The Immersive Hand: Nonverbal Communication in Virtual Environments

My new book chapter, “The Immersive Hand“, just came out in a collection The Immersive Internet: Reflections on the Entangling of the Virtual with Society, Politics and the Economy published by Palgrave Macmillan.

“The Immersive Internet provides the first omnibus account of the emerging world-view of people who spend most of their quality time mediated by computer-based technologies. It should be taken seriously by anyone trying to design a liberal arts curriculum for Humanity 2.0.” – Steve Fuller

Edited by Robin Teigland, Associate Professor at the Stockholm School of Economic, and Domenic Power, Professor at Uppsala University, the collection includes an Introduction by Edward Castranova (author of Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games), and  an Afterword by Tom Boellstorff (author of Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human), as well as seventeen chapters covering themes such as Virtual Worlds and the Future of Human Identity (Richard Gilbert and Andrew Forney), Virtual Worlds as Radical Theater (Anthony Townsend and Brian Mennecke), Virtual Worlds and Indigenous Narratives (James Barrett), Inhabitants of Virtual Worlds, Players of Online Games (Antti Ainamo and Tuukka Tammi), Relationships, Community, and Networked Individuals (Rhonda McEwen and Barry Wellman), Understanding Internet-based Generative Platforms (Jonny Holmström), and other.

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Following workflow of a digital scholar

We recently presented preliminary results of our Digital Scholarly Workflow project at the International Digital Curation Conference 2013, and at the eHumanties Group of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in Amsterdam.

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Digital Humanities in Practice, DHC 2012

Here is our presentation from the recently completed Digital Humanities Congress 2012.

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Serendipitous Digital Memories

Recently I found my old cell phone, which was misplaced for two years. But a bigger surprise than finding the phone was discovering what was left inside.

The phone was inoperative for two years, but once charged — voilà, it displayed all of my old text messages, faithfully preserved.

Great, have a safe trip. Everything is fine here, both of us are doing good. Enjoy, talk  to you soon! Kiss x 2

This text message, dated September 20, 2010, at 9:07 a.m., was a drop in the digital communication bucket at the time it was created. I had received 26 other text messages that day, and I was only one among millions of people who exchanged millions of text messages on that particular date.

Short and short-lived, text messages usually accomplish what Roman Jakobson called referential and phatic functions in communication. We commonly use them either to convey brief pieces of information, or simply to stay in touch. Written but evanescent, as a good example of Ong’s secondary orality, text messages occupy very small pieces of both our digital and physical memories. We write, read, and delete them fast.

Luckily, digital technologies sometimes suspend their judgment about what should end as digital trash.

That was the case with my old cell phone.

The messages my cell phone preserved were written and sent by my parents. During the time the cell phone went missing, they both passed away. My father suffered a sudden stroke a month after the above-quoted message had been sent; my mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness shortly after, and passed away a year later.

Like an earthquake, these abrupt deaths brought sweeping turmoil. The time spent in-between hospitals and burial grounds left little time for reflection, let alone for preservation of memories.

Photos were there; fine. Some videos too; fine. But it was that fleeting, low-key, everyday communication that I missed the most. Big moments we are trying to preserve are not the ones that really matter in the end, I got to realize; it is those small, warm, chit-chatty moments that form the fabrics of our lives.

And that was exactly what my old cell phone provided me with when it miraculously reappeared. Small, casual text messages brought back to me the genuine, everyday voices of my parents. Accidentally preserved, they became one of my most precious remembrances.

Once I discovered them, I took all possible measures to archive them. Those text messages are now stored at several cell phones, hard disks, and cloud spaces. But it was only by luck that I got the second chance to preserve them, and to really grasp new dimensions that personal digital archiving can bring to our memory practices.

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In a digital Aρχεῖον

Recently I organized a panel on scholars’ personal digital archiving practices, and gave a talk on the same topic at the Personal Digital Archiving (PDA) 2012 Conference at the Internet Archive.

At PDA 2012, discussing results of my fieldwork study

Held annually, PDA brings together participants from academia, corporate sector, startups, governmental institutions, and other stakeholders focused on ensuring long-term access to personal digital archives. PDA’s founder and primary convenor, Jeff Ubois, defines personal digital archives as ‘the sum of an individual’s digital information and creative works,’ and points out that personal digital archiving ‘democratizes something that only very rich and powerful people had up until now, which is the ability to send a record of their lives into the future.’

