critically making the “internet of things”

I’m still inspired by the international conference we had last week at HUMlab: Critically making the internet of things. That’s why I’d like to share some of my personal highlights in this post.

First, and not surprisingly, it was exciting to see Bruce Sterling speak. He is a highly entertaining speaker and directed our attention to a number of cool projects, e.g. the “rev–> table” (by John Kestner’s company Supermechanical), “which rejects the modern model of hard goods consumption by empowering the owner to become the manufacturer” according to the website Cool Hunting, or Nelly Ben Hayoun’s “domestic volcano“.

© photo credit:

In the afternoon Molly Steenson talked about the fascinating history of pneumatic tubes, which physically transferred documents in the cities of the 1800s. Finn Arne Jørgensen made us aware of the increasing role tracking technologies play in hunting, or the “internet of dogs”. Nanna Gyldholm showed us wonderful pieces of architecture imagined & created by BIG, Copenhagen, Jennie Olofsson spoke about hacked road signs & zombie warnings, and Tim Hutchings ended day 1 with an interesting talk on the digital bible and bible apps (amazing what the internet has to offer to religious people!!!). After that Patrik Svensson showed us the new HUMlab X space on the Arts Campus and the upcoming floorscreen underneath the stuff you see in the pic below:

On day 2 I was particularly impressed by Johanna Drucker’s talk on augmented subjects, digital aesthetics and the role of the researcher as part of contemporary (digital) culture (and corporations as responding to desire and thus also being part of our culture).

Further, Chris Speed spoke about  his really cool project “tales of things“, which loads second-hand clothes and objects with stories from previous owners with the help of QR codes. Stephanie Hendrick shared her interesting research on “PostSecret Postcards“, an online art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on postcards that get published every sunday.

© photo credit:

Finally, Anne Galloway provided us with insights in her research on sheep farming, locative media, and the way technology, practices and culture are interwoven (she also showed beautiful images from New Zealand!).

After the conference, the legendary Glögg party took place at Patrik’s house, a fun way to end this wonderful and well-organized event (thanks to Emma Ewadotter!). We also had a tasty Julbord, the traditional Swedish Christmas buffet. All these activities felt like the first taste of farewell, which made me aware that I’ll be leaving Sweden and HUMlab soon.. (with mixed feelings!)


internet of things conference @ HUMlab

HUMlab will be hosting another exciting conference in December (8-9): “Critically Making the Internet of Things”. The speaker list is impressive: Johanna Drucker, Lisa Gitelman, Finn Arne Jørgensen, Martijn de Waal, Johanna Björklund, David Zahle, Mash, Haibo Li, Chris Speed, Bruce Sterling, Tim Hutchings, Anne Galloway, Molly Steenson, Matt Ratto, Christian Lindholm, Eric Carlsson (please find more information on the speakers on the conference website).

Besides talks there will be an art performance, workshops, and a visit to the new Umeå Arts campus (where the new HUMlab X will be located). These are issues to be addressed at the conference, according to the conf. website:

The conference will present world-class researchers, entrepreneurs, and artists for a critical and engaging exmination of ideas for a world where everything is assumed to be connected, where objects such as cars and roads communicate and where the digital has moved outside of the computer. A basic notion underpinning the conference is the transition from online computers to online things. Examples of relevant issues include; How do we build smart cities? What are the implications of the recording of our movements by GPS devices, sensors and security cameras? What do connected objects actually say to each other, and can we describe their media ecology? Can we better understand the dream of a connected world through media history? How do we design products, services and systems for such a world? What is urban computing? What is a sentient city? How is farming changed when cattle are equipped with RFID-tags and become subject to national supervision?

Upcoming travels and events

Tomorrow morning I’ll go to Oxford to participate in the OII conference “A Decade in Internet Time“. The line-up of speakers looks very promising and includes big names such as Manuel Castells, Ted Nelson, Danah Boyd, and others. I’m looking forward to present and discuss my paper “Algorithmic Ideology” in this great intellectual enviroment. That’s the abstract of my talk:

This article investigates how the “new spirit of capitalism” (Boltanski & Chiapello, 2007) gets inscribed in the fabric of search algorithms by way of social practices. Drawing on the tradition of the social construction of technology (SCOT) and 17 qualitative expert interviews I discuss how search engines and their “capital accumulation cycle” (Fuchs, forthcoming) are negotiated and stabilized in a network of actors and interests, website providers and users first and foremost. I further show how corporate search engines and their capitalist ideology are solidified in a socio-political context characterized by a techno-euphoric climate of innovation and a politics of privatization. This analysis provides a valuable contribution to contemporary search engine critique mainly focusing on search engines’ business models and societal implications. It shows that a shift of perspective is needed from impacts search engines have on society towards social practices and power relations involved in the construction of search engines to reconsider and renegotiate search engines and their algorithmic ideology in the future.

