torsdag 31 januari 2013

CESC workshop

Time flies when you're busy (more about that in the next blog post). I went to the Center for Sustainable Communication (CESC) 24-hour workshop (retreat) two whole weeks ago and should of have posted this already back then.

A year ago I wrote about the previous year's workshop and much has happened since then in terms of my personal connection/relationship to CESC. The two major changes are:

1) I'm in the CESC management team/steering group ["ledningsgruppen"] as of half a year, representing the Dept. of Media Technology and Interaction Design (MID) and replacing my boss Ann Lantz. She really has too much else to do and didn't have time to be engaged in the center beyond perfunctory holding a seat in the management team.

2) I will work in a CESC research project starting right now and during the coming three years (2013-2015). The formal research project kick-off is this coming Friday. I will naturally write a blog post about that event.

But back to the workshop. For the most part we did what people at workshops do; listen, talk, socialize and eat - but for me with the exception of talking. As a consequence of a mistreated cold I had no voice what-so-ever. I had to leave the pub as it it became socially awkward to hang around and not talk and equally impossible to talk in that noisy environment.

Above and beyond "the usual stuff", I'd like to point out two special activities that happened at this workshop. For a straight summary of the workshop, see my MID Sustainability team member/colleague Elina's short blog post about the CESC workshop/retreat.

--- Stockholm improvisational theater ---

At my and fellow CESC management team member Cecilia Katzeff's recommendation, CESC had engaged the Stockholm improvisational theater to make us sit up and think and fall down with laughter. I took a course with them quite some time ago and have later engaged them for an event. They were and they are great. They had read up some on who we were and what we do (KTH, researchers, environmental nuts) and they made the best of it with a hilarious improvised show that drew on the audience' spontaneous suggestions. They were very skilled and funny, but it's hard to write a lot about the show, I guess you had to be there...  I do however wholeheartedly recommend them for corporate or other events.

--- Brainstorming exercise ---

We did a special brainstorming exercise that I have never done before. My group (half a dozen persons) got the question "What factors decide your and others' food choices in the foodstore? What would make you choose more ecological groceries?"

I sketched the beginning of an answer in the few minutes I had and then forwarded the sheet of paper with my suggestion to the person on my left and got a sketch from the person on my right. We repeated this half a dozen times and then stopped to discuss the resulting ideas/sheets.

I noticed that it was very hard to work on one coherent idea that got progressively more fleshed out and better, it was rather more usual for someone to work on and build upon someone else's idea - but only to have that particular chain of ideas broken or diverted by the next person in line. The most interesting ideas were thus to be found in a coherent cluster consisting of two or three persons' ideas on a page, rather than covering the whole sheet of paper. Here are a few of the cool ideas my group worked on to answer the question above.

1) Let's say I buy the "Ecobox" [Ekolådan] and get a reusable wooden box filled with ecological foodstuffs (vegetables, fruits) delivered to my door every week. I would then like to have access to a service that can provide help/ inspiration/ instructions that turns my current "stock" of groceries at home into recipes, and, that identifies "missing" ingredients while I'm in the supermarket. I want help to go from the Ecobox (which sometimes contains "strange" things I'm not in the habit of cooking with - like traditional but currently-unfashionable vegetables) to finished meals. So how can a foodstore app help me make good choices that bridges the gap between ingridients-at-home and nice meals - while I'm in the supermarket?

2) Coop nursery/Småland snack corner. IKEA has its Småland service where you can "deposit" your child for an hour or two while you shop 'til you drop. The supermarket should have a similar service. You pick up you child from daycare and before or after an afternoon trip to the local park or some other after-daycare activity, you "deposit" your child for a healthy after-daycare snack while you shop ingredients for the evening meal. Deposit your children for 15 minutes, have them fed and returned in a healthier state! The snack corner is open from 15.00 to 17.00 every weekday AND, they make nutritious, healthy fruit smoothies - using fruit that would otherwise have to be thrown away the day after tomorrow! - This is my favorite idea and I think it's great! Why doesn't this exist already? They would convert a ton of parents into happy customers!

