This is the third post in a series that will uncover great writing by faculty and students at the Oxford Internet Institute, things you should probably know, and things that deserve to be brought out for another viewing. This week: Reality, Augmented Reality and Ambient Fun!
The addictive gameplay of Pokémon GO has led to police departments warning people that they should be more careful about revealing their locations, players injuring themselves, finding dead bodies, and even the Holocaust Museum telling people to play elsewhere.. Our environments are increasingly augmented with digital information: but how do we assert our rights over how and where this information is used? And should we be paying more attention to the design of persuasive technologies in increasingly attention-scarce environments? Or should we maybe just bin all our devices and pack ourselves off to digital detox camp?
1. James Williams: Bring Your Own Boundaries: Pokémon GO and the Challenge of Ambient Fun
23 July 2016 / 2500 words / 12 min / Gross misuses of the “Poké-” prefix: 6
“The slogan of the Pokémon franchise is ‘Gotta catch ‘em all!’ This phrase has always seemed to me an apt slogan for the digital era as a whole. It expresses an important element of the attitude we’re expected to have as we grapple with the Sisyphean boulder of information abundance using our woefully insufficient cognitive toolsets.”
Pokémon GO signals the first mainstream adoption of a type of game — always on, always with you — that requires you to ‘Bring Your Own Boundaries’, says James Williams. Regulation of the games falls on the user; presenting us with a unique opportunity to advance the conversation about the ethics of self-regulation and self-determination in environments of increasingly persuasive technology.
2. James Williams: Orwell, Huxley, Banksy
24 May 2014 / 1000 words / 5 min
“Orwell worried that what we fear could ultimately come to control us: the “boot stamping on a human face—forever.” Huxley, on the other hand, felt that what we love was more likely to control us — by seducing us and engineering our compliance from within — and was therefore more deserving of a wary eye. In the age of the Internet, this dichotomy is reflected in the interplay between information and attention.”
You could say that the core challenge of the Internet (when information overload leads to scarcity of attention) is that it optimizes more for our impulses than our intentions, says James Williams, who warns that we could significantly overemphasize informational challenges to the neglect of attentional ones. In Brave New World, the defenders of freedom had “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In the digital era, we are making the same mistake, says James: we need better principles and processes to help designers make products more respectful of users’ attention.
3. James Williams: Staying free in a world of persuasive technologies
29 July 2013 / 1500 words / 7 min
“The explosion of media and information has made it harder for people to be intentional or reflective about their goals and priorities in life. We’re living through a crisis of distraction. The convergence of all these trends suggests that we could increasingly live our lives in environments of high persuasive power. To me, the biggest ethical questions are those that concern individual freedom and autonomy. When, exactly, does a “nudge” become a “push”?”
Technologies are increasingly being designed to change the way we think and behave: the Internet is now part of the background of human experience, and rapid advances in analytics are enabling optimisation of technologies to reach greater levels of persuasiveness. The ethical questions raised aren’t new, says James Williams, but the environment in which we’re asking them makes them much more urgent to address.
4. Mark Graham, Joe Shaw: An Informational Right to the City? [The New Internationalist]
8 February 2017 / 1000 words / 5 min
“Contemporary cities are much more than bricks and mortar; streets and pipes. They are also their digital presences – abstract presences which can reproduce and change our material reality. If you accept this premise, then we need to ask important questions about what rights citizens have to not just public and private spaces, but also their digital equivalents.”
It’s time for the struggle for more egalitarian rights to the city to move beyond a focus on material spaces and into the realm of digital ones, say Mark Graham and Joe Shaw. And we can undermine and devalue the hold of large companies over urban information by changing our own behaviour, they say: by rejecting some technologies, by adopting alternative service providers, and by supporting initiatives to develop platforms that operate on a more transparent basis.
5. Theodora Sutton: Exploring the world of digital detoxing
2 March 2017 / 2000 words / 10 min
“The people who run Camp Grounded would tell you themselves that digital detoxing is not really about digital technology. That’s just the current scapegoat for all the alienating aspects of modern life. But at the same time I think it is a genuine conversation starter about our relationship with technology and how it’s designed.”
As our social interactions become increasingly entangled with the online world, some people are insisting on the benefits of disconnecting entirely from digital technology: getting back to so-called “real life“. In this piece, Theodora Sutton explores the digital detoxing community in the San Francisco Bay Area, getting behind the rhetoric of the digital detox to understand the views and values of those wanting to re-examine the role of technology in their lives.
James Williams is an OII doctoral student. He studies the ethical design of persuasive technology. His research explores the complex boundary between persuasive power and human freedom in environments of high technological persuasion.
Mark Graham is the Professor of Internet Geography at the OII. His research focuses on Internet and information geographies, and the overlaps between ICTs and economic development.
Joe Shaw is an OII DPhil student and Research Assistant. His research is concerned with the geography of information, property market technologies (PropTech) and critical urbanism.
Theodora Sutton is an OII DPhil student. Her research in digital anthropology examines digital detoxing and the widespread cultural narrative that sees digital sociality as inherently ‘lesser’ or less ‘natural’ than previous forms of communication.
Coming up! .. The platform economy / Power and development / Internet past and future / Government / Labour rights / The disconnected / Ethics / Staying critical