TopCat is an 18-year-old elderly female moggy who is having the time of her life in Scotland. TopCat has been self-tracking for 18 months, with her owner curious about why she had gained weight (a lady of a certain age? ), as well as where she went all day…
TopCat’s tufty area is short and fluffy, her floof jutting v-shaped under her more flexible spine. Her cat frown rises outward from twin creases above a snub nose (she’s a Himalayan Persian) and her pale strawberry blonde fur pushed down from her high flat temple to pick up the V-motif once more. She has the appearance of a blonde cloud. And she’s a regular killer of mice.
I’ve been interested in self-tracking since my late father bought a pedometer for our Guildford council house when I was eight years old and we tracked the steps from our council house to the local bakery for fresh doughnuts (3,477 steps). Counting steps has always represented a personal resonance with my surroundings, an interest in health, and a celebration of technological innovation.
This is why I began writing my book Household Self-Tracking During a Global Health Crisis in 2020. The goal was to consider how the commercialisation of health promotion through self-tracking technologies is symptomatic of a larger social and cultural health change marked by increased individual investment in and image construction of fit and healthy living. What I hadn’t anticipated was the same level of investment and interest in self-tracking with (not just for) pets.
TopCat had three additional ‘homes’ and four ‘owners’ who sought to cater to her every blonde furry whim, it was discovered by viewing her GPRS tracking data from a fitbit attached to her collar. Perhaps tracking your dog’s daily steps or your cat’s sleep patterns is ridiculous, but I’ve discovered that understanding the more ridiculous forms of household tracking provides better insight into health practices as a way of living in a world that is both in crisis and promoting breakthrough after breakthrough in health technologies.
During the course of writing the book, I became aware of how household health data practises extended care routines and opened intimacies in such a way that members (especially pets) could motivate and sustain healthy changes.
And, while I passed up the opportunity to conduct direct interviews with pets (for the next book), my research discovered that tracking with pets provided care and affective forces that were important in household relationships. Such absurdity may allow us to investigate new health connections made not only between people, but also between people and their digital devices, pets, and, in TopCat’s case, multiple homes. So, here is an ever-attentiveness to health to describe the caring intimacies and responsibilities deployed in health tracking in households with people and animals. Because tracking is viewed as an analytical category within the home rather than something exclusive to humans, health-related identities mean different things to different generations (human and pet), and focusing on interconnected health narratives allows us to unpack contextualised meanings. Pets, like technological confidence, class, generational, or gender relations, can be used in sociological health studies to understand household dynamics and the implications for other types of tracking and a sense of social responsibility.
My observation of self-tracking extending to furry members of households can be summarised as follows: Tracking practices increased support and contributed to the flourishing of happiness — even for animals. Pet health data may be considered novel or less important than people’s health data, but it reveals a strong positive association with tracking, as well as an interest in and preservation of intimate data. The novelty of the tracking activities (such as TopCat) is a strong motivator for the household to begin health pet tracking; however, this belies the serious point that maintaining such tracking with pets contributes to clear health outcomes and preventative actions, reinforcing the benefits and continuation of such activities.
In response to my general question ‘Do you like tracking?’ there was a strong emphasis on pet welfare. These aspects of my study revealed that households were just as interested in tracking with pets as they were in monitoring general health interests symbolising attachment to informal digital health practices and extension of responsive and caring approaches in the enactment of health monitoring, whether for people or animals.
In reading this book, I hope that you have a sense of the different aspects of health data and the combination of tracking behaviour. There is so much to untangle in household tracking, from the commercial organisations seeking to profit from health data, to the policymakers closely reviewing and analysing social uses of health data, to the education required to fully understand self-tracking data legacy in our lives.
Writing the book, in a state of global uncertainty around health when there were long periods for which we were confined to being at home, was terrifying, empowering, overwhelming, informative, and confusing all at the same time. Talking about household tracking with others immediately raised concerns about when not to track, especially when governments and global health policies are involved and trying to persuade us to adopt health tracking, if not impose it on us.
