My updates about e.g. Diablo3, or Pokémon GO, will go into https://frans.game.blog/.

I decided to experiment with microblogging, and set up three new sites: https://frans.photo.blog/https://frans.tech.blog/ and https://frans.game.blog/. All these “dot-blog” subdomains are now offered free by WordPress.com (see: https://en.blog.wordpress.com/2018/11/28/announcing-free-dotblog-subdomains/). The idea is to post my photos, game and tech updates into these sites, for fast updates and for better organisation, than in a “general” blog site, and also to avoid spamming those in social media, who are not interested in these topics. Feel free to subscribe – or, set up your own blog.

Zombies and the Shared Sensorium

I have studied immersive phenomena over the years, and still am fascinated by what Finnish language so aptly catches with the idiom “Muissa maailmoissa” (literally: “in other worlds” – my dictionary suggests as an English translation “away with the fairies”, but I am not sure about that).

There is a growing concern with the effects of digital technologies, social media, and with games and smartphones in particular, as they appear to be capable of transporting increasing numbers of people into other worlds. It is unnerving to be living surrounded by zombies, we are told: people who stare into other realities, and do not respond to our words, need for eye contact or physical touch. Zombies are everywhere: sitting in cafeterias and shopping centres, sometimes slowly walking, with their eyes focused in gleaming screens, or listening some invisible sounds. Zombies have left their bodies here, in our material world, but their minds and mental focus has left this world, and is instead transported somewhere else.

The problem with the capacity to construct mental models and living the life as semiotic life-forms has always included somewhat troublesome existential polyphony – or, as Bakhtin wrote, it is impossible for the self to completely coincide with itself. We are inaccessible to ourselves, as much as we are to others. Our technologies have not historically remedied this condition. The storytelling technologies made our universes polyphonic with myths and mythical beings; our electronic communication technologies made our mental ecosystems polyphonic with channels, windows, and (non-material) rooms; and our computing technologies made our distributed cognition polyphonic with polyphonic memory and intelligence that does not coincide with our person, even when designed to be personalized.

Of course, we need science fiction for our redemption, like it has always been. There are multiple storyworlds with predictive power that forecast the coming of shared sensorium: seeing what you see, with your eyes, hearing your hearings. We’ll inevitably also ask: how about memory, cognition, emotion – cannot we also remember your remembering, and feel your thinking? Perhaps. Yet, the effect will no doubt fail to remedy our condition, once more. There can be interesting variations of mise-en-abyme: shared embeddedness into each other’s feeds, layers, windows and whispers. Yet, all that sharing can still contain only moments of clear togetherness, or desolate loneliness. But the polyphony of it all will be again an order of magnitude more complex than the previous polyphonies we have inhabited.

Just for the likes?

Using Facebook and Twitter today, like we do these days, liking and sharing and retweeting, it again came to me how complex these basic actions actually, fundamentally are. We click an update to express support, to say “me too”, or just to send a social presence (phatic) style of update: our connection is still working. I am reading what you are saying. In some cases a like or retweet is an endorsement, sometimes not. Sometimes we spread the word because we cannot get our mind around a particular issue or piece of news: could some of you take a look at this, and say if this makes any sense, or not? Many of shared and circulated items are there just for the joke. Tension release and laughing together is important for creating feeling of community.

At the same time, much of these nuances go unnoticed. We just judge the communicative situation, evaluate our social contexts, possibly tweak a bit the distribution range (a closed group, just the closest friends, just the family, all friends, public, etc.) – and then go with the flow. Media is social and our social world is media these days. However, I think it would help to teach, educate and engage more in discussion about “algorithmic literacy”: about our strategies and abilities to read the system that supports, delimits and underlies our media-merged existence today.

This is just a short, late-night note, but I spent a minute trying to find a good primer to contemporary, social media and games related algorithmic literacy, and could not find one. Maybe you can point me to relevant direction? (Blog comments are closed, but my contact details in all leading platforms are readily available.) There are plenty of studies that focus on media literacy, computer literacy, even some on game literacy – but algorithmic literacy focused studies and popular presentations are apparently still harder to come by.

What I mean by everyday algorithmic literacy relates to, for example, how people may strategically follow, like or access social media updates of others, in order to tweak their automated news stream or filter settings: by communicating to the system that I am interested in messages of certain topics, or coming from certain persons, groups or organisations, I am able to influence how my “social graph” develops – until the system logic is again changed, of course. I am not sure how common such “theorycrafting of social media” is these days, but I suspect that pretty much everyone who actively uses these systems instinctively develops some silent knowledge about how their actions produce consequences in their info-sphere, or communicative spaces. Getting that discussion into more self-aware and public ground would be useful. I am sure there are several smart people and teams on social data analysis and information or games literacy fields, at least, who must have much to say on this topic.

