Unfamiliar Tools

So, last week I presented my 2nd year new media class with unfamiliar tools in the hope that they would think more deeply about their practice. We aimed to produce a publication that fills the gap left by the lack of an SU campus magazine.

Here’s some quick notes about what they (and I) made of the typewriter and what they did to overcome the limits of their tools:

  1. You need to think before you type. We’re all wired into the idea of having a delete key and of editing after we type. The typewriter doesn’t work like that.
  2. Press harder. Damn you need to push these keys hard. That makes typing quite tiring and makes things take longer generally to do.
  3. We have one typewriter, that’s a production bottleneck  when there are 8 of us trying to work. We need to do something else.
  4. Collage offers a solution: other people’s type is clear and easy to read, we can use that. Immediately after we started two students left the room and raided the SU for leaflets. These happened to offer us lots of clear headline text that suited our own subject matter (the university, the culture of the campus). This also added some subversion to our final piece: we are using the SU’s own publications in our reconstruction of a campus magazine.
  5. A logo: in another act of subversion, the students decided on a name that references the name of the old SU magazine Spaghetti Junction. The students called their publication Alphabetti Spaghetti. A logo was constructed using alphabetti spaghetti which was mounted onto acetate and photocopied to create a photographic image that can be mounted onto all editions.

Hyperlocal discourse: the new media & technology repertoire

After last week’s seminar presentation, I’ve been asked to clarify the repertoires that I think inform hyperlocal discourse. Those three repertoires again:

  • New media / technology
  • Community & alternative media
  • Professional / commercial media

I’m going to begin by unpicking the new media / technology discourse. In further posts I’ll describe the other repertoires in some more depth. In order to do this I’m going to run through one or two pieces of the extant literature that are guiding my thinking and, where possible, I’ll draw on some primary work to demonstrate how this repertoire is used.

What do I mean by the new media / technology repertoire?

We have some known ways to describe new and emerging (media) technologies. These ways of understanding technologies work in such a way that they can shape our impression of a new technology before we even experience it (see Flichy, 1999 for a really good account of the way in which we imagine technologies). There are, of course, pessimistic and optimistic approaches to imagining technologies; I’m focussing on optimistic approaches to technology in my work.

Flichy (1999) charts a techno-utopian discourse that emerges from counter-cultural movements in California in the 1970s and is inherited in mainstream discourse as people and projects spin out from it to become taste makers in wider public life. The leading technology magazine, Wired, is situated within this story, as is the rise of the technology company Apple. As you read across the literature, and in particular the popular academic literature (Leadbeater, 2008; Shirky, 2008), this techno-utopian discourse is prominent.

The repertoire of ideas on new media / technology that are used within hyperlocal discourse includes:

  • new technologies can contribute to an increase in social capital (after the work of Putnam, 2000 – I wrote about that here)
  • new technologies widen access to the means of producing and distributing media
  • new technologies have democratic affordances, and can revitalise the public sphere
  • new technologies, and those who work within them, are important contributors to local economies

Examples of the new media / technology repertoire informing hyperlocal discourse

Hyperlocal media is most commonly associated today with online news publishing, and so we should expect the way which we think about technology to shape the way which we think about hyperlocal media. Indeed, techno-utopianism seems to inform attempts to define hyperlocal, for example:

The term ‘hyperlocal’ brings to mind images of engaged citizens storming town halls seeking better governance and better reporting thereof. (Metzgar et al, 2011)

Here the act of hyperlocal publishing is described in terms of the democratic affordances of online publishing; the authors offer no evidence for this, instead it is a self-evident fact that this is what hyperlocal should ‘bring to mind’.

I recently pitched a ‘panel’ at an unconference of hyperlocal practitioners with the intent of teasing out some sense of the repertoires that they are using to understand hyperlocal practice. The idea was to provide minimal impetus and see what came back, and so all I offered the discussion was a question: ‘What does hyperlocal mean to you?’. As I hoped, technology emerged as one of the ways in which practitioners make sense of what hyperlocal is:

Local was what was possible on the previous technology platform. […] the print and broadcast technology platforms that were past and then hyperlocal is what’s made possible by the new tools.

It’s less about the geography then about what’s been made possible by these emerging technologies.

