Saturday, July 29, 2006

Gone dragon-slaying

This whole finishing-up business is proving to be a special kind of hell for me. Seriously. Fucked.

So until further notice, this is my uniform and if I'm not outside reviving an old love I'll be inside writing my dissertation.

(ultra-fine dragon-killer art by rob dunlavey)

Oh yeah.

If you want to read something, I recommend what Matt has to say about making things and Rob on reterritorialising street space the Roma way.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Nicolas Nova interviews Régine Debatty

Nicolas asks Régine the hard questions about art, technology and blogging for thousands of readers. The whole thing is worth reading, but here are some of my favourite bits:

NN: What I like in WMMNA is the very sober nature of your posts, the way you get straight to the point when describing the projects. Is there a reason behind this “no stance” attitude?

RD: Several reasons: the main one is that i don’t want to influence people, I want readers to form their own opinion. i give mine in a subtle way: when i don’t like something i just don’t write about it. it’s also quite difficult to always have a view on interaction art/design. you have to experience the installation yourself to really know what it is like. then of course sometimes i don’t give my view for a very simple reason: i have no opinion, i just “feel” that a story is interesting enough and hope others will make sense of it.


NN: In what sense do you think your blog is of interest to researchers, R&D people and foresight managers?

RD: I should ask them. I guess the projects described in the blog might be interesting because many of them give a snapshot -albeit sometimes whimsical- of people’s desires or of what tomorrow could bring ... We all need these communication technologies but sometimes we might feel overwhelmed, right? surely there should be a way to get some control over them. The industry has had little incentive to address the problem and give us more control. I hope that they are already getting their designers and engineers to work on that (especially when it comes to the technology that seems to frighten everyone: RFID). in the meantime artists are exploring methods of self-defense. hopefully they will inspire someone out there ... I think if one is willing to look beyond the quirkiness and delirious aspect of some installations or applications, there’s a lot to learn and get inspired from.


NN: To me, humor plays an important role in what you’re posting in WMMNA. How do you think this dimension can bring critical elements about technology usages?

RD: I think humour is very important. it helps getting the attention of the audience. humour puts the piece into a non-threatening, non-intimidating light. which helps a lot to get the message out.


NN: Since I am doing research about location-based applications, I would be happy to know what you think about locative media. It seems that the scene failed (see for instance what Marc Tuters and Kazys Varnelis says about it), do you have any thought about that? You were curator at Sonar about locative media project, have you seen new project that would foster a revival of this trend?

RD: [An] example is the Feral Robots by urban tapestry. I like this idea of using locative media to give the man on the street the tools to understand what’s going on in his own neighbourhood, to do that in a playful, non-academic, non-threatening way.


After reading this a second time, and reflecting further on questions I've asked her in the past, I'm finding Régine's comments about having no opinion and not wanting to influence people a bit off. Easy to read as genuine (feminine?) humility, this lack of acknowledgement of her own filtering preferences and influence strikes me as a bit disingenuous. And granted I have a personal stake in this, but her consistent association of academic work with unfriendliness and intimidation strikes me as knee-jerk (and tired) anti-intellectualism. Put another way, she could - in the name of consistency - offer a critique of business, but she doesn't. Now, I'm not suggesting that Régine is "wrong" or a "bad person" but I do find it disappointing that she won't raise her own voice, and stand up for her own opinion. I mean, with power comes responsibility - and that's before we get to what I think that means for women in particular.

But I'd like to give Andrew Otwell the final word here:
"She should embrace the fact that she *already does* influence people and could make a great contribution as a critic. If 'critic' is too strong a word, think of it as being a 'teacher.' Teach me what's interesting about a project. Teach me how it builds on what came before, or merely duplicates other ideas. Teach me how it extends the dialog about people and technology, or is just a whimsical experiment...But more interesting is the work of the many artist-engineers that blurs the line between the two fields. Exploring the cultural, ethical, and artistic qualities of *that* work is an area just waiting for someone like Regine to take it on!"

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Hiro Kurata's cities

Technosocial Screens: Mobilities, Communities, Citizenships

I'll be giving a keynote address at next month's BNMI Interactive Screen - Margins: Media: Migrations workshop & summit.

Technosocial Screens: Mobilities, Communities, Citizenships

screen, v. to show, or hide from view; to sift or separate; to shelter or protect

New interactive technologies promise to reconfigure relations between producers and consumers, public and private, physical and digital, local and global - and in these shifting scenarios the screen takes on a multitude of roles. Not only are screens changing size and resolution, some are becoming softer and more flexible, and others are disappearing entirely. Some screens offer a bird's-eye view of the world that we can hold in our hands, and others tell us where we are - or could be - at any given moment. Whatever the type of screen, we can be sure of one thing: people, places, objects and ideas are being screened at the same time.

Together we will explore some of the critical ways in which new media technologies shape, and are shaped by, our changing experiences and understandings of community and citizenship. What kind of shelter and hope can we expect from a world of everywhere and anywhere media? From what, and whom, are we protecting ourselves? How are these technological practices sorting our everyday social, cultural and creative relationships? What, and whom, gets hidden - or cannot hide? How can new media technologies explore different ways of belonging and being together? How can they encourage diverse and lively participation and representation around shared matters of concern?

I think that audio and/or video of the entire event will be made available and, as usual, I'll post my notes here too.


"Interactive Screen allows you the time and space you need to share in understanding the creative, social, and business potential of new media. Discussions, roundtables, working sessions with peers, and case studies converge with live performances.

Apply today for one of 11 full Interactive Screen scholarships. Canadian new media producers, content creators and artists are eligible. Scholarships include tuition, travel and accommodation.

Scholarship winners will be mentored by Jan-Christoph Zoels, one of Europe’s leading interface and application designers, the founder and director of User Experience Design at Experientia (Italy), and senior associate professor at Interaction-Ivrea. One-on-one mentorship will include access to production facilities, project pitching, critique sessions, and the opportunity to work with Jan-Christoph and the Interactive Screen team to develop your project, services, and processes."

Design as culture work

Reclaiming Media: Doing Culture Work in These Weird Times
Brenda Laurel, 2002

"We can obviously no longer duck and cover. These times require designers and content-creators to become involved in the economic context of our work. Of course economics turns out to implicate culture and politics as well. Poisonous ideas can be found lurking in the mightiest global institution of all - consumerism.

Here's what I want to say. Consumerism demeans us. Nobody wants to be a consumer. The power relationship implied by the term should be unacceptable to everyone, if they were able to understand it. I picture a 'consumer' as something like a giant slug, a simple tube through which stuff passes from retail to landfill.


But back to business. Obviously, an all-out revolution against consumerism would be, shall we say, resisted. But a serious head-change is definitely in order. I propose that each of us actively redefine the success criteria for business to include the cultural and material costs and benefits of the product, as well as what we currently think of as 'the bottom line.' I'm suggesting that we find ways to help both kids and adults have access to this material and the means to understand it. I want every person in this country to know the unauthorized biography of every single thing they buy.


