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Some random thoughts on sociotechnology

Did you know that it was not Gutenberg who invented moveable type – known as 'printing' to most of us? Actually, it was the Chinese who first thought of it in 1040 CE using wood and later ceramic, and the Koreans improved it in 1324 by using metal type; Gutenberg developed it later, "around 1450" (thanks Wikipedia, oh fount of all knowledge).

Interestingly, with regards to sociotechnological analyses, although a Korean king developed a phonetic alphabet of 24 characters which would have made printing a lot easier (otherwise they had to use thousands of Chinese characters. But, "Adoption of the new alphabet was stifled by the inertia of Korea's cultural elite, who were '...appalled at the idea of losing Chinese, the badge of their elitism.'"; in addition, there was also a "Confucian prohibition on the commercialization of printing" which restricted the use of printing to the state.

These examples highlight the ways in which technologies never automatically drive social change, but interact with existing social practices and come up against entrenched social hierarchies and so on.

On a vaguely related other random thought, these news stories seem to be examples of what Adam Greenfield meant when talking about a shift from "wayfinding to wayshowing" (the first story is the most amusing)
Swedes miss Capri after GPS gaffe
Sat-nav dead end at crematorium
Sat nav misdirects football fans

As we are increasingly given means to guide us around geographical space – GPS for the moment mostly, the example he gave (in a talk at QUT) of apps that can guide you to the right exit in Tokyo subways, and in future one can imagine devices to lead you around malls to a shop, guided tours for tourists, etc. – he argues that our awareness of the environment may change. Instead of finding our way ('wayfinding'), by picking out landmarks and spotting random things on the way, we are more likely to move around by staring at our 'steering device' - being shown the way ('wayshowing'). It's an interesting point, and reminds me of something my sister brought up recently – how when travelling using a GPS you don't read a map anymore, and thus find out less about the landscape you're moving through.

Check your Facebook privacy settings

Thanks to @SurindRaj I just heard about the most recent Facebook attempt to use your data to make money
Facebook occasionally pairs advertisements with relevant social actions

From what I understand, this means that they want to use your pictures (e.g. your profile picture) in conjunction with ads to - for example - say 'Hey Julian loves ChokkyNutz why don't you try them?'. Actually I guess they wouldn't be allowed to say that, but in any case they clearly want to make their ads more appealing by using pictures of you. An example of this being misused by a third-party application was when a man saw his wife's picture used by a dating site
Cheryl Smith Facebook dating advertisement

Being Americans, I'm surprised they didn't try to make zillions by instigating a law suit, but the story sped around the web, and Facebook responded, basically saying it wasn't their fault and the picture shouldn't have been used in that way.

Anyway - the best thing to do is to stop them by changing your settings in Facebook: Settings > Privacy > News Feed and Wall > Facebook Ads > Drop box: select 'No One' > Save changes.

While you're at it, have a look at some of the other Privacy settings. What do you want people who search for you (and this includes spammers and identity thieves) to see (Privacy > Search)?
Facebook search privacy settings

And how about this one (Privacy > Applications > Settings)?
"Facebook Beacon is a way for you to bring actions you take online into Facebook. Beacon works by allowing affiliate websites to send stories about actions you take to Facebook… If you click "No, Thanks", no stories or information will be published anywhere on Facebook. Any information that was sent to Facebook's servers will be deleted…
[if you don't click 'No thanks'] The next time you visit your home page, you'll see a message remind you that this story is being sent. There are three things you can do with this story: approve the story by clicking Okay, remove the story by clicking "Remove", or ignore the entire message by doing nothing." (How does Beacon work?)

Facebook Beacon settings privacy

Basically - have fun with Facebook, but don't forget that it's there to make money off you, not to help you make friends.

You can also check out a previous related post too - Facebook owns YOU!

Long-distance relationships - volunteers for new technology?

I quite often read blogs where the blogger is involved in long-distance relationships (LDR) - typically they will be students, or ex-students who met as students. I also met my partner at university and, before we got married, me and WW also had to spend time apart and it was never easy, especially when you feel lonely and all you want is a cuddle and to fall asleep with the one you love... Thankfully, we had phones and emails, and we stuck it out - in a way, it may have made our relationship stronger as we learnt to appreciate each other in different ways.

