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2017, Dec 7 to 9: CONFERENCE: Digital Media and Borders
Digital Media & Borders: Infrastructures, Mobilities, and Practices across Asia and Beyond
Lingnan University, Hong Kong
LF = side note by Lai-Tze Fan
Sorry, I missed day one!
December 8: DAY 2
Ned Rossiter (University of Western Sydney)
- asking different sorts of questions around the political in media theory
- another way Rossiter is thinking through the political: Deleuze's diagrammatic reading of Foucault's concept of power
- makes him think of externality of force, ontological horizons, sites of conflict of the world/worlds/logistical worlds
- border struggles in an analysis of a cultural heritage map of Beijing
- in media theory: when comm goes awry (inoperability; inter-operability)
- comm force is imminent to the media situation
- involves movement across borders which enhances the chance of alien interpenetration
- this interpenetratin is understood as an instantiation of the political
- re: Paolo Vimo: "what is a non-sovereign public sphere?"
- Rossiter has been thinking about the notion of the public for a while; "who is the public?"
- difficulty of phenemenology: its primary/centrality of the human subject
Noise and Contingency versus Logistical Power
management discourse of logistics; appeal to capacity of control to deal with breakdown is one of the chief fantasies of logistics
- "contingency haunts logistical power"
- strategies of evasion and unsettlment: against logistical power
creation of "noise that is in short ingovernable"
- if noise is a constitutive, primary force within the world, we're assuming that within political theory, it somehow identifable
- the imminence of datafication shows that it's not identifiable; calculative force of making the world measurable
within infrastructural settings, what constitutes forms of cultural engagement?
to think the political within digital environments is certainly something we can do
ask whether our methods for executing this sort of thought; how to orient ourselves within these infrastructural settings?
can this be translated into a media theory?
Rossiter currently working on a piece that is currently just called "Copper"
- making him ask: can we begin with a particle and lift out an agency of that element and the way it traffics through the world
- what is the smallest unit we can take and build them up in layers (not stacks, maybe more like partialities)
- what's the process of giving discursive power to objects?
- OOO (object-oriented ontologly) is probably best example
- to say that objects are saying things and we're giving voice to them; what is that voice if it's not already determined properties of those things?
- from here is where he asks confrontation between thing, object, and apparatus--but maybe another kind of instantiation
difficulty of drawing the line between software and infrastructure
Brett Nielson (University of Western Sydney)
Greek ports; Chinese shipment: in this case, goods are entering a space in Greece without being subject to border control
Nielson describes Chinese-ification; Chinese labour regime in Europe
Chinese manufacturing style versus European precarity regime
in these spaces, there are different softwares at work
other ports in Europe have adopted certain software systems coming out of China to aid more shipment into their ports
Malaysia example: border between Singapore and Malaysia was easily crossed
mapped image of Malaysian data centres, which are intimately connected to the applification of people coming online
tour of one of these data centres made him ask: what are the relations between different work forces that are at different ends in a data centre
- what territories are made in these labour regimes, as shown in data centres?
- supply chain metaphor and concept dominates our understanding of international political economy and production
but this gives us a different diagram: challenges us to create new concepts around data, territory, capital, infrastructure
- thus their method: hiring service space
- for example: hiring 100 GB of space, throwing 200 GB of data at it, and seeing where the excess goes
- examining where the parameters lie
- LF: pretty sure they've called this "parametric politics" before
- thus their method: hiring service space
Q & A
Q: data as farmed, milled, and modelled; a different and material way of thinking of data that he hadn't thought about
- copper as being a kind of "poor materiality"
data as neither hardware or software but what the question asker is calling "harmware"
A: Rossiter: how copper finds its way through supply chains
- question of process, what kinds of poisons; is there a stamp on the copper element that ends up being the machines we use that allow us to trace back the origins?
- what are the elements that refuse to become data in the traceable sense, and what does this offer us in terms of other possibilities?
