Posted on | February 21, 2015 | No Comments
…You don’t fire. You would only fire for cause like drugs or stealing. But what happens is he signed up for thirty hours a week and suddenly he’s only scheduled for four. So either he starts being more available or he quits… The only qualification to be able to do the job is to be able physically to do the job… And being there is the main part of being physically able to do the job… It takes a special kind of person to be able to move before he can think. We find people like that and use them till they quit.
Barbara Garson (1989) The Electronic Sweatshop: How computers are transforming the office of the future into the factory of the past, Penguin, New York, p. 33.
Posted on | February 20, 2015 | No Comments
My 4S abstract…
A century ago, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth’s time and motion studies created new standards for productivity by grouping together similar tasks in a streamlined workflow. Demonstration videos from the archives provide ‘before and after’ insight on the number of unnecessary motions removed from tasks as varied as bricklaying, card punching, pear washing, soap packing and labeling produce. These silent films are punctuated by a smiling Frank presiding over information slides with vital statistics that declare triumphant efficiency reforms.
The Gilbreths’ introduction of ‘motion’ to time-motion study in the workplace is significant on multiple levels. As a first principle of management theory, and the individualizing address it would only refine, producing a visual record of performance transforms the worker’s conception of his job away from the broader team or work gang towards a consideration of his own individual achievement. This makes work competitive, as individuals try to improve against their own prior records as much as those of their teammates. But just as important: the keeping of records, the performance of productivity for a witnessing eye, coincides with the first mainstream experiences of cinematic vision. Lillian Gilbreth’s The Psychology of Management (1914) makes links between the worker’s desire to have a performance recorded for history and the ambitions of actors hoping to have their artistic performances recorded for posterity on screen. Productivity’s standardizing gaze became a means to match and improve upon a previous version of oneself, and in turn, a way of being recognized. This paper explains how the Gilbreths turned work into a science, labor into information, and the worker into an individual, indeed, an athlete – whose ability to accomplish ever greater productivity becomes a victory to strive for and possess.
Posted on | January 28, 2015 | No Comments
Some people think love is the end of the road, and if you’re lucky enough to find it, you stay there. Other people say it just becomes a cliff you drive off, but most people who’ve been around awhile know it’s just a thing that changes day by day, and depending on how much you fight for it, you get it, or you hold on to it, or you lose it, but sometimes it’s never even there in the first place.
– Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin
Posted on | January 19, 2015 | No Comments
Jason Wilson and I published an article in The Atlantic this past week addressing the push for police body cameras.
As someone employed in the tech industry, I have been wondering how companies might take on a more prominent role in this area, for example, by offering some much needed thought leadership on the appropriate use of technology for surveillance and citizens’ rights. As many colleagues have argued, technology innovation often takes place in a realm free of ethical constraint. We could have quite a significant conversation about the intersection between civil liberties and new technologies if hardware and software suppliers went about this innovation process differently.
At the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Intel showcased the new capabilities available using its RealSense depth perception cameras. The demo showed what this might mean for the blind – exciting enough to consider. Imagine what a smart wearable ensemble might offer policing in the future – specifically, in terms of improved officer and citizen safety, and better image/data capture for real world, on the beat threats (these cameras allow you to zoom in on different parts of an image after the fact). Clearly there are huge challenges before us in making these capacities culturally acceptable in their appropriate deployment. Still, I’m interested in how technology can contribute better practices of security, privacy, and safety at work, and additionally, how ethics/policy considerations might become a marketable feature of a product’s release.
Find the article here.
Posted on | December 15, 2014 | No Comments
I dreamed that a day would come when I would know in advance what I meant and would only have to say it. That was a reflection of old age. I imagined I had finally reached the age when one only has to reel out what’s in one’s head. It was both a form of presumption and an abandonment of restraint. Yet to work is to undertake to think something other than what one has thought before.
– ‘The Concern for Truth’, p. 455
It’s very likely that the works I write don’t correspond exactly to the titles I’ve given them. It’s a clumsiness on my part, but when I choose a title I keep it. I write a book, I revise it, I discover new problematics, but the title remains. There is also another reason. In the books I write, I try to pinpoint a type of problem that hasn’t been discerned before. Consequently, and necessarily under these conditions, I must bring to light at the end of the work a certain type of problem that can’t be rewritten into the title. That’s why there is this sort of “play” between the title and the work. Clearly one ought either to tell me that these works don’t reflect their titles at all and that I really must change the titles, or that there’s a kind of gap that opens up between the title and the book’s content, and that this discrepancy is to be understood as the distance I have taken myself in writing the book.
– ‘Return of Morality’, p. 471
Posted on | December 7, 2014 | No Comments
Here’s the blurb for the talk I’m giving at UCLA on Wednesday. I haven’t been airing much of this work while it’s still in progress, other than the occasional photo from the archives, but it’s the material for my new book, Counterproductive.
