Category Archives: social/technology

The Death of the Traditional Media — and the Pulitzer Prizes

Pulitzer Prize Medal

Pulitzer Prize Medal

I  read this list of this year’s Pulitzers and thought about those who are saying that journalism is dead.  This is clearly the kind of investigation and reporting that need to be done  [all the below quoted from the NYT artice]:

  • The Las Vegas Sun for the exposure of the high death rate among construction workers on the Las Vegas Strip amid lax enforcement of regulations, leading to changes in policy and improved safety conditions;
  • The Houston Chronicle Staff for becoming a lifeline to the city when Hurricane Ike struck;
  • David Barstow of The New York Times for his reporting that revealed how some retired generals, working as radio and television analysts, had been co-opted by the Pentagon to make its case for the war in Iraq, and how many of them also had undisclosed ties to companies that benefited from policies they defended;
  • Bettina Boxall and Julie Cart of the Los Angeles Times for their fexploration into the cost and effectiveness of attempts to combat the growing menace of wildfires across the western United States;
  • The East Valley Tribune, Mesa, AZ, for adroit use of limited resources to reveal, in print and online, how a popular sheriff’s focus on immigration enforcement endangered investigation of violent crime and other aspects of public safety.

How are we going to support this kind of journalism?  We need fulltime journalists with resources behind them; but how?


New Course for Spring: Digital Narratives


CCN: 42875.
Time: Wed. 2-4*
Location: 110 South Hall

*May change — contact vanhouse@ischool and I’ll explain.

Current developments in multimedia technology are leading to increased use of a variety of media for representation for communication. These include still images, video, animation and audio as well as text.  A number of existing applications make it increasingly easy for people to develop their own multimodal “texts” without special expertise.  The question is: How are people using these resources? How can they be effectively used?  And how can these resources be better designed to support these efforts?

We will look at two common applications areas to investigate these questions:
(1)    Do It Yourself: construction and use of multimodal resources for showing, teaching, and learning in the field of do-it-yourself  (crafts, building, repair, and related activities without professional help); and
(2)    Digital story-telling, for personal/collective history but for other purposes as well.

MORE about the content of the course below.


Graduate students interested in exploring the confluence of emerging technologies and narratives of various kinds. Could include students from the School of Information, Computer Science, Education, Art Practice, Architecture, Archeology, Film Studies, New Media…a wide variety of areas.   Grad students only unless and undergrad manages to convince us otherwise.


Prof. Nancy Van House, School of Information: has done considerable work on digital personal and collective memory, visual studies, new media.

Dr. Elizabeth Churchill, Yahoo Research: has a PhD in cognitive science. She works at Yahoo on various projects related to digital memory,  user-generated content, and digital resources for DIY (do-it-yourself.)


Our reasons for choosing these two areas:  there’s considerable interest, activity, and user-generated content in each.  This interest is likely to continue and grow (they aren’t current fads).

These areas share some similarities: they can benefit from both pre-existing and specially-constructed visual, audio, and textual resources.  Both are of considerable interest among non-professionals, as leisure activities.   Both have a narrative element to them, whether it’s the story of an event, or how to do something from beginning to end.  The audiences for both are more or less peers.

They differ in their goals, and the kinds of stories that they tell and information resources use and create.

Interestingly, these areas often overlap, as apprentices learn techniques and stories from their predecessors and mentors. In this way, traditions and practices continue and evolve.

Both can benefit from using technology to tell stories and track revisions. And both are likely to be intertextual, linking to and drawing on existing resources.

This is not a technology design course; we do not expect students to build new technologies, although we will explore the space of potential designs to address emerging creative needs and directions.  We will, as far as possible, rely on existing technologies.   However, these will be treated as prototypes; we will ask how these (or similar) technologies could be better designed to suit the understandings that emerge from this course.

Students don’t necessarily need to be interested in either of these application areas.  We’ll treat these areas as examples.  Students may well bring to the course other areas of interest that share some of these key elements.

