Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Scientifiction; Buffy meets Edward Cullen

Once upon a time i was worried about my daughters lack of familiarity with books, and then she introduced me to fanfiction and i realised she was writing as well as reading, it was just not reading and writing as i knew it.
Fanfiction appropriates characters from fiction and creates new stories and/or remixes the possibilities of old. In some ways its not new; not too different from writers who once they have a successful plot, repeat it with new characters, or where they rework the plots of classic works into new tales. What is new is the web 2.0 capacity for sharing such tales and comparing and contrasting what's made, the reach extends well beyond a few friends.Its a lot more visible, and there's talk of copyright infringement.
I am looking at Bruno Latour's use of the genre he names scientifiction, the genre he names in writing Aramis or the love of technology. In this he fuses science, sociology, fact and fiction. The fusing bypasses the tendency to put this and that together to suggest a whole. Instead this and that were never as separate as
Here is a youtube equivalent of fanfiction with a remix of Buffy, Edward Cullen and a little bit of Harry Potter The author, Jonathon McIntosh of rebelliouspixels.com, describes it as a profeminist visual critique of Edward’s character and generally creepy behavior. Seen through Buffy’s eyes some of the more patriarchal gender roles and sexist Hollywood tropes embedded in the Twilight saga are exposed in hilarious ways.

I like Aramis, but this is more palpably, visually, edgy.
I like Turkle's evocative objects, things we think with, and note that the medium creates a provocation that's got further reach than academic texts.

I'm hoping I can create an edgy thesis with a writing style combining, almost all, of the above ;)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Texting is not talking

Seems to be stating the literal truth in the headline, but I have to disagree with Sherry Turkle regarding other judgments reported in this editorial. They are not the findings of my doctoral studies into emergent technologies and texting in a youth counselling centre.

I respect Sherry Turkle, I enjoyed her writing in the Second self, Life on the screen, and two blogs were developed in response to readingEvocative objects; Things we think with. One of these regarding my own thinking and use of a mobile. She asks really important questions of how we relate with technologies and how these relate with us.
I agree with her statement in 'Who am we'
"Life on the screen tells how the computer profoundly shapes our ways of thinking and feeling, how ideas carried by technology are reshaped by people for their own purposes, how computers are not just changing our lives but ourselves." And would concur that texting also has an impact. But in this editorial that reports on texting, I think some further considerations are needed.

She is cited saying teenagers' texting habit is slowing their emotional growth.
And an example is provided:
"Years ago, if I saw a kid who talked to his mother 20 times a day, I would say he has an attachment problem," notes Turkle. "Now I interview hordes of college juniors and seniors who routinely text their moms while they're waiting at the bus."
The judgment made is that there is a lack of independence from parents meaning teens are not learning to make decisions on their own.

I think this is a bit harsh, there are many many other factors involved...teenagers seem to have developed a different means of relating; what we have are increased interactions between young people and responsible adults, mum, dad. Please note, such a relationship only works if both parties are involved. However, to have 20 sentences exchanged, really its nothing. Most of us can do that in 10 minutes of conversation. I'm hoping that Sherry Turkle is not implying that talking with a parent for 10 mins a day is either bad for young people or different to a past. The data reported would not support this, its not a longitudinal study. I'm yet to be convinced by the evidence provided that multiple interactions (20) with a parent can be construed as bad, what it is is visibly different.

The article then identifies that there is worse yet as there are opportunity costs: Time teens spend texting is time that they don't socialize face-to-face. With more frequent electronic communication, teens give up real intimacy for the illusion of companionship. "The pressures of communicating at that velocity mean certain things aren't said," notes Turkle. "They need to have other places to have these important conversations."

Again, some further detail would add to a more informed discussion. Here i have some contradictions with my own data. The mobile phone makes it more possible to meet up, not less. What they are not doing, that Dr Turkle's generation probably did, is waiting at home for the phone to ring, waiting for *him* to call, that truly was an isolating act, disempowering even.

The telephone counselling agency I am working with has multiple stories of how its 'easier' to text, but it's worth thinking about how some of the conversations would never of occurred otherwise. The medium provides a portal for what's 'too hard to hear', even by the 'speaker'.

In the types of messaging I have been analysing, such as 'cn i jus txt coz i don wanna b heard' there's a lot going on.
It may be literal, there is the vignette of a young person hiding under the house to avoid a beating...
But its also about acknowledging stuff that can be really difficult to ask for help on. Not everyone was born confidant and well adjusted, some of us spent years learning how to relate. For the counselling agency I work with, the step of texting progresses and there is evidence that it can precede calling or coming in. There is also evidence that a deep conversation can be sustained using a texting medium, that it can be the sole means for counselling a young person through a crisis.

