fredag 30 maj 2014

I visited San Francisco and met up with Richard Heinberg!

I met Richard Heinberg this week, we had an extended two-hour lunch together at an Indian restaurant in Santa Rosa (near his work at the Post-Carbon Institute as well as his home). Perhaps you don't know who Richard Heinberg is? Richard's an author, educator and lecturer and while not an academic/researchers, he does really good research for his books and his texts are always very pedagogical too. I use a few of his texts in my master's level course on Sustainability and ICT and my students very much like (and are persuaded by) these texts. Richard wrote one of the first books ever about peak oil back in 2003, "The party's over", and has has since written no less than seven more books exclusively about peak oil and energy-related topics. I've read four of his books as well as a book he edited together with Daniel Lerch:

- "The party's over: Oil, war, and the fate of industrialised societies" (2003)
- "Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World (2005)
- "The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises" (edited by Richard Heinberg & Daniel Lerch, 2010)
- "Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines" (2007)
- "The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality" (2011)

My original suggestion when I got in touch with Richard was that I should give a talk at the Post-Carbon Institute but that didn't happen since the timing apparently was not the best (lots of people were away). Lunch with (only) Richard Heinberg was the fallback option, but perhaps next time...

One of the goals with my lunch meeting was to get to know Richard better and learn some more about his opinions and his projects, but that didn't really happen. Richard was really interested in the work I and others do and so I ended up for the most part talking and with him listening. The basic question he wanted answered was "will we have the Internet [e.g. an infrastructure for computing and communication] also if/when societies become less affluent [in the wake of peak oil/peak economy]?". This is a hard question to answer, but preparing for just such a future is indeed the goal that me and colleagues of mine (not the least at UCI/RiSCIT) are working towards.

Beyond that million-dollar question, Richard was also interested in the lay of the land in the area of computing + sustainability (which I told him about in some detail) and we also talked about at least three different budding projects that I am involved in. It's still early days in all three of them so I have as of yet not even published a blog post here about any of these projects (but read below about one of them and stay tuned... :-)   Let's just say that Richard was interested in contributing to one of these projects!

Richard also told me he had just sent away the manuscript for his latest book - a book of essays. He told me the name and I observed the title "fit" together with "Powerdown" but I can't for the life of me remember what that title was (could it have been "Aftershock?")...

One of the things I told Richard about was my collaboration with Barath Raghanvan at UC Berkely.  Richard and Barath have been in touch by mail but they have never met (despite being no more than one hour away from each other). While lunch with Richard Heinberg was nice, the full day of working together with Barath the day before was necessary for our cooperation to progress. My previous blog post concerned my family's visit to the San Francisco Exploratorium, but when my family (+ my brother who is visiting) drove home to Irvine by car (an 8-hour trip), I stayed for two extra days in SF. Wednesday was reserved for lunch with Richard Heinberg (two hours of lunch + the three hour of driving back and forth to Santa Rosa ate up the major part of the day). The previous day, Tuesday, was reserved for me and Barath rolling up our sleeves so as to brainstorm and work together!

I wrote about the paper me and Barath submitted to the NordiCHI conference on the blog (we'll soon get to know if it was accepted), and the foci of our eight hours spent together working were three-fold:
- Our next, "companion" paper that we will submit to the CHI conference (deadline September 22). As with the NordiCHI paper, I will be the first author (i.e. I will be in charge of the paper and take on most of the responsibilities of getting it written).
- A paper that we will submit to an ICTD conference. ICTD stands for "information and communication technologies for development", i.e. for using ICT to further "socioeconomic development, international development and human rights. The theory behind this is that more and better information and communication furthers the development of a society" (Wikipedia). The two main ICTD conferences are the ACM DEV conference (cfpdeadline August 1) and the ICT4D conference (cpfdeadline October 13). We have not made the final decision as to which of these two conferences we will aim for although we might be hard pressed to meet the Aug 1 deadline. Barath will be the first author of for this paper.
- Finally we also planning for a conference call this coming week where we will discuss/start to plan a conference about "collapse informatics". It might be that "collapse" is a term that is too loaded and so we decided that the code name for the conference (at least for now) is ACM LIMITS. This proposed conference was in fact one of the three "mysterious" topics that I discussed with Richard Heinberg the following day (see above).

Despite having written a paper together, the eight-hour marathon meeting with Barath was in fact only the second time we met physically - although we of course have "met" electronically and by phone many times when we wrote our paper together earlier this spring. It's interesting to observe that so much can be accomplished nowadays in terms of cooperation without being physically co-located. Still, meeting face-to-face is, I would say, the foundation for successfully cooperating at a distance and it was really nice to meet Barath again after having met him the first time only when he visited UCI a few months ago!

Stay tuned for further updates on mine and Baraths projects! I expect that at least a couple of the 2014 blog posts here will treat stuff that comes out of my cooperation with him.

onsdag 28 maj 2014



I got an interesting request some time ago from a colleague at KTH, Karin Habermann. She knew I was in southern California and wondered if I would pass by San Francisco at some point. I don't really pass by SF every now and then since I'm in Irvine, south of LA, and SF is almost 700 kilometers away! But it just so happened we went to SF over the recent extended (five days long) "weekend" (memorial day etc.). We met up with my very old friend Christer Garbis and his wife Kicki who came down from Seattle together with their youngest daughter. Christer and I are friends from back in graduate school at Linköping University, but I also know both Christer and Kicki from our days as undergraduate students at Uppsala University (me and Christer lived in the same student corridor!). Christer moved to the US almost 10 years ago and recently (a few years ago) switched from working for Microsoft to Amazon (where he is User Research Manager at Amazon Kindle Digital Products). So what's the connection to KTH? Well, the request from Karin Habermann was for me/us to visit the science museum in SF, Exploratorium, and write a short report about it. Exploratorium is supposed to be a very good hands-on science museum - perhaps one of the best in the world - and the question she wanted me to (attempt to) answer was "why?". There were also a bunch of more specific questions to guide the inquiry into why it's a great museum.

So me, Tessy, Christer, Kicki (Senior Technical Writer) and my my brother (Senior Interaction Designer at Swedbank) who is currently visiting us here in the US  + three kids in the 7-10 age range explored Exploratorium together for a full day. I will write a short report about our "findings" and I have also (June 15) added a bunch of photos to this blog post. Here are some of our favourite stations in the museum:

Big chair...

