Pat Thompson has written a fascinating post reflecting on her use of blogging to record field notes during an ethnographic project at the Tate summer school. She stresses the ethical challenges of such an activity – particularly the need to negotiate consent with participants, including around photos, as well as the need for a framework for naming and recognition of potential harms – but argues that blogging in this context can provide a really useful ‘audit trail': a record of what was done and in what order.

She makes a compelling case that the resulting posts offer many advantages compared to more traditional ways of recording field notes: it’s easier to discipline yourself to do the blog post, it’s easier to link out in ways susceptible to following up later and the need to make the posts accessible and interesting (e.g. not too long) necessitates editing/filtering which itself requires valuable evaluation of the events of the day. What I found most interesting though were the advantages this can have in terms of building connections, within and beyond the fieldwork site:

(5) participants and research partners like to read the posts each day too. It not only works for you but also works for them as a record of what’s gone on and what resources, people, organisations and “stuff” they used – so they can follow these up too.

(6) participants know more about what you’re doing. We all read our institutional ethics forms about checking with participants and keeping them informed, but this is often not taken very seriously IMHO. A daily post goes a little way to telling people what youre doing, and…

(7) a post can lead to good conversations with participants. if something is online, people can read it and then – tell you’ve got something wrong, or disagree with you, or discuss something further or tell you what they think. If your notes are locked away in your notebook, then this kind of responsive conversation is less easy to begin.

(8) the telling of the events as they’ve just happened has “live-ness” which is often missing from accounts which are heavily processed long after the event has happened (see “Live methods” by Les Back and Nirmal Puwar)

(9) blog readers may get some ideas of their own from reading about your work (I’ve just been contacted by one of my colleagues who is going to play with GIFs and zines on the back of yesterday’s post.)

http://patthomson.net/2015/07/27/blogging-your-field-work/

This is a wonderful example of what I’ve tried to write about in the past as ‘continuous publishing': the advantages that can accrue from doing work in the open that once would have been done in private. Getting the ideas out there in this way, making them public, means they begin to act instantaneously – in this case, in a way that feeds  back upon the process that is being documented through blogging.

There’s a great article on the THE, in which Caroline Magennis reflects on the success of the conversation she started recently about being an academic from a less privileged background:

It’s worth reading in full, as is the associated Storify. I’m going to write about it in the final chapter of Social Media for Academics as an example of how social media can allow the emergence of new forms of solidarity, in which public discussion of what had previously been private issues leaves  people with a new or renewed sense of shared and systemic problems.

This is a very interesting trend, though one I suspect could lead in some unfortunate directions:

Ever been the victim of plagiarism on Twitter—or, dare we say, the shameful purveyor of it? The social network seems to be putting an end to those pirated tweets by cracking down on users who steal jokes to inflate their Twitter cred.

The Twitter account @plagiarismbad reported Saturday that Twitter had taken down five tweets that poached a joke allegedly first posted by freelance writer Olga Lexell:

The tweets were removed at Lexell’s request, and in their place reads text that says they were “withheld in response to a report from the copyright holder.” In a tweet, Lexell explained the rationale behind her appeal, noting that the jokes were her “intellectual property” and copied without attribution

http://www.fastcompany.com/3049084/fast-feed/copied-someones-joke-on-twitter-your-tweet-may-be-deleted?partner=rss

It seems obviously valuable that a mechanism for this is in place, but it’s nonetheless worrying when one considers the potential scale of the contestation that might emerge when this becomes widespread. Will Twitter commit to providing the resources to ensure robust governance? Or will they merely err on the side of caution and take material down unless the arguments given in the counter-notice are overwhelmingly strong? On its own, this would be problematic. But as the article correctly identifies, the potential for such a system to be deliberately misused is vast:

This sounds like good news for writers and comedians who have been victims of joke theft, but as Twitter revealed in a transparency report last year, many organizations cry copyright theft even when the material in question does not meet those requirements. The Verge reports that about one-third of Twitter’s requests are not actually copyright violations—and some, in fact, are just attempts to censor criticism

http://www.fastcompany.com/3049084/fast-feed/copied-someones-joke-on-twitter-your-tweet-may-be-deleted?partner=rss

