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  • Mark 6:46 pm on August 8, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , the singularity, The Technological History of Digital Capitalism,   

    The (creepy) spirit of digital capitalism 

    This is an accusation which Jaron Lanier makes strongly on pg 134 of his recent Ten Reasons To Delete Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. Coming from someone who was less of an insider, it might seem like a rather shrill and slightly paranoid reading of the culture of digital elites. However I find it hard not to take Lanier seriously, even if what he says here would benefit from being unpacked further:

    One of the reasons that BUMMER works the way it does is that the engineers working at BUMMER companies often believe that their top priority among top priorities isn’t serving present-day humans, but building the artificial intelligences that will inherit the earth. The constant surveillance and testing of behavior modification in multitudes of humans is supposedly gathering data that will evolve into the intelligence of future AIs. (One might wonder if AI engineers believe that manipulating people will be AI’s purpose.) The big tech companies are publicly committed to an extravagant “AI race” that they often prioritize above all else. It’s completely normal to hear an executive from one of the biggest companies in the world talk about the possibility of a coming singularity, when the AIs will take over. The singularity is the BUMMER religion’s answer to the evangelical Christian Rapture. The weirdness is normalized when BUMMER customers, who are often techies themselves, accept AI as a coherent and legitimate concept, and make spending decisions based on it.

    It strike me that there are two things going on here which we ought to distinguish, at least on an analytical level. Firstly, there are emerging forms of techno-religion within Silicon Valley concerning the significance of artificial intelligence for the future of humanity. If we don’t take these seriously as religious forms, we risk missing the causal influence they may exercise over the organisational life of technology forms. But we need to avoid taking them too seriously and imputing a singular character to what appear in reality to be multiple, fragmented and partial frameworks of belief. Secondly, as Evgeny Morozov has powerfully argued in the last year, the AI arms race at a corporate level needs to be understood in terms of overarching systemic trends within Silicon Valley. The advertising business has a shelf life, overheads on machine learning are much lower and these firms intend to use the data they have accumulated for advertising purposes in order to pivot into providing the infrastructure for machine learning to be woven into every aspect of the social fabric. These are two distinct trends, even if they may be reinforcing through the commitment they engender towards a corporate strategy. However where it becomes interesting is if the underlying methodological assumptions begin to be contested on a political level. If a vision of the singularity currently engenders commitment to the job and provides a lens through which organisational decisions are inflected, what happens if external groups seek to hold up such centrality?

    • landzek 4:51 pm on August 9, 2018 Permalink

      Mark, what is your area of expertise? You are professor of something no?

    • landzek 4:55 pm on August 9, 2018 Permalink

      ..oh lol. It says it right there:: Digital sociologist. Ah ha now it all makes sense!

  • Mark 3:56 pm on May 22, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , live streaming, The Technological History of Digital Capitalism   

    CfP: Going Live: Exploring Live Digital Technologies and Live Streaming Practices 

    For avoidance of doubt, CfPs I post in the ‘interested’ category of my blog are ones other people have organised which I’m archiving for my own use and sharing in case people are interested. If I’m organising an event or project, it’s in the ‘organising’ category of the blog. 

    *Going Live: Exploring Live Digital Technologies and Live Streaming

    Organizers: Dr. Mia Consalvo & Dr. Stefanie Duguay, Concordia University

    Website: https://goingliveconf.wixsite.com/goinglive

    As a pre-conference event affiliated with the Association of Internet
    Researchers (AoIR) annual conference, this full-day workshop will bring
    together game studies scholars and social media researchers to discuss the
    increasing popularity of live digital technologies. These technologies
    include features on social media sites such as Facebook Live, standalone
    smartphone apps (e.g., Periscope), and websites dedicated to live
    streaming, such as the gaming platform Twitch.tv

    Although live streaming has been possible for many years (e.g. Senft,
    2008), the evolution of recording devices, data transfer speeds, mobile
    apps, and other digital technologies has contributed to a recent
    proliferation of live media. Live platforms encourage spontaneous sharing
    but controversial incidents raise questions about what should be shared in
    a live context. Live streaming game platforms showcase modes of
    self-presentation and self-promotion (Consalvo & Altizer, 2017), which
    social media influencers also adopt when broadcasting content to adoring
    fans (Abidin, 2016). Gamers and influencers alike benefit from the
    commercialization of these practices, generating revenue from brand
    promotion and boosting attention to advertisements. Clearly, live streaming
    and live digital technologies have social, political, economic, and
    cultural impacts. However, research into these areas is still developing
    and there have been few opportunities for interdisciplinary dialogue among
    scholars researching live streaming.

    We invite you to tackle these topics with us at this pre-conference
    workshop, taking place at Concordia University’s cutting-edge Milieux
    Institute for Arts, Culture and Technology. We encourage participation from
    a range of scholars, from graduate students to early career researchers and
    established academics. If you are an AoIR member, you must register through
    the AoIR conference website to reserve your place. If you are not an AoIR
    member or if you are not attending the AoIR conference, please register
    through our website <https://goingliveconf.wixsite.com/goinglive>. The day
    will feature a keynote presentation by Dr. T.L. Taylor, Professor of
    Comparative Media Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr.
    Taylor is an internationally recognized scholar in game studies, having
    written field-defining books about online games, the rise of competitive
    esports, and the business of live streaming. Watch our website for
    additional speaker announcements as we finalize our schedule.

    The day will also include paper sessions for presenting and receiving
    feedback about works-in-progress. We invite abstracts from scholars
    researching live streaming and live digital technologies across a range of
    topics, including but not limited to:

    • Gaming and esports
    • Platform infrastructures, algorithms, and automation
    • Communities, practices, and audiences
    • Microcelebrity and self-branding
    • Political economies and labour
    • Ephemeral and everyday media
    • Data, policy, privacy, and governance
    • Transnational liveness

    Selected presenters will have the chance to submit their work-in-progress
    papers prior to the workshop for circulation to attendees. If you are
    interested in presenting, please submit an abstract of 250 words along with
    your name, title, affiliation and a brief bio (50 words) to
    goingliveconf@gmail.com by *June 29, 2018*.

  • Mark 4:25 pm on May 15, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , education platforms, , , , The Technological History of Digital Capitalism,   

    Platform capitalism and the future of education 

    In this week’s CPGJ platform capitalism reading group, we turn towards education for the first time with a paper by José van Dijck and Thomas Poell looking at the influence of social media platforms on education, particularly within schools. Much of the literature has addressed social media as tools, with varying interpretations offered about how these might harm or hinder teaching and learning. The ubiquity of social media is often cited as a reason to try and integrate their use into the curriculum, with some arguing they could play a crucial role in helping with particular tasks such as information retrieval. Others frame social media as a disruptive force within the classroom, undermining existing routines and creating problems for teachers. Optimists and pessimists are united in their “social media-as-tools approach: social media are considered as technical tools that may either enhance or disrupt learning experiences”. In contrast, van Dijck and Poell insist on framing these as platforms, which are “driven by a complex interplay between technical architectures, business models, and mass user activity” and “introduce new mechanisms in social life”.

