lördag 28 februari 2015

Books I've read (December - part 2)

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Both this and the last blog post treat books I read in December and over Christmas that all (loosely) concern current and past ideas/visions about the present of future information society.

I regularly write about books that I have read on the blog and here is the previous blog post. The asterisks below represent the number of quotes from the book (further below).


Image: The Skylanders stickers are a gift from my son and not part of the book cover... 

************** The title of Rasmus Fleischer's book "Tapirskrift" (2013) is an anagram for "Piratskrift" [piracy writings]. Rasmus Fleischer was part of the think tank Piratbyrån ("The Pirate Bureau") when it started in 2003 with the goal of supporting the free sharing of information, culture, and intellectual property. He has since become a researcher and he presented his Swedish-language Ph.D. thesis, "The political economy of music: Legislation, sound media and the defence of live music, 1925–2000" in 2012 (English-language summary available here).

Tapirskrift is a collection of texts that have been published elsewhere - in newspapers, magazines and anthologies - between 2010 and 2013. About half of the book deals consists of texts that are related to the Internet and the other half treats other (sometimes related) topics. Even though there is a certain element of overlap and redundancy, Fleischer's thoughts and insights are really very interesting - it's a pity these texts aren't available in English. It might even be the case that my quotes from the book below constitute the best English-language introduction to his thoughts around. It's also a little ironic that despite his interesting thoughts, Fleischer's academic area does not have that much to do with the Internet - he is instead a historian specialising in contemporary history (which includes digitalisation though).

I took especially learned about two grand ideas from this book. The first deals with robot publishers and robot-generated books. They are basically spam, but for books. There is already a near-infinite number of books out there already that can make a profit for the publisher if they are printed even once. Collections of hopefully topically related texts from Wikipedia about, say, the second world war with an alluring name could be an example. No human is involved in the process of producing these books. Would you not be curious and order a book if it had your own name in the title? I only knew this phenomenon existed beforehand because I had read about it on Fleischer's blog, Copyriot, but I learned a lot more about the shady world of robot publishing through this book. It is easy to agree with Fleischer: we will probably have to learn to live with robot books and robot publishers in the same way we have had to learn to live with spam e-mail.

The second main idea I took away from the book is that the two ways we interface with the Internet these days are through the empty search field (Google, Spotify etc.) or through the never-eding flow (Facebook, Instagram). Google finds everything - if you can put it into worlds. Google finds needles in haystacks, but does Google (the empty search field) give you the context to understand an issue? Facebooks delivers a daily, never-ending flow of news and gossip to your doorstep, but it's hard to find your way back to a conversation you had on Facebook a month ago - to say nothing of a year ago. What then has the empty search field and the flow replaced? Fleischer argues that it is the archive that has been dethroned. The archive is the carefully curated topical material on one or a limited number of related subjects. We might talk about an actual physical archive (or a library), but it could equally well be a blog or a webpage that is maintained by an expert enthusiast or a community. A place you went to when you wanted to learn more about a specific topic and perhaps also hang around and discuss relevant issues with people who had similar interests. The archive was a public space that was open to everyone - a hangout on the Internet. Discussions have now instead become privatised and I have access only to the discussions my friends initiate (some might go viral but that's not the same thing). 




** Eric Schüldt and Jonas Andersson's "Framtiden" [The future] (2011) is a strange book. It's hard to even pat down the genre. It's partly a personal reflection (a very long essay) but perhaps more of a novel than anything else. I didn't know that when I started to read it and I'm not sure I think the combination is a very successful one. This doesn't feel like the place to discuss novels however so I will keep this short.

The authors both started out as techno-evangelists, but their opinions have then slowly shifted over time. When the book was written they had become sceptics and they chose to write a kind-of novel to express their misgivings about the digital developments that with live with. From the book cover:

"There was a time when you thought the computer could build a new and better world. It was called the digital revolution. There was talk of an entirely new way of communicating, a new way of thinking and a new way of being human. Everything would be better. Everything would be brighter. Millions of people marvelled at the huge capacity that the latest technological innovations had in store. Billions of microprocessors: one in each pocket, one in each hand, several in each car, several in every home. Millions of kilometers of cables: inside the houses, between the houses, inside the computers and under the oceans. You embraced the promise of the future because you thought you would find a new freedom. But what you built was your own prison."




**** David Holmgren is one of the authors of The original, 1970's book about Permaculture (together with Bill Mollison). In his 2009 book "Future scenarios How communities can adapt to peak oil and climate change" he discusses four different possible scenarios (futures) for humanity. The book is sleek (only a little more than 100 pages) and is very easy to read (lots of captions and photos). The origins of the book is the website futurescenarios.org and it is easy to imagine that the website would fit well together with a talk (or a workshop) that Holmgren might have given many times.

Holmgren starts by proposing four different possible energy scenarios: Techno-explosion, Techno-stability, Energy descent and Collapse. His conclusion is that the most likely of these scenarios is Energy descent. He then proceeds to generate four new futures that explore the results of the convergence of the two great crises of our time: climate change and peak oil. The four scenarios are "Brown tech", "Green tech", "Earth steward" and "Lifeboats". Here the question is more open as to which of these for will be the most likely scenario that we and our grandchildren will live through. From the back cover of the book:

"In Future Scenarios, permaculture co-originator and leading sustainability innovator David Holmgren shows us what the future might look like in the generations-long era of energy descent that faces us - and also tells us how to adapt to the cultural, political, agricultural, and economic implications of two forces that will shape the future: peak oil and climate change

Future Scenarios depicts four very different futures. Each is a permutation of mild or destructive climate change, combined with either slow or severe energy declines. Probable futures, explains Holmgren, range from the relatively benign Green Tech scenario to the near catastrophic Lifeboats scenario."

The book was ok. I thought I would like it more but it didn't have that much that was new to me.


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----- On personalised news as a promise and a threat  -----

"Personalisation and surveillance are two sides of the same coin. The more our web behaviour can be mapped in detail, the greater the opportunities to serve us an automated selection that has been tailored to what we as individual consumers are expected to demand. We get personalized recommendations everywhere for music we should listen to, the books we should read and friends we should get to know. Much points at news being next in line to be personalized. This would mean that two persons visiting an online magazine will see different headlines on the front page. Two persons who click on the same headline may even be served articles with partly different content based om the mapping of previous preferences. The person who is used to reading long analyses on the web can get a more in-depth analysis, while someone else gets a shorter report that is spiced up with a lighthearted angle"
Fleischer, R. (2013). "Tapirskrift", p.22



----- On The Flow as the dominant interface to social media  -----

"Until about 2007 it had become increasingly common for individuals to chose a number of blogs to follow through a RSS reader. Since then a completely different tendency has asserted itself: people do not follow particular blogs, but click on links to individual blog posts that show up in the Facebook or Twitter stream. ... this leads to a tendency and a way of reading that is more distracted, focused on the present and absent of historical dimensions. The conditions for open discussions are changed at the same time. Many of the discussions that previously were conducted in the open comment fields of blogs are now rather conducted in connection to a link being shared by a limited group of people on Facebook. ... The Flow is an interface that has been deliberately designed to turn our attention to an ever-elusive now. Volatility characterizes social media life. This morning's topic of conversation is passé already by the afternoon. In order to shine socially, an ability to follow several parallel conversations is required, but you can function perfectly fine without a memory. "
Fleischer, R. (2013). "Tapirskrift", p.25-27



----- On storing all our stuff in the cloud vs decentralise solutions  -----

"All archives are based on some type of culling. Files shared in a file-sharing network remain available only as long as someone keeps them in his or her local archive ... but it may then be enough with a single enthusiast, anywhere on the planet. ... Cloud services are archives where the power to cull exists at a central point - often in the United States rather than in Sweden. The criteria for culling are usually fuzzy: texts, images or sounds can be removed for alleged copyright infringements, but also for political or moral reasons. The basic rule though is that everything is retained. But for how long? Some day a company can be bought which may mean that the contents of their cloud disappears or gets locked down. "
Fleischer, R. (2013). "Tapirskrift", p.43



