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Internet Technologies

Participation and Exclusion on the Global Net

The first full day of AoIR 2013 is about to get underway - and it starts with a series of plenary talks. Jenna Burrell is the first speaker, taking an ethnographic angle. Her recent focus has been on youth in the Internet cafés or urban Ghana - a sign of the global reality of the contemporary Internet. But this global Internet does not eradicate personal identity, contrary to some of the cyberutopian claims of the early 1990s which have now become unfashionable - the Net's userbase is increasingly diverse, but in different ways than originally envisaged.

What motivates young Internet users in Ghana, then? As it turns out, a key driver of Internet café use (as of 2005) was to find penpals in other countries - at the time, mainly through Yahoo! chatrooms. Such penpals might be friends, peers, potential romantic interests, patrons, sponsors, business partners, or philanthropists - following previous mail-based practices, which were translated online and became a way to envisage what the Net was for.

Making Sense of Anonymous's Hacker Trickery

Back from my visit to Project EPIC in Boulder, and right to the opening keynote of the 2013 Association of Internet Researchers conference. The keynote speaker is Gabriella Coleman, whose focus is on cyberactivism. Computer hacking has taken an increasingly prominent role in society in recent years - hackers have engaged in disrupting communication through DDoS attacks as well as in increasing transparency through leaking information.

But what are hackers? Some programme software, some develop hardware; some promote transparency (e.g. through the free software movement), some operate from the anonymous underground. Put simply, hacking is where craft and craftiness converge, Gabriella says - often with a great deal of humour and subversion. Hackers are quintessential craftsmen (men, most often); they enjoy the performance of circumventing the rules by using the weapons of the geek.

The Corporate Hijacking of Internet Blackout Protests

The next speaker in this ECREA 2012 session is Tessa Houghton, who begins by noting the 2009 New Zealand blackout of Websites and avatars, in protest against new copyright legislation. This is a form of spectacular viral publicity, and has been repeated in a number of national contexts over the past years – variously protesting copyright or Internet regulations. The anti-SOPA/PIPA blackout of early 2012 is another example for this.

Online Activism and Transparency

The next speaker in this AoIR 2012 session is Constance Kampf, whose interest is in online activism. There are a number of different forms and levels of activism, of course – from a general expression of support for specific causes to radical and potentially dangerous interventions. Much online activism has been driven by issues of transparency, but that term is ill-defined: does it just mean the openness and availability of information about known phenomena, or also an absence of unknowns?

Internet Studies without Shame

The final speaker in this AoIR 2012 plenary is Terri Senft, who argues for a department of Shameless Studies. Is anyone actually shameless? We all constantly negotiate our shame, for all sorts of reasons; we are in solidarity with one another where we share a specific form of shame.

Understanding What It Is to Be Human

The next plenary session at AoIR 2012 starts with Daniel Miller, who describes enthnography as often grand in its ambitions, but sometimes a little parochial in its work – how do you go about developing some of the wider theory about technology and what it means to be human, for example? What needs to happen here is a move between the broad and the specific.

In Defence of the Multiplicity of Personal Identity

The post-lunch keynote at AoIR 2012 is by Liesbet van Zoonen, who begins with a recap of cultural theories of identity. These assume both individual and collective identities to be multiple rather than single, dynamic rather than static. Identity is something we do, not something we are. Research has been informed by these ideas, and we have a good understanding of how different groups use media to perform their identities. This has also been reflected in an understanding of diversity as a desirable goal for social policy.

The Materiality of Digital Objects

The final plenary speaker in this opening session at AoIR 2012 is Susanna Paasonen, who highlights the question of what the object of Internet research really is. This has often been described in terms of loss – loss of material aspects of research objects – as well as gain – the benefits of disembodiment.

Beyond Toaster Studies: Moving beyond Tech-Centric Internet Research

The first AoIR 2012 plenary begins with Mary L. Gray, whose interest is in moving past technology-centric work in Internet studies. Rather, life is entangled with Internet technologies: the study of media should be used to draw out larger questions, and Internet research needs to be an interdiscipline concerned with boundary work.

Starting AoIR with a Bang: Ignite Talks

And I've arrived at the 2012 Association of Internet Researchers conference – my annual pilgrimage to catch up with the family. We start with a quick burst of Ignite talks, which itself begins with John Carter McKnight. He notes the two fundamental axioms of video games studies: games teach, and games don't teach. The Red Cross has posed the question: Is there a way for first-person shooter games to include a more accuracy representation of international humanitarian law?

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