Updates on Method

I’ve been following the work of Jason Farman for a while, and am now enjoying his book Mobile Interface Theory (excerpt here). It’s really good, but in the process of being good also points out many gaps in our contemporary thinking about mobile (it’s not just phones) and phenomenology (it’s not mutually exclusive of poststructuralism; it’s not outmoded). Needless to say, this is yet another new work among many that relates well to my dissertation in process.

It feels a little uneasy bringing (as Farman does) the concept of embodiment (via Katherine Hayles) to a constructivist interpretation of technology, but in some ways, it makes sense and feels right. Why the uneasiness? Well, I recall trying to do so in my comprehensive exams and getting cautioned not to do so by one of my supervisors. I cannot recall the precise reason why I was so cautioned (though it seemed like a good reason at the time, and under the pressure of the oral exam, I chose to backpedal away from my more adventurous ideas rather than fight for them), but it had something to with this:

I was trying to make the point that Hayles’ notion of embodiment as a process involving mutual constitution of biology and mind (Farman brilliantly extends this to bodies and space) is resonant with Latourian concepts of hybridity. That is, acknowledging the mutual constitution of biology and mind is identical to acknowledging the hybrid of politics and science. Somehow the literary dimensions of Hayles’ work didn’t sit well with Latour for that member of my committee.

Am I nuts? Naive? Reading vandalized books? Hep me, I want to resolve this.

Les Comps

Ta-da. I’ve finally submitted the field definitions for my Comprehensive exams. Here they are. Comments welcome; it helps. I’m writing the Philosophy of Technology exam in October, and the Theorizing Participatory Media exams in December February 2010, during the Olympics.

1. A History of the Philosophy of Science and Technology

Western philosophical perspectives about technology have been constructed in various ways representing a number of historically contingent ontological orientations: utopianism and its opposite, instrumentalism and its heirs, Marxism, critical theory, social constructivism, poststructural approaches and actor network theory. The prevalence of one or another approach or orientation toward science and technology as a sociological or philosophical subject of inquiry is dialectically related to its historical and social context – that is, it is both produced by it and works to reproduce it. Further, our very demarcation of the distinctive territories of science and technology is an historical artefact warranting a thorough exploration, too. In this comprehensive examination I will explore the contours of this history of thinking about science and technology.

Philosophical thinking about science outgrew its origins in philosophy around several problems, which have heavily influenced its development, largely by preventing it from developing (Ihde 1993): the conventional bias toward “pure” thought in philosophy as against materialistic concerns, the view of modernity (and its technology) as superior to its predecessors, and the wide supposition that technology is a subset of or is a consequence of science.

Subsequent philosophical developments distorted and perturbed this original Enlightenment-era position of technology as related to science. While Marxism and its discontents provided much of the groundwork for 19th and 20th century technological utopianism, a Philosophy of Technology per se doesn’t emerge until later phenomenological studies approached the subject (from Husserl through Heidegger). In tandem with the development of technology with massive destructive potential (the Nazi regime, nuclear technology, biological engineering and so forth), the historical character of much early 20th century thinking about technology is fearful and dystopic (Ellul, Heidegger, Adorno). Alternative readings that come up later in the century are utopian and instrumental (Habermas), while yet other readings of this era bear both the hallmark of an activist tradition and the seeds of later constructivist approaches (Marcuse).

Science and Technology Studies grew into its own with the development of the sociology of scientific knowledge school (SSK, as exemplified in the works of Bloor and Kuhn) in the 1960s and 70s. This school emphasized philosophical attention to the historical contingency of science and knowledge. A few of this school’s leading thinkers (notably Bloor) worked at expanding the contingencies recognized by the SSK school into a broader critique – what is now referred to as the “Strong Programme” in the sociology of science. The primary contribution of the Strong Programme was perhaps the notion of symmetry, the use of which demonstrated a longstanding bias in historical studies of science that distinguished between proven and failed scientific knowledge. This critical turn legitimized the study of scientific practice as contingent on social organization and culture, paving the way for the wider critique provided by social constructivism.

