Creating Technology for Social Change

Liveblogging #PPDD17: Exploring Life in the Digital Age and Pervasive Technology.

I’m in San Diego at the Partnership for Progress on the Digital Divide (PPDD) 2017 conference. PPDD engages a broad diversity of individuals and organizations to spearhead a multi-associational, multi-disciplinary partnership among scholars, practitioners, and policymakers to make significant contributions in closing the digital divide and addressing the many other challenges and opportunities presented by the digital age. I’ll be here speaking about some of my ongoing research on Mapping Information Access and liveblogging the other panels as I can.

This liveblog represents a best-efforts account, not a direct transcript, of the lecture, presentation, and/or panel.

I’m attending the breakout panel entitled Exploring Life in the Digital Age and Pervasive Technology.

Andrew begins by introducing his fellow panelists and then his own topic of embodied technologies. He opens with a quote from Marc Weiser, Chief Scientist at Xerox PARC, who observed that “the most profound technologies are those that disappear.” At his postdoc, Andrew has been working to construct a database of wearables called FABRIC, a database containing media about emerging embodied technology platforms and their applications that uses a customized metadata scheme to catalog the discourse regarding technologies in popular media, intellectual property, etc, so that it’s possible to track their development over time. He reviews some of the specific elements of the system, technologies they have tracked, and partners they’ve worked with to help gather this information.

Will follows with a talk, on behalf of several collaborators, about an exploratory study of reddit users and their health seeking behavior. The goal of this project was to better understand the intersection of social media and personal health, and how users of the former use it to learn about the latter. They developed 4 hypotheses about information seeking behavior and credibility that they tested with SDSU students and users of r/SampleSize. They found their hypotheses were supported and that there was a feedback loop between how often people sought information, the perceived quality of the information they found, and how much more information they sought after. In future work, they hope to perform a content analysis of what reddit users are searching for, and what they are applying to their daily lives.

Liana follows with a talk about tech, mobility, and ubiquity. She argues that ubiquitous computing has historically focused upon technologies, but it really needs to focus on people, or more specifically the people-technology network, and quotes Bruno Latour to make the point (bless my poor dork heart). She shares survey data from Brazil about which media people use and for what reasons; “ubiquitous computing,” in Brazil, doesn’t mean omnipresent/omnipotent home sentries like Alexa, but mobile phones armed with assistant apps like Waze, which provides the corpus for her study. Liana argues that, at least in contexts like Brazil, small amounts of data linked over large numbers of devices provide a more realistic hope for ubiquitous computing than more centralized models.

Heloisa, who is also from Brazil, is presenting not the results of a study but a position paper proposing a future study. She identifies prior media forms like the book as having been shaped by patrimonialist political cultures and institutions built around and by the state. Heloisa argues that the main question for Brazilian digital inclusion is not so much about access or literacy but the complex relationship between the longstanding ‘book culture’ and ‘Internet culture,’ the former built around the state and its institutions, the latter around globalist and democratic aspirations. She proposes, on behalf of her and her coauthor, two studies of these separate cultures in order to compare their present and futures, independently and interwtwined, in and for the Brazilian context.