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  • Mark 10:19 am on November 30, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    A really interesting cfp on media and time 

    This looks excellent!

    CALL FOR PROPOSALS

    Special Issue of Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies

    Back to the Future: Telling and Taming Anticipatory Media Visions and Technologies

    Guest editors: Christian Pentzold (University of Bremen, Germany), Anne Kaun (Södertörn
    University, Sweden), and Christine Lohmeier (University of Salzburg, Austria)

    Digital media, networked services, and aggregate data are beacons of the future. These incessantly emerging tools and infrastructures project new ways of communication, bring unknown kinds of information, and open up untrodden paths of interaction. Yet digital technologies do not only forecast uncharted times or predict what comes next. They are, it seems, both prognostic and progressive media: they don’t await the times to come but realize the utopian as well as dystopian visions which they have always already foreseen. At the same time, all calculation of anticipations has to rely on past data that profoundly shape our ability to manage expectations and minimize uncertainties.

    In these fast forward dynamics, the special issue of Convergence examines the futuremaking capacity of networked services and aggregate data. We ask contributions to consider: What role do digital technologies and data play in the construction and circulation of future knowledge, e.g., through forecasting, modelling, prediction, or prognosis? What expectations and anticipatory visions such as promise or warning do accompany the creation and diffusion of new media? Over the course of history, which imaginaries of social and technological futures have been propelled by the media innovations at that time? How do new media technologies and discourses contribute to the production and reproduction of
    social time that is future oriented? How do they impact on the ability to exert control over the future?

    Papers in this special issue will explore the future making dimension of new media and may include the following topics:

    • Role of media in reconfiguring the relations and distances among present, past, and future times
    • Communicative construction of differently vast and (un)certain horizons of
    expectation
    • Data-based modes of anticipation (e.g., prognosis, prediction, prevention, precaution,
    pre-emption); calculative practices and other kinds of speculative accounts of
    possible events
    • Historical succession of past future visions around media innovations and mediated
    social life
    • Imaginaries of futures related to digital media
    • Interventions into the plans, efforts, and processes of constructing futures
    • Backwards-orientation of forecasting and conservative aspects of future scenarios
    • New media in the production of simultaneity, coincidence, or (non)contemporaneity

    Submissions:
    Proposals should include the author’s name and affiliation, title, an abstract of 500 words,
    and 3 to 5 keywords, and should be sent to the e-mail address no later than 1 December
    2018: mediatizedtime@uni-bremen.de <mailto:mediatizedtime@uni-bremen.de> Invited paper submissions will be due 1 June 2019
    and will undergo peer review following the usual procedures of the journal. The invitation to
    submit a full article does not guarantee acceptance into the special issue. The special issue
    will be published in 2020.

    For more information please contact christian.pentzold@uni-bremen.de <mailto:christian.pentzold@uni-bremen.de>
    The full CFP can be downloaded from here: http://journals.sagepub.com/pb-assets/cmscontent/CON/CfP_Convergence_Back-to-the-Future.pdf <http://journals.sagepub.com/pb-assets/cmscontent/CON/CfP_Convergence_Back-to-the-Future.pdf>

     
  • Mark 12:04 pm on November 29, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , smart cities,   

    The Corporate Fortresses of Digital Capitalism 

    I find it hard to read this excellent piece by Alfie Brown and not speculate about long term trends… how easy is it to imagine a world in a state of ecological collapse dominated by a few corporate city states fortified against the wastelands at their walls, as well as the millions of migrants fleeing climate catastrophe? He also makes the important point that coverage of these developments too easily frames this in contrast to the presumed democratic landscape ‘here’ and this misses the real significance of these possibilities.

    Having long claimed to be apolitical, Jack Ma, the billionaire co-founder and executive chairman of the tech giant Alibaba, was recently revealed to be a member of the ruling Communist party of China (CCP). It’s another in a long list of links between corporate and state apparatus that stretch far beyond the borders of China. Nevertheless, a glimpse into the projects the company is working on in Cloud Town, considered in light of these revelations, should set the alarm bells ringing with fear of a dystopian future of state and corporate control.

    Technologies in development at Cloud Town range from AI pedestrian crossing lights that use facial recognition to identify the age of a road-crosser and give them a longer green light if they are old/slow enough, to AI drone cars that can respond to passengers needs.

    The greatest feature of the car, explained the proud representative, is that its media panel, linked to the user’s smartphone, reads patterns of movement, food choices and potentially even photos and comments, and then crosses this with millions of data sets to make predictions about what the user might like to eat and how they might like to travel there or have the food travel to them. In short, the new citizen outsources part of their decision-making processes, and maybe even part of their desire, to Alibaba. Our very impulses are mapped and planned in advance. The triangulation between data, predictive technology and desire could be the single most important relationship taking us into the dystopian smart city future.

     
  • Mark 11:51 am on November 29, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , political economy of digital capitalism,   

    Where is the agency which will reign in big tech? 

    A really interesting Vanity Fair piece exploring the assumption amongst American law makers and financiers that outrage against big tech will be limited because there is no constituency liable to be organised against it. In the absence of a collective agency pushing for political action to be taken, diffuse outrage is unlikely to lead to political action and will eventually dissipate. 

    Facebook is in a world of hurt, or so it would seem, after The New York Times published a splashy, five-byline exposé last week that documented the social-media giant’s ponderous, self-serving response to Russian infiltration of its platform. Ditto Amazon, the e-commerce juggernaut that recently cajoled New York City into coughing up billions of dollars in tax breaks to host a new office building, provoking sustained liberal outrage. Netflix is facing new rulesgoverning its film and television libraries in Europe. Google, we are told, has its own problems, from selling A.I. to improve drone strikes to the news it reportedly paid out a top executive $90 million despite the fact that he allegedly coerced a colleague into sex. If you only got your news on Twitter, you might imagine the gold rush is over for the so-called FAANGs—as Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google are known—and that the era of Big Government regulation is about to begin.

