Beware this stumbling block
- Paul Gauguin
I recently completed a research contract (for the International Development Research Centre of Canada) on the use of open-source software, and also found that OSS often provides a means for people to engage broader cultural values and practices that have little or nothing to do with the technology itself. Interesting how that works, huh?
If that's not enough incentive, you can always go to check out the other interesting things in Boston and Cambridge - like the Stata Center, which Dan recently discussed in terms of adaptive design and I considered as an architecture of power.
The question of fetishism is really one of agency. How do objects act? And can we answer this without falling back on use-value (in culture) or affective behaviours (in design)? On a related note, the concept and practice of anthropomorphism is not adequate to the task.
Anything by Chris Tilley on material culture
Material Agency: Towards A Non-Anthropocentric Approach
Material Culture of Technology
Colloquium in Modern European and American History: "The Secret Life of Objects"
I dig the journal that supports passionate thinking beyond Foucault. To make a gross overstatement: I find most discussions on surveillance and privacy really boring. And lacking critical, cross-cultural and historical perspective. The S&S journal was created as part of the Urban Technology Design and Development research group at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, which is where Steve Graham and journal editor, David Wood are. They presented Permeable Boundaries and the Software-Sorted Society (.doc) at Lancaster's Centre for Mobilities Research Alternative Mobility Futures Conference in January - making an interesting case for the "tendency towards technological lock-in which threatens to divide contemporary societies into high-speed, high-mobility, connected and low-speed, low-mobility, disconnected, classes." I think their ideas can be pushed further, but I'm convinced that Telecommunications and the City and Splintering Urbanisms are way stronger than City of Bits and Me++. And the Cybercities Reader is the best introduction to the topic of cities and technologies I can think of. See also General Cybercity Web Links.
(Actually, more than once I've wondered how MIT's impressive PR efforts have contributed to the seemingly greater familiarity among designers and technologists with the work of certain architects and urban planners than with, say, cultural geographers. Perhaps it also has something to do with historical divisions between the practices of craft and intellectual inquiry. I still struggle to articulate how I understand the popularity of systems-thinking (reductionist and holistic), but I keep pushing its history back: before cybernetics to industrialisation.)
I also think of Rob Kitchin, co-author (with Martin Dodge) of Mapping Cyberspace and The Atlas of Cyberspace. If you're more interested in spatial cognition, then The Cognition of Geographic Space and Cognitive Mapping: Past, Present and Future are good ones. And I really enjoyed some of the papers in Lost in Space: Geographies of Science Fiction.
(Every once in awhile I realise how much I have read in eleven years of university. It's absurd really.)
Reminder to self: post annotated bibliographies on mobilities research (ontological mobility, mobile ontologies, cultural mobilities, object mobilities)
Mmm. Mapping assemblages. Slippery. See also: mobile speed bump
Cool. Interesting point about issue-networks as different from shared-interest-networks. I really like the idea of being *implicated* in an affair, a sort of tense intimacy I have written about before. And the second point is fascinating. I had been thinking only of politics as practice - not as (informational) objects or events. Thanks Noortje!
And in case you think we don't still do this, check out Hasbro's Careers Game, The Game of Life or even Chutes and Ladders (the, um, non-pagan version of Snakes and Ladders). And let's not forget games like Old Maid or Mystery Date old and new.
This suggests that mobile computing is, and will continue to be, embroiled in the lives of different people, places and objects. These embroilments / mangles / intertwinglings / assemblages both desire and produce particular relations and values. They build worlds big and small. And given the modern tendency to view the world in terms of functioning and discrete entities, instead of hybrids and broken messes, I believe that we do not currently have adequate means to evaluate and engage these worlds around us. And if we can't engage and evaluate them, then we have little agency.
Despite a long and torrid history, we lack a certain experience in our love affair with technology. Sometimes I suspect we are just selfish lovers with shallow intimacies.
I think that the playful and creative possibilities of mobile technologies are only just beginning to be understood. Artists have been exploring these potentials for awhile, but there has been little systematic research done by anthropologists and sociologists on playful computing practices and how they relate to our everyday experiences of place. I would like to better understand what is at play in our technological experiences. And I would like to better understand how we play with mobile technologies.
Here, my interest really lies in exploring how people and playful technologies can build public spaces.
What is the role of play in world-building? What constitutes a ubiquitously-technologised public space? What public (political and ethical) challenges arise in our engagements with architecture, open space and each other? How do our practices slide between the virtual and the concrete, the abstract and the probable? What is our experience of the urban? How can playful technologies act to question our assumptions about the responsibilities of government and the rights of citizens? How might playful technologies encourage greater transparency and accountability? How can playful technologies create meaningful places for people to engage each other? What can playful technologies teach us about relations between designers, architects, technologists and the rest of us?
