söndag 29 oktober 2017

Solutions for Economics, Environment and Democracy (workshop)


I attended workshop in Siegen, Germany on "Solutions for Economics, Environment and Democracy" (SEED) one week ago. The workshop was organized by professors Lance Bennet (political science) and Alan Borning (computer science) from the University of Washington together with Markus Rohde (HCI), and Volker Wulf (HCI) from Siegen University. Around 40 persons had been invited and all expenses were paid except for traveling to and from Siegen. One important reason for me to go was the people who organized it, I for example met Lance Bennett when he was a guest professor in Stockholm in 2010 and haven't met him since. Also I knew that Bonnie Nardi and Six Silberman (that I got to know during my 2014 sabbatical at UC Irvine) would attend the workshop and that was also a powerful attractor for me.

The workshop had been preceded by a much smaller workshop that was organized as part of the 8th conference on Communities & Technologies (C&T) in Troyes, France this past summer. In August 2017 Lance Bennett, Alan Borning and Deric Gruen at the University of Washington's Center for Communication & Civic Engagement wrote a very inspiring manifesto that was disseminated before the workshop, "Solutions for Environment, Economy, and Democracy (SEED): A Manifesto for Prosperity". The manifesto starts like this:

"The quality of life for growing numbers of people on the planet is threatened by a set of systemic problems: dependence on fossil fuels, pressures for unrealistic levels of economic growth, inequitable distribution of wealth and income, excesses and hidden costs of consumerism, and the undue influence of global corporations over working conditions, social wellbeing, and governing institutions. Growing economic inequality produces poor health and precarious life prospects for majorities in the global south and for increasing numbers in the north. Billions of people in the global south face food and water shortages, which in addition to political corruption and climate change, contribute to failed states, wars, and migration."

What differs this text from many other texts I've read on the challenges posed by peak oil, climate change and consumerism/capitalism/the downsides of our economic system is that this text also discusses various problems that today ails democracy as a form of governance, as well as what needs to be done to "take back the power".

"If democracies are to lead the way in finding new models for human wellbeing within environmental limits, nothing short of a renewal of politics and economics is required. Political systems once regarded as mechanisms for solving problems are now widely regarded as part of the problem. ... The basic elements of prosperity include food, shelter, health, education, security, leisure, participation, creative expression, and freedom from violence and oppression, among others. The challenge is to find new political and economic models that focus on such basic human values, and to organize politics to deliver these results. ... The challenge is to develop more holistic thinking that feeds more flexible political organizations, such as hybrid movement-parties that aim to make change locally while linking their efforts nationally and globally. Finding these pathways to sustainable societies for people in different circumstances depends on creative ideas generated by diverse knowledge communities."

The manifesto also discusses how (digital) technologies could make a difference, but, for technology to make a difference (or for it to be developed in the first place) there needs to be consensus about means and ends. Before the workshop I thought that this (discussing means and ends) might be one of the goals of the workshop. The ideas are already out there; degrowth, post-growth, transition, innovation, commons, open culture, peer economies - so someone suggested we perhaps didn't need to create brand new ideas but could instead settle for combining already-existing ideas into a powerful package. Bonnie Nardi instead suggested that since the particular group of people who gathered in Siegen knew a lot about digital technologies, perhaps the way to leverage this knowledge would be for this group to support other already-existing movements with technology?

What was perhaps most fascinating to me at the workshop was Lance Bennett's introductory lecture about the history of the super-rich and the genesis of neo-liberal thinking during the last 70 years with a focus on Friedrich Hayek and the (previously to me unknown) Mont Pelerin society. The Mont Pelerin society have been fabulously successful in disseminating their ideas and their agenda about free markets as the solution to all possible problems in the world. They have successfully linked free markets (and decreased government regulation) to issues such as freedom of expression and the political values of an open society. I believe the thinking went a bit like this: "if we manage to shrink state responsibilities, we will liberate the individual and liberate individual creativity. We will increase the chances of reaching these goals if we recruit politicians and recruit academic (and perhaps other) luminaries to work as emissaries for our ideas".

I personally wondered why the Mont Pelerin society was so successful and how come I have never heard about it before. It turns out that their greatest "contribution" was to encourage the foundation of a number of think-tanks (as well as the very idea of forming think tanks) as well as connecting these incipient think tanks with wealthy billionaires who stepped up with funding. Such think tanks then create policy documents that are handed out to civil servants and decision makers. Over time and step by step these "thought pieces" have affected policy at a fundamental level.

