fredag 21 december 2012

Sustainability team kick-off

Our Media Technology and Interaction Design (MID) sustainability team (finally) kicked off our kick-off this week. The sustainability team has no less than 21 members on its' distribution list and nine of us managed to take a whole day off to discuss past and future activities of the team. A tenth member was supposed to come but had to meet a doctor urgently and an eleventh person had to cancel because of an important trip. The majority of the team members who did not show up for the kick-off are in fact lurkers who for the most part are happy to (only) read mail sent to our distribution list. Quite a few team "members" have for example not participated in a single team meeting during the autumn term. But that's totally ok and we thus have "active" as well as "passive" team members.

The team doesn't have a huge budget (yet) so we held our meeting in the home of Green Leap design professor and team member Teo Enlund in Saltsjö-Duvnäs. Other team members who showed up for the kick-off were: me, Malin, Elina, Åke, Hannes, Cristi, Anders and Katarina.

Except of breaks for lunch and coffee, we had six hours of activities and quite a hectic schedule. Some nay-sayers thought the program I had planned was too ambitious, but I and everyone else present did a great job of proving these mild doubters wrong. So what did we actually do during our kick-off? Here's what:

- Short presentations of each person present. Why are you here and what's your interest in this area (sustainability)? What do you do job-wise concerning sustainability and what do you want to do in the future? Special emphasis was put on discussing what each of us wants to get out of his/her membership in the team. Membership and participation in team activities is voluntary. We all contribute with our time, so what outcomes (functions) makes (active) team membership worthwhile for people? Some suggestions were:
   - Support regarding these issues in everyday life.
   - Sustainability is a complex issue - gaining a wider perspective when meeting people with other entry points into the area, other research interests and questions.
   - Build competence together with others.
   - Get to know about upcoming conferences and other activities of interest.
   - Find partners for writing papers and research grant applications.
   - Match our individual needs with others' competences as we get to know each other better, i.e. "I need someone who can help me with X in my project".

- The next session started with an information session (discussions and decisions):
   - Hannes talked about his and Jorge's Green Hackathon events. Hannes was fresh off the plane from the latest (Athens) Green Hackathon and the next will be held in Zürich in February in connection and as a part of the ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) conference. I will go the the conference together with a whole bunch of CESC and MID sustainability team members.
   - We also talked about our (sometimes smooth, sometimes slightly more rocky) relationship to the KTH Center for Sustainable Communications (CESC). Who would be interested in a part- or full-time workplace in the "CESC corridor" when the center moves its location next year (Elina, Malin and Daniel as it turned out). Some of us will also attend the annual CESC workshop in January next year and the Zürich February ICT4S conference.

   - Finally we needed to find a new slot for our group meetings. We decided to shift from bi-weekley Monday morning meetings to bi-weekly Tuesday lunch meetings and to sync our meetings with the CESC bi-weekly post-lunch information meetings/mini-seminars. We can have our meeting and our lunches at the same time and then together go to the CESC meeting. This is something that for sure will boost our attendance at the CESC meetings which is another great outcome.

- Next we were supposed to work in smaller groups and generate ideas for master's thesis proposals that our group could stand behind, but this specific activity was sidelined by instead brainstorming and writing outlines for workshop submissions to the CHI 2012 "Post-sustainability" workshop. Four smaller break-out groups worked on different tasks and I believe two groups will follow through and submit proposals for the January 11 deadline. Me and Åke did solid groundwork for a worshop position paper and Hannes and Elina also had a great idea for a workhshop submission.

- We even managed to write a Christmas song for the upcoming Christmas dinner at our department! We probably spent way too much time on this task but it got the whole group involved and was great fun!

- The second-to-last and probably "heaviest" activity in our program was to discuss who we are as a group. How do we want to define or limit our activities and how do we want to present ourselves on the department homepage? What description can encompasses our diverse interests and still say something meaningful? Can we formulate a description that we all can stand behind? What do we as a group want to accomplish during 2013? We ended up with a list of keywords and the team left the task of actually writing up some kind of coherent text to me. I'll work on that first thing next year!

- The last activity before finishing off our day with a dinner together was to discuss as well as launch our sustainability team blog, We decided to start a WordPress blog (my first!) and also made some decisions about its function and use. The blog will be written in English and it will be accessible for anyone to read, but the function of the blog will (at least primarily) be internal - i.e. we will write with the rest of the team as our audience. We will diligently use categories and tags for our posts. Blog posts should be short (unlike the blog posts here!) and can for example include:
   - short presentations of team members
   - I read a good/interesting book/article, here are my thoughts
   - Take a look at this upcoming seminar/workshop/Ph.D. course/conference/call for research grant applications 
   - I've been to this interesting seminar/workshop/conference, here are my thoughts
   - I handed in a research grant application
   - I got funded!
   - I've formulated a new master's thesis proposal
   - I've been the advisor of a bachelor's/master's thesis
   - A short presentation of the upcoming team meeting external guest
   - Here's what we did at our latest team meeting!

All in all, the kick-off was a great success and people were happy about both the meeting and the outcomes. I talked with a few members from other teams at the department Christmas dinner the following evening, and I realized (to my great surprise) that our team is now a lot more coherent and organized than several of the other teams at our department. At the last year's Christmas dinner, "the sustainability team" label existed only as placeholder, and by last summer the team had only met a handful of times (three or perhaps four). To my surprise it now suddenly seems we are getting our shit together and are on a roll compared to some of the other teams! How did that happen?

That's great and all, but next year will for sure be better than this - our first - year has been. Although we did not really have time to discuss our team goals for 2013, I just sort of assume next year will be the year when team members start to write things together (scientific papers but also research grant applications)!

fredag 14 december 2012

Step 3 research network

Economist Kenneth Boulding has famously said that "Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist".