The SCOT approach (Social Construction of Technology) was advanced by writers such as Bijker, Hughes and Pinch. Here the principles developed by the SSK school were systematically applied to empirical studies of technological innovation, with analyses of the social relations constituted in designs for bicycles (Pinch & Bijker 1984), electric cars (Callon 1987), and door grooms (Latour 1992). An important argument raised by this school of thought is that values and ideology are designed/embedded into technology, such as how bridges can be designed to racially discriminate and segregate (Winner). SCOT theorists expose how the design of objects and techniques that affect our lives – everything from viruses to airplanes to ship’s masts – is ideological.

Actor-Network theory emerges as a counterargument to SCOT. Advanced by Bruno Latour, John Law and others, ANT antagonizes the strong constructivist argument by constructing one in which artifacts and networks are equally constitutive of social relations as are humans. In this view, being in the world (and being technology in the world, specifically) is an emergent property of networked agents of all kinds. As a matter of course, facts and artifacts, according to Actor Network theorists, are indistinguishable. Moreover, networks and actors are perceived only relatively (via the technique of punctualisation). ANT is a richly-conceived methodological alternative to social constructivism in technology studies, which helps to de-center SCOT’s earlier decentering (of fact, and of value) further.

More recent approaches to the question of technology have attempted to balance social constructivism against human agency, such as Feenberg’s (1999, 2002) critical constructivism, as well as works by philosophers such as Radder (1996) that point out some of ANT’s unhelpful normative assumptions and other problems. Critical constructivism, in particular, draws from earlier sociological critiques to help re-center and politicize the analysis of technology into more of an actionable theory. Contemporary with yet divergent from this critical effort to recenter the politics of technology, posthumanist approaches provide an interesting departure. Posthumanism repositions the human subject as a strictly technical one (Stiegler), often via a rubric that describes us as inherently cybernetic beings (Haraway). Both of these theoretical approaches (critical constructivism and posthumanism) resonate back onto philosophical precedent, however – particularly to phenomenology and the idea of technology as a dialectical process.

The major philosophical debates within this field of inquiry (as I have described it) center around definitions of technology, the relative weight of agency and structure in technical ongoings, transcendence and immanence of artifacts and actors, the historical and ontological priority of science as against that of technology, the degree to which politics can be designed into technology, and, importantly, divergent overall definitions of the role of technology in society, which bring with them radically incompatible assumptions about human social behaviour, and the question of human identity as defined in relation to technology. This comprehensive exam aims to address each of these debates in turn.

Reading List

Pre-modern Roots: Instrumentalism and Enlightenment
Bacon, F. (1620) The New Organon or True Directions Concerning the Interpretation of Nature (Book I). In Anderson, F.H. (Ed.) The New Organon and Related Writings (1960). New York: The Liberal Arts Press, pp.33-120.

Foucault, Michel (1970). The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (Chapter 5: Classifying I: What the Historians Say, and Chapter 10: The Human Sciences I: The Three Faces of Knowledge). Trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith. Ed. R.D. Laing. New York: Pantheon, pp. 124-145 & 344-387.

Dialectical Materialism and Technology: The Legacy of Marx
Marx, K (1887) Capital, Volume I: The Process of the Production of Captial. Trans. S. Moore & E. Aveling. Ed. F. Engels. Moscow: Progress Publshers. Online Version: Marx/Engels Internet Archive, 1999. (Chapter Fifteen: Machinery and Modern Industry). Retrieved on 9 November 2009 from http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch15.htm .
Lukacs, G. (1966). Technology and social relations. New Left Review 1(39): 27-34. Retrieved on 9 November 2009 from http://www.newleftreview.org/?view=873 .