Design gives voice to values. Design suggests what is useful or beautiful or pleasurable or good or true. The affordances of a design suggest desirable actions. A design that has not engaged the designer's values may speak, but with a hollow voice. We know the rules of good design. But it often comes as a delightful revelation to young designers that brilliant design not only permits but requires the designer's personal voice.

And so we arrive at the happy confluence of responsibility and power. We are only the victims and servants of business as usual if we choose to be. This work of transformation - which I have come to think of as 'culture work' - must be approached mindfully and with great conviction and effort. The strategy of culture work is not straight-ahead revolution; rather it is to inject new genetic material into the culture without activating its immune system. By intervening in the present, we are designing the future.

I wish us all a great deal of courage, self-discipline, and clear-eyed hope."

See also:

Brenda Laurel's website

Reviews of Laurel's _Utopian Entrepreneur_ - especially Geert Lovink on the limits of her capitalist/consumerist critique

Review of Laurel's _Design Research: Methods and Perspectives_

Laurel will also be giving the closing keynote at Ubicomp 2006

Participatory design, or the road to hell is paved with good intentions

American Women: Partners in Research (1960)

"It begins like this: basic research develops new materials to cope with the space age we're living in...Now the problem is this: Now that we have the material, what products can be made better than ever by using it? And more important still, how can industry be sure that what it makes are the things that people really want?

It starts with men: designers, engineers, production men. First they determine what things can be made better [and it] seems there is no doubt there is a need for good percolators. But it's also an established fact that 3 out of 4 new household products just don't sell. Or to put it another way, the women of America will not buy 3 out of 4 new products offered to them for their homes because they aren't what women want. That's the basic problem and that's the reason for this new partnership in research with women.

So first, the design department works out some preliminary shapes. And good as these designers are, they know that women have minds of their own. They've learned to seek the help of the American housewife. Now let's go on to the next step in design, and see how American women show one company what they want before it's offered for sale..."

Well worth watching in its entirety, this video outlines Corning's approach to product research and design in 1960. Its oh-so-dated take on gender roles makes it easy to dismiss, but how much has really changed when it comes to how we imagine the relationship between designers and the people who use their designs? What are the relationships between design research and market research today? And what will today's strategies look like 45 or 50 years from now?

See also:
BusinessWeek: Ruthless Focus on the Customer

Monday, July 24, 2006

"A richer, more rewarding life"

Why Study Science? (1955)
It's a matter of community and citizenship, so get in there girls and boys!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

On design ethics

A Plow For Mexican Peasant Farmers: A Challenge for Designers

"There is a tendency on the part of professionals to overlook value issues in their work...Professionals are predisposed to appraise issues from the standpoint of their own fund of technical knowledge. This is for the most part entirely proper, and it is what they have been trained to do. There is a weakness in this approach, however, namely that it tends to obscure the fact that some issues are not most appropriately dealt with from the perspective of their professional knowledge... [S]ome decisions are primarily matters of values. This affects not only the criteria appropriate for a decision, but also the decision as to who should make it..."

Part of Texas A&M's Engineering Ethics curriculum, I think this case study is quite good at illustrating the social, cultural and ethical dimensions of design. In addition to being expected to understand the broader contexts of what they design, I was most impressed when engineers were asked to seriously consider whether or not the object should be designed at all:

"Technology makes such a profound impact on a culture that there is always a question whether a particular technological artifact should be created at all. Some technological innovations have clearly been more destructive than constructive...The question about the ultimate value of a technological innovation is often difficult to answer, but it is one which an ethically sophisticated designer should consider..."

This relates to problems of technological inevitability, but what can an engineer or a designer do?

"First, a designer cannot answer all of the questions we have posed here. In order to do so, she would not only have to do an enormous amount of research, but she would have to know the particular social group for which the plow is being designed. Many of these questions would be answered in different ways for different social groups. Since the plow is presumably being designed for a large number of cultural groups, the designer cannot design the plow so as to accommodate only one such group. Perhaps, though, the engineer could design the plow so that it would be as adaptable as possible to the demands of different groups.

Second, the purpose of this discussion has not been to cause an engineer to be so obsessed with the cultural and ethical aspects of her work that she loses sight of more narrowly engineering considerations. Rather, the purpose has been to broaden the horizons of students, so that they will be more aware of the fact that design work does have social consequences. Engineers, like most of the rest of us, tend to forget the wider implications of what they do.

Third, this discussion also serves to raise the issue of 'problems of conscience' as they arise in engineering work. Engineers sometimes object to working on a project for moral reasons. Some engineers do not want to be associated with military projects. Others object to working on projects (such as dams or projects that involve draining wetlands) that they believe are destructive to the environment. Similarly, an engineer might believe that this plow should not be produced because it would have a negative impact on the culture of those who would use it."

I appreciate the acknowledgement here that professional expertise has limits, and that we might not want to make decisions on matters outside our expertise - this kind of scenario lends itself very nicely to multi-disciplinary collaboration. And although the article maintains an unfortunately strict distinction between engineering and ethics, it leaves us plenty of room to acknowledge the ways in which social, cultural and ethical values are at play in the design of new technological objects - from the forces of globalisation right down to individual value judgements and decisions made. After all, technology is designed by people making all sorts of decisions and these decisions aren't any more neutral than the technologies they create.

And finally, the article poses these killer questions:

"[Should] engineering more active in promoting the rights of engineers to object to work on the basis of a problem of conscience. Should engineering codes have a statement that at least encourages firms to provide alternative forms of work for an engineer who has a problem of conscience in working on a particular project?"

Um. Yes! And yes! I learned very quickly that outside the university you're not really able to refuse to work on something because of "problems of conscience" and I think that sucks. First of all, if you think that, say, Nike's labour practices are unethical, why the hell would you want to design their new website? But more importantly, why the hell should your boss be able to force you to? I mean, personally, I could never work for the military but that's something rather easily avoided. But what about a job where everything was going great and then a new project used my research to create "new market opportunities" that I believed were unnecessary at best, and potentially harmful at worst? Should I not be able to refuse to work on that project without penalty?

Science, technology, war and ethics - Part 2

I woke up to a flurry of suggestions by email and in the comments - thank you - but none from the ladies. What, chicks don't like talking war?! Thanks also to everyone who pointed out my mis-attribution of GAM3R 7H30RY in the previous post - apologies to Ken, and it's been fixed.