I’ve struggled to see how Snapchat could be used within higher education. I could imagine why academics might end up using it in an entirely personal capacity, but I found it difficult to imagine how it could be used by them professionally. So it was really interesting to read this interview with Newcastle University’s Social Media manager on the Picklejar site. As he points out, “the people we wanted to speak to were there” and they’ve been using Snapchat to find a “new way to engage with current and prospective students that allowed us to showcase different aspects of campus life in a less formal style”. They feel confident that it’s helped them reach their target audience, also citing “anecdotal evidence that it’s working as a way of keeping applicants warm and engaging with our current students”. Interestingly, they’ve found much higher engagement rates than with Twitter, reporting that most stories now receive over 1,000 views (which given they have 1,000 followers presumably means content circulates easily on Snapchat beyond  followers).

I’m still a little bemused by Snapchat however. From a sociology of youth perspective, I can understand why it’s popular amongst a certain demographic. But from an institutional standpoint, it seems to me that any success with the platform occurs in spite of rather than because of the distinctive temporality built into the architecture of the platform. Perhaps I’ve simply failed to grasp it. But I wonder if the time invested in Snapchat could be more effectively spent creating content for Instagram which could also be reused on Twitter and Facebook with little to no repurposing. I also still can’t see more substantively academic uses of Snapchat, though would love to hear about any that those reading this might know of.

That’s the intriguing question which George Veletsianos addresses in this post. He suggest an approach centred around issues and tools:

Networked scholarship curricula will need to balance a focus on tools and issues. The teaching of tools could instill future scholars with the abilities to use networked technologies productively. For instance, networked scholars might employ the services of text-mining techniques (e.g., Google Alerts) to track mentions of their name, areas of research, or publications such that they can keep track of and participate in discussions mentioning their work. Many trends, including the publication of journals in digital form, the pervasive use of institutional profiles, and the use of social media services for personal reasons combine to make it highly likely that scholars are already searchable and findable online. Thus online presence is assumed to exist regardless of whether a scholar has taken any steps in cultivating such a presence, and the teaching of tools to manage one’s presence may be necessary. The teaching of issues pertaining to networked scholarship is also significant. Scholars would benefit from making sense of issues such as networked societies, context collapse, alternative metrics, honophily, filter bubble, open access publishing, digital literacies, and community-engaged scholarship. For instance, doctoral preparation curricula might problematize the fact that while Twitter might allow researchers to follow one another and discuss topics of interest, such discussions may go unchallenged, if scholars are only followed by those who have similar educational training and beliefs to them. http://www.veletsianos.com/2015/07/21/teach-neatworked-digital-scholarship-curricula/

I’ve taken a slightly different approach in Social Media for Academics. I’ve structured the book around activities (publicising your work, networking, managing information, public engagement) and challenges (communicating effectively online, managing online identity, finding the time for social media). In doing so, I’ve hopefully conveyed how social media is used to enact and augment existing activities, rather than constituting something radically different from them. I address some of the practical questions these pose in the four activities chapters before moving on to discuss them more systematically in the three challenges chapters.

But these are decisions I’ve made for a book. They’re also ones I’m pretty committed to at this point. I really like the suggestions Veletsianos makes for what an actual curriculum would look like. Particularly the concern to “prepare scholars to work in an increasingly uncertain world: What challenges will scholars face at their institutions or in the broader culture as they enact networked practices?”

Around a year and a half ago, I got very upset with the British Sociological Association when I couldn’t afford to attend a conference for which I’d given a great deal of free labour. I was a month away from handing in my then still very much unfinished PhD thesis, I’d started two new jobs (one of which I wasn’t being paid for, due to bureaucratic problems) and the stress was getting to me. I quickly regretted the tone of the letter, though I still stand by the contents. Part of me soon wanted to remove it from the internet, because it felt like a very public meltdown, but I didn’t want to quietly delete something so contentious.

