ASIS&T 2008: Plenary

Earlier this afternoon, I arrived in Columbus, OH for ASIS&T 2008. I am staying in the conference hotel (a Hyatt Regency) and feeling totally spoiled as I lean up against a huge stack of pillows on the bed. My flight was fine (love those 1 hour-ish flights) but I spent a lot of time at BWI before takeoff. As in, I arrived at BWI at 7:40am for a 10:25 flight. Not only did Super Shuttle insist on picking me up between 7:25 and 7:40 for the 30 minute drive to BWI (which I think was much quicker on a Sunday morning) but then they showed up 15 minutes early. I was not quite ready yet, but I don’t think I forgot anything too important. I did feel exceedingly vain putting on my makup in the airport ladies’ room, though.

Anyway, I’m going to try some conference blogging since Dr Bunsen Honeydew has much better battery life than Kermit the Gateway Laptop could ever dream of. That said, I didn’t have my computer with me for the plenary, so I’m working off of my notes for this post. And since I didn’t have a notebook and was taking notes on the back of some of the conference materials, that means these notes & thoughts are not necessarily in the order in which they were presented in the session. Anyway, my thoughts & comments are in brackets.

Plenary Session
Genevieve Bell on Transforming the Internet
Respondents: Howard Rheingold and Andrew Keen
(Bios)

Genevieve Bell:

-standpoint of a cultural anthropologist
-values of Internet: openness, democracy, transparency, accessibility — anyone’s values, but not necessarily everyone’s
-nature of the creation of the web has created webcentrism — US has claim to ‘pure’ top-level domains, everyone else has to append country abbreviation
-Internet is everywhere now (in terms of hardware – phones, TVs, etc). This changes it, and how you use it. Can only do so much on a 2″ screen. Devices themselves change it (immersive flash website on a cell? not so good.)
-gave example of a woman in Indonesia [?] who says she uses Internet daily. No electricity in the house, though. Turns out son comes by and takes dictation of email Mom wants to send to daughter. He goes to Internet cafe & then comes back and tells Mom daughter’s response.
-example of woman in US who has a printer hooked up to Internet but no keyboard, computer, etc. System is set up to automatically scrape email account and print emails. Kids send her notes, crossword puzzles, etc.
-[Totally different ways of using the internet than I could have ever imagined. Very cool.]
-As of this year, Internet has more users in mainland China than in US. How will this change the Internet?
-Very Westerinzed now – mostly in English. Fastest-growing user groups are not English-speaking. Using character-based languages and more poetic languages. Different languages = different expectations.
-Example of languages with paired terms, where you can drop one and other speakers of that language can fill in the gap to get your meaning. On the Internet, how do you search for what’s not there? Mentioned this is how Chinese bloggers can sometimes fly under the radar.
-Mentioned that Shanghai gov’t has set up a website where you can create a virtual shrine to your ancestors, very realistic. Created in response to lack of free land to make physical shrines.
-Crreating differences in use. Countries with capped Internet (then you can pay big bucks if you go over your allowance) or where a more expensive access plan gets you better, faster access. Level of access & speed changes how you experience the web.
-Killer apps and how do they affect internet? Story from England. BBC introduced iplayer for folks to download from BBC TV archive. So many people were downloading that speeds across the islands were down 30-40%. How other peopel are using Internet can affect your experience of it. [Quick & dirty — here’s something on this from the Independent, though it doesn’t give numbers.]
-Social inclusion – where do you put computers so the most people can get at them and use & learn about the Internet? Indonesian gov’t had a plan to distribute them to mosques. More mosques in many cities than hard telephone lines. They are a community center, educational tradition, and trusted community leaders are there. Not much d one with this plan yet. [Do libraries still act as this kind of space for such a big part of the population?]
-Cairo 3 years ago — IT minister sets up a wifi cloud, got into argument with religious leaders over debut use. [This was a neat tidbit but I don’t have enough notes on it to flesh it out. Gah.]
-New concerns for the internet — control of knowledge, power, reputation, authenticity, etc.
-Privacy – people want to keep more things private. Expanding to things like what music they listen to, what TV shows they watch. Tied to “performance” of who you are on MySpace, Facebook, etc. One thing to like a TV show in an ironic way on yoru profile, another to admit that you actually enjoy it in a non-ironic way. What you see of me on my profile vs what you actually know about me. [How much of this is teenagers vs adults? Control of information about yourself.]
-She is interested by ex-users of the internet who found nothing compelling. People trying to unplug from technology deliberately (example of finding dead spots and vacationing there). Guy in her hometown in Austrailia who has the TV for football and a mobile to call peopel. Doesn’t need the internet to watch things or contact people.
-Vastly different availability of technology.

Responses from Howard Rheingold and Andrew Keen — they were each given about 10 minutes to respond to Genevieve’s presentation.

Responses from Howard Rheingold:
-Neil Postman book on teaching as a subversive act. [Teaching as a Subversive Activity.]
-Talked about students in his class, he is trying to get them to stop taking notes and just see what they can learn in a session, in the moment. They are insistent that they “have to take my notes” — don’t want to do collective notetaking.
-Values in and ways we pass knowledge between each other.
-[How much of the students’ reaction to ‘no notes’ is because of the values in the way we have traditionally transmitted information to each other and how much of it is the way the educational system is set up? So many tests all through elementary, middle and high school. Lots of things boil down to “memorize this.” Need notes to study from if you are going to memorize. College can be a whole other way of thinking about how you learn. Too bad you are not really equpped for that kind of change at 18.]

Responses from Andrew Keen:
-Internet is a series of ideological assumptions around the world.
-Internet is teaching an idealized way of operating in a world, not the world.
-The idea of something that brings us together, globally, is a powerful one, even if they reality of the internet is different than the idea of it.

Responses from panel discussion and questions from audience:

HR: significant problem — degree to which we cannot control what’s put online about us. (Friends can still post photos even if you are not putting yourself online anywhere.)
GB: Certait hings are not just technology, they are symbol sets for other things, embedded parts of our lives. Example of stores in China [?] where you buy paper items to burn for the deceased so they can have those things in the afterlife. Used to be money for bribes, now it is laptops, cell phones etc. Who is your dead relative calling with this cell phone? Duh, other dead relatives.
HR: Internet was not invented to do what it does now. Same thing with telephone. People find ways to make things do what they want them to do.

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