Now here we go:

- Ken Alder's work
- Louise Amoore's Biometric borders: Governing mobilities in the war on terror
- Arquilla & Ronfeldt's Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy
- D&G's Treatise on Nomadology - The War Machine
- Allen Feldman's On the Actuarial Gaze: From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib
- Andrew Yale Glikman's CYB+ORG = (COLD) WAR MACHINE
- Stephen Graham's Cities and the 'War on Terror'
- David Haws' Engineering the Just War: Examination of an Approach to Teaching Engineering Ethics
- Cynthia Haynes' Armageddon Army: Playing God, God Mode Mods, and the Rhetorical Task of Ludology
- Friedrich Kittler's work
- Donald MacKenzie's Inventing Accuracy
- David Mindell's Between Human and Machine: Feedback, Control, and Computing Before Cybernetics
- Eyal Weizman's The Art of War

- Alex Galloway's The Politics of Code syllabus
- Rosalind Williams' Technology in a Dangerous World reading list
- FAS Biosecurity and Biodefense Resource
- Women and Peace Studies Bibliography

- The archeology of rocketry
- President Eisenhower's 1961 Farewell Address

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Science, technology, war and ethics

I'm teaching two classes this year: a second-year intro to social studies of science and tech, which I've taught twice before, and a fourth year seminar on the same, which is new to me.

The seminar is well suited to one or two themes that can be explored in depth, and I'm considering "science, technology and war" as one possibility. Cheerful, I know, but probably quite irresponsible to ignore - especially these days.

At the upper level, I figure it'll be easy to bring in De Landa and Virilio on the military-scientific complex and the technological mediation of war. Plus, covering Virilio on play and gaming could lead us into Alex Galloway's work on protocol and McKenzie Wark's GAM3R 7H30RY. But by then things are getting too structuralist for me, and I want to move on.

Joost has been posting some excellent writing on terror, security and the new world order - thesis 1 | thesis 2 | thesis 3 - over at spaceandculture that I think has interesting implications for science and tech studies. This also reminds me of Mike Davis on the history of the car bomb.

I'd also like to go over CAE's ideas about digital resistance and electronic civil disobedience. And maybe Wark's Hacker Manifesto? We could also spend some time on nuclear and nanotech, as well as computers and bioethics.

And last week I read Rebecca Goolsby's 2005 article, Ethics and Defense Agency Funding: Some Considerations. She's an anthropologist working in the US Office of Naval Research, as part of their efforts "to bring social science research, particularly various forms of modeling, gaming, and simulation, into developing new approaches to disrupting terror networks, discovering their membership and activities, and training military personnel to more effectively handle unconventional terrorist networks."

Frankly, the group's research makes me really really uncomfortable (this connection between war games and street games is picking up speed again and the nasty ethical implications are getting ignored) but Goolsby asks some good questions:

"Should social scientists accept defense funding? How [is] defense funding different from other kinds of government agency funding? How [is] it different from research funded by private businesses and industry?"

and more pointedly, citing Doerfel,

"Do we want to forego rich understanding of social relationships because such knowledge gets into the wrong hands? Do we want to be part of research – like that of the Army’s – so that we can have a chance to intellectually and ethically influence such endeavors?"

She basically claims that our current codes of ethics are woefully out-of-date, answering to Cold War era tensions between "legitimate" research and intelligence gathering. I think she fails to make the case that we've actually moved past this tension, and she does not once question her loaded assumption that "the need for improved scientific tools to understand, model and apply knowledge about social networks and their dynamics to terrorist networks is pressing and important". She also follows an individualist, rather than a social, ethics - which isn't my thing.

Nonetheless, Goolsby did bring up something that seems obvious now but hadn't occurred to me before: Is the research classified, "sensitive but unclassified" or unclassified? (A.K.A. the intellectual property question: Who gets access to the product? And the process? What gets shared with whom, when, how and why, is at the centre of all ethical research - whether in corporate, academic, artistic or military settings.) She also stresses the relevance of a research programme's "goals and technical objectives":

"Today, military funding organizations are interested in 'transitions' – in moving research up the 'supply chain' so that it can be incorporated into tools and decision aids and then 'fielded'.”

Sounds just like business-speak, doesn't it? The kind of thing that leads to "rfid" being replaced with "contactless technologies."

In the end Goolsby suggests that it is an individual choice whether or not to do defense research, based on one's understanding of the restrictions of classified research and the intentions and ultimate power of the military. What a cop out! A social and relational ethics necessarily marks the relevant context as one between people - not as singular or internal arenas like our own minds. (The only social connection she calls on is the old structure/agency dichotomy, and to a lesser extent, the notion that what some scientists do affects other scientists. Well, duh.) And if it is an individual matter, then everyone is equally entitled to their ethical position - and then where does that leave us? How are we made to account for, and be accountable to, others?

This reminds me of a really interesting discussion over at i cite, Jodi Dean's blog, on how students are no longer willing to debate someone or something. I'm not sure if it is the pathetic aftermath of political correctness, but I've seen something like this and it is indeed a matter of politics and ethics. If we're not willing to take a stand, however temporary, how can we disrupt things, or force a change in direction or perspective? You can't always be on the move without stopping sometime and, thank you Barbara Kruger, your comfort is my silence.

But back to the point of the post: if anyone has any other ideas about science, tech and war that would be good for a fourth-year seminar, please let me know. And actually, if you think that's a dreadful topic altogether, please let me know that too - and feel free to toss out alternatives.

Friday, July 21, 2006

LEA: Locative media special issue

Killer issue finally out!

Leonardo Electronic Almanac Vol 14 Issue 3: Locative Media Special


:: Locative Media as Socialising and Spatialising Practice
by Anne Galloway and Matt Ward

:: Trace: Mapping The Emerging Urban Landscape
by Alison Sant

:: Swimming In The Grey Zones: Locating The Other Spaces In Mobile Art
by Leslie Sharpe

:: Locative Viscosity: Traces Of Social Histories In Public Space
by Lily Shirvanee

:: Locative Media: A Brief Bibliography And Taxonomy Of Gps-Enabled Locative Media
by Julian Bleecker and Jeff Knowlton

:: On Urban Markup: Frames Of Reference In Location Models For Participatory Urbanism
by Malcolm Mccullough

:: Asphalt Games: Enacting Place Through Locative Media
by Michele Chang and Elizabeth Goodman

:: The Design And Experience Of The Location-Based Performance Uncle Roy All Around You
by Steve Benford, Martin Flintham, Adam Drodz, Nick Tandavanitj, Matt Adams and Ju Row Farr

:: Performing Sonic City: Situated Creativity In Mobile Music Making
by Lalya Gaye and Lars Erik Holmquist

:: Locative Media & Instantiations Of Theatrical Boundaries
by Sally-Jane Norman

:: Homing Devices For Unhomely Times
by Misha Myers


:: Locative media bibliography


:: Locative Media, on and off the beaten track
curated by Suhjung Hur, Annie On Ni Wan, Andrew Paterson

Note to self: Due before September

- UIUC Art + Design lecture (done)
- BNMI presentation & keynote address (in-progress)
- ANTH/SOCI 2035 fall syllabus (in-progress)
- Hexagram application (in-progress)
- SSHRC application (thinking)
- ESRC application (thinking)
- CCA application (thinking)
- PhD language requirement: Spanish (done), French (in-progress)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Context is everything


From the Institute for the Future of the Book comes MediaCommons, a new network for media scholars to "write about mediation in a mediated environment" and bring their academic work to the internet commons.