I found this short history lesson incredibly interesting and provocative. I wondered if and how the Mont Pelerin society's methods could be used while exchanging the core message to something that instead was more in line with the SEED manifesto. I did however also learn that the very idea of founding think tanks seemed to be an anathema to some of the workshop participants (as such organizations by their very nature would be elitist, closed and not very inclusive). It seemed (and I didn't know that) the very term "think tank" has negative connotations to some people as it is perceived as elitist and closed - but it might be that the term "open think tank" (whatever that means) could be ok. We also toyed with terms such as "anti-think tank" and "non-think tank". I don't think anyone knew exactly what those terms meant so we also played around with other forms or organization that more specifically could bring researchers and activists together (perhaps an institute or a "school" like for example Bauhaus that brought architects and artists together?). I know that there are some "alternative" think tanks (or anti- or non-think tanks?) like the New Economics Foundation (NEF), the Post Carbon Institute (PCI) and the Swedish "green think tank" Cogito. One workshop participants mentioned in the break that the problem might not be that we are elitist to suggest that we should form think tanks, but that we are not elitist enough to get a foot in the door in Brussels and Washington...

We all agreed that our (SEED) ideas are better, but their (neo-liberal) ideas are simpler ("free markets, free people") and easier to push. Could we make our ideas more emotional and easier to understand and push? Could the core idea of what SEED is about fit onto a t-shirt (...Six Silberman wondered)? Other organizations manage; any union: "stronger together", Stockholm Resilience Center: "planetary boundaries", Post-Carbon Institute: "preparing for peak oil". Two of Six' proposals for t-shirt slogans were (something like) "Every person has a right to shelter, nutrition, health care, and education" and "Indefinite economic growth is neither possible nor desirable".

The people I met at the workshop were great and the workshop itself was inspiring, but my main concern is that generating creative ideas that are thought up by "diverse knowledge communities" is a walk in the park compared to creating an attractive "package" - a unified whole - out of such diverse ideas. And the more ideas and the more diverse they are, the more difficult it will be to settle on a "core" that we can agree upon. Also, how do you make sure diverse does not turn into divisive? How do you balance breadth and inclusion with focus and action? In an ideal world you would of course want focus AND action AND breadth AND inclusion, but what do you do when these value-laden concepts pull in different directions and create tension? Spending two days together in Siegen proved to be too little time for transforming the manifesto into something more action-oriented so I wonder what the outcome of the workshop will be in terms of "next steps" for the SEED project.

In the end, it was hard to know what was the main benefit of the workshop. It might have been to give great people a chance to come together and get to know each other. Or it might have been to generate a plethora of interesting ideas that some core group (perhaps at the Center for Communication & Civic Engagement) later could refine and develop. It is hard to see that anything in particular came out of the workshop that all participants stand behind but I sure think this was a good start, e.g. "throwing spaghetti at the wall and hope some of it sticks". I also had a large number of side conversations at the workshop that I greatly enjoyed.

My personal hang-up since a couple of years back is on how to balance priorities in terms of ecological sustainability vs. social sustainability (or of "sustainability" vs "sustainable development").  Such tensions are everywhere, including at the very core of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. I can easily see that depending on how you position yourself, you might never reach an agreement about "what is most important" or what the first/next logical step would be if you want to act/change the world. It might be that, in order to take the first step, you just have to decide which of those two noble goals takes precedence at those occasions when they come into conflict with each other (or slightly milder, "when they point in different directions"). But "taking a stance" could of course be said to prioritize focus and action rather than breadth and inclusion so where does that leave us?

Taking into account that we had less than two days together and that some of the workshop participants had travelled quite some ways to join the workshop, I would personally have wished for a run-through of the goals of the workshop and what the organizers wished to accomplish at the start of the workshop.  While I enjoyed the workshop, I don't envy the organizers when they will have to try to summarize the results. I also kept thinking that if we can't agree on something at this workshop and in this room, what hope is there of being able to convince others?