I just discovered that the letter comes third in google, seemingly for a diverse range of people, when searching for “British Sociological Association”. This seems so needlessly rude to me that I’ve decided to delete the letter – is algorithmic rudeness a thing? This post is a note which anyone searching for the BSA (or equivalent) on my blog will hopefully be able to find, explaining where the letter has gone and why. I also wanted to be clear that my views on (certain) professional associations have not changed, if anything they’ve hardened, though any feelings of animus have pretty much dissipated. As I said at the time, I wanted to find other ways to contribute to my discipline outside the BSA. I’m doing that, I’m very happy about it and I can’t see the situation changing.

Some useful resources:

Some live tweeting policies and guides:

Any examples reader could suggest of policies issued by conferences would be much appreciated!

Great hashtag visualisation by Sam Martin: http://www.academia.edu/5029537/Visualising_The_Challenge_of_Big_Data_bigdataBL

Really interesting analysis of an event hashtag by Matt Lingard: https://mattlingard.wordpress.com/2010/06/25/twitter-at-lse-teaching-day/ (quite old now, 2010, but the categories he uses are extremely helpful)

In their enthusiasm for the pedagogical uses to which social media can be put, academics sometimes don’t stop to question whether students actually want to interact with them on social media. This is sometimes referred to as ‘the creepy treehouse problem': requiring students to interact with you on what they perceive as a private platform, or at least one divorced from their involvement in the university. It’s this perception which also creates problems for institutional social media policies that incorporate all student social media use within their remit. This is a good overview of the temptations of pedagogical social media and the risks inherent in it:

The problem with just jumping into Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace, and forcing your students to be your friend/follower/contact/etc is a perceived invasion of their online privacy.  Now it may seem like a good idea at the time, especially since these tools are already populated by the majority of your students, have a low impact learning curve, and have built-in communication tools, and contact management that may rival most commercial Course Management Systems.  However, these tools started out and are perceived by students as their personal social playground and bending the tool to make it fit into an educational framework may cause panic, and discomfort from the student perspective.

https://www.purdue.edu/learning/blog/?p=210

The problem is that building a propriety platform is unlikely to succeed, at least if success requires sustained engagement by students who log in regularly. This to me is why social media platforms are so pedagogically attractive. The author of the above post suggests a couple of alternatives and offers interesting examples of how this can work:

Ning.com – Ning is a social networking site that allows users to create their own communities based upon their interests and needs.  These communities are user created, and managed with permission control options allowing read/write access by the whole world, or just a select group determined by the creator.  Ning has seen a jump in adoption in education circles due to ease of use, and potential.  Best examples – http://www.classroom20.com/ & http://education.ning.com.

Elgg.org – Elgg is a similar platform to Ning, in that it allows users to create their own social network, monitored, maintained, and updated by individual users.  However, Elgg is completely community driven in development, and offers the ability for users to personally host their network.  Best examples – http://eduspaces.net/ & http://community.brighton.ac.uk/

https://www.purdue.edu/learning/blog/?p=210

I’m still sceptical but actively reflecting upon it at present. It seems self-evident to me that the creepy treehouse effect is more likely to be operative with Facebook than Twitter. But unfortunately more students will be regular users of the former than the latter. Furthermore, as Emma Head recently told me, her recent (not yet published) research with Keele students found some students with an explicit preference for engagement on Facebook. It’s a complicated picture. Jason Jones at ProfHacker offers some helpful suggestions for good practice:

We both think that there are spaces that have less “creepy treehouse” aspects than others: wikis, for example, or certain uses of blogs.  Twitter, as Alex says, “is a weird space,” since people tend not to dabble in it–they either avoid it wholesale, or go all in. One way I’ve tried to minimize the creepy treehouse aspect in some of my social assignments is to encourage class-related personas, and to have assignments be a kind of game.  That way, there’s never a sense that I’m trying to elicit information about their lives and so forth–which does seem creepy.