This productive life
The rise of personal productivity apps is a symptom of the consumer-enterprise collision underway as work escapes the confines of place to be more flexible, pliant, and ambient. Just as the Quantified Self movement is revolutionizing health care, with tracking devices and wearables monitoring activities that can be turned into actionable data sets, personal productivity apps and services capture a similar interest in quantifying and perfecting activity. These tools compensate for failures in the affective and material infrastructure of the contemporary workplace. They allow for the performance of composure in the face of ontological precarity and organizational inefficiency.
More than just a metric for efficiency, today productivity is a lifestyle practiced by elite, autonomous workers who manage themselves in transient, adhoc workplaces. Technology is the trusted and reliable companion across multiple domains, contexts and experiences. My account of the software market for personal productivity illustrates the qualities of a productive life. Drawing on the ideas of Peter Sloterdijk, I explain productivity as a form of secular athleticism, while also posing the question: are we prepared for a future in which we bring a virtual companion to work?
Posted on | November 23, 2014 | No Comments
We ran this as a series of position statements on key terms that interest us in the study of civic hacking. This is the result of ongoing research across a number of different sites that are discussed in detail in the session.
The words and speakers are as follows:
Hackers and/as entrepreneurs
Lilly Irani, Andrew Schrock
Andrew Schrock, Max Liboiron, Thomas Lodato
Thomas Lodato, Max Liboiron
Max Liboiron, Andrew Schrock
Thomas Lodato, Mel Gregg
The final part of the discussion, not part of this recording, was a brainstorm with the audience in which we attempted to move the conversation from terms to tactics. It also featured some ideas from my forthcoming paper, “Hack for Good: Speculative labor, app development and the burden of austerity.”
We will be using this material as the basis for further thinking, writing and events, so feedback is most welcome.
Posted on | October 13, 2014 | No Comments
Next month I’ll be at the Digital Labor: Sweatshops, Picket lines, and Barricades conference at The New School in New York. This is a description of the panel I’m organizing with Carl DiSalvo, continuing some of our previous thinking on civic hacking. Please join us if you are coming to the conference – and check out the work of our fellow panelists. Very inspiring!
If digital labor is often conceived within the framework of industry – occupying the shadows of financial compensation – this assumes that monetary reward is the necessary end point for all labor transactions. This panel argues that a key site for digital labor and its hopeful possibilities is the work of civic hacking. This is digital labor premised on the idea of public good and the necessary provision of shared infrastructure and services.
A growing number of research and activist projects pivot on design expertise, code literacy and data analytics to mobilize resources and improve the quality of life for citizens and consumers. These affective, ameliorative, and civic registers offer a necessary complement to dominant visions of digital labor, and a means of foregrounding other kinds of profits to be gained from donated work.
Our discussion explores new forms of political participation that are enabled by the digital in ways that are situated, tactical and contextually relevant. Through analysis of civic and issue-oriented hackathons, the subjective intensity of informal code work, and the logistical activism of developing grassroots infrastructure, we illustrate data collection as activism. This new horizon for social computing uses technology to advance collective action.
Civic hackers trade on the language of entrepreneurialism and voluntarism to exploit avenues and applications for data. Brokering partnerships between local government, non-profit, activist and scholarly communities, this work builds connections as much as tools in a speculative but no less meaningful enactment of localized belonging. Civic hacking is a characteristic experience of immaterial labor, at once imaginative, pragmatic and symbolic. As we will contest, it is a labor identity that has the potential to challenge the stranglehold of enterprise in defining the character and composition of labor, by rivaling previous visions of work and its rewards.
Format: We propose a panel / workshop hybrid — an appropriate form for the amalgam of labor and performance, debut and resistance that characterizes civic hacking. A short panel format will feature presentations on the empirical and theoretical conditions of civic hacking, drawing from the varied research practices of the panelists which span cultural studies, communication, sociology and design. These presentations will describe the common forms of civic hacking and express concerns with some of its key formats as a displacement of politics and work-based relations. Through this, the presentations set the groundwork for what a practice of civic hacking that embraces the political and labor might be — the articulation of concerns is refigured as a set of desires to achieve. From this point distinctions between panelists and audience will give way to a collective description of those desires and tactics to achieve them.
Carl DiSalvo is author of Adversarial Design (MIT, 2012) and Associate Professor in the Digital Media program in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His work draws together science and technology studies, humanities and design research to analyze the social and political qualities of design and prototype experimental systems and services.
Melissa Gregg is Principal Engineer in User Experience at Intel, where she investigate new forms of labor and enterprise beyond the organization. Her publications include Work’s Intimacy (Polity 2011), The Affect Theory Reader (Duke UP, 2010) and Cultural Studies’ Affective Voices (Palgrave 2006).
