IT Futures Conference 2013

Thursday 12th December was the University of Edinburgh IT Futures Conference. I was privileged to speak alongside the Principal, Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea, as well as Vice Principal Jeff Haywood, Sci-Fi novelist and technology guru Cory Doctorow, Aleks Krotoski (who runs the Digital Human show on BBC radio), Chris Speed (Chair in Design Informatics at the Uni of Edinburgh) and James Fleck (Editor-in-Chief of the journal Technology Analysis and Strategic Management).

Photo of me speaking about reflection at the Uni of Edinburgh's IT Futures Conference

Speaking about reflection at the Uni of Edinburgh’s IT Futures Conference. Image by Nicola Osborne

The conference theme was disruption. My talk, called “Digital disruption and blended memory: selectivity, creativity, engagement and reflection” covered insights from my wedding photography study and applied them to reflection on information in more general terms. The central message was that despite some powerful, creative opportunities of emerging digital tools, the cultural trends that arise around technological affordances often push us toward unselectively collecting new information, rather than reflecting on what we already have.

Here is a video of the presentation.

Nicola Osborne has also posted a liveblogged version of events:

Blended Memory – an overview

The aim of this post is to give a brief overview of the personal and theoretical background to my research. For a more detailed description of my thinking and the literature that informs it, please take a look at my eBook chapter:

When I bought my first digital camera (in 2005: I was a relatively late adopter), I sensed how easy it would be to get carried away and take hundreds upon thousands of photographs, particularly when surrounded by interesting landscapes, monuments and people. Storage was a little more restrictive than it is today and I sometimes found myself having to decide between buying more memory capacity or going through and deleting some of my photographs. This was an interesting economic conundrum of time (to sort through hundreds of photographs), money (to purchase another memory card) and value (of personal memory artefacts). Continue reading “Blended Memory – an overview”

Diary: Editing a conference collection

Today, I am sitting in my cold office, editing the papers presented at the 3rd and 4th annual Inter-Disciplinary.Net Digital Memories conferences for inclusion in a hardcopy book. I am finding it hard going. Media studies (where I would position most of the research reported on in these papers) seems to employ highly-convoluted language filled with neologisms and sensitive nuances of expression which, if incorrectly used, misrepresent the view of the author in unforgivable ways. It is tiring but, I suppose, it is good experience.

An emerging theme of the book (and my sense is that it is emerging not because of its inherent force but because I want it to) is the way that the digital mediation of memory can influence our experience of, and connection to, past events (either personal or cultural/shared). These papers reinforce the idea that media and design strongly influence our perception of the content they carry and, therefore, the meaning we take from our interaction with technology. Continue reading “Diary: Editing a conference collection”

#blendedmem: Why we take photos and what we do with them

This is a little project page for a couple of questions I’ve put out there:

(a) Why do you take photos? 
(b) What do you do with photos you've taken?

I’m asking this because I want to explore the different purposes we have in mind when we take photos, and the discrepancy between those initial purposes and what we end up doing with the photos later on. This should help me to refine some “purpose” categories I’ve been working on for my research and perhaps, eventually, explain why some of us seem to take so many photos and do so little with them while others manage to engage meaningfully with every photo they take.

Continue reading “#blendedmem: Why we take photos and what we do with them”

Progress snapshot: Framework analysis

I am currently working through the interviews of my first study, using Nvivo 10 to help me code the transcripts. These interviews explored how people at a wedding engaged with photography during and after the event. I will use this case to develop a framework for exploring personal photography practices that includes the purposes for which people engage in these practices and the technological and cultural drivers that influence them.