The full paper could be downloaded here. After the OII conference I’ll take part in the workshop Social Media Cultures, which will take place at HUMlab right after (26-28 September). It’s a joint workshop of researches from the Umeå University and the University of Wollongong/ Australia. Thanks to Jim Barrett for organizing this event!

On the 5th of October I’ll go back to Austria to join the symposium “Knowledge Machines between Freedom and Control” in Hainburg, which is organized by IMA, Institut for Media Archeology, in cooperation with Theo Röhle. It’s the final event of the exhibition “insight-Tower – A World Machine“, where you can “stick your head into the net” (concept: Seppo Gründler, Nicole Pruckermayr, Elisabeth Schimana, Martin Schitter):

© photo credit IMA

The symposium aims at initiating a discourse on search engines between researchers, technicians and artists and closes with a public event, which seems exciting to me! From Vienna I’ll  most probably go to the inauguration symposium of the new research institute “Internet and Society” in Berlin (25-28 October). Since the institute is financed by Google and renowed German Universities have started to collaborate with them I expect it to be a truly interesting conference/ workshop (some of the details are still fuzzy though).

Finally, in November, I’ve been invited to participate in the workshop “Studying digital cultures – tools and methods for Humanities scholars” in Lund; organized by Lund University’s Humanities Laboratory, the Humanities Experiment Group (HEX), and the Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences (24 November). I’m already looking forward to seeing Jutta Haider, Olof Sundin & Karolina Lindh again, who made my last stay in “the south of Sweden” incredibly enjoyable!! Finally, in December, there will be another HUMlab conference called “The Internet of Things”, more infos will follow!

In between all these exciting events I hope I’ll get some writing done, another grant proposal out, and to pursue my research project on the biofuel controversy in Swedish media and search engine results (together with Jenny Eklöf), a project I’m really looking forward to!! :) We’ll present our work at the beginning of November as part of the Umeå Studies in Science, Technology and Environment seminar series. Stay tuned!

goodtosee #5: video archive of HUMlab lectures/ digital humanities 2002-?

Yesterday I gave a talk in HUMlab: “Search technology in society. Constructing search engines, shaping knowledge”. I was excited to present and discuss my research in this vibrant space and get feed-back from the wonderful HUMlab crowd! I really enjoyed the discussions that even continued after the talk – thanks for that!

Since the lab is not only a physical space, but also a highly digital space or “media place” – as the director Patrik Svensson himself often calls it – the HUMlab seminars are also live streamed and archived. I highly recommend to check out this rich repertoire of HUMlab lectures that goes back to the year of 2002 (!). The seminars are primarily dealing with research/ theories of the digital humanities, but also new media studies, digital sociology and related fields. This video archive assembles exciting scholars such as Whitney Trettien, Alan Liu, Rita Raley – just to name a few of the most recent speakers – and covers a wide variety of issues such as reading and writing in the digital age, cyberarcheology, digital modernism, online art production, file sharing communities and many more as you will find out here.. I’m really happy to be now part of this truly great video archive :)

media places: from the gardens of versailles to spatial robots

The media places conference at the HUMlab has come to an end. It was a highly inspiring three-day gathering of international scholars in the broad field of digital humanities. Besides researchers from the humanities and the social sciences, software developers, architects, advertisers, musicians, and a bunch of people from the digital media and gaming industry have been part of the tight program. The juxtaposition of all these different types of actors and their perspectives on the mutual shaping of media, technology and place made this event mind-blowing indeed.

It enabled our minds to travel from the historic gardens of Versailles and smart homes from the 50s to future scenarios in architecture and spatial robots telling us when to water the plant. The opening talk of Chandra Mukerji reminded us of the fact that power and authority is not only exercised by social action, but also by materiality and architecture. Her detailed analysis of the gardens of Versailles and the beautiful fountains, statues and mazes provided a theoretical framework for the politics of place, which I found applicable to a lot of the talks that followed thereafter. Most impressively, probably, in Erica Robles‘ analysis of Californian Megachurches. The glassy facades and huge screens mediating the congregation to a global TV audience may be seen as a manifestation of authority (and capitalism).

