Sunday, January 30, 2005

On play, public space, mobility and the challenge of communicating everything I think is interesting and important

After a cold and windy Boston, I was happy to return home to a merely cool Ottawa, and am now looking forward to a downright balmy London where wearing my parka would be silly. I've also been thinking about the feedback I got on my Floating Points presentation (slides here) and how difficult it is to find the right amount, and kind, of information to share with a cross-disciplinary audience of students and faculty - a challenge that will be compounded by the even greater diversity I will experience at PLAN:ICA in a few days.

At Emerson I got some very good feedback on the way I characterised play. Feeling (uncharacteristically) optimistic about life-in-general of late, I find it very easy to believe in the critical potential of play and, I think, inadvertently made play sound much less constricted or restricted than it can actually be. As one faculty member pointed out, if play is indeed world-building, can it not just as easily create horrible worlds as it can help build wonderful worlds? And the answer, of course, is yes. And yet, I don't find this tension or potential to be particularly problematic. (Mythologically, women have been equally associated with creation and destruction. And I really do believe that nothing is all good or all bad.) In the end, I think I responded with a bit of a cop-out, even though I believe it to be true: I said that I was looking for tools that would help us navigate the tensions we face, not means for (re)solving the world's problems.

I'm more than willing to admit that, for example, global capitalism can be (and too often is) oppressive, but I don't see that as a reason to assume the oppression is total or to predict what form that oppression will take. So, like another faculty member commented, I think it's crucial to recognise what we're up against in these games, to understand the fields in which we are playing. (For example, I understand the problems and dangers of co-option, and none hit me more than, say, the type of anti-feminism seen on The Man Show, where openly admitting one's chauvinism seems to preclude any criticism of it. In that case, I object to the rules of play, and my hope comes not from winning according to those rules, but from the potential to change the very field of play.) In any case, what I think I'm trying to say is that I'm not afraid of losing but I am afraid of giving up. I know the game is serious; I know it's difficult. But considering even a rule-bound game as flexible, as mobile, gives me hope - and hope can be a very powerful tool for critique.

As much as I appreciated the excellent questions on play, I had hoped to get more feedback on my characterisation of public space. I drew on Sennett's history, and Simmel's critique, but didn't go into how I understand public and private to be sliding together in ways beyond the privatisation of public space. In any case, I did focus on public space as a space for negotiating diversity, multiplicity and complexity - the places where many of our social and cultural tensions play out. It is in these spaces, I argued, that play can be most valuable as a critical endeavour because it helps us in these negotiations. However, I would have liked to go into more about how this sense of play need not be considered functional or productive. In fact, I think the kinds of play that have the greatest potential for negotiating multiplicity and/in public spaces are, in Baudrillard's sense, more seductive. But I guess my dissertation is where I get to really unfold the connections I see between publics, mobilities and play...

And like I said, it's pretty much impossible to get in everything you think is important, or everything you think everyone will find interesting and valuable. And since the mandate of the PLAN event is to introduce ourselves and our work in order to make connections, I will end up being kind of vague, but totally excited, and all the while hoping that people will want to talk more with me.

Next report from London!

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Boston

Sitting in my swanky 10th floor digs at Emerson, I'm looking out the window over a snow-covered Boston Common towards the State House, and it's a beautiful night.

This afternoon I had the pleasure of visiting one of Brooke Knight's classes, where I chatted with a very bright and engaged bunch of students about mobile technology, liminal spaces and art.

But best of all was my presentation tonight - not because I got to hear myself speak (!) but because I was so very impressed by the substantial group of students and faculty who braved hectic weather conditions not just to come and listen, but to make insightful observations and ask challenging questions. Thank you so much.

(I've heard there were problems with the live feed - yay technology! - but I'll post a link to the archived version when it's online.)

I also had the pleasure of finally meeting Helen Thorington and Jo-Anne Green of Turbulence and the excellent networked_performance blog. I swear I could talk with those women for hours and never get bored! Dinner conversation with faculty and friends was also great fun, and as if that weren't enough, I'm looking forward to spending some time with Steve and Sage tomorrow before heading home. What a great visit.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Floating Points 2

I'm heading to Boston later today because I've been generously invited to present tomorrow night's introductory lecture for the Floating Points 2 speaker series on networked art in public spaces at Emerson College.

