Daily Archives: December 13, 2009

Week 12: Reflections, Refinements and Reality Checks

Throughout this course I have tried to get a sense of exactly what “Digital Cultures” might mean – the very slipperiness of the term indicates the currency and breadth of possibilities encompassed. Whilst it may refer to a notion such as “digitally mediated cultures and communities”, what is included in such groupings and how that mediation or social element occurs will be ever changing as long as there is a “digital” culture to describe. The texts we have encountered recently – on cyborgs, the uncanny, the future – all point to this fluidity of both term and practice.

When I found the changing nature of the topic challenging in terms of knowing how to collate my lifestream. Looking at the Wikipedia entry for “Commonplace Books” referred to in the course guide I particularly noted that “such books were essentially scrapbooks… Each commonplace book was unique to its creator’s particular interests.”

I therefore chose to focus on my own particular personal and professional experience of being part of various digital cultures and specifically cultures around social media spaces in which my job role, my personal interest, and this module converge. In part this was a pragmatic decision as I was already using many suggested lifestream tools but it was primarily because it is – as I found out during work on my digital ethnography – time consuming and difficult to authentically participate, understand or reflect upon an unfamiliar digital culture. I also saw the definition of the Commonplace Book as a sort of literary sketchbook and therefore felt this was as much about gathering together inspiring materials from everyday life as about seeking out much more specific material (e.g. the more sketchbook-like image collations for my visual artefact).

I could see that I had collected materials very personal to my interests in social media and academia although I was disappointed to see that I had not added as much metadata as I could have to all my postings. This was one of the disadvantages of assimilating the curation of my lifestream into all aspects of my online day in which many events go into forming ideas, thoughts and serendipitous links.

My weekly summaries were, throughout the module, rather long but in attempting to go back and edit these down I found it difficult to separate thoughts and ideas from references out to the lifestream as this is very much how I feel my weekly reflections aided my progression through the concepts encountered on the course. Reflecting on those feelings and thoughts also allowed new ideas to emerge and, though this meant longer postings, I think it was a representative way to share how encounters with even a few lifestream items was a catalyst for wider thinking about the implications of cybercultures, virtual communities and critical perspectives for my own work in higher education and for some pedagogical elements.

Having entered the course curious of what might be a “digital culture” I finish blogging here with a new found comfort with the idea that any understanding can only be based on experience and observations of an always shifting loose cultural and community space.

My Lifestream can be found here (it takes a little while to load): http://digitalculture-ed.net/nicolao/nicolas-lifestream/

The weekly summaries can be found here: http://digitalculture-ed.net/nicolao/weekly-summaries/

Please Note: This is my 500 Word submission for the Lifestream hand in. It has also been submitted via WebCT.

Week 11 – Lights down, Chest out, Jazz Hands!

This week I’ve been working on preparing my assignment but, by weird and slightly unfortunate coincidence, I’ve also had a series of presentations to give this week so I have been collating those as well. In fact I’ll start there.

Having shared some very vague ideas in last week’s tutorial I also spoke to Jen over Skype early this week to firm up my assignment topic so I wanted to talk a little about why the assignment idea I posted this week started to emerge for me.

Both in my role as Social Media Officer and my day to day life online I am becoming increasingly interested in how a website’s design contributes to behaviour. In particular social sites use clever prompts and automatic details to try and further gain personal details, new friends, and continued logins and participation in the site. Sometimes that’s appreciated, sometimes it makes people seriously angry. In the course of the last few months there have been stories of Facebook telling users to “reconnect” with their less active – and deceased – friends, leading to a new change in policy that allows profiles to be mothballed as “tribute pages” – taking your details in life and into death. On a less dark note friends of mine – a married couple – get weekly suggestions that that they should message/reconnect/poke/suggest friends for each other. It sounds silly but after amusing them they’ve started to find it mildly but genuinely disconcerting.

On Twitter the number of accounts that prove to be spam with pornographic profile images has increased massively lately but, more more peculiar, is the use of the Twitter API (Application Programming Interface) to create bizarre amalgamations of genuine posts into new Twitter accounts that follow others and post links to various sites (rarely are these spam or scam links). This is presumably a form of nefarious SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) but the disconcerting thing as a Twitter user is that it is very hard to tell the difference between these users and a genuine user. In some cases the mixture of posts gives it away easily but often it is a subtle judgement call that requires reading a page or two of Tweets and spotting some strange pattern of mentions of a site, or of inconsistent personal comments. This is not a new practice – it has been happening on popular blogging platforms for some time – but there is something about the availability of the API and the shortness of the posts that makes this far more uncanny than more obvious blogging efforts.

