2017, Dec 7 to 9: CONFERENCE: Digital Media and Borders

Lai-Tze Fan edited this page Dec 12, 2017 · 14 revisions

Digital Media & Borders: Infrastructures, Mobilities, and Practices across Asia and Beyond

Lingnan University, Hong Kong

Website: https://digitalinfra.wordpress.com/

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

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.

Glacier Kwong

  • 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?
    • Police?
      • Section 161 Access policy has extremely wide scope--smart phones, laptops, anything that has access
      • Interception of Communications and Surveillance Ordinance
    • "Big Brother"? OSI

Pindar Wong

  • 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.

Lokman Tsui

  • 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."
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