Phenomenology (and post-)
Heidegger, M. (1977). The question concerning technology, and other essays (W. Lovitt, Trans. 1st ed.). New York: Harper & Row.
Ihde, Don (1990) Technology and the lifeworld: from garden to earth. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Ihde, Don (1983). Existential Technics. New York: SUNY Press.
Verbeek, P.-P. (2005) What things do : Philosophical reflections on technology, agency, and design. Trans. Robert P. Crease. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Critical Theory: The Frankfurt School and After
Adorno, T. W. and Horkheimer, M. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Trans. Edmund Jephcott. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2002
Habermas, J. (1971). Technology and Science as “Ideology” (Trans. J. J. Shapiro). In J. Habermas (Ed.), Toward a Rational Society; Student Protest, Science, and Politics (pp. 81-122, 142 of 132): Beacon Press.
Marcuse, H.(1964) One Dimensional Man. Boston: Beacon

Ellul, J (1967) The Technological Society. Trans. John Wilkinson. New York: Knopf/Vintage.
Leiss, W. (1990). Under technology’s thumb. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Philosophy of Science Turns Sociological
Borgmann, A. (1984) Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life: A Philosophical Inquiry. Chicago : University of Chicago Press
Fleck, L. (1979) The Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact. Eds. T.J. Trenn and R.K. Merton.Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Hacking, I. (1999) The Social Construction of What? Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Kuhn, T.S. (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Merton, R. (1968) Social Theory and Social Structure New York: Free Press.

Social Constructivism

Brey, P. (1997) Social Constructivism for Philosophers of Technology: A Shopper’s Guide. Society for Philosophy and Technology 2(3-4):56-79.
Callon, M. (1987). Society in the making: The study of technology as a tool for sociological analysis. In W.E. Bijker, T.P. Hughes, & T. Pinch, (Eds.) The social construction of technological systems. London; Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Hughes, T.P. The evolution of large technological systems. In W.E. Bijker, T.P. Hughes, & T. Pinch, (Eds.) The social construction of technological systems. Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press.
Latour, B., & Woolgar, S. (1979). Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific Facts. London and Beverly Hills: Sage.
Pinch, T. and Bijker, W.E. (1987). The social construction of facts and artifacts: Or how the sociology of science and the sociology of technology might benefit each other. In W.E. Bijker, T.P. Hughes, & T. Pinch, (Eds.) The social construction of technological systems. Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press.
Oudshoorn, N. a. Pinch., T., Eds. (2003) How users matter : the co-construction of users and technologies. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Winner, L. (1993). Upon opening the black box and finding it empty: Social Constructivism and the Philosophy of Technology. Science, Technology, & Human Values 18(3): 366-378.

Actor-Network Theory
Latour, B. (1987). Science in action : how to follow scientists and engineers through society. Cambridge, Mass. :: Harvard University Press.
Latour, B. (1992). Where are the Missing Masses, Sociology of a Few Mundane Artefacts. In W. Bijker & J. E. Law (Eds.), Shaping Technology/Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change (pp. 225-259). Cambridge: MIT Press.
Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: an introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Law, J. E. (1986). Power, action and belief : a new sociology of knowledge? London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Law, J.E. and Hassard, J. (1999) Actor Network Theory and After. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Law, J.E. and Bijker, W. (Eds.) (1994) Shaping Technology / Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change (Inside Technology). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Critical Constructivism (and other critiques of ANT)

Feenberg, A. (1999). Questioning technology. London ; New York: Routledge.
Feenberg, A. (2002). Transforming technology : a critical theory revisited. Oxford ; New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press.
Radder, H (1996) In and about the world: philosophical studies of science and technology. New York: SUNY Press.

Posthumanist Approaches
Haraway, D. (1991) A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York; Routledge, pp.149-181.
Hayles, K. (1999) How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: U. Chicago Press.
Simondon, G. (2007) “Technical Individualization,” in Joke Brouwer & Arjen Mulder (eds.), Interact or Die! Rotterdam: NAi.
Stiegler, B. (1998) Technics and Time. Trans. R. Beardsworth & G. Collins. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.


2. Theorizing Participatory Media, Culture and Art

This comprehensive will broadly engage critical theories of art in society, cultural/creative industries, theories of taste, reception, and cycles of production, and art and technology in an historical account of the theory of participation in the arts and media, political economy of art and culture, and theories of power and structure that create the conditions for and modalities of participation in art and cultural practice. Recognizing inevitable problematics embedded in the words of the title of this comprehensive area – “participatory” “media”, “culture” and “art” – this comprehensive constitutes a bridge between contemporary popular discourses about participatory media (as it is enframed in literature on digital media) with a number of disparate theories about art, political economy of media, and cultural studies. Contemporary conceptions of “participation”, and “media, culture and art” in an era of digital reproduction demand this historical and theoretical grounding.