Despite growing policy initiatives, health tracking is a personal choice. There are very active communities focused on user data and privacy rights, patient record access, and open data that can help raise awareness of the different ways people can understand health data. In writing this book, the tension was clear between health data being used as a commercial asset for profit by some organisations, the role of public health providers such as the NHS in the United Kingdom, investment by government agencies and the level of control of users themselves. Households, or ‘bubbles’ as they were determined in the pandemic, provided an appealing and comforting narrative in the context of growing health uncertainties such as those associated with vaccination risk, the need to shield and protect extremely clinically vulnerable groups, and increased apprehension about policy-led decisions. The same bubble helped me in feeling a sense of protection: that I could provide for my family myself.
What is striking, having reflected back over the book and the pets featured in the last chapter, is how each of the households believed and invested so passionately in personal health responsibility. Growing fears about the pandemic translated into increased household tracking practices across generations, people, and even animals. I find myself thinking about how positive associations with tracking may obscure the recognition of emerging health anxieties and intolerance toward people who behaved differently from their household and from whom other household members sought to differentiate themselves. The health tracking narratives reveal that households serve as a focal point of meaning for perceptions of responsibility and expected behaviour. This may seem obvious, but research into household health dynamics has led to the expansion of reciprocal care, with adjustments in how commitments to the needs of dependent members were met within the home. Another manifestation of what is viewed as ‘risky’ health behaviour is being modified within households, while also connecting outwards to new social movements and various forms of single-issue and identity politics (e.g. ‘fitsporo’, food sustainability, anti-racism and gender politics), with health tracking helping to create new identities and challenge normative health images.
My sense of self is being remade because of my health tracking. I believe that a future of household tracking that allows access to and understanding of personal data is now an essential part of people’s social identities and the prevention of life-threatening diseases. For my part, being immersed in a home environment of household tracking has begun to untangle some of the complexity surrounding the treatment of those who are temporarily or permanently dependent on others for care. Care is a crucial domain that reveals the tensions between ill health and dominant societal values and roles starkly — especially for women.
The reader will quickly realise I am not happy with the increasing tendency to encourage profit from commercial health products. And, readers will make their own judgements here.
A version of this article was published on Medium.
I've been asked to talk about how to "enhance a global reputation" for this professional skills workshop.
Immediately imposter syndrome shouted in my ears, why are they asking you?
So I've some advice for myself and others building a global reputation about their research, the projects they are passionate about or anything else you wish to gain prominence in doing well - while, at the same time, imposter syndrome shouts loudly (and often convincingly) at you.
My work focuses on identities in tech communities. For example, I've written extensively about the mislabelling of "women in tech". The BBC has featured my research, including Laurie Taylor's BBC Radio4 programme Thinking Allowed, and articles in The Guardian, The Independent, and many other international media publications. I try to embody the notion that self-promotion is just as much promotion of scholarly work, including the communities I research, as the opportunity for enhancing my own professional reputation.
Unfortunately, this gem about self-promotion and other possible pearls of wisdom are lost to subsequent self-doubt. So in acknowledging what channels to use for optimum reputation enhancement, we need first to recognise our capacity to feel that we are worthy of sharing our ideas.
In terms of self-promotion (especially social media), I have buckled under the nasty criticism of anonymous trolls who throw rebukes laced in misogyny and personal attacks. Self-promotion is being prepared to be vulnerable or open to public attack, in very different ways from defending academic knowledge we are used to at conferences. Different perspectives and disagreements about research are exhilarating. Cyberstalking is terrifying.
In the past, I have let systems and processes bury me into silence, temporarily at least. One example is asking for support from journalists and marketing teams who had published my research when a social media pile-on directed at me critiqued 'women in tech' as 'bitches' or 'catty'. There was very little support. I found myself, like the communities I research, once again silenced and singled out for attack.
In the process of recovering my voice, I have had to face the reality that speaking out (or not) is just as much about me as it is the communities I research and belong to. Being silenced as a scholar feels unjust. One way I have found to cope is to remind myself that silence is a strong theme in my research. Thinking about overcoming being silenced is when turning to multiple channels to self-promote and engage with different groups has allowed me to connect with others and gain interest in my work.
About Impostor Syndrome
Self-doubt is not unique to scholars. Nevertheless, for working-class scholars, disabled scholars, women scholars, immigrant and international scholars, our bouts with impostor syndrome — feeling as though we do not belong or are not as good as our colleagues — remind me about the importance of finding networks of support. Some of the best networks have been internal to my institution. For example, I've found solace in the MAMs (Mother's and Mother's to be) University of Durham network and other groups that operate around the academy. I am also a member of different supercomputing and women tech communities who help support and promote research and women in leadership positions. These communities are deliberately closely allied with my research.