Anyone with an ounce of numeracy can understand the deep truth in the claim that exponential growth is impossible in the long run (as such curves inevitably turn to the heavens and beyond). But at the same time, our everyday experiences (and those of our parents and of their parents and of relatives, neighbors, journalists, politicians and "captains of industry") seem to contradict this statement. We have come to take (exponential) economic growth for granted. Anything less than 3% or perhaps 2% or even 1% economic growth year-on-year "forever" is taken to be an aberration. Few people seriously consider the implications of a steady-state economy - an economy that doesn't grow. I could write whole essays about this topic, and I have (in Swedish).

There are however a few people who do consider and plan for a steady-state or even a shrinking economy, and some of them have gathered under the umbrella of the organization Steg 3 ("Step 3"). Step 3 is thus a Swedish growth-critical (or as they prefer to say, a "growth-realistic") grassroots movement that wants to raise the dilemmas of economic growth into the public debate. How can the single-minded goal of economic growth be dethroned from its position as the one and only goal worth discussing and indeed thinking about in our society? How can we instead discuss life quality above and beyond (only) economic values and economic dimensions?

I saw an invitation and went to a November Step 3 meeting that apparently was some kind of kick-off activity. People clustered in more than a dozen different groups and talked about specific issues that were close to their hearts ("sustainable city development", "decreasing working hours", "visions of alternatives (to the current system)", "influencing media", "influencing politics", "denial", "inner change"). Some of these spontaneous discussion groups have later turned into Step 3 working groups. I personally suggested there should be a group working on "growth-critical research" - specifically targeting those of us working at universities and/or within research and higher education.

We have thus formed such a group and we held our first meeting yesterday (four persons showed up). We discussed what the function of such a group could/should be, and what we (us four) would personally like to get from such a group. The activities of the group will be organized though a distribution list tying researchers in different parts of Sweden together, as well as complemented with local meetings in cities with a critical mass of people.

At the moment, eight persons are interested in coming to physical meetings in Stockholm and 12 persons have expressed their interest in being on a distribution list. I think these numbers will rise when there is a group and a distribution list to point at.

So, what kind of activities would such a group do? We floated some ideas and I think the number of ideas will increase further when more people join in. Still, I think we managed to together formulate an impressive list of uses - definitely enough to make such a group instantly useful for me personally. Here is a selection of stuff we want to use this group for:

Things we can do directly:

  • Start a distribution list (a Google group with automatic archival functionality)
  • Ask members to post a short presentation of themselves on the list

Things to then do:
  • Keep track (repost) info about upcoming conferences (workshops etc.).
  • "Best paper award"; each member lists his/her three favorite Step 3-related (annotated) scientific articles
  • My interests: three research questions I would love to explore
  • Find co-authors for contributions to conferences, workshops etc.
  • Keep track of grant proposals
  • Find co-authors for grant proposals
  • Form a reference group that could give feedback on not-yet-handed-in grant proposals
  • Exchange lectures in university courses (or tips about guest lecturers)
  • ...

Things to do later:
  • Organize a retreat/workshop at a members country house (should be several to choose from in this particular group...) to get to know each other better, find people with overlapping interests and form smaller groups with people you could/would like to cooperate with
  • Write articles together
  • Help other university teachers create Step 3-inspired or Step 3-related university courses (or activities/modules in courses)
  • Facebook group? Blog with more advanced functionality?
  • ...

We did not think the primary purpose of the distribution list should be to discuss different issues. The functions above are less "interactive" and geared more towards networking and disseminating information. I think that is as it should be. I like discussions, but perhaps not in a distribution list... 

We didn't think too much about the interaction between our group and the larger Step 3 network - that is still to come. There are probably many other things we haven't thought about yet, but I'm pretty happy about the meeting and about the outcome.

If you are interested in joining our growth-critical research network/group, please first sign up as a Step 3 member and then get in touch with me!

lördag 8 december 2012

Future of Magazines - post-presentation reflections

I've written quite a few blog posts this autumn that relates to the course Future of Media and this year's theme Future of Magazines and Magazines of the Future. This will in fact not be the last blog post on that topic even though the most visible part of the course (the actual projects) came to an end yesterday with a huge public presentation (schedule here) with an estimated audience of 200-250 persons. The KTH internal newsletter "Campi" wrote a (Swedish-language) text about the course with a focus on the final presentation.

This year's course, and the public presentation yesterday, must be regarded as a huge success. Beyond the 1st, 2nd and 3rd year students in our program (who have to come to the presentation), there were also more external guests than ever before, including 60+ persons from industry (Bonnier, Aller Media, Sveriges Tidskrifter, WAN-IFRA, Schibsted, Svenska Dagbladet, Metro International, Aftonbladet, Expressen, Ekstra Bladet (DK), Tidningen Arbetsliv, Världen idag, Shourtcut Magazines, Campi, Tidningskungen, Grafiska företagens förbund and many smaller companies).

I had also recruited a great panel (or "jury") consisting of no less than five persons who provided the project groups with instant feedback and some questions:

- Anders Malmström, CEO for Bonnier International Magazines
- Milad Hosseinzadeh, Architect at White arkitekter, entrepreneur and guest teacher at KTH/Architecture
- Kristina Sabelström Möller, Tech. Dr. (KTH) and Senior project manager/researcher, most recently at Expressen
- Björn Thuresson, Senior researcher at KTH/CSC
- Jonas Olofsson, Business development manager at Bonnier Research & Development

The panel were, on the other hand, quite tough in the post-presentation deliberations. This is something that I will take into account, but their judgements will at the same time be "diluted" by other aspects that go into the grading and that the panel don't know anything about (see below). This however leads me to reflect a little on the process and work that needs to be done for next year's course; I wonder if what the panel perceived to be their job differs from what the students have aimed at (based on my instructions). I think this might be the case and wonder if it's a case of just clarifying goals to the students and the panel (i.e. just a matter of better communication), or if it's also a matter of re-writing and/or developing these goals.