...little chair

"Pitch switch"; change the pitch of your voice

The magnetic black sand was a big hit with a lot of kids.

The tornado was one of few stations were many kids could work together.

The main topic of this blog post is not our "findings" though, but the interesting reason for why Karin and Teo wanted us to visit the museum:
- KTH has been commissioned to do a pre-study about the possibility of developing a science center focusing on energy and sustainability in the city of Västerås (100 kilometers west of Stockholm). The proposed name of the science center is "Kokpunkten" [The boiling point].
- My colleagues Karin Habermann and Teo Enlund are working on the pre-study and they will deliver a report this summer, including possible activities for such a science center/museum, audience and business models.
- They have, as part of this, been in contact with the Klas Fresk who took the initiative for the local Stockholm hands-on science museum Tom Tits Experiment. He endorsed and recommended them to have a look at the Exploratorium in San Francisco.
- My "job description" is thus to write up a short analysis (report) and append photo documentation that will illustrate the stuff I write about in the report.
- Karin and I negotiated and we agreed on KTH/the project paying our entrance fees (five adults + three children) as well as doubling that amount so that we could buy lunch and coffee at the museum.

We had a really nice Sunday excursion to the Exploratorium and I can wholeheartedly recommend a visit there if you happen to be in SF - and especially if you're there together with children! It's huge, it's exciting and I have to commend their excellent museum shop (which reminds me of the perhaps almost equally great museum shop at Tekniska Museet [The Technical Museum] in Stockholm).

A professor here at UC Irvine was amazed over the fact that it was possible to cut through the "red tape" (rules, administrators etc.) and come to an agreement without getting into trouble with the funding agency and other "gatekeepers". I hadn't thought about that, but it sure is good that it is sometimes possible to not have to jump through a lot of (administrative) hoops in order to get things accomplished! Had there been too much work to get it to work, I'm not sure we would have followed through. I mean, who has the time and the energy to do a lot of boring admin work in order to get something this small to work out?

Finally I'd like to thank Karin and Teo for the confidence. I will finish the report and send it over to them as soon as I can!

Here are some more stations from the Exploratorium:

Drama queen and drama princelings

Made out of matches

Comment (June 15): I wrote up a five-page report and sent more than 100+ photos to Karin and Teo. They were happy with the results.

söndag 25 maj 2014

Articles I've read (June last year)

Last year, I read a lot of articles during the first half of the year (Jan-June). I've already written blog posts about stuff I read in Jan, Feb, March, April and May (2013). This is the last batch of articles I read last year (June) since I'm generally just too busy with teaching during the autumn term to have time to read articles (but I do continue to read books!). My next blog post about articles I have read will jump to January this year - hooray!

Batch/week 1 - texts about the so-called "creative industries"
Comment: Just as in April (last year), I read a bunch of articles on "creative industries" and "social network markets" for a paper I was working on about "Net literature in China". We did in the end not get that paper together, but we have recently re-submitted our abstract and will soon get to know if they want us to write the full text!
  • Potts, J., Cunningham, S., Hartley, J., & Ormerod, P. (2008). Social network markets: a new definition of the creative industries. Journal of cultural economics, 32(3), 167-185. */ "We propose a new definition of the creative industries in terms of social network markets". I don't remember much about the article and I'm sorry to say that I find that several of "these articles" (also see the April batch with creative-industries-articles) to be: 1) full of long an fancy words, 2) less satisfying in terms of new great interesting ideas and 3) overlapping quite a lot with each other. /*
  • Banks, J., & Humphreys, S. (2008). The Labour of User Co-Creators Emergent Social Network Markets?. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 14(4), 401-418. */ "Co-creative relations among professional media producers and consumers indicate a profound shift in which our frameworks and categories of analysis (such as the traditional labour theory of value) that worked well in the context of an industrial media economy are perhaps less helpful than before." Further, see my comment on the previous article. /*
  • Humphreys, S. (2009). The economies within an online social network market. A case study of Ravelry’ in T. Flew (Ed.) Communication, Creativity and Global Citizenship: Refereed Proceedings of the Australian and New Zealand Communications Association (ANZCA) Annual Conference. */ A case study of "the specialist Social Networking Site Ravelry; a site for knitters, crocheters, spinners and dyers". I found the connection to hands-on empirical material (instead of just theorising) refreshing and interesting. /*
  • Thompson, H. (2011). China's Creative Industries: Copyright, Social Network Markets and the Business of Culture in a Digital Age. Journal of Contemporary Asia, 41(3), 510-512. */ This is a review of Lucy Montgomery's 2010 book "China's creative industries" /*
  • Ren, X., & Montgomery, L. (2012). Chinese online literature: creative consumers and evolving business models. Arts Marketing: An International Journal, 2(2), 118-130. */ This article is the single most relevant and useful article in the context of the article I am writing and I learned a lot. "Chinese Online Literature is a genre that [...] has roots in the centrally controlled system of cultural production [...] which restricted access to literature that was not considered politically sound or morally uplifting, such as fantasy, romance novels or ghost stories which inadvertently created a demand for self-published amateur fiction that could be accessed online." /*
  • Kim, J. (2012). The institutionalization of YouTube: From user-generated content to professionally generated content. Media, Culture & Society, 34(1), 53-67. */ "This article explores the institutionalization of YouTube: its transformation from user-generated content (UGC) - oriented as a virtual village - into a professionally generated content (PGC) video site, especially after being purchased by Google." /*