While most of the talks, such as these two, might be neatly woven together, others pointed to contradictions and misunderstandings, most particularly between critical analysis and software developers. I found it most striking, for example, that Lynn Spigel‘s gender clichés embedded in historic advertisements of smart homes and TV may still be found in demonstration videos of the fascinating information systems and spatial robots Miles Kemp presented. Is the “future of the past”, as Lynn Spigel called it – the white nuclear family and the woman taking care of the kinds – still applying to the future of the present? Or is it rather time to create new societal visions along with new technological possibilities?

Photo credits: The Univesity of Chicago Press & Variate Labs

Since pretty much all the talks I’ve heard were highly inspiring I could go on forever here. To avoid that I would like to invite you to check out the program and speakers in detail on the conference website. There you can learn more about Molly Steenson‘s analysis of Cedric Price and his imaginations of information architecture, Zephyr Frank‘s network visualizations of the spread of diseases or the mobility of Rio de Janeiro’s slave population, Jesus de Francisco‘s advertising films and music videos from Motion Theory, Simon Lindgren‘s networks of file sharing and other social media communities, Jeffrey Sconce‘s reflections on schizophrenia and delusional media, Nicklas Nygren‘s fantastic video or rather “audio” games, Carter Emmart‘s simulations of the universe and much more. Not having been in an observatory for ages Carter Emmart’s tour from Mars to the Moon and back to the Earth was most impressive to me!! Thanks for that!

Last but not least I would like to refer to the talks of my HUMlab colleagues: Jim Barrett, Jenna Ng and Mats Deutschmann gave a wonderful presentation on second life as a media place for learning, symbolic representation and cinematic experience. Mike Frangos was talking about archiving and social media featuring Machfeld‘s M1+1 performances (I personally love to advertise ; ). And Lisa Swanstrom presented her really interesting book on new media places and environmental consciousness hinting at the blurring boundaries between nature and technology. Good luck with your book! We’ll miss you here Lisa!

Last last, but not least: I would like to thank Patrik Svensson and Emma Ewadotter and all the helping hands from the HUMlab crowd for the wonderful conference, and the Julbord and Glögg party, of course :) I would love to see more events mixing people with different backgrounds and creating a media place for fruitful thinking beyond disciplinary boundaries!!

Patrik’s reflections on the use of space during the conference and more interesting material on all that may also be found at the HUMlab blog.

SWAMP: studies of work atmosphere and mass production

SWAMP (studies of work atmosphere and mass production) is an art label that creates entertaining, yet critical art works, which I highly recommend to check out on their website! That is how they describe themselves:

SWAMP is the collaborative effort of artists Douglas Easterly and Matt Kenyon. Their work focuses on critical themes addressing the effects of global corporate operations, mass media and communication, military-industrial complexes, and general meditations on the liminal area between life and artificial life. SWAMP has been making work in this vein since 1999 using a wide range of media, including custom software, electronics, mechanical devices, and often times working with living organisms. Easterly is a Senior Lecturer and Programme Director of Digital Media Design at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. Kenyon is an Assistant Professor in the School of Visual Arts at Penn State University in the United States.

Amongst their wide range of works I particulaly like “coke is it”. This piece questions coke’s marketing strategies with the help of the roboter c3 that destructs itself by drinking coke. Enjoy!

Coke is it from matt kenyon on Vimeo.

Other brilliant works are the “tardigotchi” or the “improvised empathetic device”, which helps to raise awareness to the death and violence occuring in Iraq by creating direct physical pain from the reported events of killed American soldiers.

Thanks Lisa Swanstrom for having introduced me to this great art and for having organized a super interesting Skype interview with Matt Kenyon in the HUMlab!

“Media Places” conference at HUMlab

Preparations have already started for the upcoming conference “Media Places”, that will take place at the HUMlab, Umeå University/ Sweden, 9-11 December 2010. Within the broader context of what has been labeled the “Digital Humanities” this conferences aims to investigate the interplay between media, technology and location. “A basic premise is that the social, cultural and spatial are deeply embedded, and that space is constantly structured and produced by those of who occupy it”, as may be read on the conference website. To approach phenomena at the intersection of media, technology and place the conference brings together cultural historians, architects, screen researchers, art and creative directors from digital media production industry, visualization experts, design researchers, sociologists, gender researchers, and game industry representatives. This broad range of scholars with different backgrounds shows the interdisciplinary dimension of topics the growing field of Digital Humanities deals with.

