Wednesday, September 08, 2010

hopeful monsters

Technologies are not born ‘usable’ and ‘reliable’ regardless of their users. (Gherardhi,2010, opening lines)
I love this, I get positioned as a user, yet am feeling used.
But more seriously, when my daughter was born, i was a well adjusted being, and i had a very rude awakening that my parenting said babe didnt make said babe pleasant to be around. She certainly didnt enter the world reliable. makes me think i/we should always know better when it comes to other things we parent.

However as someone who works with technologies, I do find it refreshing and disarming to be reminded that new practices do not come into the world, born, usable and reliable.
They need to be made so, and I need to be made more able to interact with them in their infancy.
As written of by Latour in Aramis, adaptation required not only by Aramis but all those involved; adapt or die.

Gherardhi (2010) has been summarising some of the research on technologies coming into practice:
Such practices become such when use institutionalizes them as one ‘practice’ among others working practices (Suchman et al., 1999).
The concept of technology-in-practice (Orlikowski, 2000) reflects the way with which its users have learned the interaction between humans and non-humans.
And involves the ‘invisible work’ (Star & Strauss, 1999) required of users so that a technology can become ‘usable’ in a given context of use.

The myriad of factors required to nurture into being the new entity of practice involves a network, or as the parable says, it takes a village (an unusual one that lists the social and technical as parents of such protege)

My colleagues recently gave a presentation on the bruising that occurred/occurs with the 'beaming out of lectures across 4 sites via teleconferencing that does or doesnt hook up. It reminded me very much of this videoclip

Our conference calls arent quite so funny.

They talked of having their professional identities implicated in the errors. Identity over which they had little control. such identities are made they do not come ready made, and are not as intrinsic as might be presupposed.

In the intro by John law to A sociology of monsters: Essays on power, technology and domination he starts with a quote:

I said 'I think they might also be called "hopeful monsters".'
She said' What are hopeful monsters?'
I said 'They are things born perhaps slightly before their time; when it's not known if the environment is quite ready for them.' Nicolas Mosley, Hopeful Monsters, p.71

It has always stayed with me, the birth of a hopeful monster, a little bit like an idea before its time, born into a space that isn't prepared for it. How to nurture it through to survival?
Reminds me of the birth of a child and what i was told on the birth of mine, that it would be 100 days of crying. In the romanticism with which parenting is glossed I hadn't expected the tears to be my own.
What are the components that make spaces more and less nurturing?
Such questions are touched on in Latour and Sloterdijk's presentation at Harvard Architecture Faculty, and are the questtions of my thesis.
How might care be communicated when a youth telephone helpline is increasingly being mediated through sms text messaging. Will such text counselling survive, will the other actors?

Like Gherardhi, my intention is to direct attention to practice in which the new practices encounter and conflict with practices already established, and where new activities necessitate negotiations with established power relations.

Gherardi, S. (2010). Telemedicine: A practice-based approach to technology. Human Relations, 63(4), 501-524. doi:10.1177/0018726709339096
Latour, B. (1996). Aramis: Or the love of technology (C. Porter, Trans.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Latour, B., & Sloterdijk, P. (2009, 17 February). Networks and spheres: Two ways to reinterpret globalization Retrieved from
Law, J. (Ed.). (1991). A sociology of monsters: Essays on power, technology and domination. London, England: Routledge.

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