I begin this history with Heidegger’s “The Origin of the Work of Art” (1960), an imaginative recasting of art as transcendent and world-shaping. In developing his philosophy of Being (Dasein) around interpretation, perception, and remakings of the World (using ancient monumental art and painting as his examples), Heidegger invokes artistic activities to illustrate the phenomenological character of our experience of the World. Artmaking, through Heidegger’s lens, can be applied or generalized to the nature of being in the world more generally. Heidegger’s phenomenological vision of being-in-the-world (of which art is one vivid example) is a foundational orientation to contemporary Western conceptions of the special position of art as a mode of creating the world. And while it is true that the transcendent attribution to art pre-dates Heidegger by centuries, I contend that it is his situation of the importance of art in a phenomenological framework that has afforded the survivability of the notion of a privileged place for art-in-society, throughout poststructural and postmodernist paradigm shifts.

Theodor Adorno’s work on aesthetics (particularly, Aesthetic Theory, 1997) offers a comprehensive, dialectical, and materialist basis upon which to refute Heidegger’s phenomenologically-informed view. Adorno’s view – attached as it is to a more radical philosophical programme – also marks an historic break with prevailing aesthetic theories stemming from idealism (Hegel and Kant). While aesthetics is not the particular subject of this history, Adorno’s dialectic between autonomous and socially engaged art practices sets the stage for later Western art discourses as well as those of the sociology of art. It is also notable that Adorno’s writing on art utilizes very narrow definitions for art as compared to the work of other scholars in this area. Walter Benjamin (1986), by comparison, entertains a more inclusive definition of art practice, and in so doing opens the way to a reconsideration or inversion of Adorno’s dialectic. As with Adorno’s thesis, Benjamin’s vision of the dialectic between aura and democratic art persists in more recent discourses.
Many twentieth century sociological accounts of art practice and art communities, such as Becker’s Art Worlds (1982), take a more neutral stance about the role of aesthetics, foregrounding instead the structure of communities of practice and their audiences and the economic dimensions of creative work. This approach, which has influenced anthropologists and ethnomusicologists alike has broadly informed methodology in the study of communities of practice. At the same time, theorists such as Bourdieu (1984) have brought a similar orientation to the study of consumption and taste communities. In centering their analyses on the socioeconomic indicators of audience preferences, scholars in this school have (though not without justified criticism – see Zangwill 2002) reaffirmed the the value of relativistic approaches to art without appeal to aesthetic study per se. This body of sociology further reinforces an unresolved schism between aesthetics and the study of artists’ practice.

Cultural studies – particularly UK cultural studies – attempts to remedy this through its focus on meaning and symbolism in the circulation of art and cultural produce as texts. As evinced in the works of Hebdige (1979) and others, this thread of research, heavily informed by semiotics, extends and blends the study of aesthetic form with that of social behaviour, particularly as social performance embodies or enacts gestures of ethnic, gender and socioeconomic relevance.

The “cultural industries approach” to this field, an ongoing provocation by Miege (1989), Garnham (2000), and Hesmondhalgh (2006a, 2009), marks a turn in media studies to deliberately, and in many cases quantitatively answer questions about power and structure in the economics of culture while affording more agency to participants of creative spheres than past theorists were willing to do (e.g, Adorno). Something of an uneasy complement to Bourdieu’s analysis of taste, in this school of inquiry the focus shifts to forces of production and public policy in creative spheres. The cultural industries approach has been widely influential, drawing in attention from not only cultural economics (Throsby 1994), but also Marxian occupations studies (Menger 1999) and actor-network theory (Hennion 2007).