Batch/week 2 - texts by Inge Røpke
I've appreciated Inge Røpke and her work ever since I met her in at the "Green ICT for growth and sustainability?" workshop in Vienna in May 2012. I checked out her work and decided to read up on some of the things she had written!
  • Nyborg, S., & Røpke, I. (2011). Energy impacts of the smart home - conflicting visions. Energy Efficiency First: The foundation of a low-carbon society. Stockholm: European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, 2011. p. 1849-1860. */ Super interesting! "what visions are formulated regarding the role of households in the smart grid? What visions are articulated of the functionalities of the smart home? [...] we critically investigate these visions to explore if they support the development of sustainable energy consumption." [...] "The concept of the smart home is thus just one among many belonging to a large group of concepts such as the smart house, the electronic cottage, home automation, the networked home, the intelligent home, and the digital home". /*
  • Røpke, I., Haunstrup Christensen, T., & Ole Jensen, J. (2010). Information and communication technologies–A new round of household electrification. Energy Policy, 38(4), 1764-1773. */ The authors argue that the integration of ICT into everyday practices is a new "round" of electrification of the home and that it will - in line with previous rounds - lead to higher levels of electricity consumption." [...] "The long-term trend towards ever-increasing residential electricity consumption was not broken until the early 1990s. Since then, household electricity consumption has been virtually constant." Very interesting! /*
  • Røpke, I. (2012). The unsustainable directionality of innovation–The example of the broadband transition. Research Policy, 41(9), 1631-1642. */ This article [argues] that much innovation tends to develop in an unsustainable direction and that public regulation falls far short of the challenge." Again very interesting! /*
  • Røpke, I., & Christensen, T. H. (2012). Energy impacts of ICT–Insights from an everyday life perspective. Telematics and Informatics, 29(4), 348-361. */ "ICTs have a great potential for reducing energy consumption, but the realisation of this depends on the wider economic and political conditions. [...] Several recent studies [...] tend to concentrate on ICT applications that produce environmental gains and focus on second-order effects, ignoring first-order and/or third-order effects." Again interesting. /*
  • Raudsepp-Hearne, C., Peterson, G. D., Tengö, M., Bennett, E. M., Holland, T., Benessaiah, K., MacDonald, G., & Pfeifer, L. (2010). Untangling the environmentalist's paradox: Why is human well-being increasing as ecosystem services degrade?. BioScience, 60(8), 576-589. */ "The Millenium Ecosystem Assessment paradoxically found that human well-being has increased despite large global declines in most ecosystem services. We assess four explanations of these divergent trends." [...] "the use of most ecosystem services is increasing at the same time that Earth's capacity to provide these services is decreasing." /*
  • Agrawal, A., Gupta, A., Hathaway, M., Narotzky, S., Raffles, H., Skaria, A., ... & Agrawal, A. (2005). Environmentality: Community, Intimate Government, and the Making of Environmental Subjects in Kumaon, India. Current Anthropology, 46(2), 161-190. */ Good article, I guess. How and under what conditions do people (in rural India) become engaged in caring for their immediate environment (forests etc.). How do people come to care about their environment, i.e. how are "environmental subjects" created? /* 

Batch/week 3 - texts about ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S)
Comment: After I attended the ICT4S conference in Zürich in February, I felt I should read up.
  • Spreng, D. (1993). Possibilities for substitution between energy, time and information. Energy policy, 21(1), 13-23. */ After having read Spreng's short article, I wanted to read the longer one. "In this paper, possibilities for substitution between energy, time and information are discussed [...] ICT could be used to make processes more energy efficient and conserve energy but is instead used to speed up processes. The article proposes three extremes; starving philosopher, primitive man and industrial man. There are interesting ideas in this article but I also feel they could perhaps have been expressed in some other, better way. /*
  • Hilty, L., Lohmann, W., & Huang, E. (2011). Sustainability and ICT—an overview of the field. POLITEIA, 27(104), 13-28. */ The article gives an overview of existing approaches to using ICT "in the service of sustainability". Good article! /*
  • Hilbert, M., & López, P. (2011). The world’s technological capacity to store, communicate, and compute information. Science, 332(6025), 60-65. */ The article estimates the development of the global technological capacity to store, communicate and compute information between 1986 and 2007. During that period, globally stored information grew by 23% per year, communication by 28% per year and general computing capacity by 58% per year. /*
  • Melville, N. P. (2010). Information systems innovation for environmental sustainability. MIS Quarterly, 34(1), 1-21. */ You've just got to love (or hate) and article that starts with "Deterioration of the natural environment poses risks and opportunities for business organization." Information Systems (IS) is area of its own and I don't really understand the area so this article was hard for me to "assimilate". "issues at the intersection of information, organisztions, and the natural environment are precisely the types of problems for which IS researchers are uniquely equipped to analyse". Is that really so?" /*
  • Hilty, L. M., Köhler, A., Von Schéele, F., Zah, R., & Ruddy, T. (2006). Rebound effects of progress in information technology. Poiesis & Praxis, 4(1), 19-38. */ "it seems difficult for society to translate its efficiency progress into progress in terms of individual, organizional or socio-economic goals. In particular it seems to be difficult for individuals to work more efficiently, for organizaitons to be more productive and for the socio-economic system to be more sustainable by using incresingly efficient IT." Rebound effects are the main culprit. /*
  • Dahlin, J. E., Larsson, P., & Erlich, C. (2013). The use of board games in the engineering education for the purpose of stimulating peer participation in lecture theatre discussions. Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD'13), Cambridge, UK. */ Written by acquaintances of mine, it is unfortunately obvious that the paper for the most part was an afterthought (e.g. not planned in advance - not enough/the right kind of data was collected). Still, the paper was helpful for me personally as I've been using the board game in question in one of my courses. /*

