tisdag 23 december 2014

Books I've read (October)

The four books below were read as part of the small research project "The past 25 years of the future" that I wrote about half a year ago. We are reading books (below) and articles about past visions of the future information society. Here are the books I wrote about in my previous blog post books I've read recently.

**** John Howkins and Robert Valantin's "Development and the information age: Four global scenarios for the future of information and communication technology" (1997) is not so much a book as it is a report. It is only 50 pages long and still at that contains a lot of air ("this page intentionally left blank", large font etc.). It was impossible to get hold of in printed format but it can be download from the Internet. The report describes the results of a high-powered workshop sponsored by the UN (the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development, UNCSTD). The 5 days long workshop that underlies the report had 27 participants and "was held in delightful surroundings at Kelburn Castle in Scotland in June of 2006". Except for the "usual suspects" (from the global north), there was also participants from the global south (Ethiopia, Colombia, India, Malaysia, Jamaica, South Africa, China).

The report represents a "classic" scenario study where the participants started by identifying five development indicators, inherent uncertainties and key trends leading up to a "scenario cross" with four fields. Since the workshop was held 18 years ago and the topic was the future of "the Internet" (global computer networks, telecommunications), it is easy to feel that the results are dated by now but in our study, we are also interested in trying to understand how they thought about the future information society at that time so it still works for us as as chronicle of that time. The highlight of the report itself might very well be the names of the four scenarios; "The March of Follies", "Cargo Cult", "Netblocs", and "Networld".

*************** Adam Greenfield is an insider. He was lead information architect in a web bureau at the time of the dot-com crash. And, he's a sceptic. His 2006 book "Everyware: The dawning age of ubiquitous computing" consist of 81 "theses" often not much longer than one page and hardly never longer than three pages. Each thesis is a sentence-long statement and the second thesis explains the title of the book:

"There many forms of ubiquitous computing are indistinguishable from the user's perspective and will appear to a user as aspects of a single paradigm: everyware."

While everyware bears many promises, Greenfield is more interested in the potential problems. And boy, are there many to worry about. From technical and infrastructure challenges, to the interface and the user experience (how do we know these systems will help us rather than endlessly frustrate us?), to the potential for surveillance and repression. The list goes on. 

While Greenfield is prescient in many of his predictions - some are only starting to be discussed only now, 8 years after the book was written - the book also feels slightly anachronistic, like there is a strange time warp at play here. The book was written one year before Apple marketed the first iPhone and modern smartphones as the window/terminal/remote control to the Internet and ubiquitous computing resources and systems isn't really anywhere to find in the book. Despite Greenfield's insights, the book feels "needlessly" but inevitably aged because of that if for no other reason. I still thought it was an interesting book, well worth reading, but I still wish I would have read it some years ago, before the 2010's.

************ I read two scientific articles by Dourish and Bell two years ago ("Yesterday's tomorrows: Notes on ubiquitous computing's dominant vision" and "Resistance is futile: Reading science fiction alongside ubiquitous computing"). Both were excellent. I thought this book would be a continuation/expended version of those articles, and I guess it was to some extent, but not very. Paul Dourish and Genevieve Bell's "Diving a digital future: Mess and mythology in ubiquitous computing" (2011) consists of much heavier, theoretical stuff. I can, on one level, appreciate that since much research in the computer sciences can feel naive and severely social science-deprived. But the book was on the other hand not really for me. I don't really do research in/on ubicomp and are not well versed (or interested) in most of the theoretical perspectives presented in the book. It was still interesting enough for me to find a dozen passages worth quoting (see below). From the back cover of the book:

"The ubicomp research agenda originated at Xerox PARC in the late 1980s ... In Divining a Digital Future, computer scientist Paul Dourish and cultural anthropologist Genevieve Bell explore the vision that has driven the ubiquitous computing research program and the contemporary practices that have emerged - both the motivation mythology and the everyday messiness of lived experience."

PS. Paul Dourish is at UC Irvine and was sort of a nominal (?) colleague of mine this past spring when I was on a sabbatical there. We met a few times but talked but a little. His end-of-the-semester party in his home was great though - we should adopt such practices here in Sweden!

