and they do particular kinds of political work. Nevertheless, it seems like I (and possibly others) have missed a trick in not paying a little more attention to how popular culture addresses these lofty visions of an automated future everyday life.

I wonder if we might count the recent darkly humorous ‘speculative fictions’ Black Mirror, by Charlie Brooker in this tradition. For example, if we have the vision of a day with “Glass” by Google:

Then we have the accompanying tale of obsessive and creepy behaviour such forms of life-logging and AR might produce with “The Entire History of You”, the third episode of Black Mirror:

These of course stray from the topic of automation but they serve to illustrate the power of satire in relation to visions of the future. It would be great to see more cartoons that comically critique and reimagine the kinds of stories we are being currently told about a future of automated everyday life.

Incidentally, I’ll be touching on some of this in a ‘paper’ (talk) I am giving at the RGS-IBG annual conference this year (in Exeter!), as part of the ‘Algorithmic Practices‘ sessions.

Reblog> Negotiating Affect in Media/Cultural Studies

Jussi Parikka blogs about an interesting review of Dean’s Blog Theory, Shaviro’s Post-Cinematic Affect and his own Insect Media, by Greg Goldberg.

Negotiating Affect in Media/Cultural Studies

I came across this earlier review essay ” Negotiating Affect in Media/Cultural Studies” (PDF)  of Jodi Dean’s, Steven Shaviro’s and my own book (Insect Media) which might interest some people out there.

It was published in WSQ: Women Studies Quarterly 40 (1&2, Spring/Summer 2012).

Clive Barnett – new paper on segmentation practices & policy

My colleague Clive Barnett has blogged about a new paper he has coming out with Nick Mahoney in Policy and Politics concerning segmentation methods for marking practices and how these are used in the public and ‘third’ sectors.

Clive says, on his blog:

This paper seeks to open up some interpretative space for exploring what is going on when marketing practices get used in non-commercial sectors, without presuming in advance that what is going on is something to be called ‘neoliberalism’.

I find the paper interesting not only for this reason, but also because when preparing my article “Memory Programmes” I briefly looked into segmentation systems (like MOSAIC and Tapestry) when looking at supermarket loyalty card schemes like Tesco’s ‘Clubcard’ – and the sorts of (monitoring/ surveillance) apparatus they construct.

As Clive and his co-author argue, there is:

a shared rationale underlying the strategic use of segmentation methodologies. First, across these varied fields, segmentation methods are used to generate relatively stable images of public attitudes and values. Second, these images are used to inform strategies that seek to either change these dispositions or to mobilise them in support of new behaviours.

This stabilising of categories of attitude and value that can then be used as a parameter in/with a dataset that is continually interrogated and processed in order to attempt to gain ‘insights’ that may influence behaviour. I argued in my article that:

The geographical imaginary Clubcard invokes is of populations of consumers, segmented by lifestyle preferences and socio-economic factors, distributed and delimited (or ‘bordered’) through particular categorisations of space. The consumer is thus enrolled into an industrial system that retains habits of consumption in significant detail, both at an individual and collective scale, and operates on that historiography in order to influence prospective future habits.

In addressing the public sector use of segmentation Clive and Nick Mahoney argue that

the configuration of fields of agency should be the core focus of further research focussed on the critical evaluation of the deployment of ‘dividing practices’ such as segmentation methods

I think this call probably stands for the commercial use of segmentation too…

Reblog> to be invisible or not to be invisible: that is the power. or is it?

Over on her blog Visual / Method / Culture, Gillian Rose has written an interesting blogpost about the politics of ‘visibility’ online and the rendering visible of digital/electronic things and their infrastructures. She draws on some interesting work (that I didn’t know) by Shannon Mattern and Adam Rothstein.

This got me thinking about a couple of other related things, that compliment and provide further examples for Gillian’s argument…

Of course a big chunk of the early geographical fascination with all things web/internet was about visualisations and mappings as Dodge & Kitchin’s “Atlas of Cyberspace” attests… It also brings to mind the recent cases of the “right to be forgotten” in search results, and the ways in which those with the means can render what they deem undesirable “invisible” – the corollary of which is the increasing practices of public ‘shaming’ [see this great essay by Ben Jackson in the LRB], and the repugnant exploit of “revenge porn”.

So the politics of visibility Gillian teases out — and perhaps, here, more the *in*visible than the visible — is refracted through existing politics of those that have (money, status and power and so the means to render themselves selectively visible) and those that do not – who increasingly find themselves visible to all sorts of agencies.

to be invisible or not to be invisible: that is the power. or is it?

I’ve been pondering the rhetoric of ‘invisibility’ that surrounds so much critical discussion of digital technologies, particularly those that intersect with our everyday lives: the software that ‘hides’ behind smartphone screens, for example, or the intangibility of the ‘cloud’ that stores our photos and our contacts, or the invisibility of digital infrastructure. As a both Shannon Mattern and Adam Rothstein have pointed out recently, it’s a rhetoric that’s also used to describe an awful lot of other kinds of infrastructure too at the moment.

read the whole blogpost.