Anyway - if any of you are in a LDR and one of you lives within 250 miles of Edinburgh, you can volunteer for an experiment with a new technology called 'Mutsugoto' (no idea what that means) - it is "an interactive installation that invites couples to experience an intimate communication over a distance." (Mutsugoto)
"Mutsugto allows distant partners to communicate through the language of touch as expressed on the canvas of the human body.
A custom projection system allows the two users to draw in light on each other's bodies whilst they lie in bed. Drawings are transmitted live between their two locations, enabling a different kind of communication that leverages the emotional quality of physical gesture." (Mutsugoto)

From what I can gather, each person has a 'ring' which they wear on their hand and while they see a real-time image of the other person, they move their hand and the other person sees that movement as light patterns on his/her body. It sounds like an interesting idea, and I can imagine that if we had had that we could have used it to increase our sense of intimacy and connectedness. I wonder what it's like in practice though... what happens if the connection is slow and the other person keeps moving! :-D
"A computer vision system tracks the movement of the ring and projects virtual pen strokes on your body. At the same time these pen strokes are transmitted to and projected on the body of your remote partner. If you follow your partner's movements and your strokes cross, the lines will react with each other and reflect your synchrony." (Mutsugoto)

Well, anyway, if you're living near Edinburgh and in a LDR - I wouldn't hesitate to volunteer. At a minimum your partner will appreciate the effort you make! The most difficult thing about a LDR is the fear that the other one is slipping away from you and not making as much effort as you do to keep the relationship going.

Web Marketing - FAIL!

I'm sure most of you have heard about the Twitter virus/worm that spread around last weekend - it was not very serious, in that it wasn't deleting information or anything, but still I'm sure it pissed off many Tweeters out there.

As has often been the case, it was created by a 17 year old teenager with nothing better to do; in fact the guy seems quite talented as he has created his own Twitter-like service (which I'm not going to link - seeing as that was what the worm was doing) - which I suppose is not very easy.

The thing that is mind-blogging is the reason he gave: apart from being "bored", and the standard 'exposing security problems', he said that he wanted to
"promot[e] myself or my website." (

Think about it: you want to attract people away from Twitter, what is a good way to do this?
1. Provide a better service, do promotions, get media/blog coverage, convince Microsoft to buy you out, etc. etc?
2. Hijack their accounts and piss them off forever?

A cloud over personal computing

I’ve got a problem with so-called ‘Cloud Software’ (e.g. here). Google has been doing it for a while, and now Microsoft is getting into it: basically it means using huge servers of Google or whoever to run applications and store information – so instead of writing your Word document on your computer, you go online and do it via a browser or something.

OK, actually I have no problem with that aspect of it, and it’s probably very useful to someone who doesn’t have a laptop/computer and so on. So good for ‘cloud computing’ in that respect.

My problem is with the name… you hear people saying ‘The data is in a cloud’, kind of like it’s floating in the ether around earth and only you can get at it. In fact, it’s not in a blinking cloud! It’s in Big IT Company’s servers! And they have access to it and can do what they want with it. And you can be sure they’ll have written something into the TOS to say that they can run various algorithms or whatever to ‘improve your service’.

So if you were writing a book, say, or keeping a diary, or planning a new company, or inventing something, and it was all in the ‘cloud’. You actually have a lot less control over it than you would over your own personal computer. It’s back to the old ‘dumb terminal’ days, and if it becomes widespread, the end of the personal computer.

Or maybe, what will happen is that only people rich enough to pay for their own better computer will not have to rely on these services, and everyone else will have to depend on using these 'clouds'. This would mean less choice and less innovation.

At least if they called it something different like… ‘Central Server Service’, or ‘Store-with-us’… or something more realistic. For me it feels like ‘Cloud computing’ is just used to mask the fact that your data will just be stuck with them, and to make it sound all virtual and ethereal, like the term ‘cyberspace’ which makes it sound like anything you do online is in another world unconnected to this one.

OK, just wanted to get that off my chest… :-)

Googlocalisation - Google, globalisation and localisation

You've all heard of 'globalisation' and 'localisation', and you've probably also heard of 'glocalisation'. It seems to have become something of a buzzword over the last couple of years, and used with abandon by politicians wishing to sound as if they are part of the paradigm shift that goes forward by synergising the global knowledge economy and the local cultural knowledge base in a win-win situation. It's an open door proactive repositioning of the e-, i- and bs-economy in a performance-based total quality management that vectors a short and long-term reward-oriented mindset.

OK, enough of the BS ;-) Actually, the first time I heard of 'glocalisation' was in a very good book by Miller & Slater - The Ethnography of the Internet - back in 2000. They were one of the first to argue convincingly against the 'virtual' vs. 'real' world ideas that were all the rage at the time - they refused to "treat the Internet independently of its embeddedness" (2000:8), and demonstrated how people in Trinidad used the internet in ways that related directly to their Trini culture. It's a good book, but I did think that sometimes they over-emphasised the local thing without acknowledging the international influences that were carried by the internet too.

So what the #@*! is Googlocalisation? Well, I just made that up for the title, but it's because I noticed that I get different results in Google in the two browsers I use - one has the cookies for Google enabled, and the other one doesn't; this means that on one I get the results from, and the other returns results from

I've done some screenshots, but I don't think you'll be able to read them properly. Out of the first ten results (searching 'tropical gardening', for my new blog, only three are the same:

• First on the 'international' (American?) Google site, third on the Malaysian site: Tropical Plants - GardenWeb
• Fourth on the 'international' Google site, ninth on the Malaysian site: Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden
• Eighth on the 'international' Google site, tenth on the Malaysian site: Tropical Punch - Gardening with Tropical Plants
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