Since I am right now studying a short course on "leadership for associate professors" at KTH, my thoughts strayed to the course book, "Creating Effective Teams: A Guide for Members and Leaders" (5th edition) by Susan Wheelan. To Wheelan, a group that works at its optimum performance is a "team". Most groups never reach that stage. A team usually consists of three to eight persons and it is unusual for a team to form in less than six months since new groups have to pass through a number of stages before they can work smoothly together (as a team). I contrast this view of group work with what can be accomplished at a two-day workshop. I think a workshop can be great for generating and exchanging ideas, but might be less good for systematizing and organizing - if the goal is to reach consensus or to work out a plan for instrumental action. In line with the message from Wheelan's book, I think that a way to include diversity into a platform could be to form a (small) group that starts off by being diverse and that then works together for an extended period of time and where group members hammer out their differences and formulates a coherent whole - a shared visionary agenda/platform and a plan to communicate that agenda. But then again, some might think that this process in itself is not very inclusive or not inclusive enough. And I might conclude that the set of neo-liberal ideas that rule the world will continue to win on walk over (since the opposition is too busy fighting it out among themselves to even show up to confront the ruling neo-liberal package of ideas). Perhaps I'm a bit too impatient here but I want action now as I've been thinking about these issues for the better part of a decade by now...

The workshop itself was interesting and I met a number of really interesting people there (including but not limited to Sylvia LorekVasilis Vlachokyriakos  Giorgos Gkiouzepas and Debora Leal). The local organization was also very smooth. We had maps that helped us find our way in Siegen and were pampered with lunches and dinners that allowed us to continue our discussions 24/7. I also greatly enjoyed having the opportunity to meet up with Six Silberman and Bonnie Nardi again. Me and Bonnie even managed to secure one hour each day to work on an article that is soon due.

At one point I entertained myself with (unrealistically) thinking about who was missing from this workshop. Some of the first names I came up with were Naomi Klein, David Graeber, Herman Daly and Juliet Schor. Then I was irritated at myself because they are all from North America. The first Europeans I could think of was George Monbiot, Giorgios Kallis (degrowth) and Hans Rosling. Rosling died not that long ago and his agenda was different from the SEED agenda, but he is still a shining star in terms of packaging complex information for consumption by a larger (Ted Talk) public. I think it would be great if we could grow (or convert) charismatic Ted speakers to disseminate growth-critical ideas on a larger stage and to larger numbers of people. If the Mont Pelerin society managed to create think tanks and policy documents, why couldn't we instead talk directly to millions of people by utilizing the wonders of modern digital technologies?

söndag 22 oktober 2017

After work/meeting place master's thesis


This past week we organized an After Work where we invited companies and other organizations with an interest in 1) ICT/digitalization and 2) sustainability. The basic idea of organizing this event is:
- Our students do their master’s thesis during the spring (January – June 2018). They are good at what they do.
- Companies/organisations have tasks that would be suitable and we want to find sustainability-oriented tasks/thesis topics for our students.
- Companies/organisations do now necessarily know what tasks are suitable for our students, how to formulate a proposal to make it attractive for our students nor know how to get in touch with our students.
- So we (teaches/researchers) organize an after work where we tell them about these things and encourage/help them formulate suitable and attractive thesis topics.

A side effect or organizing this event is of course that we widen our general network (beyond the specific task of together defining master's thesis topics). We organized a similar After Work a year ago for the first time and back then I wrote:

"I think the idea is ingenious and there are quite a few reasons also for companies to have engineering students do their thesis work with/for them. But many companies don't know exactly what a master's thesis entails, how to put together an attractive offer, at what time of the year to do it as well as various other practical issues."

 There were however some significant differences between this year's event and last year's event:
- Last year's even was held on November 9, but that was a little too late. Many students are starting to look for thesis topics right now and there will be an initial information meeting for our masters students next week. This year's timing (AW on October 18, info meeting October 25 and 26) was thus much better.
- Last year's timing also happened to be terrible due to the surprise snowpocalypse that disposed more than half a meter a snow the night before the event - crippling local transports in Stockholm. Many couldn't get to work and at least half of those who had signed up didn't show up due to transportation-related difficulties. Last year's event also happened to be held the day after Donald Trump had been elected president of the US.
- Last year's even was officially organized by the School of Computer Science and Communication (basically my colleague Elina and me), by the research center CESC (which paid for snacks and the room) and by the School of Architecture and the Built Environment (who helped man the event). This year's event was organized by the same entities as well as by the strategic innovation program Viable Cities.

