Saturday, January 28, 2006

On spatial annotation

I'm really looking forward to being a guest lecturer in the Contemporary Architecture Discourse Colloquium at Yale School of Architecture on March 31st. This is what I'll be talking about:


Location-aware technologies such as GPS and RFID are increasingly being used for a variety of European and North American urban spatial-annotation projects. These desires to “tag” the world-around-us, I argue, can be understood as particular intensifications and materialisations of Western political longings for unified community in times of fragmentation and diversity. But what senses of belonging are we presupposing when we attempt to bind collective memories to singular places? And what kind of community is possible when the technologies and protocols that underpin such projects may be understood, following Mackenzie, as “kludge” or an “ill-assorted collection of poorly matching parts, forming a distressing whole”? Borrowing concepts from Giorgio Agamben, Jean-Luc Nancy and Marc Augé, I explore tensions between mobility and dwelling, difference and commonality, memory and forgetting. Accordingly, questions concerning political and ethical participation, and the role of affective encounters such as alignments, identifications and appropriations take on special force. Ultimately, it is my position that any kind of technologically-enabled communalism or collective memory that privileges unity and order threatens to undermine the senses of contingency and potentiality necessary for a politics of hope in everyday urban life.

And on a related note, NY Times: Making Connections, Here and Now

"These [mobile social software] programs are in their infancy, now being used mainly by technology aficionados, but their potential is vast. In the future, users may subscribe to the mobile posts of bloggers who review neighborhood lunch spots or to business travelers who share city-specific survival tips."

Vast potential, eh? My god, we're dull.

I continue to be impressed that projects like Urban Tapestries led to projects like Social Tapestries, while Dodgeball was "acquired" by Google.

Against disambiguation

In Disambiguating the terminology (a sketch), Mike writes:

'As I see it, the different terms--pervasive computing, ubiquitous computing, ambient intelligence and physical computing--come from different historical contexts that are based on geography: PARC coined "ubiquitous computing," so it's big on the West Coast; IBM likes "pervasive," they get the East; Philips was responsible for "ambient intelligence," so that's what it's called in Europe. In reality, it's just a blind men and elephant problem. They're all describing the same idea, but alliances and territoriality create clusters of terminology...The definitions aren't totally separate, but it's an interesting exercise to see the focus of the groups who fly a particular flag. I still think it's all the same elephant and that maybe it needs an even yet different term. There's great value in creating a good term that encapsulates a set of ideas, but it has to accurately capture the essense of an idea as it is perceived by others to take off. Which means it needs to be externally-focused, and not about the process.'

And in the comments:

AG: Why do you think I felt it necessary to create a whole new term for these activities, even at the risk of collapsing valid distinctions?...[I] argue that even things that seem peripheral to the ubicomp argument...will in fact be for most of the people experiencing it the signifiers of the ubiquitous experience.

Mike: If people's associations with it are going to be with the objects, not the ideas, I believe that names for the idea should reflect THEIR perspective.

The elephant analogy doesn't sit well with me if it implies that there is, in fact, a stable thing-in-the-world that constitutes an elephant (and that the men are wrong because they don't know they're describing the same thing). As I understand it, the parable's moral is rather about not clinging too hard to any particular perspective because there are many truths. And I take that to suggest not only that inflexibility is problematic, but that disambiguation is as well - precisely because of "the risk of collapsing valid distinctions" and becoming too invested in getting the 'one ring to rule them all'.

The erasure of difference is never neutral, and this desire to master a subject, to bring it to order and unity, to suggest its discovery and conquest through neologism, is at the heart of what feminist studies of science and technology have long criticised as exclusionary practices rife with power struggles. This belief in necessary wholeness is also associated with a concern for the "effects" of technology, and can reflect the kind of technological determinism present in the "guns don't kill people, people kill people" way of thinking and its ethical implications.

Plus, can any term "accurately capture the essense of an idea as it is perceived by others"? What's the purpose of that anyway? Why not let it be all messy? Leaving aside my opposition to essentialism and the idea that there are discrete things in the world, I was struck by Mike's claims regarding who should decide a new terminology. Anthropologists have spent many years debating the merits of emic (intrinsic cultural distinctions) versus etic (imposed by the anthropologist or outsider) classifications*. After all, what would make one better or worse than the other? And why would we choose to use just one? Furthermore, when Mike suggests that it is others-outside-the-process who should be naming things, he naturalises distinctions between "us" (designers, presumably) and "them" (users, people), as well as between design and use, process and product. Ultimately, this elides internal variation within each category, over-emphasises external variation between categories, and leaves little room for hybridity except in terms of overlap.

