Archive for the 'Academia' Category

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Conference: The Internet as Playground and Factory (Nov 12-14, 2009)

"Internet as Playground and Factory" conference (Nov 12th-14th 2009)

Media activist, educator and human-connector, Trebor Scholz, has opened registration for his present-future conference, The Internet as Playground and Factory.

If you haven’t guess it, this conference is based on the idea of digital networked labor as it questions whether we are being exploited through our everyday online activities. I often get asked how web services like Youtube and Facebook are “free for use”, so this conference is set to explore what we actually trade in return, be it our individual privacy or labor within privatized commons.

As seen from Trebor’s conference introduction:

[…] The revenues of today’s social aggregators are promising but their speculative value exceeds billions of dollars. Capital manages to expropriate value from the commons; labor goes beyond the factory, all of society is put to work. Every aspect of life drives the digital economy: sexual desire, boredom, friendship — and all becomes fodder for speculative profit. We are living in a total labor society and the way in which we are commoditized, racialized, and engendered is profoundly and disturbingly normalized. The complex and troubling set of circumstances we now confront includes the collapse of the conventional opposition between waged and unwaged labor, and is characterized by multiple “tradeoffs” and “social costs”—such as government and corporate surveillance. While individual instances are certainly exploitative in the most overt sense, the shift in the overall paradigm moves us beyond the explanatory power of the Marxian interpretation of exploitation (which is of limited use here). […]

This reminds me of what iconic Obama street artist Shepard Fairey once said in a CBS news feature: “It’s not appropriate for only advertisers to own the public graphic communication space”. Extending Fairey’s idea across all realms, we are living in an era where all public space is being commodified. Is the situation worse online?

Trebor’s been working on the digital labor idea since I was a student of his, and he’s gathered a formidable force of around 84 artists and academic thinkers (including esteemed friends Alex Halavais, Chris Barr and Stephanie Rothenberg) to discover how legitimately concerned about exploitation we as digital natives should be.

It’s FREE (monetarily at least) to participate, goes from Nov 12th to 14th, and will be held at The New School, Eugene Lang College in NYC (Google map). You’re invited to register and for your convenience, I’ve created an event for it so you can easily add it to your iCal and Google calendars.

Pending available accommodations, I am planning be there to help cover the event. If you’re thinking of going and would like a buddy to introduce you around, drop me a comment. BTW, I found the perfect t-shirt to wear for such an event.

“Congratulations Dr. Lim…”

Beautiful illustration by @jhsu reminding me that I’m now “Dr. Kevin Lim”

What seemed like an eternity ended up being nine years in the University at Buffalo, with last six years being in the doctoral program. These last few years felt the longest, with each passing day no different from the last…

Writing, eating, sleeping,
Alone, ashamed, angry.

While my mind saw an imperfect masterpiece, my heart sought to find the path to closure.

Refusing to stay any longer, I was granted the miracle of a defense. Beyond the powers of me, the pieces of the puzzle which should have been in disarray, fell magically into place in due time.

Paperwork, people, persistence.

With a last burst of fire, I delivered the presentation from which my future hinged upon. Questions were asked, after which I was told to step out for a while. A private deliberation later, the committee invited me back into the room. With hands outstretched, they each shook my hand, congratulating me as Dr. Lim.

Dr. Lim… the ring of which sounds too unfamiliar to me.

My friends seem happier for me than I have been for myself. Perhaps I’ve just been numbed by these years of waiting, wondering, withering. It will take time for me to be happy with myself. For now I jest.

Lunch with fellow Amazon Kindle users…

Over lunch at the UB Commons, Jim Milles, Kristina Lively, Joe Hsu and I chat about our Amazon Kindles.

We casually discuss our user experiences with each version of the Kindle, and make quick predictions on the future of books.

I couldn’t resist a family portrait of our entire line of Kindles…
Yay! The WHOLE Kindle Family

On Tiananmen’s 20th anniversary: How China is becoming a Giant Singapore

Tiananmen Square protests of 1989
The Tank Man: Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 – Jeff Widener (The Associated Press). Also see NY Times “Behind the Scenes: Tank Man of Tiananmen

You might be aware that I’ve been on a blog hiatus since I writing on my dissertation on Cyberactivism in China. With the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square this week, I’d like to brain dump what I’ve come across so far. Please let me know what you think.