At the same time websites are adding social features, adding buttons to easily give permanent access to Facebook or Twitter from another site – and potentially automatically share all content – and generally encouraging users to casually change behaviours around a site and how enthusiastically they share content from that site. At the most basic level such mechanical interventions go back to automated emails, reminders and recommendations Richard has already commented that Amazon’s recommendation engine is a particularly lucrative intervention. Some may not like this part of the site but the more subtle (and slightly more recent) intervention that I suspect proves even more useful to Amazon is their related link – on most items pages – to deals featuring the current product plus one other item. Often savings here are under 5 pence difference from list prices but they are surprisingly engaging.

Automatic mechanical interventions are not restricted to commercial sites, prompts, alerts and automated interaction are a part of the MyEd site that I log into to access resources for this course. Alerts are what, in WebCT, keep many eLearning (and hybrid learners) informed about deadlines, events, changes to courses etc. And in online academic data services – which is what my workplace, EDINA, run – it is often a challenge to find the balance between helpful interventions that guide the user around a site and unhelpful interventions that may be invasive and/or might dissuade return/expert users.

This is why I felt this specific area of educational and social online services would be so fascinating to look at and why it fitted well with some of the notions in this class. Looking at digital utopias and dystopias we have considered the idealism that persist around online communities, I think mechanical interventions in these spaces can have a dystopian or uncanny feel. However when they works prompts from the machine can be enhancing, can replace low level thought and memory around mundane tasks (e.g. reminders on ediaries and calendars) and can contribute to a productive sense of post human interaction.


Related to this idea of the post human and connected body I thought this was a good time to talk about the talks I have been working on this week. The first (“Staying eLive”) was given to the University of Edinburgh’s LAMP (Library, Archive and Museum Professionals) Forum and was a modded and updated version of a talk I gave earlier this year (”eVentures of an eLife”) and was about the way that my life online – work, study and personal elements – all merge together, overlap, feed ideas that spread across all areas of my life and basically form a huge part of me. Eagle eyed blog watchers will not be surprised that this time around the role of online life had increased importance with this presentation coming so soon after me week of total disconnect from the online world.

One of the questions I was asked – alongside excellent questions about legal issues of cloud computing and the brilliantly easy to answer “do you ever get tired” (“yes!”) – was how I could manage the sheer volume of information I encounter on a daily/weekly basis. I shared some of my tips – bookmarking, contact databases and such – but actually looking across all the items I have been looking at this week I can see that even methodical ideas cannot come close to allowing me to either discover or recall all the possible sites, services and interesting blogs and spaces I would ideally be monitoring and working with. At the same time a couple I know are about to go to China to visit family members and their descriptions of what is/is not likely to be accessible on the internet there has been scarily enlightening. Both of these elements remind me of either some sagely advice or a big PR cock up – depending on which wording you go for:

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

- Socrates

YouTube Preview Image

As the amount of information increases exponentially and we lend our trust to the machine to manage this for us I wonder how we ever fully comprehend the scale or nature of what we do or do not know. This isn’t just about findable or banned sites but is also about language. How can I see all the web or social sites that are huge in another country, culture or language if I am only looking at the English speaking area of the web. It’s like knowing only a small area of a huge city. When the web was younger it was easier to end up baffled, confused, but in somewhere genuinely unfamiliar. I, like many others, rely on search engines, wise contacts (often on Twitter), friends, and advertising or journalism around some sites to find new spaces on the web but I wonder how one could ever keep up more directly. The scale is now itself post human and I think that idea of not knowing what you don’t know may have interesting long term political impact as those thinking they are looking at the world only see a small cross section. Most intriguing.

The other presentation I have been working on this week is a talk (Licence to Share) for the eScience All Hands Meeting 2009 on ShareGeo and Go-Geo!, two data services run by EDINA which are both concerned with making geospatial data sets more visible and more available for sharing and reuse. Both my talk and a lot of my work, searching, and bookmarking this week has been around how one deals with notions of trust at one step remove. If you share data through a repository or sharing service then you need to be assured that (a) your licensed content has been shared only with appropriate audiences and (b) it is going to be used responsibly and (c) there is some incentive for you to share your data. This is a really interesting area when more and more services become crowd sourced (with data, including personal data, a commodity of the social spaces) and as the academic community – and scholarly communication norms particularly in the sciences – moves towards the more transparent sharing of data.

