Monday, June 30, 2003

Social Matrices

While putting the final touches on the paper I've been writing, I thought I'd take a break and share one of the tech projects I discussed.

"Proboscis is a cultural organisation and creative studio which researches, develops and facilitates innovation through action research and development, publishing and realising creative projects. Proboscis' research programme – SoMa (social matrices) think tank – works in partnership with a network of arts, academic and industry partners."

Of special interest is their Sonic Geographies project:

SONIC GEOGRAPHIES takes sound as the entry point for excavating and mapping urban experience and invisible infrastructures of the city. A series of experiments and scenarios are being developed that operate as maps and journeys but also as highly personal renderings of sonic experience – sounds of the personal world in conversation with sounds of the city. The mappings attempt to excavate the layers of sound that make up the city and create strata of difference: from the sound of a city's church bells to the shifting sonic signatures of traffic, music radio and the layers of wireless communications. Sound eludes systems of representation: this process of excavation will entail developing a graphic language and notational system for representing and articulating sonic difference, and the inter-relationships that occur as urban experience. The excavation is designed to open up a new space of enquiry into the experience of the city, and how sound functions as a kind of infrastructure for understandings of place and geography particular to contemporary conditions in the city.

The Urban Tapestries experiment is part of this and very cool. (Plus my friend Zoe is a research assistant on it.) You can read more about it in Andrew Lee's article for The Engineer.

So sweet

Back from Montréal. Medeski, Martin & Wood were, as always, stunning - but they played in a poor venue that had shitty sound and was way too hot. The true highlight was Jack DeJohnette (drums) and Don Byron (clarinet) - they were LIT UP. Also on percussion were Giovanni Hidalgo and Luisito Quintero with some solid Latin rhythms. I thought I would explode with joy. Brilliant.

But before anyone thinks I am a music snob, I also spent some time watching VH1's kick-ass series I love the 80s and the 1981 episode reminded me how much I loved Jessie's Girl by Rick Springfield. Man, that song taught me what it meant to covet someone. Perv.

(If you're interested, I also took some pictures while wandering around the city.)

Friday, June 27, 2003

For love of jazz

After two weeks of work that have made the previous two months seem like a vacation, this afternoon my sweetie and I are heading to Montréal for some much needed relaxation and rejuvenation before I put some of these tasks to rest.

Le Festival International de Jazz de Montréal starts today, and I'm really looking forward to catching MMW again, as well as hearing Jack DeJohnette and Don Byron play together.

See you Monday.

Information does not a good world make

This may not be what you want to read first thing in the morning, but it is true. My normally enthusiastic-about-the-possibilities-of-IT friend Adam Greenfield reflects on Internet communications and dares us to prove him wrong:

Show me a case where e-mail or blogs or smart mobs really and unambiguously did bring down a tyrant. Show me a situation in which even one high-school bully was put in their place with the aid of this technology, let alone the pathetic tinhorn strongmen that still ru(i)n so much of this pretty sphere.

I can't, and I won't, not least because information technologies are still designed for, purchased by, and reflected upon by a small elite. (And yes, I'm including myself here.) But even while I agree with him, I think it is perhaps exactly this that keeps me working in my field, using critical social and cultural theory to look more closely at the brave new world of ubiquitous computing that is supposed to make this globe a better place to live.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Into the Blogosphere

Via Clancy Ratliff: Call for Papers - Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric, Community, and Culture of Weblogs - ABSTRACTS DUE JUNE 30, 2003.

My submission is loosely connected to this paper I will be giving at the AoIR conference.


Alexander Calder, Myxomatose, 1953 So here I am listening to Hail to the Thief as I work and I'm thinking about one of the songs - Myxomatosis - and wondering if that is the same title given to one of my favourite Alexander Calder sculptures.

Indeed it is, but why Calder and Radiohead wanted to name pieces of art after an infectious disease that affects rabbits, I do not know. Like there aren't other conditions that make one twitch and jerk unpredictably ... although it does sound nice, especially en français.

Ubicomp 2003 workshops

The call for papers for Ubicomp 2003 workshops has begun. My picks?

Intimate (Ubiquitous) Computing
Ubiquitous computing has long been associated with intimacy. Embedded in the literature we see intimacy portrayed as: knowledge our appliances and applications have of us; physical closeness, incarnated on the body as wearable computing and in the body as ‘nanobots’; and computer mediated connection with friends, lovers, confidantes and colleagues. As appliances and computation move away from the desktop, and as designers move toward designing for emotion and social connection rather than usability and utility, we are poised to design technologies that are explicitly intimate and/or intimacy promoting. We propose a workshop that will: critically reflect on notions of intimacy; consider cultural and ethical issues in designing intimate technologies; and explore potential socio-technical design methods for intimate computing.

Supporting Social Interaction and Face-to-Face Communication in Public Spaces
Our motivation for this workshop is to bring together researchers who are interested in ubiquitous systems that support social interaction and face-to-face communication in public spaces, such as convention centers and museums. In recent years attempts have been made to provide public gatherings attendees with various value-added services. These services are based on the ability to either track individuals as they go from one location to another or detect when they interact with each other or with various "smart" objects embedded in the space ... This workshop will bring together participants who define, design, develop, deploy, evaluate, and use ubiquitous systems for supporting social interaction and face-to-face communication in public spaces and at public gatherings. We will discuss previous results in this area and share our experiences with the ultimate goal of identifying the research challenges and directions that the researchers involved with this type of work are likely to face.

True wearables

IFM's electric plaid changing fabric The ever observant, and thoughtful, Fabio passes along this news story about electric plaid, which I mentioned briefly in this post in May. Even if some e-textiles may still be too stiff to wear, I had the pleasure of being able to touch and see some of IFM's electronic textiles at a conference last year, and they really are remarkable, soft and beautiful. As Joey Berzowska pointed out, for wearable computers to truly be wearable, they need to get away from the cyborg variety and become wearable in the same ways our clothes are. In other words, clothes are the oldest wearable technologies and we should be putting out efforts into extending them electronically - a perspective much more in sync with Mark Weiser's vision of ubiquitous computing that "disappears" into the background.

See also: Georgia Tech Topological Media Lab (especially TGarden) and for more hardcore science, see DARPA's e-textile research and Virginia Tech e-Textiles Group

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Blogs as research tools

Since João Nogueira's very interesting Socio[B]logue showed up in my referrer logs, I have been thinking about the use of weblogs for research purposes. Like PLSJ, his blog serves as a type of field diary: "Observaçoes, Reflexoes e Interrogaçoes Sociologicas." And I would agree with him that the possibilities for blogging in social research remain underexplored. But I think that there are a few technical features built into common weblog applications that limit exploration, connection, expression and communication - all of which are integral to research.

For example, Blogger doesn't offer the ability to organise posts into categories like Movable Type, but even so, that type of archiving does nothing to connect posts across boundaries. I'm with Ted Nelson on this one, we are prisoners of our applications and hypertext was originally conceived as something much more flexible and beautiful. Blogs make it difficult to understand connections that are not based on discrete categories, and I also fail to see the ability of temporally linear posting to forge new connections.

