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Posts in category 'Technology'

5 August 2012

Social media’s neoliberal world view (and how it affects us all)

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Recently I have embarked on trying to understand better the underlying ideology and world view of the Silicon Valley tech scene, and how this is impacting our daily lives through the products and services they create.

My mission is still far from complete and reading suggestions are more than welcome. On Twitter, Brian Schroer guided me to a few books and to this inspiring 2010 NYU doctoral dissertation by Alice E. Marwick, currently an Assistant Professor in Fordham University’s Department of Communication and Media Studies. Previously she was a postdoctoral researcher at Microsoft Research New England in the Social Media Collective (and therefore a frequent co-author with danah boyd), and a visiting researcher at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.

Marwick’s 511 page dissertation, which she is now reworking into a book for Yale Press, is based on ethnographic research of the San Francisco technology scene and explains how social media’s technologies are based on status-seeking techniques that encourage people to apply free-market principles to the organization of social life.

Rather than re-publishing the abstract, I want to cite a few paragraphs (on pages 11-13) from her introduction:

“David Harvey defines neoliberalism as “a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade” (Harvey 2007, 2). Neoliberal policies emphasize “trade openness, a stable, low-inflation macroeconomic environment, and strong contract enforcement that protects the rights of private property holders” (Ferguson 2006). [...] Neoliberalism is also an ideology of the integration of these principles into daily life; neoliberal discourse reproduces by encouraging people to regulate themselves ―according to the market principles of discipline, efficiency, and competitiveness‖ (Ong 2006, 4). Aihwa Ong identifies “technologies of subjectivity,” which use knowledge and expertise to inculcate this expertise in individual subjects. Exploring such technologies reveals how neoliberalism is experienced, and how these subjectivities are formed.

I argue that social media is a technology of subjectivity which educates users on proper self-regulating behavior. Internet and mobile technologies create the expectation that white-collar professionals should always be on the job, decreasing personal agency and creating conflicts between the often-contradictory demands of work and home life (Middleton 2007). Social media encourages status-seeking practices that interiorize the values of Silicon Valley, which is a model of neoliberal, free-market social organization. In the technology scene, market-based principles are used to judge successful social behavior in oneself and others, extended through social media. Status increases up to a point with the ability to attract and attain attention online. The ability to position oneself successfully in a competitive attention economy becomes a marker of reputation and standing. Web 2.0 discourse is a conduit for the materialization of neoliberal ideology. I isolate three self-presentation techniques rooted in advertising and marketing to show how social media encourages a neoliberal subject position among high-tech San Francisco workers: micro-celebrity, self-branding, and lifestreaming.”

24 July 2012

Silicon Valley worries about addiction to devices

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Computers, smartphones and other gadgets have made life easier, but now tech firms are worried that they may be harming people.

Huh? Tech firms worried about addiction to devices?

As also the author of the New York Times piece writes, it “sounds like auto executives selling muscle cars while warning about the dangers of fast acceleration.”

“The concern, voiced in conferences and in recent interviews with many top executives of technology companies, is that the lure of constant stimulation — the pervasive demand of pings, rings and updates — is creating a profound physical craving that can hurt productivity and personal interactions.”

Could it have something to do with their stressed out employees?

“Many tech firms are teaching meditation and breathing exercises to their staff members to help them slow down and disconnect.” [...] “Google has started a “mindfulness” movement at the company to teach employees self-awareness and to improve their ability to focus.”

Read article

12 July 2012

Field notes from global tech ethnographer Tricia Wang

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A sociologist, ethnographer, and corporate consultant who studies global technology use among migrants, low-income people, youth, and others on society’s fringes, Wang has worked for the past several years in China. Since 2005, she’s crisscrossed the country–often riding the rails–observing the impact of digital technology on the lives of rural workers migrating into the cities, and more recently, documenting the wildfire spread of new social-media platforms like Weibo and Renren. Recharging at her home base in Brooklyn after a year away, Wang spoke with Fast Company about her field of digital ethnography, the benefits of working outside of big institutions, and what U.S. tech entrepreneurs can learn from their peers in China.

(Make sure to check the slide show too)

4 July 2012

Intel social research team experiments with mood-altering technology

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A team of engineers, anthropologists and psychologists at Intel’s Oregon lab is busy developing ways of integrating human emotion and technology in ways that will, it hopes, lead the two to positively influence each other one day.