In terms of building content and targeting channels, be aware that this is a personal decision as much as a professional one. Social media content occupies your personal space. You create and respond to this content today in your home, alongside your loved ones. I encourage my fellow scholars to make this realisation a crucial part of their professional consciousnesses and think about how you can protect yourself from possible unwelcome intrusions or comments about your work, professional image, and even personal life.
In building a public-facing professional brand, I have worked with journalists across the board and spent much personal time creating unique content on my website and social media. One comforting thought is that journalists do not care about imposter syndrome. Effective treatments for impostor syndrome, then, should entail raising one's consciousness and, ideally, engaging in and asking about institutional norms and policies. One method could be as simple as asking about the university social media policy and strategies to protect your public profile.
As an advocate and researcher of women tech communities, of course, I follow Sheryl Sandberg - Facebook's COO. Sandberg speaks on the "lean in" philosophy. While I do not entirely agree with her conceit, I know for sure that my new found consciousness, including linking the promotion of my professional work with the enhancement of the communities I belong to, has become a way to build a reputation.
Self-Promotion And Community-Promotion
Beyond recognising self-doubt, I often force myself to accept invitations (if my schedule allows) as a powerful means to overcome my initial self-doubt. For example, I have just been featured as part of the SC21 (supercomputer) conference in a pre-recorded interview. The sole reason I accepted the invitation was that I forced myself to do it, ignoring the internal voice that pointed out that there are more successful and visible experts.
Why would I push myself in the face of intense self-doubt? I push myself because the impostor syndrome I suffer from is the same pathology that limits and casts doubt in the minds of other scholars. I push myself because every time I decline an invitation, there is a good chance that another person like me will not be invited or will decline the invitation in my place. This is especially true for some of the large commercial tech events I attend, which lack diverse speakers or make events fully accessible.
I push myself because this job will never be easy; academia is a demanding profession by design.
If you are already feeling self-doubt and the twinge of guilt for turning requests down, with the stress of being overburdened with new demands, the knowledge that your actions directly affect your communities is more pressure. Notwithstanding, thinking of the positive flip side — promoting your scholarship and perspective helps promote your communities. Having this thought in the back of your mind will help alleviate self-doubt and allows a method for channels to target for self-promotion. This is the remedy that is working for me.
What comes next? I'd like to see an ally skills workshop focused on advocating for one another and moving beyond the concept of 'virtuous rescue.' I don't require rescue. I require empowerment. We require empowerment.
Despite continued efforts to pretend otherwise, the new reality for many is work-from-home.
During the period of January to December 2019, 5.1% of the UK population mainly worked from home, compared to 4.3% in 2015 reported by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). The sector with the highest proportion of homeworkers was information and communication was in information and communication, with 14% mainly working from home in 2019, and more than half of workers having ever worked from home.
In terms of homeworking patterns, reported by the ONS, those who occupied the most senior roles such as managers, directors, and senior officers were most likely to work from home (10%), followed by those in associate professional and technical occupations (8%) and administrative duties (6%).
Before COVID-19, we might have speculated that women would form the majority of the home workforce, however according to the ONS, it was men (11%) who were more than twice as likely to work from home compared to women (5%).
With home working now the ‘norm’ for many professionals does this mean a radical shake-up concerning industry initiatives to support a more accessible and inclusive workforce? Or are separate professional conditions continuing to prevail in the home?
First reported by Forbes, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Slack, Microsoft and newly familiar Zoom have implemented new work regimes to allow employees to continue to work from home for the remainder of 2020. For those in the tech sector remote working methods are more familiar than other industries less confident or invested in software to support digital interactions. Prior to COVID-19 remote working practices within the tech sector could have been seen as innovations for other organisations and industry to adopt. However, today, we risk conflating ‘remote working’ with the present conditions of being forced to work from home, which is entirely different concerning support, accessibility and skills.
