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“There are large areas of technology that can be redeemed by the democratic process, once we have overcome the infantile compulsions and automatisms that now threaten to cancel out our real gains. The very leisure that the machine now gives in advanced countries can be profitably used, not for further commitment to still other kinds of machine, furnishing
automatic recreation, but by doing significant forms of work, unprofitable or technically impossible under mass production: work dependent upon special skill, knowledge, aesthetic sense. The do-it-yourself movement prematurely got bogged down in an attempt to sell still more machines; but its slogan pointed in the right direction, provided we still have a self to do it with. The glut of motor cars that is now destroying our cities can be coped with only if we redesign our cities to make fuller use of a more efficient human agent: the walker. Even in childbirth, the emphasis is already happily shifting from an officious, often lethal, authoritarian procedure, centered in hospital routine, to a more human mode, which restores initiative to the mother and to the body’s natural rhythm”.

from Lewis Mumford 1964. Authoritarian and Democratic Technics. In Technology and Culture Vol 5(1): 1-8

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Jill Walker Rettberg. 2014 “Seeing ourselves through Technology” Palgrave Pivot.

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There is a lot of public and academic discussion about “Selfies” at the moment. When we uncritically follow some of this debate we could believe it is an entirely new phenomenon created by mobile phones equipped with cameras, and maybe selfie-sticks. Jill Walker Rettberg has written an insightful analysis of the ‘selfie-phenomenon’ that situates the photographic selfies we are all familiar with, within the wider social and historic context of past and present technologies and techniques used to create representations of the self, including self-portraits, auto-biographies, and more recently quantified modes of self-logs and activity trackers.

Having situated “Selfies” Walker Rettberg moves on to discuss how “filters” are being used and create distinct version of self-representations. These filters can be technological, such as Instagram filters, or cultural. Whilst the former can be deployed to create images of our selves that show us how we want to be seen by others, the latter are those filters we deploy in response to the socio-cultural environment we inhabit; they guide for example the section of images that we create, collect and display.

A “Selfie” rarely occurs in isolation but often are produced in a series. By examining series of selfies, such as changes of profile pictures over time Walker Rettberg can show how the way in which people present themselves over time changes. As in previous chapters Walker Rettberg manages to link her analysis with knowledge about art history and art theory.

The emergence of Selfies is closely linked to the growing trend of tracking applications and logs. Walker Rettberg illuminates this linkage between these two phenomena and explicates the growing automation of the tracking and its relationship to the earlier discussion about filters. One strength of this chapter is the elaboration of this relationship between, for example the quantified self, the use of automation in the data collection and analysis and the filtering of information in the process. Walker Rettberg further elaborates on the quantified self movement in a separate chapter.

All the developments Walker Rettberg examines and discusses in her book throw in the open issues of surveillance and privacy that every now and again create a media hysteria without being properly dealt with. In her final chapter Walker Rettberg explicates some of the privacy issues related to selfies and possible consequences of the self-logging for people.

Overall, the book provides a very good analysis of the Selfie phenomenon and offers plenty of food for thought on possible further research on related phenomena, such as quantification of the self, automation etc.

More than five decades ago Marshall McLuhan published his famous Gutenberg Galaxy. The book has been highly influential in a range of disciples from communication and media studies to sociology, management studies and many more. With the growing popularity in the late 1990s McLuhan became not only the Patron Saint of Wired Magazine but also again the centre of academic debate about the noticeable changes in the media ecology.

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Already in 2001 Manuel Castells took it upon himself to examine concurrent technological developments and publish a book with the title “The Internet Galaxy. Reflections in the Internet, Business, and Society” (Oxford: OUP). Save for the title of the book though, there is very little similarity with McLuhan’s book. This is not a critique of the book but merely of the title. The book indeed provides interesting analyses of the relationship between technological and societal developments. In a way, Castells’ Internet Galaxy continues a discussion that he began with his trilogy on the Network Society published in the mid to late 1990s.

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Castells thereby carefully avoids the technological determinism that characterises so many contemporary book about the internet and society. Instead he uses his sociological expertise to offer an analysis of how the Internet and related network technologies provide the basis for new opportunities and challenges for business and economy, politics, and culture. He devotes an entire chapter to a discussion of the digital divide, and emphasises that access to the Internet is not the only barrier to participation in the Network Society but it is a prerequisite for an involvement in societal processes.

In his chapter on “e-Business and the New Economy” Castells investigates the opportunities of new forms of production including changes in labor-relations. He also discusses the financial markets and highlights the fragility of financial markets that are subject to global communication via online networks. In some way that now can be seen as a prediction of the 2007/8 financial crisis, but Castells is not in the business of making prediction. Instead he sticks to an analysis of the present (2001) and recent past and from there on reveals possible directions for business, work and labor and the economy as a whole.