* "Emic" and "etic" are themselves neologisms (derived from "phonemic" and "phonetic") coined in the 50s by linguistic anthropologist Kenneth Pike.


Tara Hardy at Colagene, via drawn!

Bring on the filler!

Rather than bitching and moaning about I much I hate these things, and then doing it anyway, I'm entering this with full love. So there ;-)

Four jobs I've had
- Telemarketer (4 hours of pure evil, I never returned from lunch)
- Grocery store cashier (food shopping will never be the same once you find out how we made that job bearable)
- Wal-Mart sales associate (you know, walking a mile in another's shoes and all that)
- Waitress (ditto - I'm convinced everyone should do this job at least once)

Four movies I can watch over and over
- Shaun of the Dead
- The Ice Storm
- Fast Times at Ridgemont High (yup)
- Almost Famous

Four places I've lived
- Athens, Greece
- Perth, Australia
- Quito, Ecuador
- Edmonton, Canada

Four TV shows I love
- The Simpsons
- Freaks and Geeks
- Six Feet Under
- Spaced (Thanks Es & Matt!)

Four places I've vacationed
- Galapagos Islands (the greatest place I've ever been)
- Four Corners (a summer road trip and love affair when I was 19)
- Cape Breton Island (I stood on a cliff overlooking the ocean and watched humpback whales breaching)
- Epcot Center (this should explain some things)

Four of my favorite dishes
- Thai green curry chicken & jasmine rice
- Spanish garlic soup with salad & crusty bread
- Vietnamese summer rolls with shrimp & bbq pork
- Moroccan lamb tajine with olives & lemons

Four sites I visit daily
- Google
- the university library
- my office

Four places I would rather be right now
- sitting at the beach with friends, wet from a swim, sun on my shoulders, cold beer in my hand

Four people I tag
- Biella
- Glen
- Foe
- Mel

Friday, January 27, 2006

"In our world instead of theirs..."

"Cyberspace" Is Dead
(Interviews by Alex Pang and David Pescovitz)

"Twenty years after William Gibson coined the term cyberspace in his novel Neuromancer, we live in a world of smart objects, always-on devices, and perpetually open information channels. The Internet feels less like an alternate world that we 'go to' and more like just another layer of life. Besides, doesn't cyberspace sound kind of played out?"

Vint Cerf, Internet Evangelist, Google
'I still like [Xerox PARC researcher] Mark Weiser's term ubiquitous computing. It's a world in which the computer would melt into the walls and furniture.'

Neil Gershenfeld, Director, MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms
'I'd vote for calling it the world. Information technologies are finally growing up, so we can interact with them in our world instead of theirs'."

And Gene Becker in response to Gershenfeld:

Me: Ah, Neil you brilliant dreamer. I really like the sentiment, but for most of us plain folk technology is not yet a normal, invisible, accepted part the world we live in. Besides, what fun is it if there's no cool new jargon to describe our cool new existence?

Heh heh.

And here's Jan Chipchase with another bit of futurism:

"Our team spends a lot of time working on concepts 3 to 5 years ahead of what appears on the market. I spent one year working on ideas up to 15 years ahead of where we are now - it's quite a tricky mental space to visit though fun when you get there. You know those wonderful visions of the future where everything is white an uncluttered? Trust me, the future will be messy, and wonderfully so."

When I read all of this, it finally sinks in why Steve "STS" Woolgar is a Professor of Marketing in the Saïd Business School at Oxford. And why Latour's latest book is filed under organisation studies.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The ordinary madness of dissertation writing

Today it seems to me that this whole business of dissertation-finishing involves no end of completely arbitrary obstacles in utterly farcical contexts. No really. It's like a fucking Beckett play. With bad music.

Update 31 Jan 06
Fate, Resignation, Persistence, Affirmation, Endurance: Beckett and Stoicism (pdf) - a fascinating lecture by infinite thought)

"Beckett’s critics have attacked his work for many of the same reasons the Stoics were historically criticised, namely for his atheism, his attention to the material, his denial of much salvation beyond a kind of internal struggle..."

"You Are What You Know"

Loompanics - one of my favourite sources of high weirdness - is going out of business. This means that the "Great Loompanics One and Only Going-Out-Of-Business Sale" is on right now and all books are half-price!