    This helps broaden the focus of our analysis, away from “student behaviour and teaching practices” towards “the organization of schools and universities and, one might argue, (public) education as such”. Their analysis rests upon two distinct mechanisms: datafication and commodification. In doing so, they draw on work which has explored social mediain terms of a transformation of the landscape within which young people become civic actors, creating a range of possibilities for how education might change. The development of this perspective by van Dijck and Poell involves seeing social media as “more than mere technical facilitators: they are simultaneously technological, economic, and socio-cultural frameworks for managing online social traffic”. The main focus of their paper is upon how ratification and commodification reshape the organisation of education at primary and secondary levels.

    • Datafication is “the tendency to quantify all aspects of social interaction and turn them into code”. This incorporates two aspects: quantification and digitisation. The affordances of digital technology facilitate quantification to an extent that would not otherwise be possible. This can have descriptive and predicative dimensions to it: tracking developments in real time but also producing predictions which feed back into practice. In a sector like education, “emerging digital policy instruments transfer the assessment of didactic and pedagogical values from teachers and classrooms to (commercial) online platforms deploying real-time and predictive analytics techniques”. But datafication will have a similar tendency in others sectors because it circumvents the situational judgement of professionals by creating an analytic apparatus which operates in the background. There might be a degree of variability in how much leeway the professional continues to enjoy (consider for instance the way data can be used to enhance the performance of elites) but the broader trend is towards the diminution of agential prerogative.In the educational context, mechanisms of datafication includes data trackers and dashboards, facilitating personalisation of a sort similar to that found in content-streaming platforms like Netflix. As they write of AltSchool, it “favors technology over teachers; online personalized learning takes over classroom instruction; and the primacy of predictive analytics downgrades teachers’ professional judgment”. Digitalising a process, rendering it data and quantitative, imposes epistemic constraints on the ensuing knowledge, creating a bias towards the immediate and the atomistic. The specificity of educational is eviscerated by a generic architecture of likes and upvotes.
    • Commodification involves the “monetization of online social traffic through business models and governance structures” and is closely connected to datification. A limited number of business models all revolve around how data can be used to generate profit, incentivising continual expansion of datafication and economies of scale giving rise to fewer and larger data actors. It is hoped that was is datafied can be commodified.Data-driven commodification facilitates the unbundling of education. As the authors write, “[t]he conventional business model reflects the ideology of higher education as a curriculum-based, comprehensive experience that offers an education at a price that includes not only lectures or course content but certification, advising, tutoring, and testing”. The market for educational data, coupled with the near-zero marginal costs of digital communications, means that the curriculum can (technically) be delivered purely as content and there is a (financial) motivation for doing so. The potential implications of this educational data have barely been recognised, with the authors plausibly suggesting they might in future replace CVs in the eyes of employers.

    Their analysis refuses to separate off education platforms from the wider ecosystem in which they emerge, dominated as it is by the major actors of Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft. While education platforms might not threat existing institutions in the manner of Uber and taxi firms, Dijck and Poell identify three features which might lead to systemic change:

    1. Principles of social media architecture have primacy over pedagogical principles on educational platforms. When young people are “growing up immersed in the compelling social interaction these platforms offer in terms of connecting, liking, rating and following each other” and free education services (e.g. Google Scholar, Google Docs, Gmail) offered by major players like Google already play a prominent role in young people’s educational lives. This ubiquity is liable to be reinforced by continued growth in use amongst young people and funding shortfalls leaving organisation’s looking to free services which enables costs to be cut. The result is that “corporate platforms such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Microsoft are able to position themselves strategically, at the gateways of educational infrastructures such as libraries, administrative and communication systems”.
    2. The capacity of education platforms to solve what are perceived as endemic problems of education is widely assumed yet little demonstrated. This reflects the broader influence of ‘solutionism’ (seeing technical fixes to social problems) and the narrative of sustained failures within the education system. These platforms are presented as emerging from off-stage to solve the problem, riding to the rescue of something their own emergence is intimately bound up in the creation of as part of the political economy of late capitalism.
    3. The growth of online educational globally might lead to a cultural shift in the understanding of education as a public good. They suggest we can identify “how education is increasingly defined as a technological challenge developed by tech companies and decreasingly as a service carried out by dedicated teachers and funded by taxes”. The scaleable and free logic of digital education seems enticing against a backdrop of austerity politics and a drive towards the retrenchment of the welfare state.

    The second paper analysis the platform as evaluative infrastructure. They are evaluative in the sense of deploying a wide array of ranking mechanisms to establish orders of worth. They are infrastructure because they provide the background conditions which makes interaction possible. An infrastructure consists of “technical artefacts, institutional arrangements, cultural habits and social conventions” (“people, language, numbers, categories, cultures, practices, artefacts but also pipes and hard-wired circuits”) to produce material forms which facilitate exchange over time and space. Power within them operates through protocols (rules and standards governing behaviour within networks) rather than familiar hierarchical forms of influence. Evaluative infrastructure “consists of an ecology of devices that disclose values of actions, events and objects in heterarchically organized systems (such as platforms) through the maintenance of protocol”. Their mechanisms co-ordinate and condition interaction which takes place between distributed parties, with the platform being the means through the platform owner facilitates the interaction and seeks to profit from it. Evaluative infrastructures facilitate platform owners to operate distinctive types of platform organisation. The evaluative infrastructure is what makes platform capitalism possible.

    An immense amount of activity takes place on them: “as of 2014 eBay had 165 million active users,3 Uber was hosting over 1 million rides per day, and Airbnb was facilitating 155 million guest stays annually, surpassing the Hilton Worldwide by 22 percent”. The evaluative infrastructure establishes shared orders of worth which makes this interaction meaningful, stabilising expectations and generating trust between parties who do not stand in a prior relation to each other or have much context in common. In doing so, they “relate and recombine people, ideas, and things” through “the invisible infrastructures that coordinate and control platform activities”. Their operation rests on a “an ecology of accounting devices in the form of rankings, lists, classifications, stars and other symbols (‘likes, ‘links’, tags, and other traces left through clicks) which relate buyers, sellers, and objects”. The value creation this gives rise to takes place horizontally across the platform, defying any traditional vertical attempts to organise it by the platform-owner, necessitating a new accounting regime on the part of the platform owners and new concepts for social scientists to analyse their operation. Part of the challenge stems from the capacity of these infrastructures to bring new worlds into being rather than capturing the traces of what is already there.

    Community plays a significant role in this, with the eBay founder once saying that “eBay’s success as a company de- pends upon the success of the community”. What I take them to be saying, in slightly different theoretical lingo to the one I’d used, concerns the capacity of platforms to generate relationality within groups. It produces thick relations through the mechanisms designed to counter the fact thin relations are the starting point. In doing so, the interests of the platform are effectively baked into the relational web, as much as it remains possible for its evaluative orientation to run counter to the problem in exceptional cases. Users can resist a platform but they do so in spite of their status as users. Recognising this will be crucial to understanding the lived experience of platform participation, generating thick descriptions of actions within and through infrastructures which “constantly link events, actions, behaviours, decisions (clicks), assessments and other traces left unintentionally and unconsciously (such as speed of typing, time of access, or browser used to access site) all of which are used to build a web of context around objects and subjects”. The power of platform owners operates under these conditions “through its infrastructural design, maintaining standards, imposing what counts and how to count, excluding users, and introducing rules” so as to structure the field of possibilities, rather than guiding actors within it.