Alex came up with four best practices for faculty who want to use social media (and we should!) and who want to avoid this problem:

  • Be transparent.  Explain why it’s required, what students will be graded on, etc.  Explain the tool’s ownership and logistics.  If you’ve set up a class Twitter account, consider sharing it with at least some students.
  • Encourage self-organization.  There’s no need for you to create that Facebook group!  Let them do it.  (In my experience, Facebook groups I’ve created haven’t gotten much participation, but ones students have created about my classes have often gone well.)
  • Deputize worthwhile ad-hoc groups.  This encourages the perception–which hopefully is accurate!–that the class’s social media usage is bottom-up, and not top-down.
  • Be nimble.  Notice how students are interacting with your course material, and put resources where they feel most comfortablehttp://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/the-creepy-treehouse-problem/2302

Last week Paul Mason posted a provocative Guardian essay suggesting that the end of capitalism has begun. It’s a precursor to his upcoming book PostCapitalism: A Guide To Our Future which is released in a few days time. I’m looking forward to the book, not least of all because it’s an optimistic counterpoint to the gloomy thought experiment I’ve been intermittently working on for months now: what would techno-fascism look like? I finished my first piece of work on this recently, a contribution to the Centre for Social Ontology’s Social Morphogenesis project, making the case that digital capitalism is giving rise to ‘distracted people’ and ‘fragile movements’ while also facilitating surveillance and repression of a degree of efficiency exponentially greater than any security apparatus that has previously existed in human history.

My rather depressing conclusion concerns spiralling obstacles to durable social movements exercising a sustained influence over political and social life, though not necessarily to protest, politicisation or critique. As the project progresses, I want to explore two tendencies towards digitally facilitated suppression: the ‘hard’ strand, the openly authoritarian mechanisms through which digital technology is used repressively and how they might diffuse, as well as the ‘soft’ strand, the increasingly designed informational environment and the cognitive costs involved in escaping it, as well as their implications for collective action.

I situate these in terms of post-democracy and the political economy of the second machine age: crudely, I’m suggesting that the interests of elites in defensive repression, in the face of growing structural underemployment and unemployment driven by automation, creates a risk that ‘soft’ repression (already a problem) comes to be conjoined with ‘hard’ repression, with a post-democratic political climate likely to render popular restraints upon this drift ineffective. This is compounded by a political context in which the war on terrorism is giving way to the war on extremism, normalising repressive measures against those whose ‘ideology’ (let alone their actions) put them outside the political mainstream. Underlying this analysis are some much more specific arguments about ‘distracted people’ and ‘fragile movements’ which I won’t summarise here, as well as an argument I want to develop of where a trend to vertical integration is likely to lead the tech sector and how this might further incline the culture within it in a way susceptible to acquiescing to some rather extreme measures.

It’s a depressing argument. But I’m looking forward to developing it. The project has been on hold since I finished my CSO paper because I need to finish Social Media for Academics. But I’m presenting an initial version of the overall argument at a Futures Workshop in August and then I’ll begin work on a book proposal in September. I’d like to include two chapters of design fiction in the finished book: one envisioning post-capitalism and another envisioning techno-fascism. I don’t believe either outcome is inexorable but I do find my own arguments worryingly convincing (I’m often very critical of my own work but I’m really pleased with the CSO chapter, it went through a slightly  brutal multistage review process and it really shows) at least in terms of currently inoperative social mechanisms that one could easily envision kicking in under future politico-economic circumstances not much worse than our present ones. But if Mason’s book is as provocative as I suspect it will be, I’d like to use it as an optimistic foil, not least of all to preserve the social optimism which I’m concerned that I’m in the process of losing.