----- On the impermanence of our abundance  -----

"When we fill the hard drive with pictures of our kids, we only reluctantly think about the fact that these digital files will very likely be eliminated before that child has grown up. Although we initially make the effort of taking regular backups, the sheer amount of archived files eventually tends to become impossible to survey. To search for a picture from a certain situation becomes impossible, unless we first devote considerable time to provide each picture with a description - but how can we then get time to look at all the pictures?"
Fleischer, R. (2013). "Tapirskrift", p.44



----- On the eternal struggle between good and spam  -----

""Spam" is an umbrella term for various types of unwanted information that is spread indiscriminately in digital channels. ... As the net unfolded, we got to know new types of spam. ... Everywhere on the web where there is an opening for anyone to publish,  there will sooner or later appear robots that clutter the space with hoards of dubious links ... Just as the threat from insurgents have shaped modern urban planning, and just as ways of building houses are inseparable from the risk for burglary, it is not possible to distinguish between the network's evolving architecture and the fight against spam."
Fleischer, R. (2013). "Tapirskrift", p.61-62



----- On robot publishers and collateral censorship  -----

"A robot book is a book published by a robot publisher. No single person has been involved in the decision to publish the individual title. Robot publishers ... publish a very large number of titles, of which most probably never sell a single copy. The business idea is thus based on the fact that it is virtually without costs for the producer to make a book title available for sale. Once the software is up and running and sales channel is established, it doesn't cost more to publish one thousand books than ten. The principle of "the long tail" is taken to to its logical end point by robotic publishers. (p.65) ...
The problem on the horizon can be described ... as an arms race between robots. To combat spam, it is often necessary to rely on the automatic spam filter. When robots are fighting robots, strange things can sometimes happen. There is even the risk that a combination of spam and spam filters can be used by actors who want to realize a certain kind of censorship." (p.72)
Fleischer, R. (2013). "Tapirskrift", p.65-72



----- On the (lack of) security of cloud data and meta-data about our behaviors  -----

"A company that is short of money can get new a management that starts to do things that were previously considered unthinkable, like selling sensitive information right and left. Such things can possibly be prevented, to some extent, mainly from an American angle, through legislation and agreements. What is worse are companies on the skids that starts to neglect their data security, so that other actors stealthily can loot their data banks. To ensure reasonable data security through legislation is virtually impossible. Let's not forget that Google does not provide any guarantees against intrusion into their cloud services."
Fleischer, R. (2013). "Tapirskrift", p.84



----- On soft censorship  -----

"In regards to China, "the [great fire]wall" is a bad metaphor for the country's extensive censorship. Rather, we should think about the kind of personalized advertising that Google among others constantly expose us to - as net censorship can become equally personal. Whether a website is accessible may depend on a variety of weighted factors, such as which other pages you (and others with similar demographic profiles) have visited in the past week. It does not even need to involve a complete block. A truly sophisticated system could perhaps be satisfied with an unequal allocation of bandwidth. If a certain movie clip is particularly slow to load  the risk that it will spread virally will be reduced. Similar developments are fully imaginable even in the West.
Fleischer, R. (2013). "Tapirskrift", p.97-99



----- On the never-ending flow of music from Spotify as mother's milk  -----

"About a hundred years ago Sigmund Freud described what he saw as the infant's oral phase. The biggest fear is that the flow will be interrupted, to end up being "offline". [Local telecom operator] Telia attests time and again that Spotify will flow to us everywhere and always. The similarity is striking with the oral existence that, according to Freud, is governed by the pleasure principle and has not yet developed an ego and instead understand oneself in terms of "I am what I am given." There is yet no desire to establish oneself by deselecting some flows in favour of others, and much less to express anything to the outside world other than the two emotions satisfaction and dissatisfaction."
Fleischer, R. (2013). "Tapirskrift", p.124



----- On abundance and selection in a digital world  -----

"Spotify appears as utopia as long as access remains the only thing we demand from the network. But in a state of abundance of digital information, the key is not access, but selection - and Spotify does offer much more than an empty search box and some paid advertising. We may also share playlists with our net acquaintances, but that is hardly a solution to the problem of selection bur rather returns us to the question of how we make a choice between hundreds of available contacts. We do not have time to listen through everyone's playlists, but neither do we have a chance to independently navigate the terrain of abundance. No network services in the world can solve the issue of selection for us - whether it's about choosing between music, movies, friends or opinions. Everything ultimately depends on how different kinds of archives and filters interact with each other so that both unexpected discoveries and shared experiences are made possible."
Fleischer, R. (2013). "Tapirskrift", p.124-125



----- Do we have a responsibility to watch ads on the Internet?  -----

"[The program] Mutify ... replaced the annoying advertisments in the free version of Spotify with silence ... Mutify differs little from Adblock, a very popular plugin for Firefox that hides the advertising banners on web pages. What happens if more people start using Adblock? A problematic consequence may be that obvious advertisement is replaced by hidden advertisement, nestled in the text. Or that online newspapers shift from being free and funded by advertising to being locked up behind payment walls. The question is whether such effects can be allotted to the individual network user's responsibility. It would ultimately imply a moral imperative that all advertising that meets us has to get our attention. Or should responsibility be placed on the programmers who developed Adblock?"
Fleischer, R. (2013). "Tapirskrift", p.130-131



----- On the attention economy vs the long tail  -----

"when tax billions are ploughed into giant stadiums, they distort the competition in a way that ultimately leads to less cultural diversity. No similar investments are after all made in the cultural rooms of the long tail ... What would happen if the astronomical sums that are now put on giant arenas instead were put on a variety of small and medium-sized scenes? ... Securing cultural regrowth requires spaces where new cultural expressions can gather a small but devoted audience. But these do not provide the immediate dividends that politicians are keen to see during their term in power. One hundred small rooms look worse on a PowerPoint presentation than one gigantic construction that is built to impress."
Fleischer, R. (2013). "Tapirskrift", p.154



----- The days of low cost air flight are numbered  -----

"The era of low cost air flight is coming to an end. Since oil is a finite resource, we are inevitably approaching the day when oil-operated air transportation is no longer an option for ordinary people. Runways will slowly be covered by moss. The kind of mobility that, in the epoch between 1990-2010, characterised our way of living in more ways than we want to admit will collapse more quickly. Low cost air travel made not only beach holidays in Thailand possible, but also social forums in Porto Alegre and Istanbul, to which activists flew. During the era of low-cost airlines, scientists flew to academic conferences and artists flew to biennials. Also relatively unknown musicians could fly to another continent over the weekend just to play for a handful of fans at a club."
Fleischer, R. (2013). "Tapirskrift", p.169



----- Nothing is allowed to stand in the way of cheap air travel  -----

"The liberalism of the "airport society" both figuratively and literally belong up in the sky. That air travel depends on tax money does not worry them. Even the holy right to ownership has to stand back to the benefit of the dream of seamless mobility - which increasingly resembles a religion. Airflighthuggers are willing to bet everything to realise that dream: subsidies, fossil fuels and free fantasies. ... Believers in progress ... defend each person's absolute right to cheap flights. The climate is of course important ... but Swedish researchers are searching for "new environmentally friendly aviation fuels". Without having any idea of what sort of miracle fuel this could be, the airflighthuggers in advance assume that research will achieve the politically desired results. Such beliefs can only be called superstitious. Liberalism asserts itself ... as an openly anti-scientific ideology."
Fleischer, R. (2013). "Tapirskrift", p.175



----- The mobile phone as a talisman of the civilised  -----

"Old and new live side by side across the world. It is not only you who worship the mobile phone as a fetish. It is a symbol also in large parts of Africa and India; the mobile phone carries an enchanting force even in villages with no electricity or opportunities to recharge prepaid phone cards. Like the seafarers' medallions or the Christian cross in former times, the mobile phone is a talisman that shows that you are a part of the larger, common fraternity that has understood what it means to be civilised."
Schüldt & Andersson (2011). "Framtiden", p.35