Here is my presentation abstract, and for those who can't make it in person - it's free and open to the public - my talk will be streamed live at 7pm EST.

PLAYFUL MOBILITIES

Mobile phone usage is already commonplace for many people around the world, and other wireless technologies promise to become just as pervasive in coming decades. As technological development continues apace, scholars and artists have begun in earnest to explore the social and cultural implications of our emerging devices. Mobile and networked computing has the potential to cultivate new opportunities for personal autonomy and collective action, as well as to re-inscribe existing social inequalities and discourage cultural diversity. Bringing together theory, art and technology to critique - and create – these shared spaces is nothing new, but it takes on increasing value and importance as we struggle to negotiate between private and public interests in our technologically saturated daily lives. This presentation will consider what is at stake in these relationships, and what play and creativity can offer in terms of critical approaches to mobility.

Urban cultures

The other day I posted links to my science and technology course weblog, and while I'm actually enjoying it quite a bit, I'm more happy to see that at least a few of my students seem to find it useful or interesting.

I've also been posting my lecture notes and such from my urban cultures course on its weblog. In contrast, it doesn't seem to be of much interest to those students. They were also given the option of keeping a weblog for their journal assignment, but so far no one has indicated any interest in that either. This doesn't bother me - I still find it useful and interesting - but I'm curious. Could it be the difference in age? in academic year? in course content? or just personal preferences?

Anyway, in case anyone else might find it interesting, here are a few links:

Lecture # 1 - A Very Brief History of Urban Life
Walking through 1844 Manchester and driving through contemporary America.

Lecture # 2 - The City and the Urban
How cities have been theorised as social spaces.

Lecture # 3 - Urbanism & Culture

How different cultural perspectives shape urban experience.

Global Cities: London

Global Cities: São Paolo

Saturday, January 22, 2005

If All The World Were A Game...

BACKSEAT PLAYGROUND
Interactive Institute - Stockholm 2005 - mobile game research project
John Paul Bichard - Liselott Brunnberg - Oskar Juhlin

"The purpose of the project is to design and implement a game prototype that enables kids/big kids travelling in the back seat of cars to enjoy a rich gaming experience where narrative episodes and embedded gameplay combine with the experience of traveling through the road network. The game and game story will be designed to be meaningful even when the tempo and order of the journey changes.

Our main challenge in designing such a game will be to look at how episodes and events can be uncovered and constructed by the player in a game world that exists within the everyday. Using a map database to link real world objects to the game, a series of narrative episodes could engage players with not only the story, but also their environment and the physicality of being a passenger on a journey.

Research that resulted from our 'Road Rager' and 'Back Seat Gaming’ projects suggests that children, especially girls, prefer a gaming experience based on narrative rather than manipulative challenges. To further investigate the feasibility of the project, we will develop a prototype on a lightweight mobile device that will be customised to enhance functionality."

Sociology of science & tech

Things have been a bit quiet around here as I try to find the rhythm that will allow me to prepare for, teach and follow-up on my classes, as well as finish my own research and meet publication deadlines.

My sociology of science and technology class is going really well, and I've been posting my lecture notes and further reading to the course weblog:

Lecture # 1 - Scientific methods and knowledge

We looked at Popper and Kuhn, as well as critical perspectives from Feyerabend and Longino in order to open up science as a social enterprise. There are also links to further reading.

Lecture # 1 - Isabelle Stengers and the radical critique of scientific rationality

Outlining what we mean by a sociology of science and technology and the objectives of studying science as culture and practice.

Lecture # 2 - Doing science: materialities & socialities

We looked at laboratory studies by Knorr-Cetina and Traweek, concentrating on how objects and subjects are manipulated in scientific practice.

Lecture # 2 - Science as culture and practice

List of academic research dealing with how science is done.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

MP3 Wednesdays

Polar Bear - Ride, 1990

In the dead cold of winter the endless swell of this song makes me want to jump and shout.

Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) - The Arcade Fire, 2004

Anxious lyrics, anxious sounds. Oddly hopeful.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Note to self

Never assume that students will find certain ideas anywhere near as brilliant and inspiring as you do.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Some thoughts on the f-word

Since it's Friday and I needed a break from the ton of things I have to do for next week's classes and my own research, I disappeared into my recently returned del.icio.us inbox and followed some links from Foe.

First I read The End of Feminism's Third Wave by Lisa Jervis in Ms. Magazine. Jervis is the cofounder of Bitch Magazine - the only publication I've never missed an issue of since its first. She and I are the same age, and accordingly get associated with the "third wave" of feminism. I've never cared for the label and its connotations either, but in this article she does a better job than I ever could explaining why. You should read it yourself, but the gist is that if you think you're different than second-wave feminists because you like to make fun of things, wear lipstick or have sex, you're being only slightly more polite - and no more progressive - than if you had called them hairy-legged manhaters like anti-feminists so often do. As Jervis bluntly states:

"Here's what we all need to recognize so that we can move on: Those in their 20s and 30s who don't see their concerns reflected in the feminism of their elders are ignorant of history; those in their 50s and beyond who think that young women aren't politically active — or active enough, or active around the right issues — don't know where to look. We all want the same thing: To borrow bell hooks' phrase, we want gender justice."

Agreed. I've always believed that anti-feminism at its most insidious gets women to belittle and undermine each other. There's no reason to think we all need to agree on everything, but neither is there a reason to think that we want is fundamentally and irreconcilably different. And, at the risk of stating the obvious, I would also add that feminism of any wave is not just a women's issue.

From there I jumped to another article written by Jervis in LiP Magazine on the peculiar problem of politics, pornography and the ass-kicking babe. Again, she's able to articulate things I struggle with - like why I was inspired by the women in the Kill Bill movies and why I was bored by the women in the Charlie's Angels movies. Now before anyone says "Hey Anne, where's your sense of humour?" I'll point to the article above and also say that I share Jervis' position here that the combination of (pornographically inspired) femininity and violence - like catfights in bras and panties or even kicking a guy's ass while dressed in latex fetish wear - does way more to attract and hold the male gaze than it portrays a self-possessed female strength or self-determined beauty. Jervis also points out that although The Bride's violence in Kill Bill was not sexualised, it was based on another common female stereotype, the "fierce mama".

"The simplistic questions to ask are if these images make for good role models, and whether they're good or bad for feminism. But what we need aren't better role models, or images that can easily be labeled 'good' or 'bad' ... What we need is substance beyond the pornographic. What we need are conceptions of female violence that preserve the potential of the threat that our rage and our power represent."

Hear hear! I'd also add that we need to get beyond maternal violence, and the idea that mothers would, or the expectation that they should, do anything to protect and defend their children. After all, why do chicks have to look good - physically or morally - when they get pissed off or just wanna get even?

Friday, January 14, 2005

Pervasive and Locative Arts

On Feb 1st and 2nd, I will be in London participating in the first PLAN workshop, taking place at the ICA from 10am-6pm each day, with music the first night.

The event is open to the public, so if you're around, please consider swinging by for one or both days.

First Workshop of the Pervasive and Locative Arts Network

A two day event bringing together leading international figures to review the emerging fields of locative and pervasive media.

Wireless and locative technologies are enabling people to break away from traditional computer interfaces. Mobile devices are mediating new kinds of social interaction and responding to physical location and context.

What kinds of creative, social, economic and political expression become possible when every device we carry, the fabric of the urban environment and even the contours of the Earth become a digital canvas?

The event launches a new international network (PLAN), bringing together artists, activists, hardware hackers, bloggers, game programmers, free network builders, semantic web philosophers, cartographers, economists, architects, and university and industry researchers.

Speakers include Duncan Campbell, Anne Galloway, Matthew Chalmers, Matt Adams, Bill Gaver, Eyal Weizman, Sally Jane Norman, Giles Lane, Usman Haque, Franz Wunschel, Richard Hull, Jo Walsh, Teri Rueb, Minna Tarkka, Tapio Makela, RIXC, Pete Gomes, Saul Albert, Susan Kennard, Michael Longford, Steve Benford, Drew Hemment, Ben Russell. Music in the bar from Xela (City Centre Offices, Type Records), XFM Flo-Motion DJ Nick Luscombe and Apachi61.

