Oxygen Lecture: Maker Culture 2/2

As promised here’s the text of the talk I gave at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, University of Dundee.  It is part of the Oxygen Lecture Series, organised by the University of East Anglia to address subjects – from digital technology to the environment – of critical contemporary relevance to society at venues in London and Scotland.

Commissioned by Creative Scotland, the series has been put together by Ian Chance, director of the MA in Creative Entrepreneurship at UEA London, the university’s London centre.

Here’s the text of the first lecture – it’s long. There will be a video available at some point.

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Oxygen Lecture: Maker Culture 1/2

Yesterday and today I’m giving talks about Makers and Maker Culture, one at UEA’s London campus and one at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, University of Dundee.  They are the first of the Oxygen Lecture Series, organised by the University of East Anglia to address subjects – from digital technology to the environment – of critical contemporary relevance to society at venues in London and Scotland.

Commissioned by Creative Scotland, the series has been put together by Ian Chance, director of the MA in Creative Entrepreneurship at UEA London, the university’s London centre.

Here’s the text of the first lecture – it’s long. There will be a video available at some point.

I’ll post the text of today’s lecture soon.

“Don’t touch that or you might fix it”: The Emerging Maker Ethic

Part 1: Oxygenation

[Slide: primordial earth ]

These two lectures will explore Maker culture and its impact on culture and society more generally.

Oxygenation: how maker culture came to be

Respiration: how to work in a world of makers

The titles of the two lectures reflect a major change in the Earth’s biosphere called The Great Oxygenation Event (GOE) (also known as the Oxygen Catastrophe or Oxygen Crisis or Great Oxidation),  the biologically induced appearance of free oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere, after which living organism could use it to drive respiration, the chemical reactions that are the basis of life[1].

Geological, isotopic, and chemical evidence suggest this major environmental change happened around 2.4 billion years ago. The emergence of free oxygen shaped the consequent evolution of all life and has given us the world we know today, just as the emergence of information and communications technologies based around electronic circuits has shaped the modern world.

[Slide: Arduino ]

The first lecture will consider how we got here, looking at the history of technology, the emergence of hacker culture and open systems, the development of computers and the internet, and the ways culture, society and the economy have adapted to and influenced these developments, ending with the emergence of maker culture as a response to the plethora of electronic devices in daily life.

[Slide: 3D Bill ]

The second will consider where we go from here, and the potential significance of faster, pervasive networks, mobile devices, 3D printing, sensor networks and other new technologies, touching on the movements to teach all children how to code, on issues around copyrights and patents, and on the ways artists and cultural organisations use – or could use -the new tools.

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iGuffins in an Ideal World

Earlier today I took part in a panel discussion at Watford Palace Theatre – where they serve illy coffee, I’m pleased to report – as part of the Ideal World season  for which the theatre worked with CRASSH – the Cambridge Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities. The theatre commissioned three plays on technology and its impact on human life and we were there to discuss some of the wider implications.

You can still catch the plays – Perfect Match, Override and Virgin.

Perfect Macht

Perfect Match

I got there in time to watch the afternoon performance of Perfect Match, the plot of which hinges on the idea that an algorithm with full access to your entire social media profile could find your ‘perfect match’ and that this could be life-changing. I don’t want to review the play here but I will note that throughout the play there was no real questioning of the algorithm itself, perhaps making it more of a plot device than a fully-rounded examination of contemporary technology – an iGuffin, perhaps.

[an iGuffin, like a MacGuffin, is an object of power or desire used to propel a plot which in the end turns out to be either unimportant or simply an empty vessel. An iGuffin is a technology that serves as a MacGuffin]

Out of Body

As for the panel, the question posed was whether we are having ‘a collective out of body experience’ and we were asked to consider the role of the technologies as pulling us out of the moment and ask if it is important to live life increasingly in an embodied state.

Using the theatrical performance as the analogy, we ask if there needs to be co-presence to full engage with others, or in fact if it is possible to have social interactions with others in an increasingly disembodied way.

The organiser was Dr Kathleen Richardson and she asked specifically what we each felt the consequences are for these technologies/robots that seem to be pulling us out of the moment and locality and into the virtual world and encouraging us to have more interactions with machines.

These are my notes, which I suspect betray more about my views of those who believe that consciousness and the body can somehow be separated than the use of technology in theatre. I’ve tidied them up a little but as you read them you’ll get the right authorial tone of you imagine me coffee fuelled in an upstairs room behind a long table trying to be entertaining at 4pm on a wet Friday in Watford.

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The final brick in the wall of the security state?

I don’t have a problem with sending journalists to gaol.

Sometimes we break the law, and sometimes we do it in ways that are not defensible as being in the public interest, or for reasons that are not related to our journalism. I also think it’s okay for the police to detain and question journalists, as they may anyone else. I work on the assumption that we should all, as citizens, respect the rule of law and act within legal constraints – a big part of any journalist’s training covers legal issues around contempt, defamation, confidentiality and copyright.