And so I am going to experiment. Inspired by Kurzweil - never thought I'd say that! - when I have some free time next month, I plan to install The Brain here, and have it act as a means of connecting posts to each other, and to outside pages. We'll just have to see how it works ...

On responsibility and academic blogging

Language like that used in yesterday's post makes perfect sense to me, but I suspect others may find it as incomprehensible as I do hardcore quantum physics. And it makes me think about the role of a research weblog.

Is it my responsibility to "translate" work in my field so that every potential reader may understand it? If I don't, am I guilty, as Abe says in his comments to this post, of "intellectual balkanization"?

By creating a definition of "virtual" that relies on the latest in literary theory you dramatically reduce the effectiveness of the word as a means of *communication*. Your virtual just isn't going to get understood by most people, including many academics. Of course the word is never going to mean exactly the same thing to anyone, but it'd pretty nice if there was at least a common understanding. One that might help lessen the bounds between disciplines and create a more energized interplay of ideas...

First of all, I don't agree with his characterisation of my research in terms of the "latest in literary theory". In fact, part of me was put off by the implication that my work is somehow intellectually fickle or weak. But since I don't want to get stuck on defending myself, let's move on to this question: how does common understanding happen without common effort?

In other words, where does my responsibility end and the responsibility of the reader begin?

Is it feckless of me to suggest that a reader might try to learn some of my language, just as I attempt to understand what they mean by certain words?

Is it careless of me to say that there is a large body of peer reviewed literature on these subjects, and I would be happy to point interested people to sources that might answer their questions, and make myself available for further conversation?

Is it reckless of me to request that readers ask questions before they decide my words are meaningless?

The people that I know of who read this weblog comes from incredibly diverse backgrounds, but presumably they still find something interesting to read or think about, and believe it or not, some have even called my thoughts and writing lucid ...

But what do you think about all of this?

Monday, June 23, 2003

Girls and boys, today's concept is transduction

Adrian Mackenzie, Transductions: Bodies and Machines at Speed. London: Continuum, 2002. Or see Transduction: invention, innovation and collective life (pdf).

The problem of representing technology needs post-representational understanding of invention and technological practice ... Transduction provides a way of thinking about technologies processually, that is, as events rather than objects, as contingent the whole way down, rather than covering over or reducing contingency ... It proposes that both normalising and generative capacities of technologies can be understood as a process of individuation, as an ontogenetic process which results in individuated things and which involves both ordinary and singular events. Much of what is represented as 'new' is in fact the capture and containment of the processual mode of existence in technology.

Oh ya!

Saturday, June 21, 2003

I have only one thing to say: Brilliant!

1950s Pin-Ups by Art Frahm: A Study of the Effects of Celery on Loose Elastic

This is some curious glimpse into someone's fantasy - a world where men regularly happen across women whose undergarments have fluttered to their ankles. A world where underwear failure in the middle of an everday chore is a signal, a cue, an invitation. Her pants are down and she can't run. Have at it, boys! ...

To make matters worse, she not only has lost her underwear and her composure, but there's a fat leering John Wayne Gacy type behind her, grinning with glee: he cannot believe his luck. No prowling the town for a filly tonight - here's one whose panties have fallen clean off of their own accord, and she doesn't even know I'm here!

Each of these pages contains the full tableau, with close-ups detailing the less savory aspects of the scene - including the all-important question as to whether or not celery is involved.

Social computing

The Springer-Verlag Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) series offers some fine research on the social aspects of information and technology - and how to design technology for people.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Interact Lab

Located within the Department of Informatics, University of Sussex, Interact Lab is a "research centre concerned with possible interactions between people, technologies and representations. Its focus is on developing novel user experiences in a variety of settings including the home, school, public spaces and work."

There are plenty of interesting papers, but this one is particularly noteworthy:

Rogers, Y. (2004) New theoretical approaches for HCI (584 KB pdf). To appear in ARIST: Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, no 38, 2004.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

The use value of space

"Through the production of space ... living labour can produce something that is no longer a thing, nor simply a set of tools, nor simply a commodity. In space needs and desires can reappear as such ... spaces for play, spaces for enjoyment, architectures of wisdom or pleasure. In and by means of space, the work may shine through the product, use value may gain the upper hand over exchange value." - Henri Lefebvre

"There are no more white lines to stay within, sidewalks to conform to or bases to tag. It's all an open highway with hydrants, curbs, bumpers, shopping carts, door handles and pedestrians." - Stacy Peralta

"Any place you have concrete you can excel. You don't need anything else to do it ... and it's infinitely adaptable to circumstances." - Stacy Peralta

"The streets are owned by everyone. Streets give the gift of freedom, so enjoy your possession." - Brad Erlandson

(From Iain Borden, Skateboarding, Space and the City. See also The Unknown City: Contesting Architecture and Social Space.)

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Reality or something like it

Do you understand the difference between augmented reality and augmented virtuality?

The first enhances real-reality with virtual-reality. The second enhances virtual-reality with real-reality. And both are considered mixed-reality.

Phew. I'm glad we've cleared that up.

UPDATE 18/06/03, the earliest sources I (quickly) found for mixed reality are:

Milgram, P., H. Takemura, et al. (1994). Augmented Reality: A class of displays on the reality-virtuality continuum. SPIE: Telemanipulator and Telepresence Technologies, Boston, MA.

Milgram, P. and F. Kishino (1994). A Taxonomy of Mixed Reality Visual Displays. IEICE Transactions on Information and Systems (Special Issue on Networked Reality) E77-D(12): 1321-1329.

The taxonomy is fascinating, if rather problematic, and the continuum is worth unpacking a bit:

Milgram's reality-virtuality continuum

"Our distinction between real and virtual is in fact treated here according to three different aspects. The first distinction is between real objects and virtual objects. The operational definitions that we adopt here are: Real objects are any objects that have an actual objective existence. Virtual objects are objects that exist in essence or effect, but not formally or actually. In order for a real object to be viewed, it can either be observed directly or it can be sampled and then resynthesised via some display device. In order for a virtual object to be viewed, it must be simulated, since in essence it does not exist. [Aack! Does the virtual exist in essence, or not?!] This entails use of some sort of a description, or model, of the object ... The second distinction concerns the issue of image quality as an aspect of reflecting reality ... the standard of comparison for realism is taken as direct viewing (through air or glass) of a real object, or 'unmediated reality' ... The third distinction we make is between real and virtual images. For this purpose we turn to the field of optics, and operationally define a real image as any image which has some luminosity at the location at which it appears to be located ... With respect to MR environments, therefore, we consider any virtual image of an object as one which appears transparent, that is, which does not occlude other objects located behind it."

So much more to say, so little time ... these phrases and definitions all come from engineering and computing science, so it takes me a bit to "translate" them into language I understand ;)

Living space and time

Italo Calvino's hidden cities:

... the heart of the city, a totally new Olinda which, in its reduced dimensions retains the features and the flow of lymph of the first Olinda and of all the Olindas that have blossomed one from the other; and within this innermost circle there are already blossoming - though it is hard to discern them - the next Olinda and those that will grow after it.