When veteran filmmaker Antony Thomas went to China in search of “The Tank Man“, he showed this iconic picture to undergraduates at the Peking University. Back in 1989, this university served as the nerve center of the Tiananmen Square protests.

None of the students recognized the photograph.

Lacking any context, the four Chinese students mustered their best effort and proposed that it was some kind of military parade (watch 1 minute into video). Continue reading ‘On Tiananmen’s 20th anniversary: How China is becoming a Giant Singapore’

Watch Henry Jenkins discuss Transmedia Storytelling (video)

Henry Jenkins is the director, Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT. In this viral-info-snack he discusses the power of media in a 21 century trans-mediated world. A world where converging technologies and cultures give rise to a new media landscape.

Thanks to the ever wise Cross-Media Specialist @ChristyDena, I checked out Henry Jenkin’s short video on transmedia, which discusses the origin of media and how it’s transformed today. The video showcases much of the phenomena I’ve been illustrating in my recent presentations on the social web.

Starting with storytelling shared within tribes, it goes onto the modern day commercialization of media owned by a few powerful conglomerates, and finally today’s re-tribalized media which is reproduced and remixed by anyone handy with digital tools as well as participates in online social networks (e.g. Youtube, Facebook). Evidence of this remix culture can be seen in Youtube spoofs of major events such as the Gitmo torture and the Obama campaign.

More importantly, Jenkins discusses the emergence of transmedia, which is an affordance of such democratic media tools. In short, transmedia refers to the idea that a story can be told across various media. A popular example would be The Matrix, where the story is told across three movies, an animation series, a video game and so on. Extending further, we could also consider fan-made works as part of the transmedia experience, where we see variations (e.g. spoofs) produced and shared by fans all over the world.

In summary, today’s experiences are best served flowy. It’s not just about letting content be in the hands of fans, but enabling them to remix them in their own image. This participatory way of production isn’t simply fan-inclusive; it invites them to help us sustain our stories beyond our means.

UB tweetup #1: University at Buffalo folks on Twitter

UB Tweetup #1

With more of us from the University at Buffalo now on twitter, a UB tweetup was in order. Everyone met each other for the first time, and we exchanged ideas on how we used it for our various causes.

There are currently about 10 twitter accounts affiliated to the University at Buffalo. After our tweetup, these accounts were aggregated via CrowdStatus. This is the official list of UB faculty/staff on twitter, so feel free to follow them!

UB Tweetup #1UB Tweetup #1

Folks present at our first UB tweetup included:
@UBcfa – Joanne from UB Center for the Arts
@UBcommunity – Jessica from UB Community Relations
@UB_Alumni – Barbara & Gina from UB Alumni Relations
@UBLaw + @UBLawLib – Jim Milles & Kristina from UB Law Library
As well as Bridget (@bschu1022) from UB Libraries whose official twitter presence should be coming soon.

Those who couldn’t make it included:
@UB_SAS – UB Student advising services
@UBAcademies – Undergrad development beyond the university
@BuffaloBulls – our UB sports teams
@UBGreen – UB’s Green Initiative
@UBCitAlerts@jhsu‘s CIT computing network alerts

Watch our self-introduction video, as well as notes after the jump… Continue reading ‘UB tweetup #1: University at Buffalo folks on Twitter’

SOLsummit2009: Mindmelding with fellow edu-digeratis…

I’ll probably share the audio or video after I’ve actually presented this…

Thanks to Alexandra Pickett, Associate Director at SUNY Learning Network, I’ve been sponsored to speak at SLN SOLsummit 2009 held in Syracuse, NY (a good 2hr 21mins drive).

What’s SOLsummit about?
The SLN SOLSummit, sponsored by the SUNY Learning Network (SLN), is an annual SUNY-wide conference specifically for online instructional designers, directors of online learning, and those interested in online learning environment support, services, and best practices.

What will I be doing?
Besides listening to edu-digeratis including Alex Reid, Shannon Ritter, and George Siemens, I’ll be giving a visual journey through “Leveling Up Students with Blogs: Engineering Active Learning through Game Mechanics”, which I’ve previously only written about. Here’s my talk’s abstract:

Feb 26th, 2:30 – 3:30 SUNY Campus Showcase III:
Kevin Lim, Cyberculturalist, doctoral student in Communication at the University at Buffalo

Leveling Up Students With Blogs: Motivating Active Learning Through Game Mechanics
One challenge of using blogs as educational tools is encouraging students to engage in these public forms of active participation. For students to receive the full benefits of the class blogging experience, they must internalize the goal of intellectual interaction.