Jeff Ubois at PDA 2012

At PDA 2012, the theme of documenting ordinary people’s lives  was put forward from the very beginning, with the screening of Rick Prelinger’s documentary Lost Landscapes of Detroit. Presentations that followed additionally highlighted this theme. Mike Ashenfelder from the Library of Congress provided ‘Personal Digital Archive Advice for the General Public’, Stan James presented the case of his own family archive, Lori Kendall from the University of Illinois discussed family history works, while Microsoft’s Cathy Marshall talked about ownership and re-use of personal data.

Stan James discussing his family archive

Academic personal digital archiving was the main theme of presentations by Sudheendra Hangal from Stanford University, Carly Strasser from California Digital Library and Christopher Lee from the University of North Carolina, as well as of the panel What’s being Lost, What’s being Saved: Practices in digital scholarship and personal archiving. This panel included talks by University of Minnesota’s Laura Gurak and John Butler, as well as Penn State’s Ellysa Stern Cahoy and my previously mentioned talk.

Panel discussion on academic personal archiving: John Butler, Laura Gurak, Smiljana Antonijević, Ellysa Stern Cahoy, and Cal Lee (left to right)

Preservation and use of personal email archives was the topic of Stanford University Libraries’ Peter Chan, while Maciej Ceglowski, the founder of Pinboard, and Jerry Michalski, the founder of REX, talked about practical challenges and benefits of using bookmark and knowledge management tools such as Pinbord and The Brain. A commercial application aimed at facilitating personal digital archiving, Memoir Tree, was the theme of Jed Lau’s talk.

Maciej Ceglowski presenting Pinbord

Internet Archive’s founder Brewster Kahle and a team of IT developers discussed further archival plans at the Internet Archive.

Brewster Kahle talking about Internet Archive

PDA 2013 will be co-hosted by the Library of Congress and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities.

For PDA 2012 full conference program and video recordings please see the following URLs:

For other reviews of the PDA 2012 conference please see the following URLs:

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Stopping SOPA: when streets are dead capital

Pondering on the shift from traditional to electronic civil disobedience, the Critical Art Ensemble proclaimed that ‘as far as power is concerned, streets are dead capital.’  Recent events in the Arab world, U.K., U.S., and Europe have reminded us, though, that occupying streets still counts when it comes to different power struggles and social change.

But in some cases web spaces appear as the most obvious and powerful arenas of civil disobedience, as we are seeing now in the in/famous SOPA and PIPA conflict.

The peak of discontent over SOPA/PIPA  will be tomorrow’s web protest that Google, Wikipedia, Boing Boing, The Internet Archive and many other institutions have announced.

While waiting for the protest to take place, it is interesting to recall some of the earlier, more or less know cases of web blackouts.

One of the biggest was the European web boycott held on June 6, 1999 when nearly million users from 15 European countries went offline for 24 hours, calling for the introduction of flat-rate charges, quicker introduction of xDSL, cable modems, and other changes.

High access rates had also been the cause of an Internet strike launched a year earlier in China, when a university student urged Chinese users to boycott the Net for one day, and every Sunday thereafter until Internet costs are lowered and government monopoly decreased.

The same year, a somewhat different type of Internet strike took place in Germany. Workers at the GMD FIRST institute in Berlin, a research centre for computer science, protested the threat of wage cuts by making unreadable 13.5% of each of the GMD web pages.

A web blackout similar in cause to the one scheduled for tomorrow was Yahoo/GeoCities protest held in 1999, when the residents of GeoCities shut down their pages to protest ‘the Yahooligan corporate raid on their members’ intellectual property’.

Different in cause, but analogous in achieving the desired change was an Internet strike organized in Serbia in 2000 to protest an electoral fraud of the Slobodan Milosevic regime.  A disabled high-school student decided to join a widespread street protest the only way he could—by closing down his website—and he called for other Serbian website owners to do the same. Soon after, many educational institutions, sport teams, municipalities, media organizations, as well as individuals replaced the original content of their websites with strike-related materials.

After a week, both streets and websites in Serbia were up and running again, and Milosevic was out of power.

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A Free Irresponsible Press

As WikiLeaks gets ready to re-open its user-submission system today, Yochai Benkler’s article, A Free Irresponsible Press: WikiLeaks and the Battle over the Soul of the Networked Fourth Estate, is more than a worthwhile read. The announced WikiLeaks drop-box opening makes Benkler’s piece immediately relevant, but it is its broader significance that makes it a true must-read for Internet researchers and users alike.

The author of The Wealth of Networks, and a Harvard law professor, Benkler provides a through, well-informed, and dispassionate analysis of the socio-political and legal circumstances surrounding the WikiLeaks case; the text is annotated with Julian Assange’s comments.

Benkler’s examination starts by tracing a short, yet turbulent WikiLeaks history (or, more precisely, the history of the WikiLeaks public perception), from the Amnesty International award-winning media website, to an alleged security threat (the analysis had been written before the WikiLeaks pendulum switched once again, and this website won a prestigious Australian journalistic award three days ago).

