Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Small press networks in the digital age

Julie Koh, Zoe Dattner and Louise Swinn

Sleepers Publishing is an independent publishing house based in Melbourne. Founded by Zoe Dattner and Louise Swinn in 2003, it advocates for new and emerging writers in Australia. Writer Julie Koh interviewed Louise and Zoe about the implications of new technologies for the work of Sleepers Publishing and other small presses across Australia.

How does social networking impact on how you connect with readers?

Social media is a really quick and easy way to speak to our audience frequently and light-heartedly. We use Twitter, which is big in the publishing industry, and Facebook. Some of our authors are great social networkers: Steven Amsterdam is big on Facebook, with regular and interesting updates, and miles vertigan is a prolific Tweeter. His tweets are funny and irreverent, and a great companion to his book, Life Kills - they have a similar style and sense of humour to the book, so they are each a tiny publicity stunt.

The Sleepers App for iPhone comprises short stories from previous Almanacs. What was your rationale behind creating the app? Are you finding this technology to be a worthwhile venture?

We were aware a few years ago that reading habits were starting to change, and as we began to make our existing books available as ebooks we also wanted to dive into a new format. The iPhone App seemed like a good way to start because we know many users of the iPhone, and the great thing about it is that it’s with you all the time. There have been sales but digital formats are generally slow at the moment, and plenty of our readers still prefer paper books. However, it’s been a really useful way for us to get our toes in the water of digital reading, and we have discovered a fondness there. We are, increasingly, surrounded with friends and family reading on Kindles and iPads.

You publish in both paper book and ebook formats. Are you finding one format to be more popular than the other? How much do you think this will change in the future?

All of our books are now available as ebooks. We still sell more paper books, by a long margin, but it’s slowly changing. It can be hard to find the books you want as ebooks in Australia, due to territorial rights, so readers are sometimes wary of investing in the new technology until everything is available. However, availability is increasing, in multiple formats, starting, for us, with Readings and Kobo, and we envisage a steady rise in ebook take-up from our readers over the next few years.

A few years ago, the Small Press Underground Networking Community (SPUNC), in which you are both involved, commissioned a report by Kate Freeth, A lovely kind of madness: Small and independent publishing in Australia (2007). Freeth found that some of the more common difficulties that small presses face relate to issues of distribution, publicity, marketing and public awareness. How is SPUNC helping small presses to confront these difficulties?

SPUNC has been invaluable at connecting small presses with the ebook retailers/distributors, and therefore showing us the market that is out there. It can be difficult to keep up to date with all of the technology as it changes so it’s terrific having someone "on the ground", digitally speaking, to keep us in the loop. In terms of paper book distribution and marketing, the SPUNC site and blog and surrounding social networks creates an easy to access way into a community of likeminded publishers, and a community of eager readers. It’s the linking and educating that SPUNC does so well.

Can you comment further on how new technology has had, and will have, an impact on the operation of Sleepers Publishing and small presses in Australia?

We can’t speak with any authority about other small presses but, at Sleepers, it has been terrifically energising to know that we are now able to access a worldwide community. Prior to ebooks, it has been near impossible for us to take our books out of Australia and New Zealand, but now we are in the global market. We look forward to seeing that grow and continue. Sometime in the future, we will print fewer books – ideally only printing on demand – therefore reducing the need for warehousing or, as is the case at the moment, overcrowding our micro-tiny office. We look forward to that day!

Louise and Zoe discuss the Sleepers iPhone app,
the founding of Sleepers Publishing and paper books.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Memories of Car and Phone, prosthetics of the cyborg citizen (Part II)

Kieran Tranter

This post continues Dr Kieran Tranter's series on 'Memories of Car and Phone', the first instalment of which can be accessed here.

The demographics of the car, of the makes and models of drivers and vehicles, over the past 15-20 years in the West make an interesting study. There are more cars per head of population, women are now almost equal owners of the Western fleet, and by percentage there are less "male hero" and "man of the family" vehicles than in the past. The "average" Western car can probably be described as a Toyota Corolla, front wheel drive, 4 cylinders, practical, functional, user-friendly, economical, safe, and it is owned and driven by men and women alike. It will be owned/leased for three years and then traded in for a newer…Toyota Corolla. Its bonnet will probably never be lifted by the owner. In short it is the internal combustion engine version of an iPhone on a 24 month contract. I think this challenge to the traditional automobility of combustion masculinity is interesting.

Foremost, it represents a souring of the mythos of the car in the West. The symbolism of freedom mass-produced in chrome and steel had to reach the end of road when the common experience was gridlock and repetitious commutes. Combustion masculinity’s linking of car to hetero-normative sex was also doomed to a cul-de-sac when it became increasingly clear that burnouts in a “fully sick” car only appealed to other young men. The green movement’s chipping away at the car’s fender slowly rendered the car and car usage problematic, and the roadside memorials have come to haunt our travelling dreams. The car has made a life that is not sustainable in environmental and social terms, and the changes in car demographics mark an interesting evolution in automobility away from the hydrocarbon and testosterone fuelled combustion masculinity to a less identity focused use of cars. As I anticipate my plug-in electric car recharged by a photovoltaic array on the carport roof, this is to the good, even if it will be the car equivalent of the mobile phone, used, abused, and then replaced with same.

But I worry about the types of memories that we’ll take from this future. Sure there might be thousands upon thousands of images of our life and loved ones stored in our portion of the cloud accessible at will through whatever access device is de jure, and available on a 24 month contract, but will we have memories? The car’s physicality, its imposing on life, makes memories. The sunlight machines might access images of the past, but they do not seem to be mnemonic aids in themselves.

What I am concerned about is life. Martin Heidegger’s account of human living was as an entity in time and aware of time; an entity whose memory of past grounds certainty of future. Time passed,and memory was the storehouse, and safeguard, of that life that was. Through memory future becomes possible. Pre-modern Western time could be seen as different. The life of the seasonal cycles and ecclesiastical calendar was a life of repetition, of the same over and over again. Modernity was ultimately a revolution in time; the past became history that could be known, remembered, studied; and from this, the possibility of future, a future different to the past, could be aspired towards.