Batch/week 4 - semi-academic texts about technology, sustainability, poverty
Comment: These texts are great (despite, or because (?) they are not academic texts). They are all very critical of the business-as-usual deployment of technology. They all ask "what if?" and force you to think one step further... All the texts below are available on the Internet.
  • Raghavan, B. (2012). A time when there was still time. Blog post at Contrapostion. */ We knew everything we needed to know about sustainability and unsustainability already back in the 1970's ("A time when there was still time"), but we didn't act on that knowledge. We blew it. /*
  • Bardi, U. (2013) Suvival tips from the gypsies. Blog post at Resource Crisis/Cassandra’s Legacy. */ Great blog post and here are the 10 survival tips in question; 1) In battle, the best strategy is flight, 2) Don't carry and don't use weapons, 3) Cherish your mobility, 4) Travel light in life, 5) Cultivate creative obfuscation, 6) A man's family is his refuge, 7) What you learned to do yourself, can never be stolen, 8) Catch the occasion when you see it, 9) Be jealous of your identity and 10) Be a free spirit. /*
  • De Decker, K. (2008) Faster internet is impossible.  Blog post at Low-tech magazine: Doubts on progress and technology. */ "the speed advantage that faster connections offer, is only temporary. Faster connections inevitably bring new applications which eat up the extra bandwidth. [...] Every year each of us downloads (and uploads) almost twice as much digital information as the year before. [...] internet users have to switch to faster connections continually to maintain the same speed [and] surfing the net will always test your patience, regardless of how fast your connection is." /*
  • De Decker, K. (2009) Truckloads of hard disks. Blog post at Low-tech magazine: Doubts on progress and technology. */ Since the capacity of storage media evolve faster than the speed of the internet connection, it makes sense to load up a truck of hard drives and drive away - instead of transferring (large) amounts of data through the internet. How far can you walk with a 500 GB hard drive before the internet "catches up with you"? With a DSL connection, you can walk for more than 1000 kilometers with that one hard drive and deliver the contents faster...  So how fast is a carrier pigeon with a Micro SD card attached to its leg then... :-) /*
  • Toyama, K. (2010). Can technology end poverty?. Boston Review, 35(6). Available on the Internet. */ Is computing power really what the poor(est) need, asks computer scientist Kentaro Toyama some years after having started up Microsoft Research's Bangalore Lab in India. His own experiences are for the most part disappointing. I very much recommend this article! "Technology - no matter how well designed - is only a magnifier of human intent and capacity. It is not a substitute." [...] "The successes of ICTD [ICT for development] are few, fleeting, and very far between." /*
  • Responses to Toyama, K. (2010). Can technology end poverty? Responses by Negroponte, Karlan, Fung, Morozov, Mas, Eagle, Aker and Zhenwei Qiang as well as a response to the responses by Toyama. Available on the Internet. */ Toyama's text does not stand uncontradicted. While some (partly) agree, most don't. It's really nice to read both sides of the argument though. /*
  • Raghavan, B. (2013) Networking for undeveloping regions. Blog post at Contrapostion. */ Let's face the facts, many/most "developing countries" won't ever develop. A more appropriate term would instead be "undeveloping countries". Excellent text by my nowadays co-author Barath. /*


fredag 23 maj 2014

Impressions from the 2014 CHI conference

I was at the huge annual conference for Human-Computer Interaction (CHI 2014) a few weeks ago (as well as the previous conference a year ago, in Paris). I don't know how many attendants were at the conference this year, but there were 15 parallell tracks to chose from at each point in time (for a total of 204 session all in all)... If I understood it correctly, there were no less than 3000 persons involved in reviewing material of various kinds that had been submitted to the conference and 7000 persons who had authored content for the conference.

As I waited to board the plane "home" to Los Angeles/Irvine/UCI, I was looking through the program, thinking about papers (titles) that I might want to read and the woman right next to me asked me how I liked the conference. "Which conference?", or rather, "which of the CHI conferences?" was my answer as the chances were high we did not attend the same session a single time at the conference...  So the CHI conference is not really "a conference" as much as it is a number of different parallell conferences held under the same umbrella and at the same time. The CHI conference is also the "hub" in a cluster of conferences, i.e. many people who are interested in the smaller, more narrow and directed conferences X, Y and Z also congregate at the (much larger) CHI conference.

When I sat down in the plane a little later (still with the conference program in my hand), it turned out I had another attendee by my side, Janice Rohn. She is a veteran of the HCI community and the CHI conference as well as Vice President for User Experience at a startup company, Velocify (after having had a long career at a number of other companies including Apple, Sun Microsystems, Siebel, AT&T etc.). Her thing was the company-directed activities at CHI and we had an almost five-hour long conversation about CHI, the high-tech business, the connection between industry and academia, creative environments and many other things. That was a great way of summing up the week-long CHI conference.

In fact, the whole conference and the week in Toronto was great. Some of the things that made the conference great was:
The Airbnb house that I rented together with my KTH colleagues Elina Eriksson and Susanna Heyman. We were lucky and the charming house we rented were soo much better than an impersonal hotel room. Also, it was a lot more inexpensive. Me and Elina even managed to get some work done.
- The fact that I met 15 or perhaps even 20 Swedes at the conference, most of whom are colleagues of mine from KTH Royal Institute of Technology. Since I'm on a sabbatical and I left Sweden in mid-December, it was great too meet and catch up with friends.
- The nice habour-front restaurant, Amsterdam Brewhouse, that we found and where we ate lunch almost every day. Many of these lunches were had together with my KTH colleagues Elina and Cecilia as well as with other people. This made it possible for us to work concerted and I hope we managed to convince some people to either 1) come to Stockholm to attend the ICT4S conference in August, 2) to come to Helsinki and attend the NordiCHI conference and our (proposed) Sustainable HCI workshop in the end of October, or 3) to come visit us at KTH/CESC/MID4S sometime during the next academic year.
- The two whole-day pre-conference workshops I attended on 1) "Alternate endings" (design fiction) and 2) Sustainable HCI.
- Also, I met a lot of old friends (including people I have not met for a decade (Matt Ratto) or only a few times in the last 10 years (Jose Abdelnour-Nocera). I also made many new friends. The fact that I could introduce some of my current UC Irvine colleagues to my KTH colleagues was also nice.

These were for the most part a long list of "structural factors", I haven't even come around to the academic content of the conference yet, but already the list above alone made CHI into a great conference. On top of that I heard a lot of interesting talks and got quite a few new ideas for research and papers!

At this point I realise that I could either write a very detailed and long blog post about the actual contents of conference, or a shorter text outlining "my CHI conference" in a few broad strokes. Since the conference ended three weeks ago, it really makes more sense to just shortly summarise my "slice" of the conference and there were primarily three themes that I followed/took an interest in at this year's CHI conference:
1) Sustainable HCI, i.e. the intersection of sustainability and human-computer interaction (HCI).
2) Design fiction, i.e. the intersection of design, computing and (science) fiction, or,  extrapolating and "fictionalising" today's cutting edge research to exploring the implications of current and emerging technologies.
3) Fabrication, 3-D printers, hackerspaces and the maker movement, i.e. the idea and hope that we will be able to design or download "blueprints" for, well, stuff (gadgets, things) from the Internet and print everything we need and want in the safety and comfort of our own homes.

My interest in Sustainable HCI was a given and the one most important reason for why I chose to attend the conference in the first place. My interest in the design fiction and maker themes were more unexpected and nothing I had planned for attending or taking and taking an interest in in advance. Last year I instead followed the "ICT for development" theme (how ICT is developed/deployed/used in developing countries), but I couldn't really find or pin down that theme at this year's conference.

