Today, how we shop, and socially distance from others is fundamentally different from yesterday as we are called upon to 'do the right thing' to change everything about our lives and our daily interactions.
New forms of etiquette are rapidly emerging from the stoic 'good morning' across a 6-ft distance with neighbours (many of whom I've not spoken to before), to explaining that you cannot attend that digital hangout as you are already committed to another digital hangy-out thing. Behaviour change has always been essential to central policy and politics. While not exactly an exemplar for 'nudge', in the UK the PM Boris Johnson is relying on classic psychological nudge theory to encourage citizens to 'do the right thing' - a nudge-COVD_19 (nudgeC19) tactic.
Classic Foucauldian analyses enables us to see how social forms of embodiment writings on technologies of the self nudge users to change behaviour - such as calorie counting to lose weight. Typically nudge theory is closely aligned to neoliberalism that reflects shifting state-citizen relations and the responsibility of individuals: "Each and every one of us is now obliged to join together."
I'm a long time researcher of behaviour change and its relationship to individual health decision-making (especially around self-tracking and mHealth). It is not difficult to be struck by how Boris's appeals are designed to tap into variants of behavioural theory: rational (what we think, how we reflect on things) and emotion driven (automatic and instinctual reaction) systems. The success of nudgeC19 is to tap into the automatic system and reframe choices - essentially nudging citizens into the 'right' behaviour change that can be rationalised.
While policy and politics are always concerned with influencing citizen actions, there is an acute emphasis on our individual behaviour change and responsibility to get this right. Policy makers increasingly believe that – in the face of great social complexity and individualised citizenry – the only way to address ‘deadly' challenges such as the global pandemic, climate change or civil unrest is to encourage citizens themselves to change their behaviour. The socio-political impact of nudgeC19 has already been dramatic and we are on a radically new path.
Unsurprisingly, nudgeC19 has already attracted substantial criticism and political comment. Much of this revolves around caution against nudgeC19 being a political vehicle for extending Government activity (something that has already happened in the UK, in much of Europe and will continue to happen in the US), along with the explicit paternalism of nudge. In defence of this approach, in properly deploying nudge incentives this will improve (hopefully save) people's lives. Such measures have been set up to enable us to feel in control (as much as we can right now) of the choices we can make and ways we can contribute to 'solve' a major f*cking global problem. And we can do so while emphasising our freedom to make this choice.
I am not a fan of Boris or his politics, but I sincerely believe him when he states the current measures in place are not actions he wants to take. Yet we should also be aware, despite reassurances otherwise, that nudgeC19 is heavy-weight top-down politics. While there is a good case to make on the central role of nudgeC19 that this is for the greater good and citizens 'best interests' are at the heart of such conditions, our restricted movements reveal the disabling of our agency and impulsivity as everyday citizens.
In what follows over the next few weeks/months/year/s, we need wider social analysis of behaviour change. A sociological understanding of agency and new phase of Government-citizen relations that are characterised by extreme uncertainty that depend on deepening citizen reflexivity:
Will the Government retain responsibility for nudging citizens?
Will this be expanded to the military and police (likely yes, before the end of the week)?
For how long can we sustain the nudge behaviour (fatigue, boredom, frustration all at play here)?
Are we turning to a more reconstructive agenda where in the long-term Government interference on this scale will be welcome (for the greater good) and support the role of the state as a facilitator in daily life?
Ultimately, together, we will continue to endure more explicitly political Government interference and restrictive behaviour change that will change our citizenship identity forever.
Self-tracking Technologies and the Tourists: Embodiment and Engagement with Surveillance in the City
Welcome to the City of York, where the Council will gather anonymised data from anyone visiting the city centre. surveillance tracking will be used to find out about visitors - where they come from, how much money they spend, where they go and what they think about York.
Self-tracking technologies are very popular. Consumer culture indicates these enable transformation of consumer behaviour and their expectations about knowledge concerning their identity. Consumers have, for some time, adorned their bodies with wearable tech and moulded their identities in various ways to have appeal on social media. Yet, the growth and variety of data points designed to exploit the malleability of identity metrics have turned social sharing into a hugely profitable commercial industry.
The commonality and popularity of surveillance technologies raise many questions about the impact that personal trackable data has on people's identities, rights, and capacities for action. I imagine this like fishing into a free sea of people who are so hooked on their tech and data they fail to realise the sharks near. Personal data is important, but it would, I think, be erroneous to restrict our observations of them to the most obvious or innovative ways in which interactions occur. Our data changes develop and replicate from one platform through to new devices while still remaining on old/forgotten technologies. The very places that surround us, the institutions we establish relationships with, and habits we develop, all impact upon the appearances, capacities and meanings of our data.