While Heidegger was famously concerned about the impact of modern technology on human experience, the car has been a memory aid for the cyborg citizens of the West for probably over half a century. With the fading of the car to white(good), to another sunshine machine, the hard materiality of the fabric of memory is potentially reduced. An important way that life has been marked and remembered in the modern West declines. The endless cycle of another featureless, while feature-full consumer good, almost returns us to pre-modern time of endless present. It raises the possibility that our future memory of past will be of a past as same giving rise to an anticipation of a future that is same. In the sunshine our chronological horizons collapse.

So possibly we need the car to be human. But perhaps, as I get ready to ride my bike home, what is also possible is that out of the near limitless data of our contemporary lives we learn to piece some solidity from the zeros and ones. Maybe without the imposed cultural meanings of our car prosthetic, there is a possibility to freely create more complex and empowered life narratives, through the sunshine, from the cloud.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Memories of Car and Phone, prosthetics of the cyborg citizen (Part I)

Kieran Tranter

Can you remember the make and model of your past mobile phones? I sort of can. I’ve had a succession of Nokias over the past 10 years culminating with an iPhone. But model number or features are a bit of a blur. Yet I had it on me and used it every day. It was a phone, it was useful, and it only made it presence felt when it was not useful: the times that it went through the washing machine (twice), dropped in the ocean (once), and shattered into several pieces having fallen from a height (twice).

Now – can you remember the make and model of your past cars? I can. In my 20 years of car ownership I have survived a 1981 silver four wheel drive Suzuki Sierra with a 1.0 litre engine and unassisted drum brakes; a 1973 baby-poo orange Renault 12 Sedan, a 1975 blue and white two-tone Renault 12 wagon; a 2002 XC Holden Barina (known in Europe as an Opel Corsa, my one experiment with a new car); a metallic green-gold 1985 Volvo 240GL sedan; and a 1997 TARDIS blue V70 Volvo station wagon (yes it is a blue box and it is bigger on the inside)...

What can be made of this distinction (aside from character judgements relating to mobile phone abuse and ownership of embarrassing cars)? Car and phone are the two prominent prosthetics of the cyborg citizens of the West; yet their memories seem to generate different degrees of affect. I remember affectionately my little Suzuki and the Renaults. I regret selling the Barina and I still miss the fear and wide berth that the 240GL Volvo was given by other road users. Car and life can be mapped coexistent; phone and life not so much. I cannot recall which phone it was that I rang my family with to tell them that my daughter had been born; but I can very much remember the drive to hospital in the Barina, with the morning sun reflecting off the silver bonnet.

There are some obvious explanations. The purchase and running cost of a car imposes itself. We remember the car because we are continually paying for it. But phones impose themselves as well; the slight trepidation when approaching the monthly bill witnesses this. However, this does not explain the level of affect. There is the coming-of-age ritual of passing the licence test that marks freedom and adulthood that could be seen as making the memory of cars more endearing. But I am sure for the next generation that similar symbolism will be associated with their first mobile phone. And it is not time spent with the thing – given I often ride a bicycle to work, I spend significantly more time with my phone than my car.

There probably is something about gender at play. As Sarah Redshaw observes in her cultural account of Australian automobilities, In the Company of Cars (2008), there is a form of maleness that is particularly entwined with the motor vehicle. Her term “combustion masculinity” is fabulously suggestive. The metallic technicality, the symbolic economy of men speaking through cars and not words, the speed, freedom, risk, and triumph of the car resonated, and still does resonate, with men the world over. Indeed, BBC’s Top Gear has become an institution and global marketing phenomena, as a celebration, and perhaps a slight parody, of this auto-mentality. The phone is a phone. It might now access the net/cloud, take photos, allow the sci-fi dream of videophone, play music and games, show TV and movies, and chirp reminders cross-linked to a diary; but even an iPhone does not have the cultural meaning of a 1967 Citro├źn DS 21 or 1957 Chevy BelAir Hardtop. I am pretty certain that there will not be clubs and enthusiasts in 50 years engaged in global discussions of how to source parts and repair old mobile phones as there probably will still be for the “Goddess” and ’57 Chevys.

The phone integrates to life. As Donna Haraway wrote in her iconic “Cyborg Manifesto” in 1985, “‘[o]ur best machines are made of sunshine”, anticipating our wireless reality of connectivity, and not the clunky, modernist, greenhouse-causing dinosaur of the car. The car makes life. Our cities, our lives, the way we feed ourselves, educate our children, and know space from place – the geographies of Western habitus – have been made because of the automobile. We remember the car because the car has impacted on us; even if we are fortunate never to have been involved in an accident. We don’t remember phones because they are sunshine; pleasant when there, soon taken for granted, only missed when connection to the cloud is unavailable. The car represents a certain form of cybernetic citizenship of machines and meat that has to be earned and paid for with resources, time, and sometimes blood. It has configured certain desires and modes of living that have been considered mainstream in the West since WWII. In this our past cars are remembered. There might be risks from phones – the research is on-going on the mobile phone-radiation-cancer link – and there is all that communication, data, and virtuality.  However, pocketing a Samsung Galaxy is not the same as tinkling a set of keys.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The demise of 'dot-comming'?

Joel Barrett

The Internet, as we know it, is about to change forever.

At least that's what ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, would have us believe. That's because on 20 June 2011, after years of board meetings, stakeholder submissions and fine-tuning, ICANN finally approved the introduction of a program to allow an infinite number of gTLDs onto the Internet.

A gTLD (which stands for Generic Top Level Domain) is the Internet extension that comes immediately after a domain name. gTLDs are best explained by way of example: .com, .net and .org are the most common ones, while .info, .biz and .pro are a little more obscure. gTLDs should be distinguished from ccTLDs, which are Country Code Top Level Domains and designate a particular country (.au for Australia, .ca for Canada, and so on). A basic Internet address generally looks like this: www.DomainName.gTLD or www.DomainName.gTLD.ccTLD.

There are 21 gTLDs at the moment, but this number is set to blow out under the New gTLD Program. Essentially, from 12 January 2012, any "[e]stablished corporation, organization, or institution in good standing" will be able to apply to ICANN for one or more new gTLDs to be added to the Internet. For example, a company like Canon, which has expressed interest, could hypothetically apply for .canon, .pixma, .camera, .photography, .technology, .smile or all of the above and more. A successful applicant will become the registry operator for the new gTLD, which means (among other things) that it will be able to sell a whole new set of domain names in that gTLD, keep the domain names for itself, or do a mixture of both. However, the price may prove too high for some smaller players: there is an administrative fee of US$185,000 per new gTLD, and that's just the beginning. Applying for a new gTLD could end up costing millions.

