Is performance lifestyle harmful?

Many years ago while on holiday at the Versailles palace I noticed an amusing pair of tourists. He was tall, large and filming everything with his camera. She was short and slim and trying to hold the audio guide close to the camera while he panned over the ceilings – the effect was an amusing dance through the gilded halls. What struck me was that neither of them seemed to be enjoying the present but were more interested in producing a record of the trip.

When I talk about social media (which I seem to do a lot) I often refer to Performance Lifestyle. This is the documentation of our lives to an imaginary or perceived audience. One of the minor effects is to create the extra-ordinary in an ordinary life. Online people don’t (for example) simply drink coffee but they either drink terrible or fabulous coffee. Or maybe they create a special interest in coffee and create a type of art or research project around the mundane event of coffee drinking (I’m guilty of this). The point is that since we live normal lives we need to create a supernormal version of everyday events.

Some may find this silly, but silly does not make it pointless. Many find sport silly, but to those with the interest it is hardly silly. Silly is therefore not an interesting measurement. But what if our performance lifestyles could be harmful in some way? In a recent lecture I argued that

One of the interesting things about technology is the way in which it enables us to do things which we normally cannot do. But it is also interesting that technology encourages us to do things differently. For example there seems to be a change in the way in which we react today when we witness an accident or emergency.

1. Photograph the event
2. Tweet the photo
3. Update status on Facebook
4. Call emergency services

Naturally this is apocryphal but it has a sad ring of truth about it.

This is something I would like to study closer but it is difficult to find a methodology to prove or disprove this effect. But take a look at what happened during the Oslo bombing on the 22 July, 2011.

This is a screenshot portion of this page. Click view image to view full size.

Time 15:25 The bomb goes off at 15:25 and 22 seconds. At 38 seconds the blast registers on NORSAR seismic data equipment at Løten. At 45 seconds the tweet “Holy Crap did Oslo just explode?”

Time 15:26 The police receive their first notification

Time 15:28: 10 seconds tweet “Shit! Office window blew up! What happened?”, 21 seconds tweet “Loud band in center of Oslo, what was it?”, 44 seconds tweet “Bomb downtown”

Time 15:29: 3 seconds tweet “Lightning, bomb, terror? What happend at Youngstorget? Our office was crushed!”

This page has a fascinating chronological list of tweets.

This is fascinating stuff but there are several problems here. First is the time – how exact are these measurements, what could or should be the reaction times to expect? Is it fair to make generalizations from the communication of shocked people in an event of this magnitude? What about the more banal everyday accidents that occur in our lives? How could we effectively observe and measure the ways in which our technology changes the ways in which we react to everyday emergencies? It’s all good and well to say things we think to be true but how do we actually conduct research around this topic? Seriously, I’m asking you. Only then could I answer the question posed in the title.

Fools and their money are easily parted

Christmas is really the time for bullshit gifts. This is not really criticism, I am all for buying crap – even though I would prefer not to be such a consumer. But there are times when I feel like shouting “Enough!!!”

This is how I felt when I came across this little spout used to pour wine. This is a good example of your usual crap – not unusual. But what is really unusual are the bullshit claims that the manufacturer makes.

Its a bottle pourer with a uniquely integrated magnetic field which, according to the manufacturer, ages the wine as you pour and then “opens” and “enhances” the wine’s flavours.

What a crock! If you really want an overpriced spout for you bottles – fine. But there is no way in science that pouring your wine through a magnetic field does anything at all to the taste. Even using industrial strength super-magnets will not change, improve, age, enhance or do anything else with your wine.

Then again the concept of the healing powers of magnetism are age old. But remember that bullshit, even old bullshit, is still bullshit.

P. T. Barnum is supposed to have said “There’s a sucker born every minute” and around Christmas they seem to be about in greater numbers than normal.


Information Science and Social Media

TGIF! It’s not that this week has been heavier than usual but it is nice to have the weekend to unwind and … well let’s be honest work on a paper that’s due soon. Sad but true.