    Questions for discussion:

    1. What is at stake in whether we define social media as platforms or tools?
    2. What does it mean to say “All platforms are equally defined by a set of mechanisms”?
    3. Where are the agents behind evaluative infrastructures?
  • Mark 7:22 pm on April 4, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , atari, , , , The Technological History of Digital Capitalism,   

    Why would senior managers feel contemptuous of their expert staff? 

    At various points in the last few months, I’ve seen the claim made that the senior management of universities hold their staff in contempt. A claim like this can’t help but be polemic and I’m not sure how helpful it would be to examine the particular cases if we’re interested in addressing the broader question: why might managers come to feel contemptuous of their expert staff?

    From the perspective of higher education, it would be interesting to consider prima facie examples of such contempt in other sectors. This is one I stumbled across in Trouble Makers, by Leslie Berlin, describing the tensions in Atari after a new CEO took over the company and open hostilities broke out between developers and management. From pg 277:

    The programmers had asked Ray Kassar for a pay raise or a bonus, as well as recognition as the games’ authors on the cartridges. (Already some designers had taken to hiding their initials as “Easter eggs” in secret rooms that players could discover in the games themselves.) Kassar allegedly responded that the game programmer was no more essential to the company’s success than was the line worker who put the cartridge in a box.

    From pg 278:

    Even with the higher pay, many on the engineering side felt that Kassar and the managers he hired did not appreciate their ideas or their work. Kassar gave an interview in which he called the technical minds behind the games “superstars” but also “high-strung prima donnas.” Many programmers felt the jab was a closer approximation of Kassar’s real feelings.

    The case suggests a clear message to me: management can view the self-proclaimed expertise of staff as a ludicrous conceit on the part of a group who are just one feature of an organisational chart, with their capacity to exert themselves and demand respect provoking resentment on the part of a management who have their sense of autonomy challenged by this. How far away from higher education is this?

  • Mark 9:02 pm on January 4, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , The Technological History of Digital Capitalism   

    Workshop: The Turn To AI in Content Moderation and Communication Governance 

    Workshop: The turn to artificial intelligence in governing communication online

    20.03.2018 | 9:00 – 18:00 ical | gcal
    Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society, Französische Straße 9, 10117 Berlin, Germany

    The technology underlying artificial intelligence research has increasingly found applications in the area of content moderation and communication governance on digital platforms. While the scale of problematic online content makes a stronger move reasonable, taking down content through automated means can be risky for online expression and access to information. Amid an obscure use of AI-systems, opaque implementation, vague definitions and a lack of accountability, governments and policy-makers are heavily pressuring companies to take action. And a few EU members states have already responded with new regulatory initiatives.

    The Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG) and Access Now will host a workshop on technological advancements, the extent of Artificial intelligence deployment and the range of approaches to understanding the status and future impact of AI systems to govern social communication on the internet.

    We invite experts from different fields and backgrounds to participate in the discussion on March 20, 2018 in Berlin. If you would like to participate in the workshop, we ask you to apply with an expression of interest being announced below.

    Expert Workshop:
    The turn to artificial intelligence in governing communication online
    HIIG | Französische Str. 9 | 10117 Berlin
    20 March 2018 | 9am – 6pm


    The workshop will be organized around three problem-oriented questions in order to map challenges of this development:

    • Who are the primary agents of the socio-technical change to artificial intelligence in content moderation?
    • How is the turn to AI influenced (e.g. governance instruments)?
    • Why is the process of change accepted, or not?
    Sessions will be chaired by known experts who will provide inputs and facilitate interaction among all participants.


    As the emerging issues transcend disciplinary boundaries and perspectives, workshop participants will have diverse backgrounds.The workshop particularly aims at the exchange between academics and non-academics. It will bring researchers and practitioners from key countries in Europe together.

    We are looking forward to receiving applications from researchers from all disciplines, members of interest groups and NGOs, as well as practitioners (business, technology) with expertise in artificial intelligence and automation systems in the context of content moderation and the global governance of communication online.

    Call for Expressions of Interest

    If you would like to participate in the workshop, we ask you to apply with an expression of interest, including (1) your field of work and the related expertise, (2) the specific topics you would like to contribute to the workshop, and (3) how you would benefit from the expertise of other participants, and vice versa, how would participants benefit from your particular contribution (approx. 500 words).

    The workshop is limited to 25 participants.

    Please send your application to kirsten.gollatz@hiig.de by no later than 25 January 2018 with the subject line “AI and Communication Governance”. We would highly appreciate if you could forward this call across your network.


    The Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG) explores the dynamic relationship between the Internet and society, including the increasing interpenetration of digital infrastructures and various domains of everyday life. Its goal is to understand the interplay of social-cultural, legal, economic and technical norms in the process of digitisation.

    Access Now is an international not-for-profit civil society organisation that defends and extends the digital rights of users at risk around the world. We are a team of 40, with local staff in 10 locations around the world. We maintain four legally incorporated entities – Belgium, Costa Rica, Tunisia, and the United States – with our tech, advocacy, policy, granting, and operations teams distributed across all regions. By combining innovative policy, user engagement, and direct technical support, we fight for open and secure communications for all. Access Now focuses on freedom of expression, privacy and data protection, network discrimination and internet shutdowns, cybersecurity and more.

  • Mark 12:21 pm on December 16, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , digitalisation of the archive, knowledge monopolies, , the archive, , The Technological History of Digital Capitalism,   

    The problem of abundance and the political economy of digital knowledge 

    A conversation I had recently about the digitalisation of the archive left me thinking back to this section on pg 81-82 of World Without Mind by Franklin Foer:

    There have been various stabs at coining a term to capture the dominant role of Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple. Mark Zuckerberg has called his company a “utility,” perhaps un aware how the term is historically an invitation for invasive regulation. But there’s something to his suggestion. In the industrial age, utilities were infrastructure that the public deemed essential to the functioning of everyday life—electricity and gas, water and sewage. In the end, the country couldn’t function without them, and the government removed these companies from the vicissitudes of the market, leashing them to publicly appointed commissions that set their prices. In the knowledge economy, the essential pieces of infrastructure are intellectual. With the inexhaustible choice made possible by the Internet comes a new imperative—the need for new tools capable of navigating the vastness. The world’s digital trove of knowledge isn’t terribly useful without mechanisms for searching and sorting the ethereal holdings. That’s the trick Amazon—and the other knowledge monopolists—have managed. Amazon didn’t just create the world’s biggest bookstore; it made its store far more usable, far more efficient, than browsing the aisles of a Barnes and Noble or cruising a library’s card catalog. And beyond that, Amazon anticipated your desires, using its storehouse of data to recommend your next purchase, to strongly suggest a course for navigating knowledge. This is the strange essence of the new knowledge monopolies. They don’t actually produce knowledge; they just sift and organize it. We rely on a small handful of companies to provide us with a sense of hierarchy, to identify what we should read and what we should ignore, to pick informational winners and losers. It’s incredible economic and cultural power that they have amassed because of a sudden change in the strange economics of the commodity they traffic in, a change they hastened.

    There’s something enticingly simple about this account, framing contemporary knowledge monopolies as successors to the communications monopolies of the past, inviting comparable modes of regulation.

