Category Archives: technology (society)

Disruptive Creativity: Applying David Gauntlett’s Making is Connecting to teaching

A long time ago I promised David Gauntlett that I would review his latest book, Making is Connecting. It is in many ways an excellent book, and one that I was very glad to read as it treats the question of creativity with the focus I think that it deserves.

Essentially, the book invites us to focus on making as opposed to consuming, and it links the expansion of interactive Web technologies to a reinvigoration of making culture.

I’ve had the book long enough that it’s wended its way into my thinking. So this review is going to talk about how I tried to use some of the ideas of the in a ‘critical making’ workshop I ran with the lovely Aleks Krotoski. We worked with students in my postgrad Digital Media Futures course to investigate making as a way of thinking. The goal: to “build Google” and distill a few weeks of heavy theoretical thinking on the role of technology, behavior, and expectations about social media.

Why Making? Craft history

David’s book starts by situating ‘making’ as part of the counterculture – pointing out how the arts and crafts movement in US in 1960s was connected with radical resistance against commercialization. Craft and handmade in general are connected to mindfulness and also to claiming power in “doing” and not just in consuming. This history connects with ideas about self-sufficiency and community living. My parents, for exampe, were enthusiastic home bakers, home renovators and gardeners – representing their generation’s interest in escaping mainstream consumption. But it’s important to note that this subcultural interest in ‘making’ positioned craft and homemade stuff in a very particular gender and class context. For a very long time, ‘making’ work was women’s work or working men’s work – and not something considered very valuable. This doesn’t come across in David’s book, which is a pity, because perceptions about making are still linked up with gender and class. When I work with electronics hackers, I meet mostly men, with lots of formal education. This is a different demographic and culture than the knitters whose online network at David describes.

Feminine vs Masculine making?

The book moves on from the culture of making to a discussion of the new opportunities for making provided by more inexpensive electronics and more interactive media, both in terms of sharing media and in terms of building online community: he is particularly taken by YouTube as an example of a platform for both creativity and engagement, inviting people “to add data as files, comments, tags and links between people” (p. 89). For my students, though, this kind of making was pretty alien. Among my class, very few people described themselves as makers – before writing on our class wiki, only a handful had ever posted online anything that they had made or created, with the exception of status updates (and sometimes Twitter messages). This is a somewhat sobering tempering of David’s optimism about digital creativity as a positive force for social change.

Is Creativity Enough?  Teaching “thinking differently”

One of the central pillars of David’s argument is that creativity is best defined as doing something that is novel in the world, and which produces joy in the do-er. The creation of this joy is part of what makes creativity – especially shared creativity, potentially transformative. David argues that by learning to create things with other people we can create a society in which we are better at sharing what we know, respecting what others know, and feeling that we can change things.

One of my initial criticisms of this position was that it seemed both too general and fuzzy (doing nice things makes the world a better place) and that it didn’t very clearly specify how the collective transformation of society could be linked to the expression of individual creativity. After all, Garnet Hertz’s work on DIY cultures has identified that a strong current of ‘hedonistic DIY’ in which people make things for fun and to scratch their own itches, not necessarily as forms of social intervention.

So when Aleks and I were coming up with our workshop activitiy project, we wanted to use a period of controlled (classroom-based) making as a form of practiced thinking, to see how students responded to the idea of making and sharing. This was especially important since students weren’t accustomed to making things themselves, or sharing them with others.

These are some of the photographs that Aleks took of the resulting “Googles”.


One thing I noticed about the process was that my students, who are highly driven sorts, spent a lot of time just playing around with the objects they used – folding paper, fiddling with PlayDoh, attaching elastic bands to things. While they did this they talked about what they were doing and, more loosely, about some of the ideas they had. One group accidentally spilled an entire container of glitter over their creation, and had to rush to create a rationale for its appearance in their ‘finished’ product – which I think is a great reflection of how the academic research process often works.

Another thing I noticed is that more than the other activities that I contrived to do in the course (seminar discussions, activities, report-backs) this activity let me hear more ideas from more people. I’ll certainly think about how to use making again as a way of engaging people who don’t always speak in public. This was a surprise to me and a good example of David’s argument that making things gives people a capacity to express their ideas and to feel that they are being heard.