----- On the uneven distribution of fiberoptic cables  -----

"[the cable] SAT-3 / WASC was the only fiber optic cable which connected West Africa with the rest of the world - a digital umbilical cord to an entire region. It was enough with a single mishap - an anchor pulling off the cable, a fish trawl, an earthquake, a malfunctioning switching station - to break the contact. This indeed happened in November 2007 and in July 2009, when several central African countries were entirely without an internet connection for up to one week. [...] Some countries had hundreds of lifelines, while others had only one. A multitude of fiber optic cables ran along the bottom of the Atlantic between North America and Europe.
Schüldt & Andersson (2011). "Framtiden", p.35



----- On four scenarios for the next energy transition  -----

"The evidence that global industrial civilization is in the early stage of an energy transition as fundamental as the one from renewable resources to fossil fuels is overwhelming. Using the ecological history of past civilizations as a base, I review the evidence about the future in terms of four possible long-term scenarios: techno-explosion, techno-stability, energy descent, and collapse."
Holmgren, D. (2009). "Future scenarios", p.3



----- On the next energy transition being one from more to less concentrated energy sources  -----

"the next energy transition will not follow the pattern of recent centuries to more concentrated and powerful sources. The likelihood that this transition will be to one of less energy is such anathema to the psychosocial foundation and power elites of modern societies that it is constantly misinterpreted, ignored, covered up, or derided. Instead we see geopolitical maneuvering around energy resources, including proxy and real wars to control dwindling reserves and policy gymnastics to somehow make reducing carbon emissions the new engine of economic growth."
Holmgren, D. (2009). "Future scenarios", p.12



----- Our focus on the short term is a sign of unsustainability  -----

"One of the characteristics of a robust, enduring, and mature civilization is the capacity to consider the longer term, aim for desirable but achievable future, but have fallback strategies and insurance policies to deal with surprise and uncertainty. ... Instead we see remarkably short-term behavior and a cavalier disregard of the fate of future generation. While this is often explained as "human nature" of fallible individuals, this explanation should not apply to institutions such as corporations, let alone governments. History and systems theory suggest that powerful and long-lived human institutions should embody longer-term cultural wisdom and capacity."
Holmgren, D. (2009). "Future scenarios", p.21



----- On our "normal" as a historical parenthesis (or an anomaly?)  -----

"Life in cities and suburbs surrounded by technology and sustained by reliable income and debt is "normal" for many people in affluent countries, even though these features only emerged in the latter half of the twentieth century. If future change were to seep away this way of life, many people would see this as "the end of civilzation" even if these changes were quite modest from a historical perspective. ... Perhaps this reflects the egocentric nature of modern mentaliity where we consider our own survival and well-being as being more important than was perhaps felt by past generations."
Holmgren, D. (2009). "Future scenarios", p.24-25
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måndag 23 februari 2015

Are the digital developments a golden straitjacket?

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I was invited to, and participated in a round-table discussion on the topic "Are the digital developments a golden straitjacket?" last week. That was neither research nor education but rather "the third task" - science outreach - that researchers are supposed to do, but that is oftentimes not prioritised particularly high.

The invitation came from Unibet Norden, an online gambling company, but the roundtable mediator, who also as far as I know did most of the work of practically organising the event was business analyst Alexander Crawford. He has been a research director and project director at the Tällberg Foundation and is now connected to the think tank Global utmaning ("Global challenge").

Out of the 10 participants, I was the only pure-bread academic (e.g. having a research background and representing a university). The other nine participants were:

- Andreas Quensel, Head of Business Intelligence, Expressen
- Ann-Marie Fransson, vvd Almega/Digitaliseringskommisionen [The Committee for Digitization]
Brit Stakston, Media strategist
- Göran af Klercker, Founder, Embzy
- Håkan Jerner, Head of marketing, Unibet Norden
- Kristina Alvendal, CEO, Airport City Stockholm
- Mats Henricson, Chairman, Svenska Bitcoinföreningen [Swedish Bitcoin Association]
- Suzanne Sandler, CEO StyrelseAkademien [The Swedish Academy of Board Directors]

The round-table discussion was "sold" with the perhaps slightly hyperbolic question (above), but was later followed-up and presented as follows: "we would like to hear your perspective on how digitisation affects business, politics and society, and what different actors can and should do to support positive aspects of such a shift and counteract negative aspects".

We agreed to use the Chatham house rules for the event. That is, it's ok to refer to anything that was said, but not to refer to who said it. That's a good rule for reporting about discussions on controversial issues. I don't think we discussed particularly controversial issues, but I will anyway refrain from attributing positions to specific speakers - with the exception of what I said myself. This is furthermore not a protocol or a synthesis of what was said, but rather some of my personal impressions, take-home notes and reflections based on the discussion.


We started off with a long discussion about issues of freedom and control, integrity and censorship, darknets and cryptography. What is an intelligent position to have on what should, or should not be controlled on the Internet? On the one had the usual boogie men like child pornography and the up-and-coming issue of IS recruitment, and, on the other hand the individual's right to a private life and a safe zone also on the Internet. The discussion covered technical means (filters etc.), social means ("we have to talk more with our children and youths about this") and the intersection between technical and social means (teaching and learning "digital competencies/literacies"). This also lead to discussions about filter bubbles and the polarisation of society. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by such issues. One question is if/how we can push developments in the right direction. A more fundamental question though is "what is the right direction?". There are always tradeoffs and it's very easy to get lost in a maze of choices and their incalculable consequences.

It is at times also easy to feel powerless. The Copenhagen shootings were only a few days behind us when we met for the roundtable discussions, but it had taken less than a day for Swedish rapper Dani M to float the "theory" that the shootings were a "black flag" operation, i.e. a covert operation designed to deceive and appear as though it was being carried out by others than those who actually planned and executed them (Wikipedia). The question then is, how can you banish stupidity and nut cases that spin their own web of conspiracy theories either through technical means, social means or by way of teaching digital competencies? That's a tough nut to crack to say the least...

Another discussions concerned the role of media. The more information that circulates in society, the more we need the media as a filter. But media (especially newspapers) are currently among the losers of the digitalisation process - loosing their advertising revenue to Google and Facebook. Also, will we really have human editors in the future or will the editing function of the future be performed by algorithms that customises the content and adds a suitable proportion of serendipitous content to your daily digital information diet?

One person said that the more you you know about the Internet (and social media, big data, surveillance etc.), the less you are on Facebook, and, the less you know about those same entities, the more of a looser you are. This comment directly refers back to invitation which asked us to consider "what different actors can and should do to support positive aspects of such a shift and counteract negative aspects". I had thought about that question beforehand and thought it was a little bit too simplistic. There are always two sides of the coin and any technology will have its winners and its losers. While I love the Internet as much as the next person, I proposed that I, as a university teacher, might be one of the losers since researchers and university teachers have lost their roles as the gatekeepers of knowledge. Nowadays any yokel can spend an hour reading up on something in Wikipedia and think they are an expert on the topic. That of course doesn't make them into experts in my eyes, but what if enough people (at a meeting or a cocktail party) think they are? That would then erode my status and my position in society (if it hasn't already). Even though the Internet is great for a large number of purposes, I have a hard time believing the Internet or any other technology can make us all into winners to the exact same extent. Transparency sounds nice, but will everyone really have the same information, the same possibilities of interpreting the information at hand and of drawing relevant conclusions from the information and the same say? Perhaps transparency will lead to even greater information asymmetries since not everybody has a supercomputer in their cellar (to make sense of all the nominally transparent data)... so we're back to thinking about winners and losers again In the words of Neil Postman, "almost nothing happens to the losers that they need, which is why they are losers".

