Lego_BeginningBjorn Nansen and I are editing an issue of M/C A Journal of Media and Culture on the (deliberately and we hope, provocatively) broad topic of ‘Beginnings’. The Call for Papers has just been released, and is reproduced below for your convenience:

‘beginnings’

The digital spaces we encounter are increasingly stabilised and structured, organised through regulatory and commercial regimes, and populated by content and users whose lives began already networked in digital forms of production, distribution and consumption. This issue of M/C Journal seeks to explore the beginnings of these familiar and well-established, as well as emerging, contexts of digital cultures. By focussing on the beginnings, of life, of platforms, of technological encounters, of existence on social media, and so on, this issue aims to bring together scholarship around the infant and initial moments of technology use, and the processes, relations and forces that shape and are shaped by these beginnings. As digital culture becomes increasingly banal and thus less visible, studying digital beginnings may help to illuminate the varied forms of meaning, mediation, and materiality at play in configuring the familiar. Exploring beginnings may also serve to highlight paths not taken, as well as potential alternatives produced at such interstices.

Questions of beginnings feature within research traditions and theories of technology adoption, domestication and development, and so can be understood in reference to individuals and users, but also apply to the beginnings of social groups and movements, or the birth of applications, platforms, technologies or enterprises. Studying beginnings, therefore, raises questions about digital histories, trajectories and temporalities, and is open to empirical, methodological or theoretical enquiries.

By inviting contributions interested in exploring digital beginnings in this issue of M/C, possible topics to be addressed may include, but are not limited to:

  • The mediation of the unborn and newly born
  • New parents and social media platforms
  • Case studies or examples of infant media use
  • Newbs and noobs in gaming or online communities
  • The cultural implications of new forms of computational interfaces (e.g. the Internet of Things)
  • Myths of new beginnings and technological exceptionalism (e.g. 3D printing)
  • Early historical perspectives on digital media industries or events
  • Start-up spaces or cultures
  • Alternate beginnings (eg failed and forgotten inventions)

Prospective contributors should email an abstract of 100-250 words and a brief biography to the issue editors. Abstracts should include the article title and should describe your research question, approach, and argument. Biographies should be about three sentences (maximum 75 words) and should include your institutional affiliation and research interests. Articles should be 3000 words (plus bibliography). All articles will be refereed and must adhere to MLA style (6th edition).

Details
  • Article deadline: 14 Aug. 2015
  • Release date: 14 Oct. 2015
  • Editors: Bjorn Nansen and Tama Leaver

Please submit articles through this Website. Send any enquiries to beginnings@journal.media-culture.org.au.

Needless to say, enquiries are welcome, and early submissions, too!

[Image: 4/366: Beginning by Magic Madzik CC BY]

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SeekingTransparencyThe newly-released edited collection Locative Media by Rowan Wilken and Gerard Goggin features a chapter from Clare Lloyd and me looking at issues of privacy and transparency relating to the data generated, stored and analysed when using mobile and locative-based services. Here’s the abstract:

A person’s location is, by its very nature, ephemeral, continually changing and shifting. Locative media, by contrast, is created when a device encodes a users’ geographic location, and usually the exact time as well, translating this data into information that not only persists, but can be aggregated, searched, indexed, mapped, analysed and recalled in a variety of ways for a range of purposes However, while the utility of locative media for the purposes of tracking, advertising and profiling is obvious to many large corporations, these uses are far from transparent for many users of mobile media devices such as smartphones, tablets and satellite navigation tools. Moreover, when a new mobile media device is purchased, users are often overwhelmed with the sheer number of options, tools and apps at their disposal. Often, exploring the settings or privacy preferences of a new device in a sufficiently granular manner to even notice the various location-related options simply escapes many new users. Similarly, even those who deactivate geolocation tracking initially often unintentionally reactivate it, and leave it on, in order to use the full functionality of many apps. A significant challenge has thus arisen: how can users be made aware of the potential existence and persistence of their own locative media? This chapter examines a number of tools and approaches which are designed to inform everyday users of the uses, and potential abuses, or locative media; PleaseRobMe, I Can Stalk U, iPhone Tracker and the aptly named Creepy. These awareness-raising tools make visible the operation of certain elements of locative media, such as revealing the existence of geographic coordinates in cameraphone photographs, and making explicit possible misuses of a visible locative media trail. All four are designed as pedagogical tools, aiming to make users aware of the tools they are already using. In an era where locative media devices are easy to use but their ease occludes extremely complex data generation and potential tracking, this chapter argues that these tools are part of a significant step forward in developing public awareness of locative media, and related privacy issues.