Although The Internet Galaxy was published in 2001 it still is a worthwhile read as it provides a well-founded analysis of networked organisation of society.

first published in “Museum & Heritage Magazine” (Winter Issue, 2013)

Dirk vom Lehn (King’s College London)

Hannah Lewi & Wally Smith (University of Melbourne)

Museums and Heritage Sites increasingly offer mobile guides and Apps to encourage people to use their smartphones and tablet computers for the exploration of exhibitions, outdoor spaces and buildings. These Mobile Apps provide information in multimedia formats, text, pictures and video-clips. They sometimes also allow people to play games and send emails. In this short article we discuss two examples to highlight some of the opportunities and challenges offered by Mobile Apps.

The information delivered by these apps can draw people’s attention to particular exhibit features, make visible aspects of objects and artifacts that are invisible, hidden or have disappeared over time. Pictures and text shown by mobile guides, such as the ‘Formative Histories Walking App‘, designed by academics at the University of Melbourne, allow people to compare the architectural reality in front of them with information on the device. This juxtaposition of material reality and virtual reality aims to stimulate interest in the architecture and urban history of Melbourne, and provides the basis for people’s sustained engagement with buildings that they might walk past without noticing or appreciating.

The ‘Formative Histories Walking App’ has been designed as part of a project at the University of Melbourne, carried out by the authors, to explore novel ways to engage students with architectural history. In this case, the Mobile App was used as a teaching and learning tool that presented rich visual and oral information on an iPod Touch. Like a human guide, the App takes students on a two-hour walk along Collins Street, a prominent central city axis in Melbourne; the walk involves twenty stops at significant buildings from the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Using a map and menu on the iPod Touch users explore the street and find and examine architectural features in light of the information displayed by the Mobile App. This information is comprised of short text and audio summaries at each stop and a limited number of images that elaborate on aspects such as key buildings set in their historical context, comparative architectural examples from international architects or details of buildings that are not readily visible for the students. In this sense, the information delivered by the app replicates a slideshow similar to those architecture students experience in the classroom; pictures of objects nearby are juxtaposed with objects from different periods or by other architects and designers.

A second exploration of the potentials of the mobile digital guide for heritage, museum and architecture sites has been the design of a prototype iPod guide that provides visitors with information about the Shrine of Remembrance, a significant site and war memorial in Melbourne built in 1934. With this prototype the team aimed to allow people to see the Shrine in relationship to a wealth of currently unseen archival material. The mobile guide encourages visitors to juxtapose images, films and audio-recordings with the reality in front of them. By drawing less on conventional text, and more on visual information presented in innovative formats such as timelines, collages and close-up details the designers were interested in testing how user’s might share the screen with others and discuss the content and their experience of the site. encourage people to share the screen with others and discuss the content. Mobile guides and Apps like the examples briefly described here have great potential to create innovative media in the interpretation of museums and heritage sites that engage people in new ways with exhibits and exhibitions, architecture, gardens etc. They principally replicate two models of guiding visitors through a site that the researchers have found in many new Apps in the cultural and tourism genre :

  • the human guide model: these guide direct people’s exploration of a site with an identifiable guiding voice or presence on a predefined route. A number of stops are planned into the route where visitors are given information about an exhibit, building, plant, etc.
  • the interactive exhibition model: these guides offer a wealth of content in various forms that visitors can use to interpret and features of a site. The route does not have to be preplanned and can be changed, shortened or extended at any point in time.

These models of guiding visitors – which are sometimes mixed together – are often used with a variety of formats of content: chronologies and timelines, spatially-organised information; slideshows offering both highly curated narratives and freedom of choice; archival film; and oral histories.

Our own research in Melbourne and elsewhere suggests that apps designed with the human guide model in mind can be successful in situations with a well-defined visitor route. Elsewhere an interactive exhibition model that offers people the opportunity to self-select what objects and artifacts to examine can be more engaging. In either model, reception is influenced by the way information is structured and presented in the guide, and how this mirrors the physical reality. Text is not very popular with visitors while images, film and oral histories are. Chronologically listed information, for example, does not hold people’s attention when confronted with a rich spatial panorama. A powerful approach is to juxtapose archival images and films with views of the present-day reality; a technique used successfully by the ‘Streetmuseum’ app created by the Museum of London.

For a long time, research in the social sciences has argued that people’s experience and learning in museums and heritage sites can be enhanced when they talk, discuss and interact with each other. Therefore an unresolved problem for designers is to develop mobile guides that facilitate and encourage social interaction and discussion between visitors. Our experiments with different kinds of app show that people tend to treat the use of the device as a private activity and experience talk with others as disruptive. Future experiments, maybe using larger displays, will show how devices such as tablet computers might be more conducive to social interaction and conversation.

