(x-posted on Super Bon!)
In late March and early April, I attended three events that together signal some interesting shifts in thinking about music technology and sound. The first, a day-long symposium on March 24th I co-organized with Nancy Baym, was entitled “What Is Music Technology For?” It came after a weekend-long instalment of MusicTechFest, which brings together people from the arts, industry, education and academe to talk about music technology. For our more academically-focused event, we brought together humanists, social scientists, engineers, experimentalists, artists and policy activists (among others) to discuss our mutual interests and investments in music technology. Rather than editing a collection that would come out two years from now, Nancy and I decided to try assembling a manifesto, a project that gave direction to the day and also helped us think in terms of common problems and goals.
The result is now available online at musictechifesto.net, and I encourage you to visit, read and sign.
That event was followed by two others which I think show at least a possibility for a sea change in how we talk about music technology and with whom.
The following weekend found me at the University of Maryland, for their “Sound+” conference. I presented a (still early version of) my work on Dennis Gabor and time-stretched audio, and listened to a wide range of papers from (mostly) English and literature scholars on sonic problems. But of course Maryland is home to the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, and that combined with a critical mass of people interested in theory and interdisciplinarity meant we also had some conversations that looked outward, especially a roundtable on mutual sonic interests across the humanities and sciences at the end of the second day.
The weekend after that (4-5 April) found me at the Machine Fantasies conference at Tufts University (across town), which brought together musicologists, anthropologists, composers, engineers, artists and computer scientists to have conversations about what it means for machines to make music, and how we might think about both the pasts and the futures of music technology.
Combined with other events, like the huge MusDig conference at Oxford last summer, there seems to be a growing interest in working across established interdisciplinary boundaries. In other words, while humanists and social scientists are used to talking with one another, and while engineers and computer scientists are used to talking with one another, there now seems to be a growing (and one hopes, critical) mass of people who want to work across intellectual and institutional boundaries.
Speaking as someone coming out of the humanities and “soft” or “critical” social sciences, this is a major change brought on, I think, by several concurrent developments (and keep in mind this is musings in a blog post, not a careful intellectual history):
1. A renewed interest in making, probably heavily lubricated by the turn to the “digital humanities” in some fields, but also by a re-assessment of the role of critique. A generation ago, I came up learning that to be critical required one to be separate. But increasingly, we are seeing integration of critique with other scholarly modes. Anne Balsamo’s mapping of the technological imagination in Designing Culture captures this beautifully.
2. A new openness to humanistic and interpretive approaches in the world of music engineering and science. I can’t say that I know them to have been “closed” in previous generations–that may well not have been the case. But I have personally spent the last 10 years or so in dialogue with people in a variety of scienc-y and engineering-y spheres of music technology design, development and research. I have found a great deal of openness to and interest in the kinds of ideas in which I usually traffic, and what began really as a “study of” a group of people has evolved into a series of “collaborations with.” To that end, and to provide a little institutional leverage (or play space), I have joined McGill’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music, Media and Technology (CIRMMT, pronounced “Kermit,” like the frog).
3. Some of this may also be the result of changing institutional configurations and easy familiarity with tools. Two generations ago, when places like Stanford’s Center for Computer Music and Acoustics were getting off the ground, to do anything with computers and music (or music and technology more broadly), you needed a space and resources, you needed specialized equipment, and you needed specialized knowledge. Today, those tools are cheaper and more available than ever. There is something lost when people aren’t heading over to the mainframe or computer lab and running into each other that way–common spaces are so central to interdisciplinarity. But there is something gained when we all have an easy sense of the available tools, and some of our questions are beginning to converge.
4. Some of the theoretical concerns of humanists, like what it means to make or listen to music, what it means to be a musician or fan, what technology is or should be, how the various music industries ought to be organized, and what the nature of an instrument or instrumentality is–these questions are suddenly on the table and pressing issues for everyone. The answers we come up with now can have practical impact as we imagine the next generation of music technologies, or worry after the increasingly precarious status of people who make their living from music or sound work. In other words, we are in the enviable–and impossible–position of having a lot of thinking to do, and having a chance to act on those thoughts.