The workshop, and the book, still leave me with some questions that are again mostly related to David’s eternal optimism. In the face of economic instability, environmental devastation (and the rest) is creativity enough? Or, put another way, what’s the link between collective and expressive creative endeavors and the other kinds of collective endeavors we now see as resisting neoliberalism? Obviously we are not going to knit our way out of a financial crisis.

Too Rosy For Creativity?

One drawback to the book was, I thought, that it might have come across as too positive and thus, superficial.  It’s an accessible book, but it still attempts to seriously engage with the history and future of ‘making’ culture. Its blindspots are, to a large extent, a result of the overwhelming optimism that David brings to this discussion.  He’s optimistic that making culture can bring people together, he’s optimistic that the technical capacity built by the Web can help to do this, and he even argues that the culture of making and connecting can challenge neoliberal market-based society by giving us other ways of relating to each other. From a teaching and learning perspective, it’s true that ‘making’ creates a different environment, where people talk and experiment and enjoy putting together pieces.  But one thing I noticed about our workshop was that the process of making was actually a very strong (and somewhat pessimistic) critique  of the digital environment. The “Googles” that the students built reflected their concerns about divides of access, knowledge of how to use new media, and passivity on the part of users of the services. So physical making was a good way of thinking about the constraints and complexities of digital making, which David also mentions in his book, in a chapter about how critical perspectives on the digital world are always caught between excessive optimism, and the fear of technological determinism.

One of my research and teaching goals is to understand how we can use critique to design a better set of futures. And while I may not be as optimistic as David about digital creativitity, I share his committment to a way of thinking, and connecting, through making.

#FAIL – investigating failure at the ISDT summer school

I’m here in lovely Porto, Portugal, as faculty at the annual Gary Chapman International School on Digital Transformation, run by the University of Texas at Austin. The week’s summer school discusses the relationships between media technologies and social transformation. For my contribution this morning, I decided to focus on the concept of failure in community technology projects. There is a summary here, or read on below.

Community tech projects are often set up as alternatives to the increasingly corporatized and enclosed internet, either as modes of providing alternative access to the internet in areas where it is not available, or as alternative intranets to connect communities to themselves. They have a variety of different expectations that can be attached to them, including expected augmentations of:

Citizen Engagement
Alternative Technology
Policy Challenge/New modes of Governance
Enterprise and business

But most of these projects fail. So what can we learn from this?

First, that many of our existing frameworks for failure are pretty boring. For the most part, innovation literature considers failure in terms of how useful it can be for progress. Either something fails, and we can dismiss it, or it provides some new idea that allows for future innovation. There are several frameworks for this, including the idea of ‘punctuated equilibrium’ where something new disrupts the status quo, or the idea of paradigm shift, where a failure in one system introduces a new mode of thinking.

But this linear idea about failure doesn’t do much. In reality, things aren’t so transparent. Some things fail in ways that actually have more impact than if they had succeeded.  Case in point: community wireless networks often started out hoping to bridge the digital divide. But many of them contributed more by reforming radio spectrum laws.

I decided to come up with a new taxonomy for these kinds of opaque, rather than transparent, failures. I thought that it should include not just the stated goals of projects, but the unstated goals as well. In addition – I thought about short term and long term outcomes, policy implications (intended or not), structures of participation (elite, grassroots, techie, scale), technological imperative, civic/community/noncommercial implications. I asked the ISDT group to brainstorm a variety of failures to think about how they fit into that taxonomy. Some of the projects cited (and debated) were: Haystack, One Laptop Per Child, Red Hat, Mozilla, and community projects ranging from community food banks to global mobilization movements.

Failure needs to be redefined.  It’s not always a total #FAIL. We can learn from failure. A project that has “failed” many can lead to new design methods. We need to learn from designers and think about how to iterate projects, but also how to consider the effective (and affective) use of technology – and who gains power from technology projects.



“It is a new story, there was never one quite like it before” Moments in Media History

This week, I have learned effective means of  encoding criticisms of repressive governments, as well as how to distribute these messages in a distributed, non-hierarchical way that avoids the original source being located.  I have also become enlightened about the potential of individual citizens to transform a new technology into an alternative channel of communication, in contravention of local laws.  Finally, I’ve been reminded of the gap between the visions of the high-tech industry produced during economic bubbles, and the realities that they present for consumers.