Also in Raissa, city of sadness, there runs an invisible thread that binds one living thing to another for a moment, then unravels, then is stretched again between moving points as it draws new and rapid patterns so that every second the unhappy city contains a happy city unaware of its own existence.

Marozia consists of two cities, the rat's and the swallow's; both change with time, but their relationship does not change; the second is the one about to free itself from the first.

... the real Berenice is a temporal succession of different cities, alternately just and unjust ... all the future Berenices are already present in this instant, wrapped one within the other, confined, crammed, inextricable.

Are hidden cities VIRTUAL?

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Academic lives

Chad Thornton says: One of the challenges of being a grad student is that professors are overwhelmed with a teaching schedule, research agenda, papers and grants to write, students to advise, and more. Advancing your own career appears to be more important in academia than business (at least with the designers and researchers I've met), and while collaboration occurs, there seems to be a stronger focus on self-advancement. As willing as professors may be work with you, they often simply don't have the time unless your work is important to their work.

Hmm. That's been my experience as well, but unlike Chad, I'm going to come right out and say how disappointing I find it. Then again, I'm in for teaching, or as I prefer, the facilitation of learning.

Alex Halavais says: Though I have had a number of different jobs, some of them more interesting than others, when people ask what I do, I feel comfortable answering that I am a teacher ... I know of no other way of changing the world so profoundly.

I also greatly admire his learning philosophy and willingness to post student comments, "the good, the bad, and the ugly".

Monday, June 16, 2003

PLAY research

Um, yes, I'm still in collect-mode ...

"We believe that in the future, computation will become just another material for design, and take a natural place in human existence alongside other basic technologies such as writing and electricity. The research in PLAY will prepare us for that future."

Textiles and Computational Technology
With this research project, we aim to join two different areas of design and technology development: information technology and textiles. On the one hand, we are looking for new applications and areas for textiles; on the other, we want to give information technology new clothes and expand the design space of everyday computational things.

Public Play Spaces
Public Play Spaces is a platform for creative work exploring the playful, emotional and appropriate incorporation of technology into everyday public life. It's a conceptual framework for several projects and initiatives, including 'Sonic City', 'Underdogs & Superheroes', 'Wearable Line', 'Tejp', and [ fringe ]. Drawing on art, architecture, game and interaction design, the work focuses on developing both innovative design methods and experimental prototypes for social interventions in public space.

Slow Technology
Within the research project Slow Technology we are experimenting with time as a variable in interface design, beyond the point of trying to minimize the time taken to perform a certain task. Instead, we want to design technology that encourages moments of reflection and mental rest by being slow, i.e, to provide food rather than fast-food for thought.

See also:

Slow Technology: Designing for Reflection (pdf) by Lars Hallnäs & Johan Redström. "The aim of this paper is to develop a design philosophy for slow technology, to discuss general design principles and to revisit some basic issues in interaction design from a more philosophical point of view."

Designing Everyday Computational Things, Johan Redström, Ph. D. Thesis, Dept. of Informatics, Göteborg University, 2001.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

Ubicomp and everyday life

Fiber Computing
The overall objective of the proposed work is to embed computing power into ordinary objects used in everyday life. Some of our everyday objects are made out of fibers (clothes, curtains, table cloth etc.), some partly contain fibers (arm chairs, wallpaper etc.) or some can be made to incorporate fibers (doors, walls, sports equipment etc.) ... The purpose of the FiCom project is to embed computational functionality, i.e. transistor logic, to these fibers. This will bring an ordinary object that incorporates this fiber into an artifact that can sense, compute, remember and/or interact with its surroundings.

Global Smart Spaces
The goal of the GLOSS project is to make computing systems cognitively and physically disappear ... Moreover, the GLOSS project will go beyond current research foci of local interaction and local mobility, to investigate smart spaces in a global context. GLOSS will enhance natural interaction with physical architectural environments by providing location-sensitive user interactions through a cohesive movement/activity map supported by networks of information ... GLOSS aims to provide information technology that respects social norms - allowing established ways of interaction to be generated or saved as required.

Situating Hybrid Assemblies in Public Environments
SHAPE is devoted to understanding, developing and evaluating room-sized assemblies of hybrid, mixed reality artefacts in public places. Hybrid artefacts exhibit physical and digital features and can exist in both physical and digital worlds. They combine interactive visual and sonic material with physically present manipulable devices ... The consortium combines social and computer science expertise and is concerned to motivate innovation through studies of people's activity in public places and techniques of participatory design.

Ambient Agoras: Dynamic Information Controls in a Hybrid World
The project "Ambient Agoras" aims at providing situated services, place-relevant information, and feeling of the place (genius loci) to the users, so that they feel at home ... It integrates information into architecture through smart artefacts, and will especially focus on providing the environment with memory, which will be accessible to users ... Finally, "Ambient Agoras" will augment reality by providing better "affordances " to existing places. It aims at turning every place into a social marketplace (= agora) of ideas and information where one can interact with people.

See also Filling the "gaps" in disappearing computer initiative "i.e. we do not have many projects touching these topics, and we should have some more ..."

And follow up on Disappearing Acts: Theories and Conceptual Frameworks for Ambient Technologies:

1. ambient, pervasive, ubiquitous, contextual, spatial and ‘disappearing’ computing: are these synonyms, do they reflect distinctive research agendas, or just institutional rivalries?
2. does ‘exploding’ computing capacity onto many communicating devices (a) permit, or (b) require radically different design philosophies? If so, will these remain a specialism or take over the mainstream? In other words, is it a new paradigm, or just a new opportunity brought on by miniaturization and communication?
3. to what extent should ambient etc. computing systems have designed properties or emergent properties?
4. does attention to the ‘sociality’ of communicating devices also require greater attention to the ‘sociality’ of their users?
5. to what extent will communicating ambient devices also be intelligent agents? If they are, do they risk repeating the problems of earlier AI agendas?
6. should ubiquitous etc. computing still be seen as in opposition to virtual reality, or will these fields converge?
7. does ambient etc. computing represent the next round in a cultural myth of mastery and control of/with technologies?
8. do the design and testing of ambient etc. systems call for radical methodologies?

Everyday life as haunted space

"Sound traces, or resonances, are of course not purely temporal, as they set into work the specific acoustics, hence space. Likewise, shadows also mark temporality; for example, the earliest forms of time measurement used the length of shadows to indicate the time of day. However, whereas the relationship between the object and its shadow is relatively immediate and mimetic, the relationship between the sound and its resonance is always necessarily delayed. We need both figures if we are to make sense out of spatialization in cultural analyses and do justice to its im/materiality."

"Embodiment and spatialization are interconnected. It is the ordinary everydayness of being-in-the-world that sets limits to any method of representation ... Yet, flows of temporalization and spatialization can never be gathered in a cumulative sense. The ephemeral nature of everyday life makes full accounting impossible. What we are left with is traces, with which we can create maps and tell stories. Only through an interplay between repetition and deviation can we begin to suggest that there is indeed an integral place; only through differentiation can we deduce from this integrity a sense of direction or fate (flow)."