     

     
  • Mark 11:36 am on November 29, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , bullying, , online speech, , ,   

    Who’s a Bully? Civility, Authoritarianism, and Power in the Contemporary Academy 

    This is the most enticing call for papers I’ve seen in ages. My promise to focus exclusively on my (still horribly unfinished) books for the foreseeable future is getting severely tested:

    Who’s a Bully? Civility, Authoritarianism, and Power in the Contemporary Academy

    For its next volume, scheduled for publication in fall 2019, the AAUP’s Journal of Academic Freedom seeks original, scholarly articles that consider how “bullying” is implicated in conflicts taking place around discourses of civility and academic freedom. How do admonitions of “civility” operate along lines of power? How do authoritarian cultural and political formations impact practices of academic freedom? We will consider any essay on the topic of academic freedom but are especially interested in the following:

    • Precarity, identity, and labor: How do discourses of civility operate in terms of social and labor hierarchies in the university? How do such conflicts travel along lines of race, class, gender, national origins, and sexuality? How does the increased precarity of academic labor effect issues of civility and power for students, administrators, faculty, and staff? How are these issues related to struggles over “sanctuary campuses”?
    • Campus discourse: What is the relationship between “civility” and academic freedom in the classroom, administration, and campus in general? Why are colleges and universities real and imagined sites for broader issues of civil comportment? How do conflicts around “civility” and power impact workplace democracy and faculty governance? How do these issues extend to K–12 education?
    • Globalization: What are the challenges for academic freedom in an era of globalization? How does the rise of popular and governmental authoritarianism affect academic freedom? Are conflicts around civility and power transnational? How might international solidarity movements respond to these challenges?
    • Social media and communications: How is social media an arena for conflicts around “civility” and power, and how does that impact academic freedom? How do these conflicts take shape in libraries and archives? How does the proliferation of university policies around the use of technology enact questions of civility and power?
    • Private consulting and university discourse: The rise of private educational consulting firms and their use by university and college administrations brings corporate discourse into key institutional decisions. This raises questions of power and civility from actors often not publicly represented in governance processes. How does corporate discourse impact questions of academic freedom?

    Electronic submissions of no more than 8,000 words should be sent to jaf@aaup.org by March 1, 2019, and must include an abstract of about 150 words. We welcome submissions by any and all faculty, graduate students, and independent scholars. If you have any questions, contact me at rbuff@uwm.edu.

    While this is an academic journal with submissions subject to peer review, we welcome innovative and journalistic prose styles. The journal uses the seventeenth edition of the Chicago Manual of Style, and authors should anticipate that, if an article is accepted for publication, it will need to be put into Chicago style. Read more about the Journal.

     
  • Mark 9:58 pm on November 28, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    Thinking with your feet  

    img_7322

    In the last few years, I’ve noticed a pattern when I see photos of myself in front of an audience. I  am invariably tilting one foot forward as I talk, as in the attached photo from Andrew  Crane. Yet I have no awareness of doing it. Is this some strange adaptation to one leg being shorter than the other? A nervous tick? It’s getting to the point where I’m desperate to catch myself doing it, just so I can understand what ‘it’ is. But it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps I am thinking with my feet:

    Not with my hand alone I write:

    My foot wants to participate.

    Firm and free and bold, my feet

    Run across the field – and sheet.

    – Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Prelude in Rhymes: 52

     
    • Sourav Roy 2:05 am on November 29, 2018 Permalink

      ‘Run across the … sheet’ reminded me of dogs running in their dreams. Also the stance of one foot forward is a typical one of asserting authority.

    • Mark 11:38 am on November 29, 2018 Permalink

      Ah but is raising the toe of one foot something else entirely?

    • Sourav Roy 11:41 am on November 29, 2018 Permalink

      Being tentatively authoritative? 🙂

    • Mark 10:45 am on December 1, 2018 Permalink

      yes! 🙂

  • Mark 3:13 pm on November 27, 2018 Permalink | Reply  

    Trying to exist in superposition 

     

    I don’t need to see I disrespect them gleefully
    and eat the pain, rage and guilt
    I keep it deep in me
    Release my fist
    When my ashes hit the pacific and I’m infinitely swimming in the ether
    Where the teachers be-
    Waves
    Thumbs up
    Sunglasses emoji
    Peace

    Tryna exist in superposition
    Tryna exist in superposition
    Tryna exist in superposition
    Clocks ticking
    Keep living
    Man listen
    Come on

     
  • Mark 11:05 am on November 27, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , gated communities,   

    From gated communities to moated communities 

    From Oliver Bullough’s Moneyland pg 225-226. It’s hard not to see intimations of Elysium in developments like this:

    Take Indian Creek, for example. It is a village in Miami-Dade County, Florida, which you approach through a quiet and pleasant residential neighbourhood, all groomed lawns and bungalows; where the streets lack sidewalks, but where there is so little traffic that walking on the road feels fine. Eventually, there is a bridge, with cream guard towers on either side of it, and a wrought-iron gate between them. If you try to step on to the bridge, a voice booms out of an intercom, asking your business. If you have no business there, or if your business is (like mine) idle curiosity, then you will be told it is a private island and that you must go elsewhere. To emphasise the point, there is a heavy police presence. At the last census, in 2010, Indian Creek had a population of eighty-six, which included four of America’s 500 richest people, as well as the singer Julio Iglesias, Colombian billionaire Jaime Galinski (whose base is London, but who also has homes in New York and a couple of other places), and various others, all with a combined net worth –according to the Miami Herald –of $ 37 billion. That sum is approximately equal to the annual economic output of Serbia, which has a population of more than 7 million people. Indian Creek’s police force employs ten full-time officers, plus four reserves, and four civilian public service aides, giving the community a police officer to resident ratio of around 1: 5, which is significantly higher even than that of East Germany at its most paranoid. The village is an island, so cannot be approached except by the bridge, but the police are taking no chances in protecting what their website calls ‘America’s most exclusive municipality’, and they run a marine patrol unit day and night, seven days a week. It is, in short, a moated community, where Moneyland can become real.

    In 2012, one ten-bedroom, fourteen-bathroom house on the island sold for $ 47 million, making it south Florida’s most expensive ever property, according to the agents who closed the deal. The local press reported that the purchaser was a Russian billionaire. The photos of the house released by the agents show an airy, high-ceilinged mansion, modest yet enormous, with an infinity pool looking out on to Biscayne Bay, towards the sunrise. It has a dock with water deep enough for a superyacht, and is surrounded on the other three sides by the lush lawns of the island’s golf course. It bears about as much resemblance to an ordinary person’s house as a Bengal tiger does to a tabby cat, but it is simultaneously both tasteful and restrained. ‘Air flows in and out of the home like a deep, cleansing breath. In this open plan, where the line is eternally blurred between inside and out, entire walls part to allow the embrace of the refreshing bay breezes. Ceilings soar to incredible heights,’ the agents’ brief declares. But the closest you or me will get to it is standing at the end of the bridge, looking at a photo of it on your phone, while being intensely eyeballed by a policeman in mirrored sunglasses.