Details on the program and international guests from top-class institutions in the field of Digital Humanities may be found here. I’m already looking forward to an exciting three-day conference in the far north of Sweden 😉

internet research 11.0 / AoIR Gothenburg/ #ir11

I just returned from Gothenburg, where I had a really good time at the AoIR conference (21-23 October). Although feeling a little exhausted, I still try to summarize some interesting ideas I took home from “the South”. This, of course, is not meant to be a full review of the conference, since 6 parallel sessions are hard to attend simultaneously (even to follow all of them on the twitter channel was overwhelming). Contrary, I just want to selectively discuss inspiring talks and thoughts, probably strongly biased by my interest in search engines and knowledge production, as well as my affiliation to HUMlab.

Day 1: In the first session I attended I found the talk by David Kurt Herold on “China’s internet users as the glue that keeps society working” most amazing. Davin Herold showed that Chinese use the web to help each other against crimes and abuse in cases where legal or social institutions failed. He discussed “human flesh search engines” indicating that users put information on criminals online and let others track down and punish these people with the help of the web (pretty frightening when thinking of the possibility that innocents may become victims of these “online punishment” strategies). During this excellent talk I realized that there is so much media coverage on China and Internet censorship, but little is known about the actual use of the web by its Chines users.

After that I attended a panel on the Internet of affect. The basic idea of this panel was to discuss emotions internet researchers have when investigating and using the web. Surprisingly emotions such as fear and anger were high on the agenda. Sally Wyatt, however, suggested boredom and coined internet use as a form of “domestic labor” – most particularly in regard to online health information, which I find an interesting thought. After that a long discussion evolved around the “economy of attention”. In this context I asked myself whether the desire for attention is something inside of us, or whether it’s – at least partly – triggered by the technology providing a network of surveillance services when thinking of Google analytics, but also the like and comment functions on facebook & co.


Photo credit: Wrote; on ir11 Flickr stream

After lunch I most particularly appreciated Christian T. Callisen’s talk about the history of social networks. He discussed the “Republic of Letters”, a virtual community way before the Internet. In the 17th century intellectuals both from Europe and the US exchanged letters to transcend national boundaries and establish a metaphysical republic. I think this is a brilliant historical case study, that shows that we can learn a lot from history when trying to understand present-day virtual communities and social networks. In the evening of the first day we all went to the reception in the beautiful “Börsen” building, where I had a really interesting conversation about Google books and copyrights issues. After that we ended up in the pub “Bishops Arms”, which showed me that Bishops Arms in Umeå is by far not the only one in Sweden. Hm.

Day 2: The next morning I attended the session “Unlikely players and playing”, where my HUMlab colleagues Emma Ewadotter and Calle Engquvist were presenting their work on the power of gamers or the “artist as an activist”. They elaborated that users of the game “Planet Calypso” had a hard time to accept equipment for free, which Calle gave away as an art intervention. Particularly in respect to violent games such as “Left 4 Dead”, which was presented by Staffan Lennart Björk, I started wondering why users have a hard time to accept gifts, while they don’t seem to have problems with wildly shooting and kicking. – what a funny age we’re living in.

In the afternoon I enjoyed the panel “Google this. How knowledge and power work in a culture of search”. Ken Hillis, Michael Petit and Kylie Jarrett have put together a really interesting panel on the power of Google. Kylie Jarrett drew on Bourdieu to discuss the symbolic capital or “meta-capital” of Google, that allows it to define what can be used as capital in many arenas. Michael Petit discussed that McLuhan’s notion of “the medium is the message” may be seen as particularly applying to search technology, since users create their own results. In many cases search could no longer be seen as a means to an end, but has become an end in itself. Ken Hillis was finally talking about the metaphysical assumptions that underlie Google and search practices in a more general sense. He argues that Google has the influence to shape how people think in terms of making everything searchable, which well-corresponds to our need of efficiency and speed, I guess. He further showed the quite amusing website “The Church of Google” elaborating why Google may be considered as God.

Considering all these issues discussed in the panel I’m already looking forward to the book on “Google and the culture of search” Hillis and Petit are currently working on, stay tuned!

Day 3: I started with the panel on virtual worlds organized by my HUMlab colleagues Jim Barrett, Mats Deutschmann, Jenna Ng, and Stefan Gelfgren. Mats was talking about second life as a learning environment, that has the potential to break down hierarchies between teacher and student and trigger “communities of practice” instead. Jim was talking about aboriginal narratives and how second life could help to teach and learn Sami language, which has different terms for the same object depending on the position of the object in space (if I got it correctly). Stefen was finally talking about Christian churches in second life and that they trigger pretty traditional praying practices. “A lot of praying 2.0 going on in Second life”, as Stefan put it. Unfortunately I missed Jenna’s talk, sorry for that!

