Internet as distribution versus publication

A quick note about a problem that has emerged again in my students’ essays. I encourage students to search the massive online journal databases to find material for their essays. Other students have also figured out that books can be read through Google Books and even Amazon.com. A minor problem that I am seeing is that students are treating these sources as online publications. From my perspective, they are not online publications. M/C Journal is an online publication while The British Journal of Criminology, for example, while it may appear online through the journal databases, is not an online publication. TBJoC is a print publication distributed online as a PDF (and potentially via one’s printer). On the other hand, online news sources are a good example of the sort of confusion that emerges. Media institutions like the ABC has its own online news stream and newspaper publish articles online, and these should be treated as online publications.

hacking the (bar)code

Here are some results from links and ideas various people have sent from my post to the cultstud list and blog several weeks ago. Here is another post. The reason I am posting this to my blog now is because Google Android’s mobile operating system has received some positive critical comments regarding its barcode scanning application (see end link below).

David Silver let me know about Microsoft’s endeavour to produce a Windows Mobile Media (WMM) based application for scanning barcodes with mobile devices and sending phones to urls, the Advance User Resource Annotation System (AURA). Senior Research Sociologist leading the Community Technologies Group, MarcSmith, on the system. An interview with him on CNET. Paper by Smith. A video where he explains the logic behind the system. As the above video attests ‘bringing people together’ means bringing ‘consumers together’, but because of the capacity to collectively annotate any barcode, it doesn’t just have to be ‘consumers’. A paper on a field test of the system. Here is a forum post by someone who explores how to actually use AURA as part of the test beta.

Beyond the Microsoft horizon there are many other interesting devices and systems that had been developed. There was also the Cuecat system (and fiasco!). Bryan Behrenshausen pointed me in the direction of http://www.nearfield.org/ which seems to be a group of Nordic researchers investigating the design potential of RFID systems. Bryan writes “I like the Touch project because it’s run by a collective with such varied backgrounds — computer science, sociology, anthropology, design, communication studies, etc. Consequently, the project can examine the history of touch, embodied practice, design directions, and social consequences of/for these new technologies.” He also pointed me towards the Barcode Battler, which is not a post-human rearticulation of the aspirational Australian lumpen proletariat, but a game that involved collecting bar-coded playing cards and using this proprietary reader to ‘battle’ (like a precursor to Pokémon or something).

Machine readable codes have a long history. Ted Striphas sent me an article of his on the function and history of code-based ISBN technology in the ‘back office’ of the publishing industry. He observes that the gradual introduction of the machine-readable coding technologies intensified the productivity (or, in Marxist terminology, increased the production of surplus-value) of logistics workers in the mega-bookseller companies such as amazon.com. It transformed the character of the industry from one that was slow and full of logistical redundancies to one that was streamlined by databases. The barcode becomes a literal representation of the exploitation of workers in an intensified Taylorist enterprise where workers are continually assessed by overseers for efficiency in the rate of logistical processing and dispatch. Ref: Ted Striphas “Cracking the Code: Technology, Historiography, and the “Back Office” of Mass Culture” Social Epistemology Vol. 19, Nos. 2-3, April-September 2005, pp. 261-282

What I am imagining is an inversion of this process. Not to sabotage the logistical chains of contemporary consumer culture, but a repurposing of the barcode and the database. Deleuze writes about code as the numerical language of control:

In the societies of control, on the other hand, what is important is no longer either a signature or a number, but a code: the code is a password […]. The numerical language of control is made of codes that mark access to information, or reject it.

For anyone who has grown up in this culture, and especially those who have worked in the service industry, all this is obvious.

Erik Hermansen discusses the logics behind ‘push’ versus ‘pull’ uses of barcode readers. He describes barcode readers as the killer app that will get people using the new feature laden smartphones:

Cell phones will start pulling information off the internet about products and companies. And nobody will be able to control it except the people doing the pulling. Who wins or loses when everybody gets the information they want to make spending decisions?

The consumer wins. Obviously. Dramatically. How many bad decisions have you made with no greater input than a price tag, product packaging, and the advice of a 19-year-old wearing a tie and sneakers? No more, my friend. Head into those flourescent-lit aisles armed with knowledge.

The mobile manufacturers win, because technology-assisted spending is the killer app that will finally cut through feature apathy. People are buying these sophisticated machines that they don’t really understand, so they mainly just use them as phones. Most people have figured out SMS and ring tones by now, but beyond that, the non-geeks don’t care much about all the bells and whistles. To make people truly interested in what mobile devices can do, a “gateway” feature with real-world value is needed. Save money on your shopping bill–everybody gets that, so lead with it!

Tipping point?

From The Australian newspaper:

CRIMTRAC’s planned automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) system could become a mass surveillance system, taking as many as 70 million photos of cars and drivers every day across a vast network of roadside cameras.

State and federal police forces want full-frontal images of vehicles, including the driver and front passenger, that are clear enough for identification purposes and usable as evidence in court.

Are question of privacy going to be the issue that shatters the illusion that the system of automobility is a system of freedom?

The system of automobility relies on the tight control of users down to the level of the very perception of the system itself. One of the triumphs of latter day governmentality is that drivers perceive the road and traffic system through the lense of road safety. Other perceptions include the environmental cost of subsidising automobility as a form of personal transport. In most cases, the road system is perceived purely in terms of mobility and access to that mobility.

By introducing questions of privacy, so that all every journey could potentially be tracked and logged in photographic databases, the implicit, embodied forms of control are rendered explicit. I wonder if this will be the beginning of the end for automobility? Or will the strong attraction for believing in personal freedoms (produced through systems of control) mean that the invasive tracking of individuals through digital recognition will be wholly accepted?

Two ideas for new consumer technologies

1) Idea behind technology: Nationalistic Singstar editions.
Names: Singstar Australia Day Edition, Singstar Independence Day Edition, etc. these are only examples, as each national market would have its own particular name.
Description: Sony can tap into the affects of the popularist nationalism. A Singstar disk installment that collects all the popular pop and folk anthems for each respective country. Imagine how many they would sell for backyard BBQs for Australia Day for the Singstar Australia Day Edition? “Tie me kangaroo down, sport” “Down Under” (already on one of them) “Great Sourthern Land” “My Island Home” “Waltzing Matilda” some Bee Gee action, bit of Acka Dacka, and some latter day tunes like The Living End, maybe some Kasey Chambers and so on. Ok, so Australia is one market, perhaps a useful test market, but imagine the US version of Singstar Independence Day Edition (or Singstar Fourth of July Edition). Money maker, Sony!

2) Idea behind technology: Digital marking device for teachers.
Names: Tacticle Digital Editor (TDE) or ‘teddy’ ;).
Description: This technology would combine slim PC-based digital book or document reader + a touchscreen + some software not unlike Word’s “track changes” function. This is to address the problem in marking where 90% of students get 90% of the same comments. Markers and examiners can then have the text open on the screen and a menu of comments on one side of the screen. While reading the assessment the marker can touch the screen to highlight, drag and drop comments from the menu, and a plug-in a USB keyboard to add comments. The device would have a ‘comment library’ which markers would add to and swap. It could be connected via wifi to the big plagiarism checker search engine/databases as well as other databses such as bibliographies to provide further direction for reading material to students. I am thinking as a university educator, but it would be very useful for any text- or print-based design work. The core principle is having a portable ‘sandbox’-type interface that receives tactile input to control digital data. It would be much bigger than a PDA, I am thinking about the size of a superslim 19-inch LCD screen. It would also function as a basic PC (ie with a retractable stand, so it becomes a monitor, and USB/WiFi/ethernet connections).