  • Mark 11:53 am on December 16, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , material interests, supply processes, , The Technological History of Digital Capitalism, ,   

    The material interests of Big Tech 

    In recent years, we have seen a renewed focus on the political ideologies which are currently emerging within Silicon Valley. Such considerations are not new and contemporary accounts are influenced, implicitly and explicitly, by earlier notions such as the Californian ideology. But the dominant approach appears to be a cultural one, treating these emerging political forms in terms of their distinctiveness relative to more established positions. The overarching project of analysing the politics of big tech is at an early stage, not least of all because the consolidation of established interests which would justify such a distinction is still relatively recently. For this reason, it would be a mistake to make conclusive judgements about factors which are missing from such analysis or mistakes into which it is falling.

    Nonetheless, I increasingly wonder if we are losing sight of the material interests at work within the emerging cultural forms of big tech. This is something which applies at the level of particular groups, such as the emerging categories of higher level engineers and data scientists, as well as their relative position within a California boom driven in part by this very affluence, which ensures ensures that even those who are very wealthy in national terms are unlikely to feel this way when they live in the Bay Area. Furthermore there are the emerging cohorts of tech billionaires, as well as the more prosaic reality of the millionaires who inevitably accompany any successful flotation or sale.

    However it’s also a matter of the companies themselves, as the character of their production processes leave them with vested interests in sustaining regulatory, fiscal and trade relationships. There’s an interesting example of this in Machine, Platform, Crowd by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson. From pg 97:

    Chris Anderson, CEO of drone maker 3D Robotics, gave us a vivid illustration of what’s going on in the drone industry and, by extension, in many others. He showed us a metal cylinder about 1 inch in diameter and 3 inches long and said, “This is a gyro sensor. It is mechanical, it cost $ 10,000, it was made in the nineties by some very talented ladies in an aerospace factory and hand-wound, et cetera. And it takes care of one axis of motion. On our drones we have twenty-four sensors like this. That would have been $ 10,000 each. That would have been $ 240,000 of sensors, and by the way, it would be the size of a refrigerator. Instead, we have a tiny little chip or a few tiny little chips that cost three dollars and are almost invisible.” Anderson’s point is that the combination of cheap raw materials, mass global markets, intense competition, and large manufacturing scale economies is essentially a guarantee of sustained steep price declines and performance improvements. He calls personal drones the “peace dividend of the smartphone wars, which is to say that the components in a smartphone—the sensors, the GPS, the camera, the ARM core processors, the wireless, the memory, the battery—all that stuff, which is being driven by the incredible economies of scale and innovation machines at Apple, Google, and others, is available for a few dollars. They were essentially ‘unobtainium’ 10 years ago. This is stuff that used to be military industrial technology; you can buy it at RadioShack now.”

  • Mark 8:58 pm on November 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , The Technological History of Digital Capitalism   

    CfP: Overcoming Inequalities in Internet Governance: framing digital policy capacity building strategies 

    GIG-ARTS 2018 – The Second European Multidisciplinary Conference on Global Internet Governance Actors, Regulations, Transactions and Strategies

    26-27 April 2018, Cardiff

    Overcoming Inequalities in Internet Governance: framing digital policy capacity building strategies

    Organised by: Centre for Internet and Global Politics / School of Law and Politics / Cardiff University

    In partnership with: DiploFoundation, The ECPR Standing Group on Internet and Politics, The Global Internet Governance Academic Network (GigaNet)

    Deadline 08.January.2018


    After having explored “Global Internet Governance as a Diplomacy Issue” at its first edition held in Paris in 2007, the Second European Multidisciplinary Conference on Global Internet Governance Actors, Regulations, Transactions and Strategies (GIG-ARTS 2018) addresses power inequalities in internet governance, and digital policy capacity building strategies aiming at overcoming gaps in digital policy developments.

    Connectivity infrastructure is constantly expanding, while internet access is incessantly growing across countries, regions and socio-political contexts. In this context, new and crucial questions emerge from a governance and security perspective. As for the latter, new connectivity calls for cybersecurity capacity building strategies aiming at secure digital infrastructure. At the same time, from a governance perspective, traditional powers in the governance of the internet are increasingly challenged from newly connected actors who demand more influence in the transnational debate around digital policy development. As a result, despite claims for equal representations and diversity since the first World Summit on Information Society in 2003, the narrowing of the digital divide opens new and key questions: Whether and what inequalities exist in internet governance decision making? How is the rapidly changing internet geography and sociography reflected in the governance of the internet? Moreover, in order to increase awareness and enhance involvement of newly connected countries in national and transnational digital policy developments, what are the best internet governance capacity building strategies available? How do newly connected countries and actors build their digital policy capacity, and do they develop an active role in the transnational internet governance debate? Whether in newly or early connected countries, various kinds of divides persist across socio-cultural and political contexts, reflecting if not extending societal and socio-economic inequalities. Are such renewed forms of inequalities and discriminations adequately addressed in internet governance debates? What are the requirements for digital policies to actually empower people and uphold their individual and collective rights online?

    In order to answer these crucial and manifold questions, the conference will bring together an outstanding network of experts working on internet governance, digital inequalities, and cybersecurity capacity building. The conference welcomes theoretically relevant, empirically grounded research, and/or policy oriented contributions, addressing internet governance inequalities, digital policy making, and cybersecurity capacity building. In particular, submissions could address either of the following topics (list non exhaustive):

    –          Inequalities in the governance of the internet
    –          Governance strategies among new and emerging actors
    –          Geopolitical coalitions among actors (e.g. BRICS)
    –          Multistakeholder models and their efficacy
    –          Cybersecurity capacity building
    –          Digital divides
    –          Telecom Reforms
    –          Online discriminations
    –          Violent content and harassment online
    –          “Fake news” and other kinds of manipulations
    –          Individual and collective empowerment
    –          Human rights online
    –          Digital Trade

    Program Chair
    Andrea Calderaro
    Centre for Internet and Global Politics, University of Cardiff, United Kingdom

    Program Committee
    William J. Drake, University of Zurich, Switzerland
    Marianne Franklin, Goldsmiths University
    Katharina Höne, DiploFoundation, Malta & Switzerland
    Nanette S. Levinson, American University Washington DC, USA
    Robin Mansell, London School of Economics and Political Science, United Kingdom
    Meryem Marzouki, CNRS & Sorbonne Université, France
    Ben Wagner, UW Vienna, Austria

    Full Call for Paper
    Please find more information via the conference website: events.gig-arts.eu

    Submission Information and Publication Opportunities
    Authors are invited to submit their abstracts (no longer than 500 words) via Easychair at:

    Authors of selected submissions will have the opportunity to submit their full manuscript for publication as part of an edited volume.

    The conference will be held in Wales’s capital city, Cardiff, at the Centre for Internet and Global Politics, hosted at the Cardiff University’s School of Law and Politics.

    Conference Registration and Fees
    Registration fees are 100€ for regular participants and 50€ for students showing proof of status. The conference fees include a participant kit with conference documents as well as coffee breaks and meals.