What the panel can judge is:
1) The quality of the concept/scenario (is it relevant, does it have innovation height, is it credible, does it meet a real needs etc.)
2) The quality of the 10-minute presentation, i.e. the performance itself (was it well structured, did it  communicate the concept in a good way, was the presentation fun, innovative, were the presenters themselves doing a good job etc.)
3) The quality of supporting design representation ["gestaltning"]. These design representations most often consisted of a short movies - did they have a high degree of professional craftsmanship, did they manage to communicate the concept, did the presentation and design representation/movie support each other and form a coherent "story" etc.)

Beyond that, there are several other things that I (and my side-kick teacher) can judge:
4) The concept (again) but this time as expressed in the project report (where for example technical matters can be further developed and references can be made use of more effectively)
5) The quality/finish of the text itself, seen as a text (degree of professional craftsmanship, and divorced from other functions of the text (point 4 above))
6) The underlying work/research effort (desktop research/literature review, interviews, focus groups, surveys etc.)
7) The process (did a good job with the original project proposal, have handed in weekly status reports in time, attended the coordination meetings) things in time etc.)  

I think it would be of great help to next year's students if the tradeoff between different goals (as expressed in the 7 points above) could be clarified. Perhaps the description of the course should be updated too to better reflect any such changes. Before I start to do that, I would however like to read the students' evaluation of the course (due 10 days from now for early birds and beginning of January for late birds). 

One univocal success of the course is the idea of having an "executive group" help out. That is, beyond the 12 project groups exploring different aspects of the future of magazine, we have a 13th group, an "executive group", who help manage different aspects of the course-seen-as-a-project. These students make it possible to make something truly special out of the course, above and beyond what is normally possible in a university (project) course. 

Two panelists (those with the most experience of university courses) commented on the brilliance of having such a group. The secret of the sauce is of course also to man such a group with capable students, something that fortunately has never been a problem in this course. This year there were no less than six persons in this group, and each person was personally responsible for a particular task; 1) the final presentation, 2) the web page, 3) the book we printed, 4) documentation and archival of the project on the web, 5) sponsors and promotion material and finally 6) project leadership and overall coordination of the executive group (as well as the "point woman" in the contact with the responsible teacher - me). 

Again, the course and the final presentation was an overall resounding success and something that will be hard to beat for next year's students! My only remaining headache is to grade these projects and that will be tough. My problem is this: the easy way out would be to give high grades (A-B) to most groups. They might or might not be worth it, based on the criteria in the course PM and list of aspects that can be evaluated (above). Giving lower grades might on the other hand also not feel totally fair as all groups have worked hard or very hard with their projects. What I would prefer is for for the course to be worth more credits (taking into account the work effort of the groups), and at the same time giving me increased possibilities to use the full spectrum of the grade scale (A-E or at least A-D) when I evaluate these projects (and with input from the side-kick teacher and the panel/jury). The number of course credits it something that is really really tough to change though...

fredag 30 november 2012

Future of Magazines - invitation to final presentation & book intro

This is a two-for-the-prize-of-one blog post. First an open invitation to the Dec 7 final presentation of The Future of Magazines (basically a copy of an email I sent earlier this week), and second the introduction I wrote for the limited-edition book we are publishing about the Future of Magazines.

1) December 7 final presentation

You are invited to the final presentation in the course Future of Media. This year's theme is Future of Magazine / Magazines of the Future.

The course is given for the 10th year and I think this year's presentations might be the best and the most ambitious ever. Do note that the 12 project groups go far beyond the issue of (only) magazines and will also touch upon the future of texts, the future of reading, or journalism  (and journalists), and of the future of publishing!

Here are seven (magazine-related) trends for the next 10-20 years that we have identified and that has had an impact on students' scenarios [further developed in the book introduction below]:
- From scarcity to abundance
- Increased number of mobile devices and tablets
- Better Internet
- More digitized content and digital magazines
- The death of paper?
- Less money in print and less money for quality content
- The ascent of social media


/Daniel Pargman


The 5th year students at KTH/Media Technology will present 12 projects and 12 ideas for the Future of Magazines and Magazines of the Future on Friday December 7 (at 13.00 - 16.00 in lecture hall F1). The students have worked very hard with their projects for the major part of the autumn term and the final presentations usually have a very high entertainment value (interesting, thought-provoking ideas, well-crafted movies and other supporting materials).

For more information, see:
- A 1-minute promotion movie.
- The Future of Magazines website.
- The Future of Magazines Facebook page.

We have booked KTH's largest lecture hall (500 seats) and you are therefor welcome to bring all your colleagues and friends to the presentation We also urge you to forward this mail anyone you think might be interested!

Please join us for this event and don't forget to tell us that you are coming by signing up on this webpage.

Below is one of the 12 projects that will present their results on December 7 - and who isn't interested in the future of journalism?

2) Book introduction, "The Future of Magazines"

This book is a result of a project course, "The Future of Media", given at The Department of Media Technology and Interaction design at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, Sweden.

Media Technology

Information, communication, media and media technologies have become increasingly important in today’s society and in people’s everyday lives. Media Technology can broadly be characterized as technologies and methods for supporting communication between people across distances in time and space. The Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) has offered a Master of Science in Media Technology since 1999.

Future of media

In the project course “Future of Media”, advanced graduate students in media technology and media management explore the relationship between technology, economy and social factors in processes of technological innovation and development. The course load corresponds to a third of a semester and runs throughout the autumn semester.

This year, 2012, the course is given for the 10th time and for the second time in English, with international students participating. A special effort has now been made to document and make the results of the course available on the Internet. These results include this book “The future of Magazines”, a webpage, as well as concrete practical “design representations” such as for examples movies and prototypes that have been created by different project groups within the course. The aim is to make the results of not just this, but also of successive courses available on the Internet at <>.

This year’s theme – The Future of Magazines

Each year, the course treats a different theme. Past themes in the course have for example included The Future of TV, The Future of Books, The Future of Music, The Future or Radio and The Future of Computer Games. This year’s task has been to analyze, reflect upon, review, refine and further develop The Future of Magazines and Magazines of the Future from a media technology perspective.