This extract from a recent Guardian debate with Mason (HT Phil BC) gives a taste of what the book will be like: https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/membership/video/2015/jul/23/paul-mason-is-capitalism-dead-video (unfortunately it won’t embed on wordpress.com)

I blogged last week about the micro-politics of noise. I didn’t put a great deal of thought into the use of the qualifier ‘micro': I recognised a legal framework within which noise is regulated (or not), a structural context which shapes working routines, technological changes which create capacities and tendencies towards noise generation and a cultural context which mediates and shapes our responses to ‘noise’. But I’d just assumed the questions I was addressing, matters of right and obligation that emerge through our everyday interdependence and that elude final resolution, must in some sense be confined to the micro-social. Not that these considerations wouldn’t factor into, say, policy-making but that they’d be secondary. It hadn’t occurred to me that there could be a social movement emerging out of this micro-politics. But there was one and it’s really interesting. As Evgeny Morozov explains,

Vienna is perhaps the most interesting example. Whenever the anti-din advocates — led by German intellectual Theodor Lessing— called for individual reforms, they were mostly unsuccessful. However, their struggle was not in vain, for through public debate they turned quietness into a leading indicator of urban life quality and firmly established it as a challenge for city councils. Or, as historian Peter Payer notes, “by changing public awareness of the acoustic environment, their endeavours influenced not only the way that urban peace was to be restricted, but also how this space was to be perceived and used by the people living in the city.” And even though many of Lessing’s proposals sound eccentric – he wanted a professional, centralized rug-beating service to do all the work in some restricted area and for people to play musical instruments with their windows closed – many others sound quite reasonable even today, such as “the use of rubber tyres and quieter paving materials to dampen the cacophony of vehicular traffic, the careful packaging of freight shipped through cities to cushion it from rattling and banging, and the construction of schools in public gardens and forest preserves to ensure the tranquil atmosphere needed for learning.”

To Save Everything, Click Here pg. 222

What I find particularly interesting is that these ambitions were tied into a broader commitment to socialism and feminism. There’s always a faint hint of the reactionary around noise complaints. At least that’s my perception. As if to seek systematic regulation of noise somehow puts one in opposition to technological change. I’d like to read more about these historical noise campaigns, with other examples including the Anti-Noise League in the UK in the 1930s and the Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise, to understand how they conceived of their objectives as a movement. To what extent was it seen as creating social norms to regulate new technology?

Given the revolution in our personal capacity to generate noise in recent years – I say while surrounded by an iPhone, an iPad, a portable speaker and sitting at a desktop computer – I wonder what a comparable movement would look like now? Is it even feasible? How has the noise in question changed and the meaning it has for those producing the noise? I’m particularly interested in whether the use of music to isolate oneself within public space, creating a zone of immersion through volitional noise, has historical precedents or if it’s something radically new which simply wasn’t technologically possible until relatively recently.

Earlier today Tony Blair gave a speech in which he finally took the gloves off. As someone with a growing interest in theorising post-democracy, I found it oddly intriguing. To anyone acquainted with the writing Anthony Giddens was spewing out in the 1990s, it was familiar stuff. Despite the fact his politics would long since have placed him in the centre of the Conservative party, Blair’s position is  framed in terms of social democratic politics:

Social democratic politics in the early 21st century has one great advantage; and one large millstone.

The advantage is that the values of our age are essentially those fashioned by social democracy. We live today in a society that by and large has left behind deference, believes that merit not background should determine success; is inclined to equality of opportunity and equal treatment across gender and race; and believes in the NHS and the notion at least of the welfare state. This doesn’t mean to say this is the reality. But even the Tories, in the open, have to acknowledge the zeitgeist.

What should give the Labour party enormous hope and pride is that we have helped achieve all this.

However, the large millstone is that perennially, at times congenitally, we confuse values with the manner of their application in a changing world. This gives us a weakness when it comes to policy which perpetually disorients us and makes us mistake defending outdated policy with defending timeless values

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/22/tony-blairs-speech-on-the-future-of-the-labour-party-in-full

This has always been the premise of Blarism. It started off as a psephological position (the changing composition of the electorate necessitates a recognition of the newfound ‘aspiration’ of swing voters) which grew into a pragmatist’s analysis of media power, in which winning over print media came to be seen as an unavoidably necessary step which only the truly idiotic would fail to recognise. Giddens codefied these intellectual tendencies and gave them the air of historical inevitability, claiming to illuminate the unfolding of social change while nonetheless seeking to bring it about through his energetic search for intellectual sponsorship amongst the ranks of the powerful.

