[-empyre-] yes, but, well, and...

Cara Wallis carawallis at gmail.com
Thu May 10 02:33:33 EST 2012

Hi everyone,

I've really enjoyed the conversation so far. Since Andrew shifted the topic
somewhat by noting issues of power and mobiles, I thought this would be a
good time for me to jump in as well. I will be blogging on tinkering this
week but wanted first to talk a little about my research on cell phone use
in China [Brief intro – I received my Ph.D. in 2008 from the Annenberg
School at USC, which is where I met Anne. I’ve been an assistant professor
in the Department of Communication at Texas A&M in College Station for the
last three years].

For a number of years I have been conducting ethnographic fieldwork in
China, looking at how young rural-to-urban migrant women working in the
low-level service sector in Beijing engage with new media technologies like
cell phones and the Internet. For those not familiar with China, there is
something called the *hukou*, or household registration system. Because
migrant workers have a rural (agricultural) *hukou* and not an urban
(non-agricultural) *hukou*, they have a second-class citizenship in the
city. They not only do not have the same access to certain public services
and jobs, but they also face discrimination and exploitation.

Similar to Andrew’s comment regarding research on mobiles in public spaces,
one of the things that motivated my initial research was that of all the
great work coming out in the early 2000s on how mobile phones were becoming
an integral part of youth culture and identity, most of it focused
primarily on educated, relatively affluent, urban teenagers and college
students in developed countries, and very little of it considered issues of
power (except parental or school authority). So I was interested in how a
group that was much more marginalized was engaging with new media
technologies in their everyday lives. I approach this issue from a
critical/cultural and feminist perspective, and pay a lot of attention to
how social constructions of gender-, class-, age-, and place-based
identities produce particular engagements with mobile technologies, which
in turn reproduce and restructure these identities.

When I tell people I do my research in China, quite often the first
question I’m asked is about government censorship and control (power with a
capital P). While that certainly is an issue, the women I do research with
aren’t really concerned about that. When I first started doing my research,
they were using only basic phones with no Internet capability. Now most of
them use low-end smartphones, but they are not trying to go online to read
something about human rights in Tibet. They mostly use the mobile Internet
to read entertainment news or to use QQ – an extremely popular
messaging-gaming-social networking-everything site. So when I consider
issues of power, it is more in line with Foucault’s notion of a
micro-physics of power. While mobile phones allow these women to perform a
“modern,” hybrid rural-urban identity, to participate in new modes of
sociality and intimacy, to express a personal, visual aesthetic through the
use of digital images, and to disrupt patriarchal modes of authority, at
the same time, my research reveals that mobile phone use can also create
new disciplines, exclusions, and modes of control, in particular as
employers use cell phones as a means of monitoring employees (something
pretty important considering that before the widespread diffusion of cell
phones, migrant workers didn’t have their own phones since they couldn’t
afford a landline).

So, I guess I’ll conclude by saying that depending on who is using new
media and where, the questions about power, production, and reproduction
really shift.


Cara Wallis

Assistant Professor

Department of Communication

Texas A&M University

cwallis at tamu.edu

On Mon, May 7, 2012 at 5:17 PM, Andrew Schrock <aschrock at usc.edu> wrote:

> I've been greatly enjoying the discussion thus far, and hope I'm jumping
> in at an appropriate time. [super quick intro: I'm a USC Annenberg Ph.D
> student working with Anne at the public interactives research team/PIRT,
> where we're working on a digital book on tinkering called *Ways of the
> Hand. *My perspective comes out of mass communication, micro-sociology,
> and media studies, which have many resonances with Anne's work]
> I would be curious, following from the mention of Arab Spring, to hear
> responses from the group about the role of interfaces as they shift towards
> mobile devices. Scott raised the question about mobilities and
> mixed-reality interfaces. When I hear "public interactive" I think of
> public layers that can be punctuated with everyday devices and afford new
> visibility. Mobile devices are increasingly adopted in developing countries
> and present a primary mode of going online. So it seems that many concerns
> raised under the guise of public interactives shift towards different types
> of devices, even though they are so visibly and functionally different. And
> even though it is (as Dale reinforces to me) mobile devices are a
> fundamentally different experience than large screens and other forms of
> public interactives where people can come together; we shouldn't forget the
> collectivity question.
> Beyond mobilities lies the "cloud computing" that enables it. Back to
> Anne's statement of "Our data will move freely, but we will not" (maybe all
> trapped in megacities.... from home to the coffee shop to work and then
> home again). The question seems to come back to one of power, reproduction
> vs. production. It's interesting to me that several recent books on mobile
> devices in public spaces, although they provide very rich descriptions of
> relationships with mobile technologies and initial forays into this area
> over the last decade in the arts, do not coherently address
> power. Consumer-facing advertisements for "the cloud" paint it as an
> unencumbering force to take away all the worry of thinking about data --
> "To the cloud!" But shouldn't we learn to think about data? To be
> literate? I'm worried we are getting apoplectic about copyright, but
> whether a middle-class American can use Oasis as a soundtrack to family
> videos on YouTube is not the big battle.
> There is a fellow named Curtis Fletcher in the STS cluster at USC who I'm
> working with on a workshop tentatively titled "The Fate of Interpretation
> in the Era of Big Data." By which I take to mean, what does it mean to
> claim that we can capture data and essentially extract questions from it?
> Be guided by data? Lev Manovich's latest turn is similar, essentially
> advocating for data to speak for itself and work with computer scientists,
> not those in the humanities. So "beyond" lies claims of the death of ways
> of knowing outside of concrete empiricism.
> A
> On May 7, 2012, at 11:39 AM, Scott L. Minneman wrote:
> I don’t remember there being much mystery about where things were headed
> with the potential for collecting lots of information about us and
> inferring ad nauseum for purposes of advertising and such.  We saw the
> advent of recommender systems (and applauded when we discovered a movie or
> a new band via these mechanisms) and marveled when a search engine seemed
> to make good sense of the drivel we typed their direction.  Folks jumped at
> free services in exchange for surrendering their info and eyeballs.****
> ** **
> These days, the algorithms are seemingly trying too hard, or
> maybe….well.…perhaps they just don’t know me as well as they think they
> do.  Amazon seldom suggests a purchase I’m interested in, and I actually
> wish for a switch on Google so it would just stop trying to be clever.  And
> I’m sorry, friends, but I think I can count on a single hand the number of
> times when the “personal results” portion of a Google search have yielded
> anything.  I can no longer tell you to click the third search result…odds
> are it’s not the same for you.****
> ** **
> As we begin to see bigger corporations (including the biggie) looking
> seriously about how to directly augment our experience with mixed and
> virtual stuff, be it with glasses or tablets (or eventually contact lenses
> and brain stimulation), the slope gets disturbingly slippery.  The world,
> even if we’re in the same place, at the same time, starts to no longer look
> the same.  You’re hungry, so you’ve got the “food specials” layer turned on
> (if you even have control of it, perhaps your Nike “Fuel Band III” has
> detected that you need some calories and switched on that overlay for you).
>  The person next to you is a tourist, so they’re subscribing to a
> “historical landmarks” layer, and their son is playing some mixed reality
> first-person shooter.  Your views of the world are much different. ****
> ** **
> […and all of them have their peripheral vision blocked by banner ads and
> never see/hear the bus that runs them over – physics still doesn’t care.]*
> ***
> ** **
> I’m seemingly not as worried as Mark about what the powers that be are
> learning about me.  I’m more worried about how poorly it all works, and
> about how much stock they seem to be putting into their lame inferences.
> What they think I was asking becomes more important that what I really
> asked.  And then they infer more from our reactions to the junk they put in
> front of us.  Complicating matters is that our whole culture is highly
> dependent on shared experiences, and those are in flux and becoming
> increasingly scarce.****
> ** **
> Not sure where I’m going with this, but I’ll toss it out into the public
> interactives and interactive publics ring (oooh….there’s a name for a book
> Anne and I should write).  Hopefully Google won’t re-write it for each of
> you, in an attempt to relate my text to your recent searches for tips on
> how to get 3-Stars on the 27th level of Angry Birds Space (or whatever).**
> **
> ** **
> slm****
> ** **
> Scott L. Minneman, PhD****
> Professor and Industry Liaison – CCA****
> Principal – Onomy Labs, Inc.****
> onomy.com & slminneman.com <http://www.slminneman.com/>****
> 415 505-7234 - cell****
> ** **
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
> Andrew Schrock
> USC Annenberg Doctoral Student
> Twitter: @aschrock <http://twitter.com/#!/aschrock>
> Email:  aschrock at usc.edu
> Phone:  714.330.6545
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
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