The Future of Magazines! What could be more exciting? Well, some students were initially hesitant or skeptical about this year’s theme and asked whether (paper) magazines do have a future? If magazines are defined as (only) paper products with glossy covers, it might very well be the case that “magazines” don’t have a future some decades on. Reading the initial essays about these particular students’ relationships to magazines, you might be excused to think so. While young people might read more text than ever, a minor part of that text is packaged and delivered on glossy paper – rather than read on a computer, a tablet or a smartphone screen. For this course, we have however chosen to widen the concept of “magazines” to potentially encompass all texts in-between news stories (in the daily newspaper) and book-length texts. What is the future not only of magazines, but of texts, of reading, or journalists and of magazine publishers? No less than 12 groups of students have explored 12 different futures for magazines during the autumn of 2012. The students presented their suggestions and the results of their projects on December 7, 2012, but the results are also available here, in this book, as well as on the web.

A framework that all project groups have had to relate to is that the course aims for a future sometime during the next 10-20 year, i.e. sometime between 2022 and 2032. All projects have also had to limit themselves to, or at least orient themselves towards a Swedish (western, relatively affluent) context. The proposed futures might, but do not have to assume large technological breakthroughs. Some technologies and ideas that are already around today (or that are being explored in labs at this very moment), might take a decade or more to spread and take hold among a larger proportion of the population. The challenge might not always be to invent purely technological futures, but to imagine patterns of usage and new business models emerging when current (or future) patterns of usage among small groups of early adopters spread to larger groups in our society. Despite widely different ideas and scenarios, there are still a number of trends that all project groups position themselves in relation to.

Magazine trends

Below are seven trends that we have identified in the course and that are of importance for The Future of Magazines and Magazines of the Future. Each trend is of importance to at least a few, and sometimes several project groups.

From scarcity to abundance 
We are in the midst of a shift from information scarcity to information abundance. But what to us today seems like an abundance of information will seem like scarcity when people look back on our age 10-20 years into the future. A decade or two from now anyone can easily become a ”journalist” or a ”publisher” – and many will! Some of the texts written will be of very high quality, rivaling the writing of professional journalists, but most will be of (very) limited interest or just plain bad. It will become increasingly difficult to find quality content in a deluge of texts and pictures, but it’s an open question as to whether people will be willing to either pay for quality content or “pay” in terms of time spent sifting though immense amounts of data and/or setting up personal strategies for finding what constitutes quality content to you (as well as to invest in a constant upkeep of said strategies).

Increased number of mo- bile devices and tablets 
There will be an increased number of mobile devices around in the future – the descendants of today’s smartphones. These devices as well as the tablets of the future will be smaller, thinner, lighter, more powerful and less expensive than they are today, leading to (even) more people using these devices more. Today only 7% of the population in Sweden owns a tablet. According to a forecast by IDC, there were 70 million tablets on the market worldwide last year (2011) and that number will more than triple in just five years. Many more people will own tablets 10 or 20 years from now. In fact everybody living in an affluent country will own (at least one) tablet, much like “everybody” owns a mobile phone (or a smartphone) today.

Better Internet
These mobile devices and tablets will be a lot more versatile and useful in the future, not the least due to an upgraded infrastructure which will offer better performance of an always-available wireless high-bandwidth Internet. According to mobile traffic forecasts (2010), the amount of traffic will increase by a factor of 33 between 2010-2020 and the broadband network of 2020 will be ultra-high speed and ubiquitous.

More digitized content and digital magazines 
With more and better mobile devices and tablets, and with a better, faster Internet, more content will be digitized and more people will read texts on screens (mobile devices and tablets). This will lead to a much larger market for digital magazines and an explosion of digital magazine titles. Access to digital magazines will become much easier and more widespread as more people will shift or extend their reading to magazines in digital formats.

The death of paper?
Whether the trends outlined above together with other changes (for example in user habits and business logic) will lead to the death of paper (magazines) is something that different groups disagree on. Some groups think that the trends above will lead to the death of paper magazines, while other groups think that paper magazines are going to stay with us for decades to come. Some groups extrapolate from current trends and arrive at the conclusion that paper magazines (and newspapers) will not be around 10-20 years into the future, or that they perhaps will be around, but will be marginal and represent totally different functions than then-dominant mainstream digital magazines. In defense of paper magazines, paper does however have several characteristics that are hard or impossible for digital devices and tablets to replace; texture, the sound of rustling paper and all other aspects of reading that is coupled to sensual experiences (touch, smell and even taste!). Paper magazines are furthermore inexpensive to manufacture and buy, foldable and non-fragile (can be shared, left behind on the train, brought to the beach etc.). Lastly, reading a magazine on paper is not just a matter of acquiring specific information (perhaps better solved by searching on the Internet), but can also have a ritual dimension, i.e. intimately be connected to a daily or weekly habit of curling up in a favorite armchair and relaxing with a glass of wine and the latest issue of a favorite magazine.

Another option, beyond questions of paper-vs-digital formats, is the combination of paper and digital magazines, a solution that is explored by several groups in this book.

Less money in print and less money for quality content 
Due to pressures from many different directions (the rise of digital platforms, changing user habits, ample user- generated content available for free on the Internet), there will be less money in print products in the future. This will lead (and has already led to) the financial decline of traditional newspapers. While all newspapers have a web presence, the move from paper to the web has also (this far) meant exchanging dollars for dimes in terms of income from advertising. People have up until now been notoriously stingy when it comes to paying for online content.

While magazines have held up better than newspaper in terms of keeping up readership and circulation numbers, it is an open question whether current trends (declining revenue and declining circulation) in the newspaper business will be replicated for magazines. Magazine publishers might come to feel an increased pressure to experiment with, and to find new business models to counter decreased revenues from traditional sources.