“Intel is playing around with some pretty impressive ideas that could, potentially, generate powerful results. They are, however, very aware of this and are treading with caution. In addition to ask how powerful technology can affect peoples’ moods, Intel is keen to find out what the best use would be for a “happiness algorithm”, if it were possible to develop one.”

Read article

21 June 2012

Context is key to making computers better conversationalists

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When communicating, context is king. A breakthrough in modelling context in human communication could make computers better conversationalists, according to cognitive scientists at Stanford University.

“[Michael] Frank, [head of Stanford University's Language and Cognition Lab] and colleague Noah Goodman, also a cognitive scientist from Stanford, have developed a mathematical encoding of what they call “common knowledge” and “informativeness” in human conversation. “We have a vastly powerful predictive model of the world,” says Goodman. “When somebody goes to understand a statement that somebody else has made, they’re making the best guess about the meaning of that statement, incorporating all these factors like informativeness and context.”

By “putting numbers to” a theory of communication that dates back to the 1960s, they have come up with a model that not only describes part of the mutual understanding shared between human speakers, but also lays the groundwork for the next generation of our AI interlocutors, from pocket voice assistants like Apple’s Siri and Android’s Iris to automated customer-service bots. “We’ve created a formalism for trying to predict what speakers are talking about and shown that it makes pretty good predictions,” says Frank. But the developers of Iris, for instance, also confirm that context-based understanding will give the edge in their field.”

Read article

12 June 2012

Augmented sensing through smartphones

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So how are we doing to augment our senses through digital technologies?

Here are some of the products currently on the market that allow people to augment their sensing (and sense-making) through external sensors, with result summaries visualised on smartphones and the web:

Health and healthy living: AsthmaSense, DigiFit, FitBit, Up
Sleep: Lark Sensor (WSJ article), WakeMate, Zeo
Sports: Nike+ (running), Strava (cycling), Wahoo
Home energy: Nest Learning Thermostat
Plants (!): Koubachi

It feels like a lot more is to come.

9 June 2012

Genevieve Bell: women are tech’s new lead adopters

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Social scientist Genevieve Bell – who is also the interaction and experience research director at Intel Labs – gave a major talk on what the future of technology looks like, and why middle-aged women may determine that future.

The talk, entitled “Telling the Stories of the Future: Technology, Culture and What Really Matters”, was the keynote at the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association Conference that took place in Brisbane in April, and was rebroadcast as a “Big Idea Talk” on Australian Radio.

Alexis Madrigal explores her talk in more depth at Atlantic, and cites some quotes, including these ones:

“It turns out women are our new lead adopters. When you look at internet usage, it turns out women in Western countries use the internet 17 percent more every month than their male counterparts. Women are more likely to be using the mobile phones they own, they spend more time talking on them, they spend more time using location-based services. But they also spend more time sending text messages. Women are the fastest growing and largest users on Skype, and that’s mostly younger women. Women are the fastest category and biggest users on every social networking site with the exception of LinkedIn. Women are the vast majority owners of all internet enabled devices – i.e. readers, healthcare devices, GPS – that whole bundle of technology is mostly owned by women.

So it turns out if you want to find out what the future looks like, you should be asking women. And just before you think that means you should be asking 18-year-old women, it actually turns out the majority of technology users are women in their 40s, 50s and 60s. So if you wanted to know what the future looks like, those turn out to be the heaviest users of the most successful and most popular technologies on the planet as we speak.”

“Furthermore, most consumers don’t own devices just by themselves, those devices exist within social networks. Consumers share devices in families, so that a mobile phone is owned by multiple people, a laptop is used by multiple people, an email account is used by multiple people. [...]“

Listen to audio (mp3)

19 May 2012

After ethnography, and other papers by Iota Partners

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Iota Partners is a new Chicago-based venture of Rick Robinson and John Cain (with whom Experientia partner Jan-Christoph Zoels once worked at Sapient) that deals with user experience research, sensor-based data, and smart modelling.

The papers section on their website is worth exploring in some depth. Here are some of them:

After ethnography
This paper is based on the transcript of Rick E. Robinson’s talk “After Ethnography,” which he presented at a Telefonica-sponsored conference on user-centered design in Madrid, in December 2010. Bringing together a series of points Rick calls his “tiny arguments” it forms a larger assessment of the state and future of user research.