As to design fiction, I have previously realised that I've been doing that for 10 years in my course "Future of Media". Some weeks before the conference, while preparing for attending the design fiction workshop, I realised that we already have excellent footage (short movies) that have been made in that course and that we could put them together into a contribution for next year's CHI video program. I've already found students back home who are willing to make that movie and I thus made sure to attend this year's video program to "check out the competition". It was fun to see the videos (together with my colleague Susanna), I took quite detailed notes, and I definitely think we can put together something that is among the top 25% of the videos - at least in terms of production values (and hopefully also in terms of content and overall impression).

The opening keynote speaker at the conference was the well-known Canadian author Margaret Atwood who stated that "if you can't imagine it, it won't happen". We imagine both desirable future as well as the opposite since "sometimes we imagine things in order to avoid them" (e.g. dystopias). Atwood described her "space age" childhood and the large part that space wars and the idea of life on other planets played in her and her brother's childhood comics-induced imaginary futures.

Atwood had a lot of fun, and she made fun of both herself and the audience. She showed a picture of her "robotic device" (a sewing machine) and she also mentioned that there now exists "prostibots" in Holland and New Zealand (is that true? I don't know, but she had already written a story about it, "The heart goes last"). After Atwood's talk, there was a Q-and-A session where Atwood (in her answer to a questions) said: "you wouldn't want to have Wikipedia in your head, would you? You would go quite mad!" to which one of the computer scientists on the stage displayed some involuntary humour by answering that "it depends on the access model"(!).

Next year's CHI conference will be held in Korea and I hope to be able to go there. I will do my best to submit content to the conference (to the video program and at least one full paper and one short (alt.chi) paper). I hope to see you there!

söndag 18 maj 2014

Books I've read lately (Dec)

My intention is to catch up with writing about books that I've read, but with this blog post I'm instead falling behind: I published my last blog post on "Books I've read lately" 40 days ago - but it took (more or less) only 30 days to read the three books below (for the most part back in December last year).

The books I write about below do not have a huge amount in common except that they in one way or another deal with the topic of "work" and this is the fourth blog post in a row about books I've read on that particular topic (#1, #2, #3). With this blog post, I present two new "inventions" in relation to my book-reading habits. Both of them have to do with the integration between this blog and Facebook:

1) As those who are Facebook friends of mine know, I read regularly (more or less every single day) and I started to post 0, 1 or 2 "Quotes of the day" in my Facebook flow a few months ago. I will "dump" such quotes in these blog posts when I come around to write about the books in question. The very first quote is appended below.

2) The second innovation is that when I post a new blog post here about "Books I've read lately", I will also post a status update on Facebook with a list of the next 3-4 books I plan to read (do note the operative word "plan" - I refuse to be held accountable if I change my plans...   :-). Facebook friends will thus have the chance to synchronise and read the same books I read, as well as the chance to talk about them on Facebook (for example in relation to my now-onging "Quotes of the day" status updates). # End of "technical" information #

I haven't just read new books about work and about the future of work, but also older books that can give me insights into how they thought about work and the future of work "back in the days". Alvin Toffler's book "The third wave" was written in 1980 and I read it for the first time in the early 1990's.  Re-reading the book now I found that his description of the past and "the present" (e.g. 1980) was much better and more interesting that his wild-eyed sometimes-right, sometimes-spectacularly-wrong predictions about "the future" (i.e. for the most past the past from today's vantage point).

Even though I didn't notice it last time I read the book, and despite the fact that it for the most part is hidden here and there and thus easy to miss for the unaware reader, I now realise that Toffler almost came out as an environmentalist in this book. He is totally aware of environmental and energy challenges - despite his for the most part naive belief that human ingenuity fortunately/hopefully will/would "fix all problems" sometime "in the future":

"This dipping into the earth's energy reserves provided a hidden subsidy for industrial civilization, vastly accelerating its economic growth. [...] Fossil fules formed the energy base of all Second Wave societies" (p.25).

"While Second Wave [industrial] civilization did much to improve the conditions of our fathers and mothers, it also triggered violent external consequences - unanticipated side effects. Among these was the rampant, perhaps irreparable damage done to the earth's fragile biosphere. Because of its indust-real [sic!] bias against nature, because of its expanding population, its brute technology, and its incessant need for expansion, it wreaked more environmental havoc than any preceding age. I have read the accounts of horse dung in the streets of preindustrail cities (usually offered as reassuring evidence that pollution is nothing new). I am aware that sewage filled the streets of ancient towns. Nevertheless, industrial society raised the problems of ecological pollution and resource use to a radically new level, making the present and past incommensurable" (p.120-121).

"Two changes, by themselves, make the "normal" continuation of industrial civilization no longer possible. First, we have reached a turning point in the "war agasint nature." The biosphere will no longer tolerate the industrial assault. Second, we can no longer rely indefinitely on nonrenewable energy, until now the main subsidy of industrial development. These facts do not mean the end of technological society, or the end of energy. But they do mean that all future technological advance will be shaped by new environmental constraints. They also mean that until new sources are substituted, the industrail nations will suffer recurrent, possibly violent withdrawal symptions, with the struggle to substitute new forms of energy itself accelerating social and poltical transformation." (p.122).

For the most part, Toffler's book is a fireworks of (simplified, catchy) ideas (some very insightful, many wrong) - Toffler for example defined the term "prosumer" in this book. I can see how this book would have appealed a lot more to me at a point in my life when the future Toffler writes about was still an unknown entity in front of us - as apart from today when we have to live with the choices made (or not made) during the previous decades. Still, Toffler was very adept at picking up trends and presenting them in funny-mirror-but-plausible ways. And sometimes he nails it, like in the struggle between Second Wavers and the inevitable forces of the future. Isn't this a perfect description of the Tea Party mindset thirtyfive years before they appeared on the scene?

"The defenders of the Second Wave typically fight against minority power; they scoff at direct democracy and "populism"; they resist decentralization, regionalism, and diversity; they oppose efforts to de-massify the schools; they fight to preserve a backward energy system; the deify the nuclear family, pooh-pooh ecological concerns, preach traditional industrial-era nationalism, and oppose the move toward a fairer world economic order" (p.437).