Much more recently, a resurgence of interest in the economics of creativity has occurred, one which has tried to unseat political economic assumptions about what counts as creative, and comes to very different conclusions about the role of creative occupations in the wider economic system. This “creative industries” critique describes creativity as a force of social action that percolates through a wide range of occupations not normally associated with arts and cultural activities (Potts & Cunningham 2008). Analyses of this species tend to view “creative professionals” as trailblazers that lead economic and social progress. The creative industries critique also provides counterpoint to the statism associated with policymaking inspired by the cultural industries approach (Hesmondhalgh 2009), promoting instead forms of self-organization among creative communities.

While the creative industries approach has met a resounding chorus of critics (Garnham 2005; Miller 2009, to name two), a related body of literature on digital media practice and creativity is also relevant for the present discussion. These authors work to decenter the locus of our notion of creativity in their examinations of the dynamics of fan communities and creative practice in digitally mediated spaces (Jenkins 2004). While these views would underpin the contested claims of the creative industries approach, they constitute yet useful hypotheses that draw attention to the legacy of cultural studies, bringing analysis of symbolism and the circulation of texts back into the debates. A further resonance with the history of criticism I have here outlined is the interest in “world-making” as described by some of this field’s proponents (Jenkins et al 2003), which revives Heidegger’s invocation of creating of the “world” (in terms of establishing world as an intermediary between sense and perception) as the objective of art. Some critics of these perspectives have attempted to critique the celebration of digital participatory media from a more emphatically critical cultural studies-influenced position. Bolter and Grusin (1999) do this by framing digital media as part of a double logic of remediation, bridging Douglas Kellner’s critical approach to media studies to the actor-network theory of Bruno Latour.

Consideration of this body of works also demands a critical look at one of the fundamental assumptions made about “participation” in art – the theorizing of “participatory” itself. There is a long history to the exploration of the question about what participatory art means, from Breton’s writings about Surrealism, through Artaud’s reversals of audience-performer dynamics, public Situationist happenings and other public forms of contemporary art. This history of thinking about participation in art is often ignored in contemporary discourses about digital media. Some argue, for instance, that digital media use can and should transform our very notions of aesthetics. Bourriaud’s (2002) relational aesthetics is one such theory. Here the value of works – the locus of their “aesthetic” analysis – inheres in their sociability, and neither in their formal or affective dimensions, nor in their content. The question turns from “what does the work express or embody?” to “what does the work do?”. While this is a provocative line of questioning, it betrays an ignorance of theoretical precedent, as recounted by Bishop (2006). Bishop goes on to call for more precise definitions to distinguish the authentically participatory from the merely interactive, making the claim that the former requires a degree of sociality. Still others (Beech 2008) claim that this reasoning does not go far enough – that mere participation is not enough, and that attention and political engagement are never assured (though are too often presupposed) in “participative” acts of art.

Reading List

Heidegger: Phenomenological Aesthetics
Heidegger, M. (1993) The Origin of the Work of Art. In Basic Writings. 2nd ed., ed. David Farrell Krell. New York: Harper Collins.

Frankfurt School and Critical Theory Perspectives
Adorno, T. W. (1981). Prisms (1st MIT Press ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Adorno, T. W. (1938), “On the Fetish Character in Music and the Regression of Listening”, The Essential Frankfurt School Reader, Blackwell, pp. 280
Adorno, T. W. (1997) Aesthetic Theory. (Orig. published 1970, Eds. Adorno, G. & Tiedemann, R. Trans. Hullot-Kentor, R.). U Minn. Press: Minneapolis.
Attali, J. (1985). Noise : the political economy of music. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Benjamin, W. (1986). The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (H. Zohn, Trans.). In H. Arendt (Ed.), Illluminations. New York: Harcourt Brace.
Witkin, R. W. (2002) Adorno on Popular Culture. London: Routledge.

Highbrow/Lowbrow Critiques
DiMaggio, P. (1991) The extension of the high culture model to theater, the Opera, and the Dance, 1900-1940. In Lamont, M. and Fournier, M, (eds.) Cultivating Differences: Symbolic Boundaries and the Making of Inequalities. Chicago: U of Chicago Press, pp. 21-57.
Levine, L. W. (1988) Highbrow, Lowbrow. The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America. Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press.