(Of course, the above description does not even begin to capture the complexity of the New gTLD Program. The gTLD Applicant Guidebook, which contains all the relevant rules and procedures, tops 350 pages.)

Although there are countless legal issues that arise from expanding the Internet so drastically (cyber-squatters and trade mark infringers will have a field day!), the interesting question for me is how companies will utilise their newly-acquired gTLDs and how we, as frequent users of the Internet, will respond. Cynics and critics claim that we are so wedded to the practice of searching, browsing and navigating the Internet within the .com paradigm (a practice I like to call "dot-comming") that new gTLDs may be fun and exciting initially, but will ultimately fall by the wayside like all other fads and gimmicks. Alternatively, hundreds of new gTLDs will turn cyberspace into a labyrinthine maze of back alleys, side streets and dead ends, making it impossible to locate even the simplest piece of information. Dot-comming, while not necessarily intuitive, is at least familiar.

I tend to agree with those who argue that if companies utilise new gTLDs in innovative ways, our searching, browsing and navigating strategies will adapt accordingly. Imagine how quickly you could check your phone bill if your personalised account page was located at YourName.vodafone. Think how easy it could be to shop online for a second-hand book if you could simply type in books.eBay. Want to rent a DVD, but not sure what's available in your suburb? Go to YourSuburb.Blockbuster. There could be a complete paradigm shift in the way we use the Internet, and companies will be able to reinforce these different ways of thinking through clever and persistent marketing and advertising.

I often have to fight my instinctive wariness of new technologies (back in 2005, I could not see how an iPod could improve my life when it was so easy to play CDs in my car, and a life juggling iPods and click wheels and iTunes just seemed too complicated). But I think that if companies take up the New gTLD Program as forecast, dot-comming could soon be a thing of the past, as obsolete as the floppy disk and the Discman (technologies that were all the rage as recently as 15 years ago).

So will the New gTLD Program actually revolutionise the Internet addressing system, or will it fizzle due to lack of corporate interest? And if it does take off, will the New gTLD Program improve the way we use the Internet, or will it just encourage gTLDs to spread uncontrollably across the online landscape like weeds, leaving a swathe of confusion, counterfeiting and cyber-squatting in its wake?

Only time will tell. If all runs smoothly (and it rarely does in the world of Internet addressing), we could know as early as January 2013, when the first new gTLDs are expected to land.

Friday, 18 November 2011

What we lost when we gained the light bulb

Amy Spira

In 2009, I found myself as far away from technology as I had ever been. I got off a rickety, disused school bus and watched it speed away through a cloud of dust, leaving me alone on a dirt road in the parched Nicaraguan countryside. It was the hottest afternoon of my life. After a short hike, I arrived at a small township, where I had arranged to lodge with a local family in order to immerse myself in the life of Nicaraguan subsistence farmers. In the heat of the day, the farmers took refuge in the meagre slivers of shade cast by the midday sun. I settled into the clay-floored hut which I was to share with my host family and then joined the farmers outside.

Within minutes, and despite the heavy heat, I was itching for activity. Something to watch. Or listen to. Some news from the outside world. A conversation, maybe, but I'd need to call someone because the townsfolk were, by that stage, sleeping off their morning's work. I sat in the thick silence. And then I noticed it. A sound unlike any other - the complete absence of white noise.

In this particular town, there was no electricity.

No lights, no televisions, no computers, no nothing.

A few days later, two American travellers arrived, as I had, dusty and tired in the midday sun. One of the first things we discussed was how we could help the town to obtain enough electricity to support at least a single light bulb for each family home. The town was so remote and the infrastructure so poor that connection to the grid was unlikely. So we met with the townspeople to discuss their thoughts on installing solar panels. Our plan was to fundraise in Australia and the United States to fund the installation of panels on each family's land.

What shocked me was the sadness with which many of the townspeople greeted our proposal. Far from being excited about the prospect of electric light, my friend, Alvaro, who was 26 years old, educated and progressive in almost every other way, sighed sadly and said, "I knew this day would come. We can't avoid it forever."

There is nothing surprising about a person who uses a typewriter or who reads by candlelight for the ambience. Similarly, no matter your views on the issues, resisting stem cell research or avoiding modern medicines are actions grounded on identifiable, if controversial, drivers. But what of a person who will not use a telephone? Or a light bulb?

This kind of resistance to technology is often attributed to irrationality, technophobia or a staunch adherence to tradition. Those opposed to industrialisation and new technologies are often compared to the Luddites, who lobbied against the technological advances of the Industrial revolution, often by destroying the machines which they considered to be destructive of social norms. The term Luddite usually carries a negative connotation, implying backwardness or primitivism. Perhaps this is because of the destructive methods the Luddites used when resisting change. Or perhaps it is because, in the industrialised world, technology is so intrinsic to "success" that, by reverse implication, a person who cannot or will not master a new technology is often perceived as incompetent, unambitious, or primitive.

What I failed to see in my enthusiasm for technology was what Alvaro's community stood to lose if it gained a light bulb. Alvaro was not blind to the benefits of electric light, but he saw what was precious in the dark of night. Over the weeks that I spent in the town, I came to see it too – the joy of visiting neighbours' homes when the moon was bright, and the debates that raged in the darkness of the family home on nights when there was only a crescent (or less) in the sky, making it too dark to leave. The town lived by the rhythm of the moon. Alvaro was right to lament the advent of an age in which there was always enough light to go out at night, or to sit alone and read.

A few nights ago, I came home from work and switched on the television. After an hour of mindless watching, I began wondering about the little town in Nicaragua. For all their concerns, the townspeople eventually capitulated to the electrical age and requested that we raise funds to bring them electric light. Solar panels were installed in 2010.

I wanted to ask Alvaro whether he was happy with the outcome – or whether electricity had changed life in the ways that he had feared.

But I may have to wait to find out – the townspeople don’t have telephones. Nor do they want them.

And who could blame them?