All in a week’s work for a scholar of contemporary social media?  No, this week I’m reading communications history, which is my favorite way to reflect on the significance of changes to mediations of society, past and present.  The first example above is useful for thinking about what’s new about WikiLeaks and participatory media:  as Robert Darnton describes, when the Parisians of the Ancien Regime were forbidden to publish newspapers or anything containing news of the king, they created novels and songs that buried the un-knowable knowledge in rhyme and anagrams.  Because the songs changed every time someone sang them, the police were never able to find the “original” songwriter.  Instead they found a web of relationships that they tracked through tiny scraps of paper. (Note to student readers – we’ll discuss this next week.  Hopefully no spoilers here)

And lest we become too excited about the “single person organizations” facilitated by participatory culture and open-source, Susan Douglas reminds us of the popular furore about the “radio boys” in the first decade of the 20th century, when young men (note, never women, and see some of Susan’s later work) built their own crystal radio sets and formed an international brotherhood that also helped them to gain jobs and legitimacy in the new industrial economy – but also resulted in them breaking, and then changing, wireless transmission laws.  She also describes how the radio industry itself was a product of boom and bust, much like the Wi-Fi networking boom of the early 2000s.  Throughout the history of radio in America is a familiar narrative about innovation, progress, and American values.  There’s also a strong sub-plot in which the same rugged individualist inventors seek monopoly control, and the people struggle for rights to the airwaves.

Now I’m not saying that there’s nothing new under the sun.  As I wrote last time, some of the key things that has changed since the Ancien Regime and even since America in the 1900s are the structures of power.  18th century Paris was slowly industrializing but still shaking off feudal relationships and the chains of absolute monarchy.  19th century America invented broadcasting – and with it, the “mass public” of undifferentiated consumers as well as the monopoly communications companies that served them, and made money from connecting content and carriage.

The point I’m trying to make here is that every story is simultaneously an old story and a new story.  We keep remaking the world. Industrial and post-industrial human societies have amazingly persistent narratives of technological progress as positive, and individual innovation as the motor of that progress.  But beyond, and under these narratives are our sometimes scurrilous means of making do, speaking truth to power, putting status in the system, whatever you like. These small actions make changes:  they become part of the bigger stories.  And in order to see them, we have to be able to see both forward, and back.

* the title quotation is from Harper’s Weekly, January 30, 1909, and quoted in the always-excellent Inventing American Broadcasting by Susan Douglas (1987, p. 200)

New Media Power, redux

So now that Anonymous, the hacker agglomerate that gathers on 4chan messageboards but that remains anonymous, online, and multiple has launched Operation Payback, and now that has gone down under a denial of service attack, now that the companies are losing money and business because individuals can’t access their websites, should we declare that new media power wins the day?

Or should we instead notice that new media power works the other way around as well:  the WikiLeaks group has been booted off Facebook, and the Visa situation was sparked by Ebay’s PayPal cutting WikiLeaks off.

David Weinberger argues we should be “standing with the net.” We should definitely be standing for freedom of expression.  What we need to understand is that the same thing that makes the internet a platform for freedom also makes it powerful in a way that we haven’t seen yet on a large scale.  Yes, we understand that state barriers are dissolving and individual networks are becoming ever more important.  But is this the first major case of new media power?

The Real Contribution of Sharing Culture

A historian from the future is perusing my library shelf.  She leafs through some books, scrolls through some PDFs.  Hm, she thinks “they were really obsessed with sharing.  Here’s a study of how sharing software code changed the software industry.  Here’s a book about how sharing wireless networks led to new ways of providing communications access.  And here’s a whole folder full of articles and books about the culture of the time, describing people sharing images, and ideas, more quickly and more easily than they could have before.  But I don’t understand – what was so important about that kind of sharing?  It’s fine to share media that are stored in a format that makes them instantly reproducible at extremely low cost, but how did this change their cuture?”

