When not sharing is caring

I have had a piece of good news, but have been having an irreconcilable inner conflict about sharing it, online or otherwise. Initially I thought the reluctance had all to do with my Confucian upbringing, but after having been mulling over, my conclusion is that it has in fact more to do with my line of work.

I am aware that there are different schools on whether we can choose (certain) identities. Not sure if being a PhD student is an identity one is allowed to choose, especially after a decade since receipt of the award, but I certainly symphasise a lot with what PhD students are going through in the current HE environment. I have spent more than a decade surrounded by PhD students, first as a student myself and later as someone who walks alongside. As an apparent consequence of that, it sometimes feels like I haven’t really graduated emotionally. Not yet ‘ascended’, to borrow words from one of the former students.

So, when I noticed a recurrent theme in #ECRchat of how the social media announcements of new jobs, promotions, and grant wins by those already in secure positions make precarious early career academics feel, I thought the least I could do is not to add on.

Then where is my dilemma? I have been ‘archiving‘ my thoughts and experiences on this blog for more than a decade and I am intending to carry on. Well, I guess sharing it here should be okay as it has a minuscule readership. 🙂 

With all being considered, this post is a low-key celebration of the fact that this summer I have been promoted to a Senior Lecturer in Research Methodology [Associate Professor in the US] and that today one of the two modules that I have built with my bare hands from scratch has gone live. 🎉

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Challenge accepted [2]

I created a Twitter account in 2007, but have always been a half-hearted user. The reason has been quite simply the restriction on message length. However, in the age of TLDR, being able to summarise research findings in one or two tweets seems to be an increasingly useful skill. So, here we go, my attempts.

# […] The thesis was that the Internet is as much a ‘metaphor’ as a technology, and successful e-campaigns have been those tapping into the former discursively (rather than the latter logistically). (9 March 2019)

# […] News articles that attracted a large amount of reactions from readers and articles that drew *divisive* reactions were two distinct groups [in our new Quality & Quantity piece]. (23 April 2019)

A gendered tale from South Korea

Global Digital Futures – E09. Molka and Online Violations of Women in South Korea

I was honoured to be invited to the SOAS Coding Club, a student-led radio station on campus, the first tech one at that, last week to talk about the ongoing molka epidemic in South Korea. When the host Chipo and I were discussing a possible podcast on my latest essay on the subject and picking a date for recording, obviously we didn’t know that our conversation would be aired amid newer and bigger scandals such as a K-pop idol and his involvement in running a club that has been alleged to be a ‘date rape hub’, another K-pop celebrity being caught for years’ worth of sharing of his sex videos (filmed without his partners’ knowledge) with fellow celebrities for male bonding, and the arrests of two men for secretly filming 1,600 hotel guests and streaming the footage live as pay-per-view porn.

There is so much to process here, but in the meantime, I have listened to the full 26 minutes of recording – despite the inevitable cringe that comes from listening to one’s own voice!!! – and realised two errors I made that I would like to iron out.

  • I should have said passers-by, not passer-bys. (15:52)
  • It was the Prime Minister’s Office that tweeted out those ridiculous anti-molka cartoons, not the Ministry of the Interior and Safety [let alone Internal Affairs]. (19:40)

Needlework [2]

Let me tell you a little story first. Are you familiar with the Thousand-Character Classic? That is what this story is going to be about.

The Thousand-Character Classic is a Chinese poem that was written circa the 6th century and has been used for teaching children essential Chinese characters since. It consists of exactly one thousand characters, each used only once, and those thousand characters form 250 lines of four characters. Each line makes sense on its own while the 250 together create a coherent work. Apparently they rhyme too. Nothing short of a work of genius.

There are several versions of its origin story. One I was told when I was small goes like this:

An extraordinary scholar has been sentenced to death (for some reason I can’t remember) and the execution is tomorrow. His talent is so exceptional that the emperor wants to find a way to spare his life. So he tells the scholar that he would be pardoned if before dawn he created a poem with pre-selected one thousand characters. The scholar manages to produce one such poem – as described earlier – but by the time dawn breaks his entire hair has turned complete white.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I am relating to the man so much at the moment. I am not likening myself to some legendary scholar, of course not, but it’s just that a 10K-word manuscript that I sent over for printing last night had felt like an impossible jigsaw puzzle at times.