3) Prosumer bonding - clustering people to carrot mob local stores. Software (social media) to coordinate "sustainable carrot mobs" that congregate in stores with offers of ecological foodstuffs or other goods. This would benefit the store (pulling people in) and is an event (party) in itself. Could perhaps later be combined with an ecological dating service... :-)

söndag 20 januari 2013

Newspapers vs. podcasts: 0-1

Something strange happened this morning. There was a 4-page spread in my morning newspaper about the Lance Armstrong doping scandal. The latest developments are apparently that Oprah Winfrey interviewed him and that he admitted to having used performance-enhancing substances during each and every of his seven Tour de France victories.

But this blog post is not about cycling, about Lance Armstrong or Oprah Winfrey, but rather about my reaction to seeing this 4-page spread in the morning newspaper. After spending a minute with the article, I realized I would get much better coverage of that exact same piece of news as part of my weekly podcast listening habits. When I think about it, this particular piece of news will most probably appear either as a part of the next NPR On the Media show (yep, it's there - I checked) and/or as a stand-alone in-depth 22-minute BBC World Service documentary within a month. In fact, I have actually already heard a podcast (was it perhaps a BBC documentary?) about the Armstrong (pre-Winfrey) doping saga. So I skipped the newspaper reportage about Armstrong.

This is bad news for the morning newspapers. It means I have less use of the newspaper. It means that the newspaper is - from my perspective - filled with the wrong things - things I don't care about (like sports etc.). It means that the utility of the morning newspaper has decreased - as an effect of my podcast habit. It lowers my bar for getting rid of the newspaper. I won't do that, I still think what remains is worth the money, but there is a limit somewhere, and this episode means that I'm getting closer to that limit.

So I leafed through today's print issue of Svenska Dagbladet and thought about which news and reportages (2 or more pages) I will hear about elsewhere, in a podcast:

- Lance Armstong admission - check (On the Media or BBC World Service documentaries).
- The frontpage news about a political party risking to fall out of the parliament at the next election - check (that would be SR Godmorgon världen).
- Upcoming World economic forum in Davos - check (SR Godmorgon världen or some thought-provoking angle from NPR Planet Money).
- On Soviet-era design - not a check!

Beyond what I wrote above, what further conclusions can be drawn?

1) I should concentrate on reading stuff that is unique and won't appear elsewhere. The reportage about Soviet-era design is interesting, not the least since that design was functional and durable (environmentally sound) - despite either being directly copied from the west or being ugly (or adhering to a "different aesthetics" :-).

2) In-depth reportages in the morning newspaper are still very shallow compared to podcasts and compared to the magazines I subscribe to. My favorite English-language magazine, The Atlantic, publishes in-depth texts that are unique to me, i.e. that I don't read or hear about elsewhere. My favorite Swedish-language magazine, Filter as well as Axess does the same. These magazines assume you have already read widely and thus have wide frames of reference, but that you haven't read this particular thing. The morning newspaper reportages instead treat the reader as someone who doesn't have a clue about the issue covered in the reportage. Which on the other hand makes it a good source of information for children/youth - so I'll probably keep the newspapers around for at least as long as my children live in my house.

fredag 18 januari 2013

HCI in a world of limitations

The CHI conference is the largest and most prestigious conference in the area of Human-Computer Interaction. I've been to a number of CHI conferences, but none during the last 10 years. I recently (less than a year ago) learned that a strong CHI sub-community (a SIG - Special Interest Group) had been formed around the topic of sustainability some years ago. 

The CHI conferences are usually held in North America, but they do come to Europe every now and then and this year's conference will be held in Paris at the end of April. The deadline for submitting articles to the conference came and went four months ago, but a large number of workshops will be organized and a workshop called "Post-Sustainability" sounds very interesting. The workshop organizers have suggested four different themes for the workshop:

Thinking about the future. Visions of the future that engages and encourages action (rather than pessimism).
Adaptation. Preparing for likely (climate and other) changes.
Resilience. Building stronger, local, resilient communities.
IT in a resource constrained world. IT in a strongly resource-constrained or post-collapse world,

Earlier today me and my colleagues Åke Walldius and Elina Eriksson handed in a positions paper that focused primarily on the last of the four themes above. Below is the title and the the short abstract of our paper.