In New Zealand, the Broadcasting Authority release research on the 6th May 2007 indicating 42% of children 6-13 years use a mobile phone. I suspect they also use landlines but thats not news worthy. The threats associated with use are often reported in ways suggesting or promoting moral panic. The concerns raised are the same ones talked of by Carolyn Marvin (1988), in her book titled "When old technologies were new: Thinking about electric communication in the late nineteenth century." The advent of the telephone (the landline) was going to ruin young womens' minds, they would spend so much time prattling nonsense or giggling inanely, it would lead to the death of the family unit. Nonetheless such technologies evolved with no great moral decline and now, we have more mobile phones than people in many OECD countries and far from being indicative of emotional detriment what is suggested are influences desirable to many of us. That we have approximately 50% saturation of phones to people worldwide suggests value. And mobile phones are so common as a means of communicating that they are now the third most likely item to be picked up before leaving the house third only to keys and a wallet.

Texting has become the preferred medium for young people, but reasons for this are worth exploring, especially if there is a supposition that things could or should be different.

For young people of limited financial means, texting on the mobile is often cheaper than talking. There's also the marketing messages that makes out you've got your best mate in your pocket (vodafone) or that it's the way of the future (telecom), anywhere, anytime. Such messages push the dream that we are always wanted and can always have those we want held close. In addition, my mobile isnt only a phone or a text capable message bearer, it also functions as a message pad, appointment diary, alarm clock, even a torch. For others I see that it also functions as gaming devices, music and entertainment systems, even gps roaming to see where the friends are to catch up. Seeing the apparent silent use at a bus stop etc does not equate with texting occurring though its very usefulness and portability does lead to it being used and to its being visibly used. Having something to do with your hands while sitting around in a public place trying to feel cool or inconspicuous may be reflected in apparent texting but alot more could be going on such as 'freeing up memory', updates on the prepay contract, filling in an online survey for credit, appointment checking, writing a book... yesteryear seemed smoking filled this need to do something while waiting. The opportunity cost with a cell phone seems a more positive option in contrast.

I do concur with Sherry Turkle on there being many things that can't be said in 160 characters or less, but no-one said the conversation ends on one utterance. Psychotherapy (Dr Turkle's prior training) also doesn't occur in a single sentence. No-one would expect it to. It's an oddity associated with the medium of text messaging that it tends to be judged on this inaccurate description of what is or isn't possible.

It is an error to judge texting as if it isolates people, it doesnt, there is clear evidence that it's connecting.
It is a further error to judge an utterance as if it were not part of a conversation.

I will go out on a limb here, and make my own judgment; its patronising to tell people who are clearly using a medium that is working for them, that its not.

To conclude, quoting the words of one of the young people who talked with me regarding his use of texting, 'it made it easier to say things'.
Being more able to converse, and more able to connect, are not signs of emotional detriment, quite the reverse.

Alchemy; from stone soup to making reality

A realistic promise, effective tools, and a bargain.
The minimum of ingredients for organizing without an organisation.
That's Clay Shirky's summation in Here comes ever-body.

Seth Godin extends on this in a blog about making things happen. In part this is a concern for the realistic promise; if you start with too much, all at once, you'll fail. He talks of lining up the dominoes.
...pick out tiny dominos ... And topple them. And they do it again. They do it so often they create noise, momentum and most important, a sense of inevitability. That's how you win.

Such writing is also congruent with what Bruno Latour and John Law write of regarding material semiotics and socio-technical assemblages.

What makes for durability is all in the network.
What makes for failure is also.

Paradoxically success cant occur without failure possibilities being built in.

I dont use the art supplies i got for christmas because i dont want to waste them, i need more freedom to move than one canvas affords me.

Shirky talks of making failure cheap if not free.
For change to be possibile, for creativity to occur, there needs to be a possibility for failure, it helps if the cost of failure is cheap, an advantage he identifies both in the development and use of social networking.

For a community organisation, the means of survival depend on the flexibility afforded by the costs of failure being (financially and time resource) cheap. The durability develops from the promise being feasible, doable with the tools at their disposal, and a bargain where the cost of effort appreciates.

