At UCLA

Royce panoramaAfter three years as Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS) at the University of Western Ontario, I have made an institutional change. As of summer 2016, I have joined the Department of Information Studies, a part of the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, at UCLA. I am an Assistant Professor here, and focus my instruction in the IS Department in Library Studies, while continuing my research on information work and workers, with a special focus on commercial content moderation (CCM) and social media, in general. I am grateful to my many colleagues and wonderful students at Western, and am honored to join my esteemed colleagues at UCLA in the diverse and culturally rich community of Los Angeles. Please find my faculty page here.

Spotlight on “Analog Gaming in Libraries”

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“I had an empty shelf when I started this class and now it’s full of games.” –student in #lis9371 Analog Games in Libraries @westernuFIMS
2/26/16, 3:50 PM
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LIS 9371 students take the outbreak of a Pandemic seriously!

This term, students in FIMS’ Master’s in Library and Information Studies (MLIS) program have the opportunity to participate in a new class I am teaching, offered as a special topic, entitled Analog Gaming in Libraries.

While video gaming has stolen the spotlight for the past several years, analog gaming – that is to say, non-electronic board games, card games, dice games and tabletop role-playing games – is experiencing a considerable renaissance, as evinced, in just one example, by the 60,000 players who flocked to GenCon, in Indianapolis, IN, USA in the summer of 2015 to participate in a four-day convention devoted to their play. The development and design of these games is the site of considerable artistry, creativity, sophistication and complex game mechanics, as well as a reflection of and commentary on cultural and political concerns and conditions. Indeed, one text describes these modern board games as “information-rich environments.” Their play is a hugely popular across many demographics, and their market share and economic impact is considerable, and growing.

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Trying out survival in a zombie apocalypse, in Dead of Winter from Plaid Hat Games.

Given these factors, this burgeoning area has significant potential implications across the practice and, therefore, for LIS students, particularly in the areas of information literacy and transfer, programming, information organization, information design, cataloguing and collection development. This course therefore serves two main purposes: one, to familiarize MLIS students with analog games (their play, vernacular, genres, mechanics, etc.) both conceptually and practically and two, to provide opportunities for MLIS students to think about analog games in the context of libraries and information organizations – their challenges as well as their opportunities.

  1. Demonstrate familiarity with the contemporary analog games landscape (e.g., genres; taxonomies; mechanics; cultures) and knowledge of analog games history and their relevance to LIS contexts and institutions;
  2. Assess and recommend games for collection using appropriate informational and evaluation resources;
  3. Successfully develop and deliver modular curriculum designed to teach games rules, mechanics and concepts in an LIS setting;
  4. Propose and program appropriate events built around analog games for a variety of LIS institutions and types of patrons;
  5. Gain experience playing games and reflecting critically and thoughtfully on those experiences through multiple forms of writing.
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Talking stages of game design, from concept through prototyping and playtesting.

On a weekly basis, students gather in gaming groups, sustained throughout the term, to play through a series of ten games selected to expose them to a number of genres, themes and mechanics. These play sessions are greatly informed by in-class lecture and discussion, focusing on topics such as:

 

  1. The meaning of play
  2. Games throughout history
  3. Learning analog games and their culture (with a focus on board games, card games and tabletop RPGs) – including a significant emphasis on terminology!
  4. Analog game design
  5. Representation (race/gender/sexuality/ability/etc.) in analog games – we used the Said lens of “orientalism” to critique themes of colonial conquest and mechanics of domination as the go-to in many analog games
  6. The political economy of analog games – a topic with almost no academic research ascribed to it; we are definitely covering new ground on this topic within the context of our class
  7. Topics specific to the integration of analog games and gaming culture in an LIS context. To this end, we are talking about collecting games, programming around them, information transfer and instructional practices in and with gaming, demographics of gamers, and more. We are looking forward to welcoming two guest speakers, Michelle Goodridge of Wilfrid Laurier (a FIMS grad), and Nicole Dalmer, a current FIMS LIS Ph.D. student, to round out our in-class discussions on this topic
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MLIS Student Elyse received a “bao” board and game set from Ghana – and was able to tell her gift-givers about the history of mancala through the diaspora.