A version of the chapter is available at Academia.edu (and just for fun, the book has a 2015 publication date, so at the moment, it’s *from the future*!)

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Here’s a little piece I had in today’s Conversation

Oscars for animals? Andy Serkis should be beating his chest

By Tama Leaver, Curtin UniversityDawn

The notion that a chimpanzee could win an Academy Award for acting (or anything else) seems farcical at first glance but, of course, it’s not an actual chimpanzee being discussed in the case of the latest role by Andy Serkis.

Rather, it’s an incredibly sophisticated amalgam of the actor and the very latest computational visualisation techniques from Weta Digital.

Serkis’ performance as Caesar, the leader of the fledgling ape society in the recently-released Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) once again has Hollywood commentators pondering the possibility of an Oscar nod for a synthespian – a synthetic thespian or virtual actor – but this is far from the first time this question has been raised.

Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, voiced and performed by Andy Serkis. Wikimedia Commons

Andy Serkis has been behind some of the most memorable cinematic faces of the last decade, but it’s not quite his face. Rather, Serkis has held pioneering roles utilising performance capture technology.

Performance capture features the real-time recording and digitisation of an actor’s movements, which are then used to drive a complex digital model.

With the digital powerhouse of Weta Digital behind him, Serkis’ performances have driven Gollum from The Lord of the Rings (2001, 2002, 2003) (and now The Hobbit – 2012, 2013, 2014) films, the titular ape in Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005), and the role of Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and the new sequel, Dawn.

For many, the question of where the acting ends and the computer-generated imagery begins, undermines the authenticity of a performance captured role as a performance, but no performance exists in a vacuum. Every actor’s appearance is constructed through costume, make-up and lighting, their dialogue taken from a script, the eventual role on screen painstakingly led by a director, and carefully filtered and refined during the editing process.

Performance capture is similar in many ways, but with the additional digital processing to translate the motion and facial expressions of an actor onto an often non-human character.


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes | From Rise to Dawn – Technological Advancements.

In a brief promotional featurette, Serkis explains how the performance capture technology has developed, with scenes now able to be shot outdoors where once they had to be on a soundstage against a green screen.

Most significantly though, for Serkis, is the fidelity with which the performance capture cameras and software can directly map an actors’ face and performance onto the digital character they are playing.

And given that technology has always been part of acting, the authenticity of performance captured roles speaks to the symbiotic relationship between fleshy, embodied actors and the informatic machines that enhance and facilitate those performances.

Early industry fears that synthespians might replace “real” actors reveals an insecurity about the relationship between people and technology. If a character can simply be created by a computer, the millions of dollars spent on A-list stars might just seem a little unnecessary.

The reality of performance capture, though, shows the opposite to be true: its takes a huge team to bring a single performance capture character to screen, with the actor remaining integral, filmed in excruciating detail, but also then combining software engineers, digital artists, and a range of other digital effects personnel to keep the best of the performance and use it to drive a state-of-the-art digital model.

Yet every director and crew who have worked with Serkis since his days as Gollum, as well as Serkis himself, have spent over a decade arguing for the legitimacy of performance capture as “real” acting.

After the pivotal role of Serkis in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), New Line Cinema and director Peter Jackson led the first attempt to get a role driven by performance capture acknowledged at the Academy Awards.

In his first outing as Caesar, Serkis was widely applauded, with 20th Century Fox mounting a campaign for a best actor nomination. Co-star James Franco was particularly vocal in arguing that Serkis’ performance was integral to the character, worthy of critical attention and praise.

And with the success of Dawn, the director and co-stars are once again lining up to applaud Serkis’ performance.

In terms of literally performing animals, Serkis and the team playing the various apes in the film do a remarkable job in evoking empathy without sacrificing the specificities of chimpanzees and other apes.

It is noteworthy that Rise received a specific commendation from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) about the way animals were portrayed and filmed. Having a human actor behind the animal performances not only guarantees no animals will be harmed on set, but at a deeper level also begs the question about the relationships between humans and animals.