As part of the program for the After Work, we invited a student who has just written a master's thesis (during the spring) to present it and talk some about the process of writing it. Last year we had Robin Chanapai talk about his thesis (I was the advisor). This year we had Sofie Nyström talk about her just-finished thesis about visualizing waste management practices in the Swedish grocery chain COOP. While I wasn't her advisor, she did her thesis within a research project that I lead together with Cecilia Katzeff and I also accompanied her to two of the interviews. Also Sofie, Cecilia and me are currently writing a paper together that is based on her thesis.

Elina and me planned the event and I think the program was great. What could be improved is the marketing of the event. It's a pity that only a dozen or so guests turned up when we could easily have entertained twice or three times as many. I think we will have to be much better and mention that we organize this event every year in October throughout the year rather than just in the run-up to the event. Despite the half-hearted turnout I still think the event is great and I choose to regard this year's After Work as a practice round for next year's After Work!

söndag 15 oktober 2017

Future of Media 2017 line-up (course)

The first part of the project course I'm teaching, DM2571 "Future of Media", came to an end this past week and we are now moving from the start-up phase (with lots of guest lectures) to the project phase. We change the theme in the course every year and this year's theme - the 15th - is "The Future of Work/Work of the Future". Last year's theme was "The Future of Computer Games/Computer Games of the Future". I wrote a blog post about the course when it started seven weeks ago.

Since the theme is changed every year, it's basically a brand new course every year. More specifically, there are only a few changes in the format - but all the content is replaced. That means there's a lot of work to do every year.

This year is special for a specific reason - this is the very last year the course will be given. We started up a new master's program in "interactive media technologies" last year and this course isn't part of that program. There have usually been 50-70 students taking this course, but this year the brunt of the (only) 23 course participants instead study our "media management" master's program. With much fewer participants than ever before (with the exception of the very first time the course was given back in 2003), the course has had to change and it is much more "intimate" this time around. It's easy for everyone who takes the course to get to know each other and it also becomes hard for students to "hide" in the crowd.

The first part (half) of the course has now come to an end and it's a relief for me. Particularly because I had to teach the course by myself this year instead of having an assistant teacher to help me out (e.g. Malin Picha during the last three years). While there is still much work left to do, the rest of the course will demand less from me time-wise and that's really good as my next course on Sustainability and Media Technology will start two weeks from now.

Anyway, here are the 16 great guest lectures we have had pass our course by since the beginning of September!

-------------------- Lectures --------------------

1. D. Pargman, Associate professor in Media Technology, Department of Media Technology and Interaction Design, School of Computer Science and Communication, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, "Theory and method of Design Fiction – what this course is really about".

Talk: We are doing "Design Fiction" in this course. Design fiction is the use of narrative elements and scenarios to envision, explain and raise questions about possible futures. I will discuss the term and the practice of envisioning the future through narrative scenarios (i.e. envisioning the future through convincing and compelling stories).


2. D. Pargman, Associate professor in Media Technology, KTH. "Technology gone bad".

Talk: Digital technologies can do wonderful things. But sometimes they are implemented in ways that instead makes things go haywire [e.g. break down]. We will discuss the potentially negative effects new technologies that are mis-utilized. The lecture will a 20-year old case study as a point of departure (see below)


3. J. Andersson Schwarts, senior lecturer, Södertörn University, "Platform Logic: Digital intermediaries as infrastructural arrangements for work and play".

Talk: We are now living in what could be called a "platform society," where numerous sectors of the economy and areas of everyday life are dominated by so-called digital platforms; carefully designed, proprietary services that mediate human action. I will discuss some of the technocultural and economic implications of this, especially noting what the consequences seem to be for human labor in particular.


4. G. Karlsson, professor; head of the Department of Network and Systems Engineering, School of Electrical Engineering, KTH, "On digitalization and work"

Talk: It is clear that many tasks and much work can be automated, even to the degree that many professions are becoming obsolete. There is a debate on whether new jobs will be created to compensate for jobs lost, or whether there will have technology-induced unemployment. The outcome might not be predestined and continuous life-long education and training is often suggested as a possible remedy for avoiding unemployment. However,  total unemployment might be what humankind always wanted, given that our needs will be provided for. This lecture will propose a number issues to be discussed, but no definite answers will be given!