Sociologies of Practice and Taste
Becker, H. S. (1982). Art Worlds. Berkley: University of California Press.
Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Bourdieu, P. (1993). The field of cultural production: essays on art and literature. Cambridge UK: Polity Press.
Hesmondhalgh, D. (2006b). Bourdieu, the media and cultural production. Media, Culture & Society 28(2): 211-231.
DeNora, T. (2003) After Adorno: Rethinking Music Sociology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Zangwill, N. (2002) Against the Sociology of Art. Philosophy of the Social Sciences 32:206-218.
Zolberg, V. (1990) Constructing a Sociology of the Arts. London: Cambridge.

Cultural Studies
Grace, H. (2003). ‘What’s the use?’ cultural studies and the religion of the useful. Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 17(4): 397-409.
Hartley, J. (2003). A Short History of Cultural Studies. London: Sage.
Hebdige, D. (1979). Subculture : the meaning of style. London: Methuen.

The Cultural Industries Approach
Couldry, N. (2004). Actor Network Theory and Media: Do They Connect and on What Terms? In A. Hepp (Ed.), Cultures of Connectivity.
Garnham, N. (2000) Emancipation, the Media, and Modernity: Arguments about the Media and Social Theory. Oxford: Oxford U Press.
Hennion, A. (2007) Those Things That Hold Us Together: Taste and Sociology. Cultural Sociology 1: 97.
Hesmondhalgh, D. (2006a) The Cultural Industries, 2d ed. London: Sage.
Miege, B. (1989) The Capitalization of Cultural Production. New York: International General.
Menger, P. (1999) Artistic Labour Markets and Careers. Annual Review of Sociology 25: 541-74.
Throsby, D. (1994) The Production and Consumption of the Arts: A View of Cultural Economics. Journal of Economic Literature XXXII:1-29.
Towse, R. (2003). A handbook of cultural economics. Cheltenham, UK; Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.

The Creative Industries Model
Cunningham, S. (2004). The creative industries after cultural policy. International Journal of Cultural Studies 7(1):105-115.
Deuze, M. (2006). Collaboration, participation and the media. New Media & Society 8(4):691-698.
Garnham, N. (2005) From cultural to creative industries. International Journal of Cultural Policy 11(1): 15-29.
Hesmondhalgh, D. (2009). Cultural and Creative Industries. In The SAGE Handbook of Cultural Analysis. Eds Bennett, T and Frow, J. London: Sage.
Miller, T. (2009). From creative to cultural industires. Cultural Studies 23(1): 88-99.
Potts, J., & Cunningham, S. (2008). Four models of the creative industries. International Journal of Cultural Policy 14(3): 233-247.

Fan Communities, Creativity and Digital Culture
Benkler, Y. (2006). The wealth of networks : how social production transforms markets and freedom: Hartford:Yale U Pr.
Bolter, J. D. and Grusin, R. (1999) Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
Jenkins, H. (2004). The cultural logic of media convergence. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 7(1), 33-43.
Jenkins, H., Seawell, B., & Thorburn, D. (2003). Democracy and new media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Theorizing Participation
Beech, D. (2008) “Include me out! Dave Beech on participation in art”. Art Monthly 315:1-4.
Bishop, C. (2006) Participation. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Bourriaud, N. (2002). Relational Aesthetics. Paris: Presses du réel.

Car V Bike

I’ve been on the sidelines of Critical Mass for far too long. Time for that to end.

For the umpteen-millionth time, I was (either intentionally or not) bullied today by two cars on Commercial Drive. Riding in the right hand lane, ever watchful behind and in front of me, carefully judging whether the doors of parked cars along the side of the road are going to suddenly swing open, headed northward to 1st Avenue, a sudden white WHOOSH or ROAR came up on my left side, within inches of striking me. I shouted “Hey”, and proceeded to accelerate and follow the car to the intersection where it had stopped, behind a second white vehicle full of males who were laughing at me. I circled in front of my assailant’s car and said quite simply “share the road, man!”. I went right up to his driver’s window to get a look at him. He drunkenly slurred something about me being “all over the road”, and told me to “learn how to drive that thing”. I told him to learn how to drive his beat up car and went off. As the light turned to green, he sped off and then started yelling obscenities at me, not watching where he was driving.