Such questions are at the heart of Dawn, wherein the similarities between apes and humans drive the plot rather than intrinsic differences.


Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes – Visual Effects – Motion Capture.

Andy Serkis’ role as Caesar is central to Dawn, and as numerous online features emphasise, this is his acting, and his performance. Whether this is the year that such a digital performance is captured by the Oscars or not remains to be seen.

The Conversation

Tama Leaver receives funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC).

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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At last week’s Australian and New Zealand Communication Association (ANZCA) conference at Swinburne University in Melbourne I gave a new paper by myself and Tim Highfield entitled ‘Mapping the Ends of Identity on Instagram’. The slides, abstract, and audio recording of the talk are below:

While many studies explore the way that individuals represent themselves online, a less studied but equally important question is the way that individuals who cannot represent themselves are portrayed. This paper outlines an investigation into some of those individuals, exploring the ends of identity – birth and death – and the way the very young and deceased are portrayed via the popular mobile photo sharing app and platform Instagram. In order to explore visual representations of birth and death on Instagram, photos with four specific tags were tracked: #birth, #ultrasound, #funeral and #RIP. The data gathered included quantitative and qualitative material. On the quantitative front, metadata was aggregated about each photo posted for three months using the four target tags. This includes metadata such as the date taken, place taken, number of likes, number of comments, what tags were used, and what descriptions were given to the photographs. The quantitative data gives also gives an overall picture of the frequency and volume of the tags used. To give a more detailed understanding of the photos themselves, on one day of each month tracked, all of the photographs on Instagram using the four tags were downloaded and coded, giving a much clearer representative sampling of exactly how each tag is used, the sort of photos shared, and allowed a level of filtering. For example, the #ultrasound hashtag includes a range of images, not just prenatal ultrasounds, including both current images (taken and shared at that moment), historical images, collages, and even ultrasound humour (for example, prenatal ultrasound images with including a photoshopped inclusion of a cash, or a cigarette, joking about the what the future might hold). This paper will outline the methods developed for tracking Instagram photos via tags, it will then present a quantitative overview of the uses and frequency of the four hashtags tracked, give a qualitative overview of the #ultrasound and #RIP tags, and conclude with some general extrapolations about the way that birth and death are visually represented online in the era of mobile media.

And the audio recording of the talk is available on Soundcloud for those who are willing to brave the mediocre quality and variable volume (because I can’t talk without pacing about, it seems!).

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I’m pleased to announced that the special themed issue of Digital Culture and Education on Facebook in Education, edited by Mike Kent and I, has been released. The issue features an introductory article by Mike and I, ‘Facebook in Education: Lessons Learnt’ in which we may have some opinions about whether the hype around MOOCs and disruptive online education ignores the very long history of learning online (hint: it does). As something of a corrective to that hype, this issue explores different aspects of the complicated relationship between Facebook as a platform and learning and teaching in higher education.

This issue features ‘“Face to face” Learning from others in Facebook Groups‘ by Eleanor Sandry, ‘Exploiting fluencies: Educational expropriation of social networking site consumer training‘ by Lucinda Rush and D.E. Wittkower, ‘Learning or Liking: Educational architecture and the efficacy of attention‘ by Leanne McRae, and ‘Separating Work and Play: Privacy, Anonymity and the Politics of Interactive Pedagogy in Deploying Facebook in Learning and Teaching’ by Rob Cover.

Also, watch this space in about a month for the related and slightly larger related work in the same area.

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By Tama Leaver, Curtin University and Emily van der Nagel, Swinburne University of Technology

Having some form of anonymity online offers many people a kind of freedom. Whether it’s used for exposing corruption or just experimenting socially online it provides a way for the content (but not its author) to be seen.

But this freedom can also easily be abused by those who use anonymity to troll, abuse or harass others, which is why Facebook has previously been opposed to “anonymity on the internet”.

So in announcing that it will allow users to log in to apps anonymously, is Facebook is taking anonymity seriously?

Real identities on Facebook

CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been committed to Facebook as a site for users to have a single real identity since its beginning a decade ago as a platform to connect college students. Today, Facebook’s core business is still about connecting people with those they already know.

But there have been concerns about what personal information is revealed when people use any third-party apps on Facebook.