Image by IvanClow, made available by Creative Commons licence via Flickr.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Visionary or 'slackademic'? Social media's role in tomorrow's academia

Indigo Willing & Tseen Khoo

As the 21st century unfolds, various types of new media rival, and in some cases surpass, earlier forms of computer-mediated communication (CMC) in the extent to which they impact our lives. Twitter and Facebook have been used most stunningly (and with astounding results) in the realms of politics and social protest movements. This is evident internationally: Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir has suggested, for example, that Iceland develop a more democratic constitution via the use of Facebook, while social networks played a notable role in the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and the ‘Arab Spring’ protests more broadly. Most recently, we have seen digitally mediated activism in the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests, where a tweet in Canada on 13 July 2011 turned into a local protest in Zuccotti Park, New York City on 17 September 2011, before quickly escalating into an ongoing global movement.

In academic fields, however, enthusiasm for social media is not always evident. Just as some disciplines in academia struggled with the idea of harnessing the potential of CMC for their research in the 1990s, many academics currently remain resistant to opportunities to shift or expand their own networking activities over into new media such as Facebook and Twitter. From our experiences with the creation of the Asian Australian Studies Research Network (AASRN), we have found that using new technology – and social media, in particular - creates conflicting rather than united discussions in academia.

Anecdotally, many academics mire themselves in the negative aspects of platforms such as Twitter, or dismiss all social media as activities befitting dilettantes and slackers. This negative orientation harkens back to the traditional denigration of academics who engaged too regularly and enthusiastically with the media. Further, many academics are sceptical of 'slacktivism' or 'clicktivism' (both pejorative terms for the emptiness that can underpin online declarations of commitment to a political, humanitarian or ethical cause).

Having hauled the AASRN network into the Web 2.0 world last year after being based for several years on 'traditional' email, and having embraced social media for several current projects, our perspectives straddle the old-school technology of mailing lists and static bulletin boards and today’s enmeshed social media strategies.

The advent of intensive social media platforms has brought about a significant transformation in the way we run our academic research network. With an active Twitter stream (@aasrn), professional website and Facebook group, we are reaching many more people than ever before. The immediacy and constancy of contact through social media has served the network well, allowing us to cultivate a sense of momentum and breadth of membership.

AASRN has been around (informally) since 2000, as an offline and sometimes online group, and occasional gathering, of academics with shared interests in Asian Australian studies. It was founded to establish and deepen scholarship in the field of Asian Australian studies. Is this aspect supported through the dynamism of the social media forums? Or is new media making our research network connections more shallow (as feared generally about social networks)? Perhaps it’s too early to tell, given our short, only year-long engagement with social media thus far.

The inaugural Asian Australian Film Forum (AAFF 2011), however, is an event that has embraced (and been embraced by) social media, with event momentum and word-of-tweet spurring a full programme of screenings and panels of Asian Australian filmmakers and media types.

That an event about evolving screen cultures should do so well using new media and social media is not all that surprising. Most stories these days are shot on digital video. Gone are the days when budding filmmakers cut their teeth using 8mm or 16mm film, a process that also became increasingly expensive and limited to a privileged few (especially with post-production costs factored in). Even the term ‘film festival’, if not redundant, has a quaint sound to it now.

The Internet plays a vital role in the distribution and promotion of contemporary video productions, fostering the necessary networks to support them. This includes the film press, film festival organisers, film industry bodies, television networks and most importantly, film fans who can (and do) actively communicate with each other through social media.

This heightened accessibility to digital technologies nurtures fresh perspectives and innovative approaches to create and showcase Asian Australian stories. Both Twitter and Facebook have been indispensable to the inaugural AAFF, from sourcing filmmakers to promoting the film programme, to strengthening the engagement of academically-founded entities (such as the AASRN) with Asian Australian creatives and the broader community.

There will always be a “digital divide”, and as Turkle has more recently suggested, there will always be a risk of becoming too introspective due to social networking. For the purposes of the AASRN, however, the horizons of connectivity are impressively vast and, contrary to people becoming more alone together, the web is proving to be a powerful tool for our promotion of collective engagements, on and offline.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Holding a portal to the Cloud

Lester Miller

I've just received my shiny, new, brushed steel and polished glass smartphone. I'll admit now: I'm in love with it. Before this day came, I'd talked frequently about how amazing life would be after it arrived and, now that it's here, I spend a lot of my spare time bathing in its visual modern beauty and trying to fully realise what I'm convinced are life-enriching possibilities.

One of the important features of this smartphone is the loudly-touted easy access to a cloud on which data can be stored and complex calculations can be made.

In 1950, Herb Grosch, a Canadian-born astrophysicist who worked on the Manhattan Project, envisioned a future where the whole world would run using a cloud system of computing, operated by individual local terminals but served by only 15 data centres.

Today, there are about 50,000 data centres just in Australia – certainly more than 15 worldwide – but they are getting larger in size and smaller in number.

Arguably the largest data centre in the world, the Lakeside Technology Center, is 10 hectares (24 acres) in size. It's the nerve centre for Chicago's commodity markets and requires about 100MW of power to operate.

The architecture of computers means they can't presently solve certain kinds of equations, but what they can do is break a model down into millions of tiny parts and approximate the solution to governing algorithms by iterative methods. The smaller the parts the problem is broken into, the greater the precision and accuracy of the solution, but the more calculations required.

My final year project for my Engineering degree, an aeon (or ten years) ago, was to design an efficient shape for a solar-powered car, hypothetically to be built and raced in the World Solar Challenge. It involved modelling the movement of air across the surface of the car, a problem governed by partial differential equations, unsolvable directly but susceptible to a good approximation. My team would go into the computer rooms on campus, enter the surface geometry of a car we thought would slip through the air cleanly, and then leave the post-processor to think about the problem, which would take about a day. The graphic visualisation part of the problem would also take hours. We would return, review the results, think about how shape could be improved and do it again.

How much quicker would the process have been an aeon later? With the accessibility of clouds now, computational fluid dynamics packages and so many other data analysis packages for professionals from structure designers and advertisers to baseball scouts can be operated remotely, by our smartphones or tablets, which need only have the power to display the interface between the calculator and the user: a "dumb" terminal.

Computing is rapidly becoming a service business. Want to store your precious data? Don't keep it where moth and rust destroy.  Leave it all with us for a monthly fee, or for free if you promise to notice our constant but subtly-placed advertising banners.

Need a complex problem solved? It was not unusual, until recently, for a seat with a data consultant to be up to tens of thousands of dollars. The barriers to entry are now lower for modelling and data manipulation consultants, such that all it takes is a short lease contract for software and the computer power on which to run it (and soon, your sexy smartphone).

