Category Archives: technology

Reblog> Here’s why visions of ubiquitous connectivity aren’t going to be realised any time soon

Interesting post from Mark Graham on his blog…

Here’s why visions of ubiquitous connectivity aren’t going to be realised any time soon

The last few months have seen a wealth of stories about visions to connect the world. Facebook, Google, large international organisations, states, and even Bono, dream of a world in the near future in which we are all hooked into the network.

In the midst of all of this, I found a comment made by Jimmy Wales particularly interesting.

This hope of the inevitability of ubiquitous connectivity is one that is widely reproduced by other policy makers, technologists, and thought leaders.

However, it is a hope that needs to be unpacked. There are two ways in which this hypothetical future in which everyone is connected could be brought into being.
The first one of these futures is a world where everyone can afford access. But as we demonstrated in our research about the global affordability of broadband, dropping prices is unlikely to be a sufficient strategy. There will remain billions of people making a subsistence living, for whom even extremely cheap access is unaffordable.  The average Mozambican worker, for instance, would need over one and a half year’s salary to pay for one year’s worth of broadband access.

In other words, Jimmy Wales’ prediction won’t happen simply by lowering prices.
The second future is the one promoted by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg. One in which large corporations sponsor free (and importantly, limited) access for billions of people in return for attention monopolies. This brings a very different sort of Internet into being: one in which winners and losers, centres and peripheries, are already pre-selected by those who control your access.

What this all ultimately means is that it seems unlikely that any sort of open Web will be ubiquitously available in the near future. Simply lowering the cost of access will continue to leave out the very poorest; and handing over the project of connecting the disconnected to large technology firms will leave us with a very different (and far less desirable) sort of Internet.

To read a bit more about visions of connectivity, here are two of my recent papers:

Two theme issues to explore: ‘Culture Digitally’ and ‘Digital Labour’

Just a quick post to flag two very interesting theme issues of journals that have been shared on Twitter recently:

So, in the above order:

As Nancy Baym highlights, the journal Social Media + Society has a theme issue edited, or as they suggest: curated, by Tarleton Gillespie and Hector Postigo on the theme of ‘Culture Digitally’, which is also the title of the group blog to which they both contribute.

As Aphra Kerr highlights, the journal Critical Studies in Media and Communication has a theme section on Digital Labour.

Between them, both have lots of contributions that look really interesting and worth exploring!

Interesting paper: Towards a relational materialism by @digital_objects

Yuk Hui (Leuphana), one of the rising stars in the Ars Industrialis / Digital Studies milieu, has an interesting new paper out in the journal Digital Culture & Society. Unfortunately, my university doesn’t offer access but I trust that a version will appear on / ResearchGate sometime soon…

Towards a Relational Materialism


This article takes off from what Lyotard calls ‘the immaterial’, demonstrated in the exhibition Les Immatériaux that he curated at the Centre Pompidou in 1985. It aims at outlining a concept of ‘relational materiality’. According to Lyotard, ‘the immaterial’ is not contrary to material: instead, it is a new industrial material brought about by telecommunication technologies, exemplified by Minitel computers, and serves as basis to describe the postmodern condition. Today this materiality is often referred to as ‘the digital’. In order to enter into a dialogue with Lytoard, and to render his notion of ‘immaterial materials’ contemporary, this article contrasts the concept of relational materiality with some current discourses on digital physics (Edward Fredkin, Gregory Chaitin) and digital textuality (Matthew Kirschenbaum). Against the conventional conception that relations are immaterial (neither being a res nor even having a real esse), and also contrary to a substantialist analysis of materiality, this article suggests that a relational materiality is made visible and explicit under digital conditions. It suggests a reconsideration of the ‘relational turn’ in the early 20th century and the concept of concretisation proposed by Gilbert Simondon. The article concludes by returning to Lyotard’s notion of materialism and his vision of a new metaphysics coming out of this ‘immaterial material’, and offers ‘relational materialism’ as a contemporary response.

In relation to this see also the book 30 Years after Les Immatériaux – Art, Science and Theory (Meson Press) — edited by Yuk Hui, with some great chapters on similar themes…

Reblog> Danse macabre

Derek Gregory points to this really lovely video from Opéra National de Paris and Julien Prévieux inspired by Gregoire Chamayou’s work on ‘schematic bodies and patterns of life’.