Nonetheless, Blarism effects to be a pragmatic concession to a changing world. A reinterpretation of social democratic values for late modern times. Its ethical theory, in so far as it has one, rests on those values for its moral force: “if you really care about social democracy, you’ll support new labour because we’re the only way you’ll be able to put those values into practice”. This leaves it caught uneasily between the affirmation of values and embrace of pragmatism. It affirms both yet in doing so empties the former of substantive content to the gain of the latter. It’s axiomatic that ‘social democratic values’ are shared yet the intellectual framework is setup in a way which obscures questions of exactly what these values are and how they might change after 13 years of power. ‘Values’ becomes a cypher for the ends to which we will exercise power, invoked to silence dissent in a way that becomes ever more meaningless with each iteration, while the constitutive pragmatism disposes the cohort of Blairite politicans to a form of moral agency which we might charitably  describe as elastic. The ‘social democratic values’ become a vanishing point, a pole of identification which retreats further into the distance the more concrete decision-making becomes, with tactics, triaging and triviality rushing in to fill the void.

But this means Blairite critique can get really weird. As Blair put it today,

We then misunderstand the difference between radical leftism, which is often in fact quite reactionary, and radical social democracy, which is all about ensuring that the values are put to work in the most effective way not for the world of yesterday but for today and the future.

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/22/tony-blairs-speech-on-the-future-of-the-labour-party-in-full

This assumes those ‘values’ are static. It assumes that the question is merely one of how best to implement them in a changing world. The case for Blairism is that its sensitivity to the reality of this changing world, its commitment to ‘modernisation’, means it is (down to its very core) better able to enact these values than is ‘radical leftism’, with its ‘reactionary’ character. But by taking ‘social democratic values’ as axiomatic, it’s left rhetorically shackled to something the adherents of Blarisim viscerally oppose as people. This becomes clear when Blair says that “I wouldn’t want to win on an old-fashioned leftist platform. Even if I thought it was the route to victory, I wouldn’t take it.”

But I thought the point of Blairism was that it was a way of winning elections, recognising late modernity in a way that left it able to ensure that the values ‘we’ all share find a place in an out of control world? It turns out there are more values, other values, which don’t enter into the rhetoric of Blairism. Values which are what motivate the Blairites. But what are these? Unfortunately, it’s not entirely clear. The speech ends with some fascinatingly banal tactical considerations (Labour should “work out what a political organisation looks like today”) and then this gloriously vacuous passage:

We won elections when we had an agenda that was driven by values, but informed by modernity; when we had strength and clarity of purpose; when we were reformers not just investors in public services; when we gave working people rights at work including the right to join a union, but refused unions a veto over policy; when we understood businesses created jobs not governments; and where we were the change-makers, not the small -c conservatives of the left.

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/22/tony-blairs-speech-on-the-future-of-the-labour-party-in-full

Even read charitably, the status of these claims is unclear. Are they statements of strategy and tactics, to be evaluated on their success in winning elections? Are they statements of principle, to be argued for on their own basis or as straight-forward assertions of ‘social democratic values’ to which we are all assumed to assent? Or are they something else entirely? History whispers in Blair’s ears, it always has. Unfortunately, its message has been to trust his instincts, giving expression to those deeply held beliefs which would have led him to join Cameron’s Conservative party if he had entered political life twenty five years later.

  • Blogging – Jill Rettberg
  • The Internet Is Not The Answer – Andrew Keen [astonishingly he had a whole team of research assistants for this yet used few, if any, sources which weren’t from the internet]
  • Homeland – Cory Doctorow
  • Status Update – Alice Marwick [brilliant!]

