Category Archives: collaboration and technology

“Off the Network” finally available

My book, Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World, is finally available from the University of Minnesota Press.

You can pick up a paper copy from your favorite bookseller. Thanks to both Minnesota Press and SUNY Oswego, the book is also available in an open access format, so you can read or download the whole manuscript right now — for free!

You can share the news by using the link offthenetwork.info (which redirects you to the publisher’s page).

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From the back cover:

“This is an extraordinary book. The ‘paranodal’ critique made in Off the Network demands that we look at the social spaces that lie between, and are ignored by, network nodes; at the material basis on top of which supposedly immaterial networks rest; and at the vertical structures of political economic power that control the apparent horizontality of networks. In doing so, Ulises Ali Mejias delivers a devastating intellectual slam against conventional thinking about the Internet from both the left and the right.”
— Nick Dyer-Witheford, coauthor of Games of Empire

Off the Network shows us that centralization of online services is not accidental. Take a look behind the social media noise and read how algorithms condition us. Ulises All Mejias carves out a postaffirmative theory of networks. No more debates about whether you are a dog or not; identity is over. Power returns to the center of Internet debates. Off the Network disrupts the illusion of seamless participation–it sides with the resisters and rejecters and teaches us to unthink the network logic. Its message: don’t take the network paradigm for granted.”
— Geert Lovink, author of Networks Without a Cause

Off the Network is a fresh and authoritative examination of how the hidden logic of the Internet, social media, and the digital network is changing users’ understanding of the world–and why that should worry us. Ulises Ali Mejias also suggests how we might begin to rethink the logic of the network and question its ascendancy. He argues that the digital network, touted as consensual, inclusive, and pleasurable, is also monopolizing and threatening in its capacity to determine, commodify, and commercialize so many aspects of our lives. Mejias shows how the network broadens participation yet also exacerbates disparity –and how it excludes more of society than it includes. The result is an uncompromising, sophisticated, and accessible critique of the digital world that increasingly dominates our lives.

 

SOAP: An Alternate Reality Game Engine

I am pleased to announce the release of SOAP v1.0.

The [S]UNY [O]swego [A]RG [P]ackage is an alternate reality game (ARG) engine. Built on the open source platforms WordPress and BuddyPress, it is a bundle of pre-existing plugins and custom modifications that allow anyone who can install and host WordPress to run “what if” simulations and collaborative storytelling exercises.

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SOAP is free software, released under the GPL v.2.0 license.

SOAP was developed with support from a 2012 Innovative Instruction Technology Grant (IITG)  from the State University of New York’s Office of the Provost, plus additional support from SUNY Oswego. The programming was done by Ithaca Content Architecture and Design. Special thanks to Gary Ritzenthaler, Randy Belcher, Lisa Dundon, and Tim Perry.

To learn more, visit the SOAP site: http://soap.ulisesmejias.com/

Brave New Learning

libraryHigher Education’s “Napster” moment is quickly approaching. Soon, saying that learning can only happen in accredited classrooms in exchange for a hefty sum of money will be like saying that music should only be listened to at expensive concerts, and telling those darn kids to stop downloading all those songs illegally. What follows is neither utopia nor dystopia, but simply a half-serious prediction of where things might be headed… quickly.

In the near future, college degrees will become unimportant. It won’t matter where you went to college, or even if you went to college. That the Internet will make this possible by making quality content available at a low cost hardly merits debating at this point.

These things have been said before, of course, but not much has been said about what will replace a college degree. It will be this: the job interview. We are no longer talking about your grandad’s job interview, however, or nothing we are familiar with today (i.e., filling out a form and meeting a couple of people). Instead, the job interview will become a week-long contest where applicants show what they know, what they are capable of doing, and are ranked accordingly. It will include lengthy exams, personality tests, group exercises, creative assignments, detailed simulations, and an army of tests intended to measure everything from know-how to moral character (I’m not saying those tests will be accurate; I’m just saying they will be treated as such).

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Survey on Liberation Technologies and Global Protest Movements

I am conducting a comparative study on uses of the Internet in protest movements around the world. One of the ways I am collecting data is through an online survey. I would appreciate your help in distributing this information and getting people to fill out the survey. Thanks!