With less money in print, it is likely that there will also be less money for the production of quality content – including less money for journalist’s salaries. A possible development is thus fewer journalists and/or journalists who are paid less for their services. It might however be the case that this trend will be countered by another trend: an increase in the sheer mass of information might mean that readers are prepared to pay a premium for quality content or for quality editorial services.

Ascent of social media
Social media will continue to increase both in volume as well as in importance during the coming decades. Breaking news will quickly be spread faster by people who were there and through social media channels rather than by professional journalists and through traditional (print) media channels. It will on the other hand be more difficult to find information (rather then rumors, unverified information or disinformation) and more difficult to know which sources to trust. Perhaps social media services will (further) decrease readers’ willingness to buy magazines that are geared towards specific target groups, rather than reading several overlapping and/or complementary articles about a specific subject from different sources?

Work process

During an intense six-week long start-up phase from the end of August 2012 to the beginning of October, the whole class read selected literature about magazines, worked with magazine-related issues in seminars, and were visited by around 20 guest lecturers from industry and academia. These guests had a variety of backgrounds and presented a wide variety of perspectives, over-all providing us with a well-rounded picture of the history of magazines, the present situation of magazines and the magazine market, as well as some trends and possible future developments.

At the end of the start-up phase, project groups were formed around course participants’ emerging interests, and 12 project groups were formed. During the second half of the autumn semester, these groups have independently explored different aspects of this year’s theme.

The result of each group’s effort is a proposal/scenario pertaining to the future of magazines. The results are presented as chapters in this book, as well as through a live presentation that was held on Dec 7 2012 in front of an audience of hundreds of persons, consisting of younger students as well as teachers, guest lecturers, alumni, and representatives from the publishing industry. Documentation can be found at < archive>.

On the texts in this book
The 12 resulting scenarios that follow do not aim for a purely academic form (such as in a report or an academic article), but rather for something in-between an academic and a popular text. These texts are meant to inform, entertain and perhaps dazzle (like a popular text), but they are also backed up by relevant literature as well as by own inquiries and original research.

Each text will clearly outline who the stakeholders (end users/target groups) of said tools and services are, and the typical situations where these stakeholders benefit from the proposed scenarios (i.e. “solutions” to problems currently being experienced). Finally, the texts will also point out important decisions and the reasons behind decisions that have been made during the design process.


Daniel Pargman (Assistant Professor in Media Technology at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology and head teacher for the course “DM2571 Future of Media”)
Leif Handberg (assistant teacher)

söndag 25 november 2012

What do we do then? (conference)

I went to Naturskyddsföreningen's [The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, SSNCautumn conference Friday this week. I've written about it before, because I was one of no less than 18 "official bloggers" that got to go for free. This  (subjective, partial) post-conference summary is part of me paying them back for the courtesy of allowing me to go for free.

Since I knew I was going to write about the conference, I took diligent notes throughout the day. But if I follow my innate ambition and write exhaustively about the conference, this would become a blog post of such magnificent length that not even my mother in heaven (may she rest in peace) would have the endurance to read it all from beginning to end. My strategy is thus to cover a part of the event and my goal is to spend two hours writing this blog post (excluding the time it took to type down all my notes - I forgot to bring the power cord to the conference).

Much of the event was filmed and is accessible online - no less than five hours of talks! You can look at it all here - four one-hour+ long films, or, better, you can go here, pick the speaker of your choice, and listen to their talk and/or see their set of slides. After lunch, we had the choice to join one out of five different sessions and these were not filmed. I think I can be of best use here by covering the session I went to ("How far can technology take us?") and relate them to a few of the single-track (filmed) talks. But first a few general comments.

The conference was sold out and there were thus 500+ persons at the Stockholm Conference Center. The event was very professionally organized. One of the secrets is to have a good moderator who knows the subject (good enough) and who makes sure that people stay on topic and that the program stays on track (time-wise and more). Nina Ekelund did that (sometimes with help from SSNC General Secretary Svante Axelsson. The event was very much a one-directed affair (I was not so much a participant as part of the audience). That was ok though since the general quality of the speakers was generally very high. Also at the conference was Elina from my department and Teo, Sara and Karin from Green Leap ("nearby" in my organization). They were my "homies".

The session I went to had four speakers. They were all very good. The weakest link was the moderator who did not have the guts/experience to cut a woman short who clearly did not want to ask any particular question, but who rather just aimed for kidnapping the Q-and-A session and give an impromptu talk (not prepared, unclear, hard to follow). All four session speakers' slides are already available online - a great service to the audience and not something that is (yet) true for the other sessions!

Session E speaker 1 - Christer Sanne (author, retired researcher from KTH), "How we can live sustainably 2030: Technology, rebound effects and lifestyle as key questions"

Technology invention and technological developments progress in small steps every year. These small steps create a great potential for savings over time, but they tend to a large extent to be eaten up by social changes (e.g. increased consumption). Here's an example of Christer's: We need less energy to run our cars now compared to in the past. We can in fact make a car run with 60% less energy than 40 years ago, but the weight of the average car has gone up by 60% in the same period! ..There are furthermore a lot cars around today than there were 40 years ago... This example is thus an example of the dreaded "rebound effect".

Technological progress in small steps every year is like standing on an escalator. Everything becomes 2% more effective every year, but this positive change is compensated (eaten up) by a 2% increase in the production every year. Perhaps we would (almost) be at a standstill in the escalator if we could have environmental improvements with a 1-2% mitigating effect per year? Unfortunately we are already standing at a height in the escalator that is too high up (not sustainable). How can we walk contrary to the direction of the escalator and actually take big (necessary) steps "downwards", towards a sustainable level of (resource) consumption, energy usage and carbon emissions? How can we Swedes decrease our carbon footprint by 90% until 2050 - as we have pledged to do? How can we go from 10 to just 1 ton of CO2e emissions per person per year in less than 40 years? In order to reach that goal, we need to decrease our footprint by 7% every single year, reaching 70% reductions already by 2030 and 90% reductions by 2050. Sanne's suggestion is to divide the necessary 7% reductions into two components; a 2% reduction in working hours per year (instead of a 2% salary increase), and a 5% reduction through environmental improvements and decreased emissions due to changed lifestyles.