    GIG-ARTS 2018 Communication Details

  • Mark 9:21 am on November 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , The Technological History of Digital Capitalism   

    Google’s next billion users 

    I thought this was really interesting, particularly the focus on HCI for this strategy:

    *HCI/UX researchers at Google’s Next Billion Users teamThe Google Next
    Billion Users team is looking for HCI interns, post-docs, and
    researchers-on-contract to work on exploratory research and product
    initiatives. The team builds global products from the ground-up with new
    Internet users, such as Google Station <https://station.google.com/> and
    Tez <https://tez.google.com/>. You will work with an interdisciplinary team
    of researchers and designers that explores new aspects of computing with
    communities around the world. Roles are based in several countries. Some
    travel within the country is required.   If you are excited about
    understanding complex spaces, taking research insights to reality, and
    working on technology products, fill out this form
    to indicate your interest.Qualifications: – Passion for research in
    non-western regions- Strong understanding of strengths and shortcomings of
    different research methods, including when and how to apply them during
    each product phase.- Mastery and rigor of research craft and ability to
    think outside the box with research methods.- Experience with emerging
    markets (worked in, extensively travelled, studied in depth, or originating
    from) and ability to work with diverse communities in emerging markets.-
    Experience conducting human-centered research for digital technology or
    products.- Follow a collaborative work process.- Master’s degree/Ph.D. in
    Human-computer Interaction, anthropology, information science, or
    equivalent on-the-job experience, or related fields. Exceptional Bachelor’s
    degree holders will be considered. – [Preferred] Track record of publishing
    in academic and/or industry arenas, in top-tier conferences and journals.-
    [Preferred] Experience in social justice or working with underrepresented

  • Mark 7:52 pm on November 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , The Technological History of Digital Capitalism   

    CFP: Alternative Social Media special issue of Social Media + Society 

    After Social Media: Alternatives, New Beginnings, and Socialized Media
    ***Call for Proposals***
    Editors: Fenwick McKelvey, Sean Lawson, and Robert W. Gehl

    The editors seeks 500 word abstracts for proposed articles for a special
    issue of Social Media + Society on “alternative social media.” The
    editors welcome proposals from scholars, practitioners, and activists
    from across disciplinary boundaries so long as the work is critical and
    empirically rich.

    Our call starts with a question: what comes after social media? It is
    hard to imagine something other than the current configuration of social
    media – of Facebook and Twitter – but signs of discontent abound. Social
    media companies have become deputized to police and moderate whilst
    being accused of poisoning civil discourse. Their integration of
    advertising and targeting signals a new epoch of promotional culture,
    but no one trusts the media anymore. As Brooke Duffy argues in (Not)
    Getting Paid to Do What You Love, everyone can create, so long as they
    don’t mind growing broke doing so. In sum, today’s social media is
    broken… but what’s next?

    For the past several years, one answer to “what’s next?” has been
    “alternative social media.” Alternative social media encompasses a wide
    range of systems, from diaspora* to Ello to Tokumei. In contrast to what
    Robert Gehl calls “corporate social media,” such as Facebook, Twitter,
    Google+, and Pinterest, alternative social media (ASM) “allows for users
    to share content and connect with one another but also denies the
    commercialization of speech, allows users more access to shape the
    underlying technical infrastructure, and radically experiments with
    surveillance regimes” (see

    Thus, alternative social media may be understood in relation to larger
    histories of alternative media, documented by scholars such as Megan
    Boler, Nick Couldry, Chris Atton, and Clemencia Rodriguez, and carried
    through into social media alternatives by collectives such as Unlike Us

    Earlier instances of ASM included diaspora*, built as a critical
    response to the growing dominance of Facebook in the late 2000s, with a
    goal of decentralizing social media data and allowing end users more
    control over their personal information. Later, decentralized systems,
    such as Twister and GNU social, came online as alternatives to Twitter.
    The Pinterest alternative Ello gained a lot of attention, especially due
    to its manifesto with the opening provocation: “Your social network is
    owned by advertisers.” Alternatives to Facebook and Twitter have even
    appeared on the Dark Web (see
    for examples).

    As they have developed over the past several years, alternatives decried
    the censorship and manipulation of content found in corporate social
    media. Building on this, new alternatives dedicated to “free speech”
    arose during and after the contentious elections in Western countries in
    2016 and 2017, including the Twitter alternative Gab. Proclaiming its
    defense of free speech – especially against the perceived liberal bias
    of Silicon Valley-based corporate sites – Gab promises freedom for
    everyone, including the “alt right” and white supremacists, to speak.

    But other networks, such as the federated system Mastodon, have been
    built to allow for powerful moderation of discourse, with Codes of
    Conduct that often prohibit hate, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or
    racist speech. Indeed, while they are wildly divergent in their
    politics, both Gab and Mastodon have positioned themselves as antidotes
    to corporate social media. These debates over speech in ASM echo the
    longstanding tension identified by alternative media scholars, where
    many alternative media developers seek to socialize media and bring it
    in line with leftist politics, but see their discourses appropriated by
    right-wing media organizations.

    Regardless of whether they are right or left, alternative social media
    face a simply reality: they just aren’t popular. Compared to the
    billions of Twitter and Facebook users, alternative sites’ user bases
    are tiny. Whether or not their goal ought to be massive scale, the
    powerful network effects of corporate social media – as well as the
    bewildering array of alternatives – certainly have stifled the growth of
    the alternatives. Still, the alternatives deserve critical attention,
    because they force us to rethink what we mean by “social media.” What
    tethers so many people to so few corporate sites? And what actual
    “alternatives” to corporate social media do the current slate of
    alternative social media platforms propose?

    Topics that may be explored in this special issue of Social Media +
    Society might include:

    • ethnographic or participant observation engagements with alternative

    social media communities

    • software studies analysis of shifts in underlying ASM technologies
    • narratives from practitioners who have built, moderated, or

    extensively participated in ASM

    • comparative analysis of two or more ASM platforms
    • studies of ASM as political, technical or cultural discourses or desires
    • regulatory and policy discussion regarding controversies involving ASM
    • speculative proposals or fictions about new ASM that address existing


    • analysis of appropriation of ASM innovations by corporate social media


    ***Timeline/Important Dates [subject to change]
    DECEMBER 20 2017: 500 word abstracts and CVs/resumes may be sent to
    JANUARY 20 2018: Acceptance notifications sent to authors
    MAY 15 2018: Full drafts due to asm@robertwgehl.org
    JULY 15 2018: Comments sent to authors by editors
    SEPTEMBER 15 2018: Final drafts submitted to Social Media + Society for
    peer review
    FEBRUARY 2019: Special Issue Publication

    Questions? Please email asm@robertwgehl.org.

  • Mark 1:38 pm on October 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , The Technological History of Digital Capitalism,   

    Vested interests in ‘openness’ 

    To talk of ‘openness’ conveys a sense of lightness, gesturing towards a world without self-interested boundaries. In a world dichotomised in terms of open/closed, barriers are seen as obstacles to be surmounted in order that we might have free exchange. Overcoming these obstacles becomes a moral project, imbued with a sense of historical change: barriers are fleeting constructions, inevitably eroded by the force of openness. As the futurist Peter Schwartz once put it:

    Open, good. Closed, bad. Tattoo it on your forehead. Apply it to technology standards, to business strategies, to philosophies of life. It’s the winning concept for individuals, for nations, for the global community in the years ahead.