READING AREAS MAY INCLUDE (with varying degrees of depth and emphasis)

•    Visual studies: what it is; what it says about the role of visual media in general, and contemporary developments.  The relationships among still images, video, and audio.
•    Visual epistemology: the relationship between the visual and text
•    “Visual psychology” (for lack of a better term) – deciding when and how visual media are most effective for different communicative needs/desires
•    Multimodality
•    Narrative and storytelling
•    Objects as carriers of content and symbolic meaning
•    Issues of publicness and media – e.g., images are both more fraught and more evocative than text
•    Procedural teaching and learning


As noted, this is not a technology design course.  We will, as far as possible, rely on existing technologies.  However, existing technologies will be treated as prototypes; one issue will be how these (or similar) technologies could be better designed to suit the understandings that emerge from this course.

These will likely include:
•    Flickr and other photo (and video) sharing sites
•    YouTube and other video sharing sites
•    MemoryMiner or similar – software for constructing personal/family histories

This list is not exhaustive, but indicative.


•    Committed participation: reading and engaging with the course materials and topics
•    Some sort of major product:  probably a paper applying the concepts of he course to some area of interest.  One product could be a technology design: a prototype, or at least design requirements.

Spring I212 — Critical Technology Studies: Science and Technology Studies and Reflective HCI

Spring 09
M 1-4  (but see below)
Location: 202 South Hall
CCN: 42575 (3 units)

This spring’s I212 will combine an intro to science and technology studies (STS) with reflective Human-Computer Interaction(HCI).   The goal is to look at a variety of ways of understanding how people use, adapt, and domesticate information and communication technologies, and how these might affect HCI and ICT design.  We will look at a lot of both theoretical literature and practical studies.

This is *not* a technical class, but will instead focus on how to motivate and evaluate design from many perspectives. It’ll be useful for technology designers, but especially for students interested in expanding their understanding of the relevant literature and theoretical perspectives.

In this class, we’ll define both HCI and STS loosely.  HCI is concerned with the interaction between people and technology, and design that fits people’s practices and needs.  HCI has gradually expanded its scope to include more and more of the human sciences.  Reflective HCI seeks to surface the often-unstated assumptions and values embedded inn HCI.  Science and Technology Studies (STS) is a multi-disciplinary field rooted mostly in the social sciences, but also history and philosophy, that addresses the relationship between society and technology. Much of reflective HCI is rooted in STS.

We’ll look at alternative theories from STS and HCI but also from communications studies and related fields.  Exact topics will depend on who’s in the class and what our collective interests are.

Past offerings of this class have included students from computer science and other engineering departments, education, architecture, and other departments as well as the iSchool.

Because the topic and coverage of this course changes, people who have taken it before can get credit this year as independent or group study.

Syllabus from the last offering, 2006: — it was mostly PhD students (from the iSchool and elsewhere).  I expect this year it will have more master’s students and so more focus on what this means for design and professional practice.

Class will meet Mondays 1-4. However, we may be able to reschedule the course to fit the schedules of the students who actually enroll, so if you’re interested in the course, let me know.

Also let me know if you are interested in particular topics within this area  —  it’s useful to know if people have specific interests.

Change and Persistence in Digital Media

I recently bought my first Mac, an iMac, after using Windows forever.  And I still have Windows machines for my home and office desktops.  And I’m facing more than ever the dilemma of new versus enduring in digital media.

My Mac has a newer version of Word than my old machines (so I have to remember to save docs in the compatible format — which one of my older machines still won’t open).

On the Mac, I’m trying out EverNote — I’m always looking for something better than a simple wordprocessor for managing research and ideas.  I tried OneNote on my Windows laptop, but I found it clunky.  I was always having trouble getting things to format correctly.

I’ve long used Reference Manager for citation management, but haven’t been able to upgrade from RM 10 to 11 on my desktop, for reasons no one, including the RM tech support team, can figure out.  Now, not only is there not a Mac version, but it’s clear that the company is putting its creative energy into another product, EndNote (EndNote and RM used to be competitors, but one company now owns them both).  (Yes, I can migrate the db from RM to EndNote.  And yes, I KNOW I can run windows on the Mac, if I’m willing to give up the memory and deal with all the complexities.)