The challenge for data centres is business continuity delivered in an efficient way. The global ICT industry was estimated in 2007 to be producing 2% of the world's carbon emissions and data centres 14% of that, the latter of which appears to be growing. Google keeps the server hallways in its centre at 27 degrees celsius to reduce airconditioning loads. Other centres are being built near proposed tidal power generation sites, such as one near the Pentland Firth in Scotland.

The technology can be used across the entire spectrum from trivial to world-changing problems. There are, for example, teams of people involved in the search for intelligent life beyond Earth. The SETI@home project used hundreds of thousands of idle home computers to review reams of data from a radio telescope array for faraway signals that couldn't be dismissed as noise. Last year, Amazon donated a part of their cloud so that SETI could continue their efforts with even greater power for the next six years.

It's frustrating but also amazing that the problems we want to solve seem to become more complex the more we learn. The cloud will no doubt become the way that we will relate to and get closer to solutions to the most tricky and long-standing unknowns.

Image by Karin Dalziel, made available by Creative Commons licence via Flickr.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Technology a double-edged sword in a rapidly developing Asia

Greg Adamson

Patent filings in China this year may surpass both the US and Japan. For India, IT and business process outsourcing is now a $50b industry. Asia is racing ahead in the technology stakes. But it isn’t all smooth sailing.

The Australian Financial Review on 10 January this year carried an article by Yu Yongding, former director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which stated that “China has become one of the most polluted countries in the world. Dust and smog choke its cities. All major rivers are contaminated. Although progress has been made, deforestation and desertification are serious.”

There are many reports of quality problems with Chinese goods: criminal adulteration of milk with melamine, an industrial material used to increase the apparent protein content; use of lead paint in exported children’s toys; and the collapse of a newly constructed 13-storey apartment building in Shanghai in 2009, to name a few.

When I read these reports I feel as though history is repeating itself. I remember reading of the adulteration of bread with alum and of milk with water and chalk in 19th century England; of the thousands of deaths caused by London's “Great Smog” of 1952; and of the fact that in the early 20th century the River Thames was devoid of aquatic life due to manufacturing and other pollution.

Those historical cases had various causes: uncontrolled industrialisation; unanticipated consequences of technology; profiteering; criminal behaviour. The impact is still felt today. In some US cities, for example, modern traffic chaos can be viewed as the outcome of car companies buying up and closing down public transport (a serious subject humorously described in Who Framed Roger Rabbit).

The same causes are evident across modern-day Asia. Many of the problems have local causes – economic, technical, business, regulatory or otherwise. For other problems, responsibility seems to lie outside the country. The 1984 Union Carbide disaster in India’s Bhopal, which left thousands dead, created the impression that global corporations may apply lower safety standards in developing countries.

Some of my friends roll their eyes when I talk about addressing technology quality or environmental issues in Asia. But the 19th and 20th century problems in Europe and North America didn’t just fix themselves. In the 1870s, physician and scientist Dr AH Hassall led a campaign to overcome food adulteration in Victorian England. Scientists and engineers were among environmentalists who changed the way we think about water quality and cleaned up London and the Thames. Consumer legislation has allowed us to expect that the food we eat won’t poison us. Social awareness around these problems was informed by science and addressed by technical activities and legal and industry standards.

In Asia today we see progress at the infrastructure level. We may argue about the timing and extent of the progress, but it at least demonstrates awareness. China is a major investor in renewable energy technology. India has developed a sophisticated IT industry, including its prestigious Indian Institute of Technology. Notable is the early approach of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who invited the advice of Norbert Wiener, founder of cybernetics and a pioneer in industrial automation, regarding options for industrial development in India. Asia’s most economically developed country, Japan, led the world in the adoption of what became known as “quality systems” in manufacturing, building quality into a product rather than rejecting defects at the end. This approach was based on the work of statistician W.E. Deming, who was invited to contribute his ideas by the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers.

I also see this commitment to awareness of the impact of technology at the individual level: a December 2011 IEEE conference in Hyderabad, India, focussing on sustainable technologies, has received more than a thousand papers. An Indian engineer recently explained that all the world’s IT waste ends up in India and other underdeveloped countries, causing significant problems. If controls to manage the handling of poisonous old car batteries can be set up, why not poisonous old mobile batteries? I spoke to a Chinese engineer in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympics who expressed his concerns about materials substitution in building construction, and the growing importance of quality control in China.

These are just individual examples which illustrate a larger picture: many engineers across Asia understand the societal challenges created by technology.

For me, this is a source of hope for the future.

These and other issues will be discussed at the IEEE conference on Technology and Society in Asia, to be held in Singapore 28-29 October 2012.  Further information on the conference can be found here.

Photograph by Sandruz, made available by Creative Commons licence via Flickr.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Planet ebook: from virtual graveyard to literary lift-off

Julie Koh

The world of the self-published ebook is quickly shedding its image as a virtual planet where failed authors go to die.

Increasingly, fiction writers are considering the ebook as an avenue through which they can bypass established publishers to get their work out there and to connect with new readers.


One of the stars of the ebook revolution is Amanda Hocking.

The 26-year-old author from Minnesota, U.S.A., has received a great deal of media attention over the last year, having grossed approximately $2 million in ebook sales. Her ebooks include the young adult vampire romance series, My Blood Approves.

What stuns most commentators is how swiftly Hocking’s star has risen. She began self-publishing ebooks in April 2010. By early March 2011, she had sold over 900,000 copies of 9 of her ebooks. Her series of novels about trolls, the Trylle Trilogy, was optioned for a film in early 2011, with Terri Tatchell, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter for District 9, attached to adapt the screenplay.

Self-publishing phenomenons like Amanda Hocking demonstrate that the ebook is allowing indie authors to extend their readership significantly on a global scale.

That said, ebook self-publishing seems to be more lucrative for those sections of the indie fiction writing population who publish genre fiction, such as thrillers, romance, paranormal romance, mystery and fantasy. As Hocking’s sales figures suggest, the most successful of these writers are those whose work taps into the young adult zeitgeist, which at present favours — among other things — female fantasies about pallid men with sharp teeth who fall in love with us but simultaneously must resist draining us of blood.

What about literary fiction?

For emerging non-genre writers like myself, the question remains whether taking the self-published ebook route is advisable for developing a literary reputation. After all, success in literary fiction is often tied to where, and by whom, an author has had work published. Furthermore, readers may not trust a self-published ebook to be of the same quality as ‘p-books’ (a trendy new word for paper books) put out by reputable publishing houses.