***** Majid Yar's just-published (2014) "The cultural imaginary of the Internet: Virtual utopias and dystopias" is a very sleek book, clocking in at only 80 pages. Yar is a British professor of sociology and his book is a neat summary of hopes and fears about the Internet. I liked it, but just as I started to get into it, the book ended. And, it's crazy expensive (>70 USD). From the back cover:

"Contemporary cultures offer contradictory views of the internet and new media technologies, painting, them in extremes of optimistic enthusiasm and pessimistic foreboding. While some view them as a repository of hopes for democracy, freedom and self-realisation, others consider these developments as sources of alienation, dehumanisation and danger. This book explores such representations and situates them within the traditions of utopian and dystopian thought that have shaped the Western cultural imaginary."


----- On the the promise of using ICT for development in the 1990's  -----

"While the countries of the [OECD] are becoming more aware of the "haves" and "have-nots" within their own societies, there is a similar but much larger division between "haves" and "have-nots" on a global scale.
Can ICTs help to close the gap? Or will they widen it? Access to the skills, equipment, and networks that allow entry to the information society are largely the privilege of rich countries and, elsewhere, select urban centres and the elite within them. Developments in the North are moving much faster than those in the South. The flow of information, knowledge, and resources is mostly North to South; there is still very little South to North or South to South."
Howkins & Valantin (1997). "Development and the information age", p.3.

----- On developing scenarios  -----

"This publication [presents] four scenarios of ICTs and development over the next 15-20 years. ... The scenario process ... starts with an open brainstorming session in which people put forward their views about a specific situation, specify variables, and raise issues from today to, say, a 15-year horizon or beyond. Sometimes the moderator will ask each person what he or she would ask of an oracle who had promised to answer three questions ... Each scenario starts with certainties and introduces uncertainties. ... the scenarios should not just tell a believable story but should also identify the main decision points faced by decision-makers ... Scenario planning does not demonstrate which scenario is the most likely. The aim is to uncover and articulate the basic parameters in a believable situation, regardless of whether the planners and decison-makers regard them as likely to happen. By spotlighting paths ahead, the process can also help to identify areas that remain in darkness."
Howkins & Valantin (1997). "Development and the information age", p.4-6.

----- On ICT in affluent vs developing countries  -----

"What is the balance between ownership, control, access, and impact? Is having a telephone network owned by a foreign company worse than not having one at all?
Tariffs are another important issue. In OECD countries, the average rate for telephone access and for internet access is about 1% of average income (and using both services costs 2% of income). Rates in developing countries are usually higher. Indeed, there is an inverse correlation between per-capita income and the cost of access: the higher the income, the lower the cost. As a result, although many have access in principle, few can afford it. Governments face a challenge: Whether to put the priority on higher charges, to increaser revenues in the short-term, or to reduce charges to increase traffic."
Howkins & Valantin (1997). "Development and the information age", p.22-23.

----- We live in a Cargo Cult world  -----

"The ... participants gave shorthand names to the four scenarios they developed. These ... were called The March of Follies, Cargo Cult, Netblocs, and Networld."

"Issues of equity and access are hardly considered. Technical specifications and standards are almost entirely determined by OECD governments and corporations, and by the intergovernmental organizations tat they finance and dominate. Developing countries have little input. ... talented young people who want to work in software development are forced, because of the lack of local training schemes and local opportunities, to go to the USA, Europe, or Singapore. ... There is a lack of local translators and adaptors [and] most of the content comes from outside."
Howkins & Valantin (1997). "Development and the information age", p.29-35.

----- On "everyware"  -----

"This book is ... about a vision of processing power so distributed throughout the environment that computers per se effectively disappear.
Although aspects of this vision have been called a variety of names - ubiquitous computing, pervasive computing, physical computing, tangible media, and so - I think of them as facets of one coherent paradigm of interaction that I call everyware."
Greenfield (2010). "Everyware", p.1.

