Archive for September, 2009

The End of the Ephemeral

The theme I am discussing in this post, regarding the ongoing transformations covered by the “Being Human: Human-Computer Interaction in the year 2020”, was termed: the end of the ephemeral. It is one of my favorites. I suppose my background in Psychology resonates with this concept and the implications it covers and subsumes.

The end of the ephemeral relates to the fact that computational artifacts are increasingly being able to record people’s daily activities,  in the realms of virtual and physical places (once again the mingling of the two places is quite evident). The recording can be conscious (in the sense of someone aiming to extend his memory) or it can be “less conscious” if the thing being recorded is not the direct result of the person intention (for example, some organization collects data about individual purchases, or other ubiquitous activity). Of course, one of the immediate concerns is: how can we set and assure people’s individual rights (and in fact, establish the boundaries on these considering the “new reality”) and understand and protect ownership? These are difficult ethical and legal issues.

There are no clear solutions because the interaction between new technologies and media are, themselves, transforming the way people see their public appearances (just consider reality shows… and how they are “maintained in, say… YouTube?).

Quite curiously I recently came across a project called “Vanish”. According to the project’s website (

“Vanish is a research system designed to give users control over the lifetime of personal data stored on the web or in the cloud. Specifically, all copies of Vanish encrypted data — even archived or cached copies — will become permanently unreadable at a specific time, without any action on the part of the user or any third party or centralized service.”

This seems to be quite relevant for the theme I am now considering…

The authors of the “Being Human” report divide the “end of the ephemeral” in two lines: the notion of digital footprint and the monitoring of daily human activities. In the following posts I will address these two topics one after the other.

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A bridge between “the growth of hyper-connectivity” and the next transformation to be covered -> “the end of the ephemeral”

This week I came across an interesting article in the Technology Review. The title of the article by David Talbot is quite revealing on itself: Personalized Campaigning. It talks about the changes happening in relation to the way political campaigning are being conducted.

It seems to me that the author’s description of the introduction of many web 2.0 technologies into the process are a good example of how the virtual and real world mingle and people are called to manage their transitions and commitments (this leads to the next transformation, the end of the ephemeral, in the sense that we are now creating and leaving “digital footprints”, more in the next post about this). Managing transitions and commitments means that the way one presents himself on the web, or other virtual places, for encounters takes into account the extent one is willing to engage in real world social decisions and activities.

The connection between these two transformations (the hyper-connectivity and the end of the ephemeral) is important, because our willingness (considering the challenges regarding privacy and personal history) to engage and be able to maintain coherence will depend on our ability to create and manage these transitions, as well as understand how availability of information about ourselves and others should not hinder interpretation. People need narratives about themselves and others, and it is not the abundance of “factual” information that should curtail creativity and moments of wonder.

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Small update to the growth of connectivity

There, two examples of how people can make a change using new media:

… of course there are many others.

I also read some news regarding a “democracy experiment”. Quite curious considering the possible implications regarding representativeness:

… food for thought!

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The growth of hyper-connectivity

This transformation seems to me to be the one people, generally, recognize immediately. The widespread of mobile technologies is evident, and people take advantage of such in so many different forms.

People have the possibility to accept, develop and maintain an increasing number of connections any time, any place (in fact, to what extent do new technologies allow us to manage this increasing number of connections?). These connections extend decisively traditional physical boundaries – the emergence of thriving online communities is an example. But how do people present themselves in these distinct places (virtual, real, mixed)? How do people manage these new complexities? How do the new artifacts influence social conventions regarding communication? Do we see the emergence of new communication asymmetries? How can the different communication systems safeguard rights when these asymmetries emerge?

Research on privacy policies is an actual and important topic and its connection with ethics is obvious.

Our own work regarding the design of digital public displays (the Instant Places project) is clearly within the range of issues being referred to here. In fact, at Ubicomp@UMinho we have investigating how people manage self presentation when a public display allows them to interact with the content. The Instant Places project has also allowed us to address the issue of crowd computing. More specifically, one of the topics under consideration relates to the emergence of groups in particular places and how this process is affected by the presence of the interactive display. Considering the problem of who controls the display content we need to investigate mechanisms that allow consensus without falling into the trap of exclusion/bullying. See:

At a societal level, the internet and mobile technologies, separately or together, allow us to be involved in a variety of events and are changing the way we participate in public/political phenomena. The messages themselves might have a distinct character since online/virtual and real world living might be viewed through very distinct lenses – for example, are we ready to commit ourselves to real world activism the same way as we post our views concerning political issues on the web? For sure traditional Institutions are now aware of this transformation and are trying to cope with it.

In terms of values, for the moment I see the safeguard of rights in asymmetric communications and privacy the two main issues… but of course I am very willing to be convinced otherwise 🙂

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