These are exciting, challenging, messy and incomplete developments. They hold a great deal of promise. It is up to us to pop our heads up from our silos, to think big, and try to work together in different kinds of spaces to move some of these shared agendas forward.
March 21-23, we held the first Music Tech Fest in North America at Microsoft Research New England. It was a three day bonanza of ideas spanning a mind-bending spectrum of ways to connect music and technology.
The day after, 21 scholars met for a symposium we called What is Music Technology For? Our goal was to write a manifesto. Today we are proud to announce the launch of the Manifesto. As we say on the about page:
Those at the symposium were motivated by a passion for music, a fascination with technology and culture, and a concern for how music technology is now developing. Recognizing the fertility of music technology as a subject that bridges computational, scientific, social scientific and humanistic approaches, we looked for common ground across those fields. We debated and developed a set of shared principles about the future of music technology.
Built from the notes of that day’s event, and revised together in the weeks that followed, this manifesto is the collaboratively-authored product of this meeting.
Read more about the manifesto and who was involved on the about page. We hope those of you with overlapping interests in music and in technology will sign on.
UPDATE: At this time we have a great pool for 2014 and are no longer accepting applications.
Microsoft Research (MSR) is looking for a Research Assistant for its Social Media Collective in the New England lab, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Social Media Collective consists of Nancy Baym, Mary Gray, Jessa Lingel, and Kevin Driscoll in Cambridge, and Kate Crawford and danah boyd in New York City, as well as faculty visitors and Ph.D. interns. The RA will be working directly with Nancy Baym, Kate Crawford and Mary Gray.
An appropriate candidate will be a self-starter who is passionate and knowledgeable about the social and cultural implications of technology. Strong skills in writing, organisation and academic research are essential, as are time-management and multi-tasking. Minimal qualifications are a BA or equivalent degree in a humanities or social science discipline and some qualitative research training.
Job responsibilities will include:
- Sourcing and curating relevant literature and research materials
- Producing literature reviews and/or annotated bibliographies
- Coding ethnographic and interview data
- Editing manuscripts
- Working with academic journals on themed sections
- Assisting with research project and event organization
The RA will also get to collaborate on ongoing research and, while publication is not a guarantee, the RA will be encouraged to co-author papers while at MSR. The RAship will require 40 hours per week on site in Cambridge, MA, and remote collaboration with the researchers in the New York City lab. It is a 1-year only contractor position, paid hourly with flexible daytime hours. The start date will ideally be in late June, although flexibility is possible for the right candidate.
This position is ideal for junior scholars who will be applying to PhD programs in Communication, Media Studies, Sociology, Anthropology, Information Studies, and related fields and want to develop and hone their research skills before entering a graduate program. Current New England-based MA/PhD students are welcome to apply provided they can commit to 40 hours of on-site work per week.
To apply, please send an email to Nancy Baym (email@example.com) with the subject “RA Application” and include the following attachments:
- One-page (single-spaced) personal statement, including a description of research experience, interests, and professional goals
- CV or resume
- Writing sample (preferably a literature review or a scholarly-styled article)
- Links to online presence (e.g., blog, homepage, Twitter, journalistic endeavors, etc.)
- The names and emails of two recommenders
We will begin reviewing applications on May 12 and will continue to do so until we find an appropriate candidate.
Please feel free to ask quesions about the position in the comments! I have answered a couple of the most common ones there already.
Studying Selfies: Evidence, Affect, Ethics, and the Internet’s Visual Turn
A special section of the International Journal of Communication (IJoC)
Dr. Theresa Senft
Master Teacher in Global Liberal Studies
New York University
Dr. Nancy Baym
The fact that “selfie” was Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year for 2013 indicates that the selfie is a topic of popular interest. Yet for scholars, the selfie phenomenon represents a paradox. As an object, the selfie lends itself to cultural scorn and shaming. As a cultural practice, however, selfie circulation grows by the moment, moving far beyond the clichéd province of bored teenagers online. The rapid spread of camera-enabled mobile phones worldwide means that selfies have become a global phenomenon. Yet dominant discourses about what selfies are, and what they mean, tend to be extremely U.S. focused.