----- On the promise and the threat of ubiquitous computing  -----

"My intention here is simply to ... describe what ubiquitous computing is; establish that it is a very real concern for all of us, and in the relatively near term; explore some of the less-obviouos implications of its spread as a paradigm; and finally, develop some ideas about how we might improve it.
If we make wise choices about the terms on which we accept it, we can extend the utility and convenience of ubiquitous computing to billions of lives addressing dissatisfactions as old as human history. Or we can watch passively as the world fills up with ubiquitous systems not designed with our interests at heart - at best presenting us with moments of hassle, disruption, and frustration beyond number, and at worst laying the groundwork for the kind of repression the despots of the twentieth century could only dream about."
Greenfield (2010). "Everyware", p.5-6.

----- On our bodies as a field of/for computation  -----

"Of all the new frontiers opening up for computation, perhaps the most startling is that of the human body.
It's strange, after all, to live in our bodies for as long as we do, to know them about as intimately as anything ever can be known, and to still have so little idea about how they work. The opacity of our relationship with our physical selves is particularly frustrating given that our bodies are constantly signaling their status beneath the threshold of awareness, beyond our ability to control them. In every moment of our lives, the rhythm of the heartbeat, the chemistry of the blood, even the electrical conductivity of the skin are changing in response to evolving physical, situational, and emotional environment."
Greenfield (2010). "Everyware", p.48.

----- On awareness and agency when computers surround us  -----

"There are at least three modes in which this lack of agency in [ubiquitous computing] becomes relevant.
I wasn't aware of this system' extent, domain of operation, capabilities, or ownership. I had no idea that this store tracked my movements through it and would mail me coupons for products I stood next to for more than ten seconds but didn't purchase. I didn't know that this toilet would test my urine for the breakdown products of opiates and communicate its finding to my doctor, my insurers, or law-enforcement personnel."
Greenfield (2010). "Everyware", p.66.

----- Welcome to a more complicated and confusing future  -----

"Perhaps my living room has two entirely separate and distinct voice-activated systems, say, the wallscreen and the actual window - to which a command to "close the window" would be meaningful. How are they to know which window I mean?
It's not that such situations cannot be resolved. Of course they can be. It's just that designers will have to explicitly anticipate such situations and devise rulesto address them - something that gets exponentially harder when [systems are] made by different parties."
Greenfield (2010). "Everyware", p.75-76.

----- On what technology "wants"  -----

"technologies do contain inherent potentials, gradients of connection.
it wouldn't have taken a surplus of imagination, even ahead of the fact, to discern the original Napster in Paul Baran's first paper on packet-switched networks, the Manhattan skyline in the Otis safety elevator patent, or the suburb and the strip mall latent in the heart of the internal combustion engine.
Somewhere around [five cents], it becomes economic to slap [RFID] tags onto just about everything: every toothbrush, every replacement windshield wiper or orange-juice carton in existence. And given how incredibly useful the things are - they readily allow the tracking, sorting, and self-identification of items they're appended to, and much more besides - there are likely to be few persuasive arguments against doing so. RFID "wants" to be everywhere and part of everything."
Greenfield (2010). "Everyware", p.98-99.

----- On "software-sorted regimes"  -----

"What is currently done with guards, signage, and physical barriers ranging from velvet rope to razor wire, can still more effectively be accomplished when those measures are supplemented by gradients of access and permission
if you're having trouble getting a grip on how these would work in practice ... there's a panoply of ubiquitous security measures both actual and potential that are subtler stil: navigation systems that omit all paths through an area where a National Special Security Event is transpiring, for example, or subway and buses that are automatically routed past. Elevators that won't accept requests for floors you're not accredited for; retain items, from liquor to ammunition ... that won't let you purchase them, that simply cannot be rung up. Context-aware differential permissioning used as a security tool will mean that certain options simply do not appear as available to you, like grayed-out items on desktop meny - in fact, you won't get even that backhanded notification, you won't even know the options ever existed.."
Greenfield (2010). "Everyware", p.108-109.