Since the age of 16 I've found my way in the world thanks, in no small part, to some brilliant books from the likes of RE/Search, Semiotext(e), Autonomedia, AK Press, and of course, Loompanics. It's sad to see them go.

Fixing fluidity

The Stuff of Culture
Felix Stalder

"Crucial to maintaining the object-oriented view of the immaterial is to fortify the boundary between the fixed and the fluid. Fluid exchanges, the ongoing processes of telling, re-telling, changing and transforming are, almost by definition, uncontrollable. Objects, on the other hand, with their distinct form and shape, with their clear beginning and end, can be numbered, measured, and controlled. Only then can they be bought and sold in the markets..."

via rhizome

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

There is hope in uncertainty

Sunday, January 22, 2006


On Monday January 23rd, Canada votes.

And in the urban cultures seminar, we discuss Jean-Luc Nancy and Giorgio Agamben on the impossibilities of community.

Last week, Mark Kingwell wrote in the Toronto Star:

"Integrity is a notion found in both ethics and materials science, but it derives a more basic meaning from mathematics. Integer is the name we give to a whole number, something entire and complete; and thus, by metaphorical extension, to something sound or good. One good thing, there (teger being the Latin for 'touch') for the touching. Tangible oneness.

Four centuries into the modern era, we are well aware of the limitations inherent in what political philosophers call 'atomic individualism.' Everybody counts for one, in votes and in claims on the state we share; legitimacy begins and ends here. But if we come to view individuals as fundamentally self-interested and separate, at war with their neighbours, alienation and conflict loom. What starts as a great victory for the self declines swiftly into pathology; not deliberations between friends but bargaining among strangers.

The truth is that there are duties, both ethical and civic, that make no sense without a prior commitment to a web of care, which, however tenuously, connects one person to another. We are not alone, because we cannot be who we are in the first place without the others for whom we act, and from whom we seek recognition.

But that doesn't mean we are all part of one great family. The power of oneness as integrity lies not in us all being one, but in our each being so. Not later in death, and not under the skin; but now, as we are — and aren't — the same." (via)

And I'm still thinking.

Friday, January 20, 2006

"I wanted to crochet myself in entirely..."

I don't know about it being womb-like, but there is something appealingly raw about this project.

Bea Camacho "Enclose," 2004

"When I started working on this piece, I was interested in hiding spaces and creating my own environment...I wanted to refer to ideas of fear and protection by slowly producing a safe space for myself...I wanted to crochet myself in entirely but I had no idea how long it would take or how much yarn I would need...I hadn't predetermined how the shape of the crocheted cover was going to come together so I was improvising the form and constantly trying to figure out which parts needed to join up in order to have it close around me with the least amount of excess..."

This clip is from the last hour of a video that documents an eleven-hour performance in real-time.

Thanks Ashley!

"Improved" work life?

Wi-fi slow to enthuse consumers
According to a survey for electronics giant Toshiba, only a handful of people use a laptop to go online when they are outside of the home.

"'Many users appear to be failing to capitalise on the opportunities presented to them through mobility,' said Steve Crawley, head of mobile strategy at Toshiba.

'Consumers who are only using their devices in the home are missing out on huge opportunities to benefit from technologies which can dramatically improve their working lives,' he said.


Nearly 90% said the big disadvantage of wireless working was that it meant they worked longer hours.

The majority said their laptops meant they worked an extra hour or two each week but a fifth said their extra hours were as high as 10 per week."

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Not for record

 Bye bye blackboard .... from Albert Einstein

Museum of the History of Science

Bye bye blackboard ... from Einstein and others

"Blackboards were wiped after use: they were meant for immediate communication, not for record. Even as they were being used, their messages were continuously revised, erased and renewed. But when Einstein came to Oxford in 1931, he was already an international celebrity. After one of his lectures a blackboard was preserved and has become a kind of relic. It is the most famous object in this Museum.

This exhibition marks the centenary of the Special Theory of Relativity by inviting a number of well-known people in Britain today to chalk on blackboards the same size as Einstein’s. All these guest blackboards have been prepared in the early months of 2005. The result is an exhibition about science, art, celebrity and nostalgia. The blackboard is fast disappearing from meetings, classes and lectures: ‘bye-bye blackboard’."

 Bye bye blackboard .... from Nicholas Grimshaw

Today's reminder

"Don’t feel that you need to create the greatest work that Western Civilization has ever seen. Five years from now the only thing that will matter is whether you finished."