"The mystique of shadows and resonances lies not in what they hide but in what they reveal ... The enthusiasm one feels when experiencing an existential moment, a moment at which the whole reveals itself in a tiny fragment or flash of light, for example, is of divine nature exactly because it refuses representation and resists being rendered accountable via discursive practices."

Joost van Loon, Social Spatialization and Everyday Life, Space and Culture 5(2), 2002

Saturday, June 14, 2003

Friday afternoon thoughts

Molly recently got me thinking about personality types, and over the years I have tested as an INTJ the vast majority of the time, and as an INTP the rest of the time. Both are rational ("knowledge seeking") types, each apparently comprising about 1% of the general population. I don't know how much stock I place in this, but when I read the full profiles I definitely recognise myself - although perhaps I should be asking those who know me ...

Which personality type are you? Don't know? Take the quick test and read about the different types.

Friday, June 13, 2003

The sound of ubiquity : sonically augmented spaces

From the Doors of Perception mailing list:

"Computers may disappear, but they are unlikely to go quietly. Research into the "sonification of hybrid objects" proceeds apace. The words mean the use of sound to display data, monitor systems, and provide enhanced user interfaces for computers and virtual reality systems. A conference in Boston on auditory display covers such topics as sonically augmented artefacts, auditory exploration of data via sonification (data-controlled sound) and audification (audible playback of data samples). A European group, Sounding Object, has made an intriguing website."

This reminds me of Intelligent Street: A multi-space interactive sound installation. "Intelligent Street is a responsive sound installation which links the main entrances of the University of Westminster Harrow Campus with the Interactive Institute, Malmo, Sweden ... [it] processes text message commands sent via mobile phones to create an ever-changing musical composition. The text commands determine the mood, energy and style of the music. The intention is to use the music to create a more flexible space and a more stimulating environment, where the users of the space become the co-creators of the musical composition." You can participate from Harrow as part of Architecture Week, starting Friday June 20.

And also of the Silophone project in Montréal : "Silophone makes use of the incredible acoustics of Silo #5 by introducing sounds, collected from around the world using various communication technologies, into a physical space to create an instrument which blurs the boundaries between music, architecture and net art. Sounds arrive inside Silo #5 by telephone or internet. They are then broadcast into the vast concrete grain storage chambers inside the Silo. They are transformed, reverberated, and coloured by the remarkable acoustics of the structure, yielding a stunningly beautiful echo. This sound is captured by microphones and rebroadcast back to its sender, to other listeners and to a sound installation outside the building. Anyone may contribute material of their own, filling the instrument with increasingly varied sounds."

UPDATE 15/06/03: "In the project Sonic City, we are developing an application that enables people to create music by walking through a city. From wearable and context-aware computing, perception of place, time, situation, and activity is applied to real-time, personal audio creation. We are exploring and prototyping new experiences and interactions with audio content, considering mobile behaviors and urban conditions as parameters in music composition."

Tender thoughts

Says Biella: "I also just finished what was my second collaborative writing project. Given voice, style, and particular academic likes and dislikes, it is tough and tough in that sort of leathery, resistant way. You butt heads a lot, there is the struggle of having to explain yourself over and... over again, there is the need to melt divergent desires. But through enough beatings, the toughness is tenderized, and in such a way that even if the piece of writing has a ways to go, your thoughts about a subject reach a new smoothness and clarity. Yes, your thoughts are tenderized in a way that makes them easier to work with. So while I feel a bit worn from the experience, I would do it all over again."


Interesting Gatherings Watch

L’esperienza del domani / Technology for Everyday Life and Culture - Interaction Design Institute Ivrea - Saturday 28 June, 2003

Alternative Mobility Futures Conference - Lancaster University - January 2004

This international Conference seeks to explore the new possibilities for ‘dwelling in mobility’ and for ‘mobilising dwelling’ that are the focus of recent work in sociology, geography, science studies, women’s studies, and transport, tourism, and travel studies. As mobile connectivity begins to occur in new ways, what hybridisations of the mover and the moved, the dweller and the dwelling, the human and the digital are occurring and what are some of their likely consequences? What effects will these emerging alternative mobility futures have on the constitution of the bodily, the local, the regional, the national, the diasporic and the global?

I can't believe I didn't find out about this until the paper proposal deadline had past - but it will be well worth the trip to Lancaster!

E-textile updates

Via New Scientist, Super-strong nanotube threads created. "Clothes woven with electrically conducting threads are a significant step closer with the creation of super-strong carbon nanotube fibres up to 100 metres long. They are stronger than any natural or synthetic organic fibre known. Materials made from such strong threads could be used to make bullet-proof vests as light as a T-shirt. And their electrical properties could be harnessed to put microsensors into our clothes, measuring everything from temperature to heart rate."

Via boingboing, "Using an organic film electro-luminescent (EL) display, the wearable computer is being developed with a new information technology by a collaboration of academic institutes and electronic companies. The development is expected to help medical, firefighting, and farming workers."

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Collective Intelligence

From Pierre Lévy, Canada Research Chair on Collective Intelligence, comes The Collective Intelligence Game: A Project about Collective Learning and Understanding.

Research in collective intelligence relates to the ecology of ideas ... This Collective Intelligence Game (CIG) will help to gather, translate and format relevant data. Out of this data, it will provide visual modeling and interactive simulation of cultural ecosystems, returning to the concerned communities a reflexive image of their collective intelligence. This image will provide indications on the problems to be solved, since the form of a collective intelligence is in close connection with that of its landscape of problems. It will also assist the communities in managing and improving their modes of intellectual cooperation and their cognitive performances.

(Thanks Rob!)

Calm Technology and Resistentialism

Today's word from The Word Spy: calm technology. For more on this, see The Origins of Ubiquitous Computing and Calm Technology.

And then there is resistentialism n. The belief that inanimate objects have a natural antipathy toward human beings, and therefore it is not people who control things, but things which increasingly control people.

More later on the connection ...

LATER: Various efforts in ubiquitous computing have sought to bring computers to "our world" (effectively domesticating them), rather than us having to adapt to the "computer world" (and domesticating us). But such simple dichotomies incorrectly assume there are easy distinctions to be made between the virtual and the actual, subject and object, or human and machine.

John Law suggests that in order to understand these relationships between people and technologies "we might use Louis Althusser’s structuralist notion of interpellation, his way of talking of the production of subject-object distinctions in a process of instant recognition – of instant recognition, fixed points, and of the way in which the two go together."

Now, I'm not sure this is the best way to proceed, but this might lead us to ask how "calm technologies" - despite their relative invisibility and peripheral nature - interpellate us as subjects. What if, for example, ubiquitous computing is used to bring us closer to sites of consumption, as might occur with "augmented reality" adverts as seen in Minority Report? Upon recognition of these ads, we are interpellated as consumers.

