Tag: technology

Precarity, Exclusion, and Contract Work in the Tech Industry

At the satellite office of a Fortune 500 company, employees buzz around the main floor of the building. At first glance, they all seem similar. Dressed in business casual – jeans and a dress shirt— people wait in line for coffee at the coffee cart, stop and chat with coworkers, or zip past one another on the way to meetings. However, if you look at their badges, hanging from lanyards on their necks or trousers, a pattern appears. Some have dark green badges, while others have bright red ones. Those with the bright red badges, standing out in the crowd, are the contract workers. A 2018 NPR/Marista Poll reports that in the United States about 1 in 5 workers are employed under contract, and that number will only grow in the next decade. This number is especially high in the tech industry. In 2018, both Fortune and CNBC reported that (read more...)

Dumbwaiters and Smartphones: The Responsibility of Intelligence

“I don’t have to drink alone,” she paused for comedic effect, “now that I have Alexa.” Thus was the punchline of a story told by a widowed octogenarian at a recent wedding. Alexa is a mass-produced personality that can play music, suggest items for purchase, monitor consumption and health habits, or, like any good friend, just listen. While all these tasks could be performed in silence with various algorithmic appliances, Alexa and her cousins from Google and Apple are imbued with a perceived autonomy directly stemming from their capacity for vocalization. Speech, it seems, beckons the liberation of abiotic materials from their machinic programming. (read more...)

Out-of-Body Workspaces: Andy Serkis and Motion Capture Technologies

Over the last two decades, the entertainment industry has experienced a turn to what Lucy Suchman termed virtualization technologies in film and videogame production (Suchman 2016). In addition, production studies scholars have described authorship as linked to control and ownership, sharpening distinctions between “creative” and “technical” work, a divide with significant economic repercussions (Caldwell 2008).  These ideas are useful in understanding film studio workspaces, where visual effects (VFX) workers and actors collaborate in creating believable virtual characters, using three-dimensional (3D) modeling software and motion-capture (mo-cap) systems to capture the attributes and movements of human bodies and transfer them to digital models.  Once captured, digital performances become data, to be manipulated and merged seamlessly with those of live actors and environments in the final film. The introduction of virtualization technologies and computer graphics tools have surfaced tensions over creative control, authorship, and labor. British actor Andy Serkis has been a high-profile apologist for the human actor’s central role in bringing virtual characters to life for film.  Serkis, who Rolling Stone called “the king of post-human acting,” is known for using motion capture (mo-cap) to breathe life into digitally-created, non-human characters. His notable performances include the creature Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003), the ape Cesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), as well as  Supreme Leader Snoke in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), and work on several characters in the 2018 Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, which he also directed. While Serkis’ performances have made him highly visible to audiences, digital labor historians have begun documenting the often-invisible film workers creating 3D models and VFX (Curtin and Sanson, 2017). The tensions between mo-cap performers and VFX workers reveal the contours of an emerging hybrid workspace that combines actors’ physical bodies and movements with VFX workers’ manipulations of digital geometry and data. (read more...)

Writing disability

When writing inequalities, the language we use and our writings betray the power dynamics and the unequal relations that stem from the world we as researchers come from. This post explores how these inequalities play out in the worlds we embed ourselves in as outsider researchers and are apparent in what we write through a reflection on my own research with dDeaf  television producers and actors in Sweden. (read more...)

‘Inclusive WASH’ – Contested assumptions about bodies and personhood in a Ugandan refugee settlement

As I skimmed through the first pages of the shiny brochure of the ‘Inclusive WASH’ project, I suddenly recognized some of the people that the leaflet depicted in its photograph-filled spread: Odongo, a Sudanese man with paralyzed legs who pumped water from a borehole; Claire, a Congolese woman with one arm and one leg who poured water into a basin with the help of an iron scaffold that held a jerry can, a plastic container for storing and transporting water; and Vitali, an elderly Burundian man with legs withered by polio, who was shown receiving instructions on how to use the iron scaffold with the jerry can. The ‘Inclusive WASH’ project was implemented by an international aid organization with the aim to enhance access to water, and to improve sanitation and hygiene for people with disabilities through inclusive technology design. As the project officially came to an end only shortly (read more...)

How to Book an Appointment Online when you have Aphasia

I’m meeting a fellow speech therapist researcher at a weekly drop-in session for people with aphasia when Markus* comes in, brandishing an envelope.  “I went!” he exclaims. Markus has just arrived fresh from a visit to the head office of one of his home utility providers. He has taken matters into his own hands after coming up against a technological obstacle.  Markus regaled to us his story using an effective combination of short spoken utterances, gesture, a written note and an established communication dynamic with my fellow speech therapist.  I want to share with you his story to discuss the issue of technology and aphasia. Markus had received a letter telling him that his boiler (the British term for a home water-heating system) needed to be serviced.  The letter instructed him to call or go online to make an appointment.  Due to his aphasia, however, Markus had found himself unable (read more...)

System, Space and Ecobiopolitics: A Conversation with Valerie Olson About “Into the Extreme”

  [This week we present excerpts of an interview with Valerie Olson conducted by Lisa Messeri focused on Olson’s new book, Into the Extreme (U Minnesota P, 2018). Valerie Olson is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of California – Irvine whose work focuses on the anthropology of environmental systems, technologies and extremes.  Lisa Messeri is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Yale University focused on the role of place and place-making in scientific work and the author of Placing Outer Space (Duke UP, 2016). The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.] Lisa: Into the Extreme is an ethnography of human space flight based on fieldwork at NASA Johnson Space Center most prominently, but then also other space sites throughout the United States. What I think is most significant about this book is that it activates “system” as an ethnographic object. Valerie Olson, the author (read more...)

The Power of Small Things: Trustmarkers and Designing for Mental Health

At my office we put tennis balls on the legs of the chairs to reduce the noise of the scraping chairs against the parquet floors. They are hard to miss, but they fulfill their purpose. For this reason, I never reflected on what kind of feelings these bright fluorescent yellow balls might evoke when visitors see them attached to the bottom of the meeting room’s chair legs. (read more...)