My imagined future historian is struggling with determining how the low-barrier to entry sharing that is so central to digital culture might have broader and more distributed cultural effects.  Sharing software code is easy: it can be duplicated perfectly and used over and over.  There’s a magic to this kind of sharing – everyone can use the information, without diminishing the original source.  But using this kind of sharing as a model for digital cultre is perhaps risky.  Sometimes there are physical barriers, as in the case of wireless – it’s easy to share connectivity, but it’s harder to do in a way that doesn’t diminish the amount of bandwidth.  Sharing culture (videos, images, ideas) has happened forever.  The difference now is that ideas in the form of data are much more easily available, and easy to manipulate.

So far, our historian concludes that the success  sharing is intrinsically related to the properties of digital data; either its reproducability or the low barriers to participation that plentiful data provide.  But she observes something else – that we are fascinated by the culture of sharing even when it doesn’t have anything to do with these properties.  When the barriers are high, and the objects physical.  That explains this recent report by Latitude Research, which investigates whether sharing online makes people more likely to share offline.  They conclude that online sharing does inspire people to share offline – citing examples such as Freecycle, which I’ve used to give away various cumbersome household objects.  They also argue that people are willing to share “office space, travel accommodations, textbooks, kids clothes, parking spaces, garden plots, private planes, camera lenses, luxury handbags, boats, household items, and more“.  It’s not just stuff that we feel we want to share – it’s knowledge as well.  My research on community wireless revealed that wireless groups can be incubators for policy change and knowledge exchange, even when they don’t succeed at connecting their communities.

But, my historian asks, “what’s distinctive about this, now?  People have shared forever.  Digital culture does not inspire us to lend our neighbour a drill.”  She goes to the park, sits down and thinks about what happened in (our) time:  Global restructuring of capital kept people in work, made cities more cosmopolitan, and changed the likelihood of meeting one’s neighbours.  Formal education systems became more rigorous.  Major financial institutions failed.  Across all of this continued the practices that were first associated with digital media.  It almost began to seem as if digital media made sharing possible.

It hasn’t, of course.  An economy based on shared code has emerged because of the properties of code, the norms surrounding its production, and the cultural shift that our historian is investigating.  But one of the things that she’s observing is that these norms, and this culture, are powerful, and impacting a set of things from “open” movements to “open source hardware” to “coworking” and “hacklabs” that are not exactly new but which have a new cultural inflection.  In investigating the opportunities and limits of these norms and culture, she has more than enough to work on.  Doesn’t she?

Phone Book 2.0

(It’s the media’s silly season.  So instead of telling you about the Net Neutrality paper I’m working on, or wondering about what we can learn from failed community networks, here’s a story from my visit home to Saskatchewan)

My dad doesn’t have broadband.  Perhaps this is shocking given what I spend my time researching.  But he’s an old-fashioned sort who doesn’t like to change things too fast.  His household information nexus is the phone book, which is stuffed into a drawer  underneath the phone.  The phone book has always been in the same place, since this was where the phone was hanging on the wall when I was a kid, before the telephone company bought back all the rotary phones.

Inside the front cover of the phone book are pasted Post-Its with all the important long-distance numbers and addresses my dad might need, and local numbers that he doesn’t want to take the time to look up.  There are also slips of paper that provide extra context for particularly important pieces of information.  It’s best not to open the phone book the wrong way otherwise all that context could tumble out.

I thought maybe my dad’s phone book was a very specific information source, and that other people used the Internet as much as I did.  But I’d forgotten about the other context – specifically, the context of my home town.

The roof was leaking.  I offered to find a contractor.  Googling “roofing contractor” and the name of my hometown returned a set of listings sites scraped from . . . the online version of the phone book.  No recommendations, no location tags, just phone numbers and addresses in industrial sites out of town.

I went across town to see a friend for morning coffee.  I’d used Facebook to schedule lunch with another friend, leaving my dad’s number for her to leave a message.  When I called home, she’d organized to meet me a half hour earlier, and hadn’t left a number.  I hung up, disappointed to have missed her.  The friend whose kitchen I was standing in looked at me like I was crazy.  “Why don’t you just look her up in the book?”  She walked over and opened the cabinet underneath the phone, and took out the phone book.

My other friend was, of course, listed.  And yes, we managed to meet for lunch.

The moral of the story?  Our own assumptions about how and why other people use certain kinds of media and information tools can make us blind to what’s really going on.

And no social network update can replace a good lunch with friends.

Filter, Feed and Funnel: Social media participation

Nearly six weeks ago I promised to post these speaking notes from FutureEverything, and now that I’m at another conference doing another talk, I finally have.