Did "calm technology" emerge in response to resistentialist fears? What assumptions are implicit in these sorts of relationships between subjects (humans) and objects (computers)? How does "calm technology" interpellate us as "users"? And how might we resist these interpellations, or other potentially painful interpellations?

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Spirituality and technology

When the Machine Awakes - "As a young man, George Tombs walked from Scotland to Israel. Now, he's doing it again. Join George as he speaks to scientists and spiritual advisers investigating the connection between men and machines."

Keeping the impact of science and technology positive requires us to maintain the delicate balance between the potential of discovery and the preservation of human dignity.

Building for each other, and building together

Tonight and tomorrow night Jill Eisen interviews architect Christopher Alexander on CBC Radio One's Ideas.

Of related interest is Lingua Francas for Design: Sacred Places and Pattern Languages by Thomas Erickson.

A central challenge in interaction design has to do with its diversity. Designers, engineers, managers, marketers, researchers and users all have important contributions to make to the design process. But at the same time they lack shared concepts, experiences and perspectives. How is the process of design-which requires communication, negotiation and compromise-to effectively proceed in the absence of a common ground? I argue that an important role for the interaction designer is to help stakeholders in the design process to construct a lingua franca.

Not unlike the ethnographer designer representing many voices ...

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

On design, ethnography and ethnomethodology

The folks at Team Ethno and the Mixed Reality Lab at the University of Nottingham are up to some really good work:

Taking technomethodology seriously: hybrid change in the ethnomethodology-design relationship (pdf) by Andy Crabtree, 2002.

The incorporation of ethnomethodology in professional systems development has prompted the call for the approach to move from design critique to design practice and the invention of the future. This has resulted in the development of a variety of hybrid forms that have had marginal impact upon product-based development, whose needs they have been configured to meet. This paper suggests that a concern to fit ethnomethodology into product-based development life-cycles is a primary source of the difficulties encountered in moving ethnomethodology from design critique to design practice. In practice, ethnomethodology is largely employed in research rather than product development settings. Recognition of the real world uses of ethnomethodology in research practice opens up the possibility of devising a hybrid methodology that actively supports the invention of the future. Accordingly, this paper articulates a distinct socio-technical model that provides an iterative structure for the constructive involvement of ethnomethodology in processes of innovation in design, the results of which may subsequently be subject to the rationalities and constraints of product development.

Ethnography and design? (pdf) by Andy Crabtree and Tom Rodden, 2002.

We consider the role of ‘workplace studies’ in design and specifically, what it means to use ethnography to ‘inform’ design. We suggest that there is a need for a foundational change in the configuration of the practical relationship between ethnography and design if the approach is to be of lasting utility: from the traditional product-oriented configuration where ethnography attempts to inform requirements specification, to one where ethnography supports the broader research endeavour, the development of abstract design concepts, and the exploration of the social application of new technologies.

Ethnography for design? (pdf) by Terry Hemmings and Andy Crabtree, 2002.

Ethnography is a widely used term in contemporary design circles though is not often recognized that this term glosses a host of different analytic perspectives on social interaction. A broad distinction may be drawn between interpretive and non-interpretive approaches to ethnographic inquiry. This paper articulates the distinction with particular reference to ethnomethodology, which has dominated ethnographic inquiry in a design context following Lucy Suchman’s pioneering work in the field.

And because they're excellent papers, see also:

Located Accountabilities in Technology Production and Human/Machine Reconsidered by Lucy Suchman

Intellectually turned on

Few things in life give me greater joy than witnessing (if only from afar) another's intellectual excitement and imagination.

Matt Webb is currently reading D&G's A Thousand Plateaus and taking good notes.

I'm on a journey to the centre of my world ... The world I've been shaped in, grown up in. It's almost as if there's someone I naturally am, the self I always listen to and trust (I'm quite at one with my instincts), and by reading and understanding I'm beginning to understand the truth of the world as it is for me.

Yes, I'm pleased that he's reading one of the books that has most deeply affected my intellectual life. But maybe I'm just excited because he seems to be reacting to it in much the same way I did (and continue to) and because maybe now we will share a common language. But beware Matt - once you start quoting D&G people treat you differently ;)

(Update: I have some notes and reading lists on D&G here.)

And then Biella has been doing some thinking about Trevor's call for a Disciplinary Heretics Manifesto. In order to avoid disciplinary "death, rigidity and petrifaction," she offers up the following (very sound) advice:

1. make sure to do many things out of the academy
2. partake in forms of movement
3. see your field just as much or more as a methodology than as a discipline
4. have fun
5. always hold a novice outlook

And to this list, I would add one more thing: cultivate relationships with people who share these basic goals and desires - and there are many - but don't give too much energy to those who don't.

Sunday, June 8, 2003

Cloudy day writing

I've noticed that I blog more when I am writing an academic paper - and some might say I become downright verbose. Surely part of that is procrastination and escape, but there must be something more. I'm reading and thinking and writing more. I'm at my computer but all over the place ...

This afternoon's inspiration:

"The existence of other people is a difficulty and an outrage for objective thought."

- M. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception

"In the framework of the aesthetic paradigm so dear to me, the play aspect is not bothered by finality, utility, practicality, or what we might call 'realities', but rather it is what stylizes existence and brings out its essential characteristic. Thus, I believe that the [undirected] being-together is a basic given. Before any other determination or qualification, there is this vital spontaneity ..."

- Michel Maffesoli, The Time of the Tribes

"There remain bodies, which are forces, nothing but forces. But force no longer refers to a centre, anymore than it confronts a set of obstacles. It only confronts other forces, it refers to other forces that it affects or that affect it.”

- Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image

(Oh yeah, and here's a picture of my ear.)

Saturday, June 7, 2003

File under comics

Via boingboing's continuing coverage of SARS folkart, "this is a collection of famous propaganda posters from the Mao days, but with the dialogue changed to reflect the fight against SARS. Read from left to right, top to bottom."

1. Comrades! Bad News! SARS is here!
2. [translation unavailable --XJ]
3. What's to fear? I've got a gun!
4. Won't work! The enemy is crafty. Guns won't work! (other guy) Hey, what about grenades?
5. No go! SARS is only afraid of disinfectant!
6. But we've got none!
7. Brothers, Chill! First of all, we must pay attention to hygiene to prevent SARS.
8. Right! Bathe! Wash! (other caption) Hey, where's the soap?
9. And don't forget to wear a mask!
10. Good thinking! I'm off to put up posters to tell everyone to wear a mask!
11. Comrades! The disinfectant is here!
12. Excellent! We've washed so much, we've taken off a layer of skin!
13. Spray! Spray it all!
14. Victory!"

The DARPA LifeLog

Alex Halavais writes that DARPA is "funding the uberblog."

DARPA is soliciting proposals to develop an ontology-based (sub)system that captures, stores, and makes accessible the flow of one person's experience in and interactions with the world in order to support a broad spectrum of associates/assistants and other system capabilities. The objective of this "LifeLog" concept is to be able to trace the "threads" of an individual's life in terms of events, states, and relationships. Functionally, the LifeLog (sub)system consists of three components: data capture and storage, representation and abstraction, and data access and user interface. LifeLog accepts as input a number of raw physical and transactional data streams. Through inference and reasoning, LifeLog generates multiple layers of representation at increasing levels of abstraction. The input data streams are abstracted into sequences of events and states, which are aggregated into threads and episodes to produce a timeline that constitutes an "episodic memory" for the individual. Patterns of events in the timeline support the identification of routines, relationships, and habits. Preferences, plans, goals, and other markers of intentionality are at the highest level.