Very simplified, Christer's proposal for 2030 is to 1) go back to 1990's standard of living but 2) using the much-improved technology of 2030 and 3) have 10 hours more of leisure time (decrease the work week by 25%). Christer's thoughts are further elaborated in a just-finished report that is written for Naturvårdsverket [The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency], "Hur vi kan leva hållbart 2030" [How we can live sustainably 2030]. The report (in Swedish) is 130 pages long, it is available for download and I plan to read it!

Session E speaker 2 - Oksana Mont (professor in sustainable production and consumption at the International Institute of Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE) at Lund University), "Will technology save us and if not what else can we do?"

Technology solves some problems and creates other problems. Oksana, just like Christer, pointed to tricky rebound effects ("improved per-unit efficiency overcompensated by increasing consumption"). Cars do get more efficient (see above), but is their utility really improving that much? The average European car is used for only 29 minutes per day, the average 12 year old car has thus been rolling for (only) 90 days (24 hours per day) and the average car speed in European city centers is a scant 17 km/hour, i.e. just about or less than the speed of a bicycle.

Our business models are tied to materials throughput (selling objects, replacing broken objects). There is thus no incentive for companies to economize with resources today. Companies should shift to providing services instead of selling "stuff" (cars, washing machines etc.). Oksana also showed a slide where the practices that provides people with the most happiness (sex, socializing, relaxing, praying/meditating, eating and exercising) also happen to be low-energy and low-carbon emissions activities. So how do we make such low-energy activities become high-status practices (instead of bragging about our latest transcontinental vacation or buying an expensive car)?

At this point, Oksana started to talk about "collaborative consumption" and explicitly referred to Rachel Botsman's and her book (together with Roo Rogers): "What's mine is yours: The rise of collaborative consumption" (2010). This is a key reference in my and Karin Bradley's research grant application "Cities of sharing and rise of collaborative consumption" - so I guess me and Karin should get in touch with Oksana! Oksana also referred to a EU project, "Sustainable Lifestyles 2050" (SPREAD). This is definitely something we should check up!

Session E speaker 3 - Johan Ehrenberg (author, publisher, entrepreneur).

1% of humanity create 50% of all CO2 emissions and 10% of humanity create 80% of all emissions (i.e. use 80% of all energy). These persons - us - represent the really urgent problem, not the much greater number of people living in poor countries. It is possible to "save the world" already today - and with existing technology - and Johan was a great believer in solar power and claimed that 50% of all energy in Sweden could be produced by solar power. The key is ideology, politics, policies and incentives, since the market won't fix this by itself. Why does so much electricity come from coal today? Because it's less expensive that other sources of course. So let's change the political and societal rules so coal isn't that inexpensive any longer - what's the problem?

I remember a great talk by a guest lecturer, Nicklas Lundblad, in one of my courses. Nicklas has a background in philosophy, law and informatics and is nowadays the director of public policy at Google. His talk was called "Out of sync: The legal system vs. music practices". His point was that it is easier for Sweden to reintroduce the death penalty (only needs two consecutive majority votes in the parliament) than to change our copyright laws, since the copyright laws are tied up in other, more general trade agreements. It isn't possible to break the copyright agreements without breaking a lot of other agreements too. The result is then a bifurcation between what the law says ("who cares?") and what people think and what people do when it comes to copyrighted materials. So my question in relation to Johan's talk is if it easy or even possible for Sweden to unilaterally change laws and incentives the way Johan proposes? Wouldn't that be a prime example of so-called "trade barriers" (and yet another reason why I'm not so fond of the European Union)?

Session E - speaker 4. Greger Henriksson (researcher at KTH/Environmental Strategies Research), "Behaviors, habits, environmental actions..."

Greger is affiliated to the Center for Sustainable Communications (CESC) and so am I (I'm part of the management team as of this summer). Greger even helped me out earlier this autumn with parts of my course "Sustainability and media technology", but I have in fact never heard him speak in a public setting before.

Greger has, as an ethnologist, visited people to see what they actually do (as apart from what they say that they do), and to interview them. He has also analyzed behavioral diaries (for example regarding recycling practices) and used these as input to interviews. He subscribes to "social practice theory" and does not think that understanding must proceed action. We change our behaviors not primarily because we realize the unsustainability of our current practices, but because we mimic someone else who behaves in a particular way. Changing people's habits can thus be seen as a popular movement and every-day practices can either win or loose supporters and followers (like a football team). 

As to the single-track program (captured by the camera), I think the talks above can be tied to especially two talks. I really should go back and listen to the recorded talks a second time, but I just don't have the time so my memories and my notes will have to do for now. 

Björn Sandén (professor in environmental systems analysis) gave a talk called "On the threshold of a new industrial revolution". He said that we are facing a "gigantic challenge that houses enormous risks and possibilities". Beyond a recap of the history of the Earth (with a special emphasis on the last 10 000 (agriculture) or 200 (industrialization) years, my impression of Björn was that he was impossibly cheerful about the possibilities of technology to solve the problems we are currently facing. He didn't feel so much as a scientist (extrapolating from his research) as a technological evangelist. To Björn, technology is a solution, indeed it seems to be the only way forward, and it represents salvation from our current woes. The implicit message that I heard is "give me more money (and prestige) and I will solve your problems". Great for him, but my train is going in the other direction. 

Someone who might have listened (a little too closely) at Björn was Lena Ek, Sweden's Minister for the Environment who gave a talk called "The playing field of environmental politics". She referred to the just-published International Monetary Fund (IMF) "Doomsday report" stating that we are heading for a 4-degree increase of temperature on Earth (with devastating effects) by saying "to many of us this was not news". If this was known to Lena, why haven't we heard anything about it from her or from the government? And why don't we (Sweden) do more in order to stop that future from coming true?

