Archive for the 'Social' Category

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’

Japan’s cyber homeless living on the net

BBC’s Matt Frei visits a cyber cafe just outside Tokyo, where some homeless young people are choosing to live in the tiny cubicles. Some take-aways from this short, depressing BCC report:

  • 60 x “coffin-sized” cubicles for rent at around US$500/month in Tokyo
  • No windows to the outside world, except for computer
  • Cubicle residents mostly young, intelligent, retrenched
  • Cubicle neighbors rarely talk to one another, no friendships
  • Sense of sadness and lifelessness. Respectful = silent?

Reviewing similar cyber-drifter reports from other news agencies:

  • Cyber-homeless are nicknamed “freeters” – a compound of “free” and “Arbeiter” (German for “worker”)
  • “Freeters” are a by-product of the economic crisis that hit Japan and its lifelong employment guarantees in the 1990s
  • “Freeters” drift between odd jobs, earning around US$8/hour (1,000 yen)
  • A modest 30 square metre (320 square foot) flat in Tokyo easily cost US$1,250/month
  • Living in such Internet cafes costs $12-$20 a night. Residents get free soft drinks, TV, comics and Internet access. This prices even beat those of Japan’s famous “capsule hotels”, where guests sleep in plastic cells.
  • Living in cybercafes also grants an official registered address to many laid-off contract workers. Critical for job hunting.

I’ve seen similar partitioned cubicles in cybercafes in parts of China, though I must say that the ones in Japan seem to have the most privacy.

I’d appreciate any photos / videos you might have taken or found of cybercafes around the world. I’d like to compare social conditions.

Here are more reports about Japan’s cyber homeless…
Reuters: Japanese find sleep, shelter in cyber cafes (Text / May 7, 2007)
Roadjunky: The Cyber-Homeless of Japan (Video / Dec 22, 2008)
Reuters: Japan’s Internet address (Video / Dec 24, 2008)

Update: BoingBoing mentions the exploitation aspect. Cybercafe owner makes a tidy sum from their plight: 60 cubicles x $500 rent = $30,000. The polar ends of socio-economics, aka the poor get poorer, vice versa. The inescapable, perpetual dilemma.

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’

A little cameo in “Search Engine Society”

Search Engine Society (Dec 2008)

My ex-professor/mentor Alex Halavais recently published a book which looks at how search engines impact our everyday lives. I’ve yet to receive my copy from Amazon, but here’s why I am reminded how exciting this topic is.

Entitled “Search Engine Society” (Dec 2008), Alex takes a much needed exploration of the social and cultural effects search engines have within the larger context of politics, culture and economics. Those of us who have experienced life in the early Internet era, would understand how how information-sensing online went through an incredible yet rapid evolution. From web rings, to online directories (e.g. the original Yahoo!), to complex search engine algorithms, every step of the way shapes the way we perceive information, and thus the perception of our environment.

Presently, the use of search engines becomes so second-nature, we might have forgotten and consequently fail to imagine how else information could possibly be sorted and made findable. As such, the more time we spend using these search engines, the greater the search engine’s influence on how we perceive the nature of our world. The way hyperlinks on search engines are ranked or censored, gamed or misdirected, all affect how we relate concepts to one another.

In his book, Alex Halavais runs the gamut of identity and society as mediated by search engines:

  • How have search engines changed the way we organize our thoughts about the world, and how we work?
  • What are the ‘search engine wars’, what do they portend for the future of search, and who wins or loses?
  • To what extent does political control of search engines, or the political influence of search engines, affect how they are used, misused, and regulated?
  • Does the search engine help shape our identities and interactions with others, and what implications does this have for privacy?

Incidentally, I made a little cameo in Alex’s book…
For your perusal, I’ve been given permission to share an excerpt from Chapter 8 under “Future Finding” (Page 185 on Amazon Search Inside):

Memory prosthetics

In the film Strange Days (1995) people entertain themselves by reliving the recorded experiences of others. By attaching electrodes to their head, everything they see and feel is recorded for later playback. Even without the brain interface this would necessitate, we are moving closer to the point where all ofour experiences are recorded, accumulated as a personal history. Already, our personal histories, as recorded on our home computers, are searchable by Google, and can be made available to the global collection of data. Those collections are growing much richer, drawing on new ways of recording our lives, and organizing that complexity is staggeringly difficult (Gemmell, Bell, & Lueder 2006).

Kevin Lim is one of many who are gradually becoming cyborgs, recording large portions of their lives. He wears a camera most days, recording his interactions with friends and strangers, while a GPS device tracks his progress through the world. Another camera sits on his desk, sending a live feed to the internet and recording his life from another angle. In this, Mr. Lim is different only in degree from the millions of people who keep public diaries of their everyday lives, and post photos and videos of their experiences. Already, this content makes up a sizable part of the web, and as “life logs” and other technologies for recording our existence grow, the data representing our everyday lives will grow with it.

Those recordings recall the Borges story in which a king orders a map at 1:1 scale to cover his entire country. A recording of our life is of very little value if we can only play it back at its original speed. The idea of a perfect memory is probably more attractive than the reality might be. Russian psychologist Aleksandr Luria (2006) describes the life of a man cursed by a perfect memory, and its crippling effects. Without the ability to easily edit memories of his life experiences, he loses the ability to distinguish events and interact with the world. The solution requires that we capture the moments that we wish to remember, and delete those moments that are best forgotten without too much intervention on our part. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes us a while to know which are which. Search engine technology will be called upon to help us find valuable information in this large data stream, filtering out the normal experience of our lives to extract the most salient features.