I’ve belonged where I live for years. I didn’t have access, I didn’t have, ah, you know, I didn’t have tools (their emphasis) to you know, reach the folk around me. You know. There were filters and… media owners and… a whole set of shit in the way wasn’t there? And that’s – that’s what changed. We have access now, don’t we? And we’ve ahm… you know it’s a different world isn’t it?


FLICHY, P. (1999) The Construction of New Digital Media. New Media & Society, Vol 1, No 1, pp. 33-39.

LEADBEATER, C. (2008) We-think: Mass innovation, not mass production: The Power of Mass Creativity. London: Profile Books.

METZGAR, E. T., KURPIUS, D. D. & ROWLEY, K. M. (2011) Defining hyperlocal media: Proposing a framework for discussion. New Media & Society, Vol 13, No 5, pp. 772-787.

PUTNAM, R. D. (2000) Bowling Alone. New York, NY, USA: Simon & Schuster.

SHIRKY, C. (2008) Here Comes Everybody. London: Allen Lane.

On the printing of photos

This tweet reminded me of something that amused me (I’m easily pleased).

It was my son’s 1st birthday last month, one of those occasions where all generations get together. We’re fortunate enough to have four generations of my wife’s family still with us. A great aunt gave my sister-in-law her digital camera for the afternoon “take me some photos please”.

The result?

Leyla, as a 20-something photography graduate burned merrily through a 1GB memory card; the Great Aunt came back from Boots with a few hundred photos to sift through.

At one end of our family tree photographs are consumed digitally, or at least filtered through a computer and selected down to a definitive record. Capture everything, then filter. Every possibility is shot. Crazy angles and experiments are go. At the other end, photos are rare and precious and you don’t know what you’re going to get until you print them. 

Apple keynote events: the Macguffin of mythinformation

Tonight saw the latest Apple “Special Event”, and the launch of some new shiny kit and software from Cupertino. This seems a timely opportunity to plug a project I’ve helped out on for Sage publishing. 

CommunicationSpace is an online community space for the discussion of media and communication research. In my first posting to the site, I wrote a retrospective of Patrice Flichy’s paper The Construction of New Digital Media from 1999. In the paper Flichy describes how new media technology is imbued with mythic qualities and ideologies even before it is launched. This process is facilitated by sections of the media (notable Wired) who champion certain positions about the new technologies.

Enabling digital participation in Higher Education

OK so being as Ana and Jen (part 1 & part 2) blogged about posters, I guess that means it’s what we do now. So here’s my regulation blog post about a poster.

A few summer’s ago Dave Kane, Anita Reardon and I were given a small grant for a pilot project in the uses of technology in teacher training. This paper presents our findings, grounded in education and cultural studies theory, to help understand some of the determinants that affect the uptake of technology in classrooms.

This was my first academic poster, and I enjoyed the process. The premium on space means really cutting the research down to the core, while trying to retain enough to give some sense of the project’s narrative. That’s pretty tough – even the forced brevity of using Twitter doesn’t prepare you for it fully.

We presented the poster at RESCON ’10 (BCU’s internal research conference) as a dry run ahead of our attendance at next month’s Research Informed Teaching Conference in Staffordshire. The poster went down pretty well (we came second in the judging for the poster tour – I’ll take that) so we won’t need to make many changes before we head to Staff’s in July. Looking around the posters, I have to say (discarding all sense of modesty for a second) that ours looked the best. Many of the posters were wordy, and hard to read, and as many members of staff had made them on PowerPoint they suffered from some of the afflictions that can only come with an off the shelf Microsoft template (ill conceived drop shadows, poor contrast, garish colours) as well as from pixelation caused through blowing A4 slides up to A1 and even A0.

Lessons learned?

Brevity works, for sure, and it’s worth speaking to someone who knows a little bit about print production when you undertake this sort of task. In that regard I wonder if there’s a place for academics to team up with design students when they produce their posters? Valuable experience for the student, and some practical training in effective communication for the academic. That’s got to be worth some thought if you’re based in a University that has a design school.

Do something different

One thing before I sign off – it seems to pay to do something different. RESCON gave a special award to a poster that had its own frame made of astro-turf, and I added a little something extra to my poster that got a few nice comments. I won’t tell you what it is, you have to find it. Seven people did at RESCON yesterday, and they hadn’t been given a clue so you have a head start.

Download this file