Full Programme | Speakers Day 1 & Day 2

PLAN is supported by EPSRC and led by Nottingham's Mixed Reality Lab, with partners including Futuresonic (UK), Blast Theory (UK), Banff (Canada) and M-cult (Finland).

Event tickets are priced at £1.50 per day or £3 for two days to cover the ICA daily membership. Please book early to avoid disappointment.

Registration details

(Cross-posted to Space and Culture)

Simplicity, control and lessons from Apple

Dan Hill: The rise and rise of shuffle mode

What with all the chatter about Apple's latest fetish objects, and their continued love affair with simplicity, it's particularly refreshing to see Dan stretch the discussion to include issues of control. After all, it's difficult to disentangle simplicity from control. Simplicity means freedom from complication, from guile - but this freedom is possible only through reduction, submission, exclusion and control. Just consider how maps and models are used to simplify or control complexity so that we can master the mysterious and overcome our bewilderment, or how the "simple life" is modest, innocent and uncorrupted by the turmoil of modern society.

As Dan points out, with the iPod Shuffle we have "a device built principally for shuffle mode first, with sequential listening second" - something that pretty much forces us to "submit utterly to the random listening experience". He continues by saying that "we usually worry about enabling control. Here, control is reduced to the absolute minimum." In other words, instead of giving the user as much control over their device as possible, the Shuffle submits - or given their advertising strategy, seduces - the user to its system of control. As Apple says: "Random is the New Order."

At the same time as Apple (re)presents one system of control, the iPod Shuffle also undermines another system of control:

"[D]espite being able to take an album-based music collection in its stride, the iPod shuffle actually destabilises the album. It can sideline this 50-year-old mode of music organisation at the flick of a switch. 250 tracks - or fewer, with the smaller model - combined with the shuffle mode, is actually a jolly good size for a playlist, which in turn reinforces the importance of the collage, the mix, or iMix - rather than the album. Again, the mix is now 'the basic unit of music consumption', in the words of the New York Times."

Dan continues to discuss the seduction of the mix - or the collage - and I'm interested in how this relates back to control. He writes: "I love the white-knuckle ride of random listening ... I think the preference for randomness may also be about something else though - the increased preference for collage." Why collage? Partly because, as Brian Eno explains, with collage "an artist is now a curator ... This is why the curator, the editor, the compiler, and the anthologist have become such big figures. They are all people whose job it is to digest things, and to connect them together." This sense of authorship and agency - cultural production or sense making - is central to remix culture, yet as Dan adds, "even this is destabilised further by shuffle mode's ability to, well, shuffle a playlist. So a curator can't even necessarily guarantee a linear narrative for their non-linear referencing."

Dan cites Steven Johnson's thoughts on curatorial culture, ideas central to Interface Culture, my favourite of his books. Historically curators have had exceptional power to collect and create culture. (Imagine all you know about different cultures that you've learned only through museum exhibits.) And obviously, these practices have been the domain of an elite few. The type of curatorship that Johnson, Eno and Dan are advocating destabilises these power relations and puts the ability to collect and create culture in the hands of the many. And that kind of destabilisation threatens traditional power relations. Amateurs vs. Professionals.

Dan then claims that because "policy and commerce are [now] playing catch-up" to technological innovation, the "key frontier" is policy not technology - although I'm not sure if this effectively avoids the kind of techno-determinism he claims to be "overly, well, deterministic". (On the up-side, in my experience many determinists, when pressed, are more likely to claim that the technological and the social both shape and are shaped by each other; limiting, but not determining.)

Anyway, we'd agree that current public policy - around IP particularly - is not set up to accomodate curatorial culture; in many ways it sets up direct obstacles to, and harsh punishments for, individual creativity. (I mean, even Apple's corporate policy doesn't allow people to say or do whatever they want when it comes to their products.)