I hope he doesn’t kill someone. I’m sorry I didn’t manage to photograph him or his license plate.

To the point, as this is becoming a weekly (or more) occurence for me as a well-mannered cyclist on Vancouver’s streets (I always stop at red/yellow lights, cruise at a walking pace in the rare instances I need to use spaces where pedestrians are, always ring my bell when coming up behind another cyclist or pedestrian etc), I’m completely done with car drivers that behave in illegal, reckless, and bullying ways. I think Critical Manners is a complete cop-out, and is created by people who don’t have the faintest idea what social change entails.

I’ll be joining you at Critical Mass, this time and next, and ever thereafter, until the bullying and harassment (on the streets and in the dying mainstream newspapers) stops.

And as I tweeted earlier today, if you bully me with your car or bus, I will photograph you and post it on the Internets as soon as I can find wireless nearby to do the uploading. With peak oil, climate change, the electric car, and the progressive advances in public transit and bike infrastructure in Vancouver in the last year, the message is clear: aggressive urban drivers, IT’S OVER. And every last one of you miscreants that want to try and intimidate and bully pedestrians, cyclists, sk8ers and seniors on scooters off the road, look out, for you are going to be outed and shamed.

That is all. See you at the VAG.

Friday Zeitgeist: GeoChat, Twitter filters, Street Hacks, Youtube FAIL

Youtube CSS FAILI might start trying to do a “weekly zeitgeist” digest every Friday (or at worst, just paste together some cool links I’ve found). I’d like to include the sorts of links that contain answers (even partial, or even just plain wrong) to all of our questions, before many of us even formulate those questions. That, and funny shit. Here goes…

GeoChat is inviting participants. I’m joining, and so should you! Open source, network-traversing GPS/messaging? For disaster scenarios? A no brainer.

Russel Beattie reads my mind (and raman amplifiermany others), and he’s working on some code to separate the tweets from the twits (snarkiness mine). Let’s see if he gets there before some round-cornered logo accompanies some social media hipster-whoreapp that does the same thing but makes us feel icky because of the fast-talking jerk who made it. Snarkiness. Mine. Srsly though, where would we be without fast-talking jerks?

Too much coffee, man. Or, It’s Friday, I’m in Love.

An excellent read (so far), ccd so you can download (tipped off by @janchip, who’s also bringing the skinny on street hacks to MIT next week).

And finally, a major CSS FAIL at Youtube hit some student work at SFU (pictured above). Thankfully I had Grab ready and reproduced one of the borked pages (for the full comedic effect of the upside down youtube page, go to the full size jpeg on my Flickr account and read what it says in the blue box on the right).

Have a great weekend, folks.

Commercial Whiplash: Nokia, carriers, and why Canada is still full of crap mobiles

On Nokia’s shrinking North American market share: “(Samsung & others) were quick to meet carriers’ customization demands, an area in which Nokia proved reluctant.” (http://bit.ly/zuSN).

But this is precisely why Nokia ought to be lauded – for its efforts in putting out handsets that straddle grids/networks (3g/wi-fi) and balancing different interaction design models in the same devices (creators+consumers, and their inevitable Web 2.0 hybrids). The N97 is out now soon [thanks Roland!] (as is the much awaited N96). Both of these are weighted heavily on the media creators’ side of things (for media creators, camera quality, rather than a touch screen, is premium, and Nokia must know this, or it would’ve gone to the extra bother of putting a touch screen in the N97, sacrificing who-knows-what. [CORRECTION, Jan 5 2009: sloppy reading on my part – it does have a touch screen, though it’s not a front stage feature of this handset, as confirmed at Mobile Review.].

Why should the carriers be allowed to influence the design of multiplatform devices? They aren’t their end users. Their sole relation to the handest is, seemingly, to coerce people into buying plans of various shapes and sizes. Thus, their influence helps shape handsets using a logic born of advertising and seduction/coercion techniques (and then further, techniques to induce users into using the devices in ways that turn uncomplicated profits) – not genuine interest in how users proactively seek their own tools of creation (and destruction). This benefits no one except the carriers themselves.