Inside Higher Ed: What They Don’t Teach You in Graduate School

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Finding my rhythm

My urban cultures course is off to a good start, I think. Show-and-tell was a fun way to introduce ourselves and talk about urban material culture. I'm also looking forward to seeing them get beyond superficial observations to asking critical questions. And discussion on the assigned readings, mobility, liquidity and fluidity brought up some good questions.

I think I may even be finding the rhythm I'll need for the next few months. I'm trying to spend less time where I loathe my dissertation and just want it to be over, and more time where it's interesting and playful and the kind of adventure I can appreciate. Kind of obvious, I know, but it's harder than it seems.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

It was really cold today

Jeremy Forson's art, via the always-fabulous Drawn!

Design ethnography and the crisis of time

Tour Bus Ethnography: "Looking at my travel schedule for the next few months I'm left wondering what can I expect to learn from the relatively short amounts of time spent the field in different countries? At what point does spending a few days in a culture become nothing more than tour bus ethnography? Hop off the bus, stick a microphone in someone's face, take a few photos and tell everyone back home what a wonderful time that had by all and boy didn't we learn a lot."

Whenever I read Jan Chipchase's blog I simultaneously think how much I want to do work like that, and how I never want to do work like that. When I read posts like the one above, I remember being taught how the discipline of anthropology really only emerged when we gave up the colonial past-time of "armchair" anthropology and actually got out in the field ourselves. But the relationship between armchair-anthro and fieldwork is not an easy one: not then and not now.

When scholars were tasked with making sense of all the data brought back from the colonies, they had plenty of time to reflect on it. (In fact, I've always suspected that the sheer amount of "down" time and distance from the people studied actually encouraged anthropologists to come up with those complex hierarchies of cultural traits that became so instrumental in the administration of the colonies and the oppression of so many people. You know, idle hands and all...)

So when Jan gets concerned that he may be doing "nothing more than tour bus ethnography" and admits that "without sufficient time for reflection what could be meaningful data is just noise" he's pointing to very real concerns in the practice of anthropology outside academia.

If armchair anthropology was a product of colonialism, then design ethnography is a product of capitalism. Both suffer similar political and ethical issues, but it seems to me that "tour bus ethnography" additionally suffers a crisis of time that was lacking in the era of armchair anthro.

In a cultural era often characterised in terms of speed, Jan asks:

"Given the constraints - what is an optimal and what is a sufficient amount of time to spend in the field? And if your project involves cultural comparisons - how much time is enough to rest, reflect and analyse between field trips?"

Very good questions, I think, but sadly deferent to current constraints. Oh, I appreciate the need for pragmatic responses, and I know that work still needs to get done, but I can't overlook the need for change. Where is the questioning of the constraints that bring about these crises in time? Where is the challenge to the cultures of speed?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Agencies in technology design

When I gave my presentation at the CACS conference on the design of pervasive computing and the processes of transduction and protocol, I was asked hard questions about social and cultural agency or our capacity for action. This, of course, also relates to what it would mean to "democratise" design. In retrospect, I should have called on Lucy Suchman's paper below.

Agencies in Technology Design: Feminist Reconfigurations (pdf)
Lucy Suchman, Lancaster University

"For those writing within the Actor Network tradition and its aftermath, agency is reconceptualised as always a relational effect that can never be located in either humans or nonhumans alone. A rich body of empirical studies have further specified, elaborated, and deepened the senses in which human agency is only understandable once it is re-entangled in the sociomaterial relations that the ‘modern constitution’ since the 17th century has so exhaustingly attempted to take apart. These studies provide compelling empirical demonstration of how capacities for action can be reconceived on foundations quite different from those of an Enlightenment, humanist preoccupation with the individual actor living in a world of separate things...

Together these inquiries respecify agency from a capacity intrinsic to singular actors, to an effect of practices that are multiply distributed and contingently enacted across humans and things. Addressing similar questions, but from a position within feminist philosophy and science studies, physicist Karen Barad has proposed a form of materialist constructivism that she names 'agential realism,' through which realities are constructed out of specific apparatuses of sociomaterial 'intra-action'. While the construct of interaction presupposes two entities, given in advance, that come together and engage in some kind of exchange, intra-action underscores the sense in which subjects and objects emerge through their encounters with each other. In this, Barad’s writings join others working towards conceptualizations of the material that incorporate both obduracy and contingency, the discursive and the corporeal. More specifically, Barad locates technoscientific practices as critical sites for the emergence of new subjects and objects...