Research writing is what I do, so I know some writing tasks come easy and some don’t. This was certainly one of the most difficult ones of which I’d had to untangle my way out. I kept thinking how Cayley (2018) was spot-on when she said: if you are struggling with your writing, you are in fact struggling with your thinking.

Anyway, in the end I have managed to pull together Cambridge Analytica, algorithms, alternative facts, hipster fascists, manosphere, the Chinese grass-mud horse, outsourced content moderators in South Asia, and the fundamental right to be let alone, together with a hundred other ‘buzzwords’ in the news, and weaved all of them into one single piece of tapestry. Tired but happy. Now I even feel a little as if I understand what’s going on in the world surrounding me a little better. … And I am convinced I have lost much hair in the process.

(Not quite related, but speaking of weaving, here is something I found fascinating
at the National Museum of Anthropology in Manila a few weeks ago
– stylised crocodile motifs from an olden time)

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”)

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.

“Tweets in the limelight”

Routledge’s Asian Perspectives on Digital Culture, to which I have contributed a chapter, will be released next week. I noticed a few tweets yesterday welcoming the book, so I thought I’d chime in shyly. This post is not necessarily intended to be a self-promotional plug; I just love remembering how each of my projects first came into being. A little bit of marginalia, if you like. And yes, I can pinpoint the exact moments.

In this case, the whole thing was sparked by the tweet below by Simon Pegg in August 2010.

20160127_simon_pegg2

This was not the first time when I saw an individual tweet picked up by the news media. However, what followed the media reporting at that time, including the reaction of the author of the tweet himself, was quite different from what I observed previously in the Korean cultural context.

So, I started to wonder what kinds of tweets were selected by the Korean media as newsworthy and how those tweets were represented and discussed in the news. I shared preliminary findings at the MiT8 conference in Boston in 2013. The project has been further developed since, and this book chapter is the final product of it.

Titled ‘Tweets in the limelight’, it opens like this:

It is not uncommon around the world nowadays for individual tweets (messages of 140 characters or less posted on the social networking site Twitter) to become news items. In 2009, for example, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) wrote an article about a “row” English actor and presenter Stephen Fry had on Twitter with a fellow user (BBC, 2009). In the Entertainment section of the online news outlet Huffington Post in 2012, there was an article attempting to interpret American pop singer Katy Perry’s every activity on Twitter a month after her then husband, comedian Russell Brand, had filed for divorce (Huffington Post, 2012). The British Prime Minister David Cameron’s tweet “I understand and support Barack Obama’s position on Syria” was read by many journalists as an important move in international relations surrounding military intervention in Syria in 2013 (e.g., McGregor, Blitz, & Aglionby, 2013).

I think this paragraph inadvertently but unmistakably shows how much time I spend on the Internet – all in the name of research, of course.

Trust me, I’m a doctor.

Last Friday I was asked to give a short presentation at the induction event for the new intake of research students. As usual, I started with a self-deprecating joke about a PhD. That’s when it struck me that I do have quite a collection of such jokes.

20150927_grad_student_etiquette

  • “I would like to thank my family and friends outside academia for continually resisting the urge to tell me to “get a proper job”.” (Andrew Chadwick, Internet Politics, 2006: xiii, Acknowledgements)
  • A professorial room (photographed in 2007)

20150927_bombed

  • “Not the kind with access to drugs” (The Big Bang Theory S04E19)

20150927_large_pepperoni_pizza

  • RT @aimsinpeng At a tech startup talk. This is what they say about working w academics […] (25 March 2015)

20150927_working_with_academics

  • RT @ianvisits The British Library, full of wise clever people who read a lot — but need to be warned about steps. A lot. (21 February 2014)

20150927_British_library

  • “The only people who will ever read your thesis (besides you) will be your supervisor, the examiners and your mum. And she will just say she read it.” (Australian Open Access Support Group, 10 April 2013) * Compiler’s note: The version that we shared had a one additional detail – that the examiners will read it on the train to Egham!
  • “It’s amazing how many super villains have advanced degrees.” (The Big Bang Theory S02E02)
  • “Dr. Acula” (Scrubs S05E06)

20160122_dr_acula

  • RT @Lollardfish Me: Mom, are you proud of me?
    Her: Your sister is dating a doctor.
    Me: I’m a doctor.
    Her: You have a PhD in history. Don’t brag, David. (7 October 2017)