I don't know exactly who will be able to read the position paper beyond the four workshop organizers and the workshop participants as I don't think it will be published (be accessible) anywhere. So the actual contents of the six-page text are in themselves not the most important aspect of it, but rather it's function - to convince the workshop organizers to selected our paper and invite me and my co-authors to attend the workshop. So, in line with making us seem like attractive workshop participants, we also jazzed up our 100-150 word bios. Elina wrote:

"My research interest has been in change issues, and user-centred design. However, on a personal level, the survival of the human race and my children in particular has pushed me into climate-sustainability-zombie anxiety."

I believed I just might have made myself into a walking honey-pot - not only a researcher but also an attractive informant when I almost 100% truthfully described myself as "a founding member of ”Änggärdet”, a Swedish Transition Town ecovillage".


HCI in a world of limitations: Adressing the social resilience of computing

Most computer scientist and practitioners assume that we live in a world of possibilities and that inexorable forces of technological development will help bring us a future of increased wellbeing and of growing economic prosperity. An increasing number of scientists however point at the triple crisis (ecology, economy, energy) and imagine radically different futures based not on expansion and possibilities, but on limitations and/or decline. We propose that a broad program should be formulated that takes biophysical and economic limitations as its starting point and outline some areas that paramount for HCI to come to grips with.

Engineers of the future

Not only did I and Elina hand in a submission to the Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD) conference (see the previous blog post), but Josefin, Mattias, me and Örjan also handed in a second submission to that conference called "Engineers of the future: using scenarios methods in sustainable development education". My co-authors are all from the Department of Environmental Strategies Research at KTH and I have never written anything together with any of them before. Here is the abstract:


Engineers of the future: using scenarios methods in sustainable development education
Wangel, J., Höjer, M., Pargman, D., Svane, Ö.

Scenario methods are used and taught in a variety of courses related to sustainable development by teachers at KTH, The Royal Institute of Technology. In this paper we present examples of a number of such courses. From these examples we draw conclusions regarding for what kind of learning outcomes and in which courses we find scenario building to be a useful tool for learning about sustainable development. We also elaborate on further potential uses of such methods in university pedagogy.

Sustainable development is fundamentally about the future, both in the sense of exploring how a sustainable future might look like and in the sense of understanding how present actions (be it decision making, product development or urban planning) relate to that future. Sustainable development is also characterized by complexity and ambiguity. Thus, in order to be able to understand, critically reflect upon and put sustainable development into practice engineering students need to learn how to identify and manage the tension between short and long term perspectives, complexity, and the inherently normative character of sustainability. Through their explorative and integrative character scenario methods provide a fruitful set of tools to this end. Scenarios can be created in numerous ways. However, they all share a common property in elaborating one or more images of the future. While the process of developing scenarios is a fruitful way of exploring and testing dependencies and inter-dependencies in a holistic way, the resulting images of the future can also be used as a basis for further analysis and discussion, for example highlighting goal conflicts and the normative and transformative characteristics of sustainable development. Thus, scenario approaches can positively contribute in a number of educational situations, opening up for discussion on difficult questions that otherwise risk not being addressed.

The examples presented and discussed in the paper include 3rd through 5th year courses from engineering education in media technology, urban planning and industrial design. Based on our experiences from these courses, we identify some key challenges that need to be addressed as well as the positive outcomes of using scenario approaches as pedagogy when teaching sustainable development in higher education.

"It's not fair!" - Making students engage in sustainability

This has been a busy week. Combined with the fact that I didn't have time to write that much back in December, I hereby give myself permission to supersede the arbitrary limitation of publishing a maximum of two blog posts per week for the rest of this month!

While this and the previous week have been pretty busy (filled with a variety of beginning-of-the-term-stuff), the next two weeks are more calm and I thus hope to have time to also pick up and write about a couple of things that happened "back then" (a month ago).


Based on my new course, "Sustainability and Media Technology", which was given for the very first time half a year ago, I and assistant teacher Elina have discussed and created a structure for a paper and then written an abstract about one important aspect of the thinking that went into planning that course. The main focus in the paper (and in the course) is on not just "delivering facts", but also "discussing values" when giving a university course that touches on topics where many people have strong opinions about (the environment, global warming, the pace of technological development, capitalism, overconsumption, current affluent-but-unsustainable lifestyle patterns - like flying all over the world on our vacations).

