Category Archives: technology

Internet of Things, ownership and Ts & Cs

iot-toothpaste
Toothpaste terms of service

Decided to make a spoof image that follows some others’ attempts to satirically reflect on the kinds of business models that seem to be creeping in for ‘Internet of Things’ products and services. My impetus is that I’ve enjoyed some of the recent posts on the @internetofshit satirical twitter stream, which lampoons IoT business ideas. These got me thinking…

Many of the successful posts take to the extreme a model we are already experiencing – which is that we do not necessarily totally control those things we think we own. I am aware that other folk will probably have commented in more depth and with greater nuance, but there we are… this is just a blogpost! (I welcome suggestions for further reading though)

For example – I recently bought a Kindle Paperwhite and to remove the inbuilt advertising I had to pay (in addition to the retail price) a £10 fee to ‘unsubscribe’ from ‘Special Offers‘. So, I had bought the device but to remove the adverts I had to pay more.

This, of course, resonates with the inkjet printer business model – in which the printer manufacturer can almost give away some models because the ink itself is highly lucrative, which led to stories comparing it’s value to that of gold…

In my most recent lecture for my third-year option module (Geographies of Technology) I addressed some of these issues and invited the students to consider the following questions when thinking about an ‘internet of things and places’:

Questions of ownership/responsibility:

  • Whose things?
  • Whose data?
  • Who has access? How? When? Where?

Questions of power:

  • How are decisions made on the basis of the data?
  • How doe these decisions influence our lives?

Questions of value:

  • How can/should we negotiate the value(s) of our data?
  • What are we willing to give(-up) for perceived benefits?
    • When does giving away lots of data become not worth it?

Later the same day, on the train home, I idly tweeted a speculative satirical scenario:

Which led me to create a still image (above). I think there’s a lot of scope of using speculative design techniques in a satirical way to provoke more debate about the kinds of relationship we want to enter into with and through the technologies we bring into our everyday lives. My key inspiration here is Anne Galloway‘s work, especially the beautiful Counting Sheep project.

‘Vulgar’ cultural geographies and technology (new article online) and other ‘provocations for cultural geography today’

I have a short article/commentary recently published online in Social & Cultural Geography:

Vulgar geographies? Popular cultural geographies and technology

The article is one of several from a forthcoming theme issue that is the result of the OU Open Space Centre’s 2014 Doreen Massey annual event themed on ‘provocations of the present’. The theme issue Provocations for Cultural Geography Today has some great papers in it, including:

I strongly encourage having a read of these articles!

A politics and economics of attention

Just before Christmas (and just before injuring myself) I took part in an ESRC-funded seminar concerning the politics and economics of attention, alongside my colleague Clive Barnett and others.

Jessica Pykett very kindly invited me to talk on the back of the theme issue of Culture Machine Patrick Crogan and I co-edited back in 2012.

There are slides from the talks plus an interesting commentary by Rupert Alcock now posted to the Behaviour Change and Psychological Governance website.

My slides are on ResearchGate

Gillian Rose on the shared visual imagination of drones / smart cities – great post

Gillian Rose has blogged about Derek Gregory’s recent lecture(s?) at Cambridge, which sounded interesting and provocative. It’s a great blogpost – I encourage people to read it.

I hadn’t thought of the similarities of visual imagination, or (systems of) visuality, across and between (military) drones and ‘smart cities’, but Gillian’s points make sense.

I was struck especially by this great point:

advocates of both smart cities and drone warfare share an absence of historical narrative so that their technologies can be seen as new, modern, better and more desirable.  (Which of course conveniently ignores various histories of failure, imprecision, rejection and unreliability.)

This seems especially important, and is a tactic/ approach shared by the kinds of computing R&D that I’ve studied and written about… it’s that lack of historical narrative ~ the ‘any-when’-ness, that facilitates some of the ways in which computing researchers have employed particular kinds of visual grammar to render particular kinds of possible future (in the) present.

