Where next in Digital culture & communication?

c20d3e7877Back from the festive Salzburg, where I co-organised the workshop of the Digital Culture and Communication section of ECREA, with the Department of Communication Studies, Center for ICT&S, University of Salzburg & partnered with the Centre for Research on Media Innovations (CeRMI) at the University of Oslo. Although initially I was sceptical about the theme Standards, Values and Disruptions, and had difficulty finding its relevance to my research, it turned out to be a good provocation – not only for me, but also for many of the participants. The workshop was a cosy two-days, with low key discussions and a few more challenging ones.

I enjoyed Helen Kennedy’s (University of Sheffield) keynote talk on Wednesday; she gave an overview of data visualisation initiatives (including hers and her colleagues’). When she mentioned interviewing people in businesses about their obsession with numbers and quantification, I couldn’t help thinking about my own auto-ethnographic experience using Fitbit – where my obsession and fetishisation of numbers and of diagrams hit an unfamiliar, to me, high. I write about this in detail in my peer-reviewed article ‘Training to self-care: Fitness tracking, biopedagogy and the healthy consumer’ (with Kate O’Riordan, under review at the moment). Helen linked numbers and quantification to proof of success; in my work, I link it to proof of my productivity, and drawing from Melissa Gregg’s key work, to a characteristic anxiety with productivity of the middle classes – particularly the academic middle class worker.

Helen also showed some examples of Stefanie Posavec’s creative work with data, which reminded me about how data means many different things to people and, like all things, they can be good, bad, ugly or beautiful.

The workshop was a good place to re-visit the scope of the Section. As Vice Chair of the Section, it was reassuring to hear the opinions of our Section members during the business meeting. It is true that social media is a thematic that pertains many ECREA sections (see for example the excellent Political Agency in the Digital Age workshop organised by the Communication & Democracy Section), and it is not a cutting edge development any more. So I agree with many who stated that the Section should maintain its cutting edge focus – currently around datafication & society – while at the same time maintaining its critical stance to all things that relate to digital culture and communication.

Looking forward to the next ECREA in Prague in November 2016!

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