Category Archives: Technology and the Self

Blasts from the academic past

It occurred to me the other day that there were quite a few pieces of writing I did during my truncated PhD candidature at UNSW that weren't that bad. More particularly, as I get back into study this year I find myself trying to remember a quote or source, and having to dig back through archived files. So I thought it would be easier if I made a handful of PDFs and published them here – for posterity as it were… and for my own self-plagiaristic purposes.

Stay tuned…

The Impact of Web 2.0 on Social Activism

“The past few years have seen the Internet used more often and more widely as a tool for social activism. As a resource, digital technology provides a platform for information collection and publication, a site for dialogue and debate, and a venue for lobbying and fundraising. In addition to using the Internet as a practical tool, a number of organizations have begun employing the Internet as a space for staging activism. Known variously as virtual activism, net protest, hacktivism, and cyberjamming, online activism is a rapidly growing and evolving field.
Previous work has suggested that the development of tactics for online activism relies on flexible, well resourced, and technically adept specialist groups. These small, less cause-driven groups with critical and technical expertise (such as Electronic Disturbance Theatre and RTMark) produce digital means of activism that expand the ‘electronic repertoire of contention’. These tactics can then be used by larger, less technically skilled groups.
The advent of the Web 2.0 paradigm has significant implications to the development of the electronic repertoire of contention. Within the Web 2.0 approach, the web is seen as a platform for service delivery – a model that emphasises user control, architectures of participation, and emergent behaviour. With an increase of re-mixable, collectible, hackable systems of loosely joined pieces, the web has the potential to become an even more critical tool for social movements.
Online services such as Google, Flickr, and BitTorrent – as well as more general trends such as blogging, wikis and semantic tagging – empower less technical organisations to become more active in the digital space. This has two implications for online social action. The first is an increase in the use of the Internet as a tool or resource – BitTorrent provides an ideal platform for sharing media assets globally between chapters of an organisation, while wikis enable organisations to cost effectively build grass-roots knowledge bases.
The second implication of Web 2.0 is that these online services create digital spaces that movements may seek to subvert as part of their actions. When online services and content become core to many people’s daily lives, they offer a unique opportunity for social protest. One documented examples of this is Google-bombing, where individuals or movements have sought to manipulate the Google search ranking system as a form of activism.
This paper surveys the technologies underlying Web 2.0, and illustrates how emerging online services differ significantly from previous digital content. Several examples are provided of the use of these services by social movements – both as resources and as sites of contestation. A model for the expansion of the electronic repertoire of contention is presented, and modified to encompass the potential impact of Web 2.0 services. A number of observations are made on the implications this will have for social movements that wish to extend their activity to digital media.” [read the full paper]
Rolfe, B. (2006) The Impact of Web 2.0 on Social Activism, Paper presented at the 7th Annual Conference of the Association of Internet Researchers. 

Internet Research 7.0 – Convergences

This week I have been attending Internet Research 7.0 – Internet Convergences in Brisbane. Primarily I’m here to present my paper on The Impact of Web 2.0 on Social Activism, but have run into a few nice folk and caught some interesting papers. I am just not a conference kind of guy – all that academic schmoozing leaves me a little cold. At a collection of pretty geeky academics, I have discovered that at least I am not alone in that!
The conference is broadly cross-disciplinary, which is both a strength and a weakness. On the positive side, the juxtaposition of highly technologically driven papers with sociological surveys, ethical remarks, and occasional theoretical treatments sends a strong message about the breadth of people studying these topics. On the negativs side, it is harder to gain anything of practical value from much of the work, and many of teh works lack an awareness of their own inherent disciplinarity or interdisciplinarity.
Having said that, there have been papers that do cut through the jumble of perspectives to resonate in interesting and often unexpected ways. Nancy Baym’s paper on The Internet in Advice Columns and Mat Wall-Smith’s observations on Metadata and Moving Bodies have been particularly appreciated.

Back to the circuit board

After some fits and starts, progress on my thesis seems to be truccking along again. At present, most of the work is delving deeper and deeper into neurophysiology in preparation for my scientific experiment. As part of this, I am building some testing apparatus to monitor galvanic skin response, as well as to manage a link between the subject and a digital prosthetic hand – hence the delightfully techy kit you see here. At the centre of it all is a DATAQ DI-148U, a snazzy little box for capturing and controlling external signals… no geekboy should be without one!

