As long as there is wi-fi [2]

Received a copy of the Bloomsbury Digital Student Survey report today. It’s a localised analysis of a broader JISC project. Despite the low participation rate, some common themes were identified in the responses. At times you could almost see the frustration in the words of this digital generation of students.

But then I remembered this image…

(From @justintarte, 29 February 2016)

Advertisements

Not a cat person, but …

… darn, I had to reblog this. GOM Player, South Korea’s home-grown and most popular media player, now offers a ‘Cat Mode’. If you select this mode, all standard shortcut keys will be disabled, so that you will be able to watch a movie without interruption even with your cat sitting on your keyboard.

(Cat Mode on, as indicated by the paw symbol)

Since we are on the topic, let me also share another collection of mine that I put together a while ago. (There are quite a few on this blog alone, such as this, this, this, and this.)

The Cute Cat theory (Ethan Zuckerman, 2008)

Towards a theory of internet cats (D. E. Wittkower, MiT6, 2009)

Srsly phenomenal: An investigation into the appeal of lolcats (Kate Miltner, unpublished master’s dissertation, LSE, 2012)

RT @jeanburgess The internet is made *of* cats, and *for* porn. Get the facts right @Hermida #science #mit8 (3 May 2013)

Cats and academia: A short history (Glen Wright, Times Higher Education, 18 December 2015)

Downing Street cats: All the essential information about the most important Westminster residents (Robert Midgley, Telegraph, 3 January 2017)

A softer side of government: How Larry the cat became a purr-fect political companion on Downing Street (Lauren Scott, CBC News, 22 January 2017)

South Korean president’s rescue pets are so popular they have their own fan art (Yi Shu Ng, Mashable, 15 May 2017)

나는 정치하는 고양이로소이다 (Hankyoreh, 14 August 2017)

Why we do what we do online

Certain themes have started to emerge from random, commuting reads. I have never done one, but I am sure this is how Magic Eye puzzles feel.

1. Our urge to express 

Why do we all feel compelled to tweet after a tragedy? (Jamie Bartlett, The Telegraph, 14 January 2015).

Reading the Comments: Likers, Haters, and Manipulators at the Bottom of the Web (Joseph M. Reagle, Jr., 2015).

Why do we expose ourselves? (Astra Taylor, The Intercept, 23 January 2016).

One of the book’s more important chapters takes on the seemingly self-evident nature of the term “surveillance state,” which Harcourt argues is misleading. What we have, instead, is an “amalgam of the intelligence community, retailers, Silicon Valley, military interests, social media, the Inner Beltway, multinational corporations, midtown Manhattan, and Wall Street” that “forms an oligarchic concentration that defies any such reductionism.”

Why We Post: Social Media Through the Eyes of the World (UCL).

2. Our urge to distract ourselves 

Pay attention, please (Christine Rosen, The Wall Street Journal, 7 January 2011).

Why are we so distracted all the time? (Oliver Burkeman, 99U, n.d.).

Desperate times call for desperate measures (Y for Yenndetta, 15 January 2015).

The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads (Tim Wu, 2016).

Digital addiction (The World Weekly, 31 August 2017)

Today’s public anxiety over extreme technology use might therefore be more grounded in social issues rather than any genuine scientific consensus. “It is important to remember that every new media from writing and reading onwards has been associated with addiction,” says Frank Furedi, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent. “Reading addiction in the 18th century was a veritable moral panic. Today, concern with people spending too much time on the net is also medicalised,” he says. “That individuals may have problems with digital technology is not in doubt – but the diagnosis of ‘digital addiction’ is a simplistic formula for condemning behaviours that we don’t like.”

Modern media is a DoS attack on your free will (Brian Gallagher, Nautilus, 21 September 2017)

‘Our minds can be hijacked’: The tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia (Paul Lewis, The Guardian, 6 October 2017)

3. Our urge to click

Irresistible: Why We Can’t Stop Checking, Scrolling, Clicking and Watching (Adam Alter, 2017).

4. Our urge to share 

Internet-Facilitated Political Mobilisation: A Case Study of Nosamo, the Supporters Network of the 16th President of South Korea (Y. Lee, PhD thesis, 2009).

In Korean cyberspace, however, the culturally encouraged collective sharing of digital content facilitates a cascade of messages that goes beyond the initial group of sources. Moreover, the act of participation itself in the process of distribution of (political) messages is valued on a par with the efforts of the initiators of the messages. In this sense, Hwang (2004: 129) even describes [content relay] as a 21st century version of smoke signal communication.

Why you just shared that baby video (Jonah Lehrer, The Wall Street Journal, 23 July 2011).