Redesign and good design

Horizon Zero: Digital Art + Culture in Canada finally redesigned their site, actually making it more pleasant to use. (Be sure to check out the back issues.) Also, the CBC Radio 3 site is pretty sweet. (Thanks Craig!)

[Update: And thanks to irritant, I took ten minutes or so (c'est tout!) to implement that super handy free Atomz search to the right. It works pretty damn well - all things considered - and I wish I had done this way sooner!]

Friday, June 6, 2003

Equator on design

Via the awesome EQUATOR project, "a series of research challenges explore new classes of device that link the physical and the digital, research into adaptive software architectures and new design and evaluation methods that draw together approaches from social science, cognitive science and art and design."

Ambiguity as a Resource for Design (pdf) by William Gaver, Jake Beaver & Steve Benford

Ambiguity is usually considered anathema in Human Computer Interaction. We argue, in contrast, that it is a resource for design that can be used to encourage close personal engagement with systems. We illustrate this with examples from contemporary arts and design practice, and distinguish three broad classes of ambiguity according to where they are located in the interpretative relationship linking person and artefact. Ambiguity of information finds its source in the artefact itself, ambiguity of context in the sociocultural discourses that are used to interpret it, and ambiguity of relationship in the interpretative and evaluative stance of the individual. For each of these categories, we describe tactics for emphasising ambiguity that may help designers and other practitioners understand and craft its use.

Deconstructing Experience - pulling crackers apart (pdf) by Alan Dix

This chapter explores deconstruction and reconstruction as a technique for understanding interactive experience and then applying it to the redesign and recreation of experience on new media. It begins by looking at literary analysis where it is normal to dissect texts to understand the techniques they use to achieve aesthetic technique. This is re-enforced by considering an example of graphic design before approaching a more extensive deconstruction of the experience of real Christmas crackers and the reconstruction of that in a web version – virtual crackers. Understanding the facets of deep experience allows a recreation in a new medium.

From Snark to Park: An overview of the design, practical and technological issues when developing novel learning and playing experiences for indoors and outdoors (pdf) by Eric Harris, Ted Phelps, Yvonne Rogers, and Sara Price.

Technology is increasingly being developed and used outdoors in different and innovative ways. However, designing user experiences for outdoors, presents many different and unforeseen challenges compared with indoors. Two environments, one indoors and one outdoors, were created to explore the use of ubiquitous computing and tangible technologies for extending current forms of interaction, play and learning for children. In so doing the technologies had to be designed and adapted for the different settings. Using these environments as illustration, this paper presents a contrasting analysis between indoor and outdoor pervasive environments, by identifying particular dimensions that change according to the location.

Ways of mapping mobiles and stabiles

Wandering Position in progress Via Jean Chu (hiving) comes Yukinori Yanagi's Wandering Position, and detail, 1997

"Made by tracking the meanderings of a single ant with a red crayon, these drawings also reproduce the confines of an individual 5x9 foot Alcatraz prison cell, where prisoners spent 16-23 hours a day.

The floor drawing represents the floor-area of a typical cell (in working, angle-irons prevented the ant's escape...). The three surrounding drawings restate the right, left and back walls of the cell.

Yanagi released an ant in the confined area and followed closely behind with a crayon, tracing the ant's movements. He did this for 15-20 minute intervals, after which he and the ant collected themselves for their next foray.

Finally, the ant was placed back where he was and the tracing resumes. The process can take days."

Are scholar bloggers public intellectuals? Or do I just write for myself?

Via Invisible Adjunct, an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education takes a look at Scholars Who Blog.

"Some have started blogging in order to muse aloud about their research. Others want to polish their chops at opinion-writing for nonacademic audiences. Still others have more urgent and personal reasons ...

Junior faculty members, in particular, want to ensure that their blogs are not a distraction from their primary research. "I try to make clear that it's not my main focus," says Mr. Healy. "I write posts early in the morning or late at night, after I've come home." [Kieran Healy adds "Although I have considered listing my posts as publications on my vita. I mean, the ones with comments are practically peer-reviewed."]

Mr. Balkin offers similar counsel. "My advice to junior faculty is to write on your blog only when you think you have something to say. You shouldn't allow this particular tail to wag the dog of your academic career. For some people, however, blogging itself is a direct form of career development."


Obviously I see the value of blogging - it helps me keep track of my dissertation research and has allowed me to get brilliant inter-disciplinary feedback. My blog also serves as a type of open field journal, allowing myself, and anyone else who cares to read, access to my broader intellectual and personal interests and influences. This type of activity became hugely appealing to me after reading Malinowski's A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term - the posthumously published field journals of an anthropological icon. Some anthropologists said that his personal notes should never have been published, not least because they revealed Malinowski to be more than a bit of an asshole, but subsequent scholars have found great merit in these writings for understanding the history of anthropological thought and the production of scholarly knowledge. While I have no desire to either compare myself to Malinowski, or to suggest that my research and personal thoughts are utterly compelling, I do think there is value in exposing myself as I think and work. (As an aside, my research is funded by Canadian taxpayers and I think they should have every opportunity to see what I'm up to. This provides one way, although I remain rather skeptical as to how successful I have been in this regard.)

But blogs are not field journals in the sense of Malinowski's journals; he quite obviously never expected his notes to be published, let alone read by others. They were written as private documents. My blog is not. Many others have noted that one of the primary differences between blogs and earlier forms of personal publishing, like Usenet, is that blogs are inherently moderated by the author, allowing content, tone and general voice to be controlled. In other words, I get to choose which parts of me are made public in my blog. To some extent I can control my image, and those readers who have met me in person are probably better able to judge the "truthfulness" of my self-representation, while others might, after reading my posts over time, decide how much (or how little) they trust me.

The answer to the questions I posed in the post title is "neither and both". Scholar bloggers are not public intellectuals in the same way that French academics, like Pierre Bourdieu, write for national newspapers, or American scholars like Noam Chomsky, make documentary film. A part of me thinks that for a scholar to be a public intellectual, she must be able to offer social and cultural criticism that has the ability to reach the masses and change their minds. But maybe that is too much to ask. Yet, scholar bloggers are public intellectuals in the sense that they may offer access to research that has long been kept from non-academics, in places like journals and closed conference settings. Scholar bloggers are public intellectuals in the sense that they may allow readers to publically comment on their work in progress. And both activities have the potential to change traditional power relations in academic discourse.