Lena is very positive about the possibilities of technology to solve our problems and hinted at several (unnamed) technical miracles and revolutions just around the corner. How else is it possible to interpret her rapt retelling of when her grandmother turned on the electricity for the very first time, or her very first telephone conversation? I assume Lena's revolutions will happen in the energy field, but we didn't really get any concrete clues about that or indeed about anything else of importance. But I have to give it to her, Lena is pretty good at speaking and answering (tough) questions. Good for her - it's a pity I don't have the confidence she has!

See further a full spread about Lena in the Sun Nov 26 issue of Svenska Dagbladet, "Technological solutions give hope for the environment". It must be such a relief for a politician not to have to be the bearer of bad news (for example that we have to stop consuming so much, flying so much or eating so much meat.) It must be great to instead be able to "argue" for all of us to lean back, cross our fingers and hope for the best. Technology will save us (like the hero does at the very last moment in sooo many movies we have all seen). Good for her!

Beyond technology, Lena also has great confidence in the political system and in (current) political processes to solve the problems we are facing. Despite the above-mentioned "doomsday report", it seems like Lena's (conception of the) problems are neither immediate nor insistent. She seems to have a relaxed attitude to the immediacy of current challenges. Good for her again - it's a pity I don't have the confidence she has! 

People who are worried include professor Johan Rockström and renowned nature photographer Mattias Klum. I liked their talk, but what I found truly intriguing and impressive was the very tight, super-praticed and successful combination of 1) facts (by scientist Johan) and 2) feelings (evoked by Mattias' nature photographs) together with the 3) strong pro-nature contra-CO2-emissions sentiments of both speakers. Their talk was called "Vår tid på jorden" [Our time on Earth] and that also happens to be the title of their just-published book. I've put that book on my Christmas wish-list. The very same book is also available in English but is (for some reason) then called "The human quest: Prospering within planetary boundaries".  

torsdag 22 november 2012

Books I've read recently

"Books I've read lately" is a recurring topic and here is the previous blog post (same topic, different books). I read the three books below in ≈ August and the first half of September. 

The three books constitute a series of sorts as they all treat different aspects of recent (last decades) developments in turbo-capitalism, and implications for the Internet. Or was it the other way around - implications of the Internet on capitalism? Who knows, perhaps it's both. This theme anyways sort of connects back to the books I wrote about last month (on computer culture, computer history and computers in a societal context and the parallels between the emergence of a computer culture and a counter-culture). 

I read Chris Carlsson's "Nowtopia: How pirate programmers, outlaw bicyclists, and vacant-lot gardeners are inventing the future today!" (2008) because my sometimes-collaborator Karin Bradley read and recommended it. I'm slightly ambivalent about the book. I think Chris is on to something when he tries to connect those different pursuits into a more general trend of kinds, I'm just not sure Chris is the very best person to write about it. With a background as an activist and a deep involvement in counter- and alternative movements, he really knows a lot about the people and the developments of these movements, but I also feel that his lack of a research background sometimes works against him. He has for example read a lot of leftist, class-consciousness-lifting literature (Marx etc.) and seems to have this hang-up about trying to squeeze his informants into social classes. I guess that could be ok too, but it doesn't turn out great when he explicitly asks his informants about class background and class membership and they (from an American context) are more or less clueless and just don't get it. Some things do hit a little too close to home for comfort though:

"These days, a successful professional is expected to work upwards of 70 hours a week [...] Worse, a lot of that working time is unpaid. British journalist Madeleine Bunting describes a common corporate strategy of this era: "Don't employ more people, just devise an organizational culture which will ensure that people will give you their free time for free." And [...] clearly it's working." 

What then is the alternative? To Carlsson, "Community gardening, alternative fuels, and bicycling [...] all represent technological revolts that integrate a positive ecological vision with practical local behaviors." Carlsson sketches out an "anti-economy" of people who "are engaged in creative appropriation of technologies to purposes of their own design and choice". These people are providing services for free, organizing festival and (sometimes subversive) activities and making things happen for the love of sharing, for the love of other people and for the love of doing a really good job on something they care about deeply. There is an interesting connection here between the kinds of low-tech Do-It-Yourself (DIY) ethos that permeates the phenomena Carlsson describes and Schumacher's 1970's "Small is beautiful" ethos.  

In their book "The new spirit of capitalism" (1999), Luc Botanski and Eve Chiapello describe exactly the ideological and political developments that Carlsson and his informants rebel against. Carlsson wrote:

"The new apparatus of global production helps speed up the extension of market society of course, but inevitably it is also speeding the spread of social opposition, the sharing of experiments and alternatives". 

Where Carlsson writes about alternatives and social opposition, Boltanski and Chiapello writes about the extension of market society during the last decades (i.e. from 1965 to 1995 - the book was published in French in 1999 and translated to English in 2005). 

First of all, this book is a veritable brick with its 600 pages of that oh-so-typical dense theoretical-laden long-sentenced and not seldom complex-languaged and -concepted style that relatively often (in my experience) permeates a tradition of French academic writing, putting a premium on sentences that never seem to end, and on stacking dependent and subordinates clauses on top of each other in a seemingly never-ending fashion and where one single sentence not seldom can constitute a entire paragraph (and an entire universe) in and of itself. You get the drift. I would have wished the book was 200 pages shorter and had twice a many but half a as long sentences.  

Despite this, it is a very interesting book. The basic material that Luc & Eve have analyzed for their treatise is not some empirical material they have collected, but rather a comparison of two different corpuses of management literature from the second half of the 1960's and the first half of the 1990's (60-65 texts in each sample). How has capitalism changed and what do the ups and downs of different (business) terms and values say about "the new spirit of capitalism"? 