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IMG_2151” by Mosa’aberising, 2012, Creative Commons.

 

Liberation Technologies and Global Protest Movements
We need your help in collecting information about the use of the Internet in global protest movements. The survey should take 30 to 60 minutes to complete. The survey consists mostly of open ended questions that will require you to compose a written answer. Participating in this study may not benefit you directly, but it will help us understand how activists across the globe are attempting to create new forms of organizing to promote social change, and how the nature of activism is being transformed by the programmers who design Internet technologies and the journalists who report on their use. All the information you provide will be kept confidential (see the survey website for a complete Informed Consent form). The survey can be accessed here:
http://survey.ulisesmejias.com/index.php/survey/index/sid/223715/lang/en

 

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http://survey.ulisesmejias.com/index.php/survey/index/sid/223715/lang/ar

 

Tecnologías de Liberación y Movimientos de Protesta Globales
Necesitamos tu ayuda para recolectar información sobre el uso de la Internet en los movimientos de protesta globales. El cuestionario tomará de 30 a 60 minutos en ser completado. El cuestionario consiste principalmente en preguntas abiertas que requieren que formules una respuesta escrita. Participar en este estudio tal vez no te beneficie directamente pero nos ayudará a entender cómo los activistas alrededor del mundo están tratando de crear nuevas formas de organizar cambios sociales, cómo la naturaleza del activismo está siendo transformada por los programadores que diseñan tecnologías de Internet, y cómo los periodistas reportan sobre su uso. Toda la información que nos proporciones se mantendrá de forma confidencial (ve la declaración de Consentimiento Informado en la página web del cuestionario). Se puede acceder al cuestionario aquí:
http://survey.ulisesmejias.com/index.php/survey/index/sid/223715/lang/es

 

More languages coming soon.

 

Grant for Alternate Reality Simulations Project

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I received an Innovative Instruction Technology Grant (IITG)  from SUNY’s Office of the Provost. The project is called Osw3go.net: Alternate Reality Simulations as Learning Tools, and the grant amount is $20,000 (plus $5,000 campus matching).

Below is some information about the project from the proposal. [Update: Here’s a Campus Update item about the grant.]

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Unfriend Your Monopoly: Proposals and Projects

unthinkI recently helped to put together a proposal for a project headed by Geert Lovink (Institute of Network Cultures/HvA, Amsterdam) and Korinna Patelis (Cyprus University of Technology, Lemasol) called Unlike Us – Understanding Social Media Monopolies and their Alternatives.

The project is just getting started (no events or outcomes have been planned yet), but the proposal delineates the following objectives:

The aim of this proposal is to establish a research network of artists, designers, scholars, activists and programmers who work on ‘alternatives in social media’. Through workshops, conferences, online dialogues and publications, Unlike Us intends to both analyze the economic and cultural aspects of dominant social media platforms and to propagate the further development and proliferation of alternative, decentralized social media software.

See the full proposal for more details and info on how to join.

Interestingly, Anonymous just announced that they plan to create their own social networking platform, anonplus (after some of their members got kicked out of Google+, apparently).

Anyway, my contributions to the Unlike Us proposal were inspired by an article I just submitted to an open journal, and which should be coming out in the Fall, hopefully. The article is titled “Liberation Technology and the Arab Spring: From Utopia to Atopia and Beyond.” Here’s the abstract:

While the tendency in the West to refer to the Arab Spring movements as “Twitter Revolutions” has passed, a liberal discourse of “liberation technology” (information and communication technologies that empower grassroots movements) continues to influence our ideas about networked participation. Unfortunately, this utopian discourse tends to circumvent any discussion of the capitalist market structure in which these tools operate. In this paper, I suggest that liberation technologies may in fact increase opportunities for political participation, but that they simultaneously create certain kinds of inequalities. I end by proposing a theoretical framework for locating alternative practices of participation and liberation.

