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CATaC 2006

Cultural Attitudes towards Technology and Communication 2006 conference in Tartu

Resuming Our Regular Service

So, I'm back in Brisbane and I've finally had a chance to post those remaining blog entries from ICA and CATaC. I've also uploaded my photos from the trip to Flickr, and I'll add them and some other materials to blog posts soon. Unfortunately, while I was away there were some problems with my Web and mailserver, so if anyone's emails to me bounced over the last couple of weeks, please resend them.

As I understand it now, the problem may have been caused by the Windows w3wp.exe service, which is part of the Internet Information Services (IIS) suite. This service handles Web server requests and can max out the CPU if too many requests come in at the same time (and at peak time, we sometimes get up to 1000 spam trackbacks per hour - none of which you see because they're usually all caught by the spam filter on the Website). I've now tweaked IIS by setting the 'worker process recycling' values to far lower limits - this means that the server will consume less system memory and CPU time before it starts to clean out old server processes. Hopefully this fixes the problem - and if anyone has useful suggestions for how to set the server limits, please let me know.

Last Legs and Broken Dreams


Well, this European journey is almost at an end. We spent the last few days visiting my mum on Ibiza, taking in some summer sun and sampling the local food (we bypassed the plethora of dance clubs advertised everywhere, though). And in what's likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime moment, Ann and I got to hold the real Oscar awarded to Casablanca as best picture of 1943, which now lives in the El Palacio hotel alongside a range of other movie memorabilia. It's about as heavy as you'd expect!

Quick Summary: CATaC 2006 Day Three
This is a Flickr badge showing public photos from Snurb tagged with tartu. Make your own badge here.

Well, we're basically done - this is the third daily sum-up session, on this last day of CATaC 2006. Whatever 'it' is, Charles Ess says, it seems to have worked (and I would endorse this from my own perspective) - this has been an interdisciplinary conference which has embraced a wide range of perspectives. Culture isn't culture any more, and there has been a very broad range of theoretical backgrounds which people have employed.

Youth Interaction and/with Mobile Phones

In this post-lunch session on the final day at CATaC 2006 we're focussing on mobile technologies, and Andra Siibak is the first presenter. She notes the increased scale and magnitude of social interaction through computer-mediated interaction; this also involves youngsters forming their identities and creating favourable impressions of themselves. Despite the wide range of identity portrayals available to them, women still appear to present themselves in what are thought to be the most favourable formats, as Andra found for the Estonian social networking site Rate (and we're focussing here especially on the site's dating aspects) - here people are able to view photos of others and rate them.

Individualism, Collectivism, and the Open Knowledge Palimpsest

The next session is kicked off by Eileen Luebcke, who outlines a research project on intercultural communication in virtual teams. This is a very underresearched area so far, she suggests. CMC research has a variety of weaknesses here: research tends to focus on culturally homogeneous groups even where they are compared with one another, and often takes place in a laboratory environment - and results from student groups are sometimes posited as being representative for general work groups.

There is a need for diversity research, then, which has already taken place in non-CMC contexts. Here, heterogeneous teams appear to produce a greater number of alternative solutions to problems, but can also be a source of conflict; unfortunately, active use of diversity is often backgrounded in favour of an organisational bias towards male Western employees (this may be institutionalised for example through a focus on oral presentations or Western-style brainstorming sessions). Dichotomies between individualistic and collectivistic cultural orientations have various impacts here - communication for expressing own points of view clashes with communication for maintaining group harmony, for example - and individualistic communication patterns tend to dominate in many group interactions, as they enable individuals to place themselves in central positions.

Patterns of Internet Use in Estonia and the Czech Republic

The next session starts with a presentation by Veronika Kalmus on equalities in accessing the Internet in Estonia. For a transitional or 'informatising" society and economy like Estonia, such inequalities are critical, of course, and it is shaped by econmic and cultural factors (there is an interaction between structure and agency). Critical aspects of digital inequality and information stratification are issues such as home access to the Internet, socially relevant asects of Internet use, cognitive aspects of information stratification, and cultural attitudes towards technology, gender, and society. This is investigated here from a diachronic perspective spanning 2002-5, and builds on a two-stage survey of 15-74-year-old Estonians in 2002/3 and 2005. Additional data is from surveys of pupils in 2000-2.

Information Technologies and Gender

The final day of CATaC 2006 is upon us, and we're getting started with a session on gender and identity. Marisa D'Mello is the first speaker, focussing on global software organisations in India. How do these firms create an environment for their employees, and how do the workers create an identity for themselves? But what is global software work? It is a form of knowledge work which is highly volatile and dynamic, very diverse in its staffing, location, and project schedules, and it deals with intangible, heterogeneous and mobile products - this creates highly mobile career trajectories for IT workers. (And Marisa worked as an HR manager for such a company herself.)

Quick Summary: CATaC 2006 Day Two

We're now in the preliminary summary session for the second day at CATaC 2006. By the way, in the meantime the CATaC wiki has also been revived, with some additional materials on the presentations also posted up there. In terms of the session I chaired, I found the combination of theory and practice, and of development and definition of collaborative, productive online environments particularly interesting - the direct practical engagement of researchers in the tools and communities they study appears to have a number of benefits. Other session chairs right now seem to present more of a summary of their sessions - but for example, Laurel Dyson points once again to the importance of alternatives to traditional forms of copyright, as well as to the associated traditional view of content producers as individuals: perhaps there is a need for computer technology which also provides for multiple participants, similar to the way computer games already do. Anne Hewling notes the shift in e-learning from a technological to a cultural focus, and a recognition of learning environments as culturally complex and in need of further study.

Examining Online Pedagogies for e-Learning

Mpine Qakisa Makoe is the first presenter of the post-lunch session. She presents on the ecology of South African distance learners. Usually e-learning studies focus on how it affects learners, but this offers only a limited perspective. Distance learning is especially important in South Africa as this enables universities to deal with a significant backlog of learners especially also in remote locations, who previously did not have access to formal education - and therefore it is also a priority area for government policy. Universities now have to deal with a three- or fourfold increase in students, and many white educators in universities are still coming from the apartheid era, so there are considerable pressures on the sector.

Cultural Meanings in Software, City Spaces, and Estonian Society

The next session is kicked off by Jose Abdelnour Nocera, on the politics of technology culture. He notes that information technology has globalised, and has become increasingly affordable to small and medium enterprises. However, this also means that technology produced in one culture may be used in another, leading to a potential for intercultural misunderstandings. Users' cultural frameworks configure their understandings of the systems used, and these are likely to be different from those of the technology producers.

Interpretative flexibility is a key concept in theories of the social construction of technology: the character of technologies is not determined by their technological structure. The usefulness of a system, then, can be described as a social construct - and this is very different from the idea of usefulness as simply indicating (perceived) enhanced performance, or of usefulness as 'practical acceptability' rather than 'social acceptability'. Users 'construct' technology both symbolically in their reading of artefacts as well as literally in the articulation work that is essential before a generic software product can be used as an artefact supporting day-to-day business practices.


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