Students are also honing their writing skills by writing about games. Using Clara Fernandez-Vara’s text, Introduction to Game Analysis, we have adapted it to be relevant to the discussion of analog games (rather than video) as texts. Students produce weekly writeups designed to acclimate them to the rules and specifics of the particular game they are playing in class that week, which gives them a chance to practice both their information-gathering and analysis skills. They then are responsible for authoring five “session reports” throughout the term on games and play that take place outside of class. Conveniently, many students are accomplishing those play sessions via the FIMS Gaming Club, which meets weekly to accommodate student demand. Many session reports can be found there. The course was also featured in a recent Western News article by Adela Talbot.

 

Are you programming with games in a library or information organization? Are you an LIS instructor, wanting to bring these concepts into your program? Are you an LIS student or practitioner and also a gamer? I’d love to hear from you. The course will be offered again in spring 2017, and we are looking forward to keeping the energy going.

Information Privacy and Libraries: Alison Macrina Visits FIMS

At the hands-on workshop, Alison Macrina introduced Tor browser and other security tools to FIMS students, faculty and staff.
At the hands-on workshop, Alison Macrina introduced Tor browser and other security tools to FIMS students, faculty and staff.

On Wednesday, February 3rd, FIMS welcomed Alison Macrina, of the Library Freedom Project, for an exciting and provocative afternoon of events focused on information and data privacy and library practice. Macrina, an MLIS-trained librarian, is a Knight Foundation grant recipient who devotes her time and energies to training librarians – and their patrons – in using privacy-enhancing digital tools, such as encryption and Tor browser. Not only did Macrina give of her time in a panel discussion event, along with two other experts in their respective areas – datejie cheko green and Dr. Jacquelyn Burkell, both affiliated with FIMS – but she provided a hands-on workshop for over 30 participants made up of FIMS students, staff and faculty. Both panel and workshop saw a full house of eager FIMS and wider community members.

Three Library Freedom Project events at FIMS
Three Library Freedom Project events at FIMS

Macrina’s visit sparked a great deal of interest among FIMS’ LIS students, who are using the momentum generated by the special day and visit to continue to program around information privacy and security issues – from technical, policy and LIS-specific perspectives. Staff members Matt Ward, of the IT department, and GRC Librarian Marni Harrington will be supporting these efforts with their time, resources and expertise. We look forward to seeing the continued dialogue, led by student interest and supported by FIMS faculty, staff and the broad community of experts and enthusiasts that Alison has connected us to. Thank you, Alison, for your visit!

Below, please find video of the panel discussion, featuring Alison, datejie and Jacquelyn.

“It’s not Science Fiction”: Hidden Labor, and Trauma, of USAF Drone Pilots

 

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Ex-Air Force drone pilots, now whistleblowers, appear on Democracy Now!

On Friday of last week, Democracy Now! devoted its program to interviews with four whistle-blowing ex-Air Force personnel who were charged with piloting drones and unleashing bombs on people under the auspices the U.S.’s policy of “targeted killing.” The interviews coincide with the release of a documentary film, Drone, making its North American début this weekend.

The former drone pilots, both interviewed on the program and in the film, described the process of going from horror to a state of being numb to the screen-mediated violence and death they were causing. As I have discovered with CCM workers I’ve interviewed, becoming inured to screen-mediated video violence becomes a precondition of survival in workplaces that demand such viewing as a primary function of employment. And, like the CCM workers, all of their ability to discuss, deal with or receive support for the work they did was curtailed by non-disclosure regimes that precluded them from talking with anyone about the nature of their work.

In the case of the drone pilots, of course the relationship to the violence was heightened, in the sense that it was they who pulled the trigger, despite being located halfway around the world from their targets. This relationship between the immediacy of the interconnected, “flattened” world of the network society, coupled with the geospatial removal and constant screen- and physically-mediated distancing of the violence, is paradoxical and incongruous, and workers are finding themselves located directly at the nexus of the tension between the two.