I don’t even want special protection under the law as a ‘journalist’ because then someone has to decide who counts as one, and as we’ve seen in the UK with the debate over the Leveson inquiry, that quickly ends up with some sort of state-approved licensing mechanism which none of us would find acceptable.

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Sharing Digital Skills

On January 17 I took part in the Reading Agency/Publishers Association conference at the rather lovely Canada Water Library in Southwark, where we  discussed ways for libraries to embrace new technologies in order to take their support for readers online.

It was the final event of a project around digital skills sharing, and you can find more details at the Reading Agency website. I took part in a panel session, which was lots of fun.

Panel session

I also gave the keynote talk at the start of the afternoon, which you can read here.

The Age of Electronics

[Slide: Computers]

We live in a society that is as dependent on access to and engagement with computers, digital data and fast networks as the one I grew up in was on electricity and the one before it on oil – although of course we still depend on both of them, and seem have added computers to the mix rather than replaced what went before.

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Writing again

Since I joined the Archive Development team at the BBC two years ago, initially part-time but now pretty full-on, I’ve done less and less writing here. I dropped my regular BBC column and though I’m still writing for Focus magazine and doing Click/Digital Planet on the World Service most of what’s ended up here has been photos and tweet-length apercus.

I’ve decided I need to get my groove back on, so I’m going to make the effort over Christmas to post something daily, and then keep up a more regular posting schedule in 2012 – my model will be the gifted John Naughton over at Memex 1.1 who manages to collect interesting stuff, his own writing and references to things he’s published elsewhere.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-03-30

