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Refugees have smartphones too

Pictures of refugees with smartphones proliferate in the press and online — sometimes with captions suggesting that smartphone owners display an affluence that excludes them from sympathy or support. There are nearly as many smartphones on the planet as there are people, and refugees have them too. But smartphones have become essential tools for survival. Like affluent, free-roaming tourists, refugees draw on GPS … Continue reading

Nature versus smartphones

People are eager to extol the benefits of fresh green vegetables, education, marriage, and a walk in the countryside, but are instinctively suspicious of new technologies.  That’s the tagline selected by the editors for the cover story I wrote for Interactions Magazine published this month. Interactions is a bimonthly publication of the ACM, and sees itself … Continue reading

A nation addicted to smartphones

This is the cunning strap line accompanying the release of Ofcom‘s recent information-rich report on the communications market. The adoption of fully-featured mobile phones (Blackberry, iPhone, Android) has rocketed in the past 12 months.

Surveillance capitalism and its discontents

Social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff’s book on surveillance capitalism reveals the perils and menace of the digital age. I’ve now read all 535 pages, or at least it was mostly read to me in urgent tones as an audiobook at 1.5x speed. The content was so useful to me as I contemplate the implications of the … Continue reading

Whispirators — In praise of whispers

The popularity of whisper videos (e.g. ASMR videos) demonstrates the longstanding fascination we humans have with the voice. Steven Connor has written extensively on the cultures of the voice. He says in his book Beyond Words: Sobs, Hums, Stutters and Other Vocalizations. “The whisper signifies intimacy and secrecy. It is the mode in which I … Continue reading

Gamification 101

How do you turn a routine, everyday activity into something engaging, enjoyable, and even addictive? Answer: you turn it into a game. That’s called gamification. I stumbled across a site that presents the 10 best productivity apps that make use of gamification. The site shows a fitness app that runs on your smartphone. It keeps … Continue reading

Obfuscation and its remedies

He “took every step that he could to try to obfuscate, to try to get people to lie, tried to reward those people who refused to cooperate with a legitimate investigation, tried to punish and denigrate the people who were cooperative” (The Hill). That’s how the former Watergate special prosecutor (Richard Ben-Veniste) summarised the Mueller … Continue reading

The twist of the pen

“The application of a new force during the process of writing is usually accompanied by a twisting of the tip of the pen and a deviation from the already-established path into a new twist” (165). That’s a quote about calligraphic writing from Reza Negarestani, author of Cyclonopedia. The twist of the pen serves as leitmotif … Continue reading

Africa calling: How to say a lot with a little

When we had cell phones it was called “beeping.” Now in the era of smartphones another word serves better. It’s “flashing” or “making a flash call.” I think we even did it with land lines as well back in the day. Children away from home would flash call their parents. Though we didn’t recognise it … Continue reading

Second Life revisited

It’s eleven years since I explored the shared 3D world of Second Life. The University of Edinburgh owns a virtual island there, and in 2006 I was gifted a small promontory of land on which to conduct some experiments. This playground nook was always a mess. One of our team created a stylised version of … Continue reading

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