“There’s always been a connection between the world of war and the world of entertainment,” says author P.W. Singer, as quoted in the film’s compelling segment on the way in which the military is using video games as recruitment tools while making the interfaces for unmanned aircraft (i.e., drones) resemble those of video games, and the skills needed to pilot them – manual dexterity and joystick control, facility with HUD, the ability to process massive amounts of information quickly – those familiar to and honed by video game players.

In 2010, I wrote a brief entry on this site, tying contemporary digital technologies and their operators, such as drone pilots, to their roots in the Cold War. At the same time, I collected a number of screenshots from an Air Force recruiting website that clearly demonstrated their desire to capitalize on the video game fantasy that war is mediated, technological and, ultimately, without human consequences. Might as well be a video game.

The screenshots are posted below.

Now available: New Publications on CCM; Google Glass, Race and Class; LIS, Diversity as Social Justice and Calls to Action;Digital Literacy

Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svgIn the spirit of making academic work, so often cloistered in esoteric journals or inaccessible behind paywalls, accessible to all and in a timely fashion, I have begun the process of creating pre-production files of my upcoming publication. I have deposited these files in our open access institutional repository, Scholarship@Western. I intend to negotiate for these rights in any subsequent publications and will continue on with this process, which, if the number of downloads is any indication, is quite important and key to circulating work.  Here are links to four upcoming publications that you can now access:

Commercial Content Moderation: Digital Laborers’ Dirty Work: In this chapter from the forthcoming Intersectional Internet: Race, Sex, Class and Culture Online (Noble and Tynes, Eds., 2016), I introduce both the concept of commercial content moderation (CCM) work and workers, as well as the ways in which this unseen work affects how users experience the Internet of social media and user-generated content (UGC). I tie it to issues of race and gender by describing specific cases of viral videos that transgressed norms and by providing examples from my interviews with CCM workers. The interventions of CCM workers on behalf of the platforms for which they labor directly contradict myths of the Internet as a site for free, unmediated expression, and highlight the complexities of how and why racist, homophobic, violent, and sexist content exists, and persists, in a social media landscape that often purports to disallow it.
Book chapter forthcoming in The Intersectional Internet: Race, Sex, Class and Culture Online, edited by S. U. Noble & B. Tynes, and published by Peter Lang Publishing.

Through Google-Colored Glass(es): Design, Emotion, Class, and Wearables as Commodity and Control: This chapter discusses the implications of wearable technologies like Google Glass that function as a tool for occupying, commodifying, and profiting from the biological, psychological, and emotional data of its wearers and those who fall within its gaze. We argue that Google Glass privileges an imaginary of unbridled exploration and intrusion into the physical and emotional space of others. Glass’s recognizable esthetic and outward-facing camera has elicited intense emotional response, particularly when “exploration” has taken place in areas of San Francisco occupied by residents who were finding themselves priced out or evicted from their homes to make way for the techno-elite. We find that very few trade and popular press articles have focused on the failure of Glass along these dimensions, while the surveillance and class-based aspects of Google Glass are fundamental to an accurate rendering of the product’s trajectory and the public’s emotional response to this product. The goal of this chapter is to foreground dimensions of surveillance and economics, class and resistance, in the face of unending rollouts of new wearable products designed to integrate seamlessly with everyday life—for those, of course, who can afford them. Ultimately, we believe more nuanced, intersectional analyses of power along race, class, and gender must be at the forefront of future research on wearable technologies. Our goal is to raise important critiques of the commodification of emotions, and the expansion of the surveillance state vis-à-vis Google’s increasing and unrivaled information empire, the longstanding social costs of which have yet to be fully articulated.

Book chapter forthcoming in Emotions, Technology and Design, edited by S. Tettegah, and published by Elsevier.