- Nielson: it's not copper that comes out of the ground; it has to be refined out of the stuff that comes from the earth
- it has to be given value
- high political stakes of labour relations
- LF: I agree ... the question of materiality is entirely political; and the push of critical infrastructures is precisely what makes power infrastructures visible
audience member: dirty theory, dirty materiality--unstructured data is part of dirty theory
LF: there's a lot of value in dirt ... I wrote about this re: Georges Bataille
Panel: Margins & Interstices
Markus Reisenleitner - "Surfing L.A.’s silicon beach: The infrastructures, mobilities and practices of Google & friends’ new locationality"
starts with image of a surfing robot
Apple Mavericks OS: deviates from "cat" theme to think about California's surfing locations
- romanticizing of surfing waves: film production of surfing movies and surfing culture--all thematized around "mavericks"
MR's focus: urban imaginaries of LA that takes its hue from these kinds of beaches
tech companies imagining themselves as potential sites for alternative lifestyles that challenge and disrupt mainstream
Jean Armour Polly discussion of "surfing the Internet": non-tech audience needs metaphors regarding taking "trips" and surfing, of course
- Polly chose the "surfer" metaphor to capture a sense of randomness, chaos, and even danger
surfing's polysemous meaning via imagination
LA's growth and affluence after WWII due to its locality as a hub of tech and engineering
pop culture's representation of scientists and engineers struggled with ties to politics and capital
- instead, framed them in Calfornia as geeky and loveable: nerds and hackers, ready for good-natured ridicule
- a specific kind of geeky aesthetic versus a "beach boys" aesthetic
countercultural group that balances their utmost power of surveillance and face recognition with their geeky looks, interest in video games
- LF: the exploitation of the cool: art is cool in tech, but tech can be controversial in art where people are asked to confirm whether they are artists or in the industry--the enemies!
"surfing" becomes a code word for a certain lifestyle: startup people as trendsetters for Silicon Beach
Reisenleitner connects startup culture along the beach with gentrification
beach imaginary is a fertile group for producing and mediating tech--but with colourblindness and sexism while continuing to define the chic associated with this area
Q: connection to colonial imaginary?
A: in terms of infrastructure, MR interested in space of the city
- gentrification through digital technologies; people who produce this choose these locations very carefully, and choices are influenced by imaginaries that are actually able to change the city
audience member note: Marina del Ray/Rey--the heart of the world's Internet infrastructure
Zhuoxiao Xie - "The making of consuming space: Digital infrastructure mentality and mobile communicative practices of Hong Kong Daigou practitioners"
group of practiationers called Daigou--"shopping on the behalf of ..."
collected data from March - December 2016 on parallel trading and online shopping
- but they also sell information
approaches this project through "mobile interface theory": info in media potentially facilitates multiple ways of production
practitioners interacting with the interface in real-time
- but the mobile interface is not culturally or politically shaped (or even determined)
RQ 1: how do practitioners produce knowledge about consuming space of HK in their mobile comm practices?
- second research question regards communicative practices that thus emerge in relation to the production of space
- examines public posts and conversations in WeChat about Daigup participants
for future research, is interested in exploring multiplicities of mobilities
Q. how do digital technologies afford their different kinds of mobilities?
LF: there's something really interesting happening here with regards to mobile media, surveillance, and the kind of technological politics at work in China
- people use WeChat in China because they can't use Whatsapp; there is an element of control over consumption as well as production, which seems in tension with a communist anti-capital stance
Shelley Tuazon Guyton - "Shifting, improvised and mobile infrastructures: Disaster communication in an urban coastal community of the Philippines"
how do Filipinos most vulnerable to typhoons access the disaster communication infrastructure?
Guyton performs an ethnography of infrastructure
- looks at storm monitoring and disaster communication practices--especially through TV, radio, and cell phones
authors Guyton draws upon: Brian Larkin, Susan Leigh Star, Rosalind Fredericks, and Madianou and Miller
lack of communication of storm surges, and the term "storm surge" was changed from "tidal wave," which would have meant something to them
Q: what makes people trust the information coming out of communication outlets? Does official news count or is there more of a preference for public feedback?
A: some people trust TV bc of the style of how the info is being communicated; prefer to see a map or images of the flood so they can determine how serious the situations are or if they should evacuate
Maria Grajdian - "Love in the digital age: Online-dating and the resurgence of toxic humanity"
three parts: field and framework of fieldwork; behaviours in cyber-space of online dating; short video on "dick pic" culture (LF: Christ!)
refers to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs in order to discuss the fulfillment or lack thereof of these categories--especially sex
- "digitalization of sex" has done something bad to the humanity of male subjects in particular
- partly due to absence of physical contact
I was so busy taking photos of Grajdian's amazing power point slides, I could barely take notes.
