söndag 17 juli 2016

Digital Technology and Sustainability (book)

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On the Internet, the space for writing low-bandwidth (text) blog posts is infinite. I try my very best to impose artificial limitations on this blog though and my goal is and has always been to publish at least one and a maximum of two blog posts per week. This blog post is an example of something that for sure would have been rolled into the next blog post if it wasn't for the fact that it is summer and I can "waste" some bandwidth here. (For an interesting angle on "waste/wasting", on dysfunctional behaviours and on "conspicuous consumption", see this Wikipedia entry on "sinking champagne".)

This blog post is about an upcoming book that I will hopefully contribute to, "Digital Technology and Sustainability: Acknowledging Paradox, Facing Conflict, and Embracing Disruption". The book is edited by Mike Hazas (Lancaster University, UK) and Lisa Nathan (University of British Columbia, Canada) and it will be published by Routledge next year. I have had ideas for no less than four different contributions to the book, but later winnowed it down to two. The next two blog posts will concern my two proposed chapter contributions to the book.

The book has a relatively long prehistory at this point. I don't really know how it originally came about, for example how Mike and Lisa know each other and where and when they originally came up with the idea of writing/editing a book, but I first heard about it August last summer when Mike got in touch with me:


Hi Daniel,

Lisa Nathan and I are writing to ask if you would like to be involved in collaborating on a book that serves to invigorate the discourse within sustainable IT research (ICT4S, sustainable HCI, etc).  We are hoping you will consider crafting a chapter and engaging with other chapter contributors who join our broad inquiry into the field.
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A brief note on the process:  Rather than an edited book which is made up of relatively stand-alone contributions in part based on prior publications, we are working to design a process whereby: contributors are invited to create new writing on particular aspects of the debate; draft chapters are circulated between authors; virtual discussions take place where authors can debate and respond to one another in detail; and then with further rounds of editing, writing and responding as needed. Think of it as an extended workshop which has the tangible outcome of collected writings that recognize and engage with each other.

If you would like to contribute a chapter, then all that is needed is your idea, a bit of discussion with us, and a draft chapter abstract (600-750 words, excluding references) towards the end of August.

We are intent on submitting the book proposal to Routledge on 1 October, and we hope for their formal approval by the end of 2015.  As such, the project would begin in 2016, when the majority of the work would be completed.  


This sounded really interesting and fun and I submitted two draft chapter abstracts. Or, I think I did. I think my colleague Elina Eriksson submitted the second proposal. Or not. Oh, it doesn't really matter anymore, but I have since retracted/replaced the abstract that I submitted last summer, "Learning from Limits". It currently rests "in the drawer" as I am right now working on way too many texts in parallell to embark on writing yet another! I do think the idea itself is exciting though and I have therefore chosen to share it here (below), despite that fact that it is not currently headed anywhere. Dear reader, do get in touch if you have suggestions for a suitable venue for an article/chapter based on the abstract below!

Mike and Lisa's relatively hefty book proposal was submitted to Routledge in October last year and Routledge's "Senior Commissioning Editor, Sustainability and Development Studies" said the book proposal was going out to reviewers and that she herself thought "the proposal looks very strong". At the end of January we found out that the recommendation of all three reviewers was for Routledge to go ahead with the proposal: "the reviewers were very positive about the people involved ... and also the potential of the abstracts to develop into strong chapters which push the boundaries of our topic". The next step was to circulate a more general call for contributions and this went out in the beginning of April:


Working Title: Digital Technology and Sustainability: Acknowledging Paradox, Facing Conflict, and Embracing Disruption

Edited book to be published by Routledge

Editors:
Mike Hazas, Lancaster University, UK
Lisa Nathan, University of British Columbia, Canada

Important dates
28 May 2016 – Extended chapter abstracts due (2,500 words, plus references)
30 June 2016 – Acceptance notification
31 August 2016 – First full draft of chapters due (5,000-6,000 words)
Sept 2016-March 2017 – Feedback, Revisions, Contributor Conversations and Book Workshops
21 April 2017 – Final drafts of all chapters, responses, etc.