On a different track, all the roundtable participants were of course winners. We all have the opportunity to join a round-table discussion on a weekday (between 8-10) either because we have sympathetic employers or because we can make discretionary decisions about how to use our time. We can "in the line of duty" choose to spend two hours discussing and networking with others (or even going away on a sabbatical for six months). This just has to be a huge factor dividing employees (bus drivers, nurses, warehouse workers) from employees (CEOs, entrepreneurs, researchers). Some people have to be at certain places at certain times and they are surveilled - supervised, watched and measured at the job. They don't have the opportunity to widen their networks through their everyday activities - which other, privileged people can do. That's just a short thought in regards to who the winners and who the losers are in the current order of things.


I was really excited about having a chance to chat with the chairman of the Swedish Bitcoin Association. It's hard to not have hear about Bitcoin, but I've missed out on what there is in the concept that creates intensive buy-in among many people. I guess there must be a vision of a better society at the end of the Bitcoin tunnel, but I have had a hard time understanding what is so great about it. I now know a tiny bit more, but for all the good (simplicity, speed, reduced fees), there are also other potentially negative aspects of cryptocurrencies and my imagination still cannot fathom the full greatness of Bitcoin:
- Statement: Bitcoin makes micropayments possible. Question: What exactly are we currently missing out on that would flourish with Bitcoin micropayments?
- Statement: Money will be harder to control and transaction costs will disappear with Bitcoin. Question: What will the effects on taxation (and banks) be? How will the welfare state be supported in such a future?
- Statement: Bitcoin can guarantee total anonymity. Question: Won't it primarily be the "bad guys" who will be ecstatic about this? Or, will it liberate us all from... something? Tyranny?

The last question led to a discussion (again) about trust, reputation and transparency and there is apparently a concept called "proof of burn" where you basically "burn" Bitcoins to prove that you are trustworthy, invested and can be counted on. My thoughts when I heard about it went to the Potlatch - an North American Indian feast where you want to dominate others by throwing a great party and showing how much you can give away (including throwing valuables straight into the sea).

Also, I asked a question about sustainability and Bitcoin. Isn't silly to mine coal (mountaintop removal) to generate electricity to mine Bitcoin? We now have specialised computers working 24/7 burning electricity in order to create Bitcoins when they could be on stand-by or turned off to save energy.  So from a sustainability point of view, is Bitcoin really what the planet needs right now? Apparently some really smart people are working on alternatives to using-electricity-to-mine-Bitcoin and the place to look is apparently in discussions about "proof of work" and "proof of stake" which was interesting and valuable information for me that I will look in to.

I would guess that micropayments could potentially stop newspapers from bleeding to death. Or perhaps people would even be willing to pay 1/10 SEK to read a blog post here? But I don't go through my current life feeling remorseful about all the things that would be possible should micropayments be with us today (or tomorrow). I guess my imagination is still limited here and I still needed to have a longer chat in order to understand the greatness of Bitcoin.


Since Facebook watches every interaction of ours and never forgets anything, I suggested that I from now will missepell one word in each sentence that I write on Facebook so as to decrease the value of the data I leave behind. People (and Facebook) would think that I'm really stupid, but that only goes to show them not appreciating how smart I really am. It was a perfect for all of 10 seconds until another participant at the meeting commented that Facebook will analyse my missspellings and figure out that I'm only pretending - which only goes to show that you really can't win against almighty Facebook (or Google).

We all agreed on the fact that time has sped up due to the Internet and social media. Where you had potentially embarrassing pictures that were available forever in social media we not have Snapchat. Where we once had "Future shock" we not have "Present shock: When everything happens now". By writing this (long) blog post, I have thus just proved what a old fogey I am and you have just showed the same by reading this text to the very end.
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torsdag 19 februari 2015

Annual CESC retreat

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Last week I attended the annual CESC 24-hour workshop/retreat. CESC of course stands for the Center for Sustainable Communications and I am involved in a research project there as well as being a member of the management team so it was a given that I should attend. I missed out on last year's retreat as I was in the US on a sabbatical, but, I went to the retreat two years ago. Reading that blog post it feel like two years was a really long time ago...

The whole workshop was organised around the upcoming 4th and last phase of the centre's 10-year life span and the question of what projects the center should run during the last two years (2015-2017). The workshop was thus part of the now-running "project generation process" (PGP) as well as an opportunity for CESC researchers and company representatives to meet, discuss and schmooze. Except for KTH, representatives from the six CESC partners attended the workshop; Ericsson, Telia, City of Stockholm, Stockholm Country Council, Coop and the research institute Interactive Swedish ICT. There were around 45 people at the workshop altogether (around 25 from KTH) and the representation especially from Ericsson was strong with 8 representatives.

Most of the work activities were thus framed around the task of generating ideas for future projects, but, these new projects will at the same time represent a continuation of sorts from the four current strategic areas and the current four research projects as it doesn't make much sense to initiate totally new "wildcard" projects during CESC's shorter 4th and last phase. The four current CESC strategic areas are:

  • People - people, practices and behaviour in a sustainable ICT-society
  • Cities - sustainable solutions for ICT in cities
  • Impacts - sustainability impacts of ICT and media
  • Methods and tools - methods and ICT-tools for sustainability assessment
The workshop was organised around working in smaller groups in three sessions and generating project ideas for possible 4th-phase projects. There were around 7 groups with 5 persons in each group and we switched around and worked with new people in each session. 


Session 1 - "data and sustainable practices". Our proposed project could perhaps be called "surveillance for sustainability"

My group came up with an idea that would fit Baki Cakici well (I have appended two relevant quotes from his Ph.D. thesis at the end of this proposal). The basic idea is that we will soon be able to collect large amounts of data from the smart home. We might do this for the best of reasons (nudging or encouraging people to live more sustainable lives), but the topic is still hyper-sensitive and we thought it would be well worth defining a project that considered issues of power, control and personal integrity in relation to the large amounts of data collected. what if it would be possible to discern with great granularity what I do within my home from minute to minute based on real-time data from my home? 

Our idea was not to collect our own data, but rather to tag along and analyse already-collected data from a suitable project;
- How is such data collected, managed, processed, used?
- Who collects the data, what is supposed to be used for (intention) and does that differ from how it is actually used (turn-out)? Is it possible to discern a "feature creep" or "mission creep" at play, i.e. the system was built and data was collected for one purpose but is later used also in other ways?
- Is it possible to use collected data for sustainability purposes without it having negative consequences/side effects in terms of integrity (which can be seen as part of what constitutes social sustainability)?
- What are the risks and what are the opportunities of using big data in relation to different stakeholders? Is it possible to discern "winners" (who benefit from the project) and "losers" (who don't)? Who are the winners (and what do they win) and who are the losers (and what do they loose)?
- Is it possible to consider not only top-down but also some sorts of participatory processes in designing or deploying such systems?
- Who owns the data and who can use it for what purposes? Is it possible to opt out and say "no thank you, I don't want to participate"? Are there large differences and unequal power relationships at play? Does everybody understand the systems and the interfaces (c.f. Strengers' article "Are you designing for resource man?").

Here's a draft of a project plan:
1) Examine how it is possible to use big data for sustainability purposes (nudging or altering people's behaviours) in the home while at the same time protecting the integrity and the possibilities of inhabitants to maintain control and influence over how the collected data is used. How is it possible to secure the influence and co-determination of partipants (residents)?
2) Examine an already existing project/study/platform, for example the Royal Stockholm Seaport, some part of the Million Programme or a project already running in some other country. Document how the system was introduced, how the residents were involved (or not) and potential positive and negative effects/consequences.
3) Proposed partners for the project is KTH, Interactive Swedish ICT, City of Stockholm and Stockholm Country Council. The latter partners will provide projects, residents, own ideas and insights concerning how they want to use such data while simultaneously protecting the citizens.
4) The project will point at the tension between on the one hand environmental sustainability and on the other hand social sustainability in the use of big data. A possible result from the project could be guidelines for how to manage that tension.
5) Perhaps it would be possible to recruit new CESC partners based on this project, e.g. Stockholmshem, HSB, Telgebostäder, Fortum or some current partner in the Royal Seaport project.