Sanna Malinen’s PhD defence

2016-01-08 14.31.49Today researcher Sanna Malinen defended her PhD thesis in the University of Tampere. The opponent in the public defence was professor Pekka Räsänen from the University of Turku, professor Frans Mäyrä acted as the custos. The abstract and download link to the full, PDF version of the dissertation, titled Sociability and Sense of Community among Users of Online Services, are below:

The dissertation explores a current and popular phenomenon referred to as ‘online communities’ from both theoretical and empirical viewpoints. Online communities are discussed in the context of a wider development in social life from small geography-based units to large and dispersed social networks, which can be mediated by technology. In this study, online communities are understood as fluid objects that are created and maintained through users’ social interactions and actual social practices. Therefore, they are not stable and fixed groups but, instead, a social process that transforms over time.
The empirical portion of this work illustrates the multifaceted nature of the research subject and consists of five case studies exploring the usage of software intended for various purposes: an online photo-sharing service, an online exercise diary, online auctions, and social-media applications for smartphones. In addition, there is a research article consisting of a literature review that synthesise research into online community participation conducted over the past 12 years. The findings from the empirical sub-studies show that community-evocative feelings and behaviors can emerge within various online settings, including dispersed networks and content-oriented sites focusing on artefacts that users produce, such as photographs. However, users can have very different orientations with respect to their interest in social networking and community-building within the context of the same site. The literature review shows that the majority of previous research on user participation has focused on the quantity of their activity. Instead of dividing users into active and passive on the basis of the amount of content they produce, research should acknowledge that there is greater variety in the ways of participating and belonging to an online community.
The dissertation vividly illustrates that online communities are a constantly changing and developing phenomenon. In recent years, the most notable technological changes have been the surge in popularity of large-scale social network sites and increased usage of the Internet via mobile devices. In order for the concept of community to be applied in description of online sociability within current technological settings, the meaning of this term and the criteria for community needs to be rethought.

The full dissertation: http://tampub.uta.fi/handle/10024/98292.

Books or Papers?

I was delighted by the recent publication of Jill Walker Rettberg’s book Seeing Ourselves Through Technology: How We Use Selfies, Blogs and Wearable Devices to See and Shape Ourselves. This is partly due to the interesting discussion of phenomena like use of filters in Instagram photos, diaries that write themselves automatically for us, and affective ties to other data, quantified and used to organise and make sense of our “gamified lifes”. But another part stems from the fact that this was a book, a monograph, and also one that was made available under Creative Commons as a digital download.

For us educated in the Humanities, book-lenght studies carry intrinsic value that is hard to explain and measure. Books are works of sustained scholarship, and their hard-copy form is designed for permanence. While I was still actively working in literary and textual studies fields, I was routinely making references to studies in Poetics or Rhetorics, authored originally over two thousand years ago. Making that historical treasure trove to relate and connect with in dialogue with the more recent phenomena from digital culture was a source or enormous thrill and pride. Contemporary papers and articles published only in various, semi-permanent digital archives simply do not fulfill similar function in long-term historical and intellectual perspective.

There has been talk about the “death of the monograph” for several decades already, but somehow the book still survives. The imprints are small, university libraries carry smaller numbers of physical copies, and there are increasing “productivity” and “impact” pressures to publish and read shorter texts online. However, there is also actual research into how a monograph is doing, like “The Role and Future of the Monograph in Arts and Humanities Research” by Peter Williams & co, or Alesia Zuccala’s recent paper on evaluation of Humanities in Research Trends, which point that monographs continue to be essential for Humanities scholarship. The hybrid forms of publishing both a (typically small-print or print-on-demand) hard copy, alongside a searchable and freely available digital version, appear as the most prominent ways towards the future.

Seeing Ourselves Through Technology: http://www.palgraveconnect.com/pc/doifinder/10.1057/9781137476661

“The role and future of the monograph in arts and humanities research”: http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/00012530910932294

Research Trends, Issue 32: http://www.researchtrends.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Research_Trends_Issue32.pdf

Keynote on Pervasive Play & Social Media

This Friday I have been invited to present the keynote in the Social Media in Education seminar, organised by TAOKK & TAMK in Tampere. My title is “Mobile and Pervasive Play – the New Potentials for Communication, Information Seeking and Learning” (Mobiili ja kaikkialle levittäytyvä pelillisyys – viestinnän, tiedonhankinnan ja oppimisen uudet mahdollisuudet). You can find the seminar program from here: http://www.tamk.fi/cms/tamk.nsf/($All)/B33A81D7444E0FA7C2257D46001F9A05?OpenDocument .

Blog comment spam

For a long time already, pretty much the only comments that my blog sites receive are coming from spammers. I have the setting that all new commenters’ comments go for moderation, and I manually delete them all, so they do not serve any purpose for a spammer, either. The original character of blogs as social sites of discussion have long been replaced by social network services, most notably by Facebook, Twitter and Google+. These days, the comments that a note like this one receives, take place in these various services, where original content is being linked to, “liked” and circulated. This is not a particularly good thing if you consider gathering together the various discussion threads, or would like to return to those comments at some point in the future. All those comments will be lost in the constant status update stream of social media, unfortunately. I am now seriously considering closing the comment function altogether from my blogs, and will most likely implement this change in the near future. It will be possible to send me comments via email, of course, and my preferred social network site for public discussion today is Google+ (there are links to my profile in this blog), but any comments, in any platform, are really welcome.