Lilly Irani (Chair & Discussant) is Assistant Professor in Communication, Science Studies at UC San Diego. Her work examines design practices in situ to understand their relationships with broader cultural, political, and social processes. She explores this through ethnographic fieldwork and activism in design workspaces and crowdsourcing platforms such as Amazon Mechanical Turk.
Max Liboiron is an Assistant Professor of sociology and technology at the Memorial University of Newfoundland and a co-founding member of the Superstorm Research Lab, a mutual aid research collective. Liboiron studies “techniques of definition,” the tools and practices used by scientists and activists to make emerging, contested, amorphous forms of harm and crisis legible enough for action.
Thomas James Lodato is a third-year PhD student at Georgia Institute of Technology in the Digital Media program. Interested in theories and methods of empathic design, Thomas often focuses on food and agricultural systems to ground his research. Currently Thomas is researching hackathons and their potential as forms of sociopolitical engagement through design and computing.
Andrew Schrock is a PhD candidate at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. His dissertation, chaired by François Bar, looks at how interactions on mobile social network platforms (MSNPs) enhance social capital. At USC, he is a member of the Innovation lab and Henry Jenkins’ Civic Paths.
Posted on | October 11, 2014 | No Comments
Some new publications I’ve been working on lately…
Inside the Data Spectacle, forthcoming in Television and New Media:
This paper focuses first on the scopophilic aspects of large scale data visualization – the fantasy of command and control through seeing (Halperin 2014) – and places these in relation to key sites and conventions inside the tech industry. Borrowing John Caldwell’s (2008) notion of “industrial reflexivity”, I explain the charismatic power and performative effects that attend representations of data as visual spectacle. Drawing on 12 months of personal experience working for a large technology company, and observations from a number of relevant showcases, conferences and events, I take a “production studies” approach (Mayer et al., 2010) to understand the forms of commonsense produced in industry settings. I then offer two examples of data work understood as a new kind of “below the line” labor.
The Effective Academic Executive, forthcoming in ‘What’s Become of Australian Cultural Studies?’ a special issue of Cultural Studies in honour of Graeme Turner:
This paper for a special issue of Cultural Studies focuses on Graeme Turner’s exemplary management style – his role as a mentor and a keen institutional operator. Turner’s brand of cultural studies is defined by its attention to the arts and politics of management alongside the customary business of doing research. It is cultural studies’ lack of engagement with management theory that has made this type of work difficult to appreciate. This paper acknowledges the significance of Turner’s management politics, its relevance to his broader intellectual project, and its importance for the field of Cultural Studies at a time of ‘adhoc professionalism’.
Hack for good: Speculative labor, app development and the burden of austerity, submitted to Fibreculture for a special issue coming out of last year’s Apps and Affect conference in London, Ontario:
This paper analyzes the rise of ‘hackathons’ – intensive code- and data-sharing events that bring participants together to accomplish specific challenges – to understand their role in the ecosystem for app development and the qualities of work they promote. It isolates the specific ideological work of the civic hackathon, which presents a new development in the history of sacrificial labor supplementing creative industries. Hackathons are a bridge between the ‘free labor’ foundational to the early internet and the practice of spec work in the field of design. When the hackathon is advertised as ‘civic’ voluntarism, the labor involved in design is doubly discounted.
Posted on | June 24, 2014 | No Comments
As part of the ISTC-Social All Hands celebrations in May, Ian Bogost was kind enough to put together a sample of the center’s work to feature in the Technology section of The Atlantic. The fab articles below are just a taste of some of the topics and perspectives coming out of our research on campus and at Intel Labs. Enjoy!
Shanzhai: China’s Collaborative Electronics Design Ecosystem by Silvia Lindtner, Anna Greenspan, and David Li.
In Shenzhen, there are hundreds of smart watches, not just design prototypes. Here’s why.
Come on Feel the Data (And Smell It) by Luke Stark.
Digital interaction will engage all of our senses simultaneously, including smell and taste, to help us feel the impact of information in our guts.
The Right Way to Make Cities Smart by Christopher Le Dantec.
Most data-driven “civic apps” report problems. What if they facilitated civic engagement instead?
QR Codes for the Dead by Tamara Kneese.
Graveyards are becoming smart spaces, but will today’s technology last for eternity?
The Future of Money-Like Things by Lana Swartz and Bill Maurer.
Look at the infrastructure that makes money move to understand the future of monetary forms like Bitcoin.
Server Farm to Table by Jonathan Lukens.
If we know where our fresh food comes from, will we believe that it’s really “fresh”?
Left to Our Own Devices by Margie Morris.
Creative, unforeseen adaptations of familiar technologies can help us make our relationships more meaningful.