This is a conversation on the Internet of Things I recorded with my colleague Chris Moore as part of his podcasted lecture series on cyberculture. As interviews go this is quite organic, without a set script of questions and answers, hence the rambling style and side-stories. Among others, I discuss: the Amazon Echo [Alexa], enchanted objects, Mark Weiser and ubiquitous computing, smart clothes, surveillance, AI, technology-induced shifts in perception, speculative futurism, and paradigm shifts.
This is a lecture I thoroughly enjoyed preparing, and had great fun delivering to my first year digital media class of 200 students. The prezi slides are below. My intention was to provoke students into thinking in interesting and weird ways about remediation across media platforms, about object animation through digital means, and about the new aesthetics of the glitch and hyper kawaii. I ended up being more successful than I expected, in that the lecture provoked extreme reactions oscillating from strong rejection of the very premises to enthusiastic exploration of the implications and pathways opened by them. I start with a quick overview of the changing meaning of craft in a time of digital mediation, then move on to the aesthetics of remediation between analog and digital forms, and object animation and its effect on experiences of the material.
I constructed the main argument around the transition from industrial culture in which production is determined by the logic of the assembly line, to a post-industrial culture in which production is determined by the logic of mass customization. Arguably, the latter is characterized by rapid prototyping, experimentation, iterative error discovery, and modifications leading to unexpected outcomes. I illustrate this with a beautiful quote by David Pye, from his The Nature and Art of Workmanship, where he argues that while industrial manufacturing is characterized by the production of certainty, craftsmanship is always the production of risk because the quality of the result is an unknown during the process of making.
My favorite part of the lecture is where I managed to integrate into a single narrative phenomena such as glitch aesthetics and hyper kawaii, exemplified by Julie Watai and xMinks, with a cameo by Microsoft’s ill-fated Tay AI bot.
The image I used as canvas for the prezi is a remediation of the Amen Break 6-second loop into a 3-d printed sound wave, crafted by a student of mine last year.
Some time ago I was invited to give a lecture on mapping to a crowd of mostly first year digital media students working on locative media projects. Below are the prezi slides. Considering the audience, I made a light theory introduction focusing on the notions or representation and the factual, and then moved to discussing various examples of maps as interfaces to movement and agency. My talk was mostly a simplified version of my paper on mapping theory, with a focus on the dynamics of translation and transportation of immutable mobiles – a fundamental concept in actor network theory. In essence, the lecture is built around a dichotomy between two concepts of mapping: 1] mapping as a representation of a static frame of reference – an actual fact, and 2] mapping as a translation of and an interface to agency and movement – a factual act. The tension between actual facts and factual acts is a nerdy reference to Latour’s from matters of fact to matters of concern, and is intended to illustrate the affordances of digital media in opening and mapping black-boxed settings. Apparently, the lecture was a success, with the Sand Andreas Streaming Deer Cam being a crowd favorite.
This semester I’ve started uploading my lectures for DIGC202 Global Networks to YouTube, while abandoning the face-to-face lecture format in that subject. The obvious benefit of this shift is to allow students to engage with the lectures on their own terms – the lectures are broken into segments which can be accessed discretely or in a sequence, on any device, at any time. The legacy alternative would have been either attending a physical lecture or listening to the university-provided recording, which is an hour-long file hidden within the cavern of the university intranet, accessible only from a computer [must keep that knowledge away from prying eyes!], and, as a rule of thumb, of terrible quality. Anecdotal evidence from students already validates my decision to shift, as this gives them the ability to structure their learning activities in a format productive for them.
The meta-benefit is that the lectures – and therefore my labour – now exist within a generative value ecology on the open net, accessible to [gasp] people outside the university. On a more strategic level, I can now annotate the lectures as I go along, adding links to additional content which will only enrich the experience. In that sense the lectures stop being an end-product, an artefact of dead labour [dead as in dead-end], and become an open process.
The only downside I have had to deal with so far is that lecture preparation, delivery, and post-production takes me on average three times as long as the legacy model. I am still experimenting with the process and learning on the go – fail early, fail often.