5. H. Artman, Professor in Human-Computer Interaction, Department of Media Technology and Interaction Design, School of Computer Science and Communication, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, "Acquiring usable systems"

Talk: Usability and user experience are key concepts within Human-Computer Interaction. But how is it possible to lead, organize, build and evaluate future systems designs? This lecture will present my experiences as an usability consultant and as a team leader with responsibility for usability at a Software consultancy firm. My experiences later led to a research program about how to procure usability and the role of the organization that acquires computer systems in systems development process.


6. C. Sanne: Associate professor emeritus (KTH), "The spurious need to work"

Talk: The increasing labour productivity – ever since the Industrial Revolution – means growing output and rising living standard but also growing resource exploitation. Technological advances threaten the ecological balance and requires a rethinking of the work/life balance.


7. J. Gulliksen, professor in human computer interaction and dean of the school of computer science and communication, KTH Royal Institute of technology. Jan Gulliksen has been the chairman of the Swedish Digitalization Commission since 2012, "Digitalization, digital transformation and the future of Work"

Talk: How are we influenced by the digital transformation that is happening, and how does it affect work? Will we still have the same view of work in the future society? How will different institutions have to change due to digitalization in order to meet the future challenges?


8. D. Berg, Dept of economic history, Stockholm University, "Limits to Work".

Talk: This lecture is an elaboration on the future of work as seen from two distinctly differing positions. The economic thesis of under consumption is presented in its take on the present day precarious labor market and constant threat of recessions. The basic tenets of ecological economics is thereafter laid out with its contradicting view of an economy of constant over consumption. Between these two perspectives we some how have to imagine the future of work as also a narrative of specific limits to work.


9. P. Fuehrer, Associate professor in Sociology, School of Social Sciences, Södertörn University, "Work-life balance in a sustainable future. Four scenarios of how work could be organized in a de-growth context"

Talk: How can we envision the work-life balance in a sustainable society, taking into consideration individual, social as well as ecological needs and limits? I am going to present and discuss four distinct scenarios outlining the future of work and its position in everyday life. The talk is based on an ongoing research project (at KTH and also at Södertörn university) called "Beyond growth, scenarios for sustainable planning” ("Bortom tillväxt, scenarier för ett hållbart samhällsbyggande").


10. L. Ingelstam, PhD mathematics (KTH), professor emeritus Technology and Social Change (Linköping), "The post-industrial society and the forgotten role of services".

Talk: As a a proportion of (paid) labor, industrial work (physical production) has declined steadily from around 1965. Services have increased, but have a different rate of productivity, which creates a dilemma. In order to understand how quality of life and the welfare state develop over time one must take this into account. Work outside the market and ”self-service” play crucial roles.


11. C. Garbis, PhD, Principal UX manager at Amazon.com, "Hiring top talents at Amazon.com"

Talk: Amazon competes with the other four tech giants (Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook) in their attempts to hire global top talents. While mainly working with usability/UX, Christer is also deeply involved in Amazon's hiring processes and have made the ultimate decision in several hundreds of cases. Christer will describe how Amazon thinks, what Amazon looks for, how Amazon works with recruiting and why they put so much effort into that process.


12. P. Johansson, PhD in Human Ecology, BA in History of Science and Ideas, "Job, employment, work, occupation - what are we doing, really?"

Talk: Is it actually possible to be 'out of work'? Usually we take concepts like work and jobs for granted. We think we know what they mean, but the question is if we have reflected deeply enough. When someone says: robots are taking our jobs, or: immigrants are taking our jobs - what does that mean in reality? Which human or other values are expressed in the concept of 'job'? Is it really jobs we live for?


13. C. Gradin Franzén, Licensed psychologist, Co-founder of the Hoffice network, "Co-navigating the space between Awesome and Awful - A psychological response to complexity and an uncertain future".

Talk: Increasing complexity, change unfolding simultaneously in different directions and oh yes a lot of uncertainty about the future. What does that mean for us from a psychological perspective, how can we respond adaptively and what does this mean for the future of work.