"We believe...that the goals of scholarship, teaching, and service are deeply intertwined, and that a reimagining of the scholarly press through the affordances of contemporary network technologies will enable us not simply to build a better publishing process but also to forge better relationships among colleagues, and between the academy and the public.

Such dialogue will foster new scholarship that operates in modes that are collaborative, interactive, multimediated, networked, nonlinear, and multi-accented. In the process, an open access scholarly network will also build bridges with diverse non-academic communities, allowing the academy to regain its credibility with these constituencies who have come to equate scholarly critical discourse with ivory tower elitism.


Such openness and interconnection will also allow us to make the process of scholarly work just as visible and valuable as its product; readers will be able to follow the development of an idea from its germination in a blog, though its drafting as an article, to its revisions, and authors will be able to work in dialogue with those readers, generating discussion and obtaining feedback on work-in-progress at many different stages. Because such discussions will take place in the open, and because the enormous time lags of the current modes of academic publishing will be greatly lessened, this ongoing discourse among authors and readers will no doubt result in the generation of many new ideas, leading to more exciting new work.


Our plan is to develop and employ a process of 'peer-to-peer review,' in which texts are discussed and, in some sense, 'ranked' by a committed community of readers. This new process will shift the purpose of such review from a gatekeeping function, determining whether or not a manuscript should be published, to one that instead determines how a text should be received. Peer-to-peer review will also focus on the development of authors and the deepening of ideas, rather than simply an up-or-down vote on any particular text."

I think this is a great idea, although I confess to wishing we were finally beyond the point where we feel compelled to place the burden on academics to prove our worthiness. Don't get me wrong - I believe that academic elitism is problematic and I think that traditional academic publishing is crippled by all sorts of internal and external constraints. I also think that something like MediaCommons offers a brilliant complement and challenge to both these practices. But if we are truly committed to greater reciprocity, then we also need to pay close attention to what is being given and taken. I started blogging in 2001 so that I could participate in exactly these kinds of scholarly/non-scholarly networks, and one of the things I've learned is that the give-and-take has never been equal, and only sometimes has it been equitable. I doubt that this or any other technologically-mediated network will put an end to anti-intellectualism from the right or the left, but I'm all for seeing what kinds of new connections we can forge together.

via the chutry experience

Mongrel practices

In September, I'll be giving a lecture in the School of Art & Design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I plan to put some recent cosmopolitical thinking into action:

Seeding a mongrel practice: anthropological reflections on art + design + everyday life

"Art and design have long understood the importance of context, and since anthropology shares this concern I thought it would make a fertile place to begin our courtship. After all, each of us approaches our own practice in terms of the meaning and value we attribute to particular connections between people, places, objects and ideas--even if those meanings and values may differ--and I believe we can learn a great deal from each other. After exploring some of the ways in which symbolic and material culture, history, and power play out in the everyday practices of art, design and anthropology, we'll discuss some of the related ethical challenges we face as students, teachers and practitioners in an increasingly interconnected world. And ultimately, we'll begin to imagine what might constitute a socially and culturally critical practice--a mongrel and voluptuous practice--based on our shared concerns."

(image from Uncomfortable Proximity by Harwood@Mongrel)

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Surveillance Project

More good stuff from Canada:

The Surveillance Project

"The Surveillance Project researches the ways in which personal data are processed. We explore why information about people has become so important in the 21st century and what are the social, political and economic consequences of this trend. Questions of 'privacy' and of 'social sorting' are central to our concerns.

Surveillance is 'any systematic attention to a person's life aimed at exerting influence over it' (James Rule). So The Surveillance Project studies everything from supermarket loyalty cards to police networks searching for suspects. We have a special interest in the surveillance aspects of post 9/11 quest for tightened security. While high-tech methods have become very significant, we also examine surveillance as face-to-face supervision or as mediated watching using video cameras.

Surveillance is not simply about large organizations using sophisticated computer equipment. It is also about how ordinary people - citizens, workers, travelers, and consumers - interact with surveillance. Some comply, others negotiate, and yet others resist. The Surveillance Project explores how expanding flows of personal data affect and are affected by everyday life."

In addition to top-notch work by research director and sociology professor David Lyon, he and his colleagues are active participants in public forums. For June 2007 they're organising National ID Card Systems: an International Research Workshop (abstracts due next month) and a really interesting-sounding Surveillance Summer Seminar.

See also:

Location Technologies: Mobility, Surveillance and Privacy: A Report to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada 2005 (pdf)

The Citizen Lab

The 2006 Maclean's Honour Roll highlights thirty-nine Canadians "who make the world a better place to live." There are two people who really stand out for me in the Discoverers and thinkers category: my friend and colleague Joanna Berzowska and University of Toronto professor Ron Deibert.

Readers know that I've long admired Joey's work, and I've written about it here many times, so I'll move on to Deibert and The Citizen Lab, "an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto, Canada focusing on advanced research and development at the intersection of digital media and world civic politics...[T]he Citizen Lab sponsors projects that explore the cutting-edge of hypermedia technologies and grassroots social movements, civic activism, and democratic change within an emerging planetary polity."

Interesting research & activism:

OpenNet Initiative
The ONI mission is to investigate and challenge state filtration and surveillance practices. Our approach applies methodological rigor to the study of filtration and surveillance blending empirical case studies with sophisticated means for technical verification. Our aim is to generate a credible picture of these practices at a national, regional and corporate level, and to excavate their impact on state sovereignty, security, human rights, international law, and global governance.

InfoWar Monitor
The Information Warfare Monitor is an advanced research project examining how states and non-state actors seek to exploit information and information systems to pursue political objectives through non-political means. The project seeks to examine this emerging dimension of global security on two levels: Operational Case Studies & Consequences for Global Security.

Hacktivista is the story of three University of Toronto students (Nart, Michelle, and Graeme) who travel with their professor to Guatemala and Chiapas to work with human rights organizations and activists on Internet security and connectivity - and produce a documentary series in the process.

Friday, July 14, 2006


Via culiblog - an awesome food culture blog - recent Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Matthijs Vogels turns food waste into naturally coloured and textured plates and bowls that, after you're done using them, can be converted to biogas for cooking more food. Lovely circularity, don't you think?