Despite a substantial and growing body of knowledge around the use of mobile technologies by particular groups of people - such as Finnish and Japanese teenagers, mobile office workers, or third-world politicos - our understanding of place-based (rather than identity-based) uses of mobile tech remains rather limited. Research on the "wireless city" has tended to concentrate on urban planning and infrastructure and/or telecom policy, which is very useful, but does not really get at our everyday lives and experiences of place.
I particularly want to investigate places like social/public housing complexes or other ghettos and impoverished neighbourhoods, and look at how mobile technologies could (and do) impact our social and cultural relationships in (and with) these spaces. I believe that our too-often utopian (white, male, and upper-middle class) discourses on mobile technologies would greatly benefit from a better understanding of how mobility and mobile tech contribute to the creation of "us" and "other" - or "good" and "bad" places. If we stand any chance at
diminishing the ill-effects of the digital divide getting past such limiting dichotomies, then we need to understand how these divisions differences continue to act in a world supposedly without boundaries. And as I suggested above, I am interested in how playful mobile technologies might bridge negotiate these differences and create new places and ways for people to be together.
In other words, the framing - defining, labeling and translating - of issues is central to political action. In issue-networks, people are connected by virtue of the issues at hand. (This is not unlike the principle behind meetup.com - that strangers will come together because of shared interests.) Furthermore, in issue-networks, the stakes are framed collectively. But issue-networks also, of course, modulate people's political positions and practices.
Sounds good so far, but what does this have to do with information technologies? The author states that social networks (and their associated knowledge networks) are seen to be the arena in which global civil society and information technologies come together. However, the author argues that the informality and amorphousness of these networks makes it difficult to account for, and engage with, the formal (centralised and institutional) aspects of politics. In other words, people may be playing on different - and sometimes incompatible - fields. (Clay Shirky began to hint at this when he questioned the role of social software in the Dean campaign.)
However, this is not to say that politics do not require social and information networking; clearly there is much interconnection. The author simply argues that issue-networks provide a broader perspective on the politics of civil society - as well as a useful means for understanding the role of information technologies in these politics.
Again, the difference at hand is that social- and information- networks are seen to act in alignment with, or parallel to, information technologies. Issue-networks, on the other hand, involve more of a mangle, or an intertwining with info-tech.
The strength of this approach is that it allows us to re-evaluate the role of technology in politics. How do particular technologies enable or disable the framing of issues? How are people allowed to intervene in these discussions? In these ways, technology cannot be considered either utopian or distopian - and, perhaps more importantly, it can never be understood as neutral or separate from political action. In my opinion, until we answer these questions - and design around them - we don't stand much of a chance of making the world a better place with communication technologies.
The Govcom.org Foundation in Amsterdam is conceived as a project to map debates on the Web on important social issues.
The Issue Crawler software locates 'Issue Networks' on the Web. An Issue Network is a set of inter-linked organizations dealing with the same issue. An Issue Network is located through 'co-link analysis' of issue-oriented web pages, one method used in network analysis, applied here to the Web.
Issuenetwork.org | Describing the types of networks we seek and analyse
Infoid.org | The Web Issue Index of Civil Society
Why Map? The Techno-epistemological outlook by Richard Rogers
Preferred placement: Knowledge politics on the web edited by Richard Rogers
Cool. I really like the idea of a mobile and tangible thesis. Mine would be soft and voluptuous, I think. And move with the consistency of evaporated milk in strong coffee.
There it is again. That tension between security and insecurity...
So what's a lab then? Or research, for that matter? Is the only model a government-sponsored scientific one? And what kind of science is that anyway? Is there any way to critique that practice?
We know there are cultural expectations about how, where and by whom science is practiced - so what are the differences between Nexia Biotechnologies, extracting your own DNA at home and Steve Kurtz's research for the CAE? Is it really just a matter of location? Or is it intention? Who decides? And using what criteria?
Georges Braque: "Art upsets and science reassures."
Washington Post June 2, 2004: The FBI's Art Attack
Wired News June 10, 2004: Food Makers Changing Genes, an article about BIO 2004. The Biojudiciary Project hosted a DNA isolation demo that you can do at home: "Demonstration attendees will have a chance to take home a DNA isolation recipe, perfect for fostering scientific interest in children." They forgot to mention that it may also foster bioterrorist desires in kids. Sigh.
From the ever-awesome Prelinger Archives:
Design for Dreaming - Set at the 1956 General Motors Motorama, this is one of the key Populuxe films of the 1950s, showing futuristic dream cars and Frigidaire's "Kitchen of the Future."
Practical Dreamer - A fantasy of kitchen planning and modernization, 1957.
Step-Saving Kitchen - Demonstrating a U-shaped kitchen developed by the housing staff of the Bureau of Human Nutrition and Home Economics, 1949.
Now that's something to think about.
Society for Applied Anthropology - Ethical and Professional Responsibilities
American Anthropological Association Ethics
Association of Social Anthropologists - Ethical guidelines
American Sociological Association Code of Ethics