In this special section, we aim to provide international perspectives on selfies. As an act of production, we are interested in why selfie-making lends itself to discussions featuring words like “narcissistic” or “empowering.” As a media genre, we are interested in the relationship of the selfie to documentary, autobiography, advertising, and celebrity. As a cultural signifier, we ask: What social work does a selfie do in communities where it was intended to circulate, and what happens when it circulates beyond those communities?
As an emblematic part of the social media’s increased “visual turn,” selfies provide opportunities for scholars to develop best practices for interpreting images online in rigorous ways. Case studies of selfie production, consumption and circulation can also provide much needed insight into the social dynamics at play on popular social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, WeChat and Tumblr.
We are seeking scholarly articles from diverse fields, and a wide range of theoretical and methodological approaches, including: media studies, communication, anthropology, digital humanities, computational and social sciences, cultural geography, history, and critical cultural studies.
Possible topics include, but are not limited to:
Selfie as discourse: What is the history (or histories) of the selfie? How do these histories map to contemporary media and scholarly discourses regarding self-representation, autobiography, photography, amateurism, branding, and/or celebrity?
Selfie as evidence: What are the epistemological ramifications of the selfie? How do selfies function as evidence that one attended an event, feels intimate with a partner, was battered in a parking lot, is willing to be “authentic” with fans, or claims particular standing in a social or political community? One uploaded, how do selfies become evidence of a different sort, subject to possibilities like “revenge porn,” data mining, or state surveillance?
Selfie as affect: What feelings do selfies elicit for those who produce, view, and/or circulate them? What are we to make of controversial genres like infant selfies, soldier selfies, selfies with homeless people, or selfies at funerals? How do these discourses about controversial selfies map to larger conversations about “audience numbness” and “empathy deficit” in media?
Selfie as ethics: Who practices “empowering” selfie generation? Who does not? Who cannot? How do these questions map to larger issues of class, race, gender, sexuality, religion and geography? What responsibilities do those who circulate selfies of others have toward the original creator of the photo? What is the relationship between selfies and other forms of documentary photography, with regard to ethics?
Selfie as pedagogy: How can selfies be used as case studies to better understand the visual turn in social media use? How do selfies “speak,” and what methods might we develop to better understand what is being said?
Formatting and Requirements
To be considered for this collection, a paper of maximum 5,000 words (including images with captions, footnotes, references and appendices, if any) must be submitted by June 15, 2014. All submissions should be accompanied by two to three suggested reviewers including their e-mail addresses, titles, affiliations and research interests. Submissions will fall under the category of “Features” which are typically shorter than full research articles.
All submissions must adhere strictly to the most recent version of the APA styleguide (including in-text citations and references). Papers must include the author(s) name, title, affiliation and e-mail address. Any papers that do not follow these guidelines will not be submitted for peer review.
The International Journal of Communication is an open access journal (ijoc.org). All articles will be available online at the point of publication. The anticipated publication timeframe for this special section is March 2015.
All submissions should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org by June 15, 2014. Late submissions will not be included for consideration.
Tomorrow is 404 Day, an effort from the Electronic Frontier Foundation to raise awareness of online censorship in libraries and public schools. They’re running an online info session today at noon, PST, and they’ve reached out to librarians and information professionals to share experiences with online censorship.