Nishant Shah - "Applified Politics: Prototyping an Internet of Survival"
misuse and overuse of the term "information overload"
discusses old example of grad students not being able to check out more than five books a week for fear of "information overload"
any tech produced is followed by the fear of "information overload"
- the new condition is that we have stopped worrying about information overload
- info overload is not an exception state; instead, we have accepted that we are ontologically, informationally, overloaded
old info subject worried about escape; new info subject understands themselves only through info over and tries to understand how to live as an info overloaded subject
Invisible Boyfriend app: way info overloaded subject can be understood
- ex. will check your Google calendar and contact you to ask if you have a busy day
- and people stop having fun when they realize they're not talking to AI, but about 80-100 people who work together to be that one single boyfriend
re-assessment of the Turing Test: originally wasn't even about a human, but about the fact that one would not be able to tell if they were talking to a man or a woman
describes FB as a moment of absolute self-gratification; FB's friend is you and an algorithm, which is in a friendship
- "You know no human will put up with the kind of banality you put on Instagram. But the algorithm loves it and puts it into a feedback loop."
reverse Turing test for bots: not a question of not being sure if something is a robot, but whether or not something is a human
the directionality of the algorithms is the vector; only one directionality, there is no negotiation or interpretation
- it is not linear but it is still directional
"lurking": the node that even if it is disconnected or emptied, it does not go away, it just lurks
- needs to be understood through materiality; the node is not a discrete entity, but a network in itself
LF: reminds me of Alan Liu's "data pours," esp as Shah mentions data streams in relation to nodes
example of the problem of probability: the "Keep calm and rape a lot" meme-based t-shirt made it to an online market through an AI scanning Twitter for popular word clusters
- the shirt was selected through the high probability that it would become one of the most sellable items
open-source hackathon: "Come to the dark side: we have cookies."
- we need to stop writing this moral highground, embrace our dark side, think beyond realms of probability and think about the possible
Shah uses example of revenge porn as the idea that there's an inability to prevent these kinds of data streams
- in the case of a revenge porn incident in the US in 2016, it was proven that the website's AI hacked the woman's iCloud and uploaded these photos
- not sexual harassment, misogyny, but because the US has better data protection laws than body protection laws
"Right now, data management and human rights do not seem to be talking to each other."
December 9: DAY 3
Roundtable: Digital Infrastructure in Hong Kong
- Glacier Kwong, spokesperson of Keyboard Frontline, member of Internet Society Hong Kong, writer at Hong Kong Free Press
- Lokman Tsui, Assistant Professor in Journalism and Communication, Chinese University of Hong Kong, fellow of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University, former Google’s Head of Free Expression in Asia and the Pacific
- Pindar Wong, internet pioneer, co-founder of the first licensed Internet Service Provider in Hong Kong, former ViceChairman of ICANN, former elected Trustee of the Internet Society.
- Keyboard Frontline: 2011 org. to fight "Internet Article 23" rights for an open and free Internet in HK
- intended to arouse local awareness of the significance of Internet freedom
- wrote and Internet Freedom Manifesto
- foci include: privacy, freedom of access, rights to safe/secure, equal rights, freedom of dig economy, responsible data, transparency, and accountability
- biggest HK struggle Q: who is watching over the Internet?
- Section 161 Access policy has extremely wide scope--smart phones, laptops, anything that has access
- Interception of Communications and Surveillance Ordinance
- "Big Brother"? OSI
- freedom in terms of the non-digital is in theory already there; how do I interpret the Internet dimension and why is it different?
- PW: "what Internet are you talking about?""
- interesting discussion, as HK has two Internets: "one country two Internets" (hahaha)
- for HK's Internet dimension, no purview of defence and foreign affairs re: "the" Internet in HK vs. China
- so what do we mean by the Internet? Evolving past the notion of access; not about laptop or smart phone--they're all computers now
- how do you enforce law (which has a geographic view) with a topological (network) view?
- yin/yang tension: "borders in a borderless world"
- how HK resolves this issue will be important for the rest of the world
- it's not about "freedom" persay; instead, "how do we scale trust? How do we build an Internet of trust? How do we know the substrate is not trustworthy?"