    These categories are embedded in narrative forms, facilitating certain roles (e.g. the disrupter of closed industries) which elevate business activity to a heroic plane, as Audrey Watters conveys on loc 184 of The Curse of the Monsters of Educational Technology: 

    “The Silicon Valley Narrative,” as I call it, is the story that the technology industry tells about the world—not only the world-as-is but the world-as-Silicon-Valley-wants-it-to-be. This narrative has several commonly used tropes. It often features a hero: the technology entrepreneur. Smart. Independent. Bold. Risk-taking. White. Male. “The Silicon Valley narrative” invokes themes like “innovation” and “disruption.” It privileges the new; everything else that can be deemed “old” is viewed as obsolete. Things are perpetually in need of an upgrade. It contends that its workings are meritocratic: anyone who hustles can make it. “The Silicon Valley Narrative” has no memory, no history, although it can invent or invoke one to suit its purposes. (“ The factory model of education” is one such invented history that I’ve written about before.) “The Silicon Valley narrative” fosters a distrust of institutions—the government, the university. It is neoliberal. It hates paying taxes. “The Silicon Valley narrative” draws from the work of Ayn Rand; it privileges the individual at all costs; it calls this “personalization.”

    My instinct as a qualitative researcher is to immerse myself in these stories, seeking to appreciate how they operate to make sense of one’s own actions. But the reason this is so pressing is that the action they serve to elevate is so often problematic, as Franklin Foer points out on pg 89-90 of his A World Without Mind. They have a vested interest in ‘openness’:

    There’s no doubt that they believe in their own righteousness, but they also practice corporate gamesmanship, with all the established tricks: lobbying, purchasing support in think tanks and universities, quietly donating money to advocacy groups that promote their interests. The journalist Robert Levine has written, “Google has as much interest in free online media as General Motors does in cheap gasoline. 13 That’s why the company spends millions of dollars lobbying to weaken copyright.” Google and Facebook penalize companies that don’t share their vision of intellectual property. When newspapers and magazines require subscriptions to access their pieces, Google and Facebook tend to bury them; articles protected by stringent paywalls almost never have the popularity that algorithms reward with prominence. Google, according to documents that have surfaced in lawsuits against the company, is blunt about using its power to bend the media business to its model. Jonathan Rosenberg, the vice president of product management, told company brass in 2006 that Google must “pressure premium content providers to change their model to free.” 14 It’s a perfectly rational stance. The big tech companies become far more valuable if they serve as a gateway to free knowledge, if they provide a portal to an open and comprehensive collection of material.

  • Mark 11:38 am on September 24, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , neal lawson, networked politics, , , , The Technological History of Digital Capitalism,   

    Why the left needs to reject the ideology of networked socialism 

    In today’s Guardian, Neal Lawson offers a cautious reading of Corbyn’s Labour, accepting the ascendancy of the left within the party but urging it to look outwards. I’m sympathetic to many of the substantive points Lawson makes in the article but there’s a rich vein of problematic assumption running through their articulation which needs to be challenged. I’m pretty sure that in Lawson’s case, the peculiar style of fin de siècle social theorising once dominant within British sociology, about which I wrote a PhD thesis, played a crucial in consolidating this outlook.

    However, the problem extends beyond those who have taken Giddens, Beck and Bauman’s diagnosis of late modernity a little too seriously. In fact, I’d suggest the popularity of the aforementioned authors was in part due to their reflecting an emerging common sense, rather than being the originators of these influential ideas and motifs. In recent years, we’ve seen this transmute into what I increasingly think of as the ideology of platform capitalism: disruption has become the last refuge of the third way

    I recognise that Lawson is as far on the left of this movement as it is possible to be, though he so uncritically reproduces some of its core axioms that it would be a mistake to identify his core ideological home as anywhere else. The combination of business and activism, profit and principle, found in his own biography is a striking expression of the ethos of New Labour. There are two core assumptions underlying his article which need to be pulled out, analysed in their own right and dispensed with:

    1. Social democracy “lost its power” because “a lack of responsiveness and heavy doses of paternalism made state socialism unpopular” while “the idea of free markets chimed with a more individualistic age”. It is a purely cultural reading of an epochal shift, with one idea ‘losing its power’ while another becomes dominant because it ‘chimes’ with the spirit of an (assumed) new age. The historical variability of how centre-left parties have struggled in recent decades, something which can’t meaningfully be considered in abstraction from the ‘modernising’ strands dominant within so many of them, finds itself reduced by Lawson to the (empirical) decline of a particular phase in the existence of a single welfare state. Explanation of this trend is replaced by a woolly historical narrative, in which one set of ideas loses to another because of a vaguely specified epochal shift. It’s pure Giddens: the collective gives way to the individual, the traditional to the modern, the secure to the flexible. It’s neither explanatory nor descriptive in any straightforward sense.
    2. The spirit of the age is “networked and collaborative” and “21st-century socialism will be participatory”. After all, “things move fast and nowhere is this truer than in politics” where, warns Lawson, we see a “swarm” which “can and will keep shifting”. The conceptual structure of this is analogous to the ‘cult’ accusations made by the Labour right: a nascent movement is reduced into a behavioural compulsion gripping a mass, driven in this case by the affordances of digital media and the susceptibility of millennials to be swept along. It’s a refusal to engage with the reality of the events taking place, reducing them into an epochal schema in order to advance a prior set of axioms about how ‘progressive’ political ends ought to be pursued. It is already decided by the analyst that the actors at what Filip Vostal terms ‘mega-forces’ (globalisation, technology, acceleration, digital media) so the empirical actors are reduced to manifestations of these forces.

    This is only a brief attempt in response to an article I largely agreed with on a practical level. But the hunch I’m increasingly driven by is that ‘networked socialism’ is a re-articulation of ‘social markets’: it’s an ideological vehicle which, though sometimes correct on substantive issues, imports the conceptual structure of the ‘third way’ into debates about the future of the left.

  • Mark 3:58 pm on September 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , The Technological History of Digital Capitalism   

    CFP: Platform Urbanism 

    Association of American Geographers Conference 2018

    New Orleans, USA, 10-14 April 2018


    Susan Moore (University College London)

    Scott Rodgers (Birkbeck, University of London)


    Digital Geographies Specialty Group

    Media and Communication Geography Specialty Group

    Urban Geography Speciality Group


    Talk about ‘platforms’ is today all-pervasive: platform architecture, platform design, platform ecosystem, platform governance, platform markets, platform politics, platform thinking. But just what are platforms? And how might we understand their emergent urban geographies?

    As Tarleton Gillespie (2010) argues, the term ‘platform’ clearly does discursive work for commercial entities such as Facebook, Amazon, Uber, Airbnb and Google. It allows them to be variably (and often ambiguously) described and imagined: as technical platforms; platforms for expression; or platforms of entrepreneurial opportunity. Indeed, as emergent spaces, platforms – both commercial and nonprofit – entail so many ambitions, activities, services, exchanges, forums, infrastructures, and ordinary practices that conceptualizing their general dynamics is difficult, perhaps even pointless.

    Yet platforms do appear to have considerable implications, geographical as well as political. For Benjamin Bratton (2015), cloud-based platforms such as Facebook, Amazon and Google form a fundamental layer of what he calls planetary-scale computation, perhaps representing new forms of geopolitical sovereignty. This ‘sovereignty’ is, however, neither generalized nor homogeneous: in manifests in geographically uneven intensities and extents.