Anyway – have a read

Reblog> The scholar and social media

Excellent advice here from Tamson Pietsch on the uses and limits of social media, especially blogging. Found through @HelenPallett.

I very much support the ethos and practices suggested here:

The scholar and the social media

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Last week I gave a talk on social media to post-graduates from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Foolishly (but only fairly) I promised to practice what I preached. So here are the salient points (and links) as I remember them.

Why you should think about the social media

Increasingly scholarly conversation is happening online – in curated and individual blogs, on twitter, and through other electronic forums. If you are not engaging with these forms of publication you are likely to be missing part of what is happening in your field.

Participating in the world of social media helps generate a bigger (and more diverse) academic audience for your research. Much of this will be  in aligned disciplines, or in different national contexts. If you are not engaging online, you’ll be missing part of your potential audience.

Social media also helps generate a broader non-academic audience, especially with those industries to which your thesis may connect. Try to consciously develop and promote your “shadow expertise”; that aspect of your work that might inform a non-academic sector. It’s tough in the academic job market, and this could well be where your post-phd career ends up going.

And finally, social media is increasingly a factor in every employment sector. Engaging online gives you skills that will serve you well, wherever you work.

But always remember the golden rule

NEVER LET YOUR MOUTH EXCEED YOUR VOICE.

This is Stefan Collini’s advice to public intellectuals in Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain and it should be etched onto the computer screens of every academic who reaches for the internet.  Have something to say that is well founded and established, and well supported. Be respectful of other people’s work and opinions and give them due reference. The last thing a junior (or indeed any) academic needs is to have a ruined reputation all over the internet.

If there is a second rule, it might be this: VALUE YOUR TIME – blogging & tweeting can be very rewarding because unlike most other parts of academic life you get direct feedback. But it’s a drug. Keep your main game in view and remember: your authority to speak will in 98% of cases come from your research. So respect it, foster it, prioritise it.

How to start

See how other people are doing it. Set up a twitter account and follow scholars you admire (and those you don’t!) Read the relevant blogs in your field – some of these are likely to be co-authored. If you are totally lost, The Chronicle of Higher Education’s blog page is as good a place as any to begin (and you have discovered this blog so you’re not doing too badly!)

People disagree on the merits of maintaining an individual blog as against contributing to established co-authored or other forums such as The Conversation, but my view is to go for both:

  1. Set up a blog site for yourself that will act a bit like your online CV:
    • use it to a) experiment with writing pieces and b) as a place to collect any material you publish on other platforms. WordPress is easy to use and integrates well with other social media.
  2. Generate content:
    • Work in progress & the process of working (see for eg. the Thesis Whisperer or Trickster Prince).
    • Communicate research you have published (eg https://t.co/UCbgE8RslC)
    • Wait for news item & apply research
    • Provide context through your “shadow expertise” – are you writing a Phd on the history of fashion? Contact fashion magazines and pitch articles to them.
  3. Maximise your reach
    • Connect to other people’s online content through using links, and cross-promote on twitter (using #hashtags), facebook, linkedin and academia.edu.au, among other social media outlets.
    • Write for established platforms, such as co-authored blogs, The Conversation, print outlets, your university, industry publications. The internet is a big place with a lot of shouting people on it, and you need to find a way to be heard. Established sites offer you support and a readership that is invaluable.

Parting comments

Academic research usually takes a long time to produce. It frequently works with complex information and tells stories that complicate what we think we know. The interwebs do not thrive on such complexity. This doesn’t mean you should go for simplifications , but it does mean you need to work with people’s attention spans. Put your argument up front, rather than at the end; try to stick to 500-800 words maximum. Inject some personality. Too often wonderful academic research is communicated in ways that do not make it easy for people to access or connect with. Paywalls and professional convention carry part of the responsibility, but as scholars we can do a lot more too to reach out to a public that has demonstrated a robust appetite for ideas.