Here are a few quotes from Baki Cakici's ph.d. theses "The informed gaze" that could help clarify the background of the proposed project above:


"I aim my critique at the tacit assumption that the development and usage of ICTs are always beneficial to society. ... given the impossibility of anything benefiting everyone equally, and indeed, the impossibility of even defining everyone, in my analyses I find it important to ask: who benefits from the design, development, and use of surveillance technologies, and who suffers its costs?."

"Surveillance practices have been shown to negatively affect those who are already underprivileged, whether they are ICT-based or not.

"a commonly cited definition of surveillance is "the focused, systematic and routine attention to personal details for the purposes of influence, management, protection or direction" (Lyon 2007). ... Following the definition, it is not difficult to classify the vast majority of ICTs as surveillance systems ... and correspondingly, contemporary surveillance is commonly performed using ICTs as they are especially suited to performing routine tasks systematically."


The second session resulted in an idea I thought was interesting but that probably wasn't developed and polished enough. I would summarise it briefly as a combination of two different ideas; reducing food waste and reducing social alienation among (especially) young unemployed people. We chose on regarding unemployed or underemployed people as innovators and early adopters. The idea was to activate them and get them out of their dwellings, pair them up in teams and challenge them to buy soon-to-be-expired food, prepare it together and then eat it together. We wanted to design meaningful practices for the unemployed so that they adopt a pioneering role in exploring sustainable food practices.


Right after lunch we had the opportunity to listen to a guest lecture by professor John Robinson who just happened to pass Sweden by (he's ordinarily in Canada). He gave a lecture called "Regenerative sustainability, emergent dialogue, and imaginary worlds: Exploring engagement processes at the community scale". I won't cover all the contents of the lecture, but, we were inspired by his ideas and attempted to formulate a project in the third and last session that drew upon those. The basic idea in his talk is that we as researchers do research and try to affect then world when we communicate our research results. We aren't very successful though. It's hard to reach people and to affect the world by communicating facts. Moreover, we assume that we, as experts, know something important that "they" (other people) don't and see it as our mission to "transfer" information from us to them according to this simple formula:

We provide information which leads to (--->) values change which leads to (--->) attitude change which leads to (--->) behaviour change.

But people don't work that way and that model just doesn't work. People are not "empty vessels" waiting to be filled with knowledge that they then act upon. Also, the public doesn't need to understand, say, climate change in order to insulate their roofs. Furthermore, research is hardly ever very successful in affecting policy, affecting the public or affecting markets. So how do you get a culture to change if not through providing more information of higher fidelity?

The alternative Robinson proposed was to involve the public in a participatory process of interpreting and creating meaning out of our research (instead of passively assimilating it) - an emergent dialogue. The end goal of such a process would be social mobilisation rather than enlightened individuals. He then presented a project where he had worked together with artists to create an "installation" as an alternative to "communicating research results". We took Robinson's lecture as a challenge and tried to formulate a project (or an "anti-project") around these ideas, moving towards alternative forms of communication; playing, creating, joining, expressing, experiencing, contributing, learning through workshops, mobile applications, tabletop games, social media and performance art.

The challenge we set ourselves was to change society to explore and avoid (harness) the rebound effects of ICT. How can we use resources we "liberate" through ICT efficiency gains (people's time, money etc.) to further save resources (and the world) instead of "spending our savings" on resource-hungry and nature-destroying activities? How can we enact such processes by way of artistic explorations and emergent dialogues? How can we enable social mobilisation for collective decision-making instead of writing one more research article and sticking to traditional one-way channels of communicating scientific results?

We decided that CESC should team up with the Stockholm Improvisation theatre. They have a core message in their performances, but every performance is different and depends on input and reactions from the audience. Together with them, we would enact emergent dialogues through artistic and other means in an iterative process where scientists and the general public learn from each other in shaping desirable futures. The goal would then not be to "communicate research results" but to engage people in collective decision-making for shaping desirable futures though social mobilisation (or with social mobilisation as an outcome). Also, after we put up a performance, the general public will pay us good money to take part in learning more about insights from our research. Please tell me if that isn't pure genius!

We're still a litte bit hazy on many details, but it would probably be a good idea to have some actors from the Stockholm Improvisation theatre hang around CESC, and, it would also be good to have some CESC researchers learn improvisation theatre. There should preferably be some CESC researchers on the stage when our research results are not-presented-but-enacted.


A few final worlds about the retreat is that it was a good, fun way for CESC researchers to meet partners (and for partners to meet other partners). It is on the other hand hard to know what impact the 20 or so proposed research projects from the three sessions will be (of which I have written about three in this blog post). Will the outcome of these sessions result in useful input that will help shape some of the projects that will start up later this year? I personally have my doubts. It must be difficult to go from session outputs to project input, not the least since some of the ideas might be good, but they would still need a champion who could flesh out, communicate and explain them in greater detail in later phases of the project generation phase. Despite having written up the proposals above, I suspect it would be hard for someone else to understand why they are awesome unless I stand right then and right there supporting the notes by conveying, defending, modifying or developing the proposal. But who "owns" the proposals and will be their champion right now? I guess that I, by writing about the three proposals above to some extent "own" them. Of these three proposals, I fell I could only champion two. But will I get the opportunity? And, who will be the champion of the other 17 (or so) proposals? So, how useful will the workshop have been in the end? That we don't know but this comment points at what I believe are some of the limitations in using the CESC workshop to generate ideas for new research projects.
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söndag 15 februari 2015

Critical Alternatives 2015

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I just submitted a paper to the 5th decennial Århus conference. That is in fact a conference that is only organised once every 10 years and the first conference was held 1975. This year's theme is "Critical Alternatives" and the conference homepage states that:

"the decennial Aarhus conferences have traditionally been instrumental for setting new agendas for critically engaged thinking about information technology. The conference series is fundamentally interdisciplinary and emphasizes thinking that is firmly anchored in action, intervention, and scholarly critical practice. ... The fifth decennial Aarhus conference, Critical Alternatives, aims to set new agendas for theory and practice in computing for quality of human life. ... We call for papers offering new agendas for alternatives with computing technologies — methodologically, theoretically, or through new forms of societal or otherwise critical engagements."

This blog has many functions and one of the most important is to serve as my academic diary and my extended memory. I use the blog to keep track of what I do professionally (a private function), but I have also chosen to make it accessible on the web and let others follow what I do (a public function). I've come to realise that such a dual function can at times be problematic. Let's say - as in this case - that I submit a paper to a conference that uses a double-blind peer reviewing system; the author is not supposed to know who has reviewed his paper, and, the reviewer is not supposed to know who wrote the paper she is reviewing. If I submit a paper to the conference and then directly turn around and publish the title of the paper and the abstract on this blog, a reviewer can, through a quick web search, easily find out who has written the paper. The double-blind peer review process will turn into a single-blind process. I don't know exactly how bad that would be - it is oftentimes not very difficult to figure out who has written a paper (references to previous/own work etc.), but perhaps the process of figuring who has written a paper should not be made easier? In this particular case, the paper was preceded by an open call for fictional abstracts (the topic of the paper) that has been disseminated to probably hundreds of people and that was furthermore published on this blog some 10 weeks ago. Also, the reviewing process for this particular conference will for some reason take more than three months and I will thus not know if the paper was accepted until June 1. It feels very demotivating to wait until June to write a blog post about having submitted a paper and I'm not sure I would write such a blog post at all should the paper be rejected. That would mean the blog would fail its function as a private/public diary and as my extended memory on the web...