But scholar bloggers also write for themselves. Some even claim that their blogs are private (although I've never really understood how that can be so if they are publically available online.) At the same time, they perform particular personas and positions not entirely for private consumption. But, most scholar bloggers do not write detailed accounts of their private lives or deepest, and perhaps darkest, thoughts. And, at least in my case, I do write for myself. I chose early on to sacrifice mass readership (as if that were an option!!) in order to write about what interests me and furthers my research goals ... (And honestly, since my position is inherently selfish, I have always been rather amazed that anyone else finds what I write about interesting.)

To wrap up, I have to admit I'm not quite sure where I'm going with all this. I will be presenting a paper on blogs and autoethnography at the AoIR conference in the fall, and I guess I'm just starting to think out loud ... But what do you think about all this?

Thursday, June 5, 2003

Experiments in social computing

BumpList "is a mailing list aiming to re-examine the culture and rules of online email lists. BumpList only allows for a minimum amount of subscribers so that when a new person subscribes, the first person to subscribe is "bumped", or unsubscribed from the list. Once subscribed, you can only be unsubscribed if someone else subscribes and "bumps" you off. BumpList actively encourages people to participate in the list process by requiring them to subscribe repeatedly if they are bumped off. The focus of the project is to determine if by attaching simple rules to communication mediums, the method and manner of correspondences that occur as well as behaviors of connection will change over time." (via nettime)

Seeing his people with unconquered eyes

Via Plep, the extraordinary photos of Martín Chambi, who captured earlier eras of some places where I did fieldwork and the subjects of my master's thesis. I love the ways in which his pictures capture history and create memory, and oddly enough, this morning I was sitting outside drinking my coffee and flipping through this beautiful book, thinking about Vargas Llosa's insightful foreword and the somehow postcolonial sensibilities of Chambi's photos.

After my own (research) heart

"Having been involved in a number of post-doctoral research projects Eric Laurier has a wide range of interests. Key amongst them are: public space, mobility, technology, practical and visual knowledges, competence in interaction, ethnomethodology, conversation analysis, social and cultural theory, medicine and health. Currently he is the principal investigator on The Cappuccino Community: Cafes and Civic Life in the Contemporary City, a two and a half year project funded by the ESRC. Previously he had an Urban Studies Research Fellowship which allowed him to pursue research on community practices in the city and before that he was a research assistant carrying out ethnographic fieldwork in sites of informal interaction in an Edinburgh suburb as part of the Living Memory Project. From 1997 onwards he was the principal researcher on an ESRC funded project: Meet You At Junction 17: a socio-technical and spatial study of the mobile office. 'Meet You At Junction 17' crystalised a number of his enduring research themes, in particular those of mobility, technology and practical knowledge. Its approach to nomadic life in the West is a development of his doctoral work on city culture in which he looked at, amongst other things, car travel as a key mode of experiencing the city in the late twentieth century."

(Thanks Joe!)

Fantagraphics needs your help!

HATE's Buddy Bradley "If you’ve respected what Fantagraphics stands for and what we’ve done for the medium, if you’ve enjoyed our books, and if you want to insure that this proud tradition continues into this new and ominous century, we’re asking you to help us now in our especial hour of need by buying some books. Put simply, we need to raise about $80,000 above our usual sales over the next month, and the only way to do that is to convert books into cash." (via nsop)

As publishers of my all-time favourite comic - and several other loves - they can count on my support!

Wednesday, June 4, 2003

On the virtual, some thoughts on social computing and the value of disciplinary heresy

I need to reflect on the feedback I got on my conference presentation, so I'm just going to think out loud for a bit. If you weren't there (and even if you were) you can take a look at the (829 kb) powerpoint version, and I should post a full draft paper within the week. If you're terribly keen on what inspired my position, I can suggest reading Bergson, Calvino, Deleuze, Latour, Shields and Urry. (And as an aside, I had to buy the latest issue of Wired while I was waiting for my flight, because it seems that Latour has now hit the American mainstream. No shit.)

First, I got plenty of positive feedback, which certainly helps make up for that brand of criticism that runs along the lines of "this is postmodern/deconstructionist/airy-fairy/useless bullshit". I have theories about why some people rail against this sort of research, but they're best left for conversations with wine and friends. For now, let me just say that I'm pretty damn sick of people (academics and designers) reacting with hostility and/or dismissal, so I'll move on to comments that actually compel reflection and discussion.

AKMA writes on digital bodies and states that "If the physical is different-not-realer, though, then we’re in the position of giving an account of differences that respects our physicality without rendering it the index of our reality. Anne introduced the language of “flows” and “intensities” (from some of the theory — Foucault, Irigaray, Deleuze, Guattari, — that other DG participants roundly blasted), terms that help me point to the body as a distinctly intense locus of my identity — but not the only, the true, the real me."

Yes, indeed! Part of what I had to deal with was comments that sought to rearticulate my argument in either/or terms (i.e. virtual OR real), which was particularly frustrating given that the purpose of my presentation was to eliminate that dichotomy and replace it with a framework that is more capable of articulating social action as spatial and temporal movement between categories of the real, the abstract, the concrete and the possible.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had the pleasure of many hours of discussion with Trevor, in which he was able to convince me that notions of risk and ethics could play a greater role in my interpretations. Thank you! (And for you, Trevor, here is a good critical discussion of reflexive modernisation to enjoy.)

And some of the best feedback I got was from a game designer in the audience who took excellent notes of my presentation, understood my position perfectly, and offered insights into how to keep people from creeping back into binary arguments. Thank you! (Unfortunately I did not get your contact info, so if you're reading this, please email me as I would love to continue our conversation.)

Now, all of this also reminds me of some discussions around social computing that happened while I was gone. I was especially interested in Bill Thompson's article for the BBC, in which he writes that:

[T]he discussion about social software is valuable ... It marks a vital and necessary stage in the development of our thinking about the internet, since instead of talking about it as a technology we are arguing about how we relate to other people, and the software and networks are just the ways in which we do it. The technology will always be fascinating to some of us, and we do need programmers and skilled hackers to make it all work in the first place. But it is now possible to have a serious debate about the social impact of the internet without mentioning protocols, packets or programming, and that in itself is significant progress.

But I am very doubtful about whether the ongoing debate, in the blogs and mailing lists and conferences, is actually taking us anywhere interesting. First, because treating all the many tools and services that allow people to interact with each other over the network as a single thing, demonstrates yet again the Western desire for simplification and regimentation instead of seeking to understand complexity. Second, and more significantly, I am saddened that the last 20 years of research into human computer interaction, and the last 100 years of research into human psychology and the ways we manage communication with each other, has been totally disregarded by the people discussing social software ...

There has been decades of research into these problems, but many people seem to think that the insights of someone who has built a few web sites and runs an entertaining blog count for more ... This lack of awareness about what has been done before means that, by and large, the ongoing debate about social software is generally uninteresting, intellectually shallow and largely irrelevant.

While I think he seriously underestimates (and belittles) the role of bloggers, I completely agree with his frustration with the lack of historical and inter-disciplinary perspective taken in many of these discussions. Doc Searls also makes a point that is related to my frustrations with the DG conference discussions: "We need AND logic here, not OR. And some very creative thinking about how to do it. Not just more arguments about which way is better, or why it can't be done." (And here I am also reminded of Molly's call for more imaginary architectures. Thanks for the pdf Molly!)