     
  • Mark 12:19 pm on November 26, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , luxury goods, ,   

    Off shore capital and the great inflation 

    There’s a powerful extract in Oliver Bollough’s (superb) Moneyland talking about about the role offshore capital in inflating assets such as wine, art, cars, yachts and most of all real estate, with the latter then used to house these inflated assets. In the process it empowers a new class of fixers, helping manage this wealth at a distance and ensuring its sustained reproduction. From pg 220-221:

    In Miller’s analysis, luxury real estate has become in effect a new global currency, with very wealthy people using housing in the world’s premier league of cities as a store of wealth, with the great advantage that they can then use their apartments as storehouses for all their other expensive stuff: their Monets, their Modiglianis, that kind of thing. ‘I don’t want to stereotype and say they’re all flight capital, because they’re not, but the growth in their presence is flight capital. They’re preserving capital. They’re just getting it into something for an extended period of time because they want to preserve it.’ Some 30 per cent of condo sales in large-scale Manhattan developments since 2008 have gone to foreign-based buyers, with the vast majority of them paying the full sum up front. It is a remarkable change, and one that accelerated in the early 1990s, when the collapse of communism created flight capital on a previously unknown scale –particularly in London.

    One of these enablers, an information of Bollough’s, opines later in the book about the consequences of this accumulation for the elites themselves. What does it do to you? It’s a good question and one which is crucial to making sense of what I’ve come to think of as defensive elites. From pg 231:

    Pichulik was funny and thoughtful about his curious career, and clearly concerned by the kind of inequality he has witnessed. That gave him sufficient insight to realise that spending his days looking at apartments worth $ 50, $ 60 or $ 70 million was doing strange things to his mind, and to wonder about the mind set of people who live their lives surrounded by that kind of luxury: ‘You wake up in an apartment like that when you pretty much command the city, and you have this sort of castle to yourself. What does that do to your life on a daily basis, just waking up with that feeling and seeing that?’

     
  • Mark 7:17 pm on November 25, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: blog, bloggers, , , documents of life,   

    What will it mean when blogs are decades old? 

    Reading the philosopher Daniel Little’s reflection on eleven years of Understanding Society, I found myself wondering how blogging will be seen when we are surrounded by personal blogs which are decades old? The blog you are reading is eight years old this month, superseding a sequence of blogs which covered a further seven years before this. Its form and content have changed significantly in that time but its underlying purpose has not, cataloguing my intellectual engagement in a more or less thorough way during that time. It has ranged from what C Wright Mills called fringe thoughts through to elaborate reflections, even documenting an entire program of research on asexuality from start to finish.

    It seems likely to be something I will stick with, leaving me wondering about how I will feel about it in twenty, thirty or forty years time? What will be the significance for intellectual culture when there are many of these elaborate texts of such an age? How will they be interpreted as what Ken Plummer called documents of life? In my more pretentious moments, I’m starting to wonder if the sheer fact of sustaining a blog like this over a long period of time has intellectual significance in and of itself, above and beyond the many ways in which it provides the soil from which other more familiar intellectual endeavours tend to grow.

     
    • landzek 8:00 pm on November 25, 2018 Permalink

      This has crossed my mind also. I figure by the time I die there will be 50 years of my blogging and people will be able to do sort of a meta-analysis on whole subjectivities.

    • landzek 12:28 am on November 26, 2018 Permalink

      … Also, I feel that the more data we have recorded will only allow for more control over human beings. But I don’t mean this in a bad way; I mean this in a purely logistical functional way.

      I’m from the generation of the uni-bomber, and I think generations before the 90s were really skeptical of technology and view technology is something inherently bad, is if human beings get involved with technology then it it will only lead to an abuse of power authoritarianism and despotism; like 198for big brother.

      I think this sentiment persists.

      But I think human beings are so resourceful that the abuses that come from technology are merely a sort of “conscious control” if you will; as each abuse arise it is it is not only checked, but that checking becomes another plot point and knowledge of how to go about controlling human beings effectively.

      Extrapolate this idea out a few chapters in a book, and I feel that what will occur is the very idea of freedom will change and away to wear its meaning will not change for the human being existing and living in the world of the unknown future, but only in reference to the past, say our time right now, will freedom have changed into a sort of “not freedom”.

      Our sense of freedom isn’t complete rejection to control without consent. And I think this will always be the case but the conditions under which we qualify what controllers and wet consent is will change with the effectiveness of how human beings are able to control the aggregate or mass of human beings.

      So I think that blogging and just the sheer massive data and Shira representative quality of individuals on the Internet will one day be able to be analyzed in such a way that will only contribute to our understanding of how human beings actually function and exist to be happy and content . which is to say control.

    • landzek 12:40 am on November 26, 2018 Permalink

      … lol. You’ve allowed me food for thought!

      I mean just think about crowd control.

      I was a punk rocker back in the 80s and I remember going to shows where there would be like five bands playing it would cost like $15 to go. Bands like bad religion, Subhumans, Black flag, exploited. And some of the shows with just being a giant concert hall in they would be a lot of people there and you can get up on stage and sing with the band and then jump off into the stage and it would just be a giant slam pit (this was before the idea of “moshing” ). And people would come out blurry and still smiling. They’re close would be torn in people would be laughing and it would be a fucking good time.

      But by the time the grunge bands started getting popular, the people who put on shows, and the new audience of people that was into this more underground hard rock all of a sudden, didn’t understand that kind of communal release, and the promoter started getting security guards, and they started putting up what we called “the trough“ which was between the stage and the audience. A practice which is standard now.

      Security and venues move people in and out and control what occurs inside of the concert almost perfectly. And what is occurred is that people now have fun, but it is a controlled fun, they defined they’re phone within the parameters of what’s expected to occur at a rock concert. And there is security guards everywhere to make sure that everyone stays within these parameters. They got it down to a science just like the light shows and the sound systems.

      This is what the world will become. But people don’t like to think about it because we still have this sense that freedom is something essential if nothing else is. It will only be in the gradual process of control and then the reflecting back to the past where people will be out able to understand this slow and gradual limiting of freedom, but most people will not be able to really grasp what these words from the past actually mean . And by then those people who do understand it will be easily checked.

      But this won’t be a bad kind of authoritarian kind a despotism wear the big hand of big brother is coming down to suppress everyone’s freedom. It will be the natural course of ethical sensibility of just being human in the great light of progress.

    • Mark 12:14 pm on November 26, 2018 Permalink

      I think this should be a blog post rather than a comment!

    • landzek 1:55 pm on November 26, 2018 Permalink

      Lol. Well… oddly, there is a difference between imagination and reality Lol. Sometimes I just let my mind go wherever.

  • Mark 6:00 pm on November 25, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    The Sociology of Escalation Effects 

    I’ve been thinking a lot recently about escalation effects, by which I mean the tendency of some courses of action to escalate beyond our initial expectations or capacity to control. My favourite examples involve information overload. An active reader will often follow up references from books they are reading, with an interesting book usually yielding at least a few more books to read. Thus reading one book will lead to a desire to read a cluster of books, each of which will in turn likely prompt a similar escalation in your intended reading. Escalation effects are interesting because they exist in an ontological gray zone, reflecting our capacities as agents while underscoring our limitations. They are not strictly speaking structural constraints, as much as they are unintended consequences of reflexive project formation.