The good news is that next week its time for ISSOME (Information Science and Social Media) in Turku, Finland. Check out the program. The papers look really good:

– Behavioural Traces and Indirect User-to-User Mediation in the Participatory Library / Lennart Björneborn

– How to study social media practises in converging library spaces. Making the case for deploying co-presence ethnography in studies of 2.0-libraries / Hanna Carlsson

– Implications of the Web 2.0 Technologies for Public Libraries intending to Facilitate Alternative Public Discourse / Leif Kajberg

– Geo-encoding of local services and information: / Samppa Rohkimainen

– The use of social media technologies in the work practices of information professionals / Sally Burford

– Examining the use of Internet and social media among men at military conscription age / Heidi Enwald, Noora Hirvonen and Tim Luoto

– To Inform or to Interact, that is the question: The role of Freedom of Information in Social Media Policies / Mathias Klang and Jan Nolin

– Designing Games for Testing Information Behavior Theories / J. Tuomas Harviainen

– Critical about clustering of tags: An intersectional perspective on folksonomies / Isto Huvila and Kristin Johannesson

– The creation of a personal space on the Internet: self presentation and self-disclosure in blogging / Jenny Bronstein

– On social media and document theory: an exploratory and conceptual study / Olle Sköld

– Linguistic and Cultural Differences in Content Management – Indexing and titling in multilingual and multicultural blogosphere / Susanna Nykyri

– Writing for Wikipedia as a learning task in the school’s information literacy instruction / Eero Sormunen, Leeni Lehtio and Jannica Heinström

– The Use of Weblogs and Microblogs in LIS Online Courses: A Case Study / Lu Xiao and Diane Neal

– Teaching social media in LIS: a bridging approach / Monica Lassi and Hanna Maurin Söderholm

– A Community-based Learning Approach towards Training Librarian 2.0 / Lu Xiao

– Author disambiguation for enhanced science-2.0 services / Jeffrey Demaine

– A Comparison of Different User-Similarity Measures as Basis for Research and Scientific Cooperation / Tamara Heck

– WikiLeaks Comments: A Qualitative Investigation / Noa Aharony

Looking for Love in All the Right Places: Defining Success in the World of Online Dating / Christopher Mascaro, Rachel Magee and Sean Goggins

Anyone know what to do in Turku? Anything that shouldn’t be missed?

GikII speakers & presentations

This year I am fortunate to be the local organizer for the wonderful GikII conference. This is GikII’s 6th year and its first time in Sweden so its time to be extra proud. In the call for papers we included:

For 2011, this ship full of seriously playful lawyers will enter for the first time the cold waters of the north (well, further north than Scotland) and enter that land of paradoxes: Sweden. Seen by outsiders as well-organised suicidal Bergman-watching conformists, but also the country that brought you Freedom of Information, ABBA, the Swedish chef, The Pirate Bay and (sort of…) Julian Assange. We offer fine weather, the summer solstice and a fair reception at the friendly harbour of Göteborg.

Now the conference is fast approaching and organization is steaming ahead. We have a schedule & information about the venue online. And check out these presentations!

This is going to be good! But then again, GikII always is.

No, I have not read your gods

Warning: Pointless rant.

Much of my work is multi or cross-disciplinary which means that I get to meet lots of fascinating people in different departments and from different disciplines. It all began when I moved from law to technology. I needed to learn new theoretical frameworks, new canons of literature, new methods and approaches etc.

I had moved to provide valuable insights from a different perspective to the department but in reality I needed to learn their language and culture to be able to talk. In doing so I lost some of the language and culture that made me unique and valuable to the department.

One of the problems with multidisciplinary work is that it can easily fail unless both disciplines are open to accept new ideas.

Once I had left my comfort zone I realized that I might as well continue to roam about and have been lucky enough to join in several fascinating discussions from the perspectives of many different disciplines. The people and arguments I have met have enriched my own thinking in ways that single disciplines could not.

But every now and then the nasty face of dogmatism appears. Someone at some department challenges me: you do not belong here, you do not belong in our discipline, and your ideas are less valid since your undergrad degree comes from the wrong field.

In a recent episode of Big Bang Theory, Sheldon asks Penny for acting lessons to improve his teaching:

Penny: Let´s take you out of your comfort zone
Sheldon: Why would we want to do that? It´s call the comfort zone for a reason

But I digress.

Strangely enough the most common form of attack is to find an obscure theoretician within the field, often some great thinker to whom everyone refers (but few bother to read) and attempt to hit the invader over the head with.