An anatomy of a YouTube meme (Limor Shifman, New Media & Society 14(2): 187-203)

Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks (a.k.a. that Facebook study, Kramer et al., 2014, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111(24): 8788-8790)

5. Our ways of consuming information 

Infographic: The optimal length for every social media update and more (Kevan Lee, Buffer, 21 October 2014).

The empty brain: Your brain does not process information, retrieve knowledge or store memories. In short, your brain is not a computer (Robert Epstein, Aeon, 18 May 2016).

What the story of the niqab-wearing Welsh speaker tells us about what we want to hear (Sarah Ditum, The New Statesman, 21 June 2016).

10 percent is all you need (Y for Yenndetta, 21 July 2016).

Why facts don’t change our minds (Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, 27 February 2017).

How people approach facts and information (Pew Research Center, 11 September 2017)

If you own the network,

Watched Kingsman the bank holiday weekend. A few minutes in I immediately realised why I didn’t when it came out three years ago – the same reason that I don’t see any Tarantino films – but I continued on this time.

This post is a side note as I felt that the film added evidence to my long-held theory. I am not sure if you have noticed, but every network owner depicted in Hollywood cinema is evil. You will see a good lawyer every now and then, like Matt Damon, and you will see a few good politicians too. When it comes to network owners, however, every single one is evil. I have watched enough telly in my life, so I can tell you that much.

An old and a new world, searching for a way to live together

Just came back from a family trip in India. My first visit to the subcontinent. Granted, I am not that well-travelled, but it was nothing like any place I’d ever been to. The heat, the rain, the traffic, the constant honks, the bold colours and patterns of fabrics and jewels, the fruits and spices that I had never known existed, fresh flowers on head on no special occasion, … sensory overload, I would summarise.

I managed to stay away from work email during those three weeks. This must be my record. You might think I was carrying on the new tradition that I created last year in Busan, but in fact, this time it wasn’t a result of conscious efforts. It just so happened that I was on a tourist visa, I didn’t have a local SIM, and it was unbelievably hot and humid that I couldn’t afford to be my usual self. My itinerary was also too packed anyway with meeting many relatives and neighbours, every one of whom wanted to feed and clothe me, by the way. 🙂

One thing I couldn’t turn off though was my curiosity about how in different societies digital media gels with whatever is already there locally. I don’t mean so-called “glocalisation”; I am talking more about the organic processes of mutual shaping, which is my all-time and ultimate fascination. And I always prefer to use the verb ‘gel’ for that, instead of more conventional ‘intersect’ or ‘meet’, simply because I tend to visualise internet technology in my head as some kind of Play-Doh. I felt almost vindicated when I came across Manuel Castells’s “The internet is a particularly malleable technology” (2001: 50), and Steve Jones’s “[doing internet research is] a lot like getting a grip on Jell-O” (1999: 12).

 (Speaking of localisation…)

Here are a few illustrative snapshots from the trip.

(A book I stumbled upon at home; (c) 1985)

(“Computers must be told what to do. They cannot think independently of their programming.”)

(“App-based taxi pick-up” at an airport)

(“Uber Zone” at an airport)

I was surprised to see how integral Uber and the likes were to everyday life. There were even apps for auto-rickshaws! No more hailing and no more negotiating. As a friend half-jokingly said, technology did what the government couldn’t. In the meantime, some auto drivers have allegedly found a way to beat the algorithm; in order to exploit surge pricing, they agree to go off the grid simultaneously and come back online one by one, taking turn. My experience of app-based taxi rides in India was overall positive, so it hit me extra hard when Jamie Bartlett’s documentary last Sunday showed the dark side of all this.

Museums were amazingly old-school. Perhaps I am just too used to shiny ones that are optimised for flocks of international tourists. There no AC, no English blurbs, no frills.

(“Complaint book is available with the duty clerk in the museum office”)

(“Camera Pass”, at 200 rupees, to be allowed to take pictures with smartphones inside the museum)

(P, our official guide, explaining the relationships between Hindu deities, using the analogy of instances of a class in Java)

(“World’s 1st 3D printed Durga idol”)

In this confusing world, you are my familiar.

A quick post to record an interesting conversation I had with a colleague, Alison, a few days ago. We were talking about how smartphones seemed to have lowered access barriers for older generations. She then shared this insightful observation that our smartphones are now like our familiars, as in His Dark Materials. I have come across mobile phones being likened to cigarettes and pets, but this one is an unbeatably fascinating addition to that list of analogies.

Process of elimination

I find it harder and harder to stay engaged with elections, of which there is an abundance at the moment. Not only because of the bouts of the ‘gah, what’s the point of all this‘ feeling, but rather because there really isn’t anyone that I can bring myself to support.

I then came across on Facebook this video clip of Yanis Varoufakis on today’s French presidential election. The response in the comment box seems to be divisive, but I took some solace in it personally.