Emanuel Sidea's book "Skräck och avsky i Euroland" (2013) [Fear and loathing in Euroland] is one of a whole slab of books that have been written in/about the aftermath of the European debt crisis. I can't recall why this book in particular made it to my list of to-read books, but this sleek (140 pages) reportage book is anyway the result of Sidea's summer 2012 "road trip" through southern Europe (Athens, Rome, Madrid, Lissabon). It's hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel when Sidea (Swedish economy journalist) vividly describes the same thing that previous books I've read (see links above) have said: there is today not one, but two labor markets in Europe; one for those who are established (that would be me) and another for the young. Middle-age people who are established on the labor market are protected by strong labour laws, while the young have had to settle for short-term contracts and for precariously jumping between different temporary jobs.

"Those who entered the market early have been able to accumulate riches that have clearly not been taxed particularly hard. At the same time, instead of collecting taxes and then making investments, many states have not wanted to interfere with their citizens' lives through raising the taxes - so people have been taxed without them noticing it: by taking loans. Liabilities are notoriously promises to pay [sometime in the future], but with interest having been added. In this case, the debts represent future demands on higher taxes, levied on forthcoming generations. By allowing the older age groups to be less harshly taxed, it has been possible to win elections and stay in power, and to make oneself [one's political party] popular. This is clientelism in action. And now, when the bill appears, it is the younger generations - those who still have many years left before retirement - who will have to pay the debts. ... If all of this feels familiar, it's no wonder. Sweden also suffers from the same problem" (p.69).

This is not a book with a happy end in sight. It would instead not be surprising if the coming elections to the European parliament will see a surge of protest voters flocking to political parties that present a variety of simple alternatives to "Business As Usual". It is easy to see that a Europe that has sowed "passivity, bureaucracy and powerlessness" (Sidea) unfortunately might now come to reap intolerance, racism and xenophobia.

Christer Sanne is an eminently sensible person. He wrote "Keynes barnbarn: En bättre framtid med arbete och välfärd" in 2007 [Keynes grandchildren: A better future with work and welfare]. It is strange that I started to read this book of his back in 2008, but for some reason left the last few chapters unread until now.

The book untangles a yarn of difficult and related concepts in simple, clear language. What is the connection between sustainability, economic growth, (neo)liberalism, work patterns and time use, happiness and consumption? The book pretty much covers all those topics, weaves them together and shows how they are connected. But, the book does even more as it also suggests a way out of the hamster wheel of work, work, work and consumption, unsatisfied needs and unhappiness. The book covers and ties together 1) global justice, 2) ecological sustainability and 3) Swedish welfare society - and it does it well.

My blog post about "monetary intensity of media consumption" from the beginning of the year was inspired by a picture from this book about the energy intensity of a variety of activities. And that's just one out of 100 interesting, provocative or sensible ideas that are presented in the book!


Quote of the day:

"Today's media landscape, with an almost unlimited range of commercial channels, is part of a consumerist society. The constant renegotiation of the social "game" about what is valuable and attractive happens not the least in the media. Newspapers and broadcast media adapt their content to advertisers and owners' interests. My subjective opinion is that we have gone from describing how to cook good food with inexpensive raw materials to presenting exclusive news from all around the world. And from pointing out the value of home-made gifts based on the time and expertise of the giver to instead highlighting the range of fashionable shops. Commercial values seem to have taken over.
Independent public information is likely to be overshadowed when even textbooks are sponsored by companies and special interest groups. ... Public service tv and radio channels are therfore crucial, as is the government support for newspapers and magazines. Both the space for broadcast media (the frequencies) and the Internet can be considered a commons. The for-profit use of the spectrum should compensate those who are responsible for the common, be it the state or some other institution."
Sanne, C. (2007), pp.163-164.

fredag 16 maj 2014

What have we learned? A Sustainable HCI workshop

My previous blog post was about the design fiction workshop I attended at the CHI conference 2+ weeks ago. I attended a second workshop the day after (Sun April 27) and the second workshop was an important reason for why I went to the CHI conference in the first place. I've been to the CHI conference several times, but before last year's conference, there is a 10+ year long gap in my CHI attendance because it was only last year that I belatedly realised that a vibrant Sustainable HCI community met up at the conference and that I decided to "come back" to the CHI fold.

The Sunday Sustainable HCI workshop was called "What have we learned?" and it invited prospective participants to write position papers based on any/some of no less than eight different questions:

  1. What is sustainability?
  2. What do we know about how sustainability might be achieved?
  3. What crucial questions remain?
  4. How can HCI help achieve sustainability?
  5. How should HCI & Sustainability research be evaluated?
  6. How can we use critiques of past work to develop more productive approaches?
  7. How can we better integrate knowledge from outside HCI?
  8. How can we encourage work that contributes to practical sustainability efforts?
Since I was out travelling over Christmas, the Jan 17 deadline was inconvenient for me. My colleague Elina Eriksson stepped up and became the first author of the workshop position paper we wrote together with Henrik Artman, "Usability as a threat to a sustainable future: Induced disability through better HCI" (pdf).

The workshop was great. I don't know exactly what it was that happened, but something did happen at this year's workshop that didn't happen at last year's workshop... The workshop was organised by no less than eight persons, but the person who had done the most work and who led the workshop was ph.d. student (and current UC Irvine colleague of mine) Six Silberman. He had a very "relaxed" workshop leadership style. It's hard to know if the energy at the workshop came because or despite of his relaxed leadership style... Perhaps we had too much freedom/too little structure, or perhaps we had just enough? Another possible factor for the successful workshop might have been the participants and what they/we brought to the table? Yet another possible success factor might have been the connections between the participants; there was a critical mass of UC Irvine people who knew each other very well (six persons) and another critical mass of people who either organised or attended last year's workshop (eight persons). Perhaps these two overlapping groups of networked persons managed to pull the others participants in...? Could that have been "the secret sauce"...?

