torsdag 31 mars 2022

Reflections on taking up blogging + March roundup


I started this blog in 2010 and my level of ambition - then as now - has been to:

post (low-volume, aiming for a minimum of one message and a maximum of two messages per week) about my academically-related activities - for the benefit of those who wish to keep up with what I do and also for me to remember what I did last week!

Already back in 2011, I wrote a blog post about "the many functions of this blog" that has stood the test of time. When I started the blog, I had three specific uses of it in mind [the lists below have been shortened]:

- A record, or a diary of my work-related activities. Not all of them, but  since I have a job that is very varied, something interesting worth writing about happens every week. 
- A way for people to follow me [I had a fuzzy idea about who might want to follow me but I primarily thought about work colleagues].
- A place ("webpage") where I could start to keep track of and collect work- or career-related information (papers written, courses taught etc.). [An easy-access archive where I can go when I need to update my CV]

During the first months, a couple of new functions appeared:
- When I went to a workshop on "Digital media and collective action" a year ago, I found it useful to write about some highlights and to link them up in the blog. [Loose pages or links in a] notebook is soo much less useful than a blog post.
- Later, I also directed a master's student to that blog post and to some of the links. So the blog is not only a way for me to write things up and/or to allow others to follow me, but also a permanent archive to which I can direct others to specific posts.

Other functions that have appeared over time are:
- Very usual nowadays is that I write up a blog post and then, directly after it has been published, send of a link to one or half a dozen people I think or I know will be interested in the topic of that blog post.
- I also know that a few colleagues read my blog and this can make some of our meetings very effective. We can take the discussion from there instead of from scratch. 

Since I have a tendency to write very ambitious (e.g. too long) blog posts, I sometimes burn out and it becomes too much of a chore to blog. I don't know which is my longest blog post but this report from a workshop about Design Fiction at the 2014 CHI conference is almost 7000 words (40 000+ characters) long - same length as an article in an academic journal! I therefore have to guard against spending too much time writing too ambitious blog posts, and the maximum-two-blog-posts-per-week rule is a necessary (but not fail-safe) speed limit. A burn out usually results in a vacation from writing - until I feel like doing it again - and I just came back from an almost two years long break that coincided with the Covid pandemic (by far the longest break ever). But I started to blog again earlier this month and this is blog post number 584 since the start.

Something that has struck me this month is that I have more to write about now than ever before, and that's true in two different ways. There seems to be more bloggable events happening in my life now than before and it feels like the things I have written about this month have been "bigger" and more important than the contents of the average blog post from yesteryear. I think that's an effect of 2019 being the year when my research group "leveled up". That means that a few years down the road (e.g. now) there's just more things - and more important things - happening in my academic life than before. 

This being the case, I thought I would invent a new category of blog posts, "roundups", where I shortly write about stuff that happened during the month that I could have written about ("blogworthy") but didn't. These might then be things that could have become blog posts, but that for one or another reason (not overworking, not exceeding two blog posts per week) didn't. This is the first round-up and I might experiment some with the format during the following months.

March Roundup

- MID event (March 7)

For the first time in two years the division of Media Technology and Interaction Design (MID) had a get-together in our kitchen with catered food and the kitchen was crowded and people spilled over into neighboring spaces. It was really nice to see so many people together after all the cancelled Summer parties, Christmas dinners and writing camps during the last two years! There was no particular reason for the get-together besides the fact that we were allowed and haven't had a party for (literally) years


- Artificial Intelligence and Ecocide Law (March 10)

One of the panelists, Pella, invited me to this event and although it was nice, this event happened in the run-up to possibly my most hectic week ever (March 14-18, see other published blog posts), so my mind was unfortunately not 100% in the seminar. This was unfortunate because what I heard sounded really interesting!

Artificial Intelligence is an exponentially growing field of technology, a powerful force for source control and new pathways. But how do we secure that it is used in a benign way for humans and nature? Could AI be the new plastic? Can Ecocide Law be the ethical framework to govern AI in a benign direction, as a force for sustainable development?

Andre Uhl, Technology and Innovation Fellow, Harvard Planetary Health Alliance; Chair, IEEE Earth Lab.

Pella Thiel, ecologist, expert in the UN Harmony with Nature knowledge network.

Jonas Roupé, Ecocide Law Alliance.


- Minna 30% seminar (March 18)

My phd student Minna Laurell Thorslund presented her 30% seminar in mid-March and her presentation was awesome! Her seminar really should have generated a blog post of its' own, but this text will have to do as soo much else was happening that week in particular! Here's the invitation thought:

Title: HCI in service of imagination: Exploring how to support transitions toward sustainable collective practices beyond the individual

Abstract: Environmental challenges are forcing humans to rethink their place in the world. This is no small task, especially when it has been argued that we collectively suffer from a “crisis of imagination”, limiting our collective imaginaries of the future to apocalyptic disasters or dystopian technofutures. The HCI community, with its rich knowledge base and ideological advocacy of human-centred systems and values, is well positioned to facilitate important collective explorations of what it means to live and build a good life in a future of uncertainty, complexity and upheaval. Minna’s research explores how HCI, in its various forms and functions, can support collective transitions toward more sustainable practices and constellations, beyond individuals as consumers. 


- ICT4S reading group (March 18)

I was one of the organizers of the (delayed-by-a-year) Second International Summer School on ICT for Sustainability this past summer (2021). I'm not going to write about the summer school seven month after it happened, but one delightful spin-off from the summer school is a book circle where we meet online (at the breakneck speed of) once every four weeks. Jay Chen is the coordinator and this was the sixth time the book circle met. I've attended five of these meeting (and have of course read all five books!). This month we discussed Tim Jackson's book "Post growth" (see "Books I've read" below!).