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-03-22

  • Heading out for a relatively quiet & pressure free day – #diigitalplanet done without me this week as they are at #sxsw while I have a life! #
  • @sleepydog happy birthday to you, too! [See how Twitter has replaced Facebook as the space for this?] #
  • @Suw always put ‘read to do list’ at top of to do list, do that first, tick it off, feel better… in reply to Suw #
  • Been reflecting on @cshirky’s essay on newspapers http://snurl.com/dxbx9 and I think we ask what journalism is for: http://snurl.com/dxbwj #
  • @hairydalek thanks – rebooted! in reply to hairydalek #
  • Just declared Bloglines bankruptcy and marked all as read in my feeds. It was the only way. #
  • @spraveenitpro it feels good! in reply to spraveenitpro #
  • @rooreynolds say hello to @cshirky from me! in reply to rooreynolds #
  • Been such a lovely evening with @mattkelland and @bluemaiya. wecanhazbooze! #
  • @Whatleydude the nice people who rip them as torrents do that for you, don’t you find.. another reason the legit channels fail customers! in reply to Whatleydude #
  • Bit of rushing around this morning, afternoon doing Film Festival planning at the Picturehouse and coffee with @kiwanja. Works for me. #
  • Breakfast with the boy at ‘Skivers’, our local cafe, after a successful interview for VIth form (him, not me!) #
  • @davidjs_uk I’d be proud to be patron of burblr.com 🙂 in reply to davidjs_uk #
  • Good time at the Picturehouse, now off to BBC Cambs to record a short piece on behavioural ads for tomorrow’s Media Show. #
  • RT @amonck: My two cents on Clay Shirky and newspapers http://bit.ly/17HoE8 #
  • @darrenwaters there’s never enough to say about it surely? 🙂 in reply to darrenwaters #
  • @jjn1 I’ll see your MP3 and raise you a video of James Boyle at the RSA – http://tinyurl.com/cjcj39 🙂 in reply to jjn1 #
  • Home and uploading videos for a project I worked on last month. So dull my brain may explode. #
  • Waking up to begin the day – unlike the #sxsw brits who all seem to have partied and crashed… #
  • I dreamed about a film festival with @sizemore & @documentally, and ended up actually planning this year’s Cambridge Festival. Thanks, guys! #
  • Swinging by @cambsartphouse, then off to @WysingArtsCentr for lunch and plotting. #
  • Fun at Wysing, now off to town – maybe the @cambsartsphouse again! #
  • Home, fish&chips, beer, season 1 of IT Crowd. Me and the boy are content. #
  • @sunildvr Deep Blue in Sawston… was Jack’s, still pretty good. in reply to sunildvr #
  • Pleased that @O2UKOfficial managed to sort me out with 02 – will be staying with them for a while longer. Nice to see they are listening. #
  • Early start tomorrow so will call it a day. Or night. #
  • Onto the 0645 and off to London. Sans coffee, sans wits, sans everything. #
  • @dgwbirch good luck- hope my post on the topic gives you hope that *journalism* might survive the end of newspapers! in reply to dgwbirch #
  • Off to British library for coffee and book plotting. #
  • Lunch at St Pancras. No passport so can’t nip over to Paris. Shame. #
  • Betjeman Arms -lovely spot. http://twitpic.com/28rcw #
  • @DCEFrance Lunch was nice, but would have rather been eating brie and baguette in paris, it’s true… another time! in reply to DCEFrance #
  • Completely unable to focus on anything this afternoon – early start, sunshine and I’m useless for the whole day. Hey ho. #
  • Upstairs at the Three Kings in Clerkenwell for openDemocracy event. Canhazbeer. http://twitpic.com/291zh #
  • Heading home. Tired. #
  • Waiting for 2115 at KX as the 2152 gets in only 3 mins earlier! Fun time talking database state with openDemocracy crew. #
  • @rohan_london do you trust your social network to tell you whether Dr Atomic is good, though? in reply to rohan_london #
  • Another day in London, recording #digitalplanet in advance as @garethm is away next week, then back for birthday supper with my daughter 🙂 #
  • @davidjwbailey we’ll have to find another excuse for a drink, and soon. in reply to davidjwbailey #
  • @emilybell I’m trying to be surprised by news that bankers are deceitful and underhand…:-) in reply to emilybell #
  • @Documentally is that ‘arrived at tuttle’ or ‘feel compelled to tuttle’:-) in reply to Documentally #
  • Speeding to Kings X and thence to Studio S6 (thanks for headsup @garethm) for early #digitalplanet recording. Don’t start without me… #
  • @samdownie tragically I am otherwise engaged so can’t make the tweetup… try @garethm! in reply to samdownie #
  • Evening draws on and I’m out to birthday supper with my girl… no doubt there will be maudlin tweets later. #
  • @jonhansen It’s my daughter’s 18th… far more important than *my*birthday… will pass on good wishes! in reply to jonhansen #
  • @BrightMeadow I’ll help. Complete BSG moratorium needed or else! in reply to BrightMeadow #
  • Lovely evening, now time to crash. #
  • @avantgame with you in the desperate need to avoid BSG spoilers. Can’t believe that its over, but it’s been a great journey. So say we all. in reply to avantgame #
  • Closing Twhirl until I’ve seen BSG E20. It’s been a long journey and I’m not risking anyspoilers! See you on the other side, ‘verse. #
  • about to watch the final episode of BSG. Silence please – but will be back in the fray tomorrow. #
  • BSG is done. And so am I. No spoilers but I am content. #
  • @emilybell agree that there are things that need ‘journalism’ more now than ever,and we need structures to deliver them. Need to create them in reply to emilybell #
  • Off to bed and to ponder the nature of things. #
  • @stephenfry just heard the rainforest appeal, which was eloquent & compelling -money on the way, you persuasive man! http://snurl.com/ebefw in reply to stephenfry #
  • Another sunny day here; another reason to feel hopeful. in reply to Joscelyn #
  • @LesleySmith happy to discuss BSG away from those who might be distressed by spoilers, but I think all was wrapped up that needed to be. in reply to LesleySmith #
  • @parkylondon might be: @kashaziz Emirates airliner evacuated at Londons Gatwick Airport after report of suspicious device on board in reply to parkylondon #
  • @berbank I donated online via Firefox and didn’t get an error… interesting. in reply to berbank #
  • Back from town and time to do some housework and chivvy the boy about GCSE coursework/revision. The fun of it. #
  • More birthday champagne for the girl http://twitpic.com/2cku4 #
  • @smagdali isohunt.com provided for me. Not at home but can email link later in reply to smagdali #
  • @derots the ASCII art was made by http://www.glassgiant.com/ascii/ – nice and easy! in reply to derots #
  • Home, and writing. Still pondering BSG and feeling it was a good as I thought it was. May now have to begin watching from the start again. #
  • @flipperville there will be no BSG spoilers from me, by the gods, but I assure you the final episode delivers. in reply to flipperville #
  • @sam_burnett never miss it… in reply to sam_burnett #
  • @Intellagirl ““[Writing] will introduce forgetfulness into the soul of those who learn it” http://snurl.com/ec1es – any help? in reply to Intellagirl #
  • @steiny if you can get out to Sawston you’re welcome here – have to drive back in to Cam at 0800 tomorrow am… in reply to steiny #

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What I’ve tweeted on 2009-03-17

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Take Two Steps Back: A Society Gets the Journalism it Deserves

[This is a response in part to Clay Shirky’s recent essay, Newspapers and Thinking the UnthinkableUpdate: Jemimah Knigh has a lovely meditation on the past and future of papers on her blog.]

When printing with movable type was introduced to Europe by Gutenberg and refined by Caxton it began a revolution that encompassed the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution and laid the ground work for the current transformation being driven by science-based technologies, a transformation that is increasingly predicated on technology-based science as we benefit from one of those virtuous circles that occasionally catapults our species into an unexpected future.

For the past half-millennium printed books and their offspring, pamphlets and newspapers and magazines, have done the heavy lifting in the trade in ideas, spreading new theories and doctrines and ideologies around, and even offering their services to religion, mysticism and the anti-scientists who would undo all that western culture has achieved.

Analogue electronic media, in the form of television and radio, managed to complement print for a century or so although their role in the formation of ideologies and the distribution of ideas was clearly subsidiary to that of print. Televison and radio news still largely takes its agenda from that set by the print media, and the fact that we still remark on those few significant cultural highlights that are native to the broadcast world, like The Sopranos or ER, shows their failure to displace the printed text and the performed playscript in the broader cultural field.

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