To encourage these social interactions, an innovative pedagogical approach in the form of Amy Jo Kim’s game mechanics (2006) can be applied as a viable framework to student blogging communities. This framework also allows educators to achieve both specific and emergent learning outcomes.

This presentation presents the authors’ implementation of gaming mechanics with blogging pedagogy, and will allow educators to observe how learning outcomes were met.

As both authors (Derek Lackaff and I) were each instructors of similar introductory Communication courses (COM125) held on different continents within the same semester, this experience provided for a unique opportunity to compare the adoption of blogs and game mechanics under different cultural contexts.

But wait, there’s something for you…
It’s obvious that not everyone who’s interested in online learning design can be here, so Alexandra has made it a point to be very visible with our pedagogical exchanges.

First, there’s the agenda online, then there’s the @SLNSOLsummit on twitter, photos on flickr tagged summit2009, and best of all… our presentations will all be shared online via this public SOLsummit2009 Slideshare group. Enjoy!

Update: Alexandra is also streaming live video from SOLsummit 2009 via Mogulus.

Despite the Internet, geography still rules…

Click image to enlarge

As seen in my Facebook social graph, my online relationships tend to be clustered more by geography than shared interests.

To clarify, these shared interests would include events or communities, since all of this can take place in either virtual (e.g. hobbyist forum) or physical (e.g. community center) locations.

In the 90s, Barry Wellman did a related study on one of the world’s first “always-on” Internet suburbs called “Netville“. During his early visit to UB, I recalled him relating an irony of how we communicate predominantly with our physical neighbors, despite us being afforded the ability to base our communication on mutual interests with anyone in the world.

I would surmise that physical proximity still has a higher significance on our communication due to the increased potential impact (threat) it could have on our well being (survival).

See if this is true for you. Try generating your own social graph, then label your clusters. The denser cluster should be ones that are geographically centered. If you can, upload your screenshot to Flickr, then tag it: facebookclusters

Okay so this might not be the most valid test, but it gets us thinking. Chris Lott pointed out how…

  1. The choice of Facebook for experiment skews the results, making them narrowly applicable to FB not one’s actual social network
  2. not to mention the obviousness of geographical proximity as a major force in friendships which reflect on SNs…

I would half-agree.
For the first point on the disassociation of online vs. real-life networks, I believe that given sufficient friend connections on Facebook, it would still serve as a decent sample/proxy of our real-life relationships. I did consider factors such as the digital divide, but with an increasingly broader demographic of Facebook participants, this might not impact the test as much as we might imagine. Having chatted/interviewed with a small number of new and senior Facebook users, most are amazed at how many of their friends are already there.

On the second point of obviousness of geography as cause for friendship, I relate back to the idea of the test: To see if the Internet truly encourages us to communicate (including relationship formation) on shared interests regardless of proximity. In essence, the online space would allow for geographic friendships to compete with shared interest friendships, yet geographic ones still appear as denser clusters.

A caveat for using Facebook to test how we center our communication online, would be that friending on social networking services are single-action triggers, and are unrepresentative of longer-term communication. For a more accurate test, I’d need to be able to measure who we tend to talk to (nodes), how often we do (frequency), and where that person resides (location).

I’m still trying to find a better way to conduct this Facebook test, so lets consider this a pilot. Now if we take that the average no. of Facebook friendships to be about 164, then a friendship corpus of about 200 or more should suffice for this test.

Do note that I find friendship counting irrelevant, because our current architecture of social networking services naturally grows our connections. That is, it’s easier to make connections, yet more work to break them. We’re never going to stop meeting new people throughout our lives. Interestingly, while I consider myself an active friender online (currently 620 FB friends) , my geocentric network clusters still hold true!

Here are submissions from my friends…

Joe Hsu / @jhsu / 491 Facebook friends

Denice Szafra / @denidzo / 123 Facebook friends

@denidzo said “yes, but while problematic, it does indicate that I don’t randomly friend people- that I mostly talk to people I already know.”

November Tan / @micamonkey / 836 Facebook friends / 4yrs of Facebook use

Among her thoughts, November said “I find it interesting that my family network runs in parallel clusters. One for each side of the family!”

Jeremy Foo / @echoz / 308 Facebook friends / 2yrs of Facebook use

Jeremy said “I would think that my clusters are based upon events in life rather than location. Its more often than not a classification system that is familiar to you.”