My long-term research investigates the challenges of remote working within the tech sector and opportunities for companies to implement change for a more inclusive workforce. Part of what the tech sector, and others, is dealing with are the opportunities for workplace support. During the most recent interviews with workers, there is anger about the form of support that is mostly self-directed online learning to identity stress areas or take workers through basic meditation exercises. Speaking to workers in the civil service, similar methods of support have been introduced through lock-down. There is a significant tension here between top-down ‘support’ and what is really needed on the ground. Though early days, there are some clearly identifiable themes coming out the current work-from-home conditions:
Proper investment in staff training that is accessible to all workers. One senior manager shared his experience of being the primary carer for his daughter. He was unable to attend online training days where he lacked childcare support at home. Obstacles to being able to attend event is not new where there are caring roles involved. One positive spin out of the pandemic is the opening up of previously locked down events/meetings/conferences. Through digital tech, I’ve been able to attend a virtual parliamentary civic briefing; participate in a conference previously out of my reach due to cost/travel/caring responsibilities; benefit from cybersecurity online training; and vote in union elections. What is frustrating is it has taken the restriction of workers to force this opening up, when the same level of accessibility could have been championed and supported a long time ago. What I hope is post-COVID-19 the same level of access will remain.
Agile professional needs support. By necessity we are spending a substantial proportion of our day in front of screens. Mental health ‘check-ins’ and wellbeing tools are predominantly conducted through the screen. While technology enables immediate contact, it does not allow periods of rest or disconnection unless the user is able to put these in place. Speaking to an HR director, she shared her technology fatigue. Where the company had invested in a staff wellbeing app, this meant more time in front a screen sharing personal details about sleep patterns and sense of self-worth. Such investment attends to some of the needs of the workforce – if they are interested in sleep tracking. However, it does very little for supporting new work patterns, roles and fatigue.
Households are the new workforce. Where organisations have a contract with an individual concerning their duties and responsibilities, this does not translate easily into households. Inevitably different burdens of care and ways of working entrench the home. What is clear from recent media reports and speaking to individuals across sectors in the UK are the difficulties in finding routines, especially when there are caring responsibilities for loved ones within the home. A not uncommon experience is feeling overwhelmed by professional tasks and spiraling out of control from ways to sustain relationships in the home. My own experience echoes that of many, caring for my four-year old daughter, working FT, contributing and running a household without the time and space to perform properly in any of these areas. Let alone download an app and record my sleep-tracking. The acknowledgement here is while individuals are employed by an organisation, it is the household that configures how we can conduct our professional roles at home.
Different career enhancement pathways. One of the main challenges now is dealing with the ‘unknown’. One area of growing unease and concern are the new barriers to career progression. This is particularly the case where workers are being asked to prioritise new areas of work, such as the generation of online content, over and above all other tasks. And while online training can provide a great deal of information about ‘how things work’, it is very difficult for those tools to positively enhance different ways of working, especially if those duties are not formally recognised within career pathways and promotion criteria. The push to ‘get online’ takes time, new skills and requires the proper recognition of what the end product should look and feel like.
[not] Taking time off. Simply put, stating that workers should use their annual leave won’t alone change the conditions of stress, fatigue and fear. In short, while the required ‘leave’ can be recorded on an excel spreadsheet this does not reflect a period of rest for the individual. For others, it will not be possible to use their leave allowance. This is not about giving people ‘special treatment’, but acknowledging the current conditions that are difficult and in acknowledging this, understanding each other in terms of these being hard times for all.
During the crisis, I continue to research the impact of remote working. Yet, this is with a growing unease, as I recognise and share the same challenges as those I interview. However, in deepening this narrative, we can underscore the sharp divide between work-from-home and remote working. To ease the burden of remote work and enable new innovative ways of working in the future, this requires a plethora of change, investment and support beyond the household.
The remote working revolution, I've now discovered, owes a lot to technology innovations bought about by the sex industry.
So, what has the sex-sector ever done for us?
Pornography, adult eBusiness and online erotic content may have an uneasy place in society, but its tech innovation has a long legacy:
· Camcorder and VHS video machines were pioneered by the porn sector and the main players keen to get blue content to the mass market as quickly and cheaply as possible.
In the home, the take-up of DVD players was driven by porn consumers because they could skip to and repeat their favourite scenes.
· Watching a lot of Netflix? Pay-per-view cable or satellite TV movies entered the market only after porn firms introduced 'premium' services in hotels and on digital networks. Interactive television, now gaining substantial sponsorship on digital sport channels, was developed to allow consumers to get closer to their favourite porn actors.