     
  • Mark 5:24 pm on November 25, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , frustration, , Paulo Freire, , tolerance   

    Social media and the (im)possibility of tolerance as an epistemic virtue 

    In the last public interview with Paulo Freire, he talks about tolerance as the means through which we realise the “the rich possibility of doing things and learning different things with different people”. Social media can provoke the curiosity Freire talks about, exposing us to a universe of difference but it also often generates irritation in the face of that difference, inclining us to dismiss rather than understand.

     
  • Mark 4:01 pm on November 25, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ,   

    An accessible introduction to the (post-capitalist) future of scholarly publishing – Thursday afternoon in Cambridge 

    If you’re anywhere near Cambridge this week, consider coming to this masterclass I’m organising: register here. What I find so inspiring about Gary Hall is the relationship between his theoretical work and his institutional interventions. He’s been a key figure in an enormous range of projects which have pushed the boundaries of scholarly publishing and helped map out its post-capitalist future. The masterclass will offer an accessible introduction to these issues and run through the aforementioned projects and what they embody about the potential of scholarly publishing. Everyone is welcome and the Faculty of Education is only a short walk from Cambridge train station.

     

     
  • Mark 3:14 pm on November 25, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , whitehall   

    Digital Futures? The #BSADigital Presidential Event 

    This was an exciting day for Digital Sociology, as an esteemed group of speakers gathered in the august surroundings of the Churchill Room in the Treasury to discuss sociology’s contribution to understanding and defining our digital future. As BSA President Susan Halford explained in her introduction, the event is intended to pool the expertise of (digital) sociologists and bring this into dialogue with officials. It’s important to have these conversations because digitalisation is a much more open process than conversations about it tend to assume. Halford put this very powerfully, reminding us “there is nothing inevitable about digital society and there is nothing inevitable about digital futures” because “technologies on their own do nothing”. The event was co-chaired by Phil Howard from the Oxford Internet Institute and David De Roure from the Turing Institute who each explained their sense of sociology’s importance. Howard described sociology as among the most agile disciplines, well suited to working with new domains of data which didn’t exist only a decade ago. He described sociology as being at the leading edge of crafting new forms of data and well suited to producing action-orientated research. He reflected on the rewards and risks of sending out research without peer-review, filtered through internal review but with the advantage of getting findings out to policy makers and others at speed. De Roure stressed how computer science is insufficient for building contemporary systems, involving a combination of computers and people as they do. These ‘social machines’ require an understanding of the social if we are to grasp their operations. Three panels over the course of the afternoon went a long way to illustrating what that understanding looks like and how it can be applied.

    Panel 1: Youth Futures

    The first speaker was Sonia Livingstone from the Department of Media and Communications at LSE. Reflecting Phil Howard’s claim that sociology is bridging the quantitative/qualitative divide, Livingstone’s work draws on qualitative and quantitative data to elucidate what digital technology means for parents and childhoods. Parents seek to equip their children for what they imagine will be a digital future, often framed in terms of exaggerated risks which digital technology is assumed to carry for children. Media and policy debates make extreme claims with weak groundings in research, exasperating the problems found in families over issues such as how much screen time is suitable for children each week. Underlying these challenges is the question of who is meant to guide parents in negotiating the challenges and opportunities of digital parenting? Livingstone explained how parents don’t know how to offer positive messages to their children about technology and the major finding of her research has been that parents are effectively on their own when it comes to the potential of digital technology to enrich their futures. This gap has created a huge market for tools and services which aim to help parents, but it’s extremely difficult for them to assess these offers and know which might be beneficial to their children.

    The second speaker was Huw Davies from the Oxford Internet Institute who is also co-convenor of the BSA’s Digital Sociology group. He identified two reasons why it’s important to study how children and young people use social media. Firstly, researching young people can help us anticipate the future of media consumption. Secondly, teens often use media in ways which subvert attempts to control and regulate user, in the process offering strategies from which all of us can learn. His research into how young people understand the internet has found that many inhabit a profoundly appified web, with little sense of how the internet works beyond the particular apps they use. However there is also evidence of a remarkable literacy amongst at least some of this cohort, with a well developed capacity to use the functionality which tends to be subsumed into the unhelpful category of the ‘dark web’. Nonetheless, teens are often not as savvy as they assume they are and their capacity to enter these semi-legal online spaces can leave them vulnerable to some of the ill-motivated actors which can be found within them.

    The third speaker was Josie Frasier from the Department of Media, Culture and Sport. She began by talking about the digital charter and the importance of supporting people to participate in digital spaces. There are huge benefits to digital participation but as the speakers thus far have stressed, it can also exacerbate social inequalities in ways which are immensely important to recognise. Her talk covered a range of initiatives currently underway within government which seek to recognise this duality, informed by a growing awareness that ‘online’ problems inevitably have ‘offline’ manifestations. For this and other reasons, the problems posed by digitalisation are interconnected. As Frasier put in response to a question, “These are not internet problems, these are social problems which are acted out in the space fo the internet”. Frasier stressed how DCMS is building on the work of digital humanities and is looking to the sociological community for further conversations. The upcoming white paper offers an immediate means through which we can do this.

    Panel 2: Work Futures

    The next session began with Phil Brown from Cardiff University talking about the reality underlying the rhetoric of automation. Claims about the impending reality of mass unemployment driven by automation circulate widely, with a significant risk of exaggeration. Nonetheless, the general direction of travel is clear and there will be a declining demand for labour, posing problems of how we divide up the fruits of that labour in terms of productivity and wealth. The real problem we have today is not skill scarcity, explains Brown. It is a jobs mismatch rather than a skills mismatch which will create social problems as automation proceeds. The decisions made (or not) today already shape the future and there is a real risk they will concentrate diminishing rewards from labour in the hands of the few. Rather than the digital economy being a bounded phenomenon, it represents a transformation in the whole policy process. The only way we can address this is by being clear about what our institutions are for and what they stand for. If we can’t address these fundamental questions then we will inevitably address these problems in a piecemeal way. He ends with a fascinating argument about the potential of digital analytics for an active industrial policy, no longer reliant on asking employers what they want. It is a powerful idea with some exciting consequences.