Reading list

Prof Patrick Dunleavy’s Shorter, better, faster, free: blogging changes the nature of academic research, not just how it is communicated and How to write a blogpost from your journal article

LSE public impact blog and in particular their twitter guide and reading list on using social media for research

The Times Higher Education magazine’s Tips for academics on Blogging and Social Media

Reblog> Digital Interfaces, Credit and Debt – new project from @ash_ecotechnics & @BenAndersonGeog

Not really sure how I missed this announcement last week but there you go… An interesting new ESRC-funded project led by James Ash concerning the growth of personal/’pay day’ loans (“High Cost, Short-Term Credit”) that are accessed through mediation, such as an ‘app’. Kudos to James and team for landing this with success rates with the ESRC as low as they are – a great achievement.

I’m sure it’ll be a great project!

Digital Interfaces, Credit and Debt

I am happy to formally announce that I am primary investigator on an ESRCfunded project entitled: ‘Digital Interfaces and Debt: understanding mediated decision making processes in high cost short term credit products’ with co-investigators: Dr Ben Anderson and Dr Paul Langley. 

This 18 month project (2016-2018) seeks to understand how consumers access HCSTC (High Cost Short Term Credit), such as cash and pay day loans through digital interfaces, on personal computers and mobile devices and in turn how these interfaces shape decision making processes regarding the purchasing of credit. The project proposes a novel approach to debt as an everyday phenomenon that is mediated through the relationship between technology and embodied practice. Understanding how people become indebted through digital interfaces is critical to analyzing and explaining contemporary indebtedness because 82% of cash and pay day loans, a key form of HCSTC, are now applied for and managed via digital interfaces on laptops, tablets and smart phones (Competition and Markets Authority, 2015). Through original empirical investigation with designers and users of mobile interfaces, debt support charities and financial regulators, the research will generate new evidence about everyday experiences of debt and indebtedness and contributes to important societal and academic debates about emerging forms of credit and problematic forms of economic subjectivity.

The project begins later this year and will have its own dedicated website and Twitter account, which will be publicized in due course.

Reblog> The Geopolitics of Context: Mordor, Russia and Google Translate, by @Pip__T

An interesting blogpost by Pip Thornton on the Royal Holloway Geopolotics & Security blog:

The Geopolitics of Context: Mordor, Russia and Google Translate

“One does not simply walk into the Russian Federation”

Over the last week several media outlets, and many more Twitter feeds, have been spreading news of a series of ‘glitches’ in Google Translate which saw the word Russia being synonymised with Mordor when translated from Ukrainian to RussianFurthermore, Russians became occupiers and for a short time the name of the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov returned the result sad little horse. 

vk-russia-to-ukraine

Twitter / Vadim Nakhankov (wired.co.uk)

Noting that ‘the terms mirror language used by some Ukrainians following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014′, some suggested the possibility of foul play; that the algorithm was ‘hacked by spies‘, ‘jokers’ or ‘mischievous pro-Kiev activists’,  or that the words had been inserted manually by users as alternative translations presumably in order to ridicule Russia and humiliate Lavrov. Other sources referred to a ‘bug’ or an ‘automated error’ in the algorithm, an explanation seemingly substantiated by the way Google quickly issued an ‘embarrassed apology’, stepping in to ‘fix’ their wayward algorithms as soon as the matter came to light.

Read the full post here.

Apps & affect – Fibreculture 25

This issue of Fibreculture on “apps and affect” from last year (2015), stemming from a conference of the same name,  has some fairly substantial looking contributions from interesting people. These include a conversation between Alexander Galloway & Patricia Ticineto Clough, the ‘algorithmic agartha‘ paper by Nandita Biswas Mellamphy & Dan Mellamphy I’ve linked to before and (of particular interest to me at the mo) a paper by Melissa Gregg on speculative labour & app development. It’s edited by Svitlana Matviyenko, Nandita Biswas Mellamphy, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Alison Hearn, and Andrew Murphie.