We submitted our abstract to the upcoming (September 22-25 Cambridge, UK) 6th international conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD13). I went to that conference the last time it was held - in Gothenburg in September 2010 and I wrote about it on the blog. That was blog post number 3 - this is number 150!

The title of our paper, "It's not fair!", was a comment that was uttered with a lot of heartfelt indignation by a student when she understood that she, as a good climate citizen (or an unhappy peak oil victim), won't be able to travel the world in just the same way people only only a few decades older than her has been able to (e.g. one of our guest lecturers who has travelled the world but now lives frugally in a cottage in the countryside).


“It’s not fair!” – Making students engage in sustainability

Pargman, D.1, Eriksson, E.1
1 Media Technology & Interaction Design, KTH – Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden

In this paper, we turn to the subject of teaching a course on sustainability for engineers and the central issue of how to engage students in this (to many students) seemingly peripheral matter in their education. Our starting point is that facts are of importance, but we believe that teaching and examining students only based on facts is not enough to have a prolonged impact on students’ thinking about these important issues. We argue something more and something different is needed in order to engage students. To that end, we as teachers also need to rethink how sustainability can be addressed in engineering educations. Hence, in this paper, we present an analytical model for designing and analyzing sustainability courses. The model contains three dimensions that spans the tensions between 1) delivering facts versus discussing values, 2) “vanilla” sustainability (every challenge we face constitutes a problem that can be solved) versus “doomsday” sustainability (we face predicaments that cannot be solved), and 3) sustainability as relating to the specific engineering discipline in question versus sustainability on a societal (and personal) level.

To exemplify the model, we discuss a sustainability course for media technology students at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, including the trade-offs in terms of the dimensions presented above. For example, how do you create a secure environment where it is possible to open up and discuss sensitive topics, including being prepared to encounter students who dare to frankly talk about their fears concerning the possibility of a future of personal hardships, or a possibly bleak future for life on planet Earth? Furthermore, using the empirical data of students’ hand-ins, we exemplify the outcome of this particular course and discuss the changes we perceived in the students’ attitudes to sustainability issues. We argue that in order to rethink the engineer, we also need to consider the related issues of rethinking the aim of our courses, and rethinking our roles as university teachers.

söndag 13 januari 2013

Net literature in China

Two days ago I submitted an abstract, "Net literature in China and the professionalization of authors", to the conference "MASH 2013: Making and sharing. Conference on audience creativity". The conference will be held in Maastricht in the beginning of July.

The submission is written together with, and is based on Zi Yang's master's thesis (I've been her advisor). Despite having been formally presented/defended, the thesis is actually not 100% finished yet, but the preliminary title of the thesis is anyway "Reward system and labour relationship for Chinese net authors" It will eventually be available on the web. It's the second thesis about Chinese net literature that I have been the advisor of since Rui Liu wrote her master's thesis about "The business models of net literature in China" two years ago.

Here is the submitted abstract:

Net literature in China and the professionalization of authors
With more than 200 million regular readers, “net literature” has become a huge phenomenon in China during the last 15 years. Serially published “chapters” in ongoing “sagas” are in many ways reminiscent of the regularly published instalments of Charles Dickens’ works of fiction 150 years ago. The main difference is that the printing press has since then been exchanged for the web. The switch to the web brings with it a number of consequences in terms of technological affordances, in business models (for readers, authors as well as for commercial intermediary net literature websites), for reading habits of net literature readers as well as opportunities and conditions for authors. 

This paper describes the “scene” for net literature in China, as well as the results of a study of Chinese net literature authors. Two different net literature websites were chosen and two authors from each of these websites were interviewed. The websites in question are and has in many respects been a pioneer and is currently the single largest Chinese net literature website with a market share of over 40% (He 2011). is Qidian’s most competitive rival and is well known for its generous payment to authors.

While net literature has given many amateur/fan writers the opportunity to become semi-professional authors, their “career trajectories” and economic conditions occupy a space in-between on the one hand traditional established authors and on the other hand (non-published) hobby authors, straddling categories such as professional and fan/user labor and challenging traditional professional fields as well as user-industry relations. 

