Paying Attention Conference

September 10, 2010 § 1 Comment

I’m back on the bus, going the other way.  I fully intended to blog during the conference, but there were so many thought-provoking things that my brain got quite full.  Also, the organisers set up a running blog, so I relied on them for capturing the detail of the presentations.

The theme of the conference was more or less what has come to be known as the “attention economy,” and what that might mean.  One of my very favourite presentations was one of the first, by Taziana Terranova, who showed how the “attention economy” discourse had developed as an alternative to the “information economy” discourse as information became more abundant and economics looked for the scarce commodity.  She also discussed an alternate discourse in neuroscience and the way in which this is situating attention as a much more ambiguous commodity.  The conference organisers did a good job of capturing this talk, at least according to my notes.

Dr Terranova told me afterwards in conversation that she had been very influenced by Foucault, in reading (or possibly she said transcribing?) notes of his lectures.  Here I am going from recollection, but I think she said she particularly valued his methods and the way he approached a problem by contextualising its discourse within a historical frame, which leaves open the possibility for the frame to be changed.  She also said she learned to play poker when she was 10, but I think that might be less relevant to my academic practice.

The other presentation that I found particularly thought-provoking was another keynote, Michel Bauwens.  Bauwens directs the P2P foundation in Brussels, and his presentation set out how he believes that peer-to-peer organisational efforts are the nascent forms of a business model which will transform capitalism.  This is a heady claim and I must confess I did not expect to like Mr Bauwens’s talk, skeptical as I am of the all-goodness-comes-from-technology school.  But although I disagreed with his historical argument, which was, how shall I put it, sketchy, many of the ideas and solutions he presented were thought-provoking and made me feel quite optimistic.  An example that stuck with me was the idea of open design, which seeks to create physical services where the R&D infrastructure is outsourced to the network but production is local, such as the eCars effort to create blueprints so that any local garage can turn any ordinary car into a hybrid car (I mean, how cool is that?). Mr Bauwens was particuarly interesting when it comes to how P2P models are actually functioning and competing with non P2P or proprietary models, where his expertise shows.  His other claims, like the “transformation of consciousness,” I am still skeptical of.  Time will tell.  Worth going to his foundation though and having a nose around the projects.

I won’t go through all three days, but if you are at all interested in Youth Culture you should look at Nadia Arancio’s video. I tried to embed the video here and failed, so you’ll have to look at it here.

I had many ideas during this conference, so here is your chance to steak one of them and make a (metaphorical) killing in the academic world.

First: Although p2p is pretty clearly an exception, much of the internet infrastructure – search, social networking, etc, is built on advertising.  That’s not new, but as I’ve argued earlier, the type of advertising IS new, and so must be the way in which it is strategised, created, planned, bought, and evaluated.  And all these may also be being carried out by a range of new individuals and new institutions.  I’d like to find out what is being written about this, and if nothing, then I suspect I will have a research project on my hands.

Second: We spent some time talking about trust, thanks to Aphra Kerr’s excellent keynote about what is now happening at the European policy level where research money and policy are being allocated.  We had a lot of fun discussing the idea of cheating as a way to approach trust.

Third: Activism and the academic sphere.  Many participants shared the ways in which they felt that they also were being constrained and surveilled by the a variety of technical tools used to supposedly enable, but many felt instead to control and to surveil their academic practice.  There was some discussion about how this should be handled, particularly with reference to journals and also electronic courseware.  I think this is a rich vein for both research and activism.

Other notes:  Food at the Scandic was great!  Kudos to Jamie Oliver, who apparently (according to the branding all over the hotel) had been working with them.  Lovely fresh healthy food and far too many luscious desserts combined.

Oh: my own presentation?  Captured as follows “There is a new kind of media logic developing online, due to the abundance of information and scarcity of attention: produce the platform not the content, allow access to pools of content, create the method, allow content pool to access the platform – the metadata about the producers and the users is the saleable asset.”  Um.  No.  I didn’t really say that.  Search engines would go broke selling metadata.  I said traffic (clicks) are the core asset.  But whatever.  I’ll do another post on that.


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