I am uploading all lectures to a DIGC202 playlist, which can be accessed below:
I have been thinking a lot lately about the underlying dynamics of big data, and how most discussions around online privacy and surveillance are functions of absent or simplistic taxonomies for social data. This is a lecture I gave last week to a 100-level convergent media class, where I tried to synthesize these ideas in a more or less coherent package illustrating the dynamics. I start with a list of Pompeii graffiti, which look surprisingly similar to tweets, illustrating two features of social data: we generate a lot of it on the go, and it tends to outlast the context for which it was generated. I then move through artifacts such as Raytheon’s RIOT software, the numbers on big data and and the way they bring forward the notion of flow management, the FinFisher spy software, and the Camover anti-surveillance game. I end with Bruce Schneier’s proposal for a working social data taxonomy.
Here is a prezi from a lecture I gave at a postgraduate seminar on Actor Network Theory (ANT) and the Internet of Things (iot). The central concept of the talk was however the notion of the heteroclite and why ANT methodologies for world-encountering are useful when tangling with heteroclite objects. I use the heteroclite in the Baconian sense of a monstrous deviation, which by its very entry on stage creates collective entanglements demanding the mobilization of all sorts of dormant or obfuscated networks. For an example of a heteroclite currently being performed think of the Google car and how it deviates from the driver as an actor. I find the heteroclite a fascinating metaphor for dealing with hybrid objects.
This is a Prezi from a guest lecture on Disruptive Media I gave last week. The argument is organized around four concept provocations – artificial scarcity, big data, iFeudals, and hive-mind. Each provocation in turn is centered around a digital artifact, where my artifact zero is raw footage from the war in Syria, featuring a tank column dash-cam and a blurry recording from a rebel group attacking the same tank column. I then disassemble this artifact into the four conceptual threads structuring the provocations – the deluge of raw data, the absence/irrelevance of gatekeepers, the inability of content farms [legacy media] to deal with raw data, the power of the hivemind [reddit/4chan] to aggregate and process raw data. These being provocations I don’t provide any summary or an encapsulating framework; instead my coda is a quote from Gabe Newell that really resonated with me. It is from his keynote at the D.I.C.E. summit this year in which he charted a future for gaming built around open auction houses, free-to-play, and user generated content [watch it here], but it equally applies to the scenarios I describe: ‘We can’t compete with our own customers. Our customers have defeated us, not by a little, but by a lot [and that’s a good thing].’
My last lecture for the Global Networks subject. I am discussing the arrival of the internet of things, and use some examples of early internet of things implementations from the Toyota Friend, through the Android Open Accessory dev kit, to Tales of Things and Itizen. I then discuss what it means for our notions of identity, privacy, and sociality when objects become active interlocutors and content producers in online conversations.
Prezi from a lecture I gave on the social network revolutions in the #mena region, mainly concentrating on case studies of Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Yemen. I start by drawing a broad conceptual framework around the notions of nodes with power, participatory culture, and the empowerment of peripheries in the context of hierarchical systems of information control. There are many ways to approach the still unfolding events of the #arabspring, but I chose to focus on the way individuals acted as catalysts and leveraged social networks to achieve critical mass both on and offline. In that respect I tried to underscore – in disagreement with the arguments of Evgeny Morozov – that it is crucial not to underestimate the role of social media such as youtube, facebook and twitter in creating scale-free network effects for the protest movements. I also focus on the role of women – Asmaa Mahfouz and Tawakel Karman – in inspiring, organizing and leading the protests in Egypt and Yemen respectively.
Prezi from a lecture on hackers, hacktivism, wikileaks, and a couple of other things. I start with the Enigma cryptanalysis effort (how else?), talk a bit about Rejewski and Turing, and then move on to phone phreaking in the 60s, early hacking crews (LoD, 414s, MoD, cDc), hacker subculture [l33t sp34k], hacking in popular culture [nmap gets a mention], hacktivist case studies, and a bit on LulzSec and stuxnet.