    The second speaker was Jacqueline O’Reilly from the University of Sussex Business School. She recently completed a major work, Work in the Digital Age, offering a comparative outlook of digital development across Europe. O’Reilly went on to do discuss the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) ranking that “summarises relevant indicators on Europe’s digital performance and tracks the evolution of EU member states in digital competitiveness”. On this measure, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and the Netherlands have the most advanced digital economies in Europe. Looking to these and other measures through a comparative framework helps open up a range of crucial policy questions, cutting through the clutter which usually gets in the way of our conversations  about about practical responses. For instance the UK does well on digital skills but evidence suggests that employers are not taking up these skills, inviting analysis of why this is the case. O’Reilly ended with a discussion of how to produce something akin to a DESI ranking that extended beyond Europe and what this would mean for our capacity to address the global challenges which digitalisation is producing.

    The final speaker was Xander Mahoney who is a Policy Advisor at the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport talking about the longer term challenge of automation. He argued that it is unlikely that we are seeing the ‘end of work’ and we need to be realistic about how advanced technology is going to become. Nonetheless, the rate of development of technology is ever-increasing and this means we are going to be left with different jobs but the same workers. What support should be offered to the workers who have been made technologically redundant in the workforce? They will need training and welfare, directed towards opportunities which are difficult to predict in advance.

    Panel 3: Data Futures

    The final session kicked off with Ben Williamson from the University of Edinburgh talking about how digital data is transforming the university. These institutions are increasingly imagined as ‘smart’ organisations built around data infrastructure, with a whole range of innovations being pushed by a diverse array of actors. This has included the Department for Education commissioning developers to produce apps to provide students with data-driven ways to navigate the application process. The problem from a sociological perspective is that the data involved is being treated as an objective window onto the reality of higher education. Data is produced through a range of activities and expresses prior interests, obscured by platforms and services which present it in naive way e.g. data visualisations distance our attention from the organisational process which produce them. This means a narrow quantitative representation of a university comes to replace the messy organisational reality, leading to profound limitations for policy and practice. Williamson discusses how we can respond to this through developing new methodologies which better represent the complexity of the university, while replicating some of the advantages which the aforementioned data-driven methods are seen to have.

    The second speaker was Helen Kennedy from the University of Sheffield, reflecting on why understanding people’s perceptions and experience of data matters for data futures. While it’s true that we won’t get data policy and practice right unless we listen to expert views on them, unfortunately there’s not a lot of evidence about how data practices are perceived by non-experts. We see increasing evidence from sociological research about the capacity of digital systems to reinforce and entrench existing inequalities. Kennedy describes her current research about public perceptions of the BBC’s uses of personal data, undertaken with the BBC itself. This research has found that trust in an organisation’s data practices has little to do with its data practice and in fact reflects the broader perception of the organisation’s values and activity. Nonetheless, there is not a clear relationship between them, as high levels of trust in an organisation doesn’t necessarily lead to high levels of trust in the organisation’s data usage, a state of affairs described by Kennedy in terms of ‘complex ecologies of trust’. For these reasons, we need to do data literacy differently, involving people’s emotional relationship to data rather than relying on narrow cognitive models.

    The final speaker was Farah Ahmed, Head of Data Ethics at DCMS, who began with the important question of whether we overestimate the novelty of these questions. They described the experience of working on the government’s open data strategy, one of its kind at that point in time, reflecting on the challenges that they faced at the time. Similar issues can be found now in the Centre for Data Ethics recently setup and already having undertaken a range of projects. It was an engaging way to end the day, bringing us back to the realities of the policy process and the role which research can play if it can cross the academic/government interface in an effective way. It left me feeling extremely optimistic about the future influence of sociology, as the policy officials were consistently responsive to the work presented and were keen to expand the conversation beyond the day itself.

     
  • Mark 2:47 pm on November 25, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , iain sinclair, ,   

    Iain Sinclair on the self-importance of Cambridge 

    This weekend I saw Iain Sinclair in conversation with Richard Sennett at the Cambridge Literary Festival. The highlight was Sinclair’s response to a question from the audience about his view of Cambridge. Vividly describing the antipathy he felt for a place in which one perpetually encounters “doors within doors” and “secrets within secrets“, Sinclair ended with a line that’s going to stick in my mind for a long time:

    It’s a chocked, clogged place which is much more important in principle than it is in practice. Move to London.

     

     
  • Mark 2:10 pm on November 25, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    The Sociology of Awkwardness: Being (very) human in a digital age 

    What is awkwardness? It’s something we recognise. It’s something which is everywhere. Yet when we do think about it, it’s often seen as something trivial and mundane, representing an interruption of decorum or a warp in the texture of micro-social interaction. It’s something that can be intensely felt but is soon forgotten and, where it is not, we see this inability to forget as something pathological. In this sense awkwardness tends to be relegated to the periphery of social life when in fact it is something constitutive of it. There could be no social interaction without awkwardness because its possibility is inherent in the coming together of individuals in social situations. As Erving Goffman describes this:

    Whatever his other concerns, then, whatever his merely-situated interests, the individual is obliged to ‘come into play’ upon entering the situation and to stay ‘in play’ while in the situation, sustaining this diffuse orientation at least until he can officially take himself beyond range of the situation. (Goffman 1963: 25)

    The potential for awkwardness is inherent in ‘coming into play’ and sustaining an expected orientation while ‘in play’ before exiting in a manner equally congruent with the expectations within a situation. What’s important to grasp though is that awkwardness is not just a subjective response to an objective situation. As Adam Kotsko argues,

    First there is what I will call everyday awkwardness, which seems to originate with particular individuals. It combines aspects of my gracelessness and the singer’s uncomfortable performance. It’s difficult to deny that there are people for whom awkwardness is a kind of perverse skill, who bring it with them wherever they go. We are only able to identify someone as awkward, however, because the person does something that is inappropriate for a given context. Most often, these violations do not involve an official written law — instead, the grace that’s in question is the skillful navigation of the mostly unspoken norms of a community … Even when personal deficits make certain individuals seem extremely awkward by nature, however, awkwardness remains a social phenomenon, and therefore the analysis of awkwardness should focus not on awkward individuals but on the entire social situation in which awkwardness makes itself felt. (Kotsko 2010: 7)

    His point is that awkwardness emerges relationally. It arises situationally in relation to norms concerning ‘coming into play’ and ‘staying in play’ which are endorsed and enforced by others within the situation. However what I really like about Kotsko’s analysis is his attentiveness to the way in which “awkwardness moves through social network, it spreads” because “you can’t observe an awkward situation without being drawn in: you are made to feel awkward as well, even if it is probably to a lesser degree than the people directly involved” (Kotsko 2010: 8). One claim he makes on the basis of this is that comedy relies on this ‘drawing on’. Another more counter-intuitive claim is that awkwardness “actually creates a weird kind of social bond” through “in the moment of awkwardness” being “forced to share to varying degrees in the experience of awkwardness” (Kotsko 2010: 9). He seeks to place this intrinsically social character of awkwardness in historical perspective:

    Following the pattern, one could say that the tension of awkwardness indicates that no social order is self-evident and no social order accounts for every possibility. Awkwardness shows us that humans are fundamentally social, but that they have no built-in norms: the norms that we develop help us to ‘get by,’ with some proving more helpful than others. We might say, then, that awkwardness is what prompts us to set up social norms in the first place — and what prompts us to transform them. (Kotsko 2010: 16)

    This seems an implausibly strong claim but it’s one rooted in a interesting Heideggerian analysis of awkwardness. He suggests it as a counterpart to Heidegger’s understanding of anxiety and boredom. But unlike these experiences which isolate the individual, awkwardness unites them, albeit through the creation of a peculiar and perverse sort of social bond. His claim is that awkwardness drives the structuring of sociality through its perpetual tendency to emerge, as well as to spread, in the absence of such structure. Awkwardness (stemming from the provisionality of social normativity) in interaction is analogous to anxiety (stemming from the finitude of existence) in individuals. But Kotsko argues that we live in an inherently awkward age:

    Everyday awkwardness happens in a context where the social order seems more or less adequate and comfortable, but the provisional nature of every social order indicates that it’s not an all-or-nothing question of either having a social order or none, as in the opposition between everyday and radical awkwardness, between awkwardness in violation of a social norm and awkwardness in the absence of a social norm. I propose that there is a particularly awkward kind of awkwardness in between the two, which I will cultural awkwardness. It arises when there seems to be a set of norms in force, but it feels somehow impossible to follow them or even fully know them. Just as it is easier to criticize than to create something, a social order in decline maintain its ability to tell you what you’re doing wrong even as it is losing its ability to provide a convincing account of what it would look like to do things right … Contemporary mainstream middle-class social norms are not remotely up to the task of minimizing awkwardness, but at the same time, there seems to be no real possibility of developing a convincing positive alternative. (Kotsko 2010: 16-17).

    He makes a convincing case that the role of awkwardness in comedy is not simply a matter of playing upon the familiarity of everyday awkwardness. Instead there is an elaboration within some recognisable genres of the broader cultural malaise and its attendant anxieties. He takes Judd Apatow films as representative of a sense that “the order of adulthood somehow doesn’t work, that it needs the awkward supplement of the male bonding it supposedly overcomes”. In the absence of new traditions, which is the only cultural condition in which the phrase ‘new traditions’ could be coherent, we are left with a “pervasive sense that despite the fact that we can never fully embrace the traditional norms, we are somehow hardwired to head in that direction and will do so immediately once our attempts to do something else fail” (Kotsko 2010: 65). These films not only represent friendships which are ‘structurally awkward’, in that they are grounded in opposition to cultural conventions, but they are ones which are eventually cast off in an unreflexive embrace of a circumscribed normativity. In contrast to this resist and then do it anyway approach to negotiating cultural awkwardness, Kotsko finds inspiration in the writings of St. Paul’s on the possibility of cultural assimilation, imagining communities where,

    Awkwardness is no longer a way of escaping social norms, and social norms are no longer a way of escaping awkwardness: instead, people simply meet each other, without the mediation of a defined cultural order, and figure out how to live together on a case by case basis. (Kotsko 2010: 80).

    From this perspective the problem of cultural awkwardness becomes one of our response to it. Rather than “trying to come up with some permanent way of overcoming awkwardness, one should go with it” (Kotsko 2010: 79). In this way he inverts the notion of awkwardness, leading us “beyond the common sense notion of awkwardness as a disturbance in the social fabric and toward something like utopia” (Kotsko 2010: 86). Far from being something to be overcome, awkwardness in fact represents an opening towards a more fully human mode of being-with each other. It is a possibility we are forced to confront, however inchoately, because “opportunities to enjoy the community of awkwardness are always there, always available, always ready to erupt, because awkwardness is undefeatable”. Under such conditions it becomes imperative for us to cultivate “the peculiar kind of grace that allows us to break down and admit that we are finally nothing more or less than human beings who will always be stuck with each other and, more importantly, to admit that we are glad of it” (Kotsko 2010: 89).

    It’s in these terms that we can begin to argue for the incipient universality underpinning some of the most ephemeral and seemingly trivial examples of internet culture. Whatever we think of the humour or its enactment, the evident virality of these cultural products is susceptible to explanation. Why are they so popular? Why are people so prone to sharing them? In asking questions like this we shouldn’t lose sight of the brutally hierarchical ecosystem governing the dissemination of ‘viral content’:

    He describes an Internet food chain, a series of tiers of websites that disseminate viral content. The highest-performing, most visible websites — BuzzFeed, Boing Boing, Gawker, Reddit — often graze on content discovered by lower-visibility sites. The lower-tier sites are often the ones to lift TV news bloopers or funny Facebook photos from obscurity. But they depend on their mainstream predators/enablers to elevate something to meme status.

    However we should also avoid the temptation to reduce it to this ecosystem, dismissing it as ephemera leveraged for the strategic advantage of these major players. This ecosystem has created an opening for viral content factories, as well as those intuitive curators particular able to locate many items and successfully gauge their potential virality, but it doesn’t seem tenable to suggest it has created the receptiveness to such content. Furthermore, there’s obviously much more to memes than awkwardness. But my claim is that this constitutes a clearly identifiable genre or category of web meme and, in so far as this is true, has obvious implications for how we see the kind of argument being made by Kotsko.

    What explains the evident receptiveness of internet users to web memes concerning awkwardness? It is the cultural order leveraged to promote and circulate its own gaps and failings. We recognise ourselves in the dramatisation and staging of awkwardness. There’s something deeply human about some of this ephemera in spite of it being, well, ephemera… perhaps it points to an emerging democratisation of the instances of cultural awkwardness Kotsko identifies in TV and film. Or perhaps it’s just a way of wasting time on the internet. Either way I found myself oddly drawn to it and it’s this feeling of being drawn in, the appetite for content of this sort which can be so readily written off as mindless compulsion, which interests me as a qualitative sociologist.

     
  • Mark 2:09 pm on November 25, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , television   

    Harvey Specter: a study in late modern sociopathy 

    Over the holidays I stumbled across Suits and found myself weirdly hooked by it. It tells the story of Mike Ross, a gifted stoner whose life has been going nowhere, bumbling into an interview for new associates at a prestigious law firm while trying to escape the police after a drug deal gone wrong. He is taken on by Harvey Specter, the firm’s top lawyer, who has found himself frustrated by his company’s policy of only hiring Harvard Law graduates. Seeing something special in Mike, he contrives to bring him to the firm and helps cover up his lack of a law degree.