I love how the ideas have been translated into performance in such a provocative yet beautiful way — this really gets you thinking about, as Stiegler would put it, the grammatisation of gesture (see, in particular: For a New Critique of Political Economy, pp. 8-13): the sense in which the capture and retention of our movements feeds back into the ways in which institutions and apparatuses address us both as individuals (‘subjects’) and populations (and/or ‘markets’)…

Danse macabre

Grégoire Chamayou writes to say that after our conversations in Irvine last year he has worked with an artist friend, Julien Prévieux (who won the Prix Marcel Duchamp in 2014) and the Opéra national de Paris to turn his ideas about schematic bodies and patterns of life into a short film: Patterns of Life.

I’ve embedded it below, but if the link doesn’t work you can watch it here or on YouTube here. You will soon see why Anne Buttimer once described Torsten Hågerstrand‘s time-geography diagrams as a danse macabre.  The subtitles are in French but the commentary is in English.

I find the combination of intellectual imagination and performance work absolutely compelling – see my comments on ‘Bodies on the line’ here, for example.

Jean Lievens introduction to Michel Bauwens’ Sauver le Monde

Earlier this year I posted rough translations of both Bernard Stiegler’s Preface and Dirk Holeman’s Postface to Michel Bauwens and Jean Lievens’ book Sauver le Monde: Vers une société post-capitaliste avec le peer-to-peer [To Save the World: towards a post-capitalist society with peer-to-peer].

I’ve translated a bit more now and I make this translation available, for free, to the publishers to do as they wish with it. I hope it helps in some small way…

These are the first few pages of the book following the Preface, in two short sections: Introduction and About this book.

As usual, clarifications or original French are in square brackets and I welcome any comments or suggestions – although I’m not trying to offer an ‘authoritative’ translation…


“We do not live in a changing age, but rather a change of age”
Professor Jan Rotmans
(Professor of the Theory and Management of Transition,
Erasmus University Rotterdam)

It would be pointless to try to convince the reader of a book entitled To Save the World that life on Earth, as we understand it today, is in peril. Following a recently published study in the journal Nature Climate Change, more that half of terrestrial plants and the habitats of around a third of animals will disappear because of climate change if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at the current rate. Scientists at the renowned Global Footprint Network (an international laboratory of ideas that measures ecological sustainability using ‘ecological footprints’) have calculated that, at present, we will need a planet and a half to maintain the current global economy. Furthermore, the growth rate required to maintain this system until 2053 would require the global economy to quadruple. In this case, we would need six planets. One does not need to be genius to understand that endless growth on a finite planet is a scientific nonsense and we are heading for a crash. Faced with this bleak perspective for the future, there are different ways to react: simple denial, to resign ourselves to it, or to attempt to do something about it.

To change the world, we can draw inspiration from the past, but we need a new way of addressing the challenges of the future. Michel Bauwens brings us such a vision. Not the visions, but a vision. The title of this book thus reflects a certain arrogance inconsistent with his character. Indeed, very intelligent people are often very modest, because they are very conscious of their own limitations. But who is Michel Bauwens? Beneath the title “The most stimulating Belgian thinker is an unknown philosopher” in the newspaper De Morgen (on the 23rd March 2012) presents him as follows:

“Do you know Michel Bauwens? Perhaps not. This 54-year-old cyberphilosopher is not well known. Bauwens is the first Belgian to figure in a list of the 100 most influential people in the world. He finds himself in the illustrious company of people such as Mahatma Ghandi (9), Martin Luther King (24), The Dalai Lama (28), Thomas Malthus (55) and John Kenneth Galbraith (70). Bauwens occupies 82nd place, a few rungs above Eleanor Roosevelt (87).”

The list referred to in De Morgen, “The (En)Rich List”, is a table of 100 people established by the Post Growth Institute, an international group of scientists that lobby for a sustainable society in which prosperity can be created without a need for economic doctrine [besoin de croissance économique]. The list of the “most enriching people” is a foil [clin d’œil – literally “a wink”, could be translated to ‘a nod’] to the 100 “richest people” in the world, published annually by the American financial magazine Forbes.

Cyberphilosopher, futurologist, economist, researcher, conference convener, entrepreneur… These are some of the epithets given to Michel Bauwens by journalists. Wikipedia designates him as a “peer-to-peer theorist”, and he describes himself in this book as a commentator and thinker attempting to forge a coherent link between the theories, hypotheses and explications of peer-to-peer, and to do so in the most ethical way possible.