As another case in point, Jonathan Peterson writes "Coming from an engineering background, I've been told that my opinions are invalid because I don't have a cultural studies background. Whatever; I have little time for people who seem most interested in hearing themselves use $5.00 words to describe $.05 concepts." And while I take offense at his blanket characterisation of cultural studies - because words actually do things, it seems rather silly to fault people for striving towards precision in language, rather than using sloppy overgeneralisations - I agree that it's absurd to dismiss perspectives that differ from our own. (Engineers have been quick to dismiss my arguments as well.) But my point is that this should not be a competition between those who are "right" and those who are "wrong". I cannot support rigidity of perspective - how shallow and limiting that is - and will always prefer understandings and practices that flow.

As Trevor astutely writes, "I think that one of the reasons why so much of the conference worked so well was because many of us are already disciplinary heretics. We aren't just interested in the world beyond our discipline ... we are committed to pollinization from any source worthy of furthering our several concerns and discourses. And, when necessary, willing to sacrifice disciplinary orthodoxy to achieve this end. I'm not saying everyone at the conference thought this way. Some were careful but rigid thinkers. But many of us were and our meeting of minds was made all the more sociable for our heresy."

(Interestingly, I was also told that I am not a "real postmodernist" either, which is actually quite true, but then we just get back to who's right and who's wrong, and I don't want to play that game.)

[Update 04/06/03] I have been trained as an anthropologist and sociologist - social sciences if ever there were - and as a qualitative researcher. My interests and knowledge run broad, and at times, quite deep. My favourite conversations have included sculptors, domestic servants, theoretical physicists, writers, zoologists, theologians, farmers, materials scientists, shamans, architects and dogs.

And so, here's to taking good beginning lists like Liz Lawley's for social software inspiration, and rounding them out to include work from HCI and CSCW, as well as cultural studies and social studies of technology approaches more closely allied with my own research.

The Conference and broader Chicago

The Digital Genres Conference was an interesting inter-disciplinary event and the precious little of Chicago I saw was beautiful. I finally got to meet AKMA, Trevor and Steve - all good men - as well as spend some time with my wonderful friend Molly. The conference was live-blogged (see AKMA, JOHO and KIPlog) and many others' comments and impressions are slowly spreading. Although I enjoyed everyone's presentation, I was really struck by a few.

Both AKMA and Trevor presented on theological considerations around embodiment, virtuality and performativity. AKMA pointed out that our identities are always already constituted non-substantially; this is not new, we just notice it more in our 'net practices. He spoke of "identities we type ourselves into" and asked how we might represent our physical bodies online. Trevor took a perspective I tend to share - that we understand the world by performing it - and also focussed on issues of virtuality and embodiment. He outlined three aspects of social interaction that are, at least in part, located in the body: attention to text (following Austin's speech acts), praxis (acting out texts in particular spaces/times), and attention to feedback (or interactivity). I was particularly interested in his claim that these practices are always full of risk, and not least in the sense of how these words (i.e. blog texts) can and will transform us, each other and the worlds in which we dwell. He argued that blogs allow us to perform online, to become virtual bodies through orality (or words), interaction and connection - performing similar sorts of community as available through the Eucharist (simultaneously virtual and actual). I loved these presentations, and had the distinct pleasure of spending many hours wandering around and taking pictures of Chicago with Trevor, and sipping drinks in the lounge in the Hancock Tower while discussing the finer points of performativity, the virtual and the concrete. But more on that later. For now, I'd just like to say that Trevor's intelligence, insight and gentleness will not be forgotten and I look forward to the papers we will write. (And if I believed in angels, I think they would laugh deeply and brilliantly like Trevor's wife Susan.)

Steve Himmer gave a brilliant paper on weblogs as literary practice, deftly making the case that blogs are created by writers and readers, not merely by tools. Reminding us of the importance of readers in the interpretive process, and in the creation of meaning, he also pointed out that neither do blogs have invisible authors or absent voices. (I'm not too sure about the absent voice part, but I might have just misunderstood him.) And he's been kind enough to post the entire presentation online. (I regret not having had more time to talk with him, but hope to see him in Boston one day.)

Dan Headrick gave a fascinating paper on the history of alphabetical order. I didn't know that the first alphabetical dictionary did not appear until 1604, and encyclopedias weren't ordered alphabetically until 1674 (and neither were common before the early 1700s). For whatever reason, I hadn't stopped to consider that if one couldn't spell then alphabetical order is pretty much useless! And apparently it took over 200 years to somewhat standardise spelling, so early dictionaries and encyclopedias came with very specific instructions for use, detailing the order of the alphabet and giving advice such as the word "cat" would precede the word "child". Now, I've always though that alphabetical order in encyclopedias was a little weird, despite being able to easily find topics, and I learned that I am not alone. Samuel Taylor Coleridge said that the Encyclopedia Britannica was fragmented like a broken mirror, with a thousand stories and none of them entire. OK - I don't actually agree with Coleridge, mostly because he preferred a thematic ordering of knowledge that draws on biblical categories, and somewhat because he dislikes fragmentation. But he understood the difficulty that arises in connecting individual entries to broader events, people, places, activities and ideas. However, like hypertext, cross-referencing was invented in the early 1700s to deal with these problems of (de)context(ualisation) brought about by alphabetical ordering. Dan ended his history with the claim that just as the alphabet replaced thematic and theological categorisation with non-hierarchical secular humanism, the Internet absolves our need for alphabetical order and different forms of order are emerging. Damn interesting.

Seth Sanders presented on early logosyllabic (word signs and syllables) and later alphabetic (character) writing systems, and the role of the signature. He talked about how the history of Western logic and rationalism is tied to alphabetic writing, and how signatures differ from seals and stamps. The seal and stamp are preliterate, and comprise practices like reed etchings (as in cuneiform) and fingernail imprints in clay.. Signatures, on the other hand are tied to different media and writing practices such as ink on papyrus, as used in ancient Egypt. He also made some clever comments about a hand in the text standing in for one's person, and I thought that signatures perform as virtual bodies, as well as serving as boundary practices and documentary evidence. Good stuff. And somewhat related to this was Theo van den Hout's presentation on ancient systems of information management. He described the differences between ancient Hittite archives and libraries; archives held/hold the entire set of documents produced, whereas libraries were/are selective. An interesting distinction.

And while it may sound self-serving, I absolutely loved the presentations in the panel in which I participated. Biella Coleman gave a stunning comparative account of IRC and Caribbean street culture as postmodern practices (calling up Gilroy's excellent book, The Black Atlantic) and she put her draft paper online. I also wish I could have spoken more with Biella, and I hope she blogs more about her research. Molly Wright Steenson called for a return to the imaginary architecture of Bruno Taut and challenged designers to dream again of utopia and think big ideas. AKMA sums up all our presentations nicely, and Trevor reflects on related disciplinary heretics.

I also had the pleasure of meeting many more intelligent and wonderful people with whom I hope to keep in touch. Cheers!

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