    Upon arriving at the firm, Mike finds himself mired in awkwardness, as his photographic memory often falls short of indicating what he should do and say when presented with the rules of legal institutions and the cultural norms found in a firm entirely populated by alumni of the law school he claims to have attended. Harvey presses upon him that this is his ‘chance’ and that to take it he must cast off the old friendships which have weighed him down, reconstructing himself for the new life he has stumbled into. It’s this biographical aspect of the show which intrigued me. Nonetheless, it also has a lot of weaknesses:

    If Dallas grapples with the question of how to remain contemporary,Suits seems to be on a mission to convince viewers it was made in the 80s, sealed in a time-capsule and only recently excavated.

    Even amid the sunny escapist output of the USA network, the series is a baffling anachronism. It proudly resides in an alternate universe where oily, overcompensated attorneys are hailed as heroes. Where their Italian sports cars, designer apparel and addiction to winning at all costs are seen as enviable character traits.

    http://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/tvandradioblog/2012/jun/27/jonathan-bernstein-us-tv-dallas-suits

    It’s hard to argue with this criticism. I don’t even think the show is good in any straight foward sense. But I found it oddly compelling. My aim here is to explain the reasons for this, which all stem from the figure of Harvey Specter. In contrast to the bumbling charm of Mike, Harvey always knows what to do, always knows what to say and is admired and reviled in equal measure. Harvey Specter is a socipath and, furthermore, he has worked to become this way. He is a man who is “against having emotions, not against using them” and he seeks to help Mike come to share this trait.

    I use the term ‘sociopathy’ in the admittedly slightly glib sense employed by Adam Kotsko in his Why We Love Sociopaths: A Guide to Late Capitalist Television. His interest is in a class of characters who have increasingly come to dominate television and film in recent years. Though there are undoubtedly differences between Don Draper, Tony Soprano, Gregory House, Stringer Bell, Dexter et al (a list which seems a little incomplete without Vic Mackey) Kotsko argues that they share an indifference towards the moral order, manifested in a capacity to live outside social norms and yet also instrumentalize those norms to pursue their own agenda. While these characters might also share a degree of psychological complexity relative to their more shallowly characterised forebearers, he suggests that,

    It is hard to believe, however, that the exploration of the dark side of the human psyche for its own sake is behind the appeal of these sociopathic characters. What, then, is going on in this trend? My hypothesis is that the sociopaths we watch on TV allow us to indulge in a kind of thought experiment, based on the question: “What if I really and truly did not give a fuck about anyone?” And the answer they provide? “Then I would be powerful and free.” (pg 4)

    Kotsko sees sociopathy, understood as a cultural type embodied in such characters, as constituting a form of ‘reverse awkwardness’. In contrast to sociopathy, where lack of social connection engenders a capacity to masterfully manipulate social norms, awkwardness obtains in being drawn in and “rendered powerless by the intensity of their social connection” (pg 5). The appeal of the former rests on the experience of the latter, as our familiarity with the acute force of social pressure yields a vicarious thrill when we are presented with the lives of those immune to such pressure. These are people who always know exactly what to do. They are unbound by social pressure. They masterfully manipulate those interactions, which in reality exist as geysers of awkwardness, in a way which runs so contrary to our everyday experience. Their indifference to the social order translates as power and freedom. This is a figure who “transcends the social, who is not bound by it in any gut-level way and who can therefore use it purely as a tool”. Against the backdrop of a “social order that is breaking down, making impossible demands while failing to deliver on its promises” such characters become immensely compelling (pg 9-10).

    The fascination with individuals ‘who make their own rules’ cannot be understood in isolation from the social changes which are rendering ‘the rules’ paradoxically more transparent and yet also opaque. The preoccupation with mastery, the capacity to glide through life while always knowing what to do and say, stems from the broader conditions under which this is becoming ever less possible. I think Margaret Archer’s notion of the ‘reflexive imperative’ is useful here, as a way of understanding how the intensification of social and cultural change renders individual reflexivity (reflecting on one’s self in relation to one’s circumstances) ever more imperative in daily live. As she argues, “action needs to be at least recurrent in kind in order for norms to develop to cover it”. Variety and novelty can fuel awkwardness, much as they can also open up the possibility of a depth of connection and human understanding which might formerly have been crushed by the stultifying weight of tradition and routine. These are two sides of the same coin. The dilemma in everyday life consists in the difficulty of knowing if we are doing things ‘right’, if such a notion even makes sense and how others who are similarly confused respond to what we are doing, whether it is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. The sociopath fascinates because they embody a fantasistic solution to this dilemma. However in reality, we are faced with the ‘awkward abyss’,

    Threatened by the awkward abyss, we cling to our declining social norms and ask them to be more than they are or can be. We let them rule over us all the more as they fail to serve us, either by providing clear expectations or approximating some form of justice or fairness. (pg 15)

    But what would it be like to avoid this? What would it be like to just be? As Kotsko puts it, “if only I didn’t give a fuck about anyone or anything, we think — then I would be powerful and free” (pg 7). But we do, so we are not. Even if we truly did want to be this way, it is an option that is foreclosed by the weight of commitment. Or is it? What intrigues me about Suits is how much of the narrative arc of the two main protagonists revolves around Harvey Specter socialising Mike Ross into sociopathy. In seeking to ‘mentor’ Mike, Harvey is also teaching how he can be emulated by him. What stops this being obnoxious is the gradual revelation of the extent to which Harvey has had to cultivate his sociopathy, much as Mike must now do himself.

    When we meet Harvey, he is pure presence. He controls every situation, always ready with a witty retort or a strategic reaction. This also leaves him paradoxically absent. In the first half of the show’s initial season, we see little of Harvey qua person beyond occasional allusions to his longstanding friendship with his boss. In one scene Mike attempts to come over to Harvey’s apartment to share news of a breakthrough on a case. Having sternly ordered him not to come round, he opens the door and we see Harvey in casual clothes for the first time in the show. However the door is immediately closed on Mike (and on us). There’s a sense in which Harvey seems almost unrecognisable as a person, as his preoccupation with his own social mastery leaves his inner life entirely opaque. At one point he boasts to Mike about having Michael Jordan on his speed dial, proving this to an initially sceptical Mike who then turns and asks “who are you?”.