So what is ‘peer-to-peer’ (abbreviated to P2P)? This is a term not well known or understood outside of the world of IT enthusiasts and geeks, nevertheless the collaborative economy, forged through networks of peers, has rapidly gained in popularity throughout our countries. A year before the publication of that short article in De Morgen, the Dutch-language Belgian newspaper De Tijd (on the 23rd April 2013) published a detailed interview with Michel, across a double-page spread. Little by little, he has gained notoriety even in his country of birth. As is often the case, local recognition comes on the back of an international breakthrough, and not vice versa. It is well-known that: “No one is a prophet in their own country” [«Nul n’est prophète en son pays» – this is an idiom that some suggest traces back to the apostles Luke and Matthew].

About this book

This book is the outcome of twelve Skype interviews, of around an hour each, between January and February 2014. If I had arranged twelve more hours, if someone else had interviewed Michel, this would have been a different book. In any case, our aim is to share with you some ideas at the heart of peer-to-peer, production between peers, in the hope of inspiring you to further your understanding through other lectures, books and studies. As this book contains a number of important new and uncommon terms (for example, you may have already struggled with the term ‘peer-to-peer’ in the subtitle of this book), we have created a glossary that is situated at the end of the book.

Personally, I think that politicians, whether on the right or the left, have a tendency to see the future [l’avenir] through the rear-view mirror. Just as Marxism is an ideological construct of the 19th century, liberalism and nationalism find their origins in the 18th century. From a historical perspective these ideologies each have respective values but they no longer offer a response to the enormous difficulties that confront us today. This is also expressed in the way that politicians are unable to offer solutions. Not only because the political class tends to defend the status quo and their vested interests but also because many of the problems can only be solved at a global scale and thus local authorities are powerless. This certainly does not mean that nothing is possible at a local level, quite the contrary. On those occasions when everything is paralysed at national and international levels, only local level action allows real progress. This is reflected in particular by increased urbanisation (since the beginning of the 21st century more than a half of the global population has lived in towns and cities), or what Eric Corijn calls the emergence of “urbanity” as new form of post-national society, but also by the development of peer-to-peer mechanisms through which a number of people take their fate into their own hands by launching new projects from within the very institutional framework with which they have often clashed. In the face of the pessimism of the political world, there is optimism within the science of peer-to-peer. This is why solutions will come first from civil society.

We live in an era of enormous possibilities, but also of contradictions and gigantic obstacles to the full realisation of those possibilities. Machines have releaved us of a large part of manual labour (and increasingly of intellectual labour), but the automisation of production processes has not translated into the redistribution or the reduction of working time. Financial markets, often governed by mathematical algorithms upon which no one has a grip, have a greater impact than governments upon our lives. Our parliaments vote for laws that render collaboration and sharing illegal. Our economic model is founded upon the absurd idea of material abundance and immaterial rarity. We behave as if the world was limitless and exploit it to the utmost, to the point of jeopardizing the survival of the human species. Furthermore, we use copyright and patents to build artificial barriers around human knowledge to complicate sharing and collaboration as much as possible. Yet, from the society of the industrial revolution emerged new models and ways of working, heralding a new society. Thus, today, in the words of the Dutch Scientist Jan Rotmans: “We do not live in an era of change but in a change of era”.

The emerging model of peer-to-peer, inspired by the open source movement, seeks to circumvent the false logic of material scarcity and the artificial scarcity of the immaterial. In the apparent tangle of new phenomena such as the collaborative economy, peer-to-peer networks, open source, crowd-sourcing, FabLabs, micro-factories, the “maker” movement, urban agriculture and so on, Michel Bauwens sees a model that leads us to a post-capitalist society, in which the market finally submits to the logic of the commons (the common good). This book is a first attempt to articulate ideas concerning peer-to-peer formulated by Michel Bauwens. It is not simply the result of the reflections of a single person but rather the collective inteilligence of a growing minority of active pioneers who are developing and revealing thousands of projects and experiences amongst peers. Hopefully they will be an inspiration for all who are active in this area and work to build a new world, starting with what affects us directly.