Authors

Dirk vom Lehn teaches Marketing, Interaction & Technology and is member of the Work, Interaction & Technology Research Centre (King’s College London). His research focuses on the interweaving of technology with social interaction in museums and galleries, optometric consultation and street-markets. Email: dirk.vom_lehn@kcl.ac.uk (http://www.vom-lehn.net)

Hannah Lewi teaches architecture history, theory and design. Her research areas include modern Australian architecture, new media for history and heritage applications, and theoretical inquiry into heritage and conservation. She is the current Chair of Docomomo Australia, and recent publications include Hannah Lewi and David Nichols (eds) Community: Building Modern Australia (Sydney: UNSW Press), 2010. Email: hlewi@unimelb.edu.au (http://www.findanexpert.unimelb.edu.au/display/person25951#tab-publications)

Wally Smith teaches and researches in the fields of human-computer interaction and knowledge management. Recent publications explore the role of commercial demonstrations of information technology, and the connections between stage magic and the history of informational artefacts. Email: wsmith@unimelb.edu.au (http://www.findanexpert.unimelb.edu.au/display/person18782#tab-publications)

Restaurants issue vouchers to attract more custom. For Cafe Rouge, a restaurant chain of some popularity with families in the UK, these Vouchers are offered by Tesco, by the chain itself, and by websites like Vouchercodes. I picked up a voucher from Vouchercode to head for a Cafe Rouge restaurant in Central London on a Sunday. Here is the Voucher:

Cafe-rouge voucher

The voucher clearly states, valid 7 days a week, one kid’s main free with every adult’s meal. We went as a couple with two kids, expecting some noticeable discount on our bill that mounted up to something like £44. Like most insurance policies most vouchers also come with a catch. Although this voucher clearly states “valid 7 days a week” the catch is mentioned in point 10 of the terms and conditions:

Cafe Rouge Terms

The terms and conditions list a number of restaurants that are exempt from accepting our voucher. Unfortunately, we did not read the small print and fell into the trap. When asking for the bill we obviously were not aware of the special status of our restaurant and mentioned to the restaurant’s waitress and then the manager that we had expected to be able to use the voucher when two explanations were given for them not accepting it.

1. It’s your own fault

When presenting the voucher to the waitress she said that this restaurant was exempt from accepting the voucher which was stated in the terms and conditions that we should have read before ordering. Many other restaurants of the same chain still accepted vouchers and next time maybe we should pick one of those.

As customers we were not really happy to be blamed, yet having seen the small print now we are obviously aware that we better had spent some more time reading the small print.

2. It’s the company’s management fault

Because we were not ready to accept the waitress’ explanation we asked her if the manager of the restaurant was around. She called the manager over who was a very polite young lady who showed her understanding and relieved us from the blame her staff had put on us. She explained the reason for the voucher policy with the company’s management having changed ownership recently and that basically the new management was to blame for having introduced a new policy on vouchers. Since recently certain restaurant’s were exempt from the acceptance of vouchers. She said that she regularly was confronted by customers finding themselves in the very same situation we were in now; their vouchers were invalid and they had to pay the full bill. There was nothing she could do about that.

Obviously looking at the terms and conditions, the waitress and restaurant manager are in the right. We were in the wrong and should have done our research properly before entering the venue and ordering our food. Yet, we as other customers just want to go for a meal without having to check the terms and conditions of the visit. One would imagine that restaurants like Cafe Rouge have an interest in their customers leaving happy and satisfied, and maybe think about returning.

There was a time when managers of companies argued that the ‘the customer is always right’ and that customers should not feel deceived or misled with the product or service they receive for their money. The distribution of vouchers that requires customers to read the small print that might inform them about exemptions of the vouchers’ validity does not seem to be a marketing activity devised in this spirit.

Art Museum Teaching

Submitted by Alex Freeman, Director of Special Projects, New Media Consortium

The New Media Consortium’s upcoming Future of Museums Symposium will bring together a collaborative global conversation around issues of technology, museums, and the future. This free, online Virtual Symposium will be held on Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014, and will feature keynote speakers and crowdsourced presentations by your peers.

unnamedAs its name suggests, the Symposium looks toward the future: what might the museum world look like in five years? Ten? Further out? Technologies and practices that are just beginning to show promise in an educational or social context may well be commonplace in that time frame. In this day-long event, we are bringing the research and work behind the NMC Horizon Report 2013 Museum Edition to the greater museum community. The Horizon Report’s advisory board participates in thoughtful discussions about an array of museum technology topics, trends, and challenges in the museum wiki that…

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The Next Bison: Social Computing and Culture

Are online reviews fair? Consider these reviews of a small printer, the Canon Pixma MG6320 on the Consumer Reports website. At the time I am writing, there are three reviews, and all three writers gave it one star out of a possible five—the worst possible rating. The review titles are:

  • “Piece of junk”
  • “Unreliable and unbelievably expensive”
  • “The worst printer ever.”

 On the other hand, on Amazon.com the same printer currently has 464 reviews, and it gets an average of four out of five stars. Sample review titles include:

  • “Amazing printer”
  • “Made a great gift”
  • “A very good buy”

There are also negative reviews of course (“I wish I could give it minus stars”), but the consensus is four-star positive.

What is going on here? You could speculate that it’s just a matter of randomness and numbers—the three reviews are too small of a sample to matter, and…

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