We started by presenting ourselves to each other and a theme I heard repeated around the table was "I came to this from hard core computer science, but I have since then come around to believe that...". Other memorable comments or topics that were brought up already in the initial round were:
- Do you have to be an activist in the area and/or have to have been touched on a personal level in order to do profound work in Sustainable HCI (sustainability and HCI)?
- What is our relationship to "the three pillars of sustainability" (ecological, social economic sustainability). Some tried to explore/align/adapt their work in relationship to the three pillars, others had problems with or rejected the three pillars model.
- What about criteria and measurements of what we do in Sustainable HCI? What do we do, what do we believe that we do, what do we measure and what could we do in this area?
- When we propose change (perhaps Change with a capital "C"), the change we propose will (might) hurt people. Who are we to propose (or "determine") who gets hurt? But, on the other hand, people get hurt already today in or because of the absence of change, so what is our responsibility...
- Sustainability is (also) a political issue, i.e. not something we can "fix" on an individual level. What are, and how can we work on/with drivers and barriers in order to change supra-individual behaviours?
- How do we get more imaginative and more utopian in our thinking? Perhaps through backcasting, through liberating our curiosity and our fantasy with the help of design fiction - re-imagining the future? This all sounds great, but how do we do it? And how do we do it?
- It was proposed that we pool and create a list of favourite sustainable HCI articles and books as an outcome of the workshop. Bran Knowles is working on it right now!

After the initial round of presentations, we divided ourselves into four smaller groups for further discussions. There was a "metrics" group ("how do we measure sustainability?"), a "cultural and social aspects of sustainability" group and the "future scenarios" groups. I suggested the self-proclaimed "radicals" should form a fourth group and we did indeed form the "free radicals" group. I believe the free radicals group consisted of six persons (me, Elina Eriksson, Bonnie Nardi, Samuel Mann, Bran Knowles, Adrian Clear and Roy Bendor - did I miss anyone?). The free radicals stated that we believed that "radical solutions" were necessary compared to status quo. We naturally discussed a whole bunch of different questions over the following hours. I don't claim that the list below is something as ambitious as a "protocol", rather than just a semi-structured list of things I jotted down because I thought they were worth thinking about. I sometimes write in first person even though it's actually someone else who is the "I" in the text:

- How do we change things for real - beyond the academic/career game of prestige and fame? How do we work together to change things in the world instead of wasting energy competing with each other or others? This is a tough one since we are constantly (on the verge of being) sucked (suckered?) in to must-apply-for-grants and have-to-get-my-papers-accepted games.
- "I'm not radical, but my research is going in that direction". People with a computer science background (including an earlier self of me) miss information and don't "get it". I am now influenced by social science and social practice, but how do I/we get them to understand? And, how do we get everybody to "get it"; engineers, midwifes as well as everybody else?
- How can we as educators change our students through what we teach them? How can we find "trigger points" and move people?
- We need to work on many levels at the same time; education, critical design, industrial design etc. Everybody changing lightbulbs is necessary but not sufficient.
- "I've always felt like a radical at my department." However, "if it's radical to point out the obvious..." I insist that everybody should understand how precarious our situation on this planet is, and (only) appealing to rationality is not going to get us there!
- We also discussed the power we/people have as consumers vs the power people have as citizens. How do we nudge/help people to become activists? "I feel like a radical because I want to rile people up, but how does that go together with my job as researcher?" Are we (can we be) half activists and combine that with our role as researchers? What does it mean to be an activist, can we be "activists" in different ways? If all I do is write things up, does that add to my "activist credentials"?
- If we write a terrible (sexist, racist etc.) HCI paper, it will rightfully be rejected. How can we get sustainability onto such a shortlist, i.e. if someone designs a system with terrible implications for sustainability, the chance that the paper is rejected increases significantly? People should do (or attempt to do, or at least acknowledge that they haven't done) a Life-Cycle Analys (LCA) in Sustainable HCI papers - especially if they have build a system!
- The sustainability Special Interest Group (SIG) should have/develop a policy that would be helpful in (for example) the review process of Sustainable HCI papers. In fact, we should produce a set of Sustainable HCI guidelines that could be used as a resource both for writing papers and for reviewing papers. There are lots of technical measurements for different things, but there are no measures for assessing the positive (or not) impact of what we're doing in Sustainable HCI - but there should be! The accessibility group have developed a set of guidelines. How did they do that? We should look into that and learn from them!
- "I try to understand the global economy as well as people who have chickens in their back yard" ("why are you doing that, how did you come to do that, where does your inspiration and skills come from?"). "I'm also interested in people who want to keep the internet going even without government support" (government interference?). "I understand the economy stuff is important, but it's also hard to grasp".
- We often ask "what can we bring to HCI" (from other disciplines etc.), but we seldom ask or think about "what we can give/disseminate to other disciplines and areas - but we can do a lot!".
- When you (now and then) have a bleak outlook on challenges and (the lack of) appropriate responses, your personal energy level and motivation can go down to the point that you sometimes feel like giving up. This observation led to a discussion in the group about "emotional support" on a personal level when you felt things were tough. One person had, at another conference, been asked an interesting (but depressing) question: "Why do you bother thinking and working with sustainability issues if it might be the case that it won't work out? Why not work on a problem that is possible to solve?". What do you answer?
- Should Sustainable HCI papers be clustered or spread out over many different sessions at the CHI conference? What is in our best interest, or more importantly, what is in the best interest in terms of raising the visibility of and promoting sustainability?
- "We should have an award for "least sustainable paper/system"!" Or, would that instead be counter-productive finger-pointing? Still, where would we look for such papers/systems - which is the "least sustainable CHI sub-community"? My personal suggestion was anything that results in small incremental changes and in a lot of new gadgets.
- We as a community should be able to present a positive, empowering alternatives that are based on life quality and happiness studies; how can we sell less "stuff" but still deliver high(er) value to people?
- Another problem we don't talk much about is the fact that HCI is intimately tied up with big money and big corporations (just look at the list of sponsors for the conference). Big (and small) companies wish for big profits. This might or might not go well together with us striving to create more sustainable societies... Is there in fact a commercial double bind at play here? If so, how do we break out of it?
- Also, almost everything that is presented at the CHI conference aims for the top 1 billion richest people on Earth. What about the other 6 billion? Should this be a concern for Sustainable HCI or is this a non-issue?
- Strange thing will happen to our belief systems when the effects of climate change hit for real. We might have a lot of strange spiritual movements in the future. Perhaps ecological decline will be our equivalent of the biblical deluge (Noah and his Ark). Perhaps we'll see the emergence of new eco-belief systems?