    This session invites original research and conceptual reflections that explore, debate and critique the notion of an emergent ‘platform urbanism’. Recently, Nick Srnicek (2016) deployed the phrase ‘platform capitalism’ to encapsulate his argument that platforms not only mark a new kind of firm, but a new way of making economies. Here – in a move similar to Henri Lefevbre’s (1970/2003) in The urban revolution – we suggest a speculative substitution of ‘urbanism’ for ‘capitalism’, placing an emphasis on the possibility of irreducible, co-generative dynamics between platforms and the urban.

    Contributions may address a wide range of commercial and nonprofit platforms – including those related to social networking, user-generated content, location-based technologies, mapping and the geoweb, goods and services, marketing, and gaming – and their relationships with various forms of urban living and urban spaces.

    Expressions of Interest

    We intend to organize 1-2 paper sessions, depending on quantity and quality of submissions, followed by a panel discussion session.

    Expressions of interest must be emailed to both Susan Moore (susan.moore@ucl.ac.uk<mailto:susan.moore@ucl.ac.uk>) and Scott Rodgers (s.rodgers@bbk.ac.uk<mailto:s.rodgers@bbk.ac.uk>) by 1 October 2017. Those proposing a paper presentation should send an abstract of 250 words; those interested in participating as a panellist should include a short outline of their intended contribution in their email.


    Bratton, B. H. (2016). The stack: On software and sovereignty. MIT press.

    Gillespie, T. (2010). The politics of ‘platforms’. New Media & Society, 12(3), 347-364.

    Lefebvre, H. (1970/2003). The urban revolution (originally published as La révolution urbaine). University of Minnesota Press.

    Srnicek, N. (2016). Platform capitalism. John Wiley & Sons.

  • Mark 7:33 am on September 12, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , The Technological History of Digital Capitalism   

    CFP: Storing and Sharing Special Issue of New Media & Society 


    ‘Storing and sharing: Everyday relationships with digital material’
    Special Issue of New Media & Society

    Edited by Heather A. Horst (The University of Sydney, Australia), Jolynna Sinanan (RMIT University, Australia) and Larissa Hjorth (RMIT University, Australia)

    Abstract Submission Deadline: 15 November 2017
    Proposal Selection Notification: 10 December 2017
    Initial Article Submission Deadline: 01 March 2017
    Contact email: storingandsharing@gmail.com<mailto:storingandsharing@gmail.com>

    Technologies and technological infrastructures are often associated with social and economic change. Airplanes and the shipping containers (Levinson 2008) became mechanisms for the spread of globalisation, reshaping the production processes and the trade and consumption of goods from around the globe. Undersea cables and mobile phone towers are often associated with providing the infrastructure of the digital age, enabling the flow of information, communication, media, technology, commerce and other goods to move at a greater speed than experienced in previous eras.  These possibilities continue to expand with the introduction of solid state drives, Bluetooth capabilities, smartphones, ‘the cloud’ and social media platforms that have fundamentally altered the practices of storing, sharing and circulating digital materials.

    Yet, the increasing capabilities for sharing and storing also have consequences for the ways in which we engage with and/or manage our digital data on a day-to-day basis.  Research on digital materials in the home highlight how families and households now grapple with an increasing number of digital photographs, videos and other digital materials that are often stored on a range of outdated or defunct devices, formats and platforms. Memory size in domestic technologies has increased, but so have the number and size of files that host many of the mundane digital materials. These constraints prompt decisions about what digital material should remain, what can be deleted and where certain digital materials should be stored. Such decisions become even more difficult with the increasing infiltration of work into the domestic sphere, syncing and other forms of automation and the increasing number of channels through which digital materials can circulate. For many people the separation of digital materials that move between different domains has become more challenging – and messier – than ever.

    This special issue examines our everyday relationships with digital materials and the various platforms, devices, spaces and formats through which they are stored and shared. We ask contributors to this special issue to consider: How do people manage the proliferation of digital material in their everyday lives? What strategies and rituals do they develop to organize, curate or delete digital materials? How are existing cultural practices of sharing and storing in other domains shaping these strategies? What are the broader infrastructures, platforms, programs and devices that are enabling, hindering or changing people’s ability to navigate the ways they store and share digital materials?

    Papers in this special issue will explore the everyday ways we manage living in a world of digital data and may include the following topics:

    •              Data transfer practices (e.g. moving digital materials from old to new devices)
    •              Manual vs automatic syncing of digital materials
    •              Temporalities of digital materials (e.g. long-term storage vs. transient data storage, changes of storing and sharing practices in relation to life stage)
    •              Routines and practices (e.g. organising, cleaning or curating digital materials)
    •              Non-sharing
    •              Emergent categories of and distinctions between digital materials
    •              Historical comparisons of sharing and storing of non-digital and digital materials
    •              Specific studies of sharing or storing on or across specific platforms (e.g. WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Dropbox, iCloud, c-Share, Google Drive, etc.)

    Please note that the guest editors’ welcome submissions on a wide variety of theoretical and/or empirical contributions to the study of digital material beyond the suggestions identified.

    Proposals should include the author’s name and affiliation, title, an abstract of 250-300 words, and 3 to 5 keywords, and should be sent to the e-mail address no later than 15 November 2017: storingandsharing@gmail.com<mailto:storingandsharing@gmail.com>  Invited paper submissions will be due 1 March 2018 and will be submitted directly to the submission site for /New Media and Society/: https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/nms where they will undergo peer review following the usual procedures of New Media & Society. Approximately 10-12 papers will be sent out for full review. All other papers will be returned to their authors for submission elsewhere.  Therefore, the invitation to submit a full article does not guarantee acceptance into the special issue. The special issue will be published in 2019. See also: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1iS-X-7xA411NShBzGmsruuHNcLbF3ieBqfYzzCC7s-I/edit?usp=sharing

  • Mark 7:28 pm on September 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , digital nomadism, , , , , The Technological History of Digital Capitalism, ,   

    The Ideal of the Digital Nomad 

    In From Counterculture to Cyberculture, Fred Turner analyses how digital technology came to be seen as capable of liberating the individual, freeing them from the shackles of petty attachments to organisations and places. This is a complex story but it’s one in which cultural entrepreneurs figure prominently, carving out modes of living which later percolated through the emerging cyberculture as ideals to be imitated. One early such figure was Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Lab, described on loc 2677:

    As LSD and a beat-up school bus had once freed Kesey to roam the American landscape with a tribe of friends, so digital technologies now allowed Negroponte to turn work into play. “Some of us enjoy a privileged existence where our work life and our leisure life are almost synonymous,” he told Brand. “More and more people I think can move into that position with the coming of truly intimate technology.

    The personal charisma of a figure like Negroponte plays an important part in their coming to serve as an exemplar, embodying a desirable form of life which invites explanation in terms of emerging notions of digitally-driven social change and in turn contributes to these changes through cultural elaboration. From loc 2685:

    If the Lab demonstrated the way a “wired” world might look, then Negroponte was the image of the social possibilities such a world might offer. Mobile, wealthy, handsome, some, completely networked in both the technological and the political sense, Negroponte was a new kind of man. As an echo of Marshall McLuhan, though, he was also the reincarnation of an earlier generation of hero. Like the Media Lab he headed, Negroponte was the living bridge between the legacy of cybernetics and the legacy of countercultural experimentation.