Nice work
This sample chapter comes from a book in progress by Rick E. Robinson that will bring together many of Rick’s talks and writings on the theory and practice of user research. Based on a talk Rick gave at an internal research colloquium for senior staff members at a major technology company—an audience already familiar with Rick’s previous work at E-Lab—the talk focused on creating an effective research practice and on working with the idea of models.

Valuable to Values: How “User Research” Ought to Change
“Valuable to Values: How ‘User Research’ Ought to Change,” written by Maria Bezaitis and Iota Partner Rick E. Robinson, originally appeared in Design Anthropology: Object Culture in the 21st Century (Springer Vienna Architecture, 2010) edited by Alison J. Clarke, a professor at University of Applied Arts Vienna, and a student of anthropologist Daniel Miller when she did her graduate work at University College, London. It covers a lot of ground. Some history. Some reflection. A healthy dose of unsolicited advice to several different fields of research. Enjoy.

22 April 2012

Internet must be a web not for the consumer, but for the citizen

 

In an editorial, The Guardian argues for an open web:

“To protect the web’s founding principle is a matter of what Tim Berners-Lee would call citizen vigilance, of restraining by openness itself the continual pressure for a closed-down, privately owned cyberspace that is the inevitable product of those internet Cecil Rhodes who would like to fence in the riches of the virtual world. It must be a web not for the consumer, but for the citizen.”

Read editorial

17 April 2012

Wearable devices: the next battleground for the platform wars

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Wearable devices, or “wearables” for short, have enormous potential for uses in health and fitness, navigation, social networking, commerce, and media.

In a new report out today, Forrester argues that wearables will move mainstream once they get serious investment from the “big five” platforms — Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook — and their developer communities.

A blog post by the research company lists the key take-aways.

> More reflections by The New York Times | TechCrunch

Meanwhile, interaction-design.org has published an extensive chapter on wearable computing, in collaboration with Steven Mann, a tenured professor at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto.

11 April 2012

Videos from Technology Frontiers, an event by The Economist Group

TechFrontiers

Over 250 business leaders from across Europe descended on London’s Inmarsat Conference Centre for Technology Frontiers, two days of thought provoking sessions and networking. Led by The Economist’s Digital Editor, Tom Standage, the event explored how advances in technology will transform our work, our lives, our world.

Some highlights (all links are videos):

Using technology to turn consumer behaviour into a business model

  • Systempathy: Can technology systems be good for empathy? [18:53]
    Charlie Leadbeater, a leading authority on innovation, strategy and education
    Consumer behaviour is one of the most powerful forces in business. This session looks at how consumer behaviour is being transformed by technology, and asks what impact this should have on business strategies. We will also look at how technology is driven by consumer needs and how these needs can create new business models. Charlie Leadbeater talks about whether technology is for us or are we for it?
  • How people influence each other in a digital world [18:12]
    Aleks Krotoski, Academic and Journalist – Technology and Interactivity
    Aleks Krotoski writes about and studies technology and interactivity. Here she talks about the impact of technology on consumers lives and how it enables them to become influencers.
  • The business of interactivity and collaboration [18:22]
    Bonin Bough, Vice President of Global Digital and Consumer Engagement, Kraft Foods

Adapting to major technology-driven market forces

  • What happens when personal data becomes something to leverage rather than protect [11:24]
    Cory Doctorow, Science Fiction Author, Activist, Journalist and Blogger, Co-editor, Boing Boing
    Technology has the power to dramatically change politics, demographics, social norms and values. This session looks at how technology shapes society and how companies adapt to this.
  • Panel discussion: How technology changes social norms [28:06]
    Cory Doctorow
    David Greenberg, Executive Vice-president, LRN
    Mark Stevenson, Author of “An Optimist’s Tour of the Future”
    In this, the first panel of the summit, Cory Doctorow, David Greenberg, and Mark Stevenson came together to discuss how technology has the power to dramatically change social norms and values.