In his own words: "In the conceptual restaurant 'Sprout' vegetables are grown and consumed in a greenhouse. The vegetable parts that are not suitable for consumption which are normally thrown away in the kitchen, are used now as resource for products like plates and bowls. This is achieved by shredding, drying and moulding the vegetable fibres with a hand press. In order to make the products hygienic and moisture resistant a transparant sheet of biodegradable plastic (PLA) is laminated in the inside. The outside is left uncovered, in order to reveal the material by smell, touch and sight. Since the menu is based on seasonally grown crops, the material of the products changes accordingly, and are therefore intended to be used only once. After use, the dirty plates and bowls are fed together with foodleftovers to a biodigester to create biogas for cooking. The residue from this process is a nutrient rich fertilizer to grow new crops from in the greenhouse."

Locative technology geeks can also find tons of interesting stuff in the Locative Food category at culiblog. And by following some links, I also came to this post at Transition Culture on Jamie Oliver's School Dinners, which outlines ten lessons learned that, I figure, can be applied to all sorts of efforts to make the world a better place.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The social perils of boredom

Drinking in The Empty Life, 1963 The Empty Life, 1963

"It's like with Anne Galloway down the block. She's bored and she drinks. More and more and more she drinks! Anne claims it's the monotony of housework that gets her down. She dealt satisfactorily with monotony when she had a job though, back before she was married. Actually, her real trouble isn't monotony. It's that she grew up feeling that being the woman - a housewife - is an empty, meaningless, thankless task. Her job on the other hand was exciting and meaningful. But Anne's husband won't hear of her working now. The result: inner conflict for Anne. Conflicts between the demands of marriage and her personal hunger for a feeling of self worth. Her boredom, her drinking, they're symptoms of that conflict."

Poor Anne! If only she understood that domestic married life and housework *is* meaningful! In my current incarnation, I'm in favour of boredom, and not against drinking.

What if god is other people? Notes on trust and technology

Prayer Antenna In a lovely twist on Sartre's notion that hell is other people, Paul Davies' Prayer Antenna project allows wearers to receive signals from god - "yes, your God."

As he explained to Regine:

"[T]he helmet works very simply. There are two radio transmitters out in the museum/gallery/whatever and they transmit the ambient sounds (people talking, etc) to the left and right channel of radio receivers hooked up to headphones inside the helmet (so each ear is a distinct source). The interactivity is the simple act of kneeling and putting your head into the helmet. What you hear is other people (what is god if not other people.) People mostly like it and they know right away without any prompting how they are suposed to interact with the sculpture."

This made me think of Elliott Malkin's work on religious technologies, like Crucifix NG and Modern Orthodox. And remember Soner Ozenc's Sajjadah 1426 prayer rug project? (Flash site, look under product design.) I also just searched Regine's site for a remote prayer project that I remembered because the interaction design equated (religious) ritual with "inefficiency": Kin. And I recalled Susana Ruiz, Kellee Santiago & Kurt MacDonald's Mobile Confessional and Louise Klinkers' Remote Confession Kit, but no doubt there are many other art/design projects I'm forgetting right now.

But back to this idea that god is other people. Alphonso Lingis says that "Today we understand 'the mind of God'—the origins and workings of the whole physical universe—but not the mind of another of our own species." (The whole lecture is well worth a listen.) Lingis writes and talks about how trust comes before belief, and before reason, and that has interesting implications for religion, technology and social interaction. But what if we took god and the universe to be other people? Isn't this precisely the kind of idea that compels us to trust others we don't know and don't understand, to become intimate with strangers?

In conversation with Mary Zournazi, Lingis also talks about the language of hospitality, the kind of communication that is "not really an exchange of messages" but rather "a kind of murmur, a kind of warmth, a kind of spreading and resonance across space." He relates this to the kind of communication that happens when we talk nonsense with our friends, the kind of interaction that relies on discontinuities, like laughing in the middle of a serious conversation or abruptly leaving one's location, that lends space for hope:

"[I] have found with friends when you actually start talking [a problem] out you are really fixing and solidifying the conflicts: marking them. But if you were to go away for a couple of weeks or couple of months, other things may have started in your life, and you are not quite the same person anymore. And maybe you could just put aside your quarrel without ever having resolved it, because you are now both somewhat different people...[Y]ou establish a discontinuity, in which something new gets born."

The key point Lingis is making here is that we trust not because we come to the truth of things, but because we become unknown or incomprehensible to ourselves and each other and we have to start again.

(This sense of discontinuity reminds me of the Quechua and Aymara concept of pachakuti, which refers to a cataclysm or reversal of space/time in which all social relations are re-formulated and life begins anew. The term also finds its way into recent Bolivian indigenous social and political movements that draw from both Andean culture history and Christian millenarianism.)

My point is that this matter of trust is fundamental to our experience of community and yet we often, in the name of efficiency, do everything we can to prevent discontinuities (glitches, resets) from happening in communication technologies. But I'm not sure that to design either with seamlessness or seamfulness in mind is enough - I think we need gaps instead of grooves: spaces and times and people that split apart, instead of being marked or joined by seams. We still need to create space for hope, space to become different people together.

Back to the question of religion and technology, Intel researchers are the only corporate folks I know specifically investigating their intersections. (They're currently looking for interns to study "love and spirituality and its intersection with computers and technology, in and around the home.") And I suspect all of this is directly related to Genevieve Bell's research interests and influence, which makes it not only ethnographically but anthropologically informed. For more of Genevieve's work on technology and religion, check out:

Mobile Phones and Spirituality, on BBC Radio 4 in 2005

Getting to God: Technology, Religion and the New Enlightenment, Alex Pang's notes on a talk at the IFTF in 2004

Does Jesus do SMS?: Religion, Technology and Ubiquitous Computing, Melissa Ho's notes on a lecture at SIMS in 2004

Hmmm. Maybe I should ask her about trust and hope and technology? We've talked before about intimacy and risk, and I think this is related.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Specialisation and cosmopolitics

I've been wondering if pro-am happenings favour generalisation and consensus communities. What I mean is that I'm trying to understand the similarities and differences between multi-disciplinarity (or inter-disciplinary) practitioners and jacks-of-all-trades. In biology, a specialist species tolerates only a narrow range of physical environments, whereas a generalist species is more tolerant to a range of environments. This question of tolerance becomes particularly important if we want to borrow from biology (and the threat of species death) and apply it to social and cultural concerns (or the everyday lives of people). A jack-of-all-trades is a generalist, but her tolerance only extends as far as her desire for integration, consensus and a finished product. This kind of parliament is different from the kind of assemblage that accompanies the convergence of different specialisations, or the cosmos assembled in a cosmopolitics / cosmopolitiques.

A few half-baked thoughts and questions: Multi-disciplinarity favours "poaching" from other disciplines, which encourages miscegenation and mongrelisation, hybridity. The specialist excels when brought together with other specialists. Specialisation fosters collectivity and social ethics. The jack-of-all-trades, the generalist, the professional amateur is an individualist performing individualist ethics with other people. (Update: Now that I think about it, I'm not sure there's any connection to pro-am economies or vernacular creativity, but I'm still interested in the specialist/generalist distinction.)