None of these ideas are really new – what I wanted to do with this piece was think through some of the complexities of participation in what I call “the politics OF the network.”  It was a fun talk to give with a great audience, and here is, more or less, what I said:


This conference is about the future, and I think, in an unspoken way, about technology’s impact on the future. I want to shift our attention, for a few minutes, to the past. Don’t worry, I’ll get back to the present soon, and maybe even to the future. But I’m skeptical of presuming that the past has nothing to tell us, and that we should stride forward in the expectation of perpetual progress. There are many thing about our present social media landscape that are different than what we’ve experienced in the past. People get much more information much more easily, and this information is mediated in very different ways than it was in the past. They have faster access to other people as well. And an increasing number of people have access to technical tools that they can build and change in order to take advantage of these other factors (what social scientists call “affordances”). So as citizens, we in the privileged West are in a position to share information (which we do at an unprecedented rate) but also to collaborate to make change.

In any case, to start out I’m going to talk about our historical models for citizenship, and the media spaces that they are associated with. Then I’m going to talk about the media spaces of the present, and the way that filter, feed and funnel shape our opportunities for participation. I’ll talk about some of the problems of social media participation, and then suggest things we can think about – and DO – to use the opportunity that our networked communication provides.

Part 1: Our historical models for citizenship: Spaces and Media

It’s only been since the 19th century that westerners have had an understanding of people outside of the elite as citizens, who could discuss and debate opinions about how the world operates. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the concept of the “public sphere” which is the space of democratic discussions – deliberative democracy, if you will.

1. In the beginning, there was the cafe, and the newspaper. This was the Habermasian model for deliberative democracy. Guys get together and talk about the news of the day. Sometimes their voices amplified by the press, and then perhaps a response to the press from the elected representatives. The emergence of the press was huge! All of a sudden people were aware of the decisions elites were making, and able to read comments on them and discuss.

2. Then there was the street, and the zine, which are spaces and media more associated with Nancy Fraser’s view of the public sphere as also producing counterpublics. Obviously this conception of the “public sphere” was a very limited one: it didn’t include the resistance, all those counterpublics with different ideas. So there were other ways of occupying the street (public spaces) and alternative ways of producing media.

3. There are technological publics too, as Christopher Kelty (and others) describe. The development of free software licenses has meant that code can also act as a way of deliberating the issues of the day. GNU public license stipulated that the software could be freely copied, modified and distributed that every piece of software using the license had to also be subject to the license.

Part 2: Social media models for citizenship

Ok, so now we have a networked set of publics, supported by social media. The great thing about social media is that it’s a set of functions that can work in all kinds of different ways. It’s not the newspaper with the public opinion. It’s not the radical zine. It’s both, and it’s more. I’m going to talk about 3 things that social media does that are significant for participation, and some examples of how they contribute to citizenship

Filter – if we think about the movement from the cafe and the street to the network, what’s one of the most significant media transformations? Quite simply, the end of scarcity of information. Now we have the opposite problem of the early newspaper reporters. We have to make sense of this. That’s where the filter logic comes in. We choose what to attend to, determine what conversations to respond to. It’s no longer a mass media situation, instead its an algorithmically sorted feed of information that can also be used participatively.

Feed – remember the cafe? The feed (Twitter, Facebook) is the public sphere we choose, or, as Eli Pariser points out, is chosen for us based on algorithms that our participation determines. The level of deliberation on feeds and blogs rivals that of the public sphere, but it’s a public that’s chosen and refined

Funnel – This is where individual practices change the larger structures. The difference between previous public spheres and media was that the power coming from the top down was not met by the power of the resistance. Now we have the ability to amplify our views – although we’re not always perfectly in control of how they are amplified. Various projects like MySociety’s Fix my street aim to take advantage of this possibility for amplification.We also have opportunities to use the features of social media progressively to work together. What useful things could we do with the funnel? How about, monitoring air and water quality locally? Using motion sensors to map safe cycling routes from the perspectives of cyclists?