· eBusiness has (always) been driven by sexual content. One of the most successful eBusiness sites is Pornhub - Adult Content Website- remains in the UK's Top 20 Websites and generates annual profits of more than $1 billion. In 2019 there were over 42 Billion visits to Pornhub, which means there was an average of 115 million visits per day.
In a bid to prepare for academic teaching in the Autumn, I find myself trawling tech magazines for advice about what to invest in as a home studio set up. My thinking is that if we continue to charge students full fees (apparently 'we' will), then my 'selfies' and audio with my 2014 iPhone are clearly not going to be up to standard.
What the above tells us is research about investing in professional recording equipment would be best spent consulting professionals in the adult sector about their home set up. So, curious, I asked influencers in the world of adult of erotica (pro photographers and models posting on Instagram) what kinds of resources they used. And they shared some helpful links - none of which is adult content and all links are safe for work.
First, perfect lighting set up by TechSmith. Everything from set-up, to glare, to temperature.
Next a link about music videos with home camera set up. Now, I won't be singing in my videos, but I want to look professional and need a decent camera to produce online learning content.
Speaking to my industry professionals, for everything camera, the following blog from B&H photography is an excellent resource from novice to pro - answering my base questions, what do I need to actually buy? And what is worth investing in?
I've not bought a new camera, but found my late father's Canon DSLR and falling down the rabbit hole of tech stuff, I've discovered decent audio recording now really matters to me, so what is the best lapel microphone? Digital Camera World (an unknown space to me before now, thanks new friends) is a great resource with a post about the best mic for vlogging (and beyond).
Not via professionals in the online adult industry, but instead a sound and music engineer, who highly recommended a decent camera tripod and backdrop. I had not head of Manfrotto as a brand - and I took a leap and invested in a tripod and Lastolite backdrop. YIKES. Link to buying guide by Digital Camera World is here.
There's a deliberate tease in this post leading from tech innovation into the above links that [maybe] I would have stumbled across with a bit of research into "cameras", "lighting", "sound", "backdrops"... am I missing anything?... but what was useful in reaching out to professionals in the adult industry was hearing about their confidence in their own home set-ups.
Where I've had conversations about creating content online learning with academic colleagues, we are (at best) stumbling through what to do, and very few have any established home set up for recording. Writing this post it feels inevitable that investment in a 'home set up' will become a necessary part of being an academic. Especially if the public rhetoric sticks that is faculty who will be responsible for delivering professional online teaching equivalent to the campus experience - minus the time, the training and technology to do it.
In a bid to relieve some of this anxiety, it is a privilege to be able to make a few key purchases to bring home up to some kind of 'pro' standard and I am fortunate I can make this investment.
I remain, however, uneasy. Yes, I can record from home, but there are few moments when there is the 'quiet' required to produce content. While I am camera ready, there will be interruptions from my four-year old daughter, and the general 'noise' at home will form to a backdrop to this content. I am also not a professional online teacher. A technology enthusiast, certainly, but not an online pedagogical expert.
My fear is that in attempting to alleviate some of the pressure to produce professional looking content, in making these key purchases, I have lost sight of the pedagogical; misplaced the need for support of both students and staff; and mistaken 'online' for 'innovation'. And that is where the adult industry can't help us.
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.
Job searches are these gender-coded? Yes.
As I write this, I am checking in with a little-known job gender-decoder designed by the brilliant Kat Matfiled @LovedayBrooke and inspired by the work of Danielle Gaucher, Justin Friesen, and Aaron C. Kay - Evidence That Gendered Wording in Job Advertisements Exists and Sustains Gender Inequality.
Gaucher and friends were interested in researching job adverts to analyse the types of words used in job descriptions and role specifications to assess the effect on potential candidates and ask how closely a candidate would feel they align with the role criteria.
Did the candidate 'belong'? And what types of classification affected the appearance and groupings of words?
If you follow the above link, you can copy and paste job advertisement text to decode by masculine and feminine coded words. You can also have fun and paste in large chunks of 'any text' - I've experimented with advertisements (predominantly masculine), email marketing (feminine), loan reports (masculine), NHS health information (feminine), the Daily Mail (masculine)... Interesting.