----- On falling prices and the resultant lavish use of computing power  -----

"As the price of processors falls dramatically ... we can afford to spend that power freely, even lavishly, with the result that computing resources can be brought to bear on comparatively trivial tasks. We arrive at the stage where processor power can be economically devoted to addressing everyday life: As Mark Weiser put it, "where are the car keys, can I get a parking place, and is that shirt I saw last week at Macy's still on the rack""
Greenfield (2010). "Everyware", p.115.

----- On complexity and (lack of) control  -----

"Before they are knit together, the systems that comprise [ubiquitous computing] may appear to be relatively conventional, with well-understood interfaces and affordances. When interconnected, they will assuredly interact in emergent and unpredictable ways.
We should never make the mistake of believing, as designers, users or policymakers, that we understand exactly what we're dealing with in an abstract discussion of [ubiquitous computing]. How can we fully understand, let alone propose to regulate, a technology whose important consequences may only arise combinatorially as a result of its specific placement in the world?"
Greenfield (2010). "Everyware", p.143.

----- On empowering technologies leading to atrophying mental skills  -----

"Marshall McLuhan taught us, in his 1964 Understand Media, "every extension is [also] an amputation." By this he meant that when we rely on technical systems to ameliorate the burdens of everyday life, we invariably allow our organic faculties to atrophy to a corresponding degree. ... Elevators allow us to live and work hundreds of feet into the air, but we can no longer climb even a few flights without becoming winded. Cars extend the radius of our travels by many times, but it becomes automatic to hop into one if we're planning to travel any further than the corner store
"Amputation," though, implies that a faculty had at least once existed. But it's also the case that the presence of an ambient informatics might interfere in learning certain skills to begin with.
Children ... Able to rely on paraphernalia like personal location icons, route designators, and turn indicators, whether they will ever learn the rudiments of navigation ... is open to question. Even memorizing street names might prove to be an amusingly antiquated demonstration of pointless skill"
Greenfield (2010). "Everyware", p.148-149.

----- Hello Siri!  -----

"It may turn out that ubiquitous voice recognition has more power to enforce crisp enunciation than any locution teacher ever dreamed of wielding. This is problematic in two ways. First, of course, is the pragmatic concern that it forces users to focus on tool and not task, and thus violates every principle of an encalming pervasive technology. But more seriously, we probably weren't looking to our household management system for speech lessons. Why should we mold something as intimate, and as constitutive of personality, as the way we speak around some normative profile encoded into the systems around us?"
Greenfield (2010). "Everyware", p.150.

----- On complex systems sprouting "insolvable" problems  -----

"Let's consider the example of a "smart" household-management system, to which all of the local heating, lighting, ventilation, and plumbing infrastructure has been coupled. In the hope of striking a balance between comfort and economy, you've set its winter mode to lower any room's temperature to 60 degrees Fahrenheit when that room has been empty for ten minutes or more, but to maintain it at 68 otherwise.
When the heat fails to come on in one room or another, which of the interlinked systems involved has broken down? Is it a purely mechanical problem with the heater itself, the kind of thing you'd call a plumber for? Is it a hardware issue - say, a failure of the room's motion detector to properly register your presence? Maybe the management interface has locked up or crashed entirely. It's always possible that your settings file has become corrupt. Or perhaps these systems have between them gotten into some kind of strange feedback loop.
Diagnosis of simple defaults in ubiquitous systems will likely prove to be inordinately time-conuming by current standards, but systems that display emergent behavior may confound diagnosis entirely."
Greenfield (2010). "Everyware", p.152-153.

----- On the ethical challenges of designing ubiquitous computing systems  -----

"If we wish to design ubiquitous systems that support people in all the richness and idiosyncrasy of their lives, that address the complications of those lives without introducing new ones, we should bear in mind how crushingly often our mistakes will come to haunt not us but the people on whose behalf we're supposed to be acting."
Greenfield (2010). "Everyware", p.157.