Along these lines, specialisation and the covergence of specialities - not consensus or generalisation - is socially good in its unintended consequences:

Science and the Theft of Humanity
Geoffrey Harpham

"The demarcation of fields makes it possible not only to achieve precise sectoral knowledge, but also to mark the progress of knowledge as limited sets of problems are solved, one after another. Compartmentalization also, however, creates a host of unintended consequences, and some of these have proved to be just as productive as the intended ones. By limiting the kinds of questions that can be posed, departmental thought intentionally screens out certain features of reality, and while this partial blindness can be counted as a necessary condition of modern knowledge, it creates the conditions for an interdisciplinary reaction that blends two or more approaches to achieve results unobtainable by either: hence biochemistry, sociobiology, genetic engineering, architectural ethics and countless other innovations that are virtually invited by the limitations of disciplinarity.

But the most exciting and unpredictable unintended consequence of disciplinarity is the opportunity it creates for poaching, which happens when one discipline opts out of the gentleman's agreement allotting certain questions to certain disciplines and starts answering questions it is not even supposed to ask. This is happening today. Certain disciplines of science—having endured the skeptical and even debunking attention of philosophy, history, gender studies, cultural studies and literary studies, not to mention 'science studies'—have for some time been engaging in a quiet counteroffensive by making a series of little raids, each one limited in its scope and aspirations but potentially immense in the aggregate, on the one question above all that has been ruled off limits for them—the question of the human.


Autonomy, singularity, creativity—each of these terms names both a long-standing concern of the humanities and a set of contemporary projects being undertaken in the sciences...These projects may well force us to modify our understanding of traditional moral and philosophical questions, including the definition of and value attached to such presumptively nonhuman concepts as 'the animal' and 'the machine.'

We must understand that while scientists are indeed poaching [humanist] concepts, poaching in general is one of the ways in which disciplines are reinvigorated, and this particular act of thievery is nothing less than the primary driver of the transformation of knowledge today. For their part, those investigating the human condition from a nonhumanistic perspective must accept the contributions of humanists, who have a deep and abiding stake in all knowledge related to the question of the human.

We stand today at a critical juncture not just in the history of disciplines but of human self-understanding, one that presents remarkable and unprecedented opportunities for thinkers of all descriptions. A rich, deep and extended conversation between humanists and scientists on the question of the human could have implications well beyond the academy. It could result in the rejuvenation of many disciplines, and even in a reconfiguration of disciplines themselves—in short, a new golden age."

See also:

Chaos and Feminism — A Complex Dynamic: Parallels Between Feminist Philosophy of Science and Chaos Theory by Mary Ann McClure

(via wood s lot)

Spiders, dissertations and ayahuasca

From the Proceedings of the Athanasius Kircher Society: "During the 1950s, a swiss pharmacologist named Peter Witt conducted a set of experiments in spider doping. He found that the spiders spun uniquely cockeyed webs depending on which substance they had ingested."

a normal spider web

a normal spider web

web woven by spider on caffeine

spider on caffeine

web woven by spider on hash

spider on hash

web woven by spider on mescaline

spider on mescaline

web woven by spider on lsd

spider on lsd

Fascinating. Unsurprisingly, my dissertation currently resembles the caffeinated web. Perhaps I should choose a different drug.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Everyday archaeology, Proboscis-style

Every time I've been asked how I chose the projects for my dissertation case histories, I say, simply and honestly, because they impressed me. Consistently first-class in their public projects, this is how the Proboscis folks spent last week:

"[W]e've been running a 5 day workshop with a class of 30 nine year olds in Year 4 at the Jenny Hammond Primary School with our friend and collaborator Loren Chasse. The workshop focused on 'everyday archaeology' - a term we're using to describe investigations of the local environment using a combination of Feral Robots, Urban Tapestries, Sound Scavenging, an Endless Landscape, StoryCubes and eBooks.

Over the course of the week we have been using everyday archaeology to teach the students about relationships between the environment and pollution. The students have been acting as scientists and archaeologists to gather evidence about the world around them to uncover causes of pollution. This has been a trigger for them to imagine what they could do to help the environment and think about the kind of world they want to grow up in. The students gathered audio recordings, photographic evidence and used the Feral Robots to detect air quality in a local park, wrote stories based on the Endless Landscape, designed their own robots and created structures and environments using the StoryCubes. The workshop covered a range of key skills and concepts from map reading, making media, storytelling, drawing and literacy to more abstract concepts, science and maths - an intense and broad immersion for the students, teachers and for us."

(Link to everyday archaeology added 14.01.06)

Monday, July 10, 2006


Prime-time network tv is different here.

Saturday, July 8, 2006

On the materiality - and ephemerality - of memories

Matt Locke thinks that "nobody else is interested" in Elizabethan writing rings. That's not entirely true - after hearing him talk about the window etchings in relation to intimate technologies at a BNMI summit in 2002 I promptly sought out Juliet Fleming's excellent book Graffiti and the Writing Arts of Early Modern England - but I'd have to agree that the broader significance of the rings and other ephemeral forms of public discourse, especially as related to new technological practices and locative media, has been underestimated.

An earlier article written by Fleming primarily focusses on the subject of Elizabethan posies, and raises issues that are undeniably relevant to contemporary questions about production, consumption, public, private, memory, the digital and the material. (I'll excerpt rather extensively in case readers don't have access to an academic library, but the full reference can be found at the end of the quote.)

"In The Arte of English Poesie (1589) George Puttenham defines a posy as 'a short epigram . . . printed upon . . . banketting dishes of suger plate' and taken home at the end of the feast by each guest as a kind of party favor.' 'Nowadays,' he continues, posies are more commonly painted 'upon the backsides of our fruit trenchers of wood' or used 'as devises in rings and armes and about such courtly purposes.' For Puttenham the posy is the exemplary form of poetry at the court of Elizabeth. Pinned to trees and curtains, set upon conduits, and wrapped around gifts; or plaited into bracelets, embroidered onto clothes and copied into books, the posy plays a crucial role in the material exchange of favors that articulates life at court. As material forms, posies were classified according to a once fluid and now invisible taxonomy of location.


It is worth insisting that the posy - a piece of writing with physical extension - cannot exist as text in the abstract. To make a distinction that would have been incomprehensible to his readers, Tusser's 'Husbandly Posies' are patterns for posies rather than the things themselves: it is the householder who, copying them onto her walls, or cutting the book in order to paste them there, makes a posy from a text ... [T]he Elizabethans understood reading and writing as procedures for the gathering, storage, and redeployment of well-framed wisdom. Within such a regimen writing is that which frames truth to catch the eye or memory: like the stylistic devices of brevity or ornament, writing can, in and of itself, add weight to a sentence.