So this latest announcement aims to address any reluctance some users may have to sign in to third-party apps. Users will soon be able to log in to them without revealing any of their wealth of personal information.

Keeping things hidden third-party apps on Facebook. Flickr/Christoph Aigner, CC BY-NC-ND

That does not mean they will be anonymous to Facebook – the social media site will still track user activity.

It might seem like the beginning of a shift away from singular, fixed identities, but tweaking privacy settings hardly indicates that Facebook is embracing anonymity. It’s a long way from changing how third-party apps are approached to changing Facebook’s entire real-name culture.

Facebook still insists that “users provide their real names and information”, which it describes as an ongoing “commitment” users make to the platform.

Changing the Facebook experience?

Having the option to log in to third-party apps anonymously does not necessarily mean Facebook users will actually use it. Effective use of Facebook’s privacy settings depends on user knowledge and motivation, and not all users opt in.

A recent Pew Research Center report reveals that the most common strategy people use to be less visible online is to clear their cookies and browser history.

Only 14% of those interviewed said they had used a service to browse the internet anonymously. So, for most Facebook users, their experience won’t change.

Facebook login on other apps and websites

Spotify uses Facebook login. Spotify

Facebook offers users the ability to use their authenticated Facebook identity to log in to third-party web services and mobile apps. At its simplest and most appealing level, this alleviates the need for users to fill in all their details when signing up for a new app. Instead they can just click the “Log in with Facebook” button.

For online corporations whose businesses depend on building detailed user profiles to attract advertisers, authentication is a real boon. It means they know exactly what apps people are using and when they log in to them.

Automated data flows can often push information back into the authenticating service (such as the music someone is playing on Spotify turning up in their Facebook newsfeed).

While having one account to log in to a range of apps and services is certainly handy, this convenience means it’s almost impossible to tell what information is being shared.

Is Facebook just sharing your email address and full name, or is it providing your date of birth, most recent location, hometown, a full list of friends and so forth? Understandably, this again raises privacy concerns for many people.

How anonymous login works

To address these concerns, Facebook is testing anonymous login as well as a more granular approach to authentication. (It’s worth noting, neither of these changes have been made available to users yet.)

Given the long history of privacy missteps by Facebook, the new login appears to be a step forward. Users will be told what information an app is requesting, and have the option of selectively deciding which of those items Facebook should actually provide.

Facebook will also ask users whether they want to allow the app to post information to Facebook on their behalf. Significantly, this now places the onus on users to manage the way Facebook shares their information on their behalf.

The New Facebook Login

In describing anonymous login, Facebook explains that:

Sometimes people want to try out apps, but they’re not ready to share any information about themselves.

It’s certainly useful to try out apps without having to fill in and establish a full profile, but very few apps can actually operate without some sort of persistent user identity.

The implication is once a user has tested an app, to use its full functionality they’ll have to set up a profile, probably by allowing Facebook to share some of their data with the app or service.

Taking on the competition

The value of identity and anonymity are both central to the current social media war to gain user attention and loyalty.

Facebook’s anonymous login might cynically be seen as an attempt to court users who have flocked to Snapchat, an app which has anonymity built into its design from the outset.

Snapchat’s creators famously turned down a US$3 billion buyout bid from Facebook. Last week it also revealed part of its competitive plan, an updated version of Snapchat that offers seamless real-time video and text chat.

Introducing chat for Snapchat.

By default, these conversations disappear as soon as they’ve happened, but users can select important items to hold on to.

Whether competing with Snapchat, or any number of other social media services, Facebook will have to continue to consider the way identity and anonymity are valued by users. At the moment its flirting with anonymity is tokenistic at best.

The Conversation

Tama Leaver receives funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC).