The turning point in this transformation Benkler recognizes in the release of the State Department diplomatic cables, launched in November 2010. Although the Department of Defense had identified WikiLeaks as a ‘security threat’ already in 2008, it was after the release of embassy cables that the U.S. ‘dramatic and sharp response’, as Benkler terms it, has begun.

The author notes that this  ‘integrated, cross-system attack on Wikileaks, led by the U.S. government with support from other governments, private companies, and online vigilantes, provides an unusually crisp window into the multi-system structure of freedom and constraint in the networked environment and helps us to map the emerging networked fourth estate’ (p.330).  And it is exactly this window surrounding freedoms and constraints in contemporary networked environment that constitutes the core of Benkler’s article.

Benkler takes a detailed look into following elements of the ‘cross-system attack’ on WikiLeaks: the socio-political framing of WikiLeaks as a terrorist organization; media disinformation about the website, its mode of operation, leaks, and members; denial of service attacks and disruption of payment services carried out via private sector entities such as Amazon, Pay Pal, Visa, and the like; direct and indirect legal action, most prominently the dentition of an alleged WikiLeaks informer, Bradley Manning; exercise of organizational power, such as forbidding the government personnel with security clearance to access the WikiLeaks website.

Following this, Benkler examines the cornerstones of the freedom of press, particularly when juxtaposed with the issues of censorship, national interest, Espionage Act, and the First Amendment. Drawing on famous Pentagon Papers and other cases, Bekler demonstrates that identical legal approach that would have been, and had been applied to the New York Times or any other major media in order to ensure freedom of press needs to be applied to WikiLeaks.

Benkler quotes the Supreme Court in saying that ‘liberty of the press is the right of the lonely pamphleteer who uses carbon paper or a mimeograph just as much as of the large metropolitan publisher’, and stresses that ‘what is being protected by this refusal to privilege the New York Times over Wikileaks is the continued access of the public to a steady flow of truthful publically relevant information about its government’s inner workings’ (p. 357, 359).

This argument gained strength this week with Walkley Foundation’s award to  WikiLeaks for its ‘courageous and controversial commitment to the finest traditions of journalism: justice through transparency’ and successful application of new technologies ‘to penetrate the inner workings of government to reveal an avalanche of inconvenient truths in a global publishing coup’.

In so doing, the Walkley Foundation has actually confirmed the central argument of Bekler’s piece; namely, that new structures of public sphere have to be recognized and protected. Decentralized information production, peer sharing, participatory knowledge production, and other forms of the emerging forth estate are playing an increasingly important role in various aspects of contemporary socio-political life, and their free development in networked environments needs to be granted as one of the central contemporary civil rights.

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Launching Digital Humanities 2.0 at the University of Minnesota

Last week I gave a talk at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, as part of the launch of a new University-wide initiative, Digital Humanities 2.0 (DH 2.0). I focused on epistemological and methodological challenges in digital humanities, based on results of my recently completed projects, Alfalab and Humanities Information Practices.

DH 2.0 initiative sets the ground for advancing humanities research in general, and at the University of Minnesota in particular, through digitization and Web 2.0 technologies. ‘The advancement of knowledge in the humanities will increasingly rely on an informed and creative use of the new tools and methodologies that are made possible by digitization and computer networking,” the DH 2.0 initiative asserts. ‘To carry their work forward, scholars and artists will necessarily engage with the digital humanities.”

The initiative builds on University of Minnesota’s existing rich resources and programs, such as the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute; the Digital Technology Center; the Institute for New Media Studies; the Department of Geography’s GIS concentration; large digitization projects undertaken by the University of Minnesota Libraries in collaboration with Google Books and the Hathi Trust Digital Library; the digitization program of the University of Minnesota Press; the University of Minnesota Libraries’ major archival initiative called the Digital Conservancy; and numerous individual faculty projects in the field of digital humanities.

DH 2.0 proposes digital humanities beyond printed word, i.e., an advanced study of words, images, moving images, sounds, color, shape, and motion as a coherent whole, as well as harvesting opportunities of the social web, such as crowd-sourcing and user-generated content. As an initial set of topics that could be explored at the University of Minnesota in a powerful way, DH 2.0 proposes application of GIS and map-annotation systems; legal constructs such as copyright and fair use; text-to-speech synthesis; archival preservation, access, and text mining; the social implications of network-based research and collaborative forms of writing and publishing; the democratization of information and the concomitant issue of parsing accurate information noise; and the ways trust and credibility are established in digital settings.