Participation in 4th Inclusiva-net Meeting

I have been invited to give a paper at the 4th Inclusiva-net Meeting: P2P Networks and Processes, organized by Medialab-Prado (in Madrid). The meeting will focus on “an analysis of ‘peer-to-peer’ networks and network processes, highlighting the social potentials of cooperative systems and processes based on the structures and dynamics inherent to these types of networks.”

I’ve heard good things about this workshop, and it looks like an interesting selection of papers. My own contribution is titled Peerless: The Ethics of P2P Network Disassembly. The proposal is below.

In theory, P2P networks embody a model of collaboration that spells out the end of monopolies of communication. Like the Inclusiva-net Call for Papers states, P2P exemplifies principles like “equality of power among participants, free cooperation among them, putting into circulation or forming what are considered ‘common goods’, and participation and communication ‘from many to many.'” While all this has been empirically confirmed in isolated cases, we need to question the ‘goodness’ of these premises at a large societal scale.

Even if we are to accept the claim that P2P network architecture engenders publics instead of markets, we should not put aside Kierkergaard’s critique of publics as nihilistic systems intended to facilitate the accumulation of information while postponing action indefinitely. While Kierkergaard was putting down newspaper media, his critique couldn’t be more fitting in the age of Web browsers, RSS aggregators and bitTorrent clients. Another way of putting this is to say that while P2P networks may indeed democratize access to cultural contents, we still need to ask: Whose cultural contents? The whole piracy debate revolves around the fact that the statistical majority of ‘pirates’ are using P2P networks not to disseminate radical countercultural products, but to share the latest Hollywood blockbuster or teen idol musical hit. We need to question how network processes normalize monocultures, and to do so we need to theorize what form of resistance is embodied by existing in the peripheries of networks.

In my work, I argue that digital technosocial networks (DTSNs) function not just as metaphors to describe sociality, but as full templates or models for organizing it. Since in order for something to be relevant or even visible within the network it needs to be rendered as a node, DTSNs are constituted as totalities by what they include as much as by what they exclude. I propose a framework for understanding the epistemological exclusion embedded in the structure and dynamics of DTSNs, and for exploring the ethical questions associated with the nature of the bond between the node and the excluded other. Contrary to its depiction in diagrams, the outside of the network is not empty but inhabited by multitudes that do not conform to the organizing logic of the network. Thus, I put forth a theory for how the peripheries of the network represent an ethical resistance to the network, and I suggest that these peripheries, the only sites from which it is possible to un-think the network episteme, can inform emerging models of identity and sociality.

This is important because we are perhaps entering an age when deviation from social norms will only be possible in the private, non-surveilled space of the paranodal (the space beyond the nodes), away from the templates of the network as model for organizing sociality. Subjectivization, as Rancière argues, happens precisely through a process of disidentification: parts of society disidentify themselves from the whole, and individuals and groups recognize themselves as separate from the mainstream. Thus, to paraphrase Rancière, the paranodal is the part of those who have no part; it is the place where we experience—or at least are free to theorize—what it is like to be outside the network. Articulating this form of disidentification, of imagining and claiming difference even in relation to ‘democratic’ P2P networks, is an important step in the actualization of alternative ways of knowing and acting in the world.

Participatory Culture and the Internet of the Masses

Andrea Batista Schlesinger is executive director of the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy (a non-partisan, non-profit think tank founded during the Civil Rights Movement that generates ideas that fuel the progressive movement). She is currently working on the forthcoming book The Death of Why, to be released in Spring of 2009. After looking at my blog and reading what I had said in a 2006 panel (the MacArthur Online Discussions on Civic Engagement, PDF transcript here) she contacted me to ask some questions about the role of the Internet in promoting civic participation. Our email exchange, reproduced with her permission, follows:

Andrea Batista Schlesinger: You write that “We should be less concerned about designing technologies that will afford young people ‘satisfying participation opportunities’ and more concerned about ensuring that new generations can challenge and question the opportunities that are ‘offered’ to them. The goal –for young people as well as old– should be the self-critical individual.” Do you think that the Internet — either as a medium, or as an environment — inspires/encourages such self-critique? Do you think that digital natives are more or less likely to be interested in and have the capacity for inquiry and/or self-reflection? Continue reading