Graphic Novels: 

  • Ex Machina [best thing Brian Vaughan has ever written]
  • Phantom Jack
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Guardians Disassembled
  • Men of Wrath
  • Trees volume 1 [stunning]
  • The Massive: Ragnarok [crap ending to a stunning series]
  • Caliban [garth ennis can do horror!]
  • Death of Wolverine: The Logan Legacy [meh]
  • Guardians of the Galaxy 3000 [meh]
  • Captain America and the Mighty Avengers: Open for Business [better than the former two but I’m really only reading Marvel out of longstanding habit and should stop]
  • Sons of Anarchy volume 3

Yesterday saw the news that ‘Infidelity site’ Ashley Madison had been hacked, with the attackers claiming 37 million records had been stolen. The site is an online forum for infidelity, a dating site explicitly designed to facilitate affairs, something which potentially provoked the ire of the hackers. Or it could be the fact that users are charged a fee of £15 to permanently delete their records from the site, the efficacy of which the hackers dispute. This seems to be indicative of a broader trend in which dating sites as a whole were found by the Electronic Freedom Foundation to have failed to implement basic security procedures and to be near uniformly vague or silent about whether user data was deleted after the closure of an account.

This is a specific instance of a much broader category of problem which I’ve been thinking a lot about recently: escaping the filter bubble. I use this concept in a much broader sense than Eli Pariser‘s original use in his (excellent) book. I see filter bubbles as being a matter of algorithmic enclosure but also of information security. In fact I would argue that the former inevitably poses questions for the latter, because filter bubbles rest upon the collection of personal information and intervention upon this basis. Filter bubbles always pose questions of information security because environments designed around them are always information-hungry and mechanisms of personalisation inevitably introduce opacity into interactions between users and a system in an asymmetric way. But I’d like to expand the concept of filter bubble to encompass the entire informational environment in which we find increasingly find ourselves deliberately enclosed through our use of digital technology. Not all of this is applied algorithmically but I would argue, somewhat crudely, we can talk about greater or lesser tracts of everyday life being lived via digital mediation in a filter bubble characterised by varying degrees of enclosure.

What interests me are experience where we don’t realise we’re in a filter bubble. The questions of information security don’t occur. We live with ontological security, sufficiently comfortable with this technology (something which personalisation can contribute to) in order to act ‘as-if’ the filter bubble doesn’t create risks for us. Will Davies offers an analogy which captures this effectively:

I have a memory from childhood, a happy memory — one of complete trust and comfort. It’s dark, and I’m kneeling in the tiny floor area of the back seat of a car, resting my head on the seat. I’m perhaps six years old. I look upward to the window, through which I can see streetlights and buildings rushing by in a foreign town whose name and location I’m completely unaware of. In the front seats sit my parents, and in front of them, the warm yellow and red glow of the dashboard, with my dad at the steering wheel.

Contrary to the sentiment of so many ads and products, this memory reminds me that dependence can be a source of deep, almost visceral pleasure: to know nothing of where one is going, to have no responsibility for how one gets there or the risks involved. I must have knelt on the floor of the car backward to further increase that feeling of powerlessness as I stared up at the passing lights.

http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/the-data-sublime/

But when this ontological security is punctured, we can see risks everywhere. What are people doing with our data? What could they be doing with our data? How are our online environments manipulating us? I’m interested in using ontological security as a conceptual frame through which to understand the urge to escape the filter bubble on a psychoanalytical level. As I develop this line of argument, I need to work on making the exact sense of the underlying concept clearer, but leaving that aside for now, I think it offers a really interesting frame for exploration. Here are the propositions I’m going to come back to in order to develop further:

  1. We are enmeshed within a filter bubble through our everyday use of digital technology
  2. The filter bubble is deliberately designed, indeed redesigned on a sometimes hour-to-hour basis, driven by complex and opaque interests
  3. Our orientation towards the filter bubble is extremely variable, even over time in one life, let alone between people