Forthcoming talks in the DH 2.0 launch series will include George Oates, a project leader of the Internet Archive’s Open Libray project, and Dan Cohen, the Director of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media.

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Wrapping up Alfalab project

Our two years long project, Alfalab, had its grand finale last week, at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) headquarters in Amsterdam.

Alfalab/eHumanities Symposium

Symposium The Future of Humanities: eHumanities in Practice presented key results of the Alfalab project team, and pointed at future directions of the recently established eHumanities Group of the KNAW. The symposium also provided an opportunity for discussing broader developments in digital and computational humanities.

Presentation of Alfalab demostrators

Joris van Zundert, the Alfalab project manager, focused on epistemological, technological, administrative and other lessons learned in the process of developing Alfalab, while Alfalab team members presented tools, publications, portals and other outputs of the Alfalab labs and initiatives – TextLab, LifeLab, GeoLab, InterfaceLab, Linked Open Annotation, Enhanced On Line Publications, and Alfalab portal.

Smiljana Antonijević presenting InterfaceLab

In addition to Alfalab team members, the symposium also included three invited speakers: Travis Brown, from the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, who presented project Bamboo; Annamaria Carusi of the Oxford e-Research Centre, who talked about re-engaging humanities theory in transformational digital humanities, and; Erik Schultes of Leiden University Medical Centre, who presented the concept and functions of nanopublications.

Annamaria Carusi talking about Transformational Digital Humanities

Finally, KNAW’s Henk Wals, Sally Wyatt, and Theo Mulder addressed the RoyalAcademy’s strategy in the field of digital and computational humanities.

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A Decade in Internet Time Symposium

Congratulations to Oxford Internet Institute  (OII) for its 10th anniversary, and for organizing an excellent symposium, A Decade in Internet Time.

In addition to marking OII’s anniversary, the symposium provided a stimulating setting for discussing past, present, and potential future aspects of information and communication technologies and their societal impact. The symposium featured keynotes by Lisa Nakamura, Manuel Castells, Eszter Hargittai, Christine Borgman, Laura de Nardis, and others, and highlighted themes such as copyright and open content; e-research; digital inclusion and inequalities; cultures and identities online; the role of ICTs in the Arab Spring, UK riots and the WikiLeaks case; collective action online; production of virtual knowledge (here is the full program).

A Decade in Internet Time plenary session

My symposium participation included two panels and two presentations. I organized a panel that focused on one of the fundamental and longest-standing themes in Internet research—trust. Conceptualizing Trust in Digital Environments panel opened with Laura Gurak’s talk Trust as foundational: from cave paintings to digital discourse, which looked at sociological perspectives on trust, specifically in relation to Internet research. We then turned to two cases of configuring trust in digital environments.  Anna Harris, Sally Wyatt, and Susan Kelly presented a study Health e-skepticism? Trust in the age of the Internet, which drew on their ongoing research about online direct-to-consumer psychiatric genetic testing, and examined the ways in which digital technologies reconfigure trust relationships between people, their bodies, their care-givers, codified and experiential knowledge, and the techno-bureaucratic systems which shape these relationships. My study, Trusting the Digital: The case of cultural heritage, focused on increasing use of ICTs in the cultural heritage sector, examining trust with regard to representational validity of digitized and born digital artifacts; participatory knowledge production; provenance of digital materials, and; epistemological soundness of computational research methods and tools. Finally, in the paper Age and Trust in the Internet: The Centrality of Experience and Attitudes Toward Technology in Britain, Grant Blank and William Dutton analyzed changes in user’s trust on the Internet in Britain between 2003 and 2009, and showed how a relationship between age and trust can be explained by experience with the Internet and general attitudes toward technology.

Laura Gurak, Grant Blank, Anna Harris, and Smiljana Antonijević

Panel Virtual Knowledge: Insights from Research and Prospects for the Future, organized by Paul Wouters and Sally Wyatt, examined changes related to knowledge production in the digital age, raising questions such as: does knowledge itself change when the tools of knowledge acquisition, representation and distribution become digital? Do new actors become involved and/or do traditional actors become less prominent in knowledge production? Are there shifts in power relations around knowledge? Is the essence and nature of knowledge affected? Following an introduction to panel by Sally Wyatt, Matthijs Kouw talked about uncertainty in knowledge representations; Stefan Dormans and I discussed affective labour in scholarly collaboration; Nicholas Jankowski and Clifford Tatum reflected on openness in scholarly publishing; Paul Wouters discussed data-sharing and data-intensive research; Sally Wyatt examined the changing notions of expertise in knowledge production. The panel wrapped up with an announcement of the forthcoming edited collection, Virtual Knoweldge, which will include papers presented at this panel and will be published by the MIT press.

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