- human to machine, machine to machine
- previously, scale trust through tribal relationships, familial, town, city, supercity, nation (LF: TRIBES)
- but cyberspace: can't divorce country neighbours (geography), but in topography, everyone is your neighbour and everyone is potentially a bad neighbourhood
- therefore, scaling trust when borders are not that important
- our moment of the "Internet" is a moment of changing architectures
- rule of law is not going to catch up to the rule of code
- so is "rule of law" even appropriate? Maybe instead: ethically driven info? How
- not about freedom of info but freedom to innovate
- refers to US net neutrality discussion
- telephony expanded, but Internet of Threats/Things/Trust--extension of hearts and hands
- hands: kinetic effects, with material production
- we need ethic-driven innovation
- LF: I have so many comments. See my main question directed at PW below.
protection of freedom re: one country two Internets
reframing freedom to innovate: allowing ideas to travel
border becomes permission to travel; the Internet was borderless (don't need permission to click on a server) and decentralized
- re: HK has negative freedom: freedom from laws and regulations of Chinese Internet
- border thought of as a negative space bc it is "free" from these laws and regulations
rule of platforms: borders have to be in cooperation with platforms
Q: how do platforms decide which local law to comply with?
Q. by Rolien Hoyng: thoughts on "constructive ambiguity"?
Pindar: constructive ambiguity may not be helpful: provides space for people to offer their own interpretations of what something is--like the Internet
- if we really must know that it's that and only that, must also consider rate of change
- "we know what we're not, but does that actually mean what we're about?"
- in HK, freedom is a notion: freedom is a software issue, not a hardware issue
Pindar warns against not being challenging enough and being too challenging: "challenges that are so ingrained that they are just rhetoric"
Glacier: golden forum in HK is where local activists discuss issues
as these may be subject to online policing, we do not have enough trust in the local online
- instead, HK people become more confident in giving data to Google, which can ignore Beijing's request
- so useful for local activists to get their msgs across
Lokman: ambiguity is great in the hands of citizens bc it gives them a bit more freedom
- but dangerous if institutional stakeholders have ambiguity; can use against users, sources, etc.
Q. by RH: localizing norms; if HK is a micro-cosmos, how can we have this discussion? Should it be democratic, local--how do we have this discussion across borders?
Glacier: trying to localize global concerns: when HK people don't care enough about encrypting their own data and keeping it safe
- they are reluctant bc it's troublesome
- global trend for transparency is said to not apply to HK: there's no pressure/incentive if it doesn't affect their profit
- but slowly, people are seeing the importance of Internet freedom and the need to follow global standards
Pindar: agrees with Glacier that HK doesn't care about their freedoms until they're gone
Lokman: group he spoke with didn't think security was important bc they didn't think their work was important
- vs. another group that used low tech
- vs. "troublemaker" groups that expanded range of stories by seeking protection in particular
- uses example of Snowden forcing a journalist to use encryption--otherwise "he would have missed the story of his life"
Q. LF to Pindar: I disagree with a few things here ... the optimism with which Wong approaches this discussion on "innovation" is always wrapped up in startup and gift economy rhetoric that is post-industrial and neoliberal.
- institutionalization of innovation in relation to tech savviness and maker culture perpetuates forward-moving narrative of technological history
- innovation as exclusive: I absolutely do not believe we are all engineers because we are not all allowed to be--education, class, gender, and race divide this knowledge, and these divides between expert and amateur are intrinsically infrastructural.
A to me: danger of substitution of buzzword institutionalization for culture
- thinks he has been disingenuous bc traditional businesses that don't call themselves startup
- optimism through strategies of shaping narratives
- is interested in being the most evolvable, not survival of the fitness
- "fuzzy spaces"
- idea of special source to innovate is false; it goes back to education
- can have conversation with policy makers through a focus on innovation--the shared interest
- it's cool to innovate--so why don't we shape this discussion?
- LF: do you recognize the irony of using the word "cool" this way? See Alan Liu's The Laws of Cool
- win and lose capital has become about financial, social, natural, human capital
- "grabbing innovation as a common narrative"
- "linear incremental improvement" as something to focus on
- we're very good at measuring risk but not disruptive change
- but is interesting in sharing ideas towards action; relative to speed of innovation, thinks that in academia "we're not moving fast enough."