Empowered to Name, Inspired to Act: Social Responsibility and Diversity as Calls to Action in the LIS Context: Social responsibility and diversity are two principle tenets of the field of library and information science (LIS), as defined by the American Library Association’s Core Values of Librarianship document, yet often remain on the margins of LIS education, leading to limited student engagement with these concepts and to limited faculty modeling of socially responsible interventions. In this paper, we take up the need to increase the role of both in articulating the values of diversity and social responsibility in LIS education, and argue the field should broaden to put LIS students and faculty in dialog with contemporary social issues of social inequality and injustice whenever possible. We also examine two specific cases of socially responsible activism spearheaded by LIS faculty and how these experiences shape, and are shaped by, curricular commitments to addressing the values of social responsibility and diversity in LIS in the classroom and through research. The development of a social responsibility orientation and skillset, along with literacies of diversity, we argue, leads to better-prepared practitioners and an LIS community that is more actively engaged with its environment. The impetus for students to act can be empowered by faculty modeling a commitment to social responsibility and diversity in their own professional lives.
Article forthcoming in Library Trends, 2016.

Enhancing Key Digital Literacy Skills: Information Privacy, Information Security, and Copyright/Intellectual Property: A Knowledge synthesis report submitted to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada

Background

  • Knowledge and skills in the areas of information security, information privacy, and copyright/intellectual property rights and protection are of key importance for organizational and individual success in an evolving society and labour market in which information is a core resource.
  • Organizations require skilled and knowledgeable professionals who understand risks and responsibilities related to the management of information privacy, information security, and copyright/intellectual property.
  • Professionals with this expertise can assist organizations to ensure that they and their employees meet requirements for the privacy and security of information in their care and control, and in order to ensure that neither the organization nor its employees contravene copyright provisions in their use of information.
  • Failure to meet any of these responsibilities can expose the organization to reputational harm, legal action and/or financial loss.

Context

  • Inadequate or inappropriate information management practices of individual employees are at the root of organizational vulnerabilities with respect to information privacy, information security, and information ownership issues. Users demonstrate inadequate skills and knowledge coupled with inappropriate practices in these areas, and similar gaps at the organizational level are also widely documented.
  • National and international regulatory frameworks governing information privacy, information security, and copyright/intellectual property are complex and in constant flux, placing additional burden on organizations to keep abreast of relevant regulatory and legal responsibilities.
  • Governance and risk management related to information privacy, security, and ownership are critical to many job categories, including the emerging areas of information and knowledge management. There is an increasing need for skilled and knowledgeable individuals to fill organizational roles related to information management, with particular growth in these areas within the past 10 years. Our analysis of current job postings in Ontario supports the demand for skills and knowledge in these areas.

Key Competencies

  • We have developed a set of key competencies across a range of areas that responds to these needs by providing a blueprint for the training of information managers prepared for leadership and strategic positions. These competencies are identified in the full report.
  • Competency areas include:
    • conceptual foundations
    • risk assessment
    • tools and techniques for threat responses
    • communications
    • contract negotiation and compliance
    • evaluation and assessment
    • human resources management
    • organizational knowledge management
    • planning; policy awareness and compliance
    • policy development
    • project management

Surplus3: Labour and the Digital – Toronto, October 20th, 2015

Surplus3: Labour and the Digital

A symposium celebrating the publication of Nick Dyer-Witheford’s Cyber-Proletariat: Global Labour in the Digital Vortex (Pluto Press/Between the Lines)

Letters & Handshakes event in partnership with Untitled-3the Digital Labour Group (University of Western Ontario)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

7:00-9:00pm

Bahen Centre for Information Technology

University of Toronto

40 St. George St.

Room BA1180

Free and open to the public

Facebook event page

Please join us as we explore a conceptual vocabulary for grasping the contested intersection of labour and the digital in contemporary capitalism. Marking the recent publication of Nick Dyer-Witheford’s book, Cyber-Proletariat: Global Labour in the Digital Vortex, the Surplus3 symposium will open with 3-minute talks by ten guest presenters, each of whom will speak to one concept. These flash talks will be followed by a presentation by Dyer-Witheford and a collective conversation with our guests moderated by Alison Hearn. 