    George Gilder was another figure who was glamorised in this way. As Turner observes on loc 3353, his hectic schedule was held up as embodying a liberated life. His peripatetic working patterns were exciting and profitable:

    Much as other Wired writers had celebrated brated the members of the Electronic Frontier Foundation or the Global Business Network for their social connections, Bronson dwelled at length on Gilder’s hectic schedule of appearances, his migrations from tech company to tech company, and his twenty-thousand-dollar speaking fees. Gilder appeared peared to be a pattern of information, shuttling from node to node along a web of elite institutions. In case the reader missed the point, Bronson depicted picted Gilder literally speaking in the machine language of zeros and ones.

    As Turner puts it on loc 3366, “Wired had offered the freelance lance lifestyle of a high-profile consultant as a model of the independent lifestyle ostensibly becoming available to the digital generation as a whole“. This equivocation is an important one, seemingly at least a little bit dishonest when we consider how aware Wired were of the particular demographic they were pursuing. From loc 3233-3241:

    In a 1992 business plan, Rossetto and Metcalfe had described their target audience to potential investors as “Digital Visionaries.”.” With annual incomes averaging $75,000 a year, this group represented “The top ten percent of creators, managers, and professionals in the computer puter industries, business, design, entertainment, the media and education.” In the coming years, Wired reached this group with extraordinary success. Less than three years after the first issue appeared, for instance, when Wired was selling 300,000 copies a month, its readers were 87.9 percent male, 37 years old on average, with an average household income of more than $122,000 per year. In a reader survey, more than 90 percent of subscribers scribers identified themselves as either “Professional/Managerial” or “Top Management.”

    The idiots so wonderfully satirised in Nathan Barley are the children of these visionaries, sufficiently immersed in the emergent culture that any sense of transition has been lost. But the ideal of the ‘digital visionary’, something to which the ranks of digital nomads might find themselves aspiring, has a currency all the more powerful for it having lost touch with the conditions which gave rise to it.

    This bullshit came from somewhere and it felt a certain way to the people who first encountered it. We can’t explain its subsequent iterations, as well as the cultural power it has exercised, without appreciating these origins. But it’s still with us, identifiable in the propensity to find certain people shiny and certain lifestyles alluring.

    It intersects with other cultural trends, such as the ‘road warriors’ explored in Up In The Air, lending them an epochal lure by association, as if living life in this way leaves one at the bleeding edge of social change, bringing the new world into being through the very act of living one’s life:

    I’m interested in these lifestyles, valorising acceleration and the pleasures associated with it, as forms of life which emerged under conditions of socio-technical change. They became logistically possible, financially possible for some (though not others) and represented in popular culture. What effect did this have on how people saw the options available to them in life? How has it shaped our unspoken understandings of what it is to live life ‘fully’? What political work has this inadvertently achieved?

    As Turner describes on loc 2582, what now seem to many like regressive views (valorising the freelance economy as inherently liberating to workers) were at the time radical cultural sentiments, at odds with the prevailing socio-economic order:

    But Barlow’s account of cyberspace also mingled the countercultural critique of technocracy with a celebration of the mobility and independence required of information workers in a rapidly networking economy: I’m a member of that half of the human race which is inclined to divide the human race into two kinds of people. My dividing line runs between the people who crave certainty and the people who trust chance…. Large organizations and their drones huddle on one end of my scale, busily trying to impose predictable homogeneity on messy circumstance. On the other end, free-lancers and ne’er-do-wells cavort about, getting by on luck if they get by at all.

    In its most extreme versions, this liberation could be from embodiment itself: as Barlow once wrote, “In this silent world, all conversation is typed. To enter it, one foresakes both body and place and becomes a thing of words alone”.

    This was a radical and profound freedom, particularly in the context of a post-60s counterculture that had raised itself on a hostility towards the stifling bureaucracy of post-war American life. But these lofty, even metaphysical ideas, emerged alongside networked employment, providing a powerful framing which obscured the specificity of economic relations that would soon be generalised throughout the social order. However, the challenge is to recognise this ideological function while nonetheless acknowledging the novelty of this form of life. From loc 867:

    Only the freestanding individual “could find the time to think in a cosmically adequate manner,” he explained. Fuller himself lived accordingly: for most of his career, he migrated among a series of universities and colleges, designing projects, collaborating with students and faculty – and always claiming the rights to whatever the collaborations produced.

    This image of “an entrepreneurial, individualistic mode of being that was far from the world of the organization man” (loc 775) is still with us. Living freely, living passionately, living everywhere. It’s a powerful ideal, floating free within our contemporary culture, with specific roots in a peculiarly American tradition.

  • Mark 7:26 pm on August 29, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , social variety, The Technological History of Digital Capitalism, ,   

    Conduits for variety 

    In his superb From Counterculture to Cyberculture, Fred Turner vividly describes The Whole Earth Catalog and the horizon it opened up for many of its readers. From loc 1212:

    For many, the Catalog provided a first, and sometimes overwhelming, glimpse of the New Communalists’ intellectual world. Gareth Branwyn, for instance, a journalist who later wrote for Wired magazine, zine, recalled the day in 1971 when he saw his first copy of the Catalog: “I was instantly enthralled. I’d never seen anything like it. We lived in a small redneck neck town in Virginia-people didn’t think about such things as `whole systems’ and `nomadics’ and `Zen Buddhism.’… The Whole Earth Catalog changed my life. It was my doorway to Bucky Fuller, Gregory Bateson, whole systems, communes, and lots of other things that formed a foundation tion to a world model I’ve been building ever since.

    This is a conduit to variety (where to go, what to do and who to be) which had an enormous direct and indirect cultural impact. What interests me is the reception of this variety by individuals: how did it change lives? How did it lead people to conceive of their present differently? How did it lead them to imagine different futures?

    These are subtle questions which resist capture through quantitative measures, representing personal transformations which the individual themselves might not always narrativize in a straightforward manner. But conduits for variety is a concept I’m using to conceive of how media forms contribute to change in individual lives, including the social change ensuing from their aggregated actions as well as any subsequent participation in collective change.

  • Mark 9:01 am on August 1, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , power laws, , , The Technological History of Digital Capitalism, , , user generated content,   

    The rhetoric and reality of user generated content  

    On pg 102 of Jonathan Taplin’s Move Fast and Break Things, he highlights email exchanges between YouTube’s founders, released in a court case, which suggest the invocation of ‘user generated content’ might be a matter of branding rather than a meaningful growth strategy for social media platforms:

    In another email exchange from 2005, when full-length movies were being posted on YouTube, Steve Chen, a cofounder of the company, wrote to his colleagues Hurley and Jawed Karim, “Steal it!,” and Chad Hurley responded: “Hmm, steal the movies?” Steve Chen replied: “We have to keep in mind that we need to attract traffic. How much traffic will we get from personal videos? Remember, the only reason why our traffic surged was due to a video of this type…. viral videos will tend to be THOSE type of videos.”

    Much critical literature has focused on how social media platforms ossify existing hierarchies and establish new ones. It is too easy to see this as an unexpected consequence of a new social infrastructure, as opposed to an outcome which was knowingly designed in from the start.

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