    It’s a good question and one which is eventually addressed. As the first season approaches its end, we come to see more of Harvey and how he came to be the person that he is. The meaningful relationship with his boss which was intermittently hinted at (she supported him through law school and their relationship existed prior to this) finds more direct reflection in the figure of his stated mentor, the New York District Attorney. In the first half of the season, we see a Harvey who is already fully formed and self-subsistent. But later we begin to see how he came to be this way. He was not born “the best closer in New York city”. He had to become him. He had to make himself into who he wanted to be. We begin to see something of his inner life. We see that he hates to lose. We even see him lose his temper. He reminds us that sociopaths, in Kotsko’s sense, are people too. They are admired people, as a search through youtube for videos of Harvey will make clear.

     
  • Mark 4:57 pm on November 22, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    #BSADigital Live Blog: Session 3 – Data Futures 

    The final session is kicking off with Ben Williamson (University of Edinburgh) talking about how digital data is transforming the university. These institutions are increasingly imagined as ‘smart’ organisations built around data infrastructure, with a whole range of innovations being pushed by a diverse array of actors. This has included the Department for Education commissioning developers to produce apps to provide students with data-driven ways to navigate the application process. The problem from a sociological perspective is that the data involved is being treated as an objective window onto the reality of higher education. Data is produced through a range of activities and expresses prior interests, obscured by platforms and services which present it in naive way. Data visualisations distance our attention from the organisational process which produce them. A narrow qualitative representation of a university comes to replace the messy organisational reality, leading to profound limitations for policy and practice. Williamson discusses how we can respond to this through developing new methodologies which better represent the complexity of the university, while replicating some of the advantages which the aforementioned data-driven methods are seen to have.

    The second speaker is Helen Kennedy from the University of Sheffield, reflecting on why understanding people’s perceptions and experience of data matters for data futures. While it’s true that we won’t get data policy and practice right unless we listen to expert views on them, unfortunately there’s not a lot of evidence about how data practices are perceived by non-experts.

     
  • Mark 3:51 pm on November 22, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    #BSADigital Live Blog: Session 2 – Work Futures 

    Our next session starts with Phil Brown from Cardiff University talking about the reality underlying the rhetoric of automation. Claims about the impending reality of mass unemployment driven by automation circulate widely, with a significant risk of exaggeration. Nonetheless, the general direction of travel is clear and there will be a declining demand for labour, posing problems of how we divide up the fruits of that labour in terms of productivity and wealth.The real problem we have today is not skill scarcity, explains Brown. It is a jobs mismatch rather than a skills mismatch which will create social problems as automation proceeds. The decision made (or not) today already shape the future and there is a real risk they will concentrate diminishing rewards from labour in the hands of the few. Rather than the digital economy being a bounded phenomenon, it represents a transformation in the whole policy process. The only way we can address this by being clear about what our institutions are for and what they stand for. If we can’t address these fundamental questions then we will inevitably address these problems in a piecemeal way. He ends with a fascinating argument about the potential of analytics for an active industrial policy, no longer reliant on asking employers what they want. It is a powerful idea with some exciting consequences.

    The second speaker is Jacqueline O’Reilly from the University of Sussex Business School. She recently completed a major work, Work in the Digital Age, offering a comparative outlook of digital development across Europe. O’Reilly went on to do discuss the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) ranking that “summarises relevant indicators on Europe’s digital performance and tracks the evolution of EU member states in digital competitiveness”. On this measure, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and the Netherlands have the most advanced digital economies in the Europe. Looking to these and other measures through a comparative framework helps open up a range of crucial policy questions, cutting through the clutter which usually gets in the way of our conversations  about about practical responses. For instance the UK does well on digital skills but evidence suggests that employers are not taking up these skills, inviting analysis of why this is the case. O’Reilly ended with a discussion of how to produce something akin to a DESI ranking that extended beyond Europe and what this would mean for our capacity to address the global challenges which digitalisation is producing.

    The final speaker is Xander Mahoney who is a Policy Advisor at Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport talking about the longer term challenge of automation. While it is unlikely that we are seeing the ‘end of work’ and we need to be realistic about how advanced technology is going to become. Nonetheless, the rate of development of technology is ever-increasing and this means we are going to be left with different jobs but the same workers. What support should be offered to the workers who have been made technologically redundant in the workforce? They will need training and welfare, directed towards opportunities which are difficult to predict in advance.

     
  • Mark 3:16 pm on November 22, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    #BSADigital Live Blog: Session 1 – Youth Futures 

    The first speaker is Sonia Livingstone from the Department of Media and Communications at LSE. Reflecting Phil Howard’s claim that sociology is bridging the quantitative/qualitative divide, Livingstone’s work draws on qualitative and quantitative data to elucidate what digital technology means for parents and childhoods. Parents seek to equip their children for what they imagine will be a digital future, often framed in terms of exaggerated risks which digital technology is assumed to carry for children. Media and policy debates make extreme claims with weak groundings in research, exasperating the problems found in families over issues such as how much screen time is suitable for children each week. Underlying these challenges is the question of who is meant to guide parents in negotiating the challenges and opportunities of digital parenting? Parents don’t know how to offer positive messages to their children about technology and the overwhelming message of her research is that parents are on their own when it comes to the potential of digital technology to enrich their futures. This gap has created a huge market for tools and services which aim to help parents, but it’s extremely difficult for them to assess these offers and know which might be beneficial to their children.

    The second speaker is Huw Davies from the Oxford Internet Institute who is also co-convenor of the BSA’s Digital Sociology forum. He identifies two reasons why it’s important to study how children and young people use social media. Firstly, researching young people can help us anticipate the future of media consumption. Secondly, teens often use media in a way which subvert attempts to control and regulate them, in the process offering strategies from which all of us can learn. His research into how young people understand the internet has found that many inhabit a profoundly appified web, with little sense of how the internet works beyond the particular apps they use. However there is also evidence of a remarkable literacy amongst at least some of this cohort, with a well developed capacity to use the functionality which tends to be subsumed into the unhelpful category of the ‘dark web’. Nonetheless, teens are often not as savvy as they assume they are and their capacity to enter these semi-legal online spaces can leave them vulnerable to some of the ill-motivated actors which can be found within them.

    The third speaker is Josie Frasier from Department of Media, Culture and Sport. She began by talking about the digital charter and the importance of supporting people to participate in digital spaces. There are huge benefits to digital participant but as the speakers thus far have stressed, it can also exasperate social inequalities in ways which are immensely important to recognise. Her talk covered a range of initiatives currently underway within government which seek to recognise this duality, informed by a growing awareness that ‘online’ problems inevitably have ‘offline’ manifestations. For this and other reasons, the problems posed by digitalisation are interconnected. As Frasier put in response to a question, “These are not internet problems, these are social problems which are acted out in the space fo the internet”. Frasier stressed how DCMS is building on the work of digital humanities and is looking to the sociological community for further conversations. The upcoming white paper offers an immediate means through which we can do this.

     
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