14. Å. Walldius, Associate professor (Docent) in Human Computer Interaction, Department of Media Technology and Interaction Design, School of Computer Science and Communication, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, "Digital media, The Rewarding Work Organization and the UsersAward"

Talk: The goal of the Digital Agenda of Sweden is that we shall become the most successful nation to apply the possibilities of digitalization. I will sum up some recent surveys that point out successes and problems from the users’ point of view. And I will conclude with some challenging questions and propositions regarding how we from Media Tech and Human Computer Interaction can make a difference.


15. A. Felländer. Digitalization economist. Affiliated with KTH (focus on AI) and SSE (focus on Fintech), senior advisor Boston Consulting Group, advisor to the minster of digitalization, "Diginomics - transformations at accelerating speed".

Talk: New business models and value chains due to digitalisation are rapedely changing the need for new skills, talents and labour market structures.


16. S. Silberman, Crowdsourcing Project, IG Metall, Germany, "Digital labor platforms and 'the future of work'"

Talk: There is both great excitement and great anxiety among European and US policy makers and trade unionists about digitalization and 'the future of work'. One part of 'digitalization' is the emergence of digital labor platforms such as Amazon Mechanical Turk, Upwork, Uber, and 99designs. These platforms match customers and workers in a huge diversity of sectors, including 'blue collar work' such as cleaning, taxi driving, and food delivery; low-status 'white collar work' such as data entry and data processing; highly paid and qualified work such as design, management, legal work, accounting, engineering, and programming; and work such as sex work whose legality, pay, and social status differs dramatically across jurisdictions. These platforms offer opportunities as well as risks for workers, customers, 'traditional' companies in the affected sectors, and other labor market actors such as trade unions and the cooperative sector. They also raise deep questions about the purpose and structure of our political-economic systems; new and controversial answers to these questions are behind initiatives such as the 'basic income' and 'degrowth' movements. In this informal talk we will explore together the practical realities of digital labor platforms; existing initiatives to improve working conditions in these platforms; and, time permitting, some broader political-economic questions.

söndag 8 oktober 2017

Swedish Energy Agency's final "Energy, IT and Design" conference

I attended the Energy Agency's (final) conference in the program "Energy, IT and Design" (EID) this past week and the theme for this year's conference was "Design for an energy efficient everyday life". I will cover the program shortly and will write more in depth about a few things that I found notable and/or interesting. I wrote a blog post about last year's conference and you can find it here.

The day started with a talk by Mari Broman who is an industry representative and a member of the program's steering committee. She is also someone who has followed the whole 10-year long program from start to finish. Mari framed the program, discussed its development over time and then described the three phases of the program (2005-2008, 2009-2013 and 2014-2017) in terms of moving from a focus on technology to a bigger emphasis on consumers, on design, on visualization, on everyday use of products and services and on lifestyles. The third and last phase saw the funding of 18 projects of which I have worked in one together with my colleague Björn Hedin. Several other colleagues of mine at KTH have worked in other EID research projects and KTH was in general well represented at the conference (and in the Q-and-A sessions).

The second speaker, Anita Aspengen, works at the Energy Agency where she is the head of the department for energy efficiency. She gave a talk about "The new energy" and described the energy landscape and the shift to a more sustainable energy system. Her message mirrored Mari's about moving away from a focus on the technology and on energy production to a focus on users and on energy usage (consumption) as a way to reach various energy and climate targets for 2030, 2040, 2045 and 2050. She received a number of specific and sometimes pointed questions (including from colleagues of mine) about the absence of air transportation in these calculations, about the absence of indirect energy use (food, vacations etc.) and the absence of embodied energy of stuff manufactured outside of Sweden.

The most entertaining and enthusiastic speaker, but also perhaps the most confusing talk of the day was professor of informatics Bo Dahlbom's talk about the future. So many clusters of ideas were connected and so many one-liners were hurled at the audience that I'm pretty sure there's quite a lot I don't agree with or that I at least would like to discuss, but the tempo of the delivery makes it hard to untangle and analyze it all. Here are some thoughts though:

- 20th century = oil, cars and systems. 20st century = data is the oil of the 20th century and power emanates from platforms (think Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple).

- Since I teach a course where this year's theme is "The future of work/work of the future", I saw many more implications of Dahlbom's talk for the future of work than for the future of energy. I itched to ask work-related questions, but this event wasn't the time or the place. Something I do wonder about though is this: if increased effectiveness in production (robots, computers) led to fewer industrial jobs in the 20th century, are there any particular reasons to believe that increased effectiveness in services (robots, computers) will lead to more rather than to fewer service jobs in the 21st century?

