Ten Thousand Views of Fourcultures

More views than Mount Fuji!
More views than Mount Fuji!

Quite unheralded, this website has achieved a small milestone. Yes, one of you kindly gave Fourcultures its ten thousandth view. If Fourcultures mentioned popular blog-friendly things, this would clearly be extremely small-beer, but since we focus on Grid-Group Cultural Theory, it’s an achievement of sorts… Thanks for reading and commenting. Here’s to the next ten thousand.

How Non-profits can benefit from Twitter

Marketing blogger Seth Godin has expressed his dismay that non-profit organisations don’t appear in the top 100 Twitter users. He thinks this is a tragic lost opportunity for marketing and he may be right. After all, we can guess that Twitter is working fine for the likes of Ashton Kucher, Britney Spears and Perez Hilton (although given the number of tweets Kucher has apparently made in the eight months since joining it’s surprising he’s found time to sleep. Perhaps he has an army of Tw-obots, all programmed to tweet till they drop).

But doesn’t the top 100 list itself give us some clues as to what is going on? The homogeneity of the list surely indicates something about Twitter and its users. They seem to be very interested in ‘stars’ who have music, concerts and merchandise to sell, and a pop culture ‘image’ to promote/offer. Is this really the best forum for non-profit organisations? I guess it can’t hurt to try…

A way of testing this would be to look at the top ten non-profits on Twitter, find out how they’ve used the medium and see to what extent the lessons learned might be transferable. Any takers?

One issue with all this is that of ‘early adoption’ of technology. Let’s face it, non-profit organisations have never been great at this. And it’s not clear that they need to be. If Seth is right, the first cabs off the rank will be big winners, but my guess is that the rest won’t suffer all that much. It’s not as though we are about to run out of things to be altruistic about if we don’t hurry. By backing no technology they also won’t suffer the early adopter problem of backing the wrong (or suboptimal) technology.

If they think they can get away with not Twittering, they will. Dare it be said they might have better things to do with their time?

How to choose the best online citation tools

Just as I finally get used to loving Zotero, it looks like Mendeley is set to claim my heart. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, these are on-line citation tools for academic research and writing. They use various different methods for collecting and manipulating metadata relating to books, journals, papers and websites – and then linking it all together automagically. They hold out the promise of automating activities that until now have been painstaking and laborious for researchers, and of creating new opportunities for collaboration that never existed before. But there is a down side. Continue reading “How to choose the best online citation tools”

The Ethics of Autonomous robots

Further to a recent post about the ethics of autonomous robots, it seems military robots are not the only kind that can kill, allbeit by ‘mistake’. In Japan there are already robots that feed the elderly and baby-sitting robots in shopping centres. So who exactly should be held responsible when they go wrong? It’s an issue that has concerned Noel Sharkey of Sheffield University for a while (he and Ronald Arkin were interviewed for the radio recently), and now the Royal Academy of Engineering has weighed in with a discussion report.

Autonomous Systems: Social, Legal & Ethical Issues, commissioned by the Academy’s Engineering Ethics Working Group, is online at http://www.raeng.org.uk/autonomoussystems

It’s an interesting read, but it doesn’t begin to ask the kind of questions grid-group cultural theory might…. Continue reading “The Ethics of Autonomous robots”

Beware – Dangerous Robots!

Dan Kahan of the Cultural Cognition Project has been thinking about the possible ways of reacting to robots that kill. It’s a relatively new set of technologies, but what happens when AI merges with weaponry to produce robots that want to kill you? He thinks the arguments could go in several ways and I tend to agree.

The ethics of this is already being worked out, with the aim of making robots behave ‘more humanely than humans’. There is a summary.

The title of a key book on the subject points to the potential contradictions:

Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots

Governance is great – as long as we’re the ones in charge

The context in which all this is happening is an Hierarchical one: the so called military-industrial complex. Hence the great significance of the term ‘Governing’. For Hierarchy, governing is exactly the correct response to ‘lethal behavior’ – and this applies to all lethal behaviour, not just that of robots, who in a sense are nothing special. The point is, in the Hierarchical worldview violence is warranted, provided it is clear who is doing the warranting. But lethal robots present something of a problem. What happens if they aren’t programmed to be ‘governed’? Continue reading “Beware – Dangerous Robots!”

Characterising the Open Source Movement: It’s not the ‘new socialism’

Just as I reach the end of reading Rebel Code by Glyn Moody , a riveting (to my mind) early history of GNU/Linux (subtitled Linux and the Open Source Revolution), Kevin Kelly’s article in Wired mag comes to my attention. Kelly claims the open source movement is ‘the new socialism’.

No, it isn’t.

For example, there is no way on God’s earth that Continue reading “Characterising the Open Source Movement: It’s not the ‘new socialism’”

Normal service is about to be resumed

Thanks for staying put while my computer had a very big melt down, while I reset my system with Ubuntu, and while floods and storms meant my broadband connection was down  for several days. It’s enough to make me embarrassed to be mentioning the phrase ‘resilient systems’. But fear not, Fourcultures is back online and what passes for normal service will continue very soon….

Slow Reading and the End of Print

It seems you can do all sorts of things slowly. Why weren’t we told?

Actually, Slow Reading by John Miedema is a thoughtful consideration of the enduring place of print in our culture. You’d be forgiven for assuming print was dying out under the pervasive i-influence of e-everything. Indeed, the author quotes Jeff Bezos of Amazon as saying the book is ‘the last bastion of analogue’.

Actually what I find interesting about the times we’re in is the arrival of radical new forms of physical textuality which call into question the simple story of the death of print. Two examples that keep catching my eye are the espresso book machine and the youtube graffiti wall.

The Espresso book machine is basically a photocopier that can spit out well made paperback books while you wait. This is a hi-tech mix of the digital (the back catalogue of every digitised book on the planet instantly available) and the traditionally physical (the physical paperback book to take away and enjoy). But it’s important to remember that paperbacks themselves are relatively new technology, having only achieved mass appeal in the 1930s (and the first paperback book shops were introduced to the US in the 1950s).

Where the publicity for the Espresso Book Machine goes wrong, I think, is that it tremendously underestimates the revolution that it heralds. Supposedly the new technology will make small independent book shops more competitive with the larger chains and the larger chains more competitive with supermarkets. This is exactly wrong. What it means is that notionally, every shop can and will become a book shop. And the cost of the technology is only going to come down. What will make the difference is not the ability to stock books, since there’s no more stock, nor the ability to discount them, since overheads are now minimal. The difference will be in the ability to promote them. The rise and rise of the expert bookseller has just begun.

The graffiti wall is a very weird phenomenon. This is the ability of internet video to bring to life monumental artwork inscribed on physical surfaces using stop motion filming techniques. This form of art has been feasible for a long time – since the invention of photography – but only now, with ubiquitous digitization, has it taken off. What’s interesting about this is the sense that the digital somehow requires the monumentally and immovably physical wall for its rhetorical effect as spectacle to work. It shows, I think, that the end-of-the-book anxiety is just a sub-set of a larger end-of-the-physical anxiety. It also shows that the physical doesn’t end, it just gets transformed. We are living in a time of digital-physical hybridization and we should probably get used to the feeling of not being able to get used to it.

Sucks so hard it blows…

ubunchu-extractNever thought I’d find a use for that phrase, but a certain (unco-)operating system has given me the perfect excuse. I think we all know what I’m talking about. In fact it sucks so much I’m finally going to give the new Ubuntu a serious try. Having used Knoppix before to resurrect a dead PC and finding it worked a treat, Linux does not scare me, oh no…