Even where the assemblage or network required may seems precarious such as Youthline which is dependent on philanthropy, volunteerism and secondary to fickle ambient conditions from goodwill to sunshine, there is a durability inherent in being flexible.

Fits well with Beth Kanter's blog for supporting nonprofit organisations with social media. Here's a plug for a low cost, cheap to fail, promise of a better place; Help the world suck less :)

Monday, June 15, 2009

A paradox unfolds; privileging the nodes

Ulises Ali Mejias’s post on The Tyranny of Nodes

My thesis is that the network undermines productive forms of sociality by over-privileging the node. It might be difficult to see this because nodes are not anti-social (they thrive by forming links to other nodes), nor are they anti-local (they link to nodes in their immediate surrounding just as easily as they link to other nodes). But what I am trying to say is that to the extent that the network is composed of nodes and connections between nodes, it discriminates against the space between the nodes, it turns this space into a black box, a blind spot. In other words, networks promote nodocentrism. In this reconfiguration of distance, new 'nears' become available, but the 'far' becomes the space between nodes. To ignore this dark matter is to ignore the very stuff on which the network is suspended, much like the fish ignoring the water around it. The Tyranny of Nodes: Towards a critique of social network theories http://ideant.typepad.com/ideant/2006/10/the_tyranny_of_.html

This is similar to what Susan Leigh Star and Bowker also refer to with not being able to categorise definitively. A node or actor is also something else. Sometimes fractional. Part this and part that and maybe not as stable as presupposed.

For today, what this provokes, is that what we see is not all there is.
Clay Shirky talks of the birthday paradox to draw attention to the influence of scale; say you were in a class of 35people; how likely do you believe it to be that two people share the same birthday. What happens is we underestimate this hugely. We presume on the likliness of another sharing our birthday as opposed to any two people. We neglect the multiplicity involved....5 people have ten connection possibilities....15 persons have 105 and so on.
Nodal connections are not always recognized as occurring within a specific networked context.
Clay Shirky extends the issue of scale to consider the use of email, and more is different. I cannot do the same type of responding when the number of emails coming in rises from 35 a day to tenfold that. And I'm not alone; the time management solutions advising not opening them more than once or twice a day suggest there is a problem in abundance.

There's a level at which the network implodes, the nodes are still visible but the weight under which any one node is likely to fold may n ot be, until its too late. It gets made visible in its failure.

The network might still looks the same to an external viewer, the concrete presence of each node still evident, but a failed system,; the weight of connecting implodes what was.

Sometimes its called burnout such as when the human node can't maintain the connectivity required.

I'm looking at a network thats currently functioning, its enrolled actors, the nodes are in place, its growing and translating. Its beginning to enrol further actors to sustain its development, its now needing to invest in the resourcing required to sustain its functionality... but could it be in danger of outgrowing its supportive environment?
Like an s curve of ecosystem sustainability, when does it collapse having used up the available resources?
Is it sustainable or will it implode?

Telephone counselling reflects a one on one sender and recipient pattern; I talk and you listen, then you talk and I listen. There's turn taking and it all occurs in real time. The one on one real time nature of the medium doesn't allow for a backlog of sentences to respond to. Txting does.
When its 100 phone calls a day, spread between 10 centres, they just get answered in real time or not by maybe 10 counsellors spread over the country.
When its txt messages they bank up....more and more people within the organisation get involved in the responding. More centres get enrolled in the responding.
When its 400 texts a month it appears a promising medium, but one that needs more trained counsellors.
When its 400 a day there's a desperateness about training more counsellors so that the few currently txting are not overwhelmed.
What happens when its 4000 and maybe involve an excess of 100 people scattered through ten centres?
The challenge is in how to sustain a conversation thread and provide meaningful responses rather than be reactive to disparate sentences.

Shirky cites Merlin Mann regarding the foibles of email, and I think the similarities here carry a portend of doom;

Email is such a funny thing. People hand you these single little messages that are no heavier than a river pebble. But it doesn't take long until you have acquired a pile of pebbles that's taller than you and heavier than you could ever hope to move, even if you wanted to do it over a few dozen trips. But for the person who took the time to hand you their pebble, it seems outrageous that you can't handle that one tiny thing. "What pile? It's just a pebble!"