- Dahlbom contrasted abundance with scarcity and said he "preferred" abundance. He thus affiliated himself with a view of sustainability that eschewed "austerity", "saving" and "making do without", and instead argued for sustainability in terms of increased energy efficiency through digitalization. I found this opinion (I can't really call it an argument) lacking for several reasons. The first is that while the opposite of scarcity is abundance, the opposite of saving is not energy efficiency. Both saving and energy efficiency are instead two different examples of how to handle scarcity. In a state of abundance, there is on the other hand no need to save (or make things more efficient). With true abundance there is no reason not to squander, so while saving and (increasing the) energy effectivity are two sides of the same coin, their opposite is instead waste.

- The other reason for why I found Dahlbom's argument lacking is because increased energy effectiveness can have the same effects as lowering the price on energy and this can result in increased rather than decreased energy use. The first steam engines (early 18th century) squandered coal. Only a few generations later, steam engine technology had made progress in leaps and bounds and a ton of coal could now make a ton of difference. And... the demand for coal shot through the roof. This particular second-order/rebound effect is called Jeevons paradox.

- Dahlbom at one point said that "we painted ourselves into a corner" (in the 20th century). I don't remember exactly what he referred to - it might have had something to do with oil, with systems and with our infrastructure. Which, he argued, should be replaced with data, with platforms and with increased resource efficiency. But I do distinctly remember that I couldn't really figure out how we - following his or anyone else's recommendations - could be sure that we are currently not painting ourselves into another corner...

- I don't remember if it was Dahlbom or perhaps Aspegren who referred to a report about nudging that said that "it should be easy to do the right thing" (which rhymes in Swedish - "det ska vara lätt att göra rätt"). But if The Right Thing is always easy, then nothing is ever difficult. But what we don't talk about though is what to do when The Right Thing is difficult or painful or even detestable. Which would seem to be the case quite often when it comes to reducing our energy consumption.

My colleagues from KTH, Josefin Wangel and Loove Broms gave a great talk about how design can (re)shape the future. I didn't take any notes but it was terrific.

The last activity I will write about was a brainstorming exercise followed by a discussion about what focus (we participants wanted) the next research program to have. We were randomly divided into groups and I believe opinions can differ significantly between, say, future- and design-oriented researchers like my colleagues (above) and the man who represented a company that sells lamps. I however thought it was really hard to formulate concrete suggestions. My thinking then went like this: this is a program about saving energy/electricity and it has been made abundantly clear that we (nowadays) should put the (energy) user at the center. But taking a step back, I had to ask why - officially - we want to save electricity. Do we (Sweden/The Energy Agency) want to save energy so as to decrease carbon emissions? Or do we expect the price of energy to rise in the future, so why not explore/test today what will become necessary tomorrow? Or do we want to save energy because we can then export the savings? Or because the energy system is bursting at the seams? I felt that I would want an answer to that question before I can figure out what the next research program should contain and what it should emphasize.

As for me, I believe that our electricity bill at home corresponds to less than 2% of our household expenditures. So is there really a rational reason for me to try to decrease the electricity bill by 10% when many other types of expenditures weigh so much heavier in our household economy? But that means it might in fact become rational for me not to care about my electricity bill and my electricity consumption. This creates a huge problem in a research program that on the one hand wants to focus on the user and her usage but where that user might in fact (for good reasons) not care about saving energy! So how do you convince a person who doesn't really care? Or, should we sneak in savings by automatizing and/or exchanging existing technology? But honestly, wouldn't an alternative be to steamroll the user and force new behaviors on her? If coercion is too harsh to be a winning strategy, why then not settle for manipulation - which might be ok if we instead call it "nudging"? If the goal is to husband electricity and sell the savings to other countries, the perhaps we should instead put the nation - Sweden - at the center rather than the user?

There was also a discussion about how research results from the project could reach further and make a difference. It felt like two suggestions popped up recurrently. The first and most popular was an emphasis on commercializing results. Make stuff (prototypes) into real products and start up companies! The other suggestion was to reach out to the citizens through the municipal climate- and energy advisors. Which happens to be the organization we have worked together with in our research project. Which is nice - for us. I do have to complain about the sloppy use of terms at times though. It is not clear if we should put the "user" at the center of our activities or perhaps rather aim for "the consumer", "the citizen" or "the individual"? Different words have different connotations and my favorite would be to put the citizen at the center.