Surplus3: Labour and the Digital will be followed in early 2016 with a freely distributed publication of the same title, designed by Chris Lee, and featuring work by Public Studio.

Guests + concepts

Marcus Boon: depropriation | Brett Caraway: connective action | Nicole Cohen: hustle | Deb Cowen: logistics | Nick-Dyer-Witheford: Cyber-Proletariat | datejei cheko green: intersectional solidarity | Carla Lipsig-Mummé: climate@work | Sarah Roberts: in/visibility | Kamilla Petrick: acceleration | Indu Vashist: indigenisation | Yi Wang: the wage

Moderator: Alison Hearn

Participant bios

Marcus Boon is Professor of English at York University in Toronto. He is the author of The Road of Excess: A History of Writers on Drugs and In Praise of Copying (Harvard University Press, 2002 and 2010), and co-author with Timothy Morton and Eric Cazdyn of Nothing: Three Inquiries in Buddhism (University of Chicago Press, 2015). He edited Subduing Demons in America: Selected Poems of John Giorno (Soft Skull, 2008). He writes about music and sound for The WireBoing Boing and others.

Brett Caraway is a professor at the University of Toronto where he teaches courses in economics, law, and media studies. His research focuses on the intersections of information and communications technology, intellectual property, labour, and collective action. His most recent contributions include the application of Marxian crisis theory to the economics of online social media and an examination of how workers fighting for better working conditions at Walmart use contemporary communication technologies in class struggle.

Nicole Cohen is an assistant professor at ICCIT and the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. She researches the political economy of media labour and collective organizing and is finishing a book on freelance journalists’ labour conditions. She is part of the collaborative research project Cultural Workers Organize.

Deb Cowen is Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Toronto. Deb’s research explores the making of intimacy, economy, space, and citizenship through warfare. Deb is the author of The Deadly Life of Logistics: Mapping Violence in Global TradeMilitary Workfare: The Soldier and Social Citizenship in Canada; and co-editor, with Emily Gilbert, of War, Citizenship, Territory. Deb edits the journal Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, and the Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation book series at UGA Press. Deb serves on the board of the Groundswell Community Justice Trust Fund in Toronto. 

Nick Dyer-Witheford, an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario, is the author of Cyber-Marx: Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High Technology Capitalism (University of Illinois Press, 1999) and Cyber-Proletariat: Global Labour in the Digital Vortex (Pluto Press, 2015).

datejie cheko green is currently Asper Fellow in Media at the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario. She is consolidating more than two decades of professional and community experiences organizing and building capacity among marginalized groups in cultural, media, social justice, non-profit, and labour sectors. 

Alison Hearn is an associate professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, and is also the past president of Western’s faculty union. Her research focuses on the intersections of promotional culture, new media, self-presentation, and new forms of labour and economic value. She also writes on the university as a cultural and political site.

Chris Lee is a graphic designer and educator based in Toronto and Buffalo. He is a graduate of OCAD and the Sandberg Institute (Amsterdam). While at the Sandberg, his work focused on speculative visualizations of (alternative) currencies, and their attendant institutions and ephemera. Chris is a member of the programming committee at Gendai Gallery, the editorial board of the journal Scapegoat and is an Associate Professor of Graphic Design at the University at Buffalo SUNY.

Carla Lipsig-Mummé, Professor of Work and Labour Studies at York University, is a leading scholar on labour, work, and climate change. Beginning her working life organizing farmworkers and garment workers in the US, in Quebec Carla worked with the CSN and CSQ. She now heads two SSHRC projects and a labour-academic team studying labour’s potential role in slowing global warming. Her recent publications include Climate@Work (Fernwood, 2013) and with Steve McBride, Work in a Warming World (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015).

Kamilla Petrick is a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at Lakehead University and a lecturer in Communication Studies at York University. She has a doctorate in political science and two prior degrees in media studies. A long-time activist, in her doctoral dissertation she examined the history of the global justice movement in Canada using a temporal theoretical perspective. Her research interests include collective memory, digital culture, social movements, and temporality.