The ability to create conversational opportunity seemingly effortlessly seemingly creates its own capacity for failure as a means of conversing; it works up until the point that it cannot, that it becomes pointless.
A paradox unfolds.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Thinking above the din and between the nodes

“We approach our technologies through a battery of advertising and media narratives; it is hard to think above the din.” Turkle, Sherry. (Ed.). The inner history of devices. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008. p4

Todays clamor is about
the iPhone 3G S; The fastest, most powerful iPhone yet.
So i thought i"d just review the media hype on mobile phones, a quick and not very broad search through google looking at what comes up for news and mobile phones. here's what i got in ten minutes of searching.
Its not what i expected.
It should come with a health warning.
And what its not saying seems even more important.
If i was an alien from wherever wondering about such a device, I think I'd still be looking for the weapons of mass destruction...

Time magazine:
Press M for Murder: Cell Phones That Kill from Feb 2004
so far no phony phones are known to have surfaced in the US...but lets not stop this from making a headline.

ABC 20/20 (Dec, 2007)
Cell Phones Are Dangerous in Flight
Aviation safety database maintained by NASA shows a handful of incidents each year reported by pilots who suspected cell phones and other electronic devices had caused a problem during flight. Despite these reports, not a single air crash has been proven to be caused by the use of a cell phone onboard a plane

Yet in the same year...
Invention of the year (2007)
Primarliy because its (the iphone) ghost of things to come...

The Untold Story: How the iPhone Blew Up the Wireless Industry
The iphone upsets the balance of power.

And not only do they alter the businesses involved, they are also altering us, just not in ways we expect

BBC news (2004)
Radio waves from mobile phones do harm body cells and damage DNA

CBS June 2009
"cubital tunnel syndrome", the condition is said to affect those who hold their phones to their ears for long periods of time.

given the propensity with which such a device will propel you into your next one, this is sorted too :)

Wired August 2004
Cell phone users are finding God, the mobile phone is finding a niche as an instrument of spiritual enlightenment

Many thanks to arti for provoking this.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Digital traces and the lifespan of a txt message

txt messaging on a mobile phone has a minimum lifespan of 3 months where the message is held by vodafone (and presumably any other service provider such as telecom). This was the response reported in the NZ Herald yesterday to a woman asking for access to deleted txt messages she had received. However, beyond this date Police can be given access.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

changing the way we are

Time magazine twitters. I hope it has a look at google wave next.

There are some areas of similarity for the doctorate;
1. its not like anyone sat around saying hey I know the next thing that can revolutionise telephone counselling; lets create a conversation space where no one has any clues about you unless you share them. They wont know if your male, female, young old, u'll be invisible, inaudible, and restricted to 160 characters or about one sentence. You can do the emoticon thingy to say how your feeling in two pushes of your mobile phone, and it doesnt really matter if u've got the time right now coz the conversation can be synchronised or asynchronised. YL will be there for you.
2. people were skeptical.
3. and yet thousands discover it works for them.

How come, coz lets face it, on the surface it doesn't seem to have a lot going for it.
Well, as with twitter, there's an extremely important component going on here about ambience, about being present and heard and acknowledged. There's a sociability not to be trivialised, being connected positively matters. There's concrete attestation to having others available, interested, responsive and focused for you.

While we thought we had reshaped the service being provided, there's a strong suspicion we too are shaped. We feared becoming too shallow to make a difference, but the evidence is a difference is being made that remains profound, Being there for people as and when needed matters, help is as far away as your phone, and that can be as close as your pocket. Its not like it all has to happen in one sentence or less, conversations occur. And the conversations are held, they dont dissipate unless actively deleted. I can choose to keep a message on my phone acknowledging that I feel heard and understood and affirmed, or of suggestions to explore.

Skeptics still abound, there is resistance to the unknown, there is also a demonising of mobile phones as if the only relevant link to counselling was because of their use for text bullying. Little regard had been given to the positive applications made possible and there are as many if not more. Its connectivity thats as close as your pocket, actively chosen, wherever, whenever.

Its entirely possible it wont last. But the service provided is to the current generation of young people, and they are using it. The medium of choice for a generation. Seems its tied to identity of a generation and its shaping them as they live their emotional lives through one more means of connecting. Might be fickle, the costs currently make it a preferred option, its cheap when Vodafones text 2000 or Telecoms txt for $10.00 makes it seem unlimited. Young people are then shaping the service in saying 'i jus wanna txt, k?' And they (re)shape and (re)create a service demonstrating both resilience and flexibilty.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

are we there yet?