It is hard to say whether we want to have a recording of the first glance at our future spouse, or the last conversation we have with a friend before her death. Some things may be best left to our own memories, or just beyond them. But if we are to record our lives, we will want to have search engines that manage our memories in the ways that we want, and share them only when we want them to. We are still far from having the majority of our lives recorded, but automatic metadata and analysis of video and audio recordings remain particularly important.

Some folks have written elaborate reviews for Search Engine Society: Joris van Hoboken who writes about search engines and digital civil rights, as well as Shirley Niemans of New Media and Digital Culture at Utrecht University.

If you’re interested, Amazon has the paperback for around US$16.15. And yes, your Amazon purchase grants me some change towards developing my social cyborg project.

theorycast 52 :: Real Space Electronic Art Show

What is real space electronic art?
Emerging media artist and associate professor Paul Vanouse explains that it is equivalent of “computing outside the box”, that is, interaction with information without the conventions of an everyday computer.

Organized at Soundlab by his students of the Real Space Electronic Art class, the show features intrepid electronic explorations by Heamchand Subryan and Chris Caporlingua (untitled typewriter), Rob Rzeznik and Eric Baker (untitled anger), and Fred Jones, Kyle Butler, and Scott Ries (untitled rocking chair), as well as two videos by Kyle and Scott.

BTW: Doesn’t Paul Vanouse remind you of Gaius Baltar of Battlestar Galactica?

“Anthropological Introduction to YouTube” by Dr. Michael Wesch

Youtube recently gave recognition to their amateur video celebrities with Youtube Live!, so it’s rather fitting that Howard Rheingold pointed out this mind-numbingly awesome anthropological introduction to Youtube.

Dr. Michael Wesch, who deservedly won the “U.S. Professor of the Year Award” for 2008, presented his fun investigation into the Youtube video phenomenon at the Library of Congress on June 23rd 2008.

The timeline for Michael’s hour long presentation is available after the jump…
Continue reading ‘“Anthropological Introduction to YouTube” by Dr. Michael Wesch’

The Faces of Social Television [backchannels]

faces of social television

The interactive aspect of television runs an entire continuum; from the instinctive changing of channels, to selecting movies on-demand (depending on cable provider), to the more esoteric real-time SMS voting, allowing viewers to affect the program being watched (e.g. American Idol).

Ironically, of all the interactive features a television could have, the conversational aspect of television viewing seems strangely absent. Unless you’re watching a televised event in the same physical commune as your family or friends, the traditional media experience still seems to be a depressingly solitude affair. Just think of the solo enjoyment of reading a book or listening to your iPod; the content genre is not immediately scaled with your like-minded peers.

This week’s U.S. Presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain could have well sparked off a revival of socially driven television. Especially useful for real-time socio-political events, having users share the televised experience through tele-conversation could help the viewer in sense-making new and emerging realities.

Continue reading ‘The Faces of Social Television [backchannels]’

theorycast.47 :: “Not My Problem” & other Singaporean citizen dilemmas

theorycast.47 :: "Not My Problem" & other Singaporean citizen dilemmas

Here are my thoughts on the government’s New Media engagement and the qualities of the disaffected Singaporean netizen.

This discussion refers to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s recent National Day Rally Speech, with particular emphasis on the newly formed “Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society” (AIMS) and their consultation paper on liberalizing Internet regulations in Singapore.

I focus solely on the e-engagement chapter of this paper, exploring how Singaporeans interact via the Internet, the inequalities that are inherent in most online communities, as well as measures that could be taken to encourage constructive societal discussion online. Continue reading ‘theorycast.47 :: “Not My Problem” & other Singaporean citizen dilemmas’

EduPunk: Do you fight for your right to ed-u-cate?

Comic: WTH is EduPunk?

Continue reading ‘EduPunk: Do you fight for your right to ed-u-cate?’

CIT 2008 // Day 3: Everything I needed to know I learn from the Simpsons

CIT2008 The Simpsons

Billie Bennett, Ph.D. and Steven Doellefeld, Ph.D. come from the Institute for Teaching, Learning and Academic Leadership at the University at Albany. and they presented on how educators could infuse pop culture into their classroom. Here are excerpts from this morning:

Intellectual Praise
Stephen Hawkings: What did he think of “The Simpsons” TV show, which has had Hawking as an animated guest star? “It’s the best thing on American TV.

Books based on the Simpsons
The Gosphel According to The Simpsons (2001)

Media Studies and The Simpsons
Janathan Gray’s Watching with the Simpsons: Television, Parody, and Intertextuality (2006)
Leaving Springfield: The Simpsons and the Possibility of Oppositional Culture (2003)

Billie and Steven explain that across 19 season’s worth of Simpsons episodes, there are tons of references usable for various academic disciplines.

Science and The Simpsons
Eat my lab coat by Michael Gross, The Guardian 30 Oct 2003

What’s science ever done for us?
Paul Halpern on Intellectualism

The Simpsons in the Classroom
Used to teach concepts in psychology, sociology, political science, economics, literature
Good catalyst for discussion

Shows examples of Simpsons clips useful in different disciplines
Very well researched (they watched 19 seasons over and over again!) presentation!
Last slide features a meta-argument on stealing animation, that throughout history, cartoons rip one another off!

Questions & Answers
Someone asks where can she could find relevant Simpsons clips for her class. Billie and Steven suggest starting with The Simpsons Archive and googling your discipline and the Simpsons, as others have already used them for pedagogy. Another participant recommends having students find relevant clips for class.

Someone who teaches astronomy notes that our generation watched The Simpsons, while students are watching Family Guy, which is more risque. Steven recommends finding and using other TV shows as well.

WHat copyright issues d you have to deal with? Steven says that it’s nefarious. Teachers are doing it in the classroom for educational use, so it should be fine if you don’t overdo it. Someone I can’t verify, possibly an IP law professor, notes that even such use is limited to two years of course use, after which you should purchase rights to it.