The mechanism for analysis here is rather crude. Still, we stereotype with and through language all the time, language is distinctly gender bias, and language endures as one of the most common mechanisms through which sexism and gender discrimination are reproduced.
Gaucher, D., Friesen, J. and Kay, A.C., 2011. Evidence that gendered wording in job advertisements exists and sustains gender inequality. Journal of personality and social psychology, 101(1), p.109.
I teach about digital surveillance and while I want my students to be able to 'write essays', I would prefer that they got to the end of teaching feeling unsettled and a bit uncomfortable about social media and with the ability to do something about this.
In the past, at the beginning of the term, it was common to receive a list of students alongside their passport photograph. To open up the first session on data mining, I'd ask if anyone was prepared to type their name into Google and see what we'd find together. As social media and digital data have proliferated, I do not feel comfortable with this exercise anymore, though an experiment with my pups names "Luna Maximuff [add extra surnames here]" threw into the ether some interesting insights, so perhaps pet name searches are the way forward.
Recent issues are about data legacy and unused accounts that still contain personal information. A high proportion of my international taught students only have Facebook while they are in the UK. For this group, it is important they understand this information does not 'magically' disappear when they stop using the platform.
Tasks I get my students to do if they feel comfortable:
- deactivate social media accounts for at least one-week;
- do an image search of their name;
- set up a Google alert of their family name;
- review all privacy settings on all devices and all apps (this one takes ages, but is effective);
- report back.
In the future (now) we will be paying digital experts to track down and modify our digital data for us.
Brilliant reading in this area:
Beer, D., 2018. Envisioning the power of data analytics. Information, Communication & Society, 21(3), pp.465-479.
Pötzsch, H., 2018. Archives and identity in the context of social media and algorithmic analytics: Towards an understanding of iArchive and predictive retention. New Media & Society, 20(9), pp.3304-3322.
Cohen, J.E., 2012. What privacy is for. Harv. L. Rev., 126, p.1904.
The Gram = Instagram
Social media are user-generated-content (UGC) and this makes them rather interesting in understanding the human condition, surfing internet images of cats and acknowledging the role of distraction in our lives.
Analysing images and text on social media is becoming increasingly tricky and a game of cat and mouse. Platforms change ownership, update APIs* (how applications talk to each other), and enable spontaneous new forms of interaction simply by being there, hello #hashtag.
Recently, I've fallen down the rabbit hole of learning (very basic) natural language processing (NLP) using Python. What is interesting is how quickly you can pull in a corpus of text (basically a sandbox of text signifiers and classifications) to understand associations from social media content. Now the system is not foolproof, so the reliability and validity of such results are at stake, however, this does allow tentative review of the kinds of content being shared. My investigations analyse some of the most popular #hashtags on 'The Gram'
#sunset, #style, #money, #healthyfood, #photography, #WTF, #brand, #recipeoftheday #bekind, #travel, #fitness, #cats (they get everywhere).
Close associations to the above follow a pattern of overt and tedious marketing content (yawn), aspirational 'stuff' designed to make you feel inadequate, the acknowledgement of the rougher edges of social media and need to #bekind, along with a range of emoticons and slang. Lovely stuff.
smsdictionary (I need this one, I did not know an aubergine meant that...)
Some bright sparks (Asghar and friends) have pulled together a partial list of slangs with their sentiment class:
Coolio - Cool - Positive
gr8 - Great - Positive
Xoxo - Hugs and kisses - Positive
Air - Alright - Positive
Happs- Happy - Positive
Smh - Shaking my head - Negative
Damn - Disbelief/condemn - Negative
Hehehe - Laughing - Negative
Notta - Not - Negative
Chale - Disagreement/disproval - Negative
Gonna - Want to go - Neutral
Haha - Laughing - Neutral
RoflRofl - rolling on floor laughing - Neutral
Wanna - Want to - Neutral
The main challenge is context. 'Hehehe' vs 'haha' are very context driven, as is 'smh' - ah the joy of sarcasm. I endevour to continue to build my own directory of social media slanguage, picking up on ways we modify our understanding and enable contextual use of algorithms to classify and unpack meaning.
*application programming interface (API)
Asghar MZ, Kundi FM, Ahmad S, Khan A, Khan F. T‐SAF: Twitter sentiment analysis framework using a hybrid classification scheme. Expert Systems. 2018 Feb;35(1):e12233.