I unfortunately don't have good notes from the other three groups, but here are a select few comments based on what they talked presented (again, sorry for the partialness of my notes):
- We should be better at referring to the work of others both within and outside of the Sustainable HCI community.
- We (the official SIGCHI Sustainability Community) should be better at many things, but for the moment there really isn't anyone in charge of making sure that what is supposed to happen will happen. The community needs fresh blood - who will volunteer?
- There is a Sustainable HCI Google group - but when I tried to join, it said I "don't have authority" to join the group...? Since/because of this blog post, I got a personal invitation. That's great for me personally, but have other people been turned away from that group?
- Everybody should sign up to be a reviewer for next year's CHI conference and I took a break from writing this blog post and did just that - and so should you!
- Add one or two lines about which metrics are important for your paper, on what scale you would like to measure these metrics and who your stakeholders are? Ex: "I'm interesting in CO2 emissions on the city level from the perspective of city officials."
- If you come to the conclusion that you actually shouldn't build a computer system, what do you then do? How do you write a CHI paper and how do you get funding? Answer: publish elsewhere! One suggestion was the BECC conference.
- There are "sustainability people" who also do CHI (that would be me) and then there are "CHI people" who also do sustainability (Jen Mankoff). I personally noticed that these two groups are partly invested in different (life, identity) projects and might have (very) different opinions about a variety of things.
- How do you evaluate the impact of your system? Ex. "People felt that intervention X was successful because they felt empowered". We might work within or together with communities and what we're doing represents a success story for them, but it might be hard to "translate" these results into a "CHI format" and an accepted paper to CHI.
- Annual conferences like CHI exert a huge gravitational pull, but that publishing cycle also creates gaps and holes; you only have once chance per year and what happens if you blow it? HCI studies run for only a short time, but sustainability is a long-term project. The time scales can clash and/or won't necessarily make a lot of sense. It's hard wanting to contribute and being interested in sustainability, but working in a technology-driven field. The things you do can create "problems" for yourself and others.

- There was an interesting discussion about HCI, sustainability and social movements. Social movements are where the energy is, so how can technology be used to support social movements? Should we (only) study social movements, or should we (also) take stands and support social movements?
- I furthermore learned that "Significant Life Events" (SLE) was a research topic in the 90's(?). SLE's and "Transformative learning" is something that me and Elina should look up since that is what we do (strive to do) with our teaching. HCI is on the other hand more into hedonistic motivation, e.g. making people feel good.
- A private thought of mine (not really discussed at the workshop) is if it would be possible to write a contribution to CHI that brings a number of very political topics and theories to the CHI conference. I was thinking primarily of the precariat and precariatization, of Gorz, of Wallerstein's World-Systems Theory and Hornborg's groundbreaking work to adaptat WST to an ecological/social arena. I have since actually had discussions with Bonnie Nardi about this, but the conclusion for now is that this is really hard (and that WST would be a much much harder nut to crack than the the future of work and the precariat).
- Another thought of mine was if it would be possible to work together with Miriam (and Elina?) to write a Sustainable HCI paper about absolute limitations, efficiency and rebound effects? This is definitely something worth thinking about. Or perhaps me and Elina should a paper together with Staffan Laestadius where we present this theory and adapt it/spell out the implications for CHI?

I don't know exactly why, but something did happened at the workshop and after the workshop (over the course of the following days at the conference):

1) Workshop organiser Six sat down and wrote a draft of a collaborative Sustainable HCI paper.

2) Some other people sat down during a break and started to write a Sustainable HCI "manifesto" that perhaps should be presented as a poster (perhaps with inspiration from the great "Done Manifesto"?). Here are a couple of notes for what might make it onto such a manifesto/poster or elsewhere (conference activities):
- We should formulate and promote aspirational alternatives to Business As Usual (BAU)
- We should shift from "weak sustainability" to "strong sustainability".
- We should admit that sustainability is a not a problem that has to do with simple causality, but a "wicked problem" (this will unfortunately make it harder to fit it into the flow of the mainstream CHI conference).
- We should write a set of statements/guidelines that can support people who write and who review Sustainable HCI papers.
- Gender, race, accessibility and sustainability should be on equal footing as meta-criteria with which to evaluate (all) CHI papers.
- We should practice activism at the conference: let's ask difficult (sustainability) questions at different CHI sessions over the following days. (I personally did but not everybody agreed this was a productive position to take.)
- We should find the one paper that should get the "most unsustainable paper award" (we didn't do this).
- We should formulate guidelines for how to answer "the crazies" - but call these guidelines "tools for engagement". We should help each other frame our research in such a way we don't get those questions.
- We should organise not just workshops but also panels for CHI. Perhaps (following this workshop) we should organise a panel on "grand challenges for Sustainable HCI" for next year's conference?

3) I believe we furthermore managed to establish which the next two conferences to go to were for (especially) European Sustainable HCI researchers. These two conferences are the ICT4S conference in Stockholm in August and the NordiCHI conference in Helsinki in October. Between me, Elina and Cecilia Katzeff, I think we managed to convince quite a few persons (mainly people who are based in Europe) to come to one or both of these conferences. That's so cool and I look forward to meet and continue the good work we have started to do together with old and new friends! If you have in fact read this far, you too should consider going to Stockholm and/or Helsinki later this year!

4) Me and Elina submitted a Sustainable HCI workshop proposal to the the NordiCHI conference only a week ago. There are six organisers all in all and no less that four attended the workshop I write about in this blog post and five attended the CHI conference (the sixth persons did both of these things last year). 

5) Me, Elina and Cecilia are also involved in organising/hosting the ICT4S conference. ICT4S is of course much wider than "only" dealing with Human-Computer Interaction, but we are right this moment discussing how to gather the Sustainable HCI people who will come to Stockholm for an informal workshop either right before or right after the main conference (or both). Do get in touch with me if you are interested in attending that workshop! 

Finally and in regards to the 8 workshop questions that brought us together, most were not "answered" (some might be unanswerable). Physicist Niels Bohr supposedly said something to the effect that it is "better to discuss a problem without solving it than to solve a problem without discussing it". That is a good summary of the workshop outcomes and if it's good enough for Niels Bohr, it's good enough for us! I finish this long blog post with some sustainable humor:

This great figure got some attention later, during the conference. "Sustainability" is apparently a "trending" topic - perhaps "sustainability" is all we will talk about in the future (as implied by the figure)? My colleague Jorge Zapico thinks not since (slightly cleaned up):

"Everyone in the sustainability field knows that infinite linear growth is not sustainable. Thus the use of the word "sustainable" is going to peak and achieve a sustainable steady state of usage, or alternatively become unsustainable and collapse after having passed the semantic carrying capacity".