RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017

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9 Power 2.0: New Digital Geographies
Affiliation Digital Geographies Working Group
Convenor(s) Kate Symons (The University of Edinburgh, UK)
George Jaramillo (The Glasgow School of Art, UK)
Chair(s) Kate Symons (The University of Edinburgh, UK)
George Jaramillo (The Glasgow School of Art, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 30 August 2017, Session 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
Room Sir Alexander Fleming Building, Room 119
Session abstract This session will explore the political, ecological and geographic implications of a new decentralised digital society. Increasingly, social interactions and assemblages involve novel configurations of socialised information technologies. Examples include the blockchain, a form of distributed ledger providing new forms of exchange. The blockchain is celebrated as heralding a revolutionary decentralised society in which people are liberated from traditional forms of power and control, often imagined as a post-capitalist, post-national, libertarian future, but sometimes as a socialist one. At the same time, increasing discomfort is felt about the extent to which some online relationships are kept concealed (such as the sale, storage and sharing of personal data), while technologies are interacting with existing capitalist structures to co-produce novel forms of commodification (for example, the Internet of Things enables devices to directly communicate with companies such as Amazon to automatically reorder products). Far from being neutral, such new data technologies are entangled with and are co-producing political, economic, social and material arrangements across spaces. The session will focus on questions of power, capital and agency in relation to the decentralised digital society, including: novel forms of commodification using data technologies; the ways in which digital technologies are giving rise to novel communities and power relations and providing novel ways to organise and contest; novel interactions between people, data and things across space; and, methodological, epistemological and/ or ontological analyses of researching the geographies of the new digital society.
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
Sonic cartographies of voluntary geographic information: listening to new representations of the city
Daniela Ferreira (Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal)
Daniel Paiva (Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal)
We have recently witnessed an accelerated development in the production of voluntary geographic information (VGI). Several initiatives, usually smartphone- and GPS-based, are collecting large sets of data and generating data-rich geographic information. Among these, some projects (such as Noise Tube, Record the Earth, or Think About Sound) are currently trying to create noise and sound maps using citizens as active sensors of the urban sound environment. These projects work through smartphone-based apps that either register georeferenced decibel levels or record georeferenced sound tracks. It has been argued by authors such as Rob Kitchin and Mordechai Haklay that VGI highlights some urban spaces while it renders others invisible. With this in mind, the objective of this communication is to reflect on what kind of listening can VGI-based noise and sound mapping technologies produce, by posing three questions. Firstly, what city spaces will we hear through VGI-based noise and sound mapping technologies? Like other kinds of VGI mapping, noise and sound mapping renders some places hearable and other places silent. Secondly, which city life will be able to speak through such technologies? Humans and the built environment tend to dominate geographic information, but VGI-based noise and sound mapping might give voice to non-human life in the city. Lastly, how will listening to the city through VGI change the way we see the city? The non-representational nature of sound provides possibilities for postrepresentational cartography, but can this potential be fulfilled?
Government on the blockchain? The case study of Estonia and its pioneering of nascent technologies
Nicholas Robinson (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
This year marks 25 years since Estonia re-established its statehood following the regaining of independence in 1991. In that relatively short period of time, Estonia has experienced astonishing levels of economic, political and social change – whilst simultaneously trying to distance itself from its Soviet past in the process. The Estonian government has overseen a ‘conveyor belt’ period of rapid technological innovation, from the introduction of e-ID (2002) to the recent launch of e-Residency (2014). However, in recent years Estonia has turned its attention to blockchain and distributed technology, and the main aim of this project is to engage with a number of blockchain and distributed ledger-based projects that are currently being pioneered by the Estonian government in an array of different applications or services. Using Estonia as a unique case study, it will question whether the utilisation of such technologies can lead to a more transparent and honest government, and potentially redefine the relationship between citizen and state. Critically, the project will also examine how and why Estonia has reached this point today, assessing the introduction of various technologies and legislative amendments in the last two decades. The project turns to Guardtime and its use of KSI technology—currently used within government databases and in securing over a million patient healthcare records—assessing whether the technology has played a critical role in the Estonian government becoming more transparent and accountable to its citizens. By way of concluding, it is suggested that KSI cannot be solely attributed for a more transparent and honest Estonian government; rather, a more holistic approach is ultimately required, recognising the role of previous technological innovations and key legislative changes in the period since Estonia regained independence.