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Digital technologies are hailed as revolutionary solutions to the problems of environmental sustainability; smarter homes, more persuasive technologies, and a robust Internet of Things hold the promise for maintaining our lifestyles and sustaining our ecosystems. Yet, deployments of interactive technologies for such purposes often lead to a paradox: the tools algorithmically "optimize" heating and lighting of houses without regard to the dynamics of daily life in the home; they collect and display data that allows us to reflect on energy and emissions, while raising our expectations for comfort and convenience; we can share ideas for sustainable living through social networking and online communities, yet these same systems enable entirely new forms of consumerism. By acknowledging these paradoxes we make room for critical inquiry into digital technology’s longer-term impacts on ideals of sustainability.

This text brings together diverse scholars, researchers and practitioners willing to study, critique, and reorient dominant narratives and approaches to designing interactive digital technologies that support sustainability.

Objectives
-  To articulate and address the conundrums (theoretical, methodological, practical) for digital technology, and sustainable HCI in particular, in a single definitive volume;
-  To advance an iterative, interactive process (e.g., virtual workshops and one-to-ones) between scholars in the field;
-  Create a touchstone that scholars, students and interested members of the broader public can use to develop their understandings of sustainability in a digital future;
-  To initiate accessible and engaging modes of broad dissemination to coincide with the release of the book (e.g., video shorts and animations).

A list of possible content areas for which we are seeking chapter contributions are listed below; but topics are not strictly limited to these. [...]

- Critical Ethical Reflections - Who Are We To Decide What Is Of Value, What Is Worth Sustaining?
- Politics/Economics – Fundamental To Any New Tool, Yet Rarely Explicitly Addressed
- Shifting Orientations: Lengthening Temporal Scales/Accepting The Unknown:  With The Uncertainty And Unpredictability Of Effecting Change.
- Shifting The Norms Of IT Development/Practice: Developing Ways Of Fundamentally Shifting Current Trajectories Of ICT Development And Education
- Proxies For Sustainability (Emissions, Energy, Reliance On Natural Resources), And Approaches For Addressing These Infrastructure Considerations
- The Role Of Activism In Scholarly Work Tied To Environmental Concerns
- Relationships Between Sustainability And Social Justice
- Criteria of Excellence: Development of a broad set of expectations for future research in sustainable HCI.  

That's where we're at right now. As mentioned, the next two blog posts will be about my two proposed contributions to the book. Below is my original abstract/proposal for a book chapter that I later retracted/replaced with other proposals (see the following two blog posts).


Learning from Limits (draft chapter abstract)

Daniel Pargman, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden

Nobody dares to state that sustainability is not important nowadays. More and more people – ordinary citizens as well as corporate and political leaders – at some level realize that 20th century “business as usual” is an impossible trajectory for humanity to follow in the 21st century. We live on a finite planet and we are starting to push up against various limits, of which CO2 emissions and climate change are the most well-known. While there is broad agreement that we have to change direction, there is less agreement about how to conceptualize the situation we find ourselves in, how grave the situation is and which of the proposed options are sensible, easy, difficult or even possible.

While most computer researchers and professionals would agree that sustainability is important, the majority would be hard pressed to see the connection to their own professional practices. Lately, there has however been an upswing of researchers who are interested in the overlap between computing and sustainability, and, many of the contributors in this book work with “Sustainable HCI” or “ICT for Sustainability”. Scratch the surface and you will however find fundamental differences in the perspectives even among people who do work in these areas. Some researchers will (based on the research they conduct) propagate the view that sustainability is within the reach of relatively modest variations of current practices and that life can, for the most part, go on much as it does today. Other researchers will instead argue that humanity faces monumental challenges that will force us to rethink everything we have come to take for granted for decades if not for centuries. Rethinking “everything” would also force us to rethink the history, current developments, the role in society and the future of computing.

Based on that backdrop, this chapter strives to unveil the conceptual lines that divide us by revisiting the discussion around the “Limits to Growth” report from the early 1970’s (Meadows et al. 1972) as well as the different positions that emerged and crystallized around that report and that can still be seen in the positions taken by contemporary researchers, policymakers, corporate leaders, politicians and citizens.

I will furthermore argue for the merits of adopting the minority view; a hardline, uncompromising perspective on limits (as presented in the original Limits to Growth report). This perspective has started to be elaborated in work on “Collapse computing” (Tomlinson et al. 2012) and “Computing within Limits” (Pargman and Raghavan 2015). I will finally discuss some of the implications to computing of adopting such a perspective and of taking various biophysical limits seriously.
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