I have plenty of reservations about Nvivo, in particular the way that it seems to coerce me into treating the data in particular ways that I might not otherwise have wanted to do. An example is its quantification of everything – it’s easy to get sucked into comparing the number of instances of different codes and then attaching an inappropriate value to this comparison. I am keeping thorough notes on these observations as well as any other methodological issues that come up. Continue reading “Progress snapshot: Framework analysis”

Purposes of photography

In a previous post, I began an attempt to categorise the purposes for which we take photographs (as distinct from why we do what we do with them after they’ve been taken). As part of this process, I have been looking for web posts describing why people take photos. An example is the Photojojo forum page: Why do you take photos? Alongside this, I have done my own little survey via Twitter and Facebook, the results of which you can see on the purposes of photography project page.

The categories of purpose I would like to begin with are memorialcommunicativecreative and investigative. Based on the accounts gleaned from the Internet and my own research, I have attempted to outline the kinds of photos these purposes might produce and how these categories might overlap (since the taking of a photo can, and often does, have more than one purpose). Not all of the accounts fit neatly into my current categories, hence the addition of a temporary “other” category for types of photography that require more thought. Continue reading “Purposes of photography”

What the photo shows

The After

What you see and what the camera sees are not the same. “The After” by Rubén Chase (CC BY-SA 2.0)

What is captured when a photo is taken of a scene? This seems important in relation to a theory of mine about photographic “levelling and sharpening” of memory or, in other words, the idea that what is captured in a photo is privileged within memory at the expense of what is not.

Photographs are not the objective recordings of reality suggested by the adage “the camera never lies”. Their content is more limited and contrived than we generally acknowledge. Continue reading “What the photo shows”

Recording and experience #1

This thread – “Recording and experience” – will explore how recording an experience (and knowing that we are recording it) might change the experience itself. In the first post of this thread, I would like to ask for the thoughts of people who regularly record experiences  as they happen in more or less effortful and reflective ways. Examples of such people include but are not limited to livebloggers, photographers, journalists, camerapersons and Twitterers. Continue reading “Recording and experience #1”

Babies and blended memory #2 – the law of diminishing photographs

Recently, in a social context, I discussed parental photographing of children with a man who happened to be a paediatrician, a father and a grandfather. He spoke of the “law of diminishing photographs”, whereby each child in a family is photographed significantly less than the one who was born before. A number of parents have also spoken to me of this. The theory is supported by Beloff’s (1985, p. 197) discussion of a survey of family photography (see Musello 1979): “Musello’s surveys demonstrate that the frequency of photographing is greatest in the earliest years of the children’s lives, with a geometric progression from birth to age six. There also appears to be a geometric decline from child 1 through to child x. Families are often embarrassed by the ‘gaps’ in the album when they are leafed through by the later-borns in the family”.

This embarrassment or guilt about the relative scarcity of photographs of one child in relation to another seems to come about from social conventions and compulsions to photograph children and an associated implication that failing to photograph something is failing to value it. As Sontag (1977, p. 8) puts it, “Not to take pictures of one’s children, particularly when they are small, is a sign of parental indifference.”

Russian dolls

“Russian dolls” by sammydavisdog (CC BY 2.0)

Continue reading “Babies and blended memory #2 – the law of diminishing photographs”

Meaning #2: Quality vs quantity

“When life is flooding over us with new and strange experiences, when we are surrounded with myriads of strangers … we want to posses images both to halt and to order the flood, even though in the end the mass of images doesn’t help. Through photography we can hold people, events, places. But the images themselves become a flood.” (Beloff 1985, p. 20).

Shooting straight down into a raging creek near the Crow Creek Pass Trailhead parking lot

“Shooting straight down into a raging creek near the Crow Creek Pass Trailhead parking lot” by Frank Kovalchek (CC BY 2.0)

If a photo can help you to remember an experience, lots of photos should be really helpful, right? This seems to be the thinking behind Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmel’s lifelogging project “MyLifeBits” described in their book Total Recall (Bell and Gemmel, 2009). Bell and Gemmel’s suggest that recording all the details of your life for review and analysis will help you to understand and improve your health, relationships and general happiness. As I see it, there are a number of problems with this view. Continue reading “Meaning #2: Quality vs quantity”