Economising social capital? Social networking sites and the double commodification of social relations
Jonas Koenig (HafenCity University, Germany)
The emergence of social networking sites like Facebook or LinkedIn has significantly reshaped the way how personal relations are built and maintained. Far from being a neutral medium, social networking sites, as this paper argues, contribute to the ongoing economisation and double commodification of social relations. While the idea that ‘social capital’ impacts on economic outcomes is not new, social networking sites, on the one hand, perform an understanding of social networks as personal asset and as visible expression of reputation. They translate networks into quantifiable data which allow to ‘optimise’ relations. Furthermore, social networking sites can be conceptualised as market platforms that impact on the way how networks are transferred into other forms of capital. On the other hand, platform providers commodify relational data of their users. To increase profits, the affordances of social networking are designed to increase connectivity. Based on an assessment of networking guideline literature and a series of exploratory interviews with people working the tech-industry in Berlin and San Francisco, the paper sheds light on networking practices that are increasingly informed by economic calculus and by the affordances of social networking sites and that – in turn – transform the power structures and geographies of social networks.
Subprime Language: The Value of Words in an Age of Linguistic Capitalism, Digital Advertising and Fake News
Pip Thornton (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
John Morris (University College London, UK)
This paper is concerned with the circulation of language as it flows through digital spaces as commodified data, primarily under the influence of enormously powerful, yet democratically opaque companies such as Google. Following on from Google’s ‘bank like’ ability to create money and value (as when banks create money in the form of debt), we argue that digital power (and therefore linguistic power) is far from decentralized. Words submitted to computation are increasingly monetised, be it as search results, keywords, adverts, news stories, or even as part of personal email correspondence; optimised to court the algorithms which govern tools and platforms such as Google Search, AdWords, AdSense and Gmail. In this way their linguistic value is negated in favour of their economic value. As companies such as Google increasingly mediate the informational landscape, words are being lent against a narrative so tenuous as to make their linguistic function negligible. Infused with a neoliberal logic which favours advertising dollars over truth, the discursive side-effects of this semantic shift have revealed a deep-rooted weakness in the linguistic marketplace, with potentially devastating consequences. Examining phenomena such as fake news stories and advertising driven click bait, we conceptualize this emerging (con)fusion of language and capital as ‘subprime language’. This paper asks two questions: (i) what are the discursive and performative effects of the commodification of words? (ii) as the value of language shifts from circulating meaning to circulating capital, does a subprime crisis lie ahead? How long before the linguistic bubble bursts?
BitBarista – Instantiation of Distributed Autonomous System – short demonstration
Ella Tallyn (The University of Edinburgh, UK)
In this demo we introduce Bitbarista, a hacked coffee machine which conducts its own autonomous relationships. Bitbarista is connected to the Internet and attempts to communicate complex data processes, gathering consistent information on the state of coffee producing countries. It reveals the social, environmental, qualitative and economic aspects of coffee supply chains affecting end-prices, of which consumers are often unaware. In doing so, it places customers within the complexity of factors involved in coffee production, distribution and purchase across geographical contexts. The aim is to expose this complexity in order to give users a stronger sense of participation in this process, and to explore the machine-data assemblage as an actor.
GeoAid – Exploring Smart Contracting for Humanitarian Aid Distribution – short demonstration
Bettina Nissen (The University of Edinburgh, UK)
Shaune Oosthuizen (The University of Edinburgh, UK)
Brett Matulis (University of Leicester, UK)
We present GeoAid, a location-based smart contracting platform exploring the potential of blockchain technology for a more transparent and direct distribution of humanitarian aid. This technology probe aims to raise questions around how smart contracts and geo-fenced digital currencies could be deployed as distributed systems of fund donations beyond current centralised models. We are presenting GeoAid not as a technology-driven solution but as a creative exploration aiming to encourage further critical dialogue involving a broader, less computing-focused audience. By making blockchain and smart contracting technology more accessible in an experiential and applied form, we aim to facilitate a broader discussion potentially leading to new models of peer-to-peer fund distribution in economically, environmentally or socially challenging contexts from within a community and its organisations.