I have thus decided to try to balance these two conflicting demands by publishing a blog post about our submission but by not publishing the title of the paper and by not publishing the paper abstract in this blog post. While it's possible to connect the contents of this blog post to the paper, it is at least not immediately evident and searchable in the same way the title of the paper would be. I might at some later point (in June) go back and change the title of this blog post, or I might follow up this blog post with a new blog post should the paper be accepted. Even without publishing the title of the paper or pasting in the abstract below, there are still many things I can say about the paper and the process of writing it:

The paper is a full paper (11 pages using the ACM template - 8800 words) and it concerns design fiction, fictional abstracts, computing and sustainability (again see the call for fictional abstracts). Our call resulted in (only) 20 submissions of fictional abstracts. I honestly have to say that I had hoped for and thought we would get more submissions - especially from my colleagues at KTH. A quarter of the submissions were accepted directly and another quarter were rejected because the didn't fit the call/paper, or for some other reason were problematic and seemed "un-fixable" within the scope and the time frame we had to put the paper together (no time for extensive "coaching"). Half of the submissions were "conditionally" accepted under the terms of more or less heavy revisions, and, most of these abstracts did in the end make it into the paper. We ended up with 13 accepted fictional abstracts comprising around 40% of the running text of the finished paper.

All first (but not second or third) authors of accepted fictional abstracts were invited to become co-authors of the full paper together with the four "principal authors" (me, Elina Eriksson, Vincent Lewandowski and Josefin Wangel). That means the final paper has no less than 15 authors! Last week all co-authors had the chance to comment on a draft of the paper for the better part of two days and we got a lot of really good feedback and comments from a majority of the co-authors. Someone even rewrote more or less the whole introduction of the paper and we happily accepted his suggestion as it was much better that ours. We also got a couple of hundred of comments on things both small and large - there was a serious lag within the google document we were working in and just accepting a proposed change took several seconds to propagate into the document. Still, it was a really cool process and a really interesting experience and through that process we got just the right feedback at just the right time. Looking back at the process of writing this paper, I feel that I have just as much been a "project leader" as I have been "first author" of the paper. Having worked intensively with the paper having just submitted the paper there is now a small vacuum, like waking up and wondering where you are. I have now set the paper aside and I hope the reviewers will like it and will think the paper fits the conference.
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söndag 8 februari 2015

Books I've read (December - part 1)

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Both this blog post and the next will treat books I read in December and over Christmas that (loosely) concern current and past ideas/visions about the information society. I regularly write about books that I have read on the blog and here is the previous blog post. The asterisks below represent the number of quotes from the book (further below).



*********** I know Baki Cakici, he has been a guest lecture at a course of mine (twice) and he personally and publicly handed over a copy of his ph.d. thesis last time he visited my course. I have also written two fictional abstracts with visions of future information societies together with him. Baki's thesis is called "The informed gaze: On the implications of ICT-based surveillance" (2013). His interests lies in the intersection of ICT on the one hand and surveillance on the other hand and he has, in his ph.d. thesis, applied this to two specific areas; health care and sustainability. I would furthermore place his thesis in the intersection between ICT and sociology and more specifically in the field of "surveillance studies" (many of his key references come from the journal "Surveillance & Society"). My interest is of course primarily in the latter, e.g. what are the tensions and possible problems that arise when we try to design systems that will "help" us save resources (for example electricity in our homes) through collecting a lot of data about our behaviours - data that has the possibility of saying a lot more than we expect and that can be used in ways that we may not agree with?

Baki has a computer science background and started his career by, so to speak, working on the systems he later came to ponder and criticise. As part of his thesis and as a way of explaining his interest in the area, he does not shy away from reflecting of his personal experiences of being entangled in invisible networks that sort him out when he tries to cross different (European) borders. On the one hand a researchers who is encouraged to go to scientific conferences abroad but on the other hand a Turkish citizen who has very different experiences of moving around in Europe and of regularly filling out forms to be able to stay in Sweden for another year. The abstract of the thesis says:

"Information and communication technologies are not value-netural. I examine two domains, public health surveillance and sustainability, in five papers ... My contributions include three empirical studies of surveillance discourses where I identify the forms of action that are privileged and the values that are embedded into them. In these discourses, the presence of ICT entails increased surveillance, privileging technological expertise, and prioritising centralised forms of knowledge."



****** I read Jacques Vallée's book "Det osynliga nätet: En dataexperts bekännelser" [The network revolution: Confessions of a computer scientist] (1988/1982) more than a decade ago and decided to re-read it to get a feeling for what a computer scientist back in the days worried about in regards to the future information society. This book was written more than 30 years ago and is based on the author's personal experiences (and worries) after having worked in research and in industry for more than 20 years. Vallée mentions that he started to work with IBM's first commercial computers in 1960 and that he has worked with several generations of IBM's flagship computers since then both in France and in the US. Having worked with computers (and computer scientists and programmers), he shares some of his insights about the possibilities and limitations of computers as well as the (at times very arrogant) culture around computers.

The book starts with a short story about a tragic accident. A gas station attendant calls the police with a tip about a suspicious-looking car. The police stops the stolen car but something goes wrong and driver is shot through the windshield by an overexcited policeman. It turns out the car was reported stolen three years earlier, but it turned up only ten days later. That piece of information was unfortunately missing in the police's computer systems... This cautionary tales as well as many other stories about the limitations of databases and computer systems as well as the folly of placing too much faith in them are mixed with cautionary scenarios and stories based on the author's personal experiences. It makes for some nice reading and gives a interesting historical perspective but the book definitely feels aged. It's an easy read but it's hard to recommend it unless you for some reason are looking for a "historical perspective" on computers and computing (machine translation, cybernetics, AI, the 1970's counterculture, privacy, computer-mediated communication, databases, computer networks (the Internet) etc.).

I notice that Vallée is still around - he's apparently a successful venture capitalist in San Fransisco since 25 years (homepage). Less promising is the number of books we has written about UFOs with (sub)titles like "From folklore to flying saucers", "Unexplained Aerial Objects from Antiquity to Modern Times", "UFO Contacts and Cults" and "What a Group of Scientists Has Discovered about UFO Influence on the Human Race". Two interesting tidbits are that Vallée started his career as an astronomer and he was apparently the model for the French researcher in Steven Spielberg's film "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977).



****** I read Bruce Sterling's "Shaping things" (2005) partly because he (for the most part in passing) coined the term "design fiction" in this book. Sterling is most well-know for being a science fiction writer (I have read a few of his books), but this is something different, a mix between a design manifesto and a tech-savvy science fiction author's view of the present and the future of products and services. The book states what it is and who it is written for on the cover. You might actually be able to read it in the picture above, but I will repeat it here anyway:

"This book is about created objects and the environment, which is to say, it's a book about everything. Seen from sufficient distance, this is a small topic. The ideal readers for this book are those ambitious young souls (of any age) who want to constructively intervene in the process of technosocial transformation. That is to say, this book is for designers and thinkers, engineers and scientists, entrepreneurs and financiers, and anyone else who might care to understand why things were once as they were, why things are as tehy are, and what thins seem to be becoming."

The book unfortunately didn't do much for me. It's not exactly academic, it's filled with ideas and speculation of which some might be on track but others aren't (as the book was written 10 years ago), but I think I might have had a problem with the author's voice. If an academic book oftentimes is an argument or even an "offering", this book is more of an in-your-face, take-it-or-leave-it manifesto-rant. Sterling feels "pushy" and as I object to some of the things he states about the world on a fundamental level, I had a hard time accepting other things he stated on a more superficial level too. It was a mismatch of sorts so I will stick to reading his fiction in the future.