Even though Luc & Eve wrote their book 15 years ago, and even though they write primarily about business (and often spilling over to arguments about workers and artists), some of what they write at times hits home and almost seems to be written about 2012 and about me and my job:

"Lemaire (1994) dreams of abolishing bosses completely, in particular by introducing a principle of symmetry that allows the person in charge of a project to have as their basic collaborator the head of another project in which one is oneself merely a participant."

Comment: This is for example the case for me and my colleague Björn. He has been our director of studies and has had the responsibility of planning my time and my (undergraduate teaching) commitments, but I am at the same time co-advisor of his hopefully soon-to-be-finished Ph.D. thesis.

"Another seductive aspect of neo-management is the proposal that everyone should develop themselves personally. The new organizations are supposed to appeal to all the capacities of human beings, who will thus be in a position fully to blossom."

Comment: I have already written about a "life and career planning" course/product that KTH pays for and where I currently (ir-)regularly meet a career coach. Need I say anything more? 

Beyond this and that, there were two general ideas in the book that I found especially intriguing. The first has to do with the ideological justification of capitalism (which also tends to shift at different times, or in different "ages"). The key group that must be swayed by the very idea of capitalism is not primarily the capitalists themselves, nor the workers, the unemployed, the old, the young, the sick or the infirm, but rather the managers and the executives, capitalism's willing participants†, taskmasters and evangelists. It's easy to see the connection to the management literature that Luc and Eve have studied. To get the managers on to the bandwagon, capitalism has to promise a plausible (and attractive, and profitable) future for these key groups as well as "a minimum of security for themselves and their children". [The spirit of] capitalism must also be able to justify participation in terms of the common good and be able to mount a defense against accusations of injustice, e.g. that the creation and accumulation of wealth (eventually and more or less automatically) is and will lead to better societies. It's an open question what the consequences would be if capitalism for some reason can't deliver. The faith of key groups (managers, (EU and national) political and union leaders etc.) would be undermined, and that faith is necessary (crucial?) for the system to reproduce itself. When reading the book, my thoughts began to stray to certain countries in southern Europe with shrinking economies and where the unemployment figures are hovering around 25% (and around 50% for youths up to 26 years of age). What is the future of capitalism in Greece, Spain, Portugal, perhaps soon to be joined by yet other European countries?

The second idea I found extremely intriguing has to do with speed, mobility and linking on a very general level ("exploitation in a networked world"). Luc and Eve basically say that the faster you move in comparison to other actors, the better off you are (at the expense of (e.g. exploiting) slower-moving actors) - because in a connected ("connexionist") world, speed and mobility is an essential quality of winners. Losers are rooted, stay behind and take responsibility for "the plumbing", while winners surf on the waves (or on the backs of the losers), moving around and creating new links that help them move around and create new links.

Because of the ever-present threat of withdrawing capital, "financial markets may be regarded as exploiting countries and firms" and industrialists who invest in assets that are not mobile (factories, machines, employees) "are in constant fear of losing the support of their financial backers". "Although [...] less mobile than the financial markets, [multinational companies] are scarcely more loyal to a country, region or site". "The most mobile [...] are always on the point of leaving." Consumers with their rapidly shifting preferences (think about the fall of Nokia in 5 short years) can also be winners in a fast-moving, globalized world. As can job hoppers on various levels be - from CEOs to wage-earners - leaving others behind to take care of left-behind messes. "What is at stake is being more mobile, less ponderous, than one's customer or employer". A well-informed specialist (university teacher?) should keep the options open and be ready to quit and find a new job the following day - and use implicit or explicit threats of resignation to squeeze out higher compensation for his services from his current employer. "At all levels of the chain, those who are more mobile extort surplus-value from the less mobile, in exchange for a [temporary] slackening in their own mobility".

Either you (are prepared to) move on, or you run the risk of being left behind! The slow can and will be exploited by the fast! General knowledge is better (more applicable in a variety of contexts) than specific (deep) knowledge! I think it is prudent to at this point send a thought to the effects of social media (Facebook, Twitter etc.) here and while there is (much) more to write about regarding "The spirit of new capitalism", this will just have to do for this humble blog post. I will however end with a quote (written by Charles Péguy) that Luc and Eve begin their book with:

"We have known, we have had contact with a world [...] where a man condemned to poverty was at least secure in poverty. It was a kind of unspoken contract between man and fate, and before the onset of modern times fate had never reneged on this contract. It was understood that those who indulged in extravagance, in caprice, those who gambled, those who wished to escape poverty, risked everyting. Since they gambled, they could lose. But those who did not gamble could not lose. They could not have suspected that a time would come, that it was already here - and this, precisely, is modern times - when those who do not gamble lose all the time, even more assuredly than those who do."

The last book in this blog post is Peter Jakobsson's Ph.D. thesis "Öppenhetsindustrin" (March 2012, pdf file) [The openness industry]. Peter is an ex-student of ours (KTH/Media Technology) and I have worked together with him for two years after he finished his studies at KTH. Oh, and I was also the advisor of his prize-winning (really!) 2005 master's thesis "Subversivt spelande: En etnografisk studie av onlinevärlden Project Entropia" [Subversive gaming: An ethnography of the online world Project Entropia]. I still think it is a very good thesis about the upside-down world of complex online games, still very well worth reading of the thesis is too heavy for you!

In his thesis, Peter contrasts the openness industries (Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft etc.) with the copyright industries - industries that are dependent on copyright laws for their revenues from texts (publishing), music, film, computer games etc. Peter focuses on the ideas and the conceptions about the openness industries and I end this blog post with a quote that ties his thesis back to the two books above:

"The open source movement have provided us with a blueprint for how people can work together - with enthusiasm, competence and without a salary."

† When I wrote the expression "capitalism's willing participants", I have to admit I was partly thinking about similar processes of justification described in Daniel Goldhagens book "Hitler's willing executioners: Ordinary Germans and the holocaust" (1997).