But for now what I’m interested in is how we escape the filter bubble. When we see the endemic risks, when the reassuring cocoon of ontological security recedes, what do we do? The problem is  that not everyone is equally well positioned to escape the filter bubble. It necessitates technical knowledge, time and energy. Some people don’t care but know what to do. Some people do care but don’t know what to do. Most people fall between these two poles at different points in relation to specific issues. What I’m interested in is how any definite attempt to escape the filter bubble leads to an intensification of cognitive burdens at a time of endemic acceleration. If everyone feels rushed, how does the urge to escape the filter bubble contribute to that experience, constituting just one more thing to worry about? How does this in turn contribute to the problem of what I’ve elsewhere described as cognitive triage? I can imagine an emerging profession, consultant digital escapologist, paid to help the cash-rich but time-poor manage their information security.

An exciting new project I’ve helped launch: a collaboration between the ISRF’s Digital Social Science Forum and the journal Big Data & Society. See here for full details:

The Independent Social Research Foundation (ISRF) and Big Data & Society (BD&S) intend to award a prize of CHF 1,000 for the best essay on the topic ‘Influence and Power’. This is a topic, not a title. Accordingly, authors are free to choose an essay title within this field. The winner will also be invited to present the work during a special event at Social Media & Society 2016 and will have the conference fee waived and travel costs covered.

www.isrf.org/funding-opportunities/essay-competitions/

I went to see an excellent exhibition about children’s television yesterday afternoon, intended to explore “how the magical programmes of our childhood have created memories and nostalgia in adults and children alike”. The possibility of such explanation presupposes some degree of collectivity. The exhibition was ambiguous at points but there was a clear undercurrent of ‘our memories’ informing the curation, something which was particularly pronounced for me given I was seeing it with a Polish friend for whom many of these were not her memories. It would be possible to interpret such shared cultural reference points as collective memories or collective horizons, albeit ones delineable by age cohort, but it occurred to me that we could more usefully read this in terms of temporality and routine. This snippet stood out to me yesterday and I’ve been thinking about it since:

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This degree of synchronisation, perhaps itself dependent upon a long discarded Reithian vision, seems jarringly anachronistic in retrospect. But it’s also much easier to recognise it empirically than is the case for contemporary routines of cultural consumption and the aggregate patterns they produce in wider social life. I’m not just talking about ‘our’ having watched the same television at the same time, but rather that ‘same time’ as being embedded in a broader cluster of routines which constitute the texture of everyday life.

To be clear: I’m not suggesting that the existence of the “toddler’s truce” necessarily brought about its supposed effect. Nor that cultural consumption, or its highly synchronised and normatively charged absence from 6pm to 7pm, necessarily anchored routines or was even a particularly significant component of them. But it’s left me thinking about how temporal structures can be used to understand cultural memory, as well as how these are both facilitated by but also work to encourage clusters of everyday routines which will, at least as a whole, contribute over time to the constitution of the people who are leading them.

In this chilling interview, Wesley Clark, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe of Nato and one time favourite of Michael Moore for the Democratic Presidential nomination, rather aggressively floats the idea of interning those who are disloyal to the United States for the duration of the ‘war on terror':

If we look at this in terms of the Overton window, we’re seeing a disturbing movement from ‘unthinkable’ to ‘radical’ of the idea that compliance with the law is sufficient to avoid harassment by the state. Though offering less specifics, David Cameron put forward a similar principle after the election:

David-Cameron

To be deemed ‘susceptible to radicalisation’ increasingly entails a state of exemption. As Wesley Clark puts it, it’s both the right and the obligation of governments to segregate citizens who fall into this category for the ‘duration of the conflict’. But how does one come to be placed in the category? It strikes me as potentially open-ended because it’s defined as a propensity towards being drawn into ‘extremism’, itself understood in opposition to values which are nebulous at best: “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”. The exact objects of the war on radicalisation are endlessly elastic because the terms upon which their meaning depends are always amenable to situational reinterpretation. Something extremely worrying is happening here.