But to separate tech policy from tech development is not just a little dangerous and, IMHO, something rather ethically dodgy. It absolves designers, programmers, manufacturers etc. from taking responsibility for their actions and creations. When Dan says that Apple shows builders the virtues of "cheap to the point of disposable" devices, is he not also supporting Apple's less than innovative approach to e-waste? That reminds me of when I asked Bill Mitchell (after his techno-utopian wireless cities keynote at Ubicomp a couple of years ago) if we could say goodbye to ghettoes, and he replied that that was a policy issue and not a problem for architects and technologists. "Well, how convenient for them!" I snarked back.

So while I am intrigued and impressed by Dan's recognition of connections and tensions between simplicity and control, I think he falls short of a critical awareness of some broader social implications. If technological practice is as much a social enterprise as any other, both shaped by and shaping cultural values along the way, then how can there be a new "social frontier" at hand? And how does focussing on the social, to the exclusion of the technological, avoid the scenario that caused the supposed imbalance in the first place? You see, unlike Dan, I don't think that simple technologies are "doing just fine" and can be left well enough alone while we sort the "other stuff". I am wary of the tensions between agency and control that get ignored when we focus on layering control systems of a policy kind on top of control systems of a technological kind. Exactly what kinds of social and cultural agency are we able to foster and support this way?

Thursday, January 13, 2005

MP3 Wednesdays

The Fiery Furnaces - Quay Cur & Blueberry Boat

The opening song and title track from last year's Blueberry Boat, still in heavy rotation 'round these parts as we wait for EP to arrive in the post.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Antique wireless reproductions

I've written before about my father's interest in early wireless sets and now you can see some of his work up close in Reproduction of a British Gecophone Crystal Radio.

Granted I'm probably biased, but I've always been really impressed by the quality of my dad's reproductions. His attention to detail and ability to improvise never cease to amaze me. But in the case of this particular set, I most enjoyed hearing him tell me about these wonderful strangers around the world who, because of their shared interests, had sent him schematics, manuals and even some sheet mica to build the capacitor. Geeks are so cool.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

When things are too close and too far away

The astronaut William Anders once commented on his view from space:

"The ancestral home of mankind did not appear vast, unlimited and indestructible ... It seemed much more like a delicate and fragile ornament ... Looking back, I saw no national boundaries, no dividing the earth into separate states, each with a different colour as you see on a globe in a classroom, a globe divided by man but obviously not by nature."

Canadians congregated Saturday to observe a national day of mourning for victims of the tsunami.

"'We in developed nations are looking out on the world and our people are coming to grips, some for the first time, with the true disparity of wealth, of promise and, all too often, of fortune and providence,' Prime Minister Martin said. 'We have a window on the precarious nature of so many lives. We have a window, and it can be unsettling to look through it.'"

In Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag writes:

"No 'we' should be taken for granted when the subject is looking at other people's pain. Who are the 'we' to which such shock-pictures are aimed? ... The photographs are a means of making 'real' (or more 'real') matters that the privileged and the merely safe might prefer to ignore."

Zygmunt Bauman, in Liquid Modernity, writes:

"The meeting of strangers is an event without a past. More often than not, it is also an event without a future ... We may say that 'community' is a short-cut to togetherness, and to a kind of togetherness which hardly ever occurs in 'real life': a togetherness of sheer likeness, of the 'us who are all the same' kind; a togetherness which for this reason is unproblematic, calling for no effort and no vigilance, truly pre-ordained..."

In Imagined Communities Benedict Anderson writes:

"Communities are to be distinguished not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined."

***

Ogrish.com - "Can you handle life?" - Tsunami videos & pictures

Asian Tsunami Videos - "Running for their lives!!!" - Amateur Asian Tsunami Video Footage

Waxy.org - "We broke Archive.org! The largest repository of public-domain audio, video, and text in the world couldn't handle the demand for these videos" - Amateur Tsunami Video Footage

***

In Sociology Beyond Societies, John Urry writes:

"Images play a central role because many sources of cognitive information are not trusted ... [and] 'seeing is believing,' especially when those images are repeated time and time again ... It also seems that images are important because, according to Ramonet: 'the objective is not to make us understand a situation, but to make us take part in an event'"

Guy Debord, in The Society of the Spectacle, writes:

"In societies dominated by modern conditions of production, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation. The images detached from every aspect of life merge into a common stream in which the unity of that life can no longer be recovered. Fragmented views of reality regroup themselves into a new unity as a separate pseudoworld that can only be looked at. The specialization of images of the world evolves into a world of autonomized images where even the deceivers are deceived. The spectacle is a concrete inversion of life, an autonomous movement of the nonliving. The spectacle presents itself simultaneously as society itself, as a part of society, and as a means of unification. As a part of society, it is the focal point of all vision and all consciousness. But due to the very fact that this sector is separate, it is in reality the domain of delusion and false consciousness: the unification it achieves is nothing but an official language of universal separation."