Conversations Below Sea Level: Rob van Kranenburg

Ambient Dominance and the Public — An Interview with Rob van Kranenburg

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(Photo and interview: Ulises Mejias, Creative Commons 2008)

For the last interview in this series, I sat down to talk to Rob van Kranenburg. Rob works at Waag Society, a new media think-tank that “wants to be on the forefront of developments by creating a consensus among as many of the stakeholders as possible (companies, government, citizens, European laws and professionals) to anchor values [such] as solidarity, sharing, learning to learn, creativity, beauty and a sense of change and innovation as deep as possible within the code and infrastructure.” Rob is head of the Public Domain program. A large part of his work deals with the problematic shift (evident in technologies such as RFID) from “privacy compliant applications to privacy compliant technology.” We met at the Waag offices in Nieuwmarkt, Amsterdam, on June 17.

THE OUTSOURCING OF MEMORY AND AGENCY

Ulises Mejias: Since a lot of your work has to do with Ambient Intelligence, why don’t you start by telling us what that is? You have a phrase here, in one of the essays you gave me, about “outsourcing memory and agency to an ever more seemingly controllable environment on an individual level that is perceived as convenient.”

Rob van Kranenburg: Let’s start with the example of a pencil. As you write things down, you are outsourcing your memory into the environment. That’s how the Western notion of technology has worked. But now the idea is to hide all these functionalities into our environment. Like electricity, basically. It’s been hidden. All we see is the On/Off switch. Nobody knows how it works. If there is a power break, everything breaks. The same goes for our computer. The idea behind Ambient Intelligence, Pervasive Computing or whatever you want to call it, is to take the intelligence out of the computer box. I should make my environment ‘intelligent:’ I should make my clothes intelligent, my chair intelligent, so they recognize me. The walls in my house should sense whether I’m depressed. So this promise that the world can recognize you every step of the way, and give you everything you need, is very powerful. But the thing is that this notion of Ambient Intelligence can only work on a very stable environment. If the environment changes, it has very big consequences, on an interface level. Change must be minimal. It’s a totalitarian logic, within the whole system. Because it assumes it needs to be stable in order to “live.” We will have new generations growing up dumber in their interfacing activities with these environments, because there’s no need for them to think otherwise; they are being taken care of. Continue reading

Conversations Below Sea Level: Anne Beaulieu and Sally Wyatt

Digital Cultures and Research Practices — An Interview with Anne Beaulieu and Sally Wyatt

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(Anne Beaulieu (left) and Sally Wyatt. Photo and interview: Ulises Mejias, Creative Commons 2008)

Anne Beaulieu (bio, publications) is a Senior Research Fellow at the Virtual Knowledge Studio (VKS). Sally Wyatt (bio, publications) is Professor of Digital Cultures in Development at Maastricht University and also a Senior Research Fellows at VKS. The Virtual Knowledge Studio “supports researchers in the humanities and social sciences in the Netherlands in the creation of new scholarly practices and in their reflection on e-research in relation to their fields.” My interview with them took place on June 6 at the VKS Amsterdam offices, housed in the International Institute of Social History.

Ulises Mejias: Why don’t we start by you telling me what the VKS does?

Anne Beaulieu: The Virtual Knowledge Studio has a dual mission of studying new research practices and also supporting researchers who want to ‘play around’ with new research practices. We are called upon to play three different roles: The first is as broker, as someone who can translate between the different groups who are active in this new area of e-research–between humanities scholars and people who are actually building tools, for instance; and the requests for us to play that role can come from both kinds of actors. Another role we have is to document what these practices are, whether it means new kinds of collaboration, or new kinds of communication, or new ways of producing data or sources. That work is of interest to people in technology studies, but also to people in the field, where we are studying the practices. The third role is really to think and try out new practices, and sometimes these are things we do in-house, in our ‘collaboratories,’ but it can also be very concrete contributions in ongoing outside projects.

Sally Wyatt: One of the main ways of collaborating with researchers is through what we call campus sites. We now have one at Erasmus University in Rotterdam and the other at Maastricht University, which I’m responsible for and which we just started a few months ago. So that’s a way to extend our reach. Continue reading