Jean Lievens
9th July 2013

Reblog> New project: Citizen-related data privacy/protection concerns arising from the development of smart cities

This new project with Rob Kitchin seems really interesting >>

New project: Citizen-related data privacy/protection concerns arising from the development of smart cities

Prof. Rob Kitchin has recently been awarded a research contract by the Department of the Taoiseach to examine citizen-related data privacy/protection concerns arising from the development of smart cities.  More specifically, the research is to help inform the work of the new Government Data Forum, an initiative of Dara Murphy TD, the Minister for EU Affairs and Data Protection.  The research is to:

  • Identify, document and summarise key developments in the area of smart cities in Ireland, at EU level and internationally;
  • Identify and report on concerns and challenges for citizens regarding key data protection, data privacy and associated issues that arise in the context of smart cities
  • Identify and report on best practice initiatives that have been undertaken to address these issues.

The project will run for two months from October 1st to November 30th and result in a detailed report setting out the main data privacy/protection issues associated with smart city technologies and initiatives.

Some interesting papers: mothering with social media, archaeologies of e-waste, and performing tasks with wifi

Just wanted to flag some more interesting papers that have recently come out.

First, Robyn Longhurst‘s fantastic work on mothering with Skype and other social media has been really productive of some great papers and the latest in Social & Cultural Geographies is no exception. There’s some really lovely empirical work here and some interesting discussion of method too. I will be giving this paper to some of my students precisely because of this methods discussion. Good stuff!

Mothering, digital media and emotional geographies in Hamilton, Aotearoa New Zealand

This article traces a line between two literatures that can usefully be drawn into deeper conversation: geographies of digital media, and geographies of emotion. Its broad theoretical aim is to ascertain what insights might be gleaned by increasingly bringing together these two literatures. The more specific and primary aim, however, is an empirical one and that is to offer a materially grounded example of 35 mothers who live in Hamilton, Aotearoa New Zealand who use digital media to communicate with their children. Particular attention is paid to the capacities of different digital media, both individually and combined, to help facilitate, but certainly not guarantee, different emotions. The research is informed by a feminist geographical reading of theories of digital media and emotion. Findings illustrate that increasingly mothers are making use of digital media, both singularly and collectively, to increase the chances of a particular desired emotional outcome with their child or children. This article concludes that bodies, devices, screens, sounds and images comingle to mediate emotions over time and space.

Second, Sy Taffel has written another interesting article (following on from the paper he contributed to our theme issue of Culture Machine in 2012) concerning the desirable and undesirable materialities of electronic devices, not least when they are discarded and thrown away. This paper is part of an interesting forum convened by Angela Piccini. (You’ll find Sy’s piece between pp. 78-85):

Archaeologies of Electronic Waste

The toxicity and volume of electrical waste (commonly referred to as e-waste) forms one material legacy of contemporary digital culture which emphasizes the importance of paying attention to the deleterious material impacts of technological assemblages upon human and ecological systems, and asks serious questions about the sustainability and ethical orientation of current technocultural systems. Globally, around 50 million tonnes of e-waste are generated each year, and this waste is considered to be toxic due to the presence of a “witch’s brew” of substances which are highly hazardous to humans and other biotic systems. Whilst there exist inter-, supra-, and national laws and conventions mandating that most OECD nations (the US being a notable exemption) cannot legally export hazardous wastes to non-OECD nations, there exists a vibrant illegal market in exporting e-waste which is systematically mislabelled as working second-hand electronics goods for sale in emerging markets, with an estimated 50–100 shipping containers of illegally exported e-waste arriving daily in Hong Kong. This short essay seeks to sketch several ways that media archaeology and archaeologies of media provide productive apertures through which to consider issues surrounding e-waste, whilst contextualizing how media archaeology fits within the broader field of materialist media studies.

Thirdly, and by no means least, Sung-Yueh Perng has written a really thoughtful and interesting article on how the apparently ‘immaterial’ infrastructure of wi-fi is enrolled in ‘human-signal assemblages’ through which are performed the intricacies of everyday life. Again, some really lovely empirical work here and a nuanced synthesis of empirics and theory – with an interesting reading together of Adrian Mackenzie’s work on wireless communications, Ingold’s refrain of the ‘taskscape’ and the technocultural spatial imaginaries that have emerged in Taipei around these technologies.