----- On the the "value proposition" of ubiquitous computing  -----

"As yet [ubiquitous computing] offers the user no compelling and clearly stated value proposition.
Gene Becker describes the issue this way: "The potential uses and benefits of ubicomp often seem 'obvious'; most of us in the field have spun variations of the same futuristic scenarios, to the point where it seems like a familiar and tired genre of joke. 'You walk into the [conference room, living room, museum gallery, hospital ward], the contextual intention system recognizes you by your [beacon, tag, badge, face, gait], and the [lights, music, temperature, privacy settings, security permissions] adjust smoothly to your preferences. Your new location is announced to the [room, building, global buddy list service, Homeland Security Department], and your [videoconference, favorite TV show, appointment calendar, breakfast order] is automatically started.' And so on. Of course, what real people need or want in any given situation is *far* from obvious."
There are days, in fact, when it can seem to me that the entire endeavor has arisen out of some combination of the technically feasible and that which is of interest to people working in human-computer interaction. Or worse, much worse: out of marketing and the desire to sell people yet more things for which they have neither a legitimate need nor even much in the way of honest desire."
Greenfield (2010). "Everyware", p.191-192.

----- The chair and the iPod - a parable of different technologies  -----

"just about the only way the chair can truly fail is to suffer some catastrophic structural degradation that leaves it unable to support the weight of an occupant. Nobody need to be told how to use the lounge chair. ... The same can be said of most domestic furniture
You needn't configure the chair, or set its preferences, or worry about compatible file formats. You can take it out of one room or house and drop it into another, and it still works *exactly* the same way as it did before, with no adjustment. It never reminds you that a new version of its firmware is available and that certain of its features will not be available until you do choose to upgrade. As much as I love my iPod, and do, none of these statements is true of it."
Greenfield (2010). "Everyware", p.228-229.

----- On the origins of ubiquitous computing  -----

"In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a team of researchers at PARC led by computer scientist Mark Weiser ... anticipated a world suffused with information technology, in which daily life might bring some people into contact with many, interconnected digital devices, large and small."
Dourish and Bell (2011). "Divining a digital future", p.2-3.

----- On mess and mythology in ubiquitous computing  -----

"This book, then, is about ubicomp. It is about the stories that have been told, and all the stories that haven't been. It is about the research that has been done, and the research that should be done. It is about what computer science has been, at the intersection of daily life and computational technology, and what it could be. It is then a book about the myth of ubicomp and its messy reality and, by necessity, about the tensions between those two very different vantage points.
In attempting to understand what ubicomp is today, however, we need to understand it not just technically but also culturally, socially, politically, and economically."
Dourish and Bell (2011). "Divining a digital future", p.5.

----- On the use of visions of future technologies  -----

"to the extent that ubicomp was a visionary proposal when first articulated [in the late 1980s], it told a story of an as-yet-unattainable technological future, but that story is one firmly rooted in its own times. Such visions, after all, are interesting not just for what they say about the future but also for what they say about the present.
What this opens up as a topic of inquiry, then, is how new futures get to be imagined and incorporated into a research agenda such as ubicomp, and what kind of work has to be done to mark out past triumphs, current problems, and future opportunities. ... Weiser's vision of the future is not only by this point an old one but also an extremely North American one."
Dourish and Bell (2011). "Divining a digital future", p.20-21.

----- On visions of the future trumping the present mess  -----

"the framing of ubicomp as something yet to be achieved allows researchers and technologists to absolve themselves of responsibilities for the present; the problems of ubicomp are framed as implementation issues that are essentially someone else's problem, to be cleaned up afterward ... The future framing allows us to assume that certain problems will simply disappear of their own accord; questions of usability, regulation, resistance, adoption barriers, sociotechnical backlashes, and other concerns are erased."
Dourish and Bell (2011). "Divining a digital future", p.22.

----- On "using ethnography" to design better computer systems  -----

"there is still considerable debate over what ethnography is and how it can best be employed in research, design, and deployment contexts. For the most part, ethnography has come to be regarded as a toolbox of methods, divorced from a larger set of theoretical and methodological concerns that give it form and rigor. Ethnography is too often seen as an approach to field investigation that simply generates requirements for systems development by providing a clear sense of "what the user want." This is perhaps ironic given that most ethnographers cringe at the very notion of users
The term "ethnography" indeed is often used as shorthand for investigations that are to some extent in situ, qualitative, or open-ended. We have both read and reviewed papers where "ethnography" was used to mean that the researchers had spoken to a test subject outside the context of a usability lab."
Dourish and Bell (2011). "Divining a digital future", p.63-67.