Chinese net literature authors can in some respects be compared to Western authors of fan fiction, but with the difference that they have contracts and actually get paid for their labor. Authors’ take-home pay can differ and depends on several different variables; quantity and regularity of contributions, type of contract with a net literature website, number of VIP/premium subscribers, additional reader donations etc. For the vast majority, net authorship represents a job by the side, but a small proportion have managed to become established authors with their books also being published and sold physically, on paper. An even smaller slice have reached the status of star writers, licensing their works to the movie or the game industry.  According to earlier studies (Ma 2011), less than 1% of the Chinese net literature authors currently work full-time as authors.

The practices surrounding net literature in China embodies the increasing fuzziness between professional and amateur practitioners (Jenkins 2006) and the hunt for sustainable (business and other) models for media content creation and consumption in an age of connectivity and abundance. Beyond the development and negotiation of different aspects of the relationship and the monetary compensation between 1) net literature authors, 2) net literature websites and 3) readers, yet another challenge in the Chinese context is the constant threat from piracy websites and practices. 

lördag 12 januari 2013

2012 Blog stats

Now and again I write a text about (academic) blogging and about this blog, but last time that happened was more than a year ago and so I think it's time for an update.

As can be seen in the picture below, the number of unique visitors increased during 2012 by more than 40% compared to 2011. That might sound impressive, but as the number of published blog posts increased by 35% (from 54 in 2011 to 73 in 2012), the increase in number of visitors/blog post wasn't that fantastic. There are, on the other hand no less than 20 subscribers right now (up from 11 subscribers 14 months ago). I think that's a lot! I presume most of these 20 subscribers are people I know personally - care to leave a short comment below telling me who you are?

Readership figures are fun to delve into, but I don't and indeed never have written in order to get a large following. I write about those things that I want to write about (stuff that begs to be documented, that I want to be able find later, things that bug me and so on - see this blog post about the many different functions of the blog). If there are many people who are interested in reading what I write, fine. If there are fewer, that's fine too. I anyway hardly expect anyone to read each and every blog post from the beginning to the end. There has though been a general rise in number of readers, for example rising four month in a row between July and November (see below). I have also started to link to the blog on Facebook and expect some of my Facebook friends to drop in here now and then. 

I was very busy in December and only had time to write three blog posts, and I haven't written anything during the three weeks proceeding this blog post. There are in fact a few things that happened in December that I plan to write blog posts about now, in January. 

I've looked through the statistics and there are naturally a huge variations in the number of readers for each specific blog posts. The rule is basically that if I write about something that is of interest to many people (for example students currently taking the course that I'm writing a blog post about), I will immediately get 50-100 visitors. If I write about a topic that is of interest to people "out there", on the Internet, some will find it through Google searches and drop in to read a specific blog post (and continue to drop in over time). A few blog posts has gotten a lot of visitors because some other, more high-traffic site, has linked to the blog post. Only removing the very first blog post describing what this blog is about (which currently has been read almost 1600 times), the distribution of visitors to individual blog posts look like this, i.e. a totally normal power law distribution:

Of the 147 published blog posts this far:
- 8 blog posts have been read 200 times or more
- 15 blog posts have been read 100-200 times
- 99 blog posta have been read 26-99 times
- 25 blog posts have been read less than 25 times

The top (most read) blog posts are:
- Blog purpose and history (Sept 2010, 1572 times)
- Mobile application design & development (March 2011, 331 times)
- EIT ICT Labs (March 2012, 302 times)
- How the media (unfortunately) works (April 2011, 284 times)
- Gendered design (Feb 2011, 256 times)
- World championship in programming (Oct 2011, 196 times)

All in all I am super-content with the blog and will continue to write at least once and at the most twice per week also during 2013. I would probably continue to write blog posts even if no-one else read these texts. Which you fortunately do. So thank you for reading, because had I been the only reader, I would just jot down notes instead of writing more reader-oriented texts. 

The one big weakness of the blog is the commenting function which 98+ % of my readers seem to not have found yet... There is a total of 74 comments all-in-all on the 147 published blog posts...  and even a minority of the most popular blog posts have garnered any comments. And I furthermore guess that at least a third of the comments are answers to previous comments that I myself have written! In fact, even as the number of readers increase, there seems to be less commenting over time and of the last 33 blog posts (published during the last 6 months), only four have been commented at all! I think there is room for improvement here from you, dear readers!