Part 3: Dark sides. The echo chamber

1. social media networks can be elitist publics

When we think about the publics that are made easier by social media, we have to keep in mind that filter, feed and funnel are ways of connecting data to participation. We also have to understand the complexities of the situation.  Young people are less likely to use Twitter than adults aged 25-40 (although teenage girls are an exception). They are also less likely to blog. This finding should remind us that participating in social media is not a unified experience. The relationships that committed Twitterers of a certain age construct (your author included) may be more representative of our age and demographic than indicative of social media itself.

In other words, a feed of people you’ve chosen is a public, and it can be full of exciting political discussion. But it might be just an elite a space as the cafe in the 19th century. Furthermore, Facebook feeds are full of people with whom you have reciprocity, while Twitter does not. At the moment we have a pretty narrow set of opportunities for engagement.

  1. Funnel processes means that we are generating data, and value for others.

The processes of participation offered by social media mean that we can amplify and aggregate our views and our data and provide them to those in power. They are powerful but the question is, who is in control? Centralized social networks like Facebook provide platforms for engagement, but their cost is that they collect an enormous amount of information.

Our relationships with social media infrastructures influence our participation in ways that aren’t easy to see. Filters are part of what makes the platforms and infrastructure opaque. We don’t see the algorithms that sort our relationships.

  1. We create relationships with infrastructures

One big difference between social media participation and participation in other types of politics ishow these applications are now becoming infrastructures for participation. To understand them, we need to know more about how they are built, how they work, and who controls them. Yes, we want to make things together, and we want to make relationships with people. It’s easier to do this using applications like Facebook Twitter, and YouTube. But this also means creating a relationship with the platform itself. The algorithms to which we’ve delegated the work of connecting and communicating also have agency. We don’t know much about them and their relationship to our participation is opaque. Sometimes, we get a small view into the algorithms of certain systems – but generally we have so little understanding of the ways that our participation is mediated through the experiences of filter, feed and funnel.

The question of social media use and agency is not just a question of knowing or being able to understand the design process. If different generations or social groups want to relate to each other in different ways, then there’s social interest in understanding how different infrastructures shape and are shaped by those relationships. But we are participating more – and this needs to be more progressive than simply turning icons green, or saving the Brazilian Galvao (see Ethan Zuckerman on this inside joke).

Part 4: So what do we do?


  1. build our own infrastructures. This is the most direct form of participation. There are lots of good examples of this, from community broadband infrastructures to local wireless networks like Ile Sans Fil in my hometown Montreal or the Friefunk network in Berlin. Hardware hacking and the developoment of open source hardware is also part of this participation. These are access networks but they are also participation networks – getting people together in real places to apply technology to a problem. And local infrastructures can turn around feed, filter and funnel. Local WiFi hotspots can provide information using the location as a filter, inviting engagement in local art or in local politics. But they are again limited by the insularity of their
  2. Open the code: local networks are made possible by both free software and by the network. Now there is recognition that centralized social networks are using funnel to generate too much value for too few people.  Crabgrass and possibly the Diaspora project (when it’s built) are platforms that use the beneficial affordances of social networks but are based on the principles of GNU Social, and on individual control of privacy.
  3. Figure out how feed, filter and funnel can work transformatively. It’s tempting to argue that “we” the technically-savvy should remake social media, but network effects mean that common platforms will be used by more people, so creating an alternative infrastructure may not be the most effective way of working for transformation. Participation means everyone – and the logic of social media makes it harder for everyone to be heard The challenge is to make things BESIDES the tools open – like organizations, innovation cycles, and structures of participation.

The Future of Community Wi-Fi – you’ll have to buy a coffee

Back in the day, we shared Wi-Fi.  We kept our connections open, and imagined that this would be a way to get to know our neighbours, or to build community.  So excited were we that Sociable Design created a “Wi-Fi Thank You.” to start making some of those connections between people connected in the ether. Cities and governments came up with ways of sharing Wi-Fi too:  it spawned a whole industry in the United States (and more than a few PhD theses).  We scholars came up with models to describe how this sharing could define Wi-Fi as a public good – as a communications infrastructure that didn’t have to be privately owned and that would benefit a broad range of citizens.

But it would appear that the days of sharing are numbered.  Ofcom’s “Online Infringement of
Copyright and the Digital Economy Act 2010” makes people who share Wi-Fi liable for any copyright infringement on their network, as PCPro reports today.  The Act states,

“We consider that a person or an undertaking receiving an internet access service for its own purposes is a subscriber, even if they also make access available to third parties.”