I think Nokia gets this.

The real problem is that Canadian wireless carriers don’t care if their user base consists of any media creators. Rather, they’re probably scared of that prospect, just like the music industry is still scared of amateurs. This is why upload rates are typically throttled as compared to download rates, and it’s why Rogers and others keep peddling handsets that in any other country would be laughed at, gonged off stage, and tossed in a landfill.

Personally I’ll stay out of buying a new handset until we see more severe trickle down of advanced features, and some reasonable data plans without a 2 year commitment in this IT ghetto called Canada. But here’s hoping Nokia doesn’t start pulling its resources out of North America, as some have speculated (see above-linked article).

I’m frankly tired of being treated by carriers as an unproductive media eater, a “pocket potato”, if you will. Bring on the dancing handsets (irrelevant link, just for fun, love that song).

Twittering the Election, SIFTing Media Collections

If you haven’t seen this already, then go check it out. Terse political opinions fly by with impunity. What to do, what to do…and how does media theory speak to this? I can anticipate hundreds of approaches, from critical political economy to social constructivism to what-have-you … but then again, I’m directly implicated in the construction of these very tools, for better or for worse.

Case in point – if you can imagine a media rich version of this, then you might be interested in what Mobile Muse (in partnership with the affable people at Raincity Studios) has been working on for the past little while: the Social Information Feed Tracker (SIFT) Tool. Currently in beta, this application allows SMS and social media from sites like Youtube and Flickr to be aggregated in custom channels. More functionality is being added as we speak – watch for a full public announcement of this and other Mobile Muse innovations very shortly…

Smartphones, Price Points, and Purchasing Power Parity

Expensive phones are like an enormous test phase, but budget phones are the true launch pad for a mobile technology.”

Well said. Read the rest at All About Symbian. It’s exciting to see the trickle of smart phone functionality into lower end handsets. Perhaps Nokia’s actually been listening to its participatory design researchers?

I am, however, reluctant to consider 90 Euros a “budget” price among the world’s poor, unless a group of 100 people is sharing one phone. A number worthy of discussion, to be sure…

If you’re interested, Ketai has some links to studies in the phenomenon of phone sharing; there’s also Jan Chipchase’s work for Nokia on “unlikely consumers” and “sideways adoption”, for starters.

MUSE3 BCNET presentation

I had the opportunity last week to present my ongoing research into user-centered technology design (which is what is evolving out of my ethnographic research in the lives of mobile handset users) as part of a panel all about Mobile Muse (where I’m the Program Manager, for those who aren’t aware of this).

A webcast of the proceedings is available here. Here are slides for the full presentation, and here (more for my own concept archiving sanity than for anything else, really) are my slides extracted from that set.

Some of the same ideas from prior talks I’ve given about the mobile divide are revisited here, but in the context of a more proactive problem orientation. Here I’m asking: how is technology developed in ways that are directly informed and influenced by the communities of users most affected by them, and how is this tech disseminated in ways that are socially beneficial?.

MUSE3 is an excellent opportunity, I’m finding, for looking at the processes of intermediation that go on in the building of new things. At the intersection of network engineers, open source and other sorts of coders, mobile handset companies, government agencies, artist-run centres and a cavalcade of people and organizations with an interest in the potential of mobile technology, many complex interactions are going on that contribute, bit by bit, to whatever technological assemblage is going to emerge. Fascinating stuff, really. Here’s hoping my notes are as meticulous as they need to be…

Torrent Tracking on Open Networks 101

Today is Northern Voice (I’m presenting tomorrow, but today is the unconference, most of which I hope to catch!), but right now I’m riveted to my laptop (poring over comments about torrent tracking) before I head out to UBC. Really good back n forth over at Nicholas Weaver’s Random Thoughts regarding claims as to whether it’s actually possible to block torrent traffic (more over at Copyfight). I’m convinced such tracking measures can be circumvented and that torrent sharing can’t be stopped. These debates seem to reaffirm this position, notwithstanding drilling into the tech nitty-gritty.

To repeat – the web is an Open network. Strategies to Close it go against its grain, and are stupendously impractical if not impossible.