Introduction

In William Gibson’s recent futurist novel The Peripheral, the planet has been devastated by a massive eco-techno-political catastrophe (‘the jackpot’) but remaining inhabitants are still able to enjoy the luxury of activating digital devices simply by tapping their tongues on the roof of their mouths. This touch is sufficient to set into play systems that communicate across space and time – enabling the establishment of connections back in time, for example, to people closer to our own present-day, for whom mobiles are still (somewhat) separate from the body. Thirty years ago, in his first novel Neuromancer, Gibson immortalised cyberspace with the account of what now sounds like an amazingly clunky process whereby the hero ‘jacks-in’ to virtual reality. But in The Peripheral the process of translation and transition into networks is streamlined – occluded, internal, intimate and implanted – right at the tip of the tongue.

This issue of the Fibreculture Journal explores a moment along this hypothetical trajectory by investigating the contemporary intersection of ‘Apps and Affect’, publishing papers from a conference of that name organised in October 2013 by faculty and students at Western University (specifically from its Faculty of Information and Media Studies and Center for the Study of Theory and Criticism). By recognising apps as objects that are related to the constitution of subjects, as a component of biopolitical assemblages, and as a means of digital production and consumption, our conference aimed to make an intervention in what had – since the announcements of the App-Store and the iPhone3 in 2008 – been a largely technical and rather technophiliac public discussion of apps.

Isn’t it paradoxical, we asked, that instead of becoming ‘transparent’ and ‘invisible’ – as envisioned by the thinkers of ubiquitous computing decades ago – the app-ecosystem manifests itself as permanent excess: excessive downloads, excessive connections, excessive proximity, excessive ‘friends’-qua-‘contacts’, excessive speeds and excessive amounts of information? How does the app as ‘technique’ (Tenner), indeed as ‘cultural technique’ (Siegert) and as ‘technics’ (Stiegler), channel our ways of maintaining relations with/in the media environment? Do the specific and circumscribed operations of individual applications foster or foreclose what media theorists call the transformative and transductive potential of collective technological individuation (Simondon)? How might we think about the social, political and technical implications of this movement away from open-ended networks like the internet towards specific, focused, and individualised modes of computing? Do apps represent ‘a new reticular condition of trans-individuation grammatising new forms of social relations’ (Stiegler) or do they signal instead the triumph of ‘regulatory’ networks over ‘generative’ ones (Zittrain)? If apps are micro-programs residing by the hundreds and thousands on cell-phones, mobile-devices and tablets, and affects are corporeal excitements (and depressions) running beneath and beyond cognition, what is the relation of apps to affects?

– See more at: http://twentyfive.fibreculturejournal.org/#sthash.6y9K3uyP.dpuf

Recommended: Cultural Geography Going Viral – provocation By @ProfGillian

Another interesting article out in the ‘Online Early’ section of Social & Cultural Geography is by Gillian Rose, from the “Provocations of the Present” OU event, way back in 2014(!).

Gillian gave an interesting talk on the day, which resonated with things I’ve written, and it’s interesting to read the ‘final’ version, entitled “Cultural Geography Going Viral“.

Using the example of Emily Thorberry’s injudicious tweet concerning white vans and the St George’s cross, Gillian explores how the techniques of analysis of such an image and how it is audienced, interpreted, circulated, and so on and, provocatively, discusses how “the skills of the cultural geographer are now widespread”:

In fact, they are probably no more widespread than they ever have been, but social media and online commentary is making them more visible than ever before. Everyone is reading cultural texts and coming to conclusions about their meaning and sharing their interpretations, it seems – and if they can’t understand what’s going on, they ask and they get an answer. Those answers unpack both the symbolism of specific cultural texts but also the production and circulation of those texts by specific forms of media institutions. In other words, cultural interpretation has gone viral.

This resonates in many ways with some of what I argue in my own ‘provocation‘, in which I argue that we (cultural geographers, and others) need to attend to the various ways on understanding mediation when discussing popular culture (and that we need to discuss popular culture more!)

Anyway, all this is simply to say that I recommend reading Prof. Rose’s article.