----- On the "power differential" between engineering and social sciences ("who works for who?")  -----

"While it is obviously important, in a design- and technology-oriented field, to be concerned with highlighting and correcting problems in current technologies, for a range of reasons ethnography is not necessarily best oriented toward the creation of new sorts of technological or computer artifacts. Sometimes, after all, the most effective outcome of a study might be to recommend what should *not* be build."
Dourish and Bell (2011). "Divining a digital future", p.71.

----- On invisible technologies (i.e. infrastructure)  -----

"to become infrastructure is a mark of a successful technology - it becomes unremarkable. This was certainly one of Weiser's explicit goals in his original statement of ubicomp's vision. His opening remarks speak to the nature of infrastructure: "The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it" (Weiser 1991, 94). This is not the "disappearance" of rapidly miniaturizing technology that becomes so small it literally shrinks from view; instead, this is an infrastuctural disappearance, a form of easy habituation and invisibility in use that follows from casual familiarity."
Dourish and Bell (2011). "Divining a digital future", p.95.

----- Does information want to be free?  -----

"the experience of the Internet's use in countries such as China, Turkey, and Singapore, where information flows are subject to considerable state restriction, put lie to the idea that "information wants to be free" (Turner 2006); technological arrangements and commercial interests can allow exactly the same sort of restriction and management that are deployed around "old media."
Dourish and Bell (2011). "Divining a digital future", p.97.

  ----- Who do we design for?  -----

"the cities that are the sites of urban computing research are typically quite similar. First-world "world cities" with significant infrastructures and capital investments, like San Francisco, New York, London and Tokyo, feature prominently; strangely absent are such metropolitan centers as Kuala Lumpur, Sao Paolo, Seoul, Singapore, Detroit, or Calcutta. We would note further that the contexts of mobility have been similarly constrained. The urban resident is frequently pictured as young, well-heeled, techno savvy, and above all engaged in discretionary movement through and consumption of urban space.
By way of contrast, let us think of other residents of urban space whose orientation toward mobility might be quite different - the homeless, for whom movement is a way of avoiding problematic encounters with authority; parolees, whose movement is constrained and monitored; taxi drivers, for whom mobility is a form of labor; or low-wage employees who spends upward of four hours a day on public transit to reach employment"
Dourish and Bell (2011). "Divining a digital future", p.122-123.

  ----- On the necessary infrastructure to support mobility  -----

"In Bell's research, we hear a great deal about what it took to be mobile in the early twenty-first century. It necessitated infrastructure in various forms: transportation (train lines, highways, cars, bikes, footpaths, etc.), utilities (phone lines, electricity, etc.), high technology (mobile phones, laptops, phone cards, credit cards, etc.) and low (wheeled bag, phone cord etc.), accessible consumer installations (Kinko's, Gap store in every town etc.), resting and fuelling points (gas stations, fastfood restaurants, hotels, ATMs, cafés, beer gardens, mobile phone stores, etc.), and personal/personnel (travel agents, administrative assistants, spouses, family members, etc.)."
Dourish and Bell (2011). "Divining a digital future", p.125.

  ----- On privacy and deception online  -----

"How are people engaging with online space, applications, and experiences so as to ensure privacy? ... Of the range of privacy practices engaged, perhaps the most interesting centers on the use of providing false information as a protective privacy strategy.
People lie on any number of websites and services about their demographic particulars: age, gender, and date of birth. Some of these lies are necessary for participation. ... For example, researchers at Cornell University have found that 100 percent of those participating in online dating lie about something; men lie about their height, systematically overestimating it by an average of two to three inches, and women lie about their weight, undercalling it by on average three to five pounds. ... one might even assert that microblogging systems like Twitter, ringing with detailed descriptions of mundane activities, concentrate on the charms of small acts of confabulation rather than social history in the making. ... what might actually be left unsaid? What might be hiding in plain sight on Twitter and other sites like it?"
Dourish and Bell (2011). "Divining a digital future", p.147-148.