Update:

Amadeo Bordiga, in Murdering the Dead: On Capitalism and Other Disasters, writes:

"When the catastrophe destroys houses, fields and factories, throwing the active population out of work, it undoubtedly destroys wealth. But this cannot be remedied by a transfusion of wealth from elsewhere, as with the miserable operation of rummaging around for old jumble, where the advertising, collection and transport cost far more than the value of the worn out clothes. The wealth that disappeared was that of past, ages-old labour. To eliminate the effect of the catastrophe, a huge mass of present- day, living labour is required..."

(via)

Saturday, January 8, 2005

Hippos and turtles make Anne a happy girl

I'm all for weird genetic engineering if it means I can have a pet hippo. I mean, I know there are pygmy hippos and all but they're not good pets. And if I could have a pet hippo and pet tortoises I would be the happiest person in the world ever!

hippo and tortoise

So when I saw this picture of Owen the baby hippo and Mzee the 120 year-old Aldabran tortoise, I almost burst with joy. Last month Kenyan game wardens rescued the hippo after he had been separated from his herd. Since being introduced into the animal sanctuary he has become inseparable from the hippo-coloured giant tortoise, although he will eventually be transferred to live with a lonely female hippo. (Full story / via)

Friday, January 7, 2005

Shaping our technological futures

As a fan of putting half-baked ideas out there in the world, I'll stand behind Howard's draft manifesto for an "open, user-driven, entrepreneurial future for the mobile Internet". But, of course, I think there are a few points that need some refining.

First, let's take his assertion that "people are free and able to act as users not consumers". Sounds nice but, quite frankly, I have no idea what that means. Are the two mutually exclusive? I think it's been adequately demonstrated that consumption is much more nuanced than that and I, for one, quite enjoy being a consumer of all sorts of things because it is another way for me to forge and express facets of my identity and values. What I do find offensive and dangerous, on the other hand, is pervasive commodification - or the idea that anything and everything can (and should) be bought and sold. This means that it's the "entrepreneurial future" mentioned above, and not consumption, that makes me nervous.

On the other hand, all I think Howard is getting at is the idea that we should not deny people agency, or set up obstacles to making technology their own, and I've long thought that designing for hackability is a fine place to start.

This also reminds me of the Designing Technology for Community Appropriation workshop at CHI 2005, which should be a good place to explore some of these ideas. The submission deadline is January 21st, so it's not too late to get in there.

What needs to be addressed more clearly in Howard's manifesto and related dicussions is what kind of openness is desirable or required - something that Howard begins to do in his call for an "open innovation commons" and "self-organizing, ad-hoc networks" of users. But it seems to me that we're talking about many different (and often enough conflicting and competitive) cultural contexts here, from hardware and software development to policy and legal frameworks to the ability, confidence and imagination of individual citizens. And I'm not sure what kinds of "open" access emerge when people organise "according to their own inclinations and mutual agreements". I mean, doesn't that suggest things are only open to particular people in particular contexts? After all, this rhetoric is always already bound up with bits of libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism - neither of which convince me that historical global inequalities will be fundamentally transformed by these efforts.

Regardless, my point is that this is the particularly tricky part and the bit that needs the most clarification and justification. Somewhere in there I think we need to consider some of Adam's ethical guidelines for ubicomp, some of Tobias' recent comments on control and "trecherous computing" and what it will take to locate accountability.

The final point of Howard's manifesto - "the freedom to associate information with places and things" - is particularly interesting to me because it addresses long-standing tensions between public and private interests. He writes:

"People like myself used to think that 'the Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it,' but we're seeing authoritarian governments build their censors into their routers. Is there any better [sic] reason to believe that people will continue to have the freedom to read and write to specific parts of the geoweb?"