Until mainstream readers and critics genuinely come around to this new electronic format, one option is for emerging literary fiction writers to self-publish short stories in ebook format after the publication of those stories in well-regarded print and online literary journals. This widens the availability of the stories to potential readers without requiring the author to pass up the opportunity to keep building a literary career that follows a traditional trajectory.

At the same time, an emerging writer may decide to publish other short stories direct to ebook, simply because those stories are experimental and unlikely to be accepted by major literary publications due to their niche market appeal.

Take, for instance, The Fantastic Breasts, a feminist satire I’ve published through Smashwords. Without a doubt, this story would have had trouble finding a publisher. Its style is an obscure and experimental mix of magic realism and hyperrealism. To add to this, the story has the potential to alienate those who take its lack of political correctness literally and feel that the language used denigrates women. The story may also alienate those who struggle to reconcile its extreme satirical humour with the serious issues it addresses relating to the objectification of women.

Ultimately, not all stories a writer produces are destined to be popular. In circumstances where an author isn’t willing to compromise to make a story more palatable for a mainstream audience, the ebook is a powerful new publishing option. It lowers the barriers to publication for experimental literary work and vastly improves the author's chance of reaching that work’s niche global readership.


Ebook technology can benefit a wide variety of fiction writers, particularly those who can handle the hurdles involved in self-publishing and who want to connect with a global readership without having to woo an established publisher willing to aid them in this quest.

I once heard of a writer who said that having an unpublished story is like having a grown-up child who won’t leave home. The ebook has become an avenue through which such a story can make a life away from the worried clutches of its author: a life that begins in an aesthetically pleasing and widely available electronic format on an increasingly prosperous virtual planet.

Image by goXunuReviews, made available by Creative Commons licence via Flickr.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Gamers boldly go where no scientist has gone before

Sarah Lux

Mothers and girlfriends worldwide have long yelled at errant sons and partners for being overly fixated on a video game.

This week, however, a group of gamers and scientists demonstrated that proficiency in World of Warcraft may be worth more than the geek cred it achieves.

Nature Structural & Molecular Biology has published an advance online copy of a paper that explains how enjoyment of and technical skills in playing video games can be harnessed to achieve remarkable outcomes in scientific research.

The scientists, hailing from the US, Poland and the Czech Republic, challenged players of the competitive protein folding game Foldit to produce accurate models of the crystal structure of M-PMV retroviral protease. Scientists researching antiretroviral AIDS medication had tried and failed for years to map the protein with the requisite level of detail using more conventional scientific means. These particular scientists thought the Foldit gamers might have more success.

The experiment worked. In just three weeks, the gamers succeeded in generating models of sufficient quality to meet the scientists' needs. The result is incredible, and may lead to a significant advancement in AIDS research.

More broadly, considerable attention should be paid to the importance and ingenuity of this collaborative model for research, which harnesses skills possessed by ordinary humans to empower their meaningful contribution to the scientific process.

Foldit, the game in question, describes itself as "a revolutionary new computer game enabling you to contribute to important scientific research". Understanding the structure of a protein is central to working out how to target it with drugs. This process is difficult and elusive, as the Foldit website explains:

The number of different ways even a small protein can fold is astronomical... Figuring out which of the many, many possible structures is the best one is regarded as one of the hardest problems in biology today and current methods take a lot of money and time, even for computers. Foldit attempts to predict the structure of a protein by taking advantage of humans' puzzle-solving intuitions and having people play competitively to fold the best proteins.
The program builds on the concept behind a predecessor, Stanford University's folding@home, which networks participants' computers to create a supercomputer which works through possible folding patterns. Foldit adds to this concept the intuition and puzzle-solving abilities of human gamers to speed up and improve the results. When directed at particular scientific problems, this amalgamation of human and computer capabilities can achieve significant results, as demonstrated by the AIDS study.

This remarkable use of technology corresponds to a broader trend that has accompanied the increasing dominance of the internet in our lives and interactions. Unprecedented access to information, thanks to the internet, has substantially addressed the information asymmetry that used to mean ordinary people needed access expensive experts to make decisions and achieve certain goals. Almost all of us go to Google as our first port of call on almost every day-to-day question, and what we find includes the opinions, recommendations and warnings of an enormous unnamed audience who can help us solve our problem.

Examples of the trend are infinite. Travel review websites like TripAdvisor let you ask questions of a million strangers you never even knew had travelled to your intended location. Flickr, now with an in-built Creative Commons licensing system, connects you with talented photographers who will licence incredible works for your personal or professional use. And although the countless websites and forums containing basic medical information certainly do not replace the role of physicians, they do make for well informed patients who no longer have to defer all control over their health decisions to clinical experts.

Outsourcing tasks and questions to the millions of people connected to the internet is increasingly acknowledged as a legitimate problem-solving model. Crowdsourcing, the outsourcing of a task to an undefined group of people through an open call, can be arranged informally (for example, by a call for assistance over Facebook) or through companies like InnoCentive, which connect those with a problem (Seekers) with those who have solutions (Solvers), who are rewarded with cash prizes for proposing the right fix. Currently on InnoCentive, a novel idea for the development of glucose-responsive insulin may win you US$100,000, while a photo reflecting "the World in 2012" may result in the award of a $1000 prize. Crowdsourcing provides access to an entire world's worth of experts and eliminates costs of participation. As it is developed and refined as a model for various types of projects, it can only grow in popularity and impact.

Foldit is one of those refinements. Rather than issuing a completely open call, the scientists (essentially, Seekers) identified a particular group (Solvers) possessing skills the scientists lacked, and turned the project into a competitive game to make participation attractive.

While technology is so often lamented and lambasted for harming our relationships – lovers text rather than talk, friends chat online instead of meeting, kids engage in multi-player online role-play rather than kicking around a ball – the internet has a powerful ability to connect people, with substantial personal, professional, societal and now scientific implications.

And just think – if gamers can actually help to cure AIDS, what might be the value of your voice in the crowd?

This article was originally published here on The Punch.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Once more unto the breach:* Printing the next revolution

Matthew Tracey

3D printing will change your world.

With that bombshell out of the way, let's work out how and why.