Vote for Macron, with the same energy and enthusiasm with which we are going to oppose him the day after he becomes President of France.

We ship you and we ship you hard.

More often than not, people ask me whether in Korea or here I feel more at home. This is a question that I don’t think I will ever have a definite answer for. In fact, throughout my life, both personally and professionally, I always find myself somewhere between two worlds. On good days, I feel lucky that I am getting the best of both. On not-so-good days, I am reminded that I belong to neither.

I am also convinced that ‘bridging’ two worlds is what I do best. I am not sure which came first though. Do I get drawn to such in-between positions because that’s where I shine, or have I become better at it out of necessity? Dunno, so I have jokingly concluded that that must be because I was born on a cusp.

In-betweenness, of course, doesn’t mean an exact half point. More of sliding back and forth, I maintain. That said, it has recently struck me that my behaviour is that of a complete outsider when it comes to consuming Hallyu products. I have discovered that it is *addictive* fun to hang out among international fans of K-dramas. And the present post is to jot down a few notes from this accidental ethnography.

# The content is available outside Korea almost in real time – on video streaming sites such as Viki, but Korean TV stations upload soundbites one by one on their respective YouTube channels as the latest episodes are being aired within the country. No considerable time lag.

# Other important places include various social media platforms, particularly Instagram (where not only hashtags but also dedicated accounts newly emerge), and K-entertainment news sites such as Soompi (where relevant news articles are translated into English and reposted – again in real time). I see this as a typical example of how an ethnographic place is now “dispersed across web platforms, is constantly in progress and changing, and implicates physical as well as digital localities” (Postill and Pink, 2012: 125).

# Most fans who frequent those places do not understand Korean, and many cry for subtitles in the comment box under official YouTube clips, but in the end, the language doesn’t seem to be a barrier. There will always be some form of crowd-subbing. More importantly, seasoned ones are already proficient in the grammar of the genre.

# Related to the previous point, multiple interactions take place under each YouTube clip, and there is no one lingua franca. Sure, English does serve for that purpose to an extent, but only to an extent.

# So, we – and I say ‘we’ here consciously – don’t necessarily understand one another, but the bond is stronger than you’d imagine. Squealing and swooning together virtually while the main couple develop their romance is the core activity. Personally speaking, I find it even more fun than the drama itself! Reminds me of the participatory viewing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

# On whichever social media platform, several stock phrases recur across comment sections, such as “I can’t even”, “My heart can’t take it”, “I died today”, “This couple is the end of me”, “So sweet that I will get diabetes just by watching them”, “Relationship goals”, “Where can I find a man who looks at me like he looks at her?”, “How can I move on from these two?”, “What am I going to do with my life until next week?”

# If the story unfolds as they have hoped, they thank the writer-nim and the PD-nim for listening to them. The ways in which K-dramas are produced and communicated through YouTube seem to create this impression that their wishful feedback has actually been accommodated.

# Shipping a couple is not specific to K-dramas, but what seems to be unique is that viewers are clearly conscious that it is a make-believe world. Instead, what’s important to them is ‘off-screen chemistry‘. They like seeing the couple getting along well and enjoying themselves while filming romantic scenes. When they like what they see, they demand the behind-the-scene footage of it, a.k.a. BTS. It is a common practice that the production team doles it out, alongside the actual episode. To put it another way, the front and back of the house are no longer distinguishable. It is like taking the experience to a ‘meta’ level, with a curious twist of reality TV. This was the most fascinating discovery.

# Overall, I find non-Korean fans to be more expressive and more accepting. I hypothesise that they can afford to ‘bracket off’ the ugly social context surrounding those dramas. The industry’s cruel working conditions, sexism, and homophobia, to name a few.

Navigating life through screens

Little Sister One came to see me last month, and as she instructed, we did some serious touristy stuff.

Seeing the change of the Royal Guards at the Buckingham Palace turned out to be a particular challenge for us as we were not tall enough to stay afloat in the crowd. A group of middle-aged French women were also struggling like us, but then one shouted with joy to the others (if I may roughly translate): “Oh, I can – I can see them through the screen of that young man!”

I found that moment amusing and also encapsulating. That is, it aptly encapsulated how everyday life is now experienced through multiple screens, regardless of whether one’s own or someone else’s, or whether switching between or using many simultaneously.

Speaking of screens, next month I will participate in the event Research Methods for Digital Work: Innovative Methods for Studying Distributed and Multimodal Working Practices at the University of Surrey. The work I will be presenting is titled The penumbra of academic work: A case study of #AcWriMo and scholarly writing as a second-screen experience. This is what I actually meant to share today, but I somehow side-tracked myself (again).

A provisional programme is telling me that I will be in great company. If anyone is interested, the registration page is here.