  ----- On ubicomp researchers' limited powers of imagination  -----

"According to U.S. government statistics, nearly four million women in the country experience a serious assault by a partner during an average twelve-month period yet ... violence, abuse, rape, and incest are not the experiences that comfortably populate our research imaginings of the domestic. ... In much of the writing about and designing for smart/digital homes ... this set of realities is erased in favor of depicting occupants as a happy heterosexual nuclear family, with its safe relationships and sanitized patterns of occupation.
A perusal of the research literature would suggest that the primary problem for ubicomp technology to solve in the home is the proliferation of media devices that clutter the living room, or perhaps something to help us remember our recipes ... A much different view of domestic technology might accompany an understanding of homes in terms of the dangers they potentially enclose, rather than those that they must be designed to exclude.
Dourish and Bell (2011). "Divining a digital future", p.177-178.

  ----- On hopes, fears and the Internet  -----

"the Internet has rapidly become the space into which utopian and dystopian visions of the present and future are now projected.
This book aims to explore the meanings and narratives that shape our views of the virtual world. Its focus extends well beyond scholarly discussions to examine the wider imaginary manifest in popular culture, including film, television, novels, and press reportage. In doing so, it seeks to uncover how our collective hopes, fears and fantasies about the future are now increasingly centred upon the virtual world."
Yar (2014). "The Cultural Imaginary of the Internet", p.2.

  ----- On four different visions of utopias  -----

"different utopian schemes have tended to flourish at different points in the cultural history of Europe .... First, the 16th and 17th centuries saw an upsurge of religious utopianism which linked Christianity with communistic egalitarianism
A second form of utopian vision was connected to the so-called voyages of discovery associated with European imperial expansion.
Third, we see the emergence of 19th century of 'utopias of justice and equality' ... a vision of large-scale social transformation [where] industrial production and modern instrumental rationality are appropriated for the benefit of all
a fourth mode of thinking ... is associated with techno-scientific utopias [that] promise indefinite progress and material abundance enabled by the development of science and technology
Yar (2014). "The Cultural Imaginary of the Internet", p.9-11.

  ----- On virtual utopianism  -----

"Below I excavate and examine what I identify as the 'five modes of virtual utopianism' - cultural discourses focused upon the internet that envisage its capacity to transform society for the better across various domains of social life. These five modes relate to (1) the dream of democracy, (2) the rediscovery of community, (3) achieving equality, (4) the realisation of the self and (5) the transcendence of the human."
Yar (2014). "The Cultural Imaginary of the Internet", p.31.

  ----- On the city first as utopia and then as dystopia  -----

"the city has long featured as the site and space of utopian existence ... The city stands for all that modernity affords in the name of progress, in contrast to the country which denotes the shackles of tradition and stasis
However, over the past 50 years ... the city has undergone a dramatic reversal and has become indelibly associated not with the dream of techno-scientific progress but with the nightmare of its failure. The city is now imagined as a space of dysfunction, division, exclusion, separation, alienation and incivility; it has become something of a leitmotif for all that is supposedly missing from modern life - community, solidarity, intimacy, connection, reciprocity."
Yar (2014). "The Cultural Imaginary of the Internet", p.35-36.

  ----- On the (non-)value of Facebook activism  -----

"The main benefit of this so-called slacktivism is that it offers its participants a sense of instantaneous gratification as they 'post', 'share', 'like' and 'retw'eet their way to a reassuring sense of their own engagement with serious and worldly matters, all from the comfort of their armchairs.
For its detractors, online engagement is a perfect mirror of consumerist individualism, a practice in which individuals invest little and risk nothing, while reaping the satisfaction that they are 'doing the right thing'. All this sharing of one's predilections and preferences also offers the perfect mechanism for commercial exploitation through data profiling and targeted advertising, turning the stuff of ethical and political commitment into yet another vector for lifestyle marketing."
Yar (2014). "The Cultural Imaginary of the Internet", p.63.

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