Data change sometimes occurs as a result of consciously formulated actions. These are undertaken in situations where we think we have considerable autonomy - such as privacy settings on a social media account. Yet, data change also happens frequently in circumstances within which the individual finds themself, and they have no control. In these and other situations, how data change occurs are directly related to people's cultural knowledge and dependence and relationships to the broader social structures in which we live, visit and move around in.
In York, the broad and general relationship between data change and social action feel almost predatory. Being a resident of York feels as though living in an open pandora box. In coming to terms with data dimensions, it feels as though we are being pulled beyond where personal boundaries were once firmly closed. We are being jolted towards new actions that require us to overlook the considerable intrusion into our privacy. Rather than completely condemning surveillance developments, we might see them instead as the creative potential of how we might live in the future - within a broadly defined flexible technology framework that facilitates data into the repositories of personal use and external environments.
The range and severity of personal data intrusion could indicate a new-new-age of technological culture, which seek to benefit individuals, different peoples and contribute meaningfully to the planet. In this context, what data surveillance means to different peoples, underscores contemporary attempts to utilise many belief-systems as a means of explaining technologies place in society.
Global concern about the impact and spread of COVID-19 (here's some live data designed by a 17-year old) have left organisers with no choice but to pull international events. The new 'normal' is to expect further emergency measures. These will restrict the movement of people - asking us to work from home (where possible). Plans to attend any future international conferences will be cut short.
Much of my research is about the kinds of interventions to enable under-represented groups to be better supported in their professional roles. These include: remote working; making international conferences/events accessible to those with caring roles and disabilities (remote presentations and affiliations; sponsorship for families to travel together; and funding to pay for care support with individuals are away); and embracing novel interactions (everything from using tools like Slack, #hashtag indexing, to experimenting with audio recordings and different methods of file-sharing for individuals with unreliable internet connections).
Before COVID-19 practices such as remote working and digital presenting were, often, regarded as secondary to in-person interactions. This meant requests from disability groups, or anyone with a caring role, to implement changes that allow individuals to 'beam in' were often challenged - see this lovely survey from Forbes about such workforce demands. Such actions are seen as 'too expensive' or 'too difficult' to coordinate and organise.
Amid COVID-19 the same barriers throw up common challenges. However, some groups are doing better. The International Communication Association (ICA) conference aims to advance the scholarly study of human communication by encouraging and facilitating excellence in research worldwide. Aha! The same conference is still going ahead with proper support for virtual presenting and attendance.
But presenting via video-conference and Skype is cr*p, right? Yep. So as you would expect from an international communication association, there are some innovations: Presenters will have the option to pre-record talks, or to join in-person live and develop critical conversations in much the same way we currently undertake social interactions using apps like Whatsapp, Messenger, iMessage etc. And this is good. We're forced into thinking outside the box, we maintain sponsorship and commercial levels of support, we get to interact with research communities at a global scale, and we (inadvertently) save the planet. Importantly these are all methods that go a long way to support accessibility. Other conferences such as FutureMed have allowed participants to attend as a robot!
To maintain the momentum and sponsorship around other international events, we have an opportunity, now, to advocate for each other. This means being prepared to make very sudden changes to how we attend and experience professional activities, and take forward how we work with each other. The out-dated criteria for career promotion such as 'number of international conferences attended' can (should) be challenged/changed to embrace new methods of finding and connecting to each other. This method will allow anyone with a disability or caring role to significantly improve their contribution to events and 'prove' their worth to organisations. Also meaningful is the willingness of people to swap climate-guzzling global travel for greener and more climate-friendly alternatives.
Traditional accounts of work tend to concentrate either on overall levels of activity in the workplace, on things like international professional impact (how much of a 'hit' globally are you?), or on particular ways of working, like the long hours sat passively in an office or out in the field. Up to now, there have been very limited resources in support of remote working or the 'best' or good practices that workers can implement. Guilt, feeling isolated, disadvantaging one's career, or anxiety about missing out frequently appear as barriers to remote work. There remains very little to support the experience of attending international events in remote form - this is difficult to do well for the audience experience, presenter or to make it suitably commercial for sponsorship.
Successful and fun methods of remote working, here are some things that I am doing:
By focusing on 'being there', we have developed a fascinating display in the presencing of our 'work' and doing work in professional settings. Upon our actions hangs the future of international event attendance, work presencing, and ways we can sustain inclusive professional practices in the future.
I am happy to share a virtual lunch date with you.
This blog post was so popular it has also been featured by OpenAccessGovernment and other media outlets.
My work with various Government think tanks, tech start-ups, organisations and the Government's own Digital Services is where I advocate for the step-change to enable inclusivity in tech. These include activities where I provide training / workshops / presentations / other things to get people talking and the attention and buy-in of senior management.
While there's an acknowledgement of 'the problem', and my work goes some way to reframe the labelling of 'women in tech' at the heart of the 'the problem', professionals, industry and policy continue to restrict how to implement change.
