An anonymous researcher (one person though they use “we” throughout their documentation) has released the results of an extraordinary study. By temporarily constructing a botnet on openly available devices around the world, they were able to map usage of the global internet over IPv4 at a scope and level of detail that has no rival outside of proprietary network operations databases.
I’ll be using Omeka to collect and organize the myriad cultural objects that are beginning to congeal around my research into the internet in West Africa. This platform also plays really well with academic organizational conventions and even with bibliographic management software, like Zotero, which I love. For now I’m using the hosted version, at lewislevenberg.omeka.net — more to come there soon.
The MacBride Commission’s 1980 report to UNESCO, which formulated the basis for the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO), and eventually for the WSIS, concentrated on global issues of media and communication. Among the many themes investigated in the report that resonate today, the role of international governance bodies for both fostering and regulating media and communications stands at the fore. In particular, a lingering dissonance between institutions’ stated purposes and their effective practices highlights the longest-standing struggles incumbent upon global IT governance.
The ethical position taken by academics and intellectuals with respect to the objects of their attention – research, theory, intervention – arises from a combination of environmental, institutional, and personal (i.e. political) commitments. When those commitments come into conflict, the ethical positions taken or implied by knowledge producers face the possibility of transformation. And, where globally interconnected lives at both macro- and micro-scopic levels are concerned, the conditions of possibility of change are omnipresent and intense. Arjun Appadurai (2000) summarizes the root of these conditions as a “growing disjuncture between the knowledge of globalization and the globalization of knowledge.”
A decade ago, we imagined development in the context of technology as a sprawling task, beset on all sides by uncertainty and ambiguity about the course of global information flows. As evinced by the United Nation’s annual report, policy and the economy together undergirded the activity of development, while a tangle of both instrumental and classical understandings of available data spanned our understanding of the data that impacted those twin pillars. Our ability to comprehend the status of efforts towards development in historical context – and the technological frameworks through which we formed and communicated that comprehension – put world-views at stake for both developers and those becoming-developed. Meanwhile, we left assumptions of the direction of developmental progress untroubled by ongoing global shifts in technological and cultural patterns. Continue reading
A decade ago, we imagined technology in the context of development as a duality: challenge and opportunity. The World Bank’s research and rhetoric laid bare the stakes of their development strategy, through which knowledge in its macro-level forms – instrumental and qualitative – could be either directed through technology, or allowed to continue to accrue as an asset for already-well-positioned groups. Their understanding of the relationship between power and governance played a crucial part of this strategy. However, as the implications for policy put forward by the report make clear, this epistemological schema does not inquire after the roots of globalization or the impacts of changing forms of sovereignty. Continue reading
Three writers who focus on the use and rhetoric of media, rather than on their inherent characteristics or their ethical valences, come together here. Wendy H. K. Chun demands that our attention to the social contexts of emergent technologies center on the political matters of force and sovereignty. Lisa Nakamura draws our attention to myriad, and structural, irruptions of old inequalities as manifested in ostensibly transcendent new media. And Lisa Gitelman pointedly reminds us, through a meticulous and engaging historiography, that what we call ‘new’ in media has older histories than we often care to admit, that all media were new once, and that any divergent practice or technology enters a complex set of other, perhaps related, media, in which nothing can be outgrown, only deprecated. Together, these thinkers provide good scholarship on which further research can be modelled, and provocative questions that demand further thought.
Whether one accepts straightforwardly deterministic speculation or not, whether one prefers to think the mind and the collective mind as functions of or factors in computing, we are bound by mediating forces. As the paragons of privileged speculation, Marshall McLuhan and Lev Manovich stand unchallenged as the sources for media and software theory in the United States. Their conceptual frameworks are most contentious when held against certain French thinkers’. McLuhan’s insight that all media contain as a message a prior medium finds a counterpoint in Regis deBray’s analysis of media as overlapping paradigms, rather than linear progressions. Manovich’s later contributions to software theory as a field in its own right takes as a direct target the archaeology of media as expounded by Michel Foucault, whose concentration on print and writing as valid archival data severely limits his historiographic impulses. But taking these two Anglo writers’ work on their own, we can unpack just where they stand, as well as their utility and inspiration for contemporary thought. Continue reading
At a relaxed dinner with a good friend recently, we discussed the difficulty of finding a job in Detroit over the last few years. We spoke about the population’s available, marketable skills, and compared the price of land/rent to the type of organizations with the capital to buy it up. Then, we touched on a curious potential outcome of the current grim circumstances. In ten or fifteen years, we posited, when the city has grown again and its workforce is active again, a primary economic driver could well be the Silicone titans. This unusual placement of internet-driven internet drivers would seem out of place in the Motor City, except for a few key factors. First, technology industries require massive investments of capital for infrastructure and of labor for support in addition to the engineers and designers who are their most visible participants. Second, the data in the United States flows through Detroit, necessitating more of those support staff as that stream grows. And finally, the low cost of land and utilities, and the propensity of large IT firms to model their operations on 19th and 20th century factories, means that the companies have incentive to move to such an area already. Some small moves in this direction could trigger large changes to the economic situation there. Continue reading