I’ve used TiddlyWiki for notes which are saved as HTML files– but Safari can’t save those files.  I have to use Firefox.

I’ve used Picasa, Photoshop Album, and Lightroom to manage photos.  When I moved images from Picasa to Photoshop Album to Lightroom, and then moved Lightroom images from my desktop to my external hard drive, each time I lost all the metadata. Either it can’t be done, or the correct way to do so is obscure — and I only learned this by losing my data.  (I haven’t used iPhoto for much yet.)

I have an archive of several hundred — maybe thousands — of historically important files — not mine — created in Wordperfect 5.0.  The only way I’ve found to convert them to current Wordperfect and/or RTF files is to open them one by one, and save them in a new format.  One of those jobs I keep thinking I should do, but have barely made a dent.

The last time I upgraded my mobile phone — within the same brand — I thought I had successfully transferred my contacts. When the new phone asked, “Do you want to update [sic] your contacts now?” I answered “no,” meaning, “I’ll do it later.” And when I went to install my contacts on the new phone, they were gone. I had missed my one and only opportunity.  (The time before that, I managed to transfer them but the metadata was lost — for each contact, the labels for mobile, home, and office numbers were gone.)

The point is:

  • I need to be able to access data consistently over time; and I need to be able to use newer and better tools as they become available.
  • I need to migrate data across systems: easily, with formatting and metadata preserved.
  • I need to update software and hardware without losing my previous work.
  • When software or hardware becomes obsolete, I still need to access those files.
  • And this all needs to be seamless, or at least low effort.

Until we accomplish this, our personal and collective digital memories are at considerable risk.  But clearly this is not the companies’ priority — just want to sell us the newest stuff. But how can they expect us to keep buying the new when it means that we lose our digital memories?

New Pew Report: Networked Workers

A new report from the Pew Internet and American Life project:

The majority of employed adults (62%) use the internet or email at their job, and many have cell phones and Blackberries that keep them connected even when they are not at work. 

Working Americans express mixed views about the impact of technology on their work lives. On the one hand, they cite the benefits of increased connectivity and flexibility that the internet and all of their various gadgets afford them at work. On the other hand, many workers say these tools have added stress and new demands to their lives. 

One of the major impacts of the internet and cell phones is that they have enabled more people to do work at least occasionally from home. Some 45% of employed Americans report doing at least some work from home and 18% of working Americans say they do job-related tasks at home almost daily.

Query: Failed Host Sites, Lost Photos?

I’ve searched a little and not found anything — but maybe my faithful readers know.

I’m looking for an example of a failed web service of some sort where people lost data when the site went under.  I’m SURE I’ve heard of one, but…not remembering, not finding it.  Preferably, I want an example of a site where people lost their personal photos, but any site where people lost personal data would do.


New Pew Reports Released

Pew Logo

Pew Logo

The Pew Internet and American Life Project has released four new reports:

  • Teens, Video Games and Civics
    finds that 97% of all teens age 12-17 play computer, web, portable, or console games, and s”ome particular qualities of game play have a strong and consistent positive relationship to a range of civic outcomes.” They seem to be stretching when they look for a connection between game-playing and civic engagement.
  • Whither the internet? “A survey at the first global Internet Governance Forum shows activists’ want an online Bill of Rights and more competition among service providers.”
  • The Engaged E-patient Population: “Home broadband has now joined educational attainment, household income and age as the strongest predictors of internet activity. For example, 78% of home broadband users look online for health information, compared with 70% of home dial-up users.”
  • Podcast Downloading 2008 “Currently, 19% of all internet users say they have downloaded a podcast so they could listen to it or view it later…Still, podcasting has yet to become a fixture in the everyday lives of internet users, as very few internet users download podcasts on a typical day.”