These rules make anyone who shares, liable for copyright infringment – potentially to the tune of £250,000.00.  Heavy legal provisions have already made community Wi-Fi projects dry up and disappear in France, and in Germany Wi-Fi must be locked by law.  So much for the internet as a public good!

So, what to do?  Well, Ofcom’s consultation is open until June 10, so you can submit a response . . .

Or, you could follow the letter of the law.  The proposed act states that if Wi-Fi is provided along with another good or service, the provider is considered to be an ISP – and the Act’s provisions don’t apply to ISPs with fewer than 400,000 customers.  That means hotel lobbies and coffee shops aren’t considered as individual subscribers – because there’s a financial transaction somewhere. By my reckoning, we don’t normally pay for public goods. But maybe the cup of coffee could be really, really cheap – so cheap, we’d still be sharing.

FabLabs and Graffiti Sunglasses – FutureEverything reflections

A few days after the end of FutureEverything, the fog is beginning to lift.  The conference and festival were a whirlwind of ideas and images.  I visited the Manchester FabLab, a space where physical prototyping tools are available for use by anyone who wants to build electronics, sew, fabricate 3D articles or etch large things with precision table saws.  It was an inspiring example of the new, more social contexts for DIY and making. Getting better access to tools in a social space is a way to gain technical skills, yes, but also another form of social organization and collaboration.

The winner of the festival prize, the EyeWriter also demonstrated the connection between social action and technology.  It’s open source software that can be connected to an inexpensive, sunglass-mounted eye tracker that reads eye movements and transforms them into line drawing images that can be painted on to the sides of buildings (or other large areas).  One possible use is as an assistive technology for disabled graffiti artists.  The number of disabled graffiti artists in the world may be rather small, but that’s hardly the point.  The big idea is that a simple, elegant piece of technology can give someone whose movements are restricted in space the ability to make very public interventions.  On Saturday, one of its inventors, Evan Roth, described the work of the Graffiti Research Labs as working in the overlap between free culture, open source, and art.  The group’s projects are all elegant and funny explorations of art and hacking.

My own talk, about social media publics and the affordances of Filter, Feed and Funnel, was likely a good deal less elegant.   My goal was to provide some handy concepts that might be fun or useful to people thinking and playing with media tools.  HighWired has live blogged it here, and eventually I will post my own notes – or even link to the video so you can see me wave my hands around in the air.

FutureEverything – Day 1

There’s so much going on at the FutureEverything conference that it’s difficult to sort through the experiences to find a highlight.  One that certainly stands out, from among the very reflective and critical conversations about technology, social change and open data, is the success of GloNet, a new platform for global participations in conferences.  I’m normally somewhat dismissive of “beaming in” participants, but GloNet has won me over.  It’s a multi-city network, connecting participants in Vancouver, Manchester, Sao Paulo, Instanbul and Sendai.  Most significantly, in each city workshop teams had been working with participants (and rallying audiences – early in the am in Vancouver) to respond to some shared questions about technology and the city.  The result was that the participants in other cities were not remote, but very present – and also connected by a networked living room that could front on the other locations.

Each city site was connected with a different organization: at W2 in Vancouver they asked questions about how technology and engagement works in different cities, and the

Tribes in cities are reinforced by our use of social media – working with the idea that this reduces the amount of serendipity in the city.  W2 in Vancouver explored how or whether social media would benefit the poorest in Vancouver.  When we talk about open data open standards open source we are talking about conversations that happen differently.  Were we before on a trajectory towards isolation, and has this trajectory been reversed?

Questions were also raised about the power dynamics of the ownership of social media platforms, and also about the presence or absence of serendipity within systems run on algorithms.

There was enthusiasm from Adam Greenfield about the possibility of autonomous creativity to solve the challenging problems, based on a technical infrastructure of open data and open culture.

Open data was a defining theme for the day.  Nigel Shadbolt described how open government data moved from idea to reality, and artists presented projects involving everything from maps of Oyster card transactions to data in the forms of games.  There is a sort of gleeful sense that more data will make the world a better place – I agree, although I think that the structures (the media, indeed) through which we encounter and make sense of these data are what really become important.