One goofy idea I had was to follow up the much appreciated research project that some colleagues of mine have conducted, "a car-free year", with a project called "an electricity-free year". It could be hard to recruit informants (understatement). While that project is far to hard, I did in fact formulate another idea for a research project that could be suitable for the next phase of the EID program. I'm not going to say anything more about it here except that it would involve the KTH Live-in lab.

söndag 1 oktober 2017

21st century sports (paper)

This past week I submitted a paper about e-sports to a special issue on "The emergence of e-sports: Challenges and Opportunities" in the journal "Sport, Ethics, and Philosophy". The article is written by me and Daniel Svensson (Chalmers University of Technology).

The origins of the paper is an unpublished paper we presented at a cultural studies conference no less than four years ago. I actually published a blog post with the exact same title back then. The draft paper has languished for quite some time since the right opportunity has never presented itself. Also, I have not pursued research on e-sports and my co-author was busy with his ph.d. thesis which he defended in December 2016 ("Scientizing performance in endurance sports: The emergence of ‘rational training’ in cross-country skiing, 1930-1980"). The fact that he is now finished, together with increasing academic interest in e-sports, has made us a bit more alert about publishing opportunities for our text, despite the fact that this has always been a side project with some relevance to Daniel's current research but, by now, little relevance to mine. I do have to say that we really like the paper we have written together though. We would wouldn't have pursued this issue (e.g. getting it published) if that hadn't been the case.

We actually did an attempt to write up the paper already in February this year when we came across a call for papers for a special issue on "eSports and professional game play" in a computer games journal I had never heard of. Perhaps due to a misunderstanding and/or unclear instructions from the editor in chief, our contribution was "disqualified" for, let's say, technical reasons.

Then we came across this call for papers back in May (see further below) and deemed it to be highly interesting for us. An email to the special issue editors before the summer resulted in them encouraging us to submit a paper to their special issue. We didn't even have to submit an extended abstract and get it pre-accepted first.

While we for some reason have held on to the title (which perhaps should be changed?), we have reworked the paper some and also switched the order of authorship so that Daniel Svensson is the first author and I'm the second. The article as well as the journal is closer to his research interests and it's more useful for him than for me to be the first author of an article about sports/e-sports.

From the call for papers:

An article in TIME Magazine regarded the emergence of e-Sports as one of the most profound and challenging advances in contemporary sport culture. E-sports constitute a social phenomenon that brings together millions of players and has become a business of enormous proportions. As a consequence of the increasing relevance and success of e-sports, a debate has been raised within international sport organizations on the recognition of e-sports not only as real sports but also as Olympic sports. This raises important questions within the philosophy of sport, especially related to the ontological nature of both e-sports and sports. However, the debate on the ontology of e-sports does not exhaust the possibilities of the philosophical debate on e-sports. Issues related to the governance of e-sports competitions, the organization of e-sports institutions, and the relationship between e-sports and human nature, among others, are relevant as well.

This special issue of Sport, Ethics, and Philosophy is dedicated to the main conceptual, philosophical, moral and legal questions that are being raised by the development of e-sports in the context of sport and physical education.

And here is our abstract:

Modern sports have gone through a process of sportification (e.g. Guttman 1978, Yttergren 1996), moving from loosely regulated games and play towards becoming progressively more managed and regulated. Computer games have correspondingly gone from being a leisure activity for kids and teenagers to becoming a competitive activity, electronic sport or “e-sports”, with international competitions and professional players. We argue that there is a tight connection between the sportification of traditional (physical) sports and modernity and that it is also possible to see the emergence of “21st century sports” such as various e-sports as portending a post-modern society. There are naturally many differences, but also significant similarities between traditional sports and 21st century sports as both move towards standardized, rationalized, medialized and commercialized competitive arenas. In this article we explore the similarities and the differences through the lens of sportification theory. One such difference is the fact that while some traditional sports (athletics) can use technical equipment sparsely and other traditional sports (cross-country skiing, bicycling) more extensively, e-sports do not just rely on top notch equipment, but are totally dependent on, and mediated by the most modern of machines - the computer.

Sports, games, e-sports, sportification, training, cross-country skiing, modernity