Performing Tasks With Wi-Fi Signals in Taipei

This article examines the process of constructing, repairing, and improvising “human–signal assemblages” by drawing on in-depth interviews and virtual ethnography regarding the engineering of Wi-Fi connectivity in Taipei, Taiwan. It is demonstrated that spatial, temporal, infrastructural, and embodied orchestrations of Wi-Fi signals both reinforce and challenge prescribed ways of conducting daily tasks. Continuity and change, enacted by attempts to incorporate Wi-Fi signals into daily urban life, are explored by discussing a wide range of practices performed by government entities, local companies and initiatives, and users themselves. Particular attention is paid to the ways in which machines, the city landscape, discourses, maps, and signs grow and multiply, as well as intersect and intervene with each other at various levels, locales, and stages of establishing Wi-Fi connections. The article thus argues for the importance of “machine juggling” as a skillful performance that mends, maintains, and improvises Wi-Fi-enabled urban everyday rhythms.

Reblog> The pseudo-digital natives argument

Great, and incisive, post by Martin about the slips we all make in lapsing into easy-but-flawed theories… I’d say this argument also applies to how people talk about a spatial distinction between ‘offline’ and ‘online’, or mediated and face-to-face, communications as a ‘virtual’ / ‘real’ dichotomy. It’s nonsense but still has some residual appeal because we like to put space in a box (a la Descartes).

The pseudo digital-natives argument

When I did my degree in Psychology I remember a lecturer dismissing lots of theories of cognition as a ‘pseudo-homunculus” explanation. The homunculus explanations of psychology posited a little person sitting inside, driving your actions (think Inside Out). Of course, this was debunked hundreds of years ago, but a pseudo-homunculus explanation was one that went so far and then almost implied a little person. For example, theories of perception that posited a projection of the external world as if it was a cinema screen inside the head. It didn’t explain how that then led to action.

I was thinking about this with ed tech presentations. The digital natives myth has long been debunked, like the homunculus, but what we have are often pseudo-digital native explanations. I joked on twitter that we should ban presenters from talking about their children’s use of technology. I don’t really want to ban it (before people start telling me why a ban would be a bad idea), and I think sometimes it is used to effectively make a point. But often the deployment of these anecdotes (or videos even) is to sneak some pseudo-digital native juice in, without being derided for such. “Look, my daughter uses the ipad in a totally different way to me, we need to be ready for these kids in university” is often the implicit or explicit message. I blogged a while ago that there is something appealing about the digital natives idea, people want it to be true, and so it finds new ways to reassert itself. So when you hear a “my kids” anecdote in a presentation, I just ask you to do a pseudo digital natives check. Stay vigilant people.

Margaret Hamilton, Nasa software engineer & her ‘code’ printed out

I’ve put this picture on my office door:

Margaret Hamilton is an inspirational figure and we really should know more about her and her work!

Hamilton is now 78 and runs Hamilton Technologies, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company she founded in 1986. She’s lived to see “software engineering” — a term she coined — grow from a relative backwater in computing into a prestigious profession.

In the early days, women were often assigned software tasks because software just wasn’t viewed as very important. “It’s not that managers of yore respected women more than they do now,” Rose Eveleth writes in a great piece on early women programmers for Smithsonian magazine. “They simply saw computer programming as an easy job. It was like typing or filing to them and the development of software was less important than the development of hardware. So women wrote software, programmed and even told their male colleagues how to make the hardware better.”

“I began to use the term ‘software engineering’ to distinguish it from hardware and other kinds of engineering,” Hamilton told Verne’s Jaime Rubio Hancock in an interview. “When I first started using this phrase, it was considered to be quite amusing. It was an ongoing joke for a long time. They liked to kid me about my radical ideas. Software eventually and necessarily gained the same respect as any other discipline.”

Right on, Margaret.

The above quote is from this piece on by Dylan Matthews is worth reading – it contains lots of interesting bits and pieces, not least the fact that Apollo code was literally ‘hard wired’: it was woven in wire… astonishing to anyone who simply fires up a text editor and then uploads via ftp etc. etc. now…

The process of actually coding in the programs was laborious, as well. The guidance computer used something known as “core rope memory”: wires were roped through metal cores in a particular way to store code in binary. “If the wire goes through the core, it represents a one,” Hamilton explained in the documentary Moon Machines. “And around the core it represents a zero.” The programs were woven together by hand in factories. And because the factory workers were mostly women, core rope memory became known by engineers as “LOL memory,” LOL standing for “little old lady.”