-------------------------------------


----- On new technologies having winners and losers  -----

"I aim my critique at the tacit assumption that the development and usage of ICTs are always beneficial to society.
...
given the impossibility of anything benefiting everyone equally, and indeed, the impossibility of even defining everyone, in my analyses I find it important to ask: who benefits from the design, development, and use of surveillance technologies, and who suffers its costs?."
Cakici, B. (2013). "The Informed Gaze", p.5



----- On "smart" technologies  -----

"The systems discussed in the texts are labelled smart, which sometimes appears as a synonym for sustainable, and sometimes works to emphasise a particular technology as more desirable. Additionally, the world "smart" attaches contemporary ICTs to other forms of technolgies, including other, older, ICTs. Some example of these are smartphones, smart TVs, smart homes, smart grids, smart cars, etc. In all of these examples, a previously available technology is enhanced using data processing features, and the proliferation of data also brings an increase in the surveillance performed by and around these technologies. ... the smart home ... refers to a collection of technologies that use ICT to monitor, detect, and control a wide variety of features assumed to be found in homes. For example, a home can be described as smart if it includes technologies to adjust indoor temperature according to certain factors such as the outdoor temperature, the number of people currently present, or the current price of electricity."
Cakici, B. (2013). "The Informed Gaze", p.11-12



----- On experiencing unjust treatments as a motivation for the choice of research subject  -----

"The possibility of being mobile between different disciplines was highly productive for my own research. At the same time, however, I found my own physical mobility to be constrained regularly by my Turkish citizenship, and the bureaucratic demands that it placed on me while working in Sweden as a non-EU national. Although travel within Europe is relatively free of paperwork for its own citizens, for the non-citizen these issues are much more complex. Decisions from the Migration Board take anywhere from six months to a year, and those periods required that I either not leave Sweden, or not return until the Board had reached a decision... towards the end of my third year, I gave up on trying to attend a conference in the United Kingdom solely due to the complexity of the visa process
...
While I have now acquired a Swedish citizenship, and the challenge of European border crossings has eased significantly, my personal experience of borders, residence permits, passport checks and endless waiting has remained as a vivid reminder of a particularly unjust form of bureaucracy made highly efficient with the help of ICT, and one that countless people continue to experience while crossing borders every day. It has also informed and motivated my research into the intersections of ICTs and surveillance."
Cakici, B. (2013). "The Informed Gaze", p.18-19



----- On making oneself into the perfect subject in a bureaucratic system, and, on academic privileges  -----

"After participating in the residence permit process several times over the past few years, I have gradually come to recognise the art of becoming the ideal subject for a residence permit application with its own collection of taboos and dangerous topics. The performance of this role leaves material traces visible throughout the application process (Does the form contain spelling errors? Is it filled out on a computer? Is the form bent, creased, or folded?), but its most intense activity is during residency interviews, and to a larger but less embodied extent, in the free-text fields in applications forms that allow deviation from the standard template for a few lines.
...
An academic career provided me sufficient disguise to craft my own permit-eligible personal for the authorities, which is one fact of the academic privilege that, like many other types of privilege, tends to become invisible for those who possess it. Privileges of an academic career include participating in knowledge production, greater social mobility, and working further from the production of capital while benefiting from the fact that we live in a capitalist society, among others too numerous to list."
Cakici, B. (2013). "The Informed Gaze", p.20-21



----- On surveillance and ICT systems  -----

"Surveillance practices have been shown to negatively affect those who are already underprivileged, whether they are ICT-based or not. However, it is also important to recognise that surveillance is not simply an oppressive force to be resisted at every turn.
...
a commonly cited definition of surveillance is "the focused, systematic and routine attention to personal details for the purposes of influence, management, protection or direction" (Lyon 2007). ... Following the definition, it is not difficult to classify the vast majority of ICTs as surveillance systems ... and correspondingly, contemporary surveillance is commonly performed using ICTs as they are especially suited to performing routine tasks systematically."
Cakici, B. (2013). "The Informed Gaze", p.32



----- On studying design documents as a research method  -----

"design documents ... contain many indicators of the designers' intentions, describing what is assumed to be true
...
During the design process, these documents are written to describe the systems fully, to ensure that they can be developed in the future. Many choices that become invisible later when the system is operational are clearly described in the design documents. Differing from interviewing designers, another potential method, studying design documents makes it possible to describe the system as it is being constructed. As these documents are also addressed at other experts, they make it possible to capture the assumptions shared between different actors involved in the project. They are mostly written for an audience that is considered to be part of the design process, and they tell stories of how ICTs come to be."
Cakici, B. (2013). "The Informed Gaze", p.40-41



----- On surveillance systems turning people into passive sources and receivers of information  -----

"surveillance subjects are positioned in relation to ICT-based surveillance as sources of information [and] they are made individually responsible for changing their behaviour based on the information they receive.
...
the needs of those who will use the systems are made secondary to constructing standardised and transportable knowledge. Furthermore, subjects under surveillance are represented as passive sources and receivers of information and ... representing them as such is unlikely to lead to the substantial changes that the designers aim at.
...
As with many other infrastructural projects, it is possible that the benefits created by these systems remain local to where the systems are installed while their harmful effects are pushed away, e.g., electricity consumption is decreased in the new city district while natural resources from another region far from the new city district are exhausted in creating the computer screens that visualise electricity consumption."
Cakici, B. (2013). "The Informed Gaze", p.54-55



----- On "lateral surveillance" - neighbours spying on neighbours  -----

"The system proposed ... sets up a way for inhabitants to monitor one another to encourage energy-saving behaviour. This type of activity where individuals are provided with surveillance tools to keep track of one another has been called lateral surveillance. In lateral surveillance, the populace is made responsible for monitoring itself, and everyone is "invited to become spies" for their own good."
Cakici, B. (2013). "The Informed Gaze", p.121



----- On allowing the people to keep track of energy companies instead of vice versa  -----

"If the challenge to be tackled is reducing energy consumption, or creating more sustainable ways of living, the answer does not necessitate the development of new technologies. ICT does not need to be everywhere, and it does not need to be involved in solving every problem. Sometimes ICT might be the wrong answer. Even in cases where ICT development simply has to be involved in sustainability initiatives, it can be used for purposes other than the surveillance of inhabitants. For example, ICT can be used to understand how other technologies in residential spaces can be constructed differently to last longer, or to waste less energy, without falling back on the common solution of monitoring the users. Finally, if ICT simply has to be used for surveillance, that surveillance can be aimed at larger institutions rather than the individual inhabitants. It can provide ways for the inhabitants to hold accountable companies that develop wasteful technologies, or energy suppliers that attempt to classify and sort their customers using smart metering schemes."
Cakici, B. (2013). "The Informed Gaze", p.124



----- On designing computer systems based on doubtful assumptions and thinking that one size will fit everyone  -----

"The assumption about behaviour change through consumption feedback is questionable primarily because it overemphasises individual choice while neglecting a whole range of other factors involved in shaping human behaviour.
...
When targeting virtually everyone, ranging from children to elders, from formally uneducated to professionals and academics, from people that have spent their whole life in their current setting to people who just arrived from a life spent on the other side of the planet, the user population displays and extrem variation with regard to ways of interpreting and acting upon information. In addition to taking the time and possessing the expertise to make sense of the information, the user must also have an interest in doing so. Both the policy texts and many of the project descriptions from our analysis seem to assume that people have a general interest in changing their behaviour to save energy. Alternatively, the texts assume that financial or altruistic incentives can motivate people to take an interest. It is hard to find empirical evidence in support of this assumption."
Cakici, B. (2013). "The Informed Gaze", p.139-140



----- On limits to behaviour change for the affluent, rational "economic man"  -----

"The saving of energy motivated by financial gain can only be an optimal behaviour if it generates more income per unit time than other methods of wealth generation such as salaries. For those with higher incomes, the time and attention spent on acquiring the best deal from the system is less likely to be higher than their current income per unit time. On the other hand, those with lower incomes, those who would benefit more financially from the financial incentives, are only able to participate if they invest time and acquire the technological competence required to operate the systems. For those who are able to learn to operate the system, interpret its results, and make the necessary changes, the system grants certain benefits such as lower energy costs. Marginalisation becomes visible at this level, where those who are not able to interpret the system becomes unable to enjoy its benefits ... Thus, the technologically and financially privileged can afford to ignore the system and disregard the disadvantages of lost profit while the under-privileged are marginalised further."
Cakici, B. (2013). "The Informed Gaze", p.141