As Barad points out, boundaries are necessary for the creation of meaning, and, for that very reason, are never innocent. Because the cuts implied in boundary making are always agentially positioned rather than naturally occurring, and because boundaries have real consequences, 'accountability is mandatory'. The accountability involved is not, however, a matter of identifying authorship in any simple sense, but rather a problem of understanding the effects of particular assemblages, and assessing the distributions, for better and worse, that they engender...In considering this work it would be difficult to isolate singular achievements of the ‘new’. And yet together, over time and space, I would argue that it is labors like this that represents our best hope for genuinely new reconfigurings of the technological, based not in inventor heroes or extraordinary new devices, but in mundane, and innovative, practices of collective sociomaterial infrastructure building."

It'll also be interesting to see how Suchman has transformed her thinking since her Xerox PARC days when Plans and Situated Actions II: Human-Machine Reconfigurations is published later this year.

Update 16 Jan

For those who don't read French, a treat: Steven Shaviro does another smashing job assessing Simondon's work on transduction and individuation.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Malls and flaneurs

In the video store today I saw that Kevin Smith's Mallrats is called Les Flaneurs in French.


After the first week of classes I'm experiencing a combination of exhaustion and excitement. Both groups of students appear to be really good ones, I have a great TA for Sociology of Science and Tech, and I totally love the course content. Now, all I have to do is find the right balance between teaching and my own work and the next four months will be brilliant.

Today's reminders:

How to Perform Prayers by Shahram Entekhabi

The Astrolabes of Africa exhibit Matt and Es and I saw at the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford

Saturday, January 7, 2006

Bring out the vote!

Friday, January 6, 2006

Voluptuous technologies, acceptable and expected use

Jan Chipchase takes a look at Acceptable Boundaries of Use

"User experience practitioners often use personas and scenarios to understand and communicate how a product will be used. But what happens when use falls outside acceptable limits? What are acceptable limits? Is it reasonable to expect a camera to function in these conditions? Is it reasonable to expect your phone to work after being run over by a car? Is it reasonable to carry your iPod Nano in your pocket without it scratching?"

Man, I've been asking that for ages and am convinced that more than a little of the answer can be found in material culture studies. I've also wondered: Is it reasonable to have to learn to ride a bike but expect a computer to be as simple to figure out as a toaster? (Not the perfect analogy I know, but you know what I'm getting at...) Some days I think that user-friendliness was/is a really bad idea, not least because it's obdurate, so hard to change.

Jan continues, although it becomes less clear to me how this relates to acceptable use and user expectations:

"There are two trends that are likely to considerably shift consumer perception of what constitutes acceptable use: miniaturization; and the availability of flexible componentry. Once objects reach a certain size the range of places that they can be comfortably carried and stored increases - making it feasible for it to be carried without significant extra burden for the user, comfortably placed in a pocket or tucked in amongst other objects in a bag. Objects will be carried and stored in locations and used in contexts which did not previously need to be considered in use cases. It is more comfortable to carry a flexible object next your (soft, fleshy, human) body than a hard object. Smart use of flexible components will increase the range of objects can be comfortably carried in pockets or next to the skin - expanding the range of use case scenarios for many products and along with it, user expectations."

It's obvious that miniatures work best when still within the scale and reach of the human body and senses. (Remember that the first compact Macs were "portable" and that people with small and slender hands are well-suited to the manufacture of all sorts of electronics?) And it's certainly true that I'm more likely to carry a device if it fits in my coat pocket or bag, although I'll admit to often forgetting I have it with me and so forgetting to use it.

But the flexibility factor is even more important, I think. For me, the case for "soft" computing has most eloquently and elegantly manifested itself in the work of Joey Berzowska, Katherine Moriwaki, Maggie Orth and others working in the area of "seamless computational couture". With no desire to essentialise sex or gender, I do think that the dominance of female researchers in this area is significant. In any case, these designers (female and male) work against the idea of hard wearables, or what I refer to as masculine technologies.

In reviewing my doctoral project methodology, I was reminded that I originally began by researching e-textiles and I'd like to return to the subject for my first post-doctoral project. While the linear, the hard and the metallic have certain appeal, I've always preferred the voluptuous, the soft, the fleshy. But mostly I'm interested in the ontological and epistemological dimensions of things that squish and leak, things that move, things that always already shape-shift. (I'd also like to reinvent some old archaeological work I did on pre-columbian textile production and the role of cloth in everyday life.)