My encounters with 404 pages in libraries have mostly stemmed from my academic rather than librarian life. While in graduate school, I undertook a project looking at practices of secrecy in the extreme body modification community. I wanted to know how the community circulated information about illegal and quasi-legal procedures among insiders, without exposing the same information to outsiders and the authorities. As a researcher, getting a 404 message (which happened mostly when trying to access a social network platform geared specifically to the body modification community) was mostly exasperating, but it also gave me pause for other contexts of looking up this type of information. As a teenager, body modification fascinated me, and I spent many hours online researching procedures related to piercings, tattoos, scarification and suspension. Eventually, I came to feel very much a part of the body modification community, and the internet was vital to that happening. When I imagine what would have happened if I’d been confronted with 404 pages early on in those searches, it’s possible that my body would look very different, and so would my early twenties – in both cases, I believe, for the worse. My experiences were by no means singular; while conducting research on EBM, I encountered many folks who were still struggling to locate information about procedures they wanted done, to get answers to questions about health and well being, to find a community that wouldn’t find their interests weird or freakish. EBM is just one example of a stigmatized topic that provokes censorship at the cost of denying people information that can be deeply tied to their physical, mental and social well-being.
I’m grateful to EFF for drawing attention to 404s and monitoring policies, and am happy to join the array of information activists speaking out against censorship in public libraries and schools.
By Sara C. Kingsley and Dr. Mary L. Gray
(cross-posted to CultureDigitally and The Center for Popular Economics)
Ray and Charles Working on a Conceptual Model for the Exhibition Mathematica, 1960, photograph. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (A-22a)
“Certainly the cost of living has increased, but the cost of everything else has likewise increased,” H.G. Burt, the President of the Union Pacific Railroad, asserted to railroad company machinists and boilermakers. For Burt, the “cost of everything else” included the cost of labor. His remedy: place “each workman on his [own] merit.” In 1902, “workman merit” to a tycoon like H.G. Burt squarely meant equating the value of labor, or the worth of a person, to the amount of output each individual produced. Union Pacific Railroad eventually made use of this logic by replacing the hourly wages of workers with a piece rate system. Employers switched to piecework systems around the turn of the 19th century largely to reduce labor costs by weeding out lower skilled workers, and cutting the wages of workers unable to keep apace with the “speeding up” of factory production.
Employers historically leveraged piecework as a managerial tool, reconfiguring labor markets to the employers’ advantage by allowing production rates, rather than time on the job, to measure productivity. Whatever a person produced that was not quantifiable as a commodity, in other words, did not constitute work. We’ve seen other examples of discounted labor in spaces outside the factory. Feminist economists fight to this day, for example, for the work of caregivers and housewives, largely ignored by mainstream economic theory, to gain recognition as “real” forms of labor. Real benefits and income are lost to those whose work goes unaccounted.
As the historical record shows, workers do not typically accept arbitrary changes to their terms of employment handed down by management. In fact, the Union Pacific Railroad machinists protested Burt’s decision to set their wages through a piecework system. H.G. Burt met their resistance with this question: is it “right for any man to ask for more money than he is actually worth or can earn?”
But what is a person truly worth in terms of earning power? And what societal, cultural, and economic factors limit a person from earning more?
In 2014, the question of a person’s worth in relation to their work, or the value of labor itself, is no less prescient. The rhetoric surrounding workers’ rights compared to those of business differs little whether one browses the archives of a twentieth century newspaper or scrolls Facebook posts. Ironically enough though, in the age of social media and citizen reporting, the utter lack of visibility and adequate representation of today’s workers stands in stark contrast to the piece rate workers of H.G. Burt’s day. Few soundbites or talking points, let alone byline articles, focus on the invisible labor foundational to today’s information economies. Nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than with crowdwork.
Legal scholar Alek L. Felstiner’s defines crowdworking as, “the process of taking tasks that would normally be delegated to an employee and distributing them to a large pool of online workers, the ‘crowd’” (2011). Hundreds of thousands of people regularly do piecework tasks online for commercial, crowdsourcing sites like Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk (“AMT”).
Over the last year, we’ve worked with Dr. Siddharth Suri and an international team of researchers, to uncover the invisible forms of labor online, and people who rely upon digital piecework for a significant portion of their income. Crowdwork is, arguably, the most economically valuable, yet invisible, form of labor that the Internet has ever produced. Take Google’s search engine for instance. Each time you search for an image online (to create the next most hilarious meme, or find a infograph for a conference presentation) you’re benefitting from the labor of thousands of crowdworkers who have identified or ranked the image your search populates. While this service may be valuable to you, the workers doing it, only receive a few cents for their contributions to your meme or slideshow presentation. Additionally, a typical crowdworker living in the United States makes, on average, 2 to 3 dollars an hour. We need to ask ourselves: what is fair compensation for the value that workers bring to our lives? How would you feel if tomorrow, all your favorite, seemingly free, online services that depend on these digital pieceworkers, disappeared?