In The Art of Memory (1621) John Willis lists the procedures of condensation and displacement that produce memorable representations. Such representations or 'ideas' can be either 'direct' (where the image of a boat stands for a boat) or 'oblique . . . whereby the thing to be remembered is obliquely or indirectly signified.' Willis distinguishes three types of oblique idea: the 'relative' (that is, the metonymic), the 'subdititial' (the metaphoric), and the 'scriptile' (the written): 'a Scriptile idea is, whereby the thing to be remembered, is supposed to be written on a plaine white table hanged up in the midst of the opposite wall'. Within the imagined space of his memory system, Willis advises that ideas be stored in the places they would occupy in real life.


According to the sermon given at her funeral Anne Clifford decorated the walls, hangings, and furniture of her bed-chamber with 'sentences or sayings of remark':

'She would frequently bring out of the rich Store-house of her memory, things new and old, Sentences, or Sayings of remark, which she had read or learned out of Authors and with these her Wals, her Bed, her Hangings, and Furniture must be adorned; causing her Servants to write them in Paper, and her Maids to pin them up, that she, or they, in time of their dressing, or as occasion served, might remember, and make their descants upon them. So that, though she had not many Books in her Chamber, yet it was dressed up with the flowers of a library.'


The practice of early modern wall writing may then have materially informed not only memory systems based on imagined interior 'places,' but also the mental topography of the intellectual system that manifested itself in the keeping of commonplace books.


The writing that survives from the Elizabethan period was produced by people who had the technological and financial resources for the laborious procedures of securing paper, pen, and ink. The poor, the hurried, and those (it may have been practically everybody) unconcerned with the extensive circulation and long survival of their bons mots wrote with charcoal, chalk, stone, and pencil. That the bulk of early modern writing was written on walls, and was consequently both erasable and in our own scheme of things out of place, is a proposition with consequences beyond current assumptions about the constitution and statistics of literacy in the early modern period. For it prompts us to imagine, in an age to which is ascribed the inauguration of 'proper' writing, a widespread, and in contemporary terms multiply 'undisciplined' writing practice: one within which writing and drawing are not fully distinguishable; defacement operates as a principle of textual production; the page is no longer an important boundary; and the written product cannot be taught, reproduced, or sold as a commodity. Elizabethan wall-writing is, in short, graffiti by another name.


Today the uncanny effect of wall-writing depends in part on the dizzying collapse of language into its material forms with which graffiti seems to present us: words flee, writing remains - and remains to speak in the voice of the undead. But it is a marked fact that in the age of Elizabeth, in spite of reformation concern over idolatry, written language does not seem to be aspiring to full transparency, and is still tending to accord sentience to its own material supports ... By the second half of the sixteenth century plaster was made according to a process that produced intense heat and columns of steam from cold limestone, and required the admixture of animal hair: it thus offered a rich metaphorical field for those who wrote about, on, and in it. Blood, charcoal, marking stones of all colours, smoke, lead, and diamonds on glass had further properties of their own; and each drew on the overdetermined terms 'shade' or 'shadow,' to mark or draw."

- Juliet Fleming, 1997, "Wounded walls: Graffiti, grammatology, and the age of Shakespeare", Criticism 39(1): 1-30.

A few things here really stick out for me. I appreciate the reminder that content, or meaning, is always related to context, or a sense of place. I also think that such a rich history of "undisciplined" writing practices goes a long way to temper contemporary claims of radical ingenuity in (digital, mobile, etc.) textual practices. And finally, but most importantly, I'm completely fascinated by how the physical and metaphoric properties of writing surfaces, instruments and materials can make a big difference when it comes to what we even recognise as public discourse, and whether or not we decide it should be preserved, destroyed, or simply left alone to be forgotten.

Note to self

Remember when Student X told you she hadn't submitted her final project because she was all depressed and feeling apathetic and really not wanting to graduate, not wanting to be done with school? You told her that you felt the same way at the end of your undergrad. And your Masters. And, now again, with your PhD. You convinced her that she would enjoy doing the work, that she could be herself. You didn't penalise her for its lateness, or even tell her when it had to be in. No judgement, no pressure. And what happened? She showed up the following week with a totally brilliant piece of research, writing and photography. Of course, she never came to get the project back, and you have no idea if she actually graduated, but still. How come you can't cut yourself the same slack? Huh. What the hell am I thinking? Rob's going to be here in a month. I really need to get my thesis shit together. Oh my god, how am I going to pay tuition in September? Or rent? Jeezus, you need to calm down. (You know, the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album is much better than the reviews suggest.) And the dissertation will get done. Even if you can't see it yet because it doesn't look anything like you thought it would. You just need to get lost again.

Friday, July 7, 2006

Who cares about women and technology? Just bring me the hermaphrodites!

I often think about the gender and technology question, especially as it impacts what I teach undergraduate students in social studies of science & tech. And I say gender - not women - because I think we really need to examine what kinds of men are, and are not, involved in computing-related fields, as well as what kinds of women.

In academic contexts I've found it useful to focus specifically on feminist and queer theories and technology, which places the onus on articulating one's approach to a shared concern, rather than allowing people to lazily 'debate' whether or not there are "enough women" or "too many men" working in tech-related fields.

The shared concern, of course, is how gendered identities and practices shape, and are shaped by, technological assemblages and processes.

We like to talk so much about hybridity - about hybrid spaces, hybrid technologies - but we never seem to treat people as hybrids (not even when they're intersexed). Why are we so content to offer pithy disclaimers against any implications of essentialism, before concluding with even pithier and essentially essentialist claims?

What happened to Haraway's cyborg? What would happen if we actively pursued some sort of fluid techno-hermaphrodism? Well actually I'm not sure, but I like to think that there would be more papers and presentations about the everyday technological lives of trannies than about online porn, as was the case at the CHI 2006 Sexual Interactions workshop.

I mean, when I compiled this list of female researchers it wasn't to promote some sort of 'positive discrimination,' or even 'positive action.' It wasn't so that historically male-dominated conferences could be better populated with women, or so that women would become more visible to men. (Victim feminism pisses me off.) I posted it to, instead of here, and asked anyone who found it to please suggest researchers from outside Europe and North America. Thoughtful people have emailed me a dozen or so excellent additions to the first iteration of the list, but still none from "the rest of the world". In my mind, the list is far more interesting in terms of geographical distribution and specialisation than it will ever be in terms of gender.

So, in going through Rocket science or social science? Involving women in the creation of computing (pdf) I pull out these quotes for class this fall:

"Women’s increasing engagement with computers as users has not been accompanied by a parallel increase in the proportion of women studying for and working in computing jobs. Hopes that the Internet and mobile phones—both, in general, now used by women in equal numbers to men—would level the playing field have not proved grounded. Women seem inclined to regard these technologies as enabling tools for communication and the execution of other goals, rather than interesting objects of study in themselves. So, while the ever changing nature of technology itself is, no doubt, introducing new challenges, and therefore demanding new strategies, it would appear that the discomfort and indifference that many women feel with technology persists.