Emily van der Nagel does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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At this week’s Digital Humanities Australasia 2014 conference in Perth, Tim Highfield and I presented the first paper from a new project looking a visual social media, with a particular focus on Instagram. The slides and abstract are below (sadly with Slideshare discontinuing screencasts, I’m not sure if I’ll be adding audio to presentations again):

Social media platforms for content-sharing, information diffusion, and publishing thoughts and opinions have been the subject of a wide range of studies examining the formation of different publics, politics and media to health and crisis communication. For various reasons, some platforms are more widely-represented in research to date than others, particularly when examining large-scale activity captured through automated processes, or datasets reflecting the wider trend towards ‘big data’. Facebook, for instance, as a closed platform with different privacy settings available for its users, has not been subject to the same extensive quantitative and mixed-methods studies as other social media, such as Twitter. Indeed, Twitter serves as a leading example for the creation of methods for studying social media activity across myriad contexts: the strict character limit for tweets and the common functions of hashtags, replies, and retweets, as well as the more public nature of posting on Twitter, mean that the same processes can be used to track and analyse data collected through the Twitter API, despite covering very different subjects, languages, and contexts (see, for instance, Bruns, Burgess, Crawford, & Shaw, 2012; Moe & Larsson, 2013; Papacharissi & de Fatima Oliveira, 2012)

Building on the research carried out into Twitter, this paper outlines the development of a project which uses similar methods to study uses and activity on through the image-sharing platform Instagram. While the content of the two social media platforms is dissimilar – short textual comments versus images and video – there are significant architectural parallels which encourage the extension of analytical methods from one platform to another. The importance of tagging on Instagram, for instance, has conceptual and practical links to the hashtags employed on Twitter (and other social media platforms), with tags serving as markers for the main subjects, ideas, events, locations, or emotions featured in tweets and images alike. The Instagram API allows queries around user-specified tags, providing extensive information about relevant images and videos, similar to the results provided by the Twitter API for searches around particular hashtags or keywords. For Instagram, though, the information provided is more detailed than with Twitter, allowing the analysis of collected data to incorporate several different dimensions; for example, the information about the tagged images returned through the Instagram API will allow us to examine patterns of use around publishing activity (time of day, day of the week), types of content (image or video), filters used, and locations specified around these particular terms. More complex data also leads to more complex issues; for example, as Instagram photos can accrue comments over a long period, just capturing metadata for an image when it is first available may lack the full context information and scheduled revisiting of images may be necessary to capture the conversation and impact of an Instagram photo in terms of comments, likes and so forth.

This is an exploratory study, developing and introducing methods to track and analyse Instagram data; it builds upon the methods, tools, and scripts used by Bruns and Burgess (2010, 2011) in their large-scale analysis of Twitter datasets. These processes allow for the filtering of the collected data based on time and keywords, and for additional analytics around time intervals and overall user contributions. Such tools allow us to identify quantitative patterns within the captured, large-scale datasets, which are then supported by qualitative examinations of filtered datasets.

References

Bruns, A., & Burgess, J. (2010). Mapping Online Publics. Retrieved from http://mappingonlinepublics.net

Bruns, A., & Burgess, J. (2011, June 22). Gawk scripts for Twitter processing. Mapping Online Publics. Retrieved from http://mappingonlinepublics.net/resources/

Bruns, A., Burgess, J., Crawford, K., & Shaw, F. (2012). #qldfloods and @ QPSMedia: Crisis Communication on Twitter in the 2011 South East Queensland Floods. Brisbane. Retrieved from http://cci.edu.au/floodsreport.pdf

Moe, H., & Larsson, A. O. (2013). Untangling a Complex Media System. Information, Communication & Society, 16(5), 775–794. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2013.783607

Papacharissi, Z., & de Fatima Oliveira, M. (2012). Affective News and Networked Publics: The Rhythms of News Storytelling on #Egypt. Journal of Communication, 62, 266–282. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2012.01630.x

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braceThe themed issue of the Fibreculture journal on Trolls and the negative space of the internet has been released, with a raft of amazing articles, including my piece ‘Olympic Trolls: Mainstream Memes and Digital Discord?’ looking at the mainstreaming of some techniques associated with trolling, using a case study of a Facebook group lamenting the quality of Channel 9’s coverage of the 2012 Olympics.