Last fall, we spent four months in South India talking with crowdworkers and learning about their motivations for doing this type of work. In the process we met people with far ranging life experiences, but a common story to tell – perhaps familiar to all of us who’ve earned a wage for our keep: work is not all we are, but most of what we do is work. And increasingly, the capacity to maintain a living above the poverty line is elusive, and complicated by what “being poor” means in a global economy. Our hopes for finding more satisfying work, a life valued for what it is rather than what it is not — is no less, even as we confront the realities of today.
Moshe Marvit spoke to the complexities of crowdwork as a form of viable employment in a compelling account of U.S. workers’ experience with Amazon Mechanical Turk. He describes this popular crowdsourcing platform as “one of the most exploited workforces no one has ever seen.” Marvit emphasizes how crowdwork remains a thing universally unacknowledged, in that more and more tasks, from researchers’ web-based surveys and to Twitter’s real-time deciphering of trending topics, depend on crowdwork. However, most people still don’t know that behind their screen is an army of click workers. Anyone, who has ever browsed an online catalogue or searched the web for a restaurant’s physical address, has benefited from a person completing small, crowdworked task online. Pointedly, our web experience is better because of the thousands of unknown workers who labor to optimize the online spaces we employ.
As Marvit points out, and our research also notes, people only earn pennies at a time for doing the small crowd tasks not yet fully automatable by computer algorithms. These crowd tasks, however, add up to global systems whose monetary worth sometimes trumps that of small nations. Yet, when we ask our peers and colleagues, “do you know who the thousands of low income workers are behind your web browser?” We receive mystified stares, and many reply “I don’t know.”
The hundreds of thousands of people who regularly work in your web browser are not the youth of Silicon Valley’s tech industry. They likely cannot afford Google glass, or ride to work in corporate buses. Some are college educated, but, like people today – they are stuck in careers that undervalue their real worth, in addition to discounting the investments they’ve already made in their education, skills, and the unique set of values they’ve gained from their own life experiences.
Yet, the more our research team learns about crowdworkers’ lives, the more we realized how little we know about the economic value of crowdwork and the makeup of the crowdworking labor force. And as Marvit notes, we still don’t have a good grasp of what someone is doing, legally speaking, when they do crowdwork. Should we categorize crowdwork as freelance work? Contract labor? Temporary or part-time work?
In the absence of answers to these questions, some have called for policy solutions to mitigate the noted and sometimes glaring inequities in power distributed between those posting tasks (or, jobs) to crowdwork platforms, and those seeking to do crowdwork online. But, we argue, good labor policy that makes sense of crowdwork, from a legal or technical point of view, can’t be adequately drafted until we understand what people expect and experience doing task-based work online. Who does crowdwork? Where, how, and why do they do it? And how does crowdworking fit into the rest of their lives, not to mention our global workflows? When we can answer these questions, we’ll be ready to talk about how to define crowdwork in more meaningful ways. Until then, we resist dubbing crowdwork “exploitative” or “ideal,” because doing so is meaningless to the millions of people who crowdwork, and ignores the builders and programmers out there trying to improve these technologies.
We are all implicated in the environments we rely on and utilize in our daily lives, including the Internet. Those who mindlessly request and outsource tasks to the crowd without regard to crowdworkers’ rights, are perhaps, no more at fault than the rest of us who expect instant, high quality web services every time we search or do other activities online. An important lesson from Union Pacific Railroad still holds true: workers are not expendable.
Omaha daily bee. (Omaha [Neb.]), 01 July 1902. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn99021999/1902-07-01/ed-1/seq-1/>