- Workshop: Academic aero mobility in a post-pandemic future (March 22)

The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in Manchester organized a workshop on academic flying. This of course fits neatly with my research project, "Decreased CO2-emissions in flight-intensive organisations", so me and phd student Aksel Biørn-Hansen attended this online seminar together with 50+ other persons. 

This workshop aims to spark/leverage changes on the academic structures and systems, helping to build institutional alliances that leverage the requests for changes, transparency and common frameworks to work on implementing air travel policies in academic institutions. It will focus on discussing three main topics:

Group 1: Reducing academic aero mobility: Gains in accessibility, inclusivity and Justice. Ways to deliver broader access, equity and justice in research collaborations, through air-travel reductions.

Group 2: Cultural changes to decouple aero mobility from academic work. Required institutional and social changes to decouple aero mobility from international collaborations and the need for academic united alliances.

Group 3: Effective reporting to reduce academic air travel carbon emissions. Options to achieve transparent and systematic reporting of carbon emissions related to air travel associated with academic institutions;

It is expected that participants [will be] sharing their experiences, hearing and understanding others, and developing potential actions and strategies for a less flight intensive future in Academia.

I joined group 3 and Aksel joined group 2. My group produced a nice board with suggestions for actions, but the tool itself (padlet) was a bit limited and awkward to use (see image below). I could move my own post-it notes but was not allowed to move around other participants' notes, so the only person who could effectively cluster (and change shape etc.) of the notes was the organizer. That also meant we spent too little time actually talking to each other  and too much time describing which note should be moved where...  I don't know enough to know if this was a problem with the tool or a problem with the setup of the tool. With so many interesting people in the Zoom room, it definitely felt like we could have used the time better, but the workshop was still very good! 

One super-great outcome of attending this workshop though was that we decided we (our research project) would organize our own online workshop in September. More on that later...


- MID4S Reboot (March 24)

As with the MID event (above), our team/research group hasn't met physically altogether for a very long time, so we had a half-day "Reboot" that my colleague Elina and phd students Aksel and Arjun organized according to principles from Art of Hosting. There were nine persons at the event and the organization was excellent! We all felt welcome and seen and it created a lot of can-do energy in the group! 

Two very concrete outcomes of this workshop was that we will restart our research group blog next month and we will change the name of the group. The name MID4S - Media Technology and Interaction Design for Sustainability - has served us well within the department (MID) for the better part of 10 years, but is not so great when we want to communicate within the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, to say nothing about communicating who we are and what we do outside of our School and outside of KTH. I will write more about the new blog and about the new name later!


- Data Workshop (March 29)

We have a guest in our research group, Martin Lindrup, who is a phd student at Aalborg University, Denmark. Martin arrived in the beginning of February and will stay until the summer and he is hosted by my colleague Rob Comber. Martin organized a workshop that I attended about "how to make data more meaningful in the context of sustainability", a topic that is very much in line with his 2021 article "One Byte at a Time: Insights about Meaningful Data for Sustainable Food Consumption Practices". 

Referring to Martin's workshop is however just a pretext for presenting Martin (something that should have been done in a February blog post - except I didn't write any blog posts in February). Martin gave a talk at one of our semiweekly research group lunch meeting in the beginning of February and here's how he presented himself and the topic of his research:

Speaker: Martin Lindrup, PhD student at the Computer Science Department (Human-Centred Computing group) at Aalborg University, Denmark.

Title: Insights about meaningful data in environmentally sustainable food consumption

Description: Environmental data have been fundamental in shaping our perception about the state of the world. In the form of e.g. carbon footprints, food miles, organic labels, data (note: using the term data is to emphasize the strangeness and different interpretations that people have toward these concepts) have also been used for informing environmentally (un)sustainable ways of eating. However, these data may not fully capture the experiences that people have with food and sustainability. With this talk, I seek to provide insights about how to make data about food sustainability more meaningful for people from the perspective that data are formed by socio-technical circumstances.

About me: I am a PhD student working within the field of Human-Computer Interaction. My background is a mix between techno-anthropology and IT development and design. The project that I work on revolves around digital technologies, data, and sustainable food consumption. I do mainly qualitative research from a Research through Design approach. 


- Books I've read (March 31). 

For a very long time I wrote blog posts about "Books I've read". That's another task that went out of hand and in the end became too ambitious (and arduous). Not only did I write about the books I had read, but I started to post one or two quotes from book I currently reading on Facebook each day. I then wrote about the books I had recently read and also pasted literally a dozen or more quotes from each book. So then it became too much and I stopped. The last blog post about "books I've read" can be found here, but do note that I at that time was one year behind in writing about the books I had "recently" read, i.e. that blog post was published in April 2018 but treated books that I had read one year earlier (Feb-April 2017)... 

I have continued to read books since 2017, and since I read 30-35 books per year on average, that's upwards to 150 books I haven't written about at all on the blog and won't write about - which is the pity. It is however possible to find out what books I read for the better part of a decade by following the last blog post backwards in time (each such blog post is linked backwards). I might start to write about "Books I've read" at some point, but will for now only list the books I have finished reading during the month in question. Since March has been an extremely hectic month work-wise (just read all the blog posts!), I have now and then slacked off a bit and not kept up the schedule that guides my book reading habit, and have thus "only" finished two academic books this month:

  • Steffen Lange & Tilman Santarius (2020). Smart Green World?: Making Digitalization Work for Sustainability
  • Tim Jackson (2021). Post growth: Life after capitalism.


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