So in proposing change, participants in the forum made a distinction between initiatives that seek to change women and those that change the environment; elegantly caught in the phrase: ‘change the water, not the fish’. The participants raised the question that comes up in all debates about equal opportunities: do we focus on attempts to change women—such as giving them different skills and making them tough enough to cope in masculine cultures—or do we want to change the culture so that women are more comfortable in it in the first place?" (via)

Now I just need to find ways to apply my hermaphroditic critique...

Better than movies

Thursday, July 6, 2006


Very cool. Mette Ramsgard Thomsen - the latest addition to my list of women in pervasive computing-related fields - is also involved in the Architecture and Situated Technologies Symposium.

She leads the Centre for Information Technology and Architecture in The Royal Danish Academy School of Fine Arts' School of Architecture:

"The projects we are doing here are based in ideas of interaction with environments that somehow incorporate their own metabolisms of self-sensing and self-reacting."

Mmmm. Room for reflexive computing? I'm most impressed by this project:


The emergence of intelligent textiles as a means of embedding technology into woven surfaces has received a huge amount of international interest during the last decade. Electronically informed materials that change colour, form or texture reacting to sensor based input such as light, sound or heat are beginning to define a research field between Human Computer Interaction, textile design and fashion. Intelligent clothes, active textiles and wearables are research areas that explore how we can engage with technology through its, and our, embodied presence.

Weaver seeks to explore the potential intersections between an intelligent surface and its inhabitation. As a collaboration between architecture and textile design, the aim is to explore the spatial potential of a continually changing surface as well as its material properties. Working between the scaled and the actual, Weaver seeks to explore ideas of a fluid morphology, taking shape through its performance."

And score again from the iDC list:

"I think the wider interest in the idea of decentralisation or distribution and self-organisation is really connected to an idea of urbanism. The idea of a sensor as that which picks up on a particular dimension of a space (e.g. shifts in the magnetic field, dark areas in the camera picture etc) is a monocular world view. However if the city is a performed condition taking place through the multiple agents or actors drawing their own territories, temporal and spatial, it is perhaps through this monocular awareness that difference and contradiction can take place while still sustaining an idea of a shared territory."

I'm not confident that the monocle metaphor can actually accomodate difference and contradiction, unless it has something to do with monocular rivalry, but I do like the implied tension between the one and the many.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Architecture and Situated Technologies

I'm really looking forward to participating in the Architecture and Situated Technologies Symposium, a collaborative production of the Center for Virtual Architecture at the University at Buffalo, The Institute for Distributed Creativity, and the Architectural League of New York.

"This symposium, organized around the notion of an 'encounter,' will attempt to articulate new research vectors, sites of practice, and working methods for the confluence of architecture and situated technologies. What opportunities and dilemmas does a world of networked objects and spaces pose for architecture, art, and computing? How might this evolving relation between people and 'things' alter the way we occupy, navigate, and inhabit the built environment? What post-optimal design strategies and tactics might we propose for an age of responsive environments, smart materials, embodied interaction, and participatory networks? What is the status of the material object in a world privileging networked relations between 'things'? How do distinctions between space and place change within these networked media ecologies? Given the explosive market proliferation of mobile communications and wireless networks, what distinguishes the emerging urban sociality they enable? How do the social uses of these technologies, including (non-) affective giving, destabilize rationalized 'use-case scenarios' designed around the generic consumer? These are just a few of the questions we want to address.

Through a combination of workshops, presentations, and panel discussions, the symposium will attempt to stage a set of encounters between invited participants, an audience encouraged to participate, and the City of New York. This event will be podcast and a publication will follow."

In preparation for the two-day event in October, the organisers will be faciliating the following discussions on the iDC mailing list:

July: Trebor Scholz
Topics: Networked Public Sphere, Autonomous Uses of Situated Sociable Media

August: Omar Khan
Topics: Performance Paradigms, Responsive Architecture and Artificial Ecologies

September: Mark Shepard
Topics: Locative Media, Tactical Urbanism, Situated Aesthetics

I've been asked to introduce myself to the list, and am looking forward to meeting the other participants and list members. While I hope to contribute something to each month's discussion, I'm really looking forward to September's topics. See you there?

Tuesday, July 4, 2006


Saturday, July 1, 2006

Friday gazette

Moved into the new house, surprisingly grateful for cleaning products that actually smell good, quite happy to be living next door to a beer salesman, and thankful for the kind souls nearby who leave their wireless networks open, without which we would have been entirely cut off while we waited two days for the stupid cable company to show up - and still wait for our stupid phone line. I should be unpacking or cleaning or doing something productive but, damn it, I just don't feel like it so I do some blog browsing instead.

Rhizome points to Art Fag City's post on raising the art and technology reblog bar: "I think it is high time the critique of the art and technology reblog is revisited, or rather the A&T reblogger, since this technology like any other software is only as good as its 'superuser'." And I'll go a step further and say that it's high time the critique of the art and technology blog is revisited, since reblogs often get their content from them. First of all, unless the author is as entertaining as Pamela Des Barres or Cynthia Plaster Caster, I'd prefer not to read the breathless reporting of an art and tech groupie. Secondly, we all know that quantity does not equal quality so there's a lot to be said for a couple of thoughtfully commented posts a day, rather than a dozen or so copy-and-pasted project or product descriptions. And finally, as all journalists and researchers know, interviews are only as good as the questions asked.

In other cultural news, the French are dealing with the reality that curating artefacts is never neutral, and the story of Aymara understandings of space/time continues to make its rounds, all the while focussing on research in cognitive science to the exclusion of more than 50 years of anthropological study. My own fieldwork was based in the Andean highlands, and a couple of months ago I wrote an essay about native conceptions of space/time and convergence that will be coming out as a Proboscis Diffusion eBook, so stay tuned for that.

Régine points to the beautifully political papel picado work of Dylan Graham, which focusses on the "consequences of colonialism and the ever current issues arising from immigration and forced migration."

Not one to support crass capitalism, I was actually kind of impressed that Warren Buffet has given $31 billion to the Gates Foundation, acknowledging that "a market system has not worked in terms of poor people". And as a big supporter of the Declaration on Great Apes, I'm completely thrilled that "Spain's parliament is to declare support for rights to life and freedom for great apes ... apparently the first time any national legislature will have recognized such rights for non-humans." (via)

In other science-related news, Jack Stilgoe, from my favourite think tank Demos, points to a recent Royal Society report on the barriers scientists feel interfere with their ability to engage the public, but notes that we're still not any closer to clear definitions of what constitutes public engagement.

New to me: Houtlust, an interesting blog on non-profit advertising campaigns.

And last but not least, in celebration of Canada's 139th birthday tomorrow, check out our first nationwide radio broadcast from Parliament Hill.

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