The abstract:

While the mainstream press have often used the accusation of trolling to cover almost any form of online abuse, the term itself has a long and changing history. In scholarly work, trolling has morphed from a description of newsgroup and discussion board commentators who appeared genuine but were actually just provocateurs, through to contemporary analyses which focus on the anonymity, memes and abusive comments most clearly represented by users of the iconic online image board 4chan, and, at times, the related Anonymous political movement. To explore more mainstream examples of what might appear to be trolling at first glance, this paper analyses the Channel Nine Fail (Ch9Fail) Facebook group which formed in protest against the quality of the publicly broadcast Olympic Games coverage in Australia in 2012. While utilising many tools of trolling, such as the use of memes, deliberately provocative humour and language, targeting celebrities, and attempting to provoke media attention, this paper argues that the Ch9Fail group actually demonstrates the increasingly mainstream nature of many online communication strategies once associated with trolls. The mainstreaming of certain activities which have typified trolling highlight these techniques as part of a more banal everyday digital discourse; despite mainstream media presenting trolls are extremist provocateurs, many who partake in trolling techniques are simply ordinary citizens expressing themselves online.

The full paper is freely available online, and as a PDF.

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At the end of January 2014 I was delighted to participate in the Surveillance, Copyright, Privacy: The end of the open internet conference held at the University of Otago in New Zealand. It was an inspiring three days looking critically at the way privacy and surveillance are increasingly at war in contemporary culture, which the eternal bugbear of copyright continues to look large. For a sense of the conference, Rosie Overell has collated the tweets from the event in four Storify collections: day one; morning of day 2; afternoon of day 2; and day 3.

The paper I presented was entitled ‘Captured at Birth? Intimate Surveillance and Digital Legacies’. Here’s the slides and abstract:

From social media to CCTV cameras, surveillance practices have been largely normalised in contemporary cultures. While sousveillance – surveillance and self-surveillance by everyday individuals – is often situated as a viable means of subverting and making visible surveillance practices, this is premised on those being surveyed having sufficient agency to actively participate in escaping or re-directing an undesired gaze (Albrechtslund, 2008; Fernback, 2013; Mann, Nolan, & Wellman, 2002). This paper, however, considers the challenges that come with what might be termed intimate surveillance: the processes of recording, storing, manipulating and sharing information, images, video and other material gathered by loved ones, family members and close friends. Rather than considering the complex negotiations often needed between consenting adults in terms of what material can, and should, be shared about each other, this paper focuses on the unintended digital legacies created about young people, often without their consent. As Deborah Upton (2013, p. 42) has argued, for example, posting first ultrasound photographs on social media has become a ritualised and everyday part of process of visualising and sharing the unborn. For many young people, their – often publicly shared – digital legacy begins before birth. Along a similar line, a child’s early years can often be captured and shared in a variety of ways, across a range of platforms, in text, images and video. The argument put forward is not that such practices are intrinsically wrong, or wrong at all. Rather, the core issue is that so many of the discussions about privacy and surveillance put forward in recent years presume that those under surveillance have sufficient agency to at least try and do something about it. When parents and others intimately survey their children and share that material – almost always with the very best intentions – they often do so without any explicit consideration of the privacy, rights or (likely unintended) digital legacy such practices create. A legacy which young people will have to, at some point, wrestle with, especially in a digital landscape increasingly driven by ‘real names’ policies (Zoonen, 2013). Inverting the overused media moral panic about young people’s sharing practices on social media, this paper argues that young people should be more concerned about the quite possibly inescapable legacy their parents’ documenting and sharing practices will create. Ensuring that intimate surveillance is an informed practice, better educational resources and social media literacy practices are needed for new parents and others responsible for managing the digital legacies of others.

References

Albrechtslund, A. (2008). Online Social Networking as Participatory Surveillance. First Monday, 13(3). Retrieved from http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2142/1949

Fernback, J. (2013). Sousveillance: Communities of resistance to the surveillance environment. Telematics and Informatics, 30(1), 11–21. doi:10.1016/j.tele.2012.03.003

Lupton, D. (2013). The Social Worlds of the Unborn. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

Mann, S., Nolan, J., & Wellman, B. (2002). Sousveillance: Inventing and Using Wearable Computing Devices for Data Collection in Surveillance Environments. Surveillance & Society, 1(3), 331–355.

Zoonen, L. van. (2013). From identity to identification: fixating the fragmented self. Media, Culture & Society, 35(1), 44–51. doi:10.1177/0163443712464557

For me the trip to Dunedin had the added bonus of spending some time visiting family and reacquainting myself after far too long away with the beautiful city I was born in.

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On 5 December 2013, I attended a fascinating symposium on 3D Printing: Social and Cultural Trajectories held at Swinburne University. It brought together industry, military, business and academic perspectives on the emergence and popularisation of 3d printing as a technology, a practice and a cultural form.