Open Minds

  • The Internet of Things [23:16]
    Andy Hobsbawn, Founder and Chief Marketing Officer, EVRYTHNG
    The Internet of Things is on everybody’s tech trends radar for 2012 – could this be the year it becomes mainstream? Imagine the interactive possibilities when everyday objects communicate with each other and the people that use them. Your camera can tell you where and when to get the perfect shots, your guitar can help you find other musicians near you. Companies can augment physical products with digital services that deliver personalised experiences and apps for their individual owners.
10 April 2012

Meet Google’s search anthropologist

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James Temple of the San Francisco Chronicle profiles Daniel Russell (video), Google’s search scientist (or as he calls it “search anthropologist”).

“About four years after forming, Google came to realise it needed human insights to infuse that information with context and meaning.

The company began conducting user research studies and hiring human-computer interactions experts, eventually snagging Russell from IBM in 2005. His main role is studying web searchers in their natural environment, at home or work, picking up the human scent where the data trail goes cold. [...]

Russell is part of a small team at Google that focuses on the human side of the equation for search. In addition to regularly observing searchers in the wild, they conduct user surveys, pay people in cafes to try out new products, and invite people into Google to run them though exercises and eye-movement studies. The goal is to better understand how people interact with Google’s products and why.”

Read article

27 March 2012

Technology can push our crazy buttons, rewire brains

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Our tech saturation has reached such a critical point that some experts say it’s rewiring our brains.

Research psychologist and computer educator Larry Rosen of California State University, Dominguez Hills, suggests that being so hyperconnected can make us behave as if we have real psychological disorders.

In his new book iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Overcoming its Hold On Us, Rosen says technology is causing some people to exhibit symptoms of problems including narcissistic personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, addiction and depression, among others.

“My concern is that we have become very enmeshed with our technologies … it is affecting every single aspect of our world. It’s gone past the stage of ‘this might be a problem’ to ‘it is a problem for many people.’ ”

Technology today is “so user-friendly that the very use fosters our obsessions, dependence and stress reactions,” Rosen says in his book. “I am not arguing that we are all crazy and technology is to blame. I find, however, that our actions and behaviors when we use technology make us appear out of control.”

Read article

27 March 2012

I’m being followed: how Google (and 104 other companies) are tracking us on the web

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Who are these companies and what do they want from me? Alexis Madrigal’s voyage into the invisible business that funds the web.

“This morning, if you opened your browser and went to NYTimes.com, an amazing thing happened in the milliseconds between your click and when the news about North Korea and James Murdoch appeared on your screen. Data from this single visit was sent to 10 different companies, including Microsoft and Google subsidiaries, a gaggle of traffic-logging sites, and other, smaller ad firms. Nearly instantaneously, these companies can log your visit, place ads tailored for your eyes specifically, and add to the ever-growing online file about you.” [...]

“Behind the details, however, are a tangle of philosophical issues that are at the heart of the struggle between privacy advocates and online advertising companies: What is anonymity? What is identity? How similar are humans and machines? This essay is an attempt to think through those questions.”

Read article

21 March 2012

Futurescapes – imagining what the world will look like in 2025

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FutureScapes, an open collaboration project by Sony and Forum for the Future, aims to bring together a range of expert thinkers, designers, futurologists, writers (including those from The Economist’s Intelligence Unit and Wired Magazine) and you – the public – to explore the opportunities and challenges of life in 2025, and to consider the potential contribution that technology and entertainment can make in shaping a better, more sustainable future.

“FutureScapes is all about imagining what the world of 2025 will look like and the role technology could play in our lives.

To inspire you and provide a starting point for your thoughts we’ve come up with four different scenarios of the world we may be confronted with in 2025. These aren’t predictions of the future, but are intended to help us visualise the possibilities for our future and think about how we might plan for those possibilities now.

The written scenarios are a result of an open and collaborative process involving people across Sony and Forum for the Future, as well as leading futurologists and experts from a range of fields.

Watch videos
Download report

(via Bruce Sterling)

17 March 2012

An update on the use of e-readers in Africa

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What does it take to introduce e-books and e-readers into communities in low income countries — and is this a good idea, asks Michael Trucano on EduTech, a World Bank blog on ICT in education.

“Judging by the increasing number of inquiries we receive here at the World Bank on this topic, we are not alone in asking such questions.