So if you are recruiting into a tech role and you want to be 'inclusive', what can you do? Well, there is a lot, and this post will take you through some of the changes needed.
Textio is an online tool that analyses job descriptions (US-based) and suggests improvements to make the language more appealing to all applicants.
Similarly, Gender Decoder for Job Ads highlights gendered wording. It identifies if a post is masculine- or feminine-coded < again, we are dealing with broad brush strokes here, but useful to 'have the conversation' that gender bias in language and role descriptions exist.
Depending on how your organisation works with recruitment (internal and external) - a summary of strategies that have been effective include:
Alongside the tech industry, I am going through a similar process of recruitment to three new positions to a three-year tech project. In this process, my hands are tied (a lot) by formal HR methods. For example, I can tweak the job description template, but this needs senior management approval. I cannot change the layout of the template. And, what I want to do is change some of the language used: switch 'ideal candidate' to 'ideally suited to'. I'd then like to go straight into how the roles will help develop the skills of the individual before the role responsibilities - in effect, reversing the layout of the current job template.
I am continuing to think about new ways to support an inclusive recruitment process, some of these are easy-to-change things, others require buy-in from management and change how we think about recruitment.
All do-able. These take time and the right people to 'say yes'. There's a lot of material out there - which is good!
The current craze for activism amplifies clearly and profoundly across social media. My late father taught me the power of protest. He was strongly political, a single-parent, who self-taught to overcome the challenges of disability, and a national child-care system swayed in favour of the mother's rights. Marches, strikes and protests - he preferred the latter because they allowed people to get together - were constant markers of my childhood and adulthood. These served as a means of making links at local and national levels that were being overlooked elsewhere. In retrospect, these activities (earnest as they were in their aims - equal rights for fathers, equal pay, end the poll tax) were also social activities and ways of connecting to neighbours and making new friends.
The social and economic relevance of social protest is currently a hot topic receiving much attention in the news as it is being organised and publicised across social media. The storm around Greta Thunberg's climate change protest recently in Bristol has drawn attention to broader implications of social protest and the relationship to social media. Thunberg is an inspirational activist for many, social media also makes her target for internet memes, trolling and hate. We need to recognise the existence of a super-connected society: who can at once enhance things for the better and respond to the call to arms to change the world. There are also present dark and sometimes perverse social forces - some 'citizen journalism', community hate groups, online forums, and social media trolling.
The pioneer, in this case, Thunberg, is undoubtedly savvy. However, awareness of her vulnerabilities reflects alarming social media targeting tactics designed to negatively affect Thunberg and enrage her supporters.
Activism fed by social media reveals the inherently politicised state of different platforms (I am pointing directly at you Facebook). At the same time, such content also shows how communities actively condemn the current state 'things'. Activism enhanced by social media offers the opportunity for action against meaningless fake news and dangerous political figures.
The renowned sociologist, Manuel Castells [don't worry, is a link to a Wikipedia page], shows when the structures of capitalism are under strain (as they are today), alternative and countercultural values and ways of living to gain more attention. With social media and figures such as Thurnberg, alternative values are allowed to move into the mainstream. At such a time, social activism and associated competencies, communities, networks, and social skills provide a rich source for reassessing not only what to protest and how, but also what real change might mean.
Through protest and activism, I hope we continue to connect with our neighbours and make new friends. And I am certain we will continue to use social media (for good things).
Iron Man just irons. HT Jim Benton, SuperPowers
Ok, lots of cause for alarm about the negative impact of social media. Let us relax, and let ourselves enjoy some of the more positive effects too.
Thanks to a newly found knitting network on YouTube, I have acquired knitting skills. Mostly in the form a dense yarn habit, but my neck is decidedly warmer, and I am building up to dog blankets, little people hats, picnic rugs, anything else of a square knit-shaped disposition.
Collective skills sharing isn't anything new, but global communities designed to share (for free) what in the past were the legend of family-based learning have opened up the art of coming together to learn something new. Even if, like me, you are really, really, really bad at it. Two conferences I will be attending this year have knitting workshops (whoop), including one where the keynote will knit, stitch and share their research in this area.
I feel emboldened to try new things, and at the same time slightly unsettled there is further distraction enabled by the screen. So this is the real tension, when does social media become too much? If it is helping us to open up, to try new things, to meet new people, then those are assets that we need.
I hope this is an opportunity for personal growth beyond the screen.
And a lot of scarves.
FREE knitting patterns and guides:
Stich n unwind
All free patterns < especially good for socks
The Spruce Crafts < lovely site and aspirational knitted cushion covers (you have been warned)
Reading about crafting and digital communities:
Manosevitch, I. and Tzuk, Y., 2017. Blogging, craft culture, and women empowerment. Cogent Social Sciences, 3(1), p.1408753.
Hackney, F., 2013. Quiet activism and the new amateur: The power of home and hobby crafts. Design and Culture, 5(2), pp.169-193.