My paper focused on the relationship (or lack thereof) between 3D printing and peer-to-peer distribution networks, with particularly interest in The Pirate Bay who attempted to strategically position themselves as a locus of 3D printable designs or, as they dubbed them, physibles.

Here’s the slides and abstract from my paper:

In January 2012, the (in)famous BitTorrent hub The Pirate Bay (TPB) launched a new section dubbed ‘Physibles’, featuring links to files containing various 3d printable designs. The blog post announcing the new section argued with revolutionary zeal that in an era where most media and data are “born digital”, the “next step in copying will be made from digital form into physical form. It will be physical objects … We believe that things like three dimensional printers, scanners and such are just the first step. We believe that in the nearby future you will print your spare parts for your vehicles. You will download your sneakers within 20 years” (WinstonQ2038, 2012). Yet, despite The Pirate Bay’s seeming call to arms, eighteen months later the physibles section remains a tiny corner of the filesharing site, with less than 200 active files being shared, while Makerbot’s Thingiverse repository of 3d printable designs, or the print-and-sell service Shapeways, both show far more rapid growth. Moreover, a “3d Printing and Physibles” page on Facebook, launched shortly after TPB’s new section debuted, has over 39,000 likes and an active community. It is possible that the fact that TPB became the default source for 3d printable firearms designs after they were effectively banned from other repositories (Van Der Sar, 2013) has shaped the physible section; the top fifteen most seeded designed (ie shared by the most users) on TPB are either firearms of related accessories.

While the Thingiverse and other repositories have captured and held the attention of the Maker communities from which 3d printing emerged, this is beginning to change. In February 2013, HBO set and cease and desist letter, demanding that Fernando Sosa (and his company NuProto.com) stop selling a 3d printed iPhone charging dock created in the likeness of the distinctive Iron Throne from the HBO series Game of Thrones (Hurst, 2013). While the Iron Throne Dock is not the first legal battle over 3D printing (Thompson, 2012) it appears to have been one of the most high-profile battles (with the exception of the moral panic issue of 3d printing guns). Similarly, Shapeways, a popular online service selling bespoke 3d printed objects, despite only receiving 5 cease and desist letters in 2012, is proactively policing designs for those which may violate trademarks or copyright (Kharif & Decker, 2013). Where Shapeways draws the line, though, is hard to judge; a popular item on Shapeways at present is an iPhone 5 case modelled on the likeness of a Star Wars Stormtrooper.

In order to better understand the relationship between ‘piracy’ and certain aspects of 3d printing this paper will: (a) analyse the various media responses to launch of TPB’s physibles section; (b) examine the way that the physibles banner has been taken up elsewhere (for example, a “3d Printing and Physibles” Facebook page); (c) how TPB becoming the default source for 3d printable firearm designs shifted media reporting of physibles; and (d) how increasingly public cease and desist instructions from copyright holders may galvanise a more resistant ‘pirate’ movement in relation to 3d printing.

References.

Hurst, N. (2013, February 13). HBO Blocks 3-D Printed Game of Thrones iPhone Dock. Wired. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/design/2013/02/got-hbo-cease-and-desist/

Kharif, O., & Decker, S. (2013, August 26). 3D-printed iPhone gear stirs Game of Thrones copyright clash. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/digital-life-news/3dprinted-iphone-gear-stirs-game-of-thrones-copyright-clash-20130823-2sgeq.html

Thompson, C. (2012, May 30). Clive Thompson on 3-D Printing’s Legal Morass. Wired. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/design/2012/05/3-d-printing-patent-law/

Van Der Sar, E. (2013, May 10). Pirate Bay Takes Over Distribution of Censored 3D Printable Gun. TorrentFreak. Retrieved September 13, 2013, from http://torrentfreak.com/pirate-bay-takes-over-distribution-of-censored-3d-printable-gun-130510/

WinstonQ2038. (2012, January 23). Evolution: New category. The Pirate Bay. Retrieved from http://thepiratebay.sx/blog/203

The symposium itself was a fascinating event, with so many exciting ideas tabled. A number of the presentations are available here, while Matthew Rimmer did an outstanding job documenting and capturing the day, which he’s made available as a Storify feed.

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