I did consider whether the classification of shared interest and location was arbitrary, since both could be mutually inclusive. An event would be an example of a situation where both coincide. However, since shared interest could exist in physical and virtual place, it’s still fair game.

As iffy as this sounds, I’ll need to compare more social graphs out there, so do contribute your annotated screenshots:
1. Generate your own social graph.
2. Label your clusters by shared interest and location.
3. Upload your screenshot to Flickr, then tag it: facebookclusters.
4. Include your friend count and how long you’ve been using Facebook.

Finally, let me know how you’d improve the test. Also let me know if you’ve found any network tool that lets me get at the data points I’ve mentioned. Thanks!

HyperConnected Beings // From Social Web to Networked Consciousness

Presentation Mindmap: Networked Consciousness
HyperConnected Beings (Slides)

As a guest lecturer at @panomatic‘s Designed Play visual studies class yesterday, I thought aloud of how we are increasingly inter-connected with one another. Although in varying degrees, there are some like me who are inclined to explore the extremities of self-awareness.

Perhaps not now, but little choice later…
Note that I take the perspective of being hyper-connected as a choice at this point, though I believe that it will be unavoidable in the near future. As my friend MrBig already noted, even when he tries to have online presence through pseudonymity, the dilemma comes where his friends connect back to him, verifying real-life information about himself (e.g. Facebook).

Since information shared online by others around and about you would likely be beyond your control, having some form of online presence that’s verifiable by people you know, would act as a findable official reference from which you can control. Even if you aren’t interested in promoting yourself online, having presence acts as a defense mechanism for your namesake / reputation.

To contrast the diversity modes of online presence, I talked about my personal experiences in attempting to share and store consciousness via two routes:

1. Taking the High Road – VIDEO
+ High Cognitive Bandwidth; hard to multi-task / browse
+ Visceral, im-mediate reality
+ Technological accessibility: smaller sensors, cheaper storage
+ Mobile live video streaming (e.g., Qik, etc)
+ Searchable video via thumbnails, keyframe tagging, face detection

2. Taking the Low Road – TEXT
+ Low Cognitive Bandwidth: easy to multi-task / browse
+ Imaginary, requires prior experience
+ Scalable Complexity: twitter (low) to blog posting (high)
+ Democratic participation: twitter, SMS/txting cellphones
+ Highly searchable; naturally mashable / remixable

Points discussed in class during presentation:

Finally, the means of communication often creates avenues for serendipitous encounters, which could explain why we are attracted to use social devices such as twitter.

ASIDE: I’m keeping track of related information at

UPDATE: I’ve share the presentation on

Louis Suarez-Potts: On Escaping the Orgy of Consumerism

Louis Suarez-Potts @ UB

Louis Suarez-Potts’s “The what, why and how (not to mention who) of Open Source — and why it is important” was held at UB North Campus, Clemens 120 on Jan 29th, 2pm. Here’s the event description:

The Digital Humanities Initiative at Buffalo is pleased to announce a lecture by Louis Suárez-Potts, who holds a PhD in English from Berkeley and who is now the community manager at Sun Microsystems for the open source project This promises to be a fascinating presentation from someone who understands both the scholarly concerns of humanists and the rapidly growing prominence of open source approaches to computing.

I got a chance to chat with Louis after the talk, where he stated how monetary-based transactions strips away the emotional aspect of innovation, as opposed to the “love thy neighbor” approach (aka gift economy) which thrives on sharing and transparency of ideas. He agreed with me that the communal innovation approach would be more sustainable on the long run since the user/producer (see Axel Brun’s Produser concept) community could (theoretically) directly address its own needs more effectively than a corporation would.

Louis noted that “[t]he issue is that if you pay somebody money, they do X for that money. If you inspire them to gain value that goes beyond the monetary value ascribed to X, they do that thing, X, plus all that goes beyond and that cannot be easily monetized; an economist would call it an intangible. […] What it comes down to: Open source works regardless of the motivator; and motivators beyond price work even in closed source environments. What counts, then, is engaging people so that the value of their actions and role goes beyond price.”

Now here’s the 40min pre-recorded live stream I shared for folks who couldn’t attend, including the backchannel chat log as well as my raw notes from louis’s talk…
Continue reading ‘Louis Suarez-Potts: On Escaping the Orgy of Consumerism’