I’m not sure I have solid conclusions here but I think incidents like the University of East Anglia Climate Change hacking help to raise concerns and suggest that an ongoing data destruction policy may be legally safer than long term storage of all data. This seems to somewhat go against the possibilities of Moore’s Law – which would suggest you could keep storing and processing data even as it grows exponentially – and the current notion of deposit libraries. Such possibilities begin to raise major questions about trust and liability of user generated content and the regulation of the web. Indeed the recent news coverage of Google’s search results for Michelle Obama suggest a demand for a regulated curated web rather than impartial third party methods to access what is already out there. This is quite a change in digital culture and I suspect it stems from the relatively recent and fairly sudden mainstreaming of broadband connectivity (particularly in the UK) and it’s driver in the idea that any school age child needs (highly regulated or monitored) access to the internet. I wonder if newer internet users have, yet, been properly characterised as a weakly linked digital culture or tribe. Most of what we have looked at this semester has been theoretical debate about the social and cultural possibilities of online spaces but many of these were written – or at least conceived – in a rather different set of spaces or era of usage of the internet. I think it would be really interesting to look at (and maybe include as readings next time around) some form of discourse from a much more average internet user position (though it is hard to know the best place to engage with new/inexperienced internet users around these issues).

Most of the non-positive voices we have heard here have been either strong negative or cynical about online communities, technological futures etc. I think that the more normative voice of the “average” internet user is something less passionate and more parochial. I think that there are core concepts around place, privacy, threat and – in light of the latest Google headlines (and indeed items like news coverage of suicides and social networking profiles) – expectations of curatorial roles of web and social sites and search engines that are under explored at present. I would love to see a comparative study of expectations of physical neighbourhoods and expectations of major trusted internet sites as I suspect that a socially responsible, broadly moral and vaguely conservative attitude towards what should or should not be visible would occur across expectations of both spaces. If correct this is in fairly radical contrast to the early days of the internet and utopian visions of what it can and should be for. But, if true, it would also represent a naive stance given the role of machines, spammers, scammers and genuine bugs and glitches in programming that would make for interesting links to challenges in the area of digital literacy.

OK, I think I have blogged too long already here. I just wanted to reflect on some sense of absence of non-passionate, but influential, opinions in the discussions around digital cultures and behaviours. Passivity can often be invisible particularly to those at the heart of a topic – for instance there are many elections where non-voters represent a bigger majority than any one political view or party – and engaging with those who do not offer up a voice directly can be tricky even if these people voice interesting and/or critical opinions in other spaces. Since we have talked of absence and presence in online spaces recently I thought it was worth talking about absence and presence in arguments and literature about absence from digital culture and digital vs. physical cultural clashes.

Week 10 – Back in the loop

This week I concentrated on the course readings in preparation for the tutorial on Skype on the Wednesday of the week. Interestingly there is no way to properly represent the Skype tutorial – which was really useful for talking through some of the post human, critical and uncanny views – in my lifestream so this is probably the one reference you’ll see to it in the form of an additional reading:

  • Shared New Mappings Hauntologies. — 11:00pm via Delicious

And three podcasts that I listened to again when reading about the idea of absence, presence and cyborgism as the podcasts relate to notions of consciousness and self-awareness, of the body as a type of mystical machine:

  • Shared WNYC - Radiolab: Who Am I? (February 04, 2005). — 2:50am via Delicious

  • Shared WNYC - Radiolab: Where Am I? (October 09, 2007). — 2:50am via Delicious

  • Shared WNYC - Radiolab: Memory and Forgetting (June 08, 2007). — 2:49am via Delicious

Also the much more visceral Tetsuo Man – human literally turning to machine – came to mind in this weeks preparation:

  • Shared YouTube – Tetsuo: The Iron Man trailer. — 2:46am via Delicious

But, in fact, many of my notes and collecting for this course are hard to represent here in true “commonplacing” style because, although I do most of my collecting online, I still take quite a lot of notes on paper, particularly on the readings (although you can just about see my camera cord as well!):


I also do some hybrid reading/activity marking up paper copies and notes whilst reading/watching or getting my computer to read me material I’m interested in. That mixture of tangible and virtual is often the easiest way to both take in information and (via a finite number of pieces of paper!) trigger myself to retrieve those thoughts later on. In fact I rarely do more than glance at hand written notes but the physical experience of writing them, where they are on the page, when I remember making them, etc. all enable me to recall information better than a screen that looks the same (or almost the same) each visit. There are digital annotation tools but you can’t embed weird environmental aspects – annotations at all angles, in many pen colours, marks from cups or food (gross but memorable aspects in any marked up page) – that aid memory. I find sound – whether screen-readings of text or unrelated audio also give me a sense of time and place to add to my memory of new information so that I can mentally retrieve ideas more easily and so that I can recall context and the original ideas and thoughts triggered, hence:

  • Drinking chai, getting my screen-reader to help me do readings for #ededc (dulcet robot tones push my reading speed way up!) & pondering bed [suchprettyeyes] — 12:04am via Twitter

This week I’ve also been up to some non-online stuff – wracking my mind for my preferred topic for the digital essay assignment – and then sharing thoughts as I go via Twitter:

  • Food for thought for tonights #ededc and the critical/posthuman view. The net rewires how we think… for the better: http://bit.ly/5uVmpU [suchprettyeyes] — 5:34pm via Twitter

  • @jar thanks ;) Will whip some ideas into better shape for then! :D [suchprettyeyes] — 2:35pm via Twitter

I also hoped to – but wasn’t able to in the end – view the virtual graduations of MSc in e-Learning colleagues via the Virtual University of Edinburgh.

  • Shared Graduates virtually guaranteed a day to remember | 4TM Services for Tourism.— 1:02am via Delicious

  • Delighted to see MSc in elearning virtual graduation getting pimped up on BBC: http://bit.ly/4mUBj8 #ededc #mscidel etc. [suchprettyeyes] — 11:27am via Twitter

Although it wasn’t quite as pioneering there was another interesting culture and technology story getting a lot of press coverage: Desert Island Discs – long running Radio 4 interview show with a twist – emerged as a podcast with Morissey the first guest to become downloadable as an MP3:

  • DID is now a podcast which is as exciting as Mr M’s app RT @media_guardian: Mellow Morissey picks Desert Island Discs http://bit.ly/7j0VTM [suchprettyeyes] — 5:38pm via Twitter

Podcasting certainly isn’t news but the novel aspect of Desert Island Disc being a podcast is that it is one of the most mainstream of Radio 4’s shows to get the treatment and hits some interesting legal boundaries: the show itself is a licensed format (“from an original idea by Roy Plomley”) which was only added to Listen Again this year after discussions with Plomley’s estate; and because the show uses music it also has to grapple with licensing costs/issues it has now been released with reduced music clips (under 30 seconds per clip) to bi-pass the potential legal problems and/or avoid the high music rights costs associated with the number of downloads a BBC podcast is likely to receive. Payment for content, and business models in general, are becoming increasingly important as most web services do not charge for content but few attract sufficient advertising to fully pay for costs. The most high profile commercial case lately has been the fight between Rupert Murdoch and Google over the indexing of original content in News International’s publications:

  • Shared Twitter chief to Murdoch: paying for internet content will not work | Technology | The Guardian.— 5:35pm via Delicious

  • Shared Bing Tries To Buy The News. — 12:59pm via Delicious

Although this case is about who makes money online from content there is also the issue of whether anyone is making any income/offsetting costs of original content. Indeed one of the recurring calls for donations on NPR shows revolves around publicising the costs associated with providing infrastructure for podcasts relying on a direct relationship with audiences. It’s a move that suggests – along with calls for user generated content, comment and participation – a shift towards more open and equal relationships between creator and audience:

  • Shared BBC News – Social media ‘could transform public services’.— 9:45pm via Delicious
    The NHS and other public services must re-organise themselves around the needs of users, say social media activists.

  • Shared Ask the former head of the WTO anything – Boing Boing. - 5:54pm via Delicious

  • Shared BBC NEWS | Scotland | Highlands and Islands | Gaelic TV channel being reviewed.— 4:26pm via Delicious

Although this week I was reminded of the insidious power of making the audience the star in this strange This American Life animation:

  • Shared “People act different behind cameras”: strangely disturbing cartoon – Ewan McIntosh | Digital Media & Education.— 5:42pm via Delicious
    Via Graham Linehans blog and Techcrunch is This American Life examining our attitudes to censorship, citizen journalism and how people change when they’re behind a camera.

And I may have been a rather gullible participant/audience member in taking part in what seems to be a study (with involvement from the University of Kent) – indeed a work of digital anthropology – but is very much presented on the Talk Talk website as a sort of advertorial “What Tribe are You” quiz. The downloadable report is a little better:

  • TalkTalk anthropology work on digital tribes (old news but new to me ;) . #ededc. http://bit.ly/3XOeqO [suchprettyeyes]— 3:35pm via Twitter

I found out that I was Digital Extrovert btw. Here’s how the study broke down the tribes:

Talk Talk Tribes

But it could all be one of the rash of somewhat dubious (social) science studies designed to market brands as legitimised by research :

  • Shared BBC NEWS | Programmes | More Or Less | Junk maths. — 4:36pm via Delicious