----- On the past future of the information society  -----

"I had some friends who worked in that lab. They believed that they were creating a new world for humanity, a world where the old, hated structures would collapse and be replaced by more rational alternatives. They saw artificial intelligence as a spearhead for human thought, paving the way for a new social contract based on knowledge instead of on money, which would lead to a time when there would finally be peace and when everyone would understand each other. Wasn't there for instance already an annual competition between American and Russian chess computers?"
Vallée, J. (1982/1988). "Det osynliga nätet" [The network revolution:], p.31



----- On computers as a threat to the integrity of our privat lives  -----

"With regard to the integrity of our privat lives, it is rather naive to think that it can be strengthened by moving a person's life story from a paper in a file cabinet to the memory in a fast and powerful machine which can be reached over the telephone network from almost any location in the world. I can not see how this can lead to anything but further concentration of power in the hands of those who already have the power to install computers and design the systems"
Vallée, J. (1982/1988). "Det osynliga nätet" [The network revolution:], p.34



----- The past future of e-learning and MOOCs  -----

"in the education system [computers would] take over tedious routine jobs, and a single curriculum could be administered to thousands of students. ... I remember that I heard a lecture by a pioneer in this field, Dr. Bitzer, in 1965. ... When I left the lecture, I was convinced that the solution to the education crisis was near. The small village school only needed a few computer terminals and a connection to the telephone network to take advantage of the world's most sophisticated resource bank in the area of teaching, the memory of a giant computer [Internet?], which would constantly bring new courses at all levels from pre-school to the doctoral dissertation. Students will happily go through school assignments tailored to their needs and abilities, and friendly smiling teachers would no longer have to repeat the same information and provide rigid tests for students who needed to learn at their own pace. Two things were wrong with this idea. First, the teachers could not be described as smiling friendly. ... The other problem was the price. "
Vallée, J. (1982/1988). "Det osynliga nätet" [The network revolution:], p.34-35



----- On past predictions; in the future computers will a) liberate us or b) enslave us?  -----

"In a newspaper article titled "Telephones in the Country" [from] around 1900 ... [the author] foresaw some basic changes in the economic roles, since the farmer would be able to keep in touch with the market and "deliver their products directly to the city merchants or to consumers, without any intermediaries". ... Is that always true ... that increased communication gives the individual better possibilities to survive financially and intellectually, and more control over their own lives? Or will it lead to greater uniformity and concentration of control in the hands of fewer and fewer? Our society is answering the question with the latter alternative. "
Vallée, J. (1982/1988). "Det osynliga nätet" [The network revolution:], p.43



----- On computer system builders as a modern brotherhood  -----

"Considerable mystification surrounds those who devise and develop information networks. Since they simply do not have the time to write down what they do, I will try to dispel some of the mysteries by describing how their techniques are transmitted silently from one data warehouse to another - almost in same way as for medieval craftsmen when they in holy zeal built the cathedrals ... System builders ... remain unknown because their methods are complicated and difficult to explain to the uninitiated, and because they constantly change ... Yet the systems they create exert a tremendous influence because ... the real power lies with those that determine the structures of the others' are thinking, for it is they who define what is available and what is not available, what is documented and what is forgotten. "
Vallée, J. (1982/1988). "Det osynliga nätet" [The network revolution:], p.89



----- On RFID chips and the Internet of Things as a Satanic conspiracy  -----

"When I previously studied cults and new religious movements, I encountered many different organisations that believe that the movement towards credit cards and a cashless society is a worldwide conspiracy for the purpose of controlling individual citizens. According to members of these groups there is there somewhere ... a computer that is used to maintain an overview of all the world's credit cards. They also believe that a general system will be introduced for numbering of all goods coming from all factories on the planet: shoes, cars and all other products will to get a code number which conveniently begins with the digits 666, the number of The Beast of the Book of Revelations. This will lead to paperless transactions, which they regard as evil as they are carried out in secret and leave no traces behind. In the second phase, the credit card number will be matched with the personal number and tattooed into the forehead of every living human being, and so begins the reign of Antichrist. "
Vallée, J. (1982/1988). "Det osynliga nätet" [The network revolution:], p. 172-173



----- On cultural metahistories  -----

"Every culture has a metahistory. ... Metahistory is about what's gone by, what comes next, and what all that is supposed to mean to sensible people. As a science fiction writer I find these social constructions of particular interest. How do people come to grips with the future? How do they think about futurity? How are those judgments made and how do we alter those judgments? A culture's metahistory helps it determine whether new things are appropriate, whether they fit into the trajectory that is considered the right track. For instance, if you happen to be an Egyptian pharaoh, it makes perfect sense to assemble the populace in the off-season to crate huge granite and limestone time-machines for your posthumous existence.
...
We moderns behave in much the same buoyant, unthinking way when we disinter fantastic volumes of coal and crude oil, set fire to them, and export the smoke into the sky. This was critical to our sense of progress once; we've yet to understand that it is radically harming our ability to go on."
Sterling, Bruce. (2005). "Shaping things", p.37-38



----- On brainstorming  -----

"Designers brainstorm. It's not reasonable to brainstorm. A brainstorm works anyway, because the point of brainstorming is escaping "reasonable" constraints. A brainstorming session fails if [it] remains too reasonable."
Sterling, Bruce. (2005). "Shaping things", p.48



----- On the magical act of transforming "stuff" to "rubbish"  -----

"This [wine] bottle arrived in my possession seemingly stripped of consequences, but those consequences exist. Where is this bottle going, once I empty it? The mythic moment of "getting rid of it," of throwing it "away," is supposed to be the sudden and total end of our mutual narrative as human and object. But that is by no means any end of any object. It's just the moment when I, the human, unilaterally decide to ignore the object. The object is merely semantically reclassified as "rubbish" and exported willy-nilly ot the future."
Sterling, Bruce. (2005). "Shaping things", p.74



----- On the digital divide between the dog elite and the canine proletariat  -----

"Last night I watched the local television, and saw that the pet dogs of Belgrade were receiving injections of Radio Frequency ID identity chips. The local dog pound is being outfitted with an RFID reader, and when strays are collared, they'll be scanned. Then lost dogs do not have to have their homely pictures photocopied onto telephone poles. Lost dogs can be rescued quickly and returned to their grieving owners, which is sweet and nice.
But that's not the only way to describe what I just saw. We might also say that an RFID-injected elite of dogs will be returned to their owners posthaste, because these dogs now have a machine-readable identity. All other dogs are in grave and increasing danger. Belgrade is a rough town with a serious stray-dog problem. Being a Belgrade dog without an injected RFID may become a capital canine offence in relatively short order. We've got a yawning digital divide between the injected elite and the canine proletariat."
Sterling, Bruce. (2005). "Shaping things", p.86



----- On why manuals suck  -----

"Did you ever notice how many books there are for sale about popular objects, books like The Missing Manual or The Repair Manual for the Compleat [sic!] Idiot? Did you ever wonder why companies are so bad about writing popular books about the objects they presumably know best? Well, there are three reasons why their books and manuals are lousy. First, all their public documents are vetted through a PR department, so they are basically promotional items. Second, they don't care much about you or what happens to you, after they take your money. And third and most crucially, they don't know very much about their own stuff. Why? Because knowing about their stuff is not their reason for being. They are a commercial enterprise."
Sterling, Bruce. (2005). "Shaping things", p.120



----- On the legacy of the early 20th century titans of industry  -----

"The 20th century's industrial infrastructure has run out of time. It can't go on; it's antiquated, dangerous and not sustainable. It's based on a finite amount of ice in our ice caps, of air in our atmosphere, of free room for highways and transmission lines, of room in the dumps, and of combustible filth underground. This is a gathering crisis gloomily manifesting itself in the realm of bad weather and resource warfare. It is the legacy we received from world-shaping industrial titans such as Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford, and John D. Rockefeller - basically, the three 20th century guys who got us into the Greenhouse Effect."
Sterling, Bruce. (2005). "Shaping things", p.131
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