After that I attended a panel on “Knowledge sharing, collaboration and attribution”. In this session I was primarily interested in (the rise) and fall of “Google Lively” presented by Isto Huvila. He was discussing that a lot of users migrated to second life when Google shut down its own virtual world. After that I felt exhausted and skipped the last session.

Altogether I perceived the quality of most of the presentations as very high (some more theory here and there wouln’t have hurt, but it was fine). Further, the twitter stream was filled with messages at an amazing speed. After having actively contributed on the first day I became a lazy twitterer, just because I realized that I got completely distracted from the actual presentations. Maybe someone can explain to me how to multi-task all that? Anyway, it was fun to follow all these tweets and see which pieces of work drew the most attention. By the way, that makes me think of Nancy Baym’s keynote on Swedish pop culture and online participation discussing how the notions of fan and audience change in the age of the Internet. – Being a heavy twitterer herself, I guess she was the one actually drawing the most attention; rightly as she held a very entertaining talk!

Photo credit for the left one: Jeffrey Keefer; on ir11 Flickr stream

Next year’s AoIR conference is going to be held in Seattle, hope I can get funding to go there!

settling in Umeå/ at the HUMlab

Astrid Mager is rebooting her life: new office, new flat, new fb friends.. That’s my facebook status right now. And it feels like this indeed. Provided with a lot of useful things a postdoc fellow needs in northern Sweden..

..I took the flight to Umeå, the town I’ll be living for the next year. Settling in here is comparatively easy as my HUMlab colleagues and the other postdocs are really really helpful (see also Jenna’s wonderful blog “Surviving Your First Two Weeks As A HUMlab Postdoc”). The most important thing to get here is the person number. Without a person number you won’t get internet access at your apartment, a bank account and your salary consequently. So without a person number you’re quasi non-existent.. with a person number, however, you’re treated like a Swede, which sounds fine to me. Although I’m not capable of speaking any Swedish apart from hej, hejda and tack så mycket (hope I pronounced it right!). The second important thing to get here is a bike, which I luckily got today. Living in Ålidhem, like everyone else related to the University, it just takes me like 5 min. to get to my office. Not bad, ha?

Speaking of my office, the facilities are great! HUMlab appears to be a very high tech, digital place with huuge computer screens. Coming from the University of Vienna, the equipment is simply impressive. I’m not sure whether I’ve seen such a big touch screen ever in my life. Apart from looking good, however, there’s a reason for these big screens. Quite some people are interested in virtual worlds, second life and the like here. They don’t only explore and analyze these virtual spaces, but also design and program stuff, which i find pretty cool actually. For more infos got to the very informative and up-to-date HUMlab blog. They’ve also introduced a HUMlab artist-in-residency programme in second life.

I’ve to check that out – it’s time to get a second life log in after all. So the lab seems to be a good place to study new media, digital technologies and socio-cultural implications – but it has traditional roots as well 😉

Altogether the lab has a really good atmosphere and its scholars are a colourful combination of people working at the intersection of digital media, art, aesthetics and literature. Well, it’s part of the humanities faculty. Surprisingly there’s also some kind of Science and Technology Studies (STS) department here. This is really nice as HUMlab postdocs are supposed to have a second affiliation with a University department. They’re working on environmental and sustainability issues as it seems. I may take a controversy from this thematic field as a case study for my search engine research project. To see how an issue such as global warming is negotiated in search engine results, as compared to other web spheres such as link networks or the blog sphere. I think that may be a neat project to do.. especially in a place like Umeå, where the winter is supposed to be dark and cold 😉 Well, I’ll figure that out as soon as I’ve settled research-wise. For now it’s good to know that my work at the intersection of search engine research, information visualization and STS is fitting in. So, I’m sure I’ll have an exciting upcoming year and learn a lot. Apart from my search engine research I may well be able to tie in with some second life project here, together with Michael maybe.. let’s see.

So altogether I think I gonna like working at the HUMlab and living in Sweden :) Next time I’ll show you the wonderful surroundings of Umeå and maybe some pics of my flat.. as soon as I’ve settled properly. And then there’s of course more to say about my research, but one step at a time.. guess that’s the Swedish mentality, which I highly appreciate! stay tuned!