Dr. Breakspear and his EEG

Today I met with Dr. Michael Breakspear and his team. They are doing some interesting research at the Black Dog Institute using an EEG, which may be a viable tool for my questions about extension of the body-image into digital avatars (though I think I will have to trim down the scope of what I am looking at a little!) Michael suggested that the best way to get a grasp of the procedure was to help them out as guinea pig on one of their current studies, so I submitted myself to prodding, poking, and the worst hair day imaginable.

Going forward, I need to source some form of real-world interface (I am thinking a parallel port I/O interface) and a way of managing that interface from something simple like Flash (I think there are Xtras that do this for Director perhaps). Perhaps in the no-too-diatant future, I too can subject people to this shower cap humiliation!

In-Game Performance and the Player-Avatar Assemblage

Paper presented at e-Performance and Plugins: A Mediatised Performance Conference, convened by the School of Media, Film and Theatre at the University of NSW (December 1, 2005).

As gaming consoles have matured, the immersive interactivity they afford has made them an important site for the study of mediated performance. Game play is a hybrid performance of player and avatar, connected by controller cord and unbroken gaze in surprisingly tight symbiosis. Transdisciplinary new media research has found the abstract, flexible tools of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari useful in exploring this complex heterogenous hybridity.
This paper presents a conceptual model of the player-avatar ‘assemblage’, grounded in Deleuzian ontology. In such a model, the relations between components of the assemblage result in flows that determine the scope of mediated performance. Player and avatar are machinic multiplicities brought into relation through game play. As they articulate with one another, aspects of the assemblage shape the performance produced. The model presented here anticipates the ways in which this shaping occurs.
Following Manuel DeLanda, player and avatar multiplicities are conceived as multidimensional manifolds in state-space. As they engage to form the player-avatar assemblage, each extends and cuts the flux of the other. Flows are shared, lines of flight reinforced, divided, or extinguished. The nature of the resulting assemblage is driven by the singularities defining each manifold, and the ways in which they are concatenated.
There is a relative paucity of analytical research on digital avatars. However, theories of embedded cognition and cyborg relations nestled around this lacuna do provide numerous examples supporting the model presented. A general model of the player-avatar assemblage would be a powerful tool not only in the academic analysis of digitally mediated performance, but also in the praxis of avatar development and performance enablement. Should such a model hold following more rigorous experimental investigation, it will prove invaluable as digital avatars and mediated performance continue to take more prominent and complex roles in our lives.

Building an Electronic Repertoire of Contention

“This short paper examines the way in which the electronic repertoire of contention for online social movements is being built, and the means by which it will continue to evolve. Drawing on the work of Tilly and Tarrow, a number of possible explanations are examined for innovation within the online activist space, and for the diffusion of that innovation. Analysis suggests that several of the current approaches to understanding repertoire innovation are useful in describing the developing online repertoire. A hybrid model is proposed, integrating several of these approaches to provide a holistic description of electronic repertoire innovation and diffusion.” [read the full paper]
Rolfe, B. (2005) Building an Electronic Repertoire of Contention, Social Movement Studies, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 65-74.

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Social Movements in Action conference convened by the Research Initiative on International Activism in June 2003.

Digital Technologies of Connection

“Digital communication technologies, such as the Internet and mobile telephony, can be placed within a continuum of ‘technologies of connection’. Such technologies alter the way in which individuals are connected, and may affect emergent social structures. In exploring the changes resulting from increased social connectivity, a number of useful approaches may be drawn from disparate disciplines. While network theory provides tools for describing connected structures, it fails to account for the complexity of individuals within a social system. Individual based modelling addresses this shortcoming, however both these approaches generally conceptualise systems as static. In understanding the ongoing effect of changes in social connectivity, it is necessary to appreciate social space as an unfolding metastable flux. Complexity theory suggests a dynamic, yet discontinuous model for the development of connected systems. This approach explores the qualitative changes brought about by increasing connectivity between individuals, resulting in a series of transitions through discrete emergent social states. A Deleuzian ontology of the virtual is proposed as a framework within which such studies can be situated. Structuring exploration around notions of virtual resources may deliver a greater understanding of the potential impact that digital connectivity will have on individuals and the social spaces they inhabit.” [read the full paper]
Rolfe, B. (2004) Digital Technologies of Connection: Modelling Individual and Societal Impact. Proceedings of the 2004 Annual Conference of the Australian Sociological Association conference held at La Trobe University. Beechworth, La Trobe University.