Public Studio is the collective art practice of filmmaker Elle Flanders and architect Tamira Sawatzky. Their multidisciplinary practice spans a wide range of topics such as war and militarization, globalization, ecology, and political dissent. Their most recent work includes The Accelerators (2015), an exhibition about trade, colonialism, and a networked constellation of events; Drone Wedding (2014), an eight-channel film installation examining surveillance in the everyday; and Visit Palestine: Change Your View (2014), in which they turned their art studio into a travel agency running tours to the West Bank.

Sarah T. Roberts is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario. Her academic and research interests are focused on digital labour and ‘knowledge work,’ and the reconfigurations of labour and production in a post-industrial, globalized context.

Indu Vashist is currently the Executive Director of SAVAC (South Asian Visual Arts Centre) in Toronto. She has extensive experience working within organized labour organizations and with unorganized immigrant and refugee workers. Her research interests include digital labour and labour facilitated through the internet. She is currently researching auto drivers in Chennai who use apps to find clients.

Yi Wang is a PhD student in Geography at the University of Toronto and engages with contemporary food workers’ movements across the US as sites and forces of hegemonic struggle. His approach focuses on how the production of space is tied up with formations and articulations of race, class, gender, and nation. Yi has worked with food justice and worker organizations and studied previously at UC Berkeley and UC Davis.

Acknowledgements

We wish to thank the Digital Labour Group at the University of Western Ontario for generously supporting this project.

Tak, København!

The crowd at the University of Copenhagen talk.
The crowd at the University of Copenhagen talk.

My time in lovely Copenhagen has drawn to a close, after a whirlwind visit at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, sponsored by Uncertain Archives and the Digital Culture Research Network. Special thanks to Nanna Bonde Thylstrup and to Kristin Veel for their hospitality and generosity with their time. I was honored to be interviewed by newspapers Information and Politiken and will link to the articles when they run, and visited the studios of DR (Danmarks Radio) to record an interview with Anders Høeg Nissen for his technology program, to air at a future date.

I look forward to being able to return to Denmark soon to continue the conversations that we were only able to begin during this visit. I encountered a rich and vibrant academic community deeply engaged in critically debating the contemporary digital media landscape, its impact on workers, on media users and on the public sphere. The debate ranged from the implications for traditional media outlets to how interventions might take the form of other kinds of architecture and platform development that moves away from false and problematic constructs of “neutral” to other paradigms. There is still much to be said and I look forward to returning to pick up the conversation where we left off today. Tak!

Anders Høeg Nissen in the DR studio.
Anders Høeg Nissen in the DR studio.

Fall in Europe: COST Action in Estonia and University of Copenhagen

CostactionTravel has taken me to two exciting and lovely locations in Europe this past week. It was my great pleasure to be invited to the sixth meeting of the COST Action “The Dynamics of Virtual Work,” led by a venerable and indefatigable expert in that area, Dr. Ursula Huws, and involving an extraordinary list of partners from a long list of European and cooperating nations. This particular meeting took place in Pärnu, Estonia, a lovely town on the Baltic Sea. The COST actions, funded by the European Science Foundation, are an incredible opportunity for scholars and other partners, such as union organizers, activists, and so on, to come together to learn from each other and to develop position papers and policy briefs. As such, I was extremely grateful to share my work on CCM in that context. It was great to see several old friends and meet many new ones.

Copenhagen, 2015.Now I’m visiting Copenhagen, thanks to the warm invitation from Nanna Bonde Thylstrup and the Uncertain Archives group at the University of Copenhagen, along with the Digital Culture Research Network, I will be leading a seminar with Ph.D. students and delivering a lecture on CCM to an open audience on Monday, September 21. I relish these chances to interact with colleagues I don’t normally see on a regular basis, to hear about the work that is going on here, and to share mine. I will also have a chance to meet with Danish press, including two newspaper reporters, and to be interviewed by the Danish National Radio’s technology program. I appreciate the interest in CCM work and workers and look forward to sharing it with Danish people across the country.