Friday, May 18, 2007

Thursday gazette

Back at home after a super swell time at the Social Technologies Summit in Manchester--special thanks to all the wonderful participants and to the Futuresonic team who consistently held the backend together and made my job easier.

Drew Hemment deserves all the credit for coming up with the conference theme and convening the event - and that's no small feat! - while I helped him with programming the speakers and took care of schedules and briefings and the event's overall interaction design. I'll post more properly on what we did as soon as I get the chance, but for now I'd just note that organising and facilitating a conference and workshop is totally different from being a participant--both challenging and satisfying in unexpected ways!

I also managed to get out a bit while I was there and I have just one thing to say: if you ever have the chance to see Faust, don't miss them! (Hint hint: they're touring the UK in June and this is what you can expect.) Such beauty in timing, noise and destruction, which despite the overwhelmingly masculine tone of the event reminded me of Kali and Coatlicue, I could only have been more pleased if it were Can I had seen.

Anyway, I've got just over five weeks at home before I head off for a month in Banff, and I've got a much loved boy and cat to spend time with, flowers to plant, book clubs to join, bbqs to host and attend, bike rides to take, and yes, a bunch of work to do.

But before I forget, here's a quick list of things that've recently caught my eye:

BBC: "I think that concerns about robot rights are just a distraction. The more pressing and serious problem is the extent to which society is prepared to trust autonomous robots and entrust others into the care of autonomous robots."

NY Times: How the Inca Leapt Canyons

Guardian: "Just as we built up roads, the next step in civilisation is to build a total information network that will form part of the fabric of things around us."

IHT: Human skin is an anthropologist's map

BBC: "The safe development of a new technology should not depend on whether an academic wins a highly competitive research grant."

[Updated 18.05.07 for clarification.]

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Thursday, May 3, 2007

Shepherding the politics of pervasive computing, Part I

The idea that ubicomp would first be picked up - mobilised - by people who value security and convenience has been argued by myself and other academics for years now, although Adam Greenfield has arguably done the best job articulating this in a systematic and accessible way for non-academics. In his article Policing the Convergence of Virtual and Material Worlds, Dion Dennis further fleshes this out when he identifies, following Foucault, an "economic pastorate" or shepherding function for pervasive computing:

"These devices produce continuous technological grist for the shepherd/police. But the shepherd is no longer a deity, a titular head of a church, a teacher or a priest. In a prototypical 'post-human' moment, the shepherd-function has routinely become the task of the mobile digital machinery ... [T]he result of active and formal corporate and governmental 'securitization' initiatives often restructure (and reduce) the creativity and scope of the public commons for purposes of capital extraction and, through an ersatz moral discourse, to tie such extraction to an expansion of political and social control ... As with the criminalization of drugs a generation earlier, economically incentivized political moralists assume the role of shepherds, busily 'selling' a redefinition of the boundaries between the tolerated and intolerable."

I find that last statement to be particularly intriguing because it explicitly ties shepherding to moralising, and I have a decided interest in challenging top-down morals with bottom-up ethics or ethos. More specifically, I've become increasingly concerned with actual strategies and tactics used to promote political action in this arena.

Put otherwise, I think that the shepherding role is not just the formal domain of economic and political elites that Dennis identifies, but also the more informal domain of today's critics of pervasive computing. The pressing problem at hand, as I see it, is that we're not being any less moralising.

In my next post I'll unpack that last claim using examples from a recent presentation I gave, the different responses it inspired, and how I'd like to proceed in doing technosocial critique.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Beklager, jeg snakker ikke norsk - and other messes

My god, Oslo is a beautiful city. The sun is shining, Timo and I are having lunch, preparing our lectures for this evening. He'll be talking about the Touch project, and I'll be talking about how messy places layered with digital information can really be. John Law has written extensively on mess in social science research, and I couldn't agree more that "dominant approaches...cannot know mess, except in their aporias, as they try to make the world clean and neat." Unsurprisingly, these kinds of methodological issues are also prevalent in the research, engineering and design of pervasive computing. But just as social and cultural life isn't neat and clean, networks and other technological systems fail.

I've been writing about messy technosocial assemblages for the past five or so years, and in the field of HCI, Matthew Chalmers and colleagues have long focussed on technological glitches - their research is concerned with practical uncertainties and inaccuracies, as well as "opportunistic presentations that may be...discordant, deliberately leading users to pause or reflect" - and Genevieve Bell and Paul Dourish recently wrote on messiness as alternative ubicomp. Timo was also telling me about Fabien Girardin's presentation at LIFT a few months ago, and this is all a very good sign, I think.

But tonight I'll be using Chris Jordan's iconic images of consumption and disposal in order to speak about 'layers' in terms of the politics of accumulation and excess.

More on that and other things later.

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Thursday, April 5, 2007

Internet of Things: Where milk is commented, eggs come with rss feeds and the shelves are full of FUN.

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