I seriously doubt the mobile/geo web will foster any more openness or freedom than the Internet, but it will emerge in different ways and we do have a distinct advantage now: critical discourses about mobile technologies are coming much faster (albeit still way too slowly for my liking) than they did in the early utopian days of the Net.

This also reminds me of another great-sounding CHI workshop that is still accepting submissions: Engaging The City: Public Interfaces As Civic Intermediary.

"The challenge for the HCI community is to design public interfaces that provide citizens with more active access, authorship, and agency. The workshop's field research component will involve visiting the city of Portland as a case study for processing and refining these theoretical considerations..."

Hear hear! On a practical level these discussions remain rather isolated and the sooner we can take them to the streets and into people's everyday lives, the better chance we'll have of shaping all our technological futures.

Thursday, January 6, 2005

MP3 Wednesdays

Stab - Built to Spill, 1994

The Chase Is Better Than The Catch - Motörhead, 1980

Love songs for the indefinite and the intrepid.

Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Winter term courses

Classes start tomorrow and I'm double-checking that I'm ready. The first class is always more administrative than anything else, a chance for students to figure out if they want to hang around for the rest of the term. And course readers and textbooks are running late, so I'm not sure what we'll do for the first couple of weeks. On the up side, the course sites are pretty much done, although the weblogs won't get going until next week. Can you tell I'm excited?

SOCI 2035 : Introduction to the Sociology of Science & Technology

SOCI 4038 : Advanced Studies in Urban Cultures

Excuse the mess

I've uploaded the new hopefully-spam-proof commenting code and am working out the bugs. In the meantime, I've heard that patience is a virtue...

Update: Everything seems to be working, although I still need to play around with the form layout. Now, does anyone know of any virtual tumbleweed projects?

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Under my skin

As my life eases into its post-holiday rhythms, the tragic loss of so much life lingers in an uncomfortable way. And how sad, I think, that we also lost Susan Sontag, who would have dared ask us what it actually means to care about the suffering of faraway others.

After all I read today, it is Rob's words that stay under my skin and refuse to ease my discomfort:

"But as the disaster unfolds as human and social suffering, its treatment as a media spectacle transforms tragedy into a form of action-adventure and tales of close calls and miraculous escapes. A planetary event becomes a privatised horror flick on the TV news; carnivalesque diversion from post-Christmas shopping. The media story is too much about the reversal of the hospitality of leisure spaces by humanitarian aid. It risks becoming the story of ourselves, our 'heroism', when the truth lies on the other side of the hedonistic mirror, in the different situations, statuses and fates which are not shared at all equally."

Added to this knowledge is the sickening understanding that before and since the tsunami, tragedies of even greater magnitude have gone ignored.

In the LA Times obituary, Sontag is quoted as saying "the only intelligence worth defending is critical, dialectical, skeptical, desimplifying." And I suspect that all the information in the world will not create that kind of intelligence.

When, for the first time in two weeks, I checked my blog feeds this afternoon I was surprised by the amount of repetition, but far more troubling to me was the lack of reflection. Part of me thinks how wonderful it is to be made aware of so many ideas and activities, and yet another part of me demands to know why I should care. Please believe me when I say I am not trying to be flippant. In fact, it is in these long lists of articles and projects and people and ideas without any sort of contextualising commentary that I fear we risk becoming nonchalant and careless in our accounts. After all, I am hardly the first to equate silence with complicity, and without the kind of critical intelligence Sontag believed in, I'm afraid all I'm left with is quantity rather than quality of information.

Like Chris, I don't like resolutions - but I do want more understanding than information, more personal voices than silent links. I want to post less often and with greater attention to understanding. I want to read more slowly and carefully, ask more questions and attempt more answers. I want to find meaning in details and love in shared moments.

Saturday, January 1, 2005

Peace and joy in small things

snow crystalsnow crystalsnow crystal

When I think of all that will be gained this year - and all that can be lost - I am reminded of the words of William James:

"I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big success. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of pride."

May the New Year see you find peace and joy in small things.

(Snow crystal close-ups from the Bentley Collection)

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