A typical situation is to engage the invader in a discussion on an obscure (and often irrelevant for the main discussion) point in the works of the great. The goal is to either get the invader to accept the speaker’s mastery of the subject – or even better an admission of ignorance! Ah the joy when the speaker can smile knowingly in shock and horror to signify that your discipline lacks all value.

This is an academic pissing contest. And from experience there are four strategies: attack, counter, deceive, evade.

To attack is to meet the speaker head on. This is an “all in” strategy. It looks brilliant if you win by flattening the opponent. You are king of the little pile – the alpha male in the seminar room – but it is not a long-term strategy. You can never be best at everything and it does not support cooperation.

Counter is to attack but not on equal terms. Instead of meeting the opponent with his or her own weapons you bring out your own armies. Dust of a dead theory from your own field and force the speaker into a battle on your own terms. Less impressive and still crap for long-term cooperation.

Deception is another strategy. This is basically faking it (partly or completely) you have no idea what they are on about but you might get away with it. This approach is massively horrible if it fails later. It is also damaging for the ego if you succeed in pulling it off. Not good for long-term cooperation. It is the grown up version of lying to the teacher about doing your homework. It is pissing in your own pants when it is cold outside (warm at first but cold in the long run). It is strangely also the most commonly used strategy. In my more pessimistic periods I believe all of academia is filled with people faking it.

Evasion is basically letting the running bull pass the flag. Admit to not knowing of this academic giant. Ask the speaker to explain briefly and question on why that particular theorist is relevant to the discussion in hand. Don’t be put of with comments like “I will send you an article” – if the speaker wanted a fight, give him/her one. But make sure he/she does the work. Demand to know the relevance of the theory, be polite, inquisitive, learning and hoist the s.o.b. on his own petard. Its not good for long term collaboration, but why on earth would you want to work with the little shit anyway?


I leave you with the Omid Djalili demonstrating effects of different cultures in an argument:

Gikii 2011 in Göteborg

Sharpen your pencils and polish your mice its soon time to submit abstracts for GikII 2011 which will run 26-28 June in Göteborg. The cfp is being tweaked as we speak and I am both honored and intimidated to be the local host of this great event – the sixth annual GikII.

For those of you who have not met the GikII check out last years call for papers:

GikII is a workshop concerned with exploring the legal interaction between popular culture, speculative fiction, and new technologies. It has been described unimaginatively as trail-blazing, innovative, fun and informative. We like to think of GikII as the legal workshop equivalent of a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, in other words, it is “like having your brain smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick”. GikII is where the bravest, fun-est (not to be confused with funniest) and zaniest ideas about law and technologies are discussed. In some instances we explore technologies so new that in fact there is not even a term to describe them, while some other times we have discussed technologies long gone. We only ask that you are imaginative and think of your fellow travellers instead of yourself. GikII is all about giving legal scholars the opportunity to engage in blue skies thinking (variations of the visible electromagnetic radiation spectrum may occur depending on which planet you may currently inhabit). If you have a paper that is languishing at the bottom of your hard drive and is crying out to see the light of a USB stick, GikII is the place for you. We laugh in the face of tradition and make rude comments about scholarly convention.

Or why not browse the five earlier events at Edinburgh 2006, Oxford 2007, Oxford 2008, Amsterdam 2009, Edinburgh 2010

The law is an ass

Need more proof that the law is not as relevant as it should be? Via Slashdot comes a link to a report in the Times of India about a recent case in the High Court of Bombay. The court had received a complaint filed by an NGO, Janhit Manch that sought action against ‘fake’ astrologers, tantriks, practitioners of Vastu shastra etc.

The outcome was probably a lot more surprising than most would expect. Instead of confirming that astrology lacked any scientific foundation they came to the conclusion that:

“So far as prayer related to astrology is concerned, the Supreme Court has already considered the issue and ruled that astrology is science. The court had in 2004 also directed the universities to consider if astrology science can be added to the syllabus. The decision of the apex court is binding on this court,” observed the judges.

Decisions such as these could hardly prove to be negative on the reality of science – even if the perception of science may be dented in some quarters, but any people who chose to be affected by this are hardly the most scientifically rooted. On the other hand scientists, and thankfully a whole bunch of lawyers, can only shake their heads in despair.

All we can do is agree with Mr Bumble: “the law is an ass”