According to a piece I read in the Independent this week that 10+ hours of internet a day and endless over-sharing that makes me a Digital Extrovert may mean good things for my brain (in contrast to the press items about Susan Greenfield was making earlier this year):

  • Shared What the web is teaching our brains – Features, Health & Families – The Independent.— 5:35pm via Delicious

On a related note I was tweeted a video about groups, networks and both technology and in person teaching practice – it relates to the ideas of social networking and tools and ideas about pedagogies for classes and groups of students. It’s a mash up of comments on line and in person at the 2008 Connectivism and Connective Knowledge conference (CCK08):

YouTube Preview Image

This week I did also find a worrying piece, however, about how absorbing computer games can be – I found this fascinating and again it seemed to link back to the idea of being fleetingly absent and present in online and offline space (although here online is digital but not necessarily networked). The relationship between the virtual, the physical and the emotional seemed fascinating here:

  • Shared Advisor: My husband has a virtual girlfriend – Boing Boing. — 1:00am via Delicious

And there have been some interesting petitions emerging this week as those with a close emotional and personal investment in the web protest against proposed changes to cut down on illegal file sharing activities with a zero tolerance 3 Strikes And You’re Out policy that would see the internet being disconnected from offending households. In UK law there are special provisions to ensure that water, electricity and gas cannot be cut off from homes even when bills are unpaid to ensure the well-being of residents, it seems that we are increasingly in a world where the internet may be added to this list of vital utilities for participation in modern democracy which would certainly make the proposed rule changes look draconian and in the interests only of those perusing income from rights fees:

  • Shared Britain’s new Internet law — as bad as everyone’s been saying, and worse. Much, much worse. – Boing Boing. — 4:37pm via Delicious

  • Shared Pirate Party UK – Blog – Questions for Lord Mandelson. — 4:32pm via Delicious

As I am not only working on this module but also getting myself organised for the next module – which will be Digital Game Based Learning – by keeping an eye out for digital gaming/culture crossover articles:

  • Shared BBC NEWS | Business | Playfish hooked by EA for 170m. — 1:53pm via Delicious

  • Shared Learning Games. — 1:07pm via Delicious

  • Shared A farewell to SLEx – Eloise’s thoughts and fancies. — 1:04pm via Delicious

  • Shared OER in Games, Sims and Virtual Worlds Learning Games. — 1:03pm via Delicious

Work also regularly overlaps with my lifestream since everything I do is digital these days. Two links I thought were particularly interesting this week were a presentation on visualisation which I saw recently and has now been posted to the web:

  • Shared giCentre presentation at Edina, November 2009. — 6:13pm via Delicious

Here the visualisations are used in interactive and informational ways which highlight something surprisingly new to the web – the power of the visual. Although graphic design has been important on websites for years it is interesting to see graphic design mix with mash-ups and programming on data to build powerful infographics – a corner of design previously used almost exclusively in television news/production and textbooks but increasingly emerging as a useful and widely used method of discovering information. However there are good and bad infographics and well scaled interactive examples – as featured in the link above – give a great ideas of how visualisation can be used in more demanding educational or research contexts.

I am almost coming to a close here but I did want to flag up an interesting logo I spotted and followed links to this week:

  • Shared Green Certified Site | CO2Stats. — 12:06pm via Delicious

This is a site which will calculate the CO2 impact of a website automatically (it’s not exactly clear how) and allows you to display and offset this through regular payment of carbon offsetting fees. I flag this up mainly as so-called Green IT is becoming a key issue particularly for educational and public sector organisations. For now there is a persistent perception that the internet is clean and non polluting as, unlike technology such as the petrol engine of a car, the sense of pollution is far removed from the physical experience. Politically the issue of access to the internet seems to continue to be seen as a priority in improving educational achievement, and environmental issues are a clear priority (especially when events like the Copenhagen summit are destined to be such big news). I therefore wonder if raised awareness of the environmental impact of data centres, charging ubiquitous devices, etc. and the apparent emergent trend of those not using the internet (a major group within non-internet users in this years Oxford Internet Survey) will gel into a social and political movement. Digital exclusion offers some tricky challenges but as that becomes more and more about personal choice rather than cost and/or opportunity there will be more difficult social issues raised about what access does or does not mean for participation in democracy, culture, education etc.

Finally, I thought I’d finish this week on something much more frivolous though it also illustrates both some of the first films we saw in this module, some of the vibrant fan culture work I saw in my digital ethnography, and the versatility of Danish construction toys (which I’ve also recently been buying for young nephews and nieces):

  • Shared The Matrix in LEGO – Boing Boing. — 1:08am via Delicious

YouTube Preview Image