If you want help in trying to answer these and related queries based on evidence from pioneers in this area, you will most likely find yourself at some point in contact with the folks at the Worldreader NGO. Co-founded by one of the former senior executives at Amazon, Worldreader is working with its partners to “bring millions of books to underserved children and families in the developing world”.

Jonathan Wareham, a professor at ESADE in Barcelona who serves on the Worldreader – Spanish Foundation Board and collaborates with the organization on various research activities into the use of e-readers and e-books, recently stopped by the World Bank to talk about what Worldreader is learning from its work in Africa.

Read article

24 February 2012

Youth and Digital Media: From Credibility to Information Quality – New Report from the Berkman Center

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The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University published a substantial new report from the Youth and Media project: “Youth and Digital Media: From Credibility to Information Quality” by Urs Gasser, Sandra Cortesi, Momin Malik, & Ashley Lee.

Building upon a process- and context-oriented information quality framework, this paper seeks to map and explore what we know about the ways in which young users of age 18 and under search for information online, how they evaluate information, and how their related practices of content creation, levels of new literacies, general digital media usage, and social patterns affect these activities.

A review of selected literature at the intersection of digital media, youth, and information quality—primarily works from library and information science, sociology, education, and selected ethnographic studies—reveals patterns in youth’s information-seeking behavior, but also highlights the importance of contextual and demographic factors both for search and evaluation.

Looking at the phenomenon from an information-learning and educational perspective, the literature shows that youth develop competencies for personal goals that sometimes do not transfer to school, and are sometimes not appropriate for school. Thus far, educational initiatives to educate youth about search, evaluation, or creation have depended greatly on the local circumstances for their success or failure.

Key Findings:
1. Search shapes the quality of information that youth experience online.
2. Youth use cues and heuristics to evaluate quality, especially visual and interactive elements.
3. Content creation and dissemination foster digital fluencies that can feed back into search and evaluation behaviors.
4. Information skills acquired through personal and social activities can benefit learning in the academic context.

To access the full report (150 pages) and additional material, please visit: http://youthandmedia.org/infoquality

14 December 2011

Women to dominate tech

Women technology

Chip maker and technology group Intel says that women are emerging as the dominant users of technology and if it continues to enhance its ease of use, the fairer sex will continue to dominate the adoption of technology.

This is the opinion of Genevieve Bell, Intel fellow and director of interaction and experience research, who noted that European women spent more time on social networks than men, sent more text messages and used more location-based services on phones.

Read article

 
25 October 2011

Games, Life and Utopia conference

Gamification
Games, Life and Utopia is a half-day event in Pottsdam, Germany on 11 November, that is all about gamification, serious games, learning and play.

It’s a conference for service and interaction designers, for social activists, for artists, for developers and geeks, and of course for gamers.

“Gamification has garnered a lot of attention in recent years – both from academia and industry. At the event Games, Life and Utopia we will explore the potential and the boundaries of this emerging field. We will discuss the latest research results and discuss applications, not only in games, but also as tools for behavioral change. Our speakers offer a range of different perspectives on the topic – from hands-on experience with their own gamification products to a critical position based on psychological research. We will examine the operational mechanisms of games and their wondrous capabilities to produce experiences of hope, interest, enlightenment, and fascination.”

The key event organiser is Reto Wettach, a professor in physical interaction design at the University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam/Germany (and a former professor at Interaction Design Institute Ivrea).

16 October 2011

Brian David Johnson: Intel’s guide to the future

Brian David Johnson
Alex Knapp, Forbes Magazine contributor, talks with Intel futurist Brian David Johnson on what he take into account when planning the future:

“The answer is both intriguing and quite unlike most futurists I know. Johnson’s first stop is the social sciences. He works with Dr. Genevieve Bell, a cultural anthropologist who has been at Intel since 1998. Their teams work with ethnographers, social scientists, and others to understand the current state of the culture and try to figure out where it’s going.

The next step is then looking at the hardware. Johnson and his team work with computer scientists to look at the current state of the art in hardware, software, and algorithms, as well as the research coming up. The tech data is meshed with the social sciences data to answer a simple question: how can we apply this technology to capture people’s imaginations and make their lives better?

“At that point,” Johnson says. “I start to look at the trends. Which is really where most people start.”

Combining all of this data, Johnson then develops what he calls a “vision of the future” that his team can work to build.”

Read interview