Ive been watching google wave and am considering what it is that makes me want to share this with others. Its not because i like the ideas this product serves (i do) but its also because i like my friends and think this can make a useful adjunct to how we meet up, when we cant.
Interesting description of the change process; they took a current practice, email, and considered if it were to be developed now with whats available so how might it have been developed differently. They track what was in terms of snail mail and contrast this with the multi avenues people utilise to make this and that happen concurrently more like conversations with multi participants and multi formats, text, mindmaps, pictures, editing simultaneous actvity. They developed some software allowing conversations online to be different, multidirectional, still chronologically tracked, but also able to be edited, added too and show up on multi formats from twitter to blogger.... Damn good job they seem to have done too.
I look forward to being able to have conversations that simulate life more closely :)

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The one sentence thesis

Getting the PhD thesis down to 160 characters or less :)

What is the relationship between how people think about change and what they do to enact it?

This question is explored with reference to changing health professional practices where interpersonal interactions are increasingly mediated through computer and communication technologies.

The context of this study involves a youth counselling centre integrating emergent forms of computer and communication technologies (CCT's).

The methodology involves uncovering workstories of change. This will involve an exploration of how people think about change, what are the hopes or fears when integrating new technologies into their practice, and, as much as we think we are the designers or directors of our own practices, in what ways might the integration of CCTs be shaping our practices and/or shaping us?

Actor-network theory (ANT) has been chosen as a methodology as it lends itself to describing new practices particularly where practices change quickly. The theory emphasizes relationships held, dissolving and evolving; between objects and between people. This material-semiotic focus allows for the influence of both human and non-human actors to be considered.

I feel pressure to be able to articulate this in one sentence, and by implication, I'm not clearly enough focused if i cant do this.
I judge myself harshly embarrassed that I need more sentences.
It's ironic that I want 6 sentences when what I am studying involves txt messaging :)
Yet I'm overwhelmed in data, its spilling on the floors of the study, smothers my pinboard, my desk, the laptop, my ipod.
How to compress this?
Surely Einstein didnt know E=MC squared before he did the data analysis.
Maybe the one sentence thing denies the iterative shape inherent.
Maybe retrospectively its easier to say I studied ...
"Make it simple but not simpler than it needs to be." Einstein's understanding is not that brevity is good for its own sake, but because it keeps it as simple as needed. I need to put this in its wider context. I need to talk of the important contextual specific determinants. I need more words and I want a longer attention span from those asking.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

pushing limits

Writing a PhD in the shape I see fit involves pushing some boundaries.
What I'm studying might be considered vague, it shifts shape, its change as it happens, anticipated and unexpected.
The specific change is about counselling, again a shape shifter, a contested subject area on both value and on content.
John Law writes of such things with eloquence, when things are messy, how does cleaning them up make them more accurately studied? The cleaning up may miss the point.
There is so much cleaning up that happens for the PhD.
There's the cleaning and neating and trimming of rough edges that goes into the ethics application. "How many people will be interviewed, for how long and where?" The reality is as many as it takes till Im saturated, for the length of time they will give me noting any signs of distractedness and repsecting personal freedom, and where? Wherever they will let me and negotiating this to suit mutual needs. I might interview these people if they will talk to me, and I'll interview these artefacts but since the method is probably outside of your understanding, I phrase this differently.
Then there's what I'm studying, counselling. What is it? It can be this or that depending on where one is up to in the relationship, and the issues involved. Sometimes its direct, sometimes its not. And this time its in a format that involves no talking no listening and the people arent in the same space/place. And its contained to 160 characters. Brings a new dimension to what it means to be there for someone. to show active listening or empathy. Brings a new understanding of what counselling might be. Whats studied is nebulous, it shape shifts, sometimes its fluid, sometimes it leaps intuitively and has a closer resemblence to fire.
Seems what I most want to look at is something that only exists because its invisible. Visible because of invisibility, voice because of silence. Presence because of absence. Demonstrable in passing because of digital traces.
Its existence is evident albeit invisible and inaudible, slippery, nebulous.
In the alchemy that changes the ephemeral to permanent, what harm might be done? That which is studied is reshaped, those that are studied are given form. Their presence wasnt anticipated. will i do no harm? There is a lot at stake, the service is needed, those who use it vulnerable, those who provide it are trialling what is needed in a practice that is unknown.
Its difficult to study what is nebulous without accidentally pushing it into a singular shape. Its difficult to represent the real when as soon as its given form it is altered. I ma reminded, the map is not the territory, but how then to represent it so it may still be understood? Here John Law suggests other ways of knowing. Allegory; the art of meaning something other.An art for crafting the indefinite. Maybe its in the art.