So, I looked up 'flexible' in the thesaurus and came up with the following: adjustable, alterable, compliant, elastic, formable, impressionable, indulgent, irrepressible, malleable, recuperative, susceptible, unstable, yielding. Then I looked up 'soft' and found these: affectionate, caressing, comfortable, easeful, effortless, faint, fleshy, fluid, gracious, melodious, murmured, pitying, soothing, spineless, undemanding, weak.

How appropriate, I thought, the best and worst of my culture's feminine traits. Count me in!

Bound with secret knots

"All of nature in its awful vastness and incomprehensible complexity is in the end interrelated - worlds within worlds within worlds: the seen and the unseen - the physical and the immaterial are all connected - each exerting influence on the next - bound, as it were, by chains of analogy - magnetic chains. Every decision, every action mirrors, ripples, reflects and echoes throughout the whole of creation. The world is indeed bound with secret knots."

-- Valentine Worth from Athanasius Kircher's Magneticum Naturae Regnum

Not usually one for unified theories, I find this imagery irresistable; it reminds me of Frazer's discussions of tabooed knots from The Golden Bough.

Thursday, January 5, 2006

Social, not individualist, ethics for technology

I'm often turned-off by the ethical guidelines suggested by technologists and designers, mostly because they strike me as individualist rather than social. And so I was quite interested when I came across Richard Devon's discussion of social ethics in engineering.

Devon, Richard. Towards a Social Ethics of Technology: A Research Prospect, Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology, Vol. 8, No. 1, 2004

In his article, he fleshes out tensions between what engineers consider to be ethics ("individual human conduct") and what they consider to be politics ("social arrangements") and he calls for more research into what he calls social ethics, which of course includes collective and individual politics.

"Taking a social ethics approach means recognizing not only that the ends and means of technology are appropriate subjects for the ethics of technology, but also that differences in value systems that emerge in almost all decision-making about technology are to be expected. The means of handling differences, such as conflict resolution processes, models of technology management, and aspects of the larger political system, must be studied. This is not to suggest that engaging in political behavior on behalf of this cause or that is what ethics is all about. That remains a decision to be made at the personal level. Rather, the ethics of technology is to be viewed as a practical science. This means engaging in the study of, and the improvement of, the ways in which we collectively practice decision making in technology. Such an endeavor can enrich and guide the conduct of individuals, but it is very different than focusing on the behavior of individuals in a largely predetermined world in which their options are often severely constrained..."

By focussing on the process as much as, or more than, the product, Devon identifies design as the primary context in which technologies - and technologised life - emerge. He summarises his argument like this:

"There should be a social ethics of technology because most decisions about technology are made socially rather than individually.

The social arrangements for making such decisions are variable and should be a prime subject for study in any social ethics of technology.

Two key questions about such social arrangements are, who is at the table and what is on the table?

Enhancing cognizance is essential to ethical decision making. Representation by stakeholders in the design process is desirable. Diversity in the design process opens up more choices, which is ethically desirable and could well benefit both the technology and the marketability of the technology."

Given the exploratory nature of the article, it's no surprise that the reader is left with the vague call to pursue and support more "democratic" design. While admitting this is no easy task, he does cite Richard Sclove's accounts of Danish consensus conferences as a possible model:

"Lay groups are formed that exclude experts in the areas of the science and technology being examined. At some point, such experts are summoned and they testify under questioning before the lay group. Then the lay group produces a report and submits it to parliament. These lay groups ask the contextual questions about the science / technology being examined: what will it do, what are the costs and benefits and to whom, who will own it, what does it mean for our lives, for the next generation, or for the environment. The results have been encouraging, and industries have become increasingly interested in the value of these early assessments by the general public for determining the direction their product design and development should take."

This sounds a lot like what I suggested at Design Engaged: designing in the parliament of things and design as a matter-of-concern. Now, what I'm working to flesh out in my dissertation is what kind of politics and ethics this actually is and where it can take us. But more on that later.

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Happy New Year

My flight touched down in Ottawa three minutes before midnight on New Year's Eve, and I felt, um, grounded as I entered what will no doubt be a transitional year.

My sociology of science and technology course starts tomorrow and urban cultures on Monday, and I'm really looking forward to both.

My dissertation is wrapping up nicely and we're planning for an April defense, after which the entire project will be posted online.

And in May I'll be teaching a week-long Enrichment Mini-Course on mobile phones and everyday life for local high-school students.

After that, "Why, then the world's mine oyster, which I with sword will open..."

Happy 2006 to everyone - and remember not to feed the animals!

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