3D printing, or additive manufacturing technology, is very similar to traditional 2D printing. 2D printers overlay ink on paper to produce physical representations of a digital file. 3D printers use similar technology but utilise metals, plastics and even food as their 'ink'. Where traditional printers could use a variety of file types (such as .doc, .jpeg or .html) to produce a printed page, 3D printers use computer-aided design (CAD) files that contain the physical specifications of the object to be printed. 3D printers use these files to construct an exact copy of the object, layer by layer. The software in the printer transforms a CAD file containing the dimensions of 3D object into slices. So, if you were printing a scale model of the Empire State Building, the printer would squirt out layer upon layer so as to construct the model from the ground floor to the point. In combination, these layers produce a tangible 3D object.

3D printing in action

Questioning 100 years of manufacturing history

The history of manufacturing is essentially a history of economies of scale. Revolutionised by the production methods of the Model T, Ford utilised scale in such a way as to reduce the marginal costs of production with each and every finished vehicle. At least theoretically, large-scale manufacturing means lower production costs and, in turn, lower purchase prices for consumers.

Let us be daring for a moment and dispense with one hundred years of manufacturing theory and practice. What if marginal costs were constant instead of depreciative? How would that change how we operate as a society?

Say for example you're at home and you've just finished dinner. You're loading all of your dirty dishes into the dishwasher and you find a broken locking mechanism that keeps the squall inside the dishwasher otherwise contained. Instead of sending for a replacement part from the manufacturer and waiting the requisite time for it to arrive, imagine downloading the CAD file from the manufacturer's website and printing off a replacement. Online technology blog Ars Technica has opined that just as online shopping made bricks-and-mortar retail stores appear quaint, 3D printing will do the same in respect of waiting for shipping to arrive from an online retailer. Importantly, 3D printing means that the cost of producing the first object is the same as the cost of producing the thousandth. This equation is perfect for individual consumers who only need one object.

The response from industry and what lies ahead

The rights associated with patents, copyrights, registered designs and trademarks could be infringed through 3D printing. For example, several websites currently offer unauthorised replicas of designer goods in CAD files for download. the3dstudio offers a CAD file of a Mario Bellini Ultrabellini chair for US$20 where a set of four authentic chairs retails for in excess of US$1000.

Unlike Sony in respect of VHS and Napster in respect of MP3s, rights holders have not yet brought 3D printing under any real fire. This is partly due to the lack of consumer-priced devices in the marketplace. However, since websites such as the3dstudio essentially operate as a vehicle similar to Napster (in that they provide a central source for the distribution of authorised and non-authorised material), legal intervention is increasingly likely. Analogous to the recent iiNet litigation, there is a risk that any site which hosts CAD files could be the subject of secondary infringement and authorisation claims. Like YouTube in response to Viacom, online distribution portals may need to have infringement detection and take-down mechanisms in place in order to assuage the appetites of litigious rights holders. However, like many industries' adaptation to new technologies, there will inevitably be winners and losers.

The scope of 3D printing is set to expand to compromise other traditional aspects of mass manufacturing. By way of example, Cornell University has had some success at producing food with 3D printers. The ramifications of printing food will stretch far and wide and will undoubtedly cause us to reconsider how we think about farming and famine.

The internet has ideologically entrenched our demand to have anything anytime anywhere. Traditionally, this demand related only to information. It is now clear, however, that in the future we will be able to print our cake and eat it too.

*'Once more unto the breach' is from the 'Cry God for Harry, England, and Saint George!' speech of Shakespeare's Henry V, Act III, 1598.

Video by 3DCreationLab, published under the standard YouTube licence.

Monday, 12 September 2011

The microchipping of people and the uberveillance trajectory

Associate Professor Katina Michael

First came i-mode and then the iBook. Next the iPod, iPhone and iPad. Is it only a matter of time before we see the iPlant suddenly make its debut onto the global market? This is a real possibility for your future: a subdermal microchip implant that will potentially give you ubiquitous connexity: always on, always with you, 24x7x365.

The term “uberveillance”, coined by MG Michael in 2005, is defined in the Macquarie Dictionary as an omnipresent electronic surveillance facilitated by technology that makes it possible to embed surveillance devices in the human body. In that same year, the Parliament of Australia’s Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs published: "The Real Big Brother: Inquiry into the Privacy Act 1988”. Chapter three on “emerging technologies” addresses the role that microchip implants in humans could play in the future.

The idea of implanting technology into people is not new. The first implantable cardiac pacemaker was created in 1958. Since then, we have seen the introduction of the cochlear implant to help the deaf to hear and the brain pacemaker to aid those suffering with epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, major depression and other diseases.

However, human implant technology is getting cheaper, easier to access and looks increasingly like it is going to be part of your everyday future life.

So-called “do-it-yourself implantees”, like Jonathan Oxer of Melbourne and Joe Wooller of Perth, have had implants inserted into their bodies using a short procedure and is similar to getting one’s cat or dog chipped.  Oxer modified his house so that his implant could be used to personalise settings in his home.  Wooller can open the doors to his house, car and motorbike with a swipe of his hand.

The microchip implant, most commonly a passive radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag, carries a unique pin that identifies the chip. How does this let you open a door? An antenna in close proximity triggers the RFID tag embedded in the body and an ID is transmitted to a reader, which grants access to the implantee (but may also grant access to a potential hacker).

Opening doors using a unique RFID tag is elementary when compared to the role that microchip implants play in brain pacemakers. But the potential for implanting citizens with microchip technology has been considered to be beneficial on several fronts. Proponents of microchipping people often state that implants would signal the end of credit card fraud, losing your keys, kidnapping, even a partial solution to reducing carbon emissions. The most popular argument is often connected to national security. This is despite the reality that RFID is the most insecure ID technology in the market. The loss of privacy in any of these or other contexts is an issue which needs to continually be addressed.

Microchips are set to bring new life to a whole gambit of control applications. It was only a few months ago that wearable GPS monitoring devices were embraced by the Queensland State Government for use by sufferers of mental illness and, later, sex offenders. Australian cricketers have been using body wearable technologies to record their match fitness levels and productivity since 2006. We are now talking about the mainstream commercialisation of such technology solutions, along with a movement from wearable to implantable technology. Microchips will provide us with the ability to locate, track and monitor people and provide data such as longitude and latitude coordinates of an individual down to a metre, as well as their speed, distance, time stamps, altitude, direction, temperature, heart rate, pulse rate and other physiological measures.

RFID implants for humans are now clearly on the political agenda. Recently, South Australia’s Police Commissioner Mal Hyde stated that there were quite a few different groups of people he’d like to see microchipped. And Sunshine Coast MP Peter Wellington was widely cited as saying that he would like to see child sex offenders microchipped.

The question is how long it will take for integrated solutions based on microchip implants to surface in everyday applications and how the law will deal with the continued rise of new and disruptive technologies which have the capacity to change just about everything. The problem is that, in many instances, legislation will offer few permanent or secure solutions, leaving the question open to the broad spectrum of ethics and debates involving difficult moral judgments.

Photo by ONT Design, made available by a Creative Common licence via Flickr.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Distributed and anonymous: our say, our way on the Internet

Luke Giuliani

The distributed nature of the Internet is, I think, one of its greatest assets. It was definitely one of the main design considerations when ARPANET was first established. This non-centralised design has carried through with the way that services have treated user contribution, starting with modes like IRC and BBS, through to their modern equivalents like social networks and even more broadly any site that relies on user generated content. The option for anonymity in contribution has been omnipresent, if varying in degree. Of course whether you think this is good or bad depends highly on your point of view, in the same way that one's opinion of the whistleblower depends on whether you are the victim or the culprit.

With the growth of the internet as a primary communication channel, we have seen a more subtle result of this same distributed nature; a lack of a power of proscription. This lack of control has often led to an uptake of services in proportion to the risk averseness of the institution. Thus individuals and small businesses are quick to jump on the online bandwagon, but often government entities and decision makers - people with more to lose - are slower. Part of this is also a subtle transition in publishing power. Decision makers have historically had a "right-to-proof"; "I want to see that article before it goes to print" is a standard condition on working with the PR teams of politicians or big business. This control of information is in many ways antithetical to the publishing anarchy of the Internet.

In recent years, however, the invisible hand has pushed. Too many citizens consume too much of their information from (and thus base their decisions on) the Internet for decision makers to ignore, or even conditionally accept. Now PR teams have added "run your social media presence for you" to the list of services tendered. This has had an interesting result. We now have decision makers trying to control what is an inherently uncontrolled system.

We've seen this directly at OurSay, a project I am a part of, which connects decision makers with citizens. OurSay is a web based platform where citizens can ask questions of a decision maker and vote on other users questions that they think are important. Each user gets 7 votes, so they can use them all up in one go, or spread them around. After an OurSay question session closes, we go and get the answers to the top questions from the decision maker and put it up on the site. The interesting bit here is that without a doubt, everybody we talk to about answering questions voted for on OurSay asks: "But what happens if the top question is against my views?".

The idealist in me answers: answer it anyway! You don't get to be in a position of power without having to answer difficult questions sometimes. If the question asks "In what ways are you similar to a chimp?", tell them you share 96% of the same DNA. How about a question asking a decision-maker to back up policy with hard commitment? What about curlier ones, like asking the CEO of Telstra his thoughts on the environmental consequences of printing millions of copies of the Yellow Pages each year? (go here for the answer to that one.) We at OurSay have worked with all parts of the political or issue spectrum to try and get some really substantial questions asked of the people up the top. OurSay essentially provides a platform where the contribution of individuals is metered through the mechanism of voting. It is a compromise between the control desired by decision makes and the everyone-can-say-whatever-they-want model of the Internet.

OurSay provides one model of how relationships between decision makers and citizens might evolve in the future. People will expect and demand greater interaction with their policymakers. Additionally, the Internet has enabled the provision and consumption of information at phenomenal levels. (I must have opened up a browser at least 20 times just in the writing of this post.) I hope that this increased demand for interaction and increased levels of information accessibility will be symbiotically beneficial, resulting in leaders that are responsive to citizens and citizens who are informed and proactive about the issues they care about.

Let's face it, the Internet is a scary place. Voice your opinion and at some point you are likely to be misconstrued. At worst, you'll probably be ridiculed for what you say with varying levels of constructiveness. How much more scary if you are somebody with something to lose. The trick will be how to find the right balance of accountability, accessibility, honesty, privacy and transparency.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Welcome to The Social Interface

The Editors

Our experience of the world is mediated through technology. Technology affects our access to and analysis of information, the extent to which we are monitored, the composition of the air, the people with whom we connect and the length of our lives, among other things. Decisions about technical design made by engineers, scientists and managers as well as decisions by politicians about funding and regulation shape our technological landscape. The Internet is a good example – it began as a project of the US government but decisions about its design came from engineers. The fact that the Internet allows for open communication, as well as the fact that it is possible for marketers to collect data about users, are both the result of design decisions, whether conscious or unconscious. The choices made by engineers and governments matter.

In the academic world, philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, historians, lawyers and others have written extensively on the relationship between technology and society. This blog aims to connect those thinking and writing about technology with those who design it and those who use it.

Contributors to the blog will be professionals and academics from a range of relevant fields, including engineering, law, science, medicine, development, social sciences and the arts, who will be invited to stimulate discussion on the social impacts of technology as observed through the lenses of their own fields. We encourage you to be an active participant in the conversation, using the comments section beneath each featured contribution. How does the subject matter impact your own field? What are the key questions, problems and solutions as viewed through the prism of your experience or practice? Perhaps you agree with the contributor in question, or perhaps you vehemently disagree. Either way, you are encouraged to engage in the debate.

Who are we? Lyria, an academic in the law faculty at UNSW, is interested in the relationship between technology and law, and how changes in each influence the other. Sarah, an intellectual property lawyer, is interested in how protection of intellectual capital and provision of access to technology impact social mobility and human development. This blog was born out of our mutual realisation that, as lawyers interested in the social implications of technology, we have few opportunities to share ideas with the engineers, scientists, medical practitioners, historians, philosophers and many other breeds of professionals and academics who daily engage in consideration of the same. We aim to connect thinkers and writers from all relevant fields, as well as the broader community, and to provide meaningful opportunities for knowledge sharing, collaboration and debate between them.

If you are interested in making a featured contribution, let us know at editors@thesocialinterface.com. If you want to receive the blog in your inbox, subscribe by entering your email address in the box to the right (we will not use your details for any other purpose). If you have a question, comment or counter-argument to one of the contributions on the site, leave